TORNADO AT TEN
Graeme Bunker discusses what the future holds for the new-build ‘A1’
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…”
APPLE GREEN ‘LOOKS AMAZING’
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
NEVER SAY NEVER, WE’RE VERY OPENMINDED… BUT AT THE MOMENT THE PLAN IS TO KEEP IT IN APPLE GREEN
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…”
‘PREPPING’ FOR 90mph
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.