Raven­glass steam re­nais­sance

Steam Railway (UK) - - Contents -

An en­gine that last steamed over 80 years ago is about to make its long-awaited re­turn on the Raven­glass & Eskdale Rail­way. From the work­shops of Ger­many and an ex­po­si­tion in Spain, Whillan Beck is help­ing revive the ‘Ratty’s’ for­tunes, as THOMAS BRIGHT dis­cov­ers.

In the shadow of Scafell Pike, a Caledonian blue ‘Pa­cific’ is stretching its wheels for the first time in eight decades. The lo­ca­tion is the Raven­glass & Eskdale Rail­way. The lo­co­mo­tive is Whillan Beck – the ‘Ratty’s’ first ‘new’ steam lo­co­mo­tive in over forty years, and its first res­i­dent ‘Pa­cific’ in a cen­tury. It is hard to over­es­ti­mate the im­por­tance of Whillan Beck. The day it of­fi­cially joins the RER fleet, on May 5, will be one of the most sig­nif­i­cant mile­stones in ‘La’al Ratty’s’ his­tory, yet by the time it is earn­ing its keep on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, an­other of this 15in gauge line’s stal­wart steam lo­co­mo­tives will be on the brink of re­turn­ing to steam for the first time in nearly a decade, while a small but im­por­tant piece of the RER’s his­tory has fi­nally been re­stored to work­ing or­der. In a year full of cel­e­bra­tions and com­mem­o­ra­tions in the world of stan­dard gauge steam, the Raven­glass & Eskdale Rail­way is mark­ing its most mo­men­tous sea­son in years.


Whillan Beck – pre­vi­ously known as ‘The Train from Spain’ – is the RER’s new­est ad­di­tion to its fleet. The story of this Ger­man-built 4-6-2, de­signed to run in Spain, but which only lasted three years in ser­vice, then spent 80 years in store be­fore re­turn­ing to life on the Cum­brian coast, is fas­ci­nat­ing. It is no se­cret that the Raven­glass & Eskdale Rail­way has been in the throes of a lo­co­mo­tive cri­sis. Since 2006, the RER has had to make do with just four op­er­a­tional steam lo­co­mo­tives – River Irt, River Esk, River Mite and North­ern Rock – some feat for one of the busiest lines in Bri­tain. How­ever, a com­bi­na­tion of nec­es­sary but lengthy over­hauls, and the devastating work­shop fire a few years ago has meant that, in re­cent years, the RER has re­lied on en­gines hired in from other rail­ways to sup­ple­ment its own fleet dur­ing the peak sum­mer sea­son. The prob­lem of lo­co­mo­tive avail­abil­ity is com­pounded by the fact that, al­though there are many 15in gauge lines around the coun­try, only the lo­co­mo­tives from the Bure Val­ley and Rom­ney, Hythe & Dymchurch rail­ways can tackle the fierce gra­di­ents and twist­ing na­ture of the ‘Ratty’. In 2013, the Raven­glass & Eskdale Rail­way Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety, buoyed by gen­er­ous sup­port and do­na­tions from its mem­bers, de­cided to ad­dress the rail­way’s mo­tive power prob­lems. Ac­quir­ing a suit­able lo­co­mo­tive would be dif­fi­cult, so plans were drawn up in 2014 for a new 2-6-2, de­signed along sim­i­lar lines to North­ern Rock, which it­self was built new for the rail­way in 1976. How­ever, the rail­way didn’t need to build a new steam lo­co­mo­tive – it sub­se­quently found one. Not only was this en­gine suit­able for the line, but it was also as good as new (de­spite be­ing nearly 90 years old). This en­gine wasn’t to be found ei­ther in Nor­folk or on the Kent coast, but in Barcelona. In its search for suit­able mo­tive power, the RERPS be­came aware of the ex­is­tence of a num­ber of Krauss-built ‘Pacifics’ re­sid­ing in Spain which were ap­par­ently in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion, de­spite their age. If the re­ports were true, one would be per­fect. A mem­ber of the largest class of 15in gauge lo­co­mo­tives, Whillan Beck (Works No. 8457) was one of 12 ‘Pacifics’ de­signed by Roland Martens – a con­tem­po­rary of Bas­sett-Lowke, RER and RHDR lo­co­mo­tive en­gi­neer Henry Greenly – and built by Krauss of Mu­nich in 1925-29. A trio of en­gines of a sim­i­lar de­sign were built by Krupp of Essen in 1937 – all three of which are now based in Bri­tain (see panel) – whilst three more were built to a mod­i­fied de­sign by Krauss-Maf­fei in 1950. No. 8457 was out­shopped in 1929, and was one of four or­dered by King Al­fonso for the Ibero-Amer­i­can Ex­po­si­tion in Seville that year, along with Works Nos. 8455, 8456 and 8473. The quar­tet, which were named Santa María, Niña, Pinta and Sevilla re­spec­tively, were put to work on the ex­po­si­tion’s cir­cuit rail­way which ran around the ex­pan­sive site, but af­ter only 14 months in

ev­ery­day ser­vice, the lo­co­mo­tives saw only oc­ca­sional use un­til 1932, when they were with­drawn and put into store. The lo­co­mo­tives slum­bered for the next three decades un­til 1966 when Nos. 8455 Santa María, 8457 Pinta and 8573 Sevilla were sold to the Par­que de Atrac­ciones near Madrid; No. 8456 Niña re­mained in Seville un­til 1963 when it was dis­played in a chil­dren’s play­ground. Only Santa María ac­tu­ally steamed in Madrid and in 2001, the lo­co­mo­tives and park’s coaches were sold to a group based in Barcelona plan­ning to build a 15in gauge rail­way on the seafront in Mataró. RERPS ‘Train from Spain Ap­peal’ Press Of­fi­cer Keith Herbert picks up the story: “Our con­tact in Ger­many made us aware that these Span­ish en­gines ex­isted. The guy who owned them couldn’t build his rail­way and wanted to sell the lo­co­mo­tives, the rolling stock; the lot. “We didn’t want ev­ery­thing but when he sold one of the en­gines [No. 8455 Santa María] to the Killes­berg Rail­way in Stutt­gart in 2014, we re­alised we could just buy the en­gine we wanted, so we sought to buy No. 8457.” The rail­way could hardly be­lieve its luck. Here was an en­gine that was ef­fec­tively brand­new, that was also be­ing re­stored and that, with min­i­mal mod­i­fi­ca­tions and fur­ther restora­tion, could be op­er­a­tional on ‘La’al Ratty’ within a mat­ter of months. It was per­fect in ev­ery way. Cru­cially, the Krauss 4-6-2 was pow­er­ful enough to haul the RER’s trains. The rail­way al­ready had ex­pe­ri­ence of op­er­at­ing such an en­gine, 1937-built Black Prince – one of the Krupp-built Martens ‘Pacifics’ – from the Rom­ney, Hythe & Dymchurch Rail­way. On its sev­eral vis­its to the line over the years, it had proved pop­u­lar with RER crews and, with its rel­a­tively small driv­ing wheels (par­tic­u­larly com­pared to the Greenly-de­signed RHDR 4-6-2s) was quite adept at hill-climb­ing. No. 8457 was there­fore the ideal en­gine to rem­edy the RER’s mo­tive power cri­sis. A group of RER vol­un­teers and en­gi­neers went over to Spain in Oc­to­ber 2015 to in­spect the en­gine and, deem­ing it to be in good me­chan­i­cal (and largely orig­i­nal) con­di­tion, de­cided to pur­chase the 4-6-2. Keith says: “The de­ci­sion to ac­quire the en­gine was backed by a vote by RERPS mem­bers at an EGM in De­cem­ber 2015, with 99% vot­ing in favour.” Af­ter a 1,000-mile jour­ney by road from Barcelona, the


fresh from the box. Whillan Beck pauses at mite­side halt dur­ing one of its run­ning-in turns on fe­bru­ary 27.


De­spite its dis­tinc­tive elec­tric head­light – a replica of the one fit­ted dur­ing its time in seville – the front end of No. 8457 looks ‘Duchess’-es­que with its smoke de­flec­tors and oval buf­fers.


North­ern Rock, the ‘Ratty’s’ last steam lo­co­mo­tive ad­di­tion in 1976, crosses Bar­row Marsh on the ap­proach to Raven­glass with a ‘Santa Spe­cial’ on Novem­ber 26 2016.


Whillan Beck al­ready looks part of the fleet as it rests on shed along­side 2-6-2 North­ern Rock af­ter a day of run­ning-in on Fe­bru­ary 27. The pair had dou­ble­headed, to make sure the Krauss ‘Pa­cific’ was com­pat­i­ble with the RER lo­co­mo­tives.

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