Graeme Bunker dis­cusses what the fu­ture holds for the new-build ‘A1’

Steam Railway (UK) - - Contents -

When is an en­gine no longer deemed ‘new’? This sum­mer, Tor­nado cel­e­brates its tenth an­niver­sary in steam. A whole decade has passed since the ‘grey ghost’ inched its wheels for the me­dia along a short iso­lated stretch of track out­side the shed in Dar­ling­ton where it was built. Since then, 100,000 or so miles have passed be­neath the wheels of the new-build ‘A1’ – in­clud­ing on Royal Trains; at 100mph; and for screens small ( Top Gear) and large ( Padding­ton 2) . Yet, de­spite all that, and al­though it’s been around for twice as long as Evening Star was in BR ser­vice, A1 Steam Lo­co­mo­tive Trust Op­er­a­tions Di­rec­tor Graeme Bunker ar­gues that No. 60163 is “still new.” Graeme was there in the sum­mer of 2008 when the Pep­per­corn en­gine first moved – and he had been in­volved with the project for years be­fore that. Now, as Tor­nado ma­tures and the trust looks to­wards the ar­rival of its next en­gine – ‘P2’ Prince of Wales – he’s tak­ing stock. Ap­pro­pri­ately, we’re chat­ting not far from the plat­forms of King’s Cross, in what will turn into a lively dis­cus­sion about where the trust is now – and the fu­ture of main line steam it­self. As we speak, the ‘A1’ is un­der­go­ing win­ter main­te­nance. This time, that in­cludes a first-ever ‘skim’ of the en­gine’s valve ports and chests, as well as a more rou­tine brake over­haul. De­spite the ten-year an­niver­sary though, this is not the time for a big boiler re­build – not least be­cause the 4-6-2 un­der­went what was, ef­fec­tively, an in­ter­me­di­ate over­haul in 2014/2015. In fact, says Graeme, with the ‘A1’ the idea of a ‘ten-year’ is some­what ar­chaic. For he says that while “peo­ple have got used to the his­toric ten-year sit­u­a­tion… be­cause of Tor­nado’s boiler be­ing new, it sits un­der more modern reg­u­la­tions.” The ‘A1’s’ in­surance com­pany likes “to have a good think” once the boiler reaches five years of ser­vice – an ap­proach he says is spread­ing to oth­ers too. Nei­ther, he adds, is time the only fac­tor, or even the main one: “If you run a lo­co­mo­tive ten times a year, you’ll have used it 100 times in ten years… If you run a lo­co­mo­tive 25 times a year, you’ll get to that 100 times in four years. So con­di­tion is much more im­por­tant for us than time.”

steel vs Cop­peR

As many will know, Tor­nado’s boiler is not only new but con­structed to a unique de­sign. Un­like most oth­ers in this coun­try, it has a steel fire­box rather than a cop­per one. Ef­fec­tively, the Meinin­gen (Ger­many) -built boiler is a pro­to­type. Go­ing for a new de­sign has not been with­out its learn­ing curve, and fairly early in its life the trust un­der­took mod­i­fi­ca­tions to help ad­dress ini­tial re­li­a­bil­ity prob­lems. So Tor­nado’s boiler now has more flex­i­ble stays than it did orig­i­nally, and cast iron rather than fab­ri­cated foun­da­tion ring cor­ners. In hind­sight, I won­der, does the trust re­gret ditch­ing cop­per for steel and go­ing for a new de­sign (dubbed 118a rather than the tra­di­tional LNER 118)? The an­swer is ab­so­lutely not. “I wouldn’t change what we’ve done one iota,” says Graeme, “be­cause the dif­fer­ence is that, re­al­is­ti­cally, if we need to change

any­thing on it, it’s a hell of a lot eas­ier than it is on a riv­eted box. And we’re not deal­ing with laps and seams and riv­ets, and all that kind of thing.” He ac­cepts that there are “is­sues to man­age be­cause of the na­ture of the boiler and the type of con­struc­tion,” but he also says: “All boil­ers, when they’re be­hav­ing them­selves, are fine… it’s when they go wrong you have to look at it. But you look at the price and the money spent on an equiv­a­lent cop­per fire­box ‘Pa­cific’ boiler – we can prob­a­bly get two, maybe three, for the ‘A1’, and the in­ter­est­ing point there­fore is about the prac­ti­cal­i­ties in ser­vice…” “So we can change plate­work or any­thing like that prob­a­bly faster than any cop­per-fire­box lo­co­mo­tive, be­cause it’s just a case of ‘cut it out, weld a new piece back in’, rather than the… spe­cial­ist tech­niques needed for cop­per.” Steel is also eas­ier and cheaper to ob­tain. Graeme ac­cepts though that some peo­ple will pre­fer a cop­per fire­box be­cause of their use of solid stays. In­stead, the ‘A1’ fol­lows Ger­man prac­tice and has stays with a ‘tell tale’ drilled in. How­ever, that ap­proach means any bro­ken stays can be quickly iden­ti­fied. With a cop­per fire­box en­gine, Graeme says, “if you’re on a 28day boiler cy­cle, and that’s how long it is be­fore some­one goes round with a ham­mer and goes ‘tap, tap, tap’ on all the stays, if you broke a stay on the sec­ond steam­ing, you wouldn’t know about it. Whereas we know about it straight away… we’ve got, ar­guably, a sys­tem that tells us slightly ear­lier that there’s an is­sue. Is that a neg­a­tive? Not re­ally.” So al­though he ac­cepts there’s “noth­ing wrong with that po­si­tion” for those who do pre­fer cop­per, Graeme says: “I just think that for us, and for a modern world with modern reg­u­la­tions, it does make our lives eas­ier.” In­deed, he is con­vinced that had Bri­tish steam car­ried on, a shift to steel ’boxes would have been “guar­an­teed.” In fact, he ar­gues, it would have been “a no-brainer.” “Oth­er­wise why did Ger­many do it, and why did the States do it?” Re­al­is­ti­cally, he says, “every­one would have gone over to steel.” “If we’d car­ried on with steam for an­other 25 years it wouldn’t have just been the Bulleids… And take an­other en­gine close to my heart, the ‘N2’ [0-6-2T No. 1744]. A new steel fire­box was built for it at Ty­se­ley nine years ago, and it’s do­ing great work.” So much for prac­ti­cal lessons from a decade with Bri­tain’s first new-build ‘main liner’ – what about the ‘buzz’? In 2008 and 2009 Tor­nado was the big thing – and not only for gricers. You could barely open your eyes with­out see­ing a story about ‘the new steam en­gine’, and huge crowds turned out to see it. Yet you could ar­gue that in 2018 the ‘A1’ is now nei­ther his­toric nor new… and that it’s fallen in­stead into a kind of hole in the mid­dle. Is main­tain­ing the ‘fizz’ for a ten-year-old Tor­nado harder? “The sim­ple an­swer to that is ‘no’… it’s a fair com­ment that it is no longer brand spank­ing new. Nei­ther is any­thing else – the mo­ment you drive a car off the deal­er­ship’s fore­court it’s no longer new and the de­pre­ci­a­tion just proves that to you.” Graeme points out, though, that the ‘A1’ is “still unique.” “It is still the only stan­dard gauge new-build that’s com­plete, and that in­cludes projects that have been re­builds. I sup­pose the ex­cep­tion we could ar­gue there is the ‘Rail­mo­tor’, which is a lovely beastie, but it is some­what dif­fer­ent…” This, he con­tends, won’t change “any time soon, cer­tainly as far as the main line is con­cerned… we’re mea­sur­ing it in years away, un­for­tu­nately.” Plus, he points out, one of those com­ing along is the ‘P2’. How­ever, Bunker ar­gues that Tor­nado will al­ways be a one-off, even if newer new-builds ar­rive. One rea­son is sim­ple: “There’ll never be an­other first.” Other rea­sons are down to what the en­gine al­ready has on its CV, or will have soon: 90mph run­ning (“oth­ers might con­sider that they want to do sim­i­lar things… they may not”); 2009’s Lon­don-Ed­in­burgh Top Gear race, in which the ‘A1’ took on a clas­sic car and mo­tor­bike (“it’s a long time ago now, but it still res­onates around the world…”); the un­prece­dented (and so far un­re­peated) haul­ing of Set­tle-Carlisle ser­vice trains last Fe­bru­ary (“I un­der­es­ti­mated how much im­pact that would have”); the overnight 100mph test last April (“some­thing pretty spe­cial”). More re­cent still is a role in the lat­est Padding­ton film – still show­ing in cin­e­mas as I write. Of that, Graeme says: “We don’t re­ally un­der­stand how much that’s go­ing to af­fect us.” As for the 2018 di­ary, he claims: “I’m turn­ing peo­ple down and I’m say­ing ‘sorry, you’re third in the queue for that, have you got other dates when you might be able to do it?’… even if I had two en­gines, I’d prob­a­bly still be find­ing both of them very busy.” The ‘A1’s’ ops man ac­cepts though that “maybe peo­ple will go in dif­fer­ent direc­tions,” but adds that “prob­a­bly the big­gest thing that would have chal­lenged that [ Tor­nado] is Fly­ing Scots­man, and it didn’t make a dif­fer­ence. In fact, I would ar­gue that they’ve both helped each other…”

“Tor­nado will evolve, and when Prince of Wales is op­er­a­tional it will evolve again. But it still does things that no other steam en­gine can…”


One thing you prob­a­bly shouldn’t ex­pect is an­other change in Tor­nado’s look. In the last decade No. 60163 has ap­peared both in Bruns­wick green and BR blue, but it is the Ap­ple green, as cur­rently car­ried, that Graeme de­scribes as the en­gine’s ‘brand’. A re­vamp might be made “if some­one of­fered us enough money, and… if it was ap­pro­pri­ate, for a spe­cial event or char­i­ta­ble func­tion…” How­ever, he con­firms, there are no plans. “The en­gine is in Ap­ple green be­cause, be­ing blunt, when it’s not in Ap­ple green, it costs us money.” “Some peo­ple will prob­a­bly strug­gle to get their heads around that, and fair enough. But when Tor­nado is in Ap­ple green as it is now, it’s the liv­ery in which it hauled the Royal Train when it was named; it’s the liv­ery in which it ap­peared on Top Gear; it’s the liv­ery it car­ried in Padding­ton; and the liv­ery in which it did 100mph; the liv­ery it car­ried dur­ing the ‘Plan­dampf’. If you look at the ar­gu­ments that quite a lot of peo­ple make for Fly­ing Scots­man to be in Ap­ple green, with the sin­gle chim­ney, be­cause that is when all the im­por­tant things hap­pened… that ap­plies to Tor­nado but the other way round. i.e. it’s in the cor­rect liv­ery, so why would we change it? “Never say never, we’re very open-minded… but at the mo­ment the plan is to keep it in Ap­ple green.” Yet Fly­ing Scots­man’s cur­rent pop­u­lar­ity doesn’t seem un­duly hin­dered by its cur­rent Bruns­wick green liv­ery… “I think your point is one that can’t be an­swered,” Graeme ar­gues, “be­cause let’s say that it’s gone out in Ap­ple green, would it have got even more sup­port and more fol­low­ers?” He re­counts a tale of the first week of the ‘A3’s’ YorkS­car­bor­ough trains in Na­tional Rail­way Mu­seum own­er­ship back in 2004, when he was the en­gine’s fire­man. At the sea­side town, he says “that was as much as I’ve ever seen peo­ple around ‘Scots­man’” – though he ac­cepts too that num­bers ap­peared sim­i­lar for No. 60103’s re­launch trip in 2017. Graeme con­tin­ues that “we have a duty to en­sure Tor­nado’s longterm fi­nan­cial health, as well as its phys­i­cal state, and keep­ing it in Ap­ple green as its core liv­ery is en­tirely the right thing to do. That doesn’t mean we won’t lis­ten to peo­ple, it just means that its core liv­ery is Ap­ple green. And it looks ab­so­lutely amaz­ing…” One clear way to mea­sure pop­u­lar­ity is through di­rect sup­port. The A1 Trust has al­ways been known for its mass of covenan­tors (reg­u­lar donors), with­out whom the en­gine would never have been built, and who still sup­port it to­day. So it was a bit of a shock last year when the trust’s Mark Al­latt an­nounced that reg­u­lar sup­port­ers had fallen from a high of around 1,600 in 2009 to a lit­tle over 1,100. Later, Mark was able to say that num­bers had risen again slightly (SR474) – and also that on av­er­age the new peo­ple were giv­ing more money. So what is hap­pen­ing to the num­ber of donors now? “I think it’s too early to say if the trend is now up­wards, but it’s not go­ing down.” How­ever, Graeme also ar­gues that the co­nun­drum of money needs to be looked at “in a dif­fer­ent way.” “Get­ting a steam lo­co­mo­tive to look af­ter it­self is very dif­fi­cult fi­nan­cially. Ask any­one with a steam lo­co­mo­tive… you al­ways end up in a po­si­tion where the fi­nances are chal­leng­ing. But… from our per­spec­tive, that is what we’re set­ting out to do through our rail­tour ac­tiv­ity and such­like… to get to a po­si­tion where, over­all, the en­gine looks af­ter it­self.” Covenan­tors are, he reaf­firms though, “a mas­sive part of what we do…” “We will be re-pri­ori­tis­ing that again in this tenth an­niver­sary year, as peo­ple would ex­pect… be­cause if we want to see Tor­nado and other steam lo­co­mo­tives on the net­work and out there do­ing what they were de­signed to do, then we have to sup­port it.” He points out that ticket sales are an­other way of show­ing sup­port (“both would be ideal”), and there are other forms of in­come too, such as lega­cies: “But you can’t build those into your busi­ness plan.” Talk­ing of ‘fizz’, Graeme ar­gues that things such as 100mph and Padding­ton help in one par­tic­u­lar key area: at­tract­ing younger gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple. “Our cur­rent sup­port­ers have been ab­so­lutely bril­liant,” he says, “but we do need to reach out to young peo­ple.” He ar­gues that the trust’s an­nual con­ven­tion in Oc­to­ber had “quite a nice num­ber of younger faces…” – yet he also has a


warn­ing: “If all we did was rely on our­selves then all we’d be do­ing is man­ag­ing de­cline, rather than go­ing be­yond that and ac­tu­ally reach­ing out to the gen­eral public, as we re­fer to them. But we’re all the gen­eral public, we just need to get more peo­ple in­ter­ested in what we do…”


The next big thing likely to gen­er­ate such in­ter­est ar­rives on April 14, with the first of Tor­nado’s 90mph-au­tho­rised trips (SR474). Ap­pro­pri­ately, the sold-out ‘Ebor Flyer’ is an East Coast bash from King’s Cross to York and back. Prepa­ra­tion – you’ll un­doubt­edly be pleased to hear – is well un­der way. In­deed, Graeme says, “we had al­lowed it, on pur­pose, to go to the fur­thest pa­ram­e­ters that we would on main­te­nance be­fore we in­ter­vened… So we’ve done that and now we’re putting it back to where we nor­mally have it.” “So it’s on freshly turned tyres, all the ten­der draw­bar springs have been re­placed be­cause that af­fects the way that the big ‘Pacifics’ ride, lots of new whitemetal [has] gone in, it’s had a full valve and pis­ton exam… we’re in good or­der there. And the pa­per­work process just keeps track with that. So, re­laxed? No, I wouldn’t go that far, but all is in hand, shall we say.” Run­ning at 90mph may be a great sell – but the trust has al­ways said it’s as much about find­ing de­cent paths as any thrill. It should ar­rive just at the right time, given what’s about to hap­pen on the rail­way. While it’s been talked about for years, the mo­ment has now ar­rived: the main line is about to get even busier – and faster too. Start­ing in May and over the next year or so, the timetable will un­dergo the most rad­i­cal changes in re­cent mem­ory as new lines open and new trains ar­rive: Cross­rail, IEP on the East Coast and Great West­ern, Thames­link… and those are just the head­lines. “Any­one who says it’s not go­ing to change how we work isn’t pay­ing enough at­ten­tion. Is it a threat? Only if we treat it as such.” “So is it a threat to spe­cific itin­er­ar­ies? Yes. Is it a threat to steam on the net­work? No. And what that means is some of the op­er­a­tions that peo­ple will want to run won’t be pos­si­ble. They phys­i­cally won’t fit on the net­work.” Any­thing round Lon­don will have “a ques­tion mark over it” he be­lieves – but with the rail­way’s var­i­ous schemes com­ing to fruition at slightly dif­fer­ent times the changes won’t all come at once. “This isn’t go­ing to be ‘May 2018, this is what we can now do, this is what we’ve lost, move on’. There are things that do open up as well, be­cause the in­dus­try is build­ing more ca­pac­ity into the net­work and the na­ture of rail ca­pac­ity is that you don’t buy it in train paths, you buy it in big chunks. So it may well be that some­thing we haven’t been able to do be­fore, or we haven’t been able to do for ten years, we could now sud­denly do… “But I think… any­thing that goes near South Lon­don is go­ing to be an in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge; any­thing that goes on the Brighton Main Line is go­ing to be an in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge; any­thing that needs to run be­tween Padding­ton and Read­ing will be dif­fi­cult to achieve un­less it’s tak­ing a freight path, be­cause there isn’t a freight in that slot; and so on and so forth.” The West Coast Main Line “will be more of a prob­lem be­cause it’s be­ing dug up, ow­ing to train ser­vice changes,” but once the first sec­tion of High Speed 2 opens to Birm­ing­ham in 2026 to take the very fastest trains “it might ac­tu­ally open up a bit of ca­pac­ity.” That is, of course, years away – while Bunker adds: “If you look at the East Coast we al­ready know…” “DB’s char­ter path out of King’s Cross… comes in in the sum­mer

timetable, when Thames­link starts re­ally ramp­ing up, and we are com­fort­able that we can get Tor­nado out of Lon­don in that path.” “It does mean we’ll only be able to stop at ei­ther Pot­ters Bar or Steve­nage, and usu­ally we stop at both… de­pend­ing on which ver­sion of the timetable you look at, it may be that you get Steve­nage or Pot­ters Bar, you don’t get the choice. Only one will work.” In a sense, Graeme thinks we’re mov­ing back to the world of some years ago when NR’s then-char­ter boss Stephen Cor­nish “didn’t im­ple­ment a ban on week­day op­er­a­tion out of King’s Cross but just said that this is go­ing to be re­ally, re­ally hard.” “And he was ab­so­lutely right. But we man­aged it. How­ever, I think we are mov­ing back to a point where the in­dus­try – par­tic­u­larly as Thames­link and IEP bed in – are not go­ing to want to see too many week­day char­ters in and out of King’s Cross. “That’s not to say that they can’t hap­pen, and it’s not to say that spe­cial events should not be catered for, but where we can we should seek to go with the flow, and run­ning a train out of King’s Cross on a Satur­day is an aw­ful lot eas­ier and lower risk than run­ning one out on a Wed­nes­day.” Graeme ex­plains his view fur­ther that “8.18 on a Satur­day is a good slot – 8.18 on a Wed­nes­day is right in the mid­dle of the morn­ing peak, so you can imag­ine that peo­ple might have other things to do. But you look at the re­mod­elling of King’s Cross, six lines through the re­opened tun­nels etc… that’s got to be good news for peo­ple like us.”

Look­Ing out­sIde Lon­don

But how im­por­tant is 90mph run­ning to that par­tic­u­lar prob­lem? Be­cause pre­sum­ably the 8.18am path doesn’t need you to do it – even though in the round it will help? “It de­pends where you want to go. If you only want to go to Steve­nage, prob­a­bly not, but if you ac­tu­ally want to get to some­where in a rea­son­able time­frame, then yes you do. Be­cause you’re hav­ing to fit in with the traf­fic and at 75mph Tor­nado and other Class 8s are gen­er­ally quicker than, say, a Class 66 on a 1,600ton freight train. So what do we do – slow them down and put them onto a freight path which vis­its a va­ri­ety of loops on the way? Or do we turn the speed up slightly on the av­er­age speed, and that al­lows us just to work in the flight [batch of trains] more ef­fec­tively? “But there are other things as well, when you ac­tu­ally look at it as a whole – and not at 90mph… it may ac­tu­ally be eas­ier to go via Lin­coln and use the 75mph ‘Joint Line’, and that would al­low you to ac­cess Lin­coln it­self, or Cleethor­pes, or con­tinue on and visit East Coast des­ti­na­tions. What 90mph does is al­low us to keep the jour­ney times sen­si­ble. You’ll al­ways find a way through, but do you want to visit the Slow lines and ev­ery loop, par­tic­u­larly north of Stoke and as far as Don­caster? Run­ning at 90mph al­lows us to keep up with the flow much more ef­fec­tively, be­cause IEP, par­tic­u­larly on elec­tric, is re­ally quick.” Even some tra­di­tion­ally slower routes might not pro­vide a full an­swer on pathing, an ex­am­ple be­ing that the new South West­ern Rail­way timetable puts “a lot more trains” on the route used by the tra­di­tional Lon­don-Read­ing ‘dodge’ – the South­ern from Vic­to­ria via As­cot. This, Graeme says, “has slowed down a lot since that was orig­i­nally done.” So part of the cur­rent think­ing from the ‘A1’s’ keep­ers is “ac­tu­ally go­ing on routes which are not quite as busy as the core routes in and around Lon­don.” Per­haps it isn’t even a case of start­ing in the cap­i­tal? The trust’s own pro­gramme for the first half of 2018 in­cludes trains orig­i­nat­ing at Cam­bridge, Le­ices­ter, Peter­bor­ough, and Tame Bridge Park­way in the West Mid­lands. “Maybe it isn’t a Lon­don start… that’s a ca­pa­bil­ity that we’ve been de­vel­op­ing over the last year or so, and we will con­tinue to de­velop. And ac­tu­ally that’s a good thing... A lot of peo­ple live in Lon­don, it’s an im­por­tant part of the busi­ness, but not ev­ery­body lives there.”

In part two, next is­sue: ERTMS sig­nalling, the ‘P2’, and a new head­quar­ters. SR478 will be on sale on March 30.

run­ning a train out of King’s Cross on a satur­day is an aw­ful lot eas­ier and lower risK than run­ning one out on a wed­nes­day


Stain­less steel: No. 60163 basks in the morn­ing sun of Au­gust 2 2008 – just days af­ter its com­ple­tion at Dar­ling­ton.


Plenty of ‘fizz’ as Tor­nado eases away from York with the Royal Train con­vey­ing the Prince of Wales, who had just of­fi­cially named the lo­co­mo­tive, on Fe­bru­ary 19 2009.


En route to 100mph: Tor­nado heads north at Thirsk on April 11 2017.


Graeme Bunker (bot­tom right) crouches in­side the fire­box of the new boiler for Tor­nado dur­ing its con­struc­tion at Meinin­gen Works in 2006.

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