A1SLT Operations Director Graeme Bunker discusses the trust’s main line aspirations and the ‘P2’
A1 Steam Locomotive Trust operations director GRAEME BUNKER tells TONY STREETER why its new 2-8-2 will be an ideal match to its decade-old ‘A1’ Tornado, and discusses luxury trains, new TOCs, modern signalling and a bespoke future home for the Darlington organisation.
It may be readying to celebrate a whole decade since Tornado first ran, yet the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust is looking not back, but forward. There are plans for a train, a new rail-connected base in an historic shed… and completion of the first Gresley ‘P2’ 2-8-2 to run since 1944. The aim, says Graeme, is for the ‘Mikado’ to be finished in 2021/2022. That’s now not so far off… but it is long enough for things like the imminent squeeze on timetable paths we talked about last issue to be everyday facts. To be blunt, there seems little point in building one of Gresley’s monster 2-8-2s unless it is able to run on the main line – and core routes at that. Is Graeme confident that when the new No. 2007 is finished it’s actually going to have a railway to play on? “Absolutely. I don’t see there’s any doubt of that; and I think your point around the core main lines, yes, that’s where you’d expect to see it. But I think the difference with Prince of Wales is away from the core main lines. “We’ll see what its performance is like when we’ve built it, but if it behaves as we would expect an eight-coupled Class 8 to behave, we should find that [in] places like the Settle & Carlisle, or over the Highlands to Inverness, South West to Devon and Cornwall – it should be a very effective locomotive.” He adds that “whether or not you can get round the North London line or whether you can get through New Cross or Clapham Junction, East Croydon or anywhere like that will be a secondary concern.”
With the ‘P2’ being a 6ft 2in-wheeled ‘Mikado’, the trust’s operations director says he thinks No. 2007 “will allow us to do slightly different things” to Tornado, or to what others are doing with other Class 8s – none of which have eight driving wheels. “If you take the Highland Main Line from Edinburgh to Inverness, we’ve done that as a day trip with Tornado, but you’re getting near the limit of what it will do going up the big hills. The ‘P2’, however, will just be more capable...” Somewhere like the South Devon Banks and into Cornwall is, he says: “always an issue of load limits… we take ten coaches with Tornado and we wouldn’t do that in the autumn”. However, with the ‘P2’ he says: “If it is as we expect, it will in haulage terms easily handle what Tornado can do, and on some of the stiffer climbs it’s likely to be one coach better. “So it won’t be as fast, no, but it might… make the difference between a train where you say ‘well I can do one of these each year because people will pay the higher prices’, against saying ‘actually I can do a series of these because we can now make the prices a little bit more accessible’.” At the other end of the market, the trust had been planning a multi-day luxury railtour using the ‘Royal Scotsman’ set and promoted by Golden Eagle Luxury Trains (SR473). Despite the fact that Golden Eagle has decided not to proceed in the light of so-far insufficient take-up (SR477), does Graeme see much potential at that end of the scale? He says the ‘Royal Scotsman’ is “a great product and does very well but I think it’s an exception…” “We’ve got a ‘Royal Scotsman’, we’ve now got a ‘Grand Hibernian’, which Belmond has introduced to much acclaim in Ireland… we don’t have one in England. “So do I think there’s a gap? Yes, I do. We’ve got some of the best history in the world but I don’t see us making the most of it. Now, are we, as the trust, in a position to do it? I don’t think we are, it’s probably bigger than we are. “On a personal basis I’ve looked at how to do it and what could be offered. The challenge is the capital that is needed to invest in the vehicles and markets and bring this together. “Is there an argument that the market exists? I would say yes. With steam? Yeah, probably a little bit of steam in there, why not?”
Tornado flashes through the darkness of March 27 2010 during a visit to the Great Central Railway. ANDREW RAPACZ