RIGHTING THE WRONGS
It may have been the biggest of the ‘Big Four’, but only three extinct designs from the LMS and its predecessors are being replicated. In part 4 of our new-build survey, THOMAS BRIGHT sees how they’re getting on.
LMS ‘PATRIOT’ 4-6-0 No. 5551 THE UNKNOWN WARRIOR
“Our research has shown that an LMS ‘Patriot’ would be difficult to build, if not impossible, as no drawings survive.” So said
Steam Railway when we conducted a similar survey of new-build locomotives in late 2002. Great to prove the doubters wrong, eh??
Seventeen years later, new ‘5XP’ No. 5551 The Unknown Warrior is close to completion and set to be one of the next new-build locomotives to steam, demonstrating the pitfalls of these sorts of surveys; they are merely a snapshot in time, and circumstances can change in a moment, for either better or worse. What is be true today may not be so tomorrow.
Today though, the Fowler 4-6-0 is one of a handful of new-build projects to have reached critical mass, and those who attended the Crewe Heritage Centre open weekend on November 10-11, held to commemorate the centenary of the Armistice, would have seen the first ‘complete’ parallel-boilered ‘Patriot’ since 1962, as No. 5551’s firebox and boiler barrel were mated to the largely complete bottom end for the first time.
The inconvenient truth is, however, that The Unknown Warrior should have been finished and in steam, as the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War had long been the LMS-Patriot Project’s targeted completion date for the ‘National Memorial Engine’. That it wasn’t ready in time is down to a number of factors, not least LNWR Heritage Co. Ltd – which was building Britain’s first all-riveted standard gauge main line boiler since the 1960s for the ‘Patriot’ – suspending all contract boiler work in order to focus on Jeremy Hosking’s ever-expanding main line fleet.
That hasn’t been the only issue that has pushed back No. 5551’s steaming date. The locomotive was asked to leave its long-time
Llangollen base in October after the railway announced its decision to undertake no further work on the project, stating that it “had a full order book” and was ‘therefore unable to meet with the very tight timescale requirements of the project.” An earlier dispute resulted in work being suspended for six months, while a new tender chassis had to be built after the ex-Barry original was deemed to be life-expired. Although it didn’t affect construction, the withdrawal of the Royal British Legion’s endorsement for The Unknown Warrior was also undoubtedly a blow.
But let’s get a sense of proportion here. To go from nothing to an almost-complete locomotive in a little over a decade is an impressive achievement, and the various setbacks should not detract from what is one of Britain’s most exciting and successful new-build projects.
This is at least the third attempt to replicate a ‘Baby Scot’, highlighting the high regard these locomotives are held in as well as the difficulties new-build projects face to stay the course. LMS-Patriot Project Chairman David Bradshaw says: “It is a generally held belief that the ‘Patriots’ were excellent locomotives and much underrated. Pretty well every LMS enthusiast I have spoken to is of the opinion that one should have been preserved, but a couple of fairly feeble attempts to build a new one (including one to utilise the remains of Galatea) didn’t get off the ground.”
Naming No. 5551 after The Unknown Warrior and marketing it as the ‘National Memorial Engine’ was an inspired piece of public relations, and arguably one of the reasons this attempt at building a ‘Patriot’ has succeeded where others have failed.
The Unknown Warrior is now on the final stretch towards completion. The boiler has returned to Heritage Boiler Steam Services (see News) and will go back onto the frames once it is finished and ready to be piped up. While the project would be the first to admit it isn’t where it wanted to be right now, it is working apace to finish No. 5551, which should be outshopped in September 2019. The first main line runs will take place the following year, fulfilling the project’s long-held ambition of returning a Fowler ‘5XP’ to the national network.
Deciding on a firm to complete its construction should be a formality and The Unknown Warrior is in with a good shout to steam within the next 12 months. Like Prince of Wales, the LMS-Patriot Project has shown what’s possible with a wellorganised team and robust fund-raising strategy. Choosing a name that complements the original ‘Patriots’ naming theme and resonates with the public was a wise move, and has undoubtedly contributed towards the ‘5XP’s’ success.
It is still too early to start popping champagne corks, but put a bottle or two on ice – because
The Unknown Warrior isn’t far away at all.
Group: The LMS-Patriot ProjectProject formed: 2007 Project cost: £3 million (approx.)Raised to date: £2.8 million Estimated completion date: 2019 No. of supporters: 1300 Location: Crewe Heritage CentreTo run: Main line and preserved railways Almost there – new-build ‘Patriot’ No. 5551The Unknown Warrior, temporarily coupled to the Fowler tender from ‘Crab’ No. 13065 at Crewe Heritage Centre on November 10, presents a close impression of what the ‘Baby Scot’ will look like when it is finished in late 2019/early 2020.