Mum’s the word! SVR in ‘secret’ 50mph steam trials

5th December 2012

Mum’s the word! SVR in ‘secret’ 50mph steam trials

IT IS often said that in the world of railway preservation, nothing is secret - but the Severn Valley Railway has just concluded two days of ‘hush-hush’ test running with the steam locomotive that will launch London Underground’s 150th anniversary celebrations in the new year - and, say it quietly… hardly anyone knew a thing about it!

The arrival of 1896-built Metropolitan Railway ‘E’ Class 0-4-4T ‘Met 1’ at the SVR on Tuesday November 27th 2012, following its £250,000 overhaul at The Flour Mill railway workshops at Brean, Forest of Dean, came amid almost ‘D Notice’ security.

Transport for London Heritage Operations Manager Andy Barr had formally asked the railway to ‘keep it dark’, in order to maximise publicity when ‘Met 1’ works the curtain-raising train of ‘LU 150’  from London’s Moorgate station on Sunday January 13th 2013.

Despite being identified by the monthly enthusiasts magazine Steam Railway as the prize pick of four possible options for the testing of ‘Met 1’ and a tiny flutter of internet whispers, there were few prying eyes when the locomotive was unloaded at Kidderminster on Tuesday November 27th, after initial running-in at the Avon Valley Railway at Bitton, near Bristol.

Following preparation of the engine and a ‘Fitness to Run’ (FTR) examination at Bridgnorth Locomotive Shed the following day , ‘Met 1’ ran ‘light engine’ trials (ie: solo, without a train) between Bridgnorth and Highley on Thursday morning in the hands of Driver Brian Malyon and Fireman Steve Chandler, and then a three-coach test train over the same section in the afternoon.

But the highlight of the trials – and the main reason for ‘Met 1s’ visit to the SVR – was a session of running up to 50mph - twice the railway’s regular speed limit for passenger trains – on Friday November 30th. The privilege of driving was handed to Driver Gary Townley, and Fireman Will Marsh. The three-mile section of track between Bewdley and Kidderminster was chosen because it is free of footpath and level crossings.

Although the Severn Valley Railway has previously been used as a testing ground for new main-line diesel unit trains, this was the first time a steam locomotive has been authorised to run at such speeds -  50mph is considered to be ‘fast’ for a tank engine in such an environment, and certainly for one built 116 years ago!  Special dispensation had to be sought from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) for running at this speed 

During special train running on London Underground’s ‘overground’ lines next year however, the locomotive is not expected to exceed 35mph.

SVR Operations Manager Phil Brown who handled arrangements for the trials disclosed: “We were asked by TfL not to publicise what we were doing.

“They’re looking for a really big ‘hoorah’ when the engine is seen for the first time in January with its newly restored 1892 four-wheel passenger coach, ‘Met 353’, and the 1898-built ‘Chesham set’ of former Metropolitan Railway carriages, which are being loaned by the Bluebell Railway.

Of course members of SVR staff knew about it, but TfL didn’t want it splashed all over the place, so we kept our lips sealed. We did have a number of telephone calls to our offices at Bewdley, and to the Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley from people who had heard a whisper, and wanted to come and have a look and take photographs. We didn’t deny the engine was here, but we were honour-bound not to say when it would run.”

‘Met 1’ he revealed, left the SVR on a road transporter on Monday morning, its departure shrouded by almost as much mystery and intrigue as its arrival. ‘Informed sources’ suggested the engine was being delivered to London Underground’s tube-train workshops at South Ruislip, Middlesex – but there’s another reason why Transport for London are keeping schtum about the next moves for the locomotive.
Despite being overhauled and finished in glossy Metropolitan Railway ‘red’ livery, the specialist lining-out and numbering of the engine is still to be completed – something which has fuelled speculation that it may not emerge next month as ‘Met 1’, but in its former incarnation as ‘L44’ –the guise in which it worked London Transport’s last regular steam passenger turn in 1961.

Commented TfL Heritage Operations Manger Andy Barr after the ‘Met 1’ trials: “The co-operation and support we received from the Severn Valley Railway was one of the key factors which made the running-in trials such a success. We’re very grateful for the contribution made by all the crews.”