82045 AND ALL THAT
82045 Steam Locomotive Trust Publicity Officer Chris Proudfoot asks how can we solve the skills shortage?
You may be asking yourself: “82045 and all what?” Well, quite a lot really – the whole steam preservation industry, in fact. But before we get on to that subject, a few words about No. 82045, which is just a small part of it.
The project to build a new BR ‘3MT’ 2-6-2T has been around for a long time, from its beginnings under John Besley in Devon in the late 1990s, through its relocation to the Severn Valley Railway under the aegis of Tony Massau and myself in 2003, through the years of ridicule and derision, to its emergence onto the sunlit uplands of optimism as folks became aware that we were serious in our intention to recreate a member of this extinct class.
The greatest stroke of luck lay in Tony’s ability to recruit, in the early days, a wonderful team of skilled, semi-skilled and just plain enthusiastic people to work on the embryonic No. 82045 at Bridgnorth on Mondays and Wednesdays, all the year round and in all but the very worst weather. The skills of our people have saved the project thousands of pounds.
By and large we’ve been lucky in that we’ve managed to avoid really costly mistakes, with most of the engineering work done off-site meeting the stringent standards required. But doing all this, you are almost literally reinventing the wheel, and the process can be appallingly difficult, bearing in mind the tortuous legislation that we all have to live with these days, plus the fact that this country has thrown away its skills base over the past half-century to the extent that skills once commonplace are now on the cusp of extinction and have to be searched for – a point to which we shall return.
So where is No. 82045 now, in 2018? The answer is that the new engine is on its wheels and well on the way to completion, the principal outstanding jobs being the assembly and fitting of the pony trucks, braking and lubrication systems and motion…and the biggest and most expensive part of all, the boiler.
We have all the components of the engine’s superstructure: the cab, bunker and smokebox, the side tanks (at the time of writing being stored for us at the Dinas workshops of the Welsh Highland Railway), while the principal elements of the motion are all either ready or on order from a tried and tested supplier.
I had begun to think that my job as fund-raiser was all but done: with over £1,000,000 raised since serious promotion of the locomotive started in 2008, surely existing income streams would look after the rest?
Since then I’ve been given the job of raising upwards of £200,000 more. In order to speed up the build towards the day when the first fire is lit in No. 82045’s firebox, the decision was taken to contract out a larger proportion of the outstanding engineering work while our chaps continue to get on with the rest.
People have been amazingly generous towards what is a fairly mundane if attractive and practical engine, and I was looking forward to not having to hold out the begging bowl any more. But here we are again, and in this issue of SR you will find a reincarnation of our earlier Boiler Appeal leaflet.
Please would you think about helping to give the 82045 project its final shove towards completion? In return, you should stand a chance of being able to ride behind this locomotive pretty well wherever you live in the country: while the SVR will, we hope, remain its base and its sole home for its first operating season, the trust – subject to the agreement of the SVR – will consider all requests to hire it out to other lines.
There have already been several expressions of interest in it, and it is our dearest wish that someone else will decide to build another one (or more), as we are, by and large, too old to do it all over again. We do, though, have a lot of hardearned experience, not to mention several shedfuls of patterns, so anyone taking the plunge would not be alone.
So much for No. 82045, at least for now. I’d like to go back to the rhetorical question posed in the first paragraph of this article and look at the UK steam railway industry – because that’s what it is – as a whole.
I think there is a structural problem, almost a malaise, affecting the whole industry. This is the fact that the demand from what has grown into a huge concern (and a significant element of the UK’s important tourism industry) has far outstripped supply, in terms of available workshop space and skills. In the early post-BR years, when steam preservation was more or less a cottage industry, this wasn’t a problem; it certainly isn’t a cottage industry now.
The results are to be seen almost everywhere: deadlines overrun, engineering centres with full order books, sometimes for years to come, locomotives sidelined for decades; all leading to frustration and bad feeling.
When you look at what has been achieved since the end of BR steam – the restoration of Duke of Gloucester from a hopeless wreck, the return of a basket case like Braunton to the main line, not to mention the entirely new Tornado
– it is just plain wonderful. As a non-engineer, I can only marvel at the skills that have brought all this about. The problem is that these skills are split into penny packets all over the country and I can’t see a ready solution to what is bound to be an increasing problem of supply and demand.
I recently met Alan Brassey, the Great Central Railway’s infrastructure projects manager. He is currently involved in a number of exciting projects, one being to cross the Midland Main Line and canal north of Loughborough station and so join together the north and south sections of this inspiring railway. Alan voiced an idea that I’ve long thought would help free the logjam: the setting up of a central (no pun intended) boiler-making facility to which all could have
recourse. I can already see fingers
I THINK THERE
IS A STRUCTURAL PROBLEM… AFFECTING THE WHOLE INDUSTRY
twitching as the sceptics get ready to rubbish the notion, but in all seriousness this is an idea worth further thought.
Problems to be overcome would include the initial investment of capital needed, plus the recruitment – and retention – of suitably qualified staff, though the first of these could qualify for assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund. I explored this twice in the early days of No. 82045 but we were knocked back because the locomotive is not an original artefact. I think a better case could be made for a common-user boiler shop, as there is no doubt that new boilers and fireboxes will be needed more and more if the future of the steam railway industry is to be a healthy one.
Another aspect of the movement as a whole is that of co-operation between the various railways and centres. There are heartening examples of this all over the place, but equally there are too many instances of what Alan describes as “individualism” – I would use a less kind word
– in which ego gets in the way of the common good. That is regrettable as well as unhealthy for our collective future, when all most of us want to do is to see steam live on for as long as it can, and in as varied a form as possible. Anyone of good intent is welcome to share anything
I have to offer (not that that’s much, since I have the engineering know-how of a frog), and many of my colleagues feel the same.
I hope that this article has given readers food for thought: it’s important to plan ahead, to anticipate and to look round corners where possible. I’ve always tried to do that with
No. 82045, and I think it would be prudent for the steam industry as a whole. Never get caught with your trousers down – if you can help it!
Anyone who would like to discuss or comment on any points raised in this article is welcome to write to Chris at ‘Woodford’, School Bank, Norley, Cheshire WA6 8JY or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The 82045 Steam Locomotive Trust’s website can be found at www.82045.org.uk
With its smokebox in place, but before its driving wheels went under the frames, ‘3MT’ No. 82045 makes an impressive sight at Bridgnorth on January 2 this year.
delapsus …82031 at Cashmore’s Yard, Newport, October 1968
82045 at Bridgnorth, August 2018 … resurgam!
82041 at Bath Green Park, April 1962