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Vice Presidents: Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA; Richard Hardy




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Heritage Trains Underground

Andy Barr, MBE

11 November 2014

Andy came down from Scotland in 1966 to joint the “army of occupation” in England, starting as a trainee draughtsman in Acton Works. His family had a background in working on the railways in Scotland, and he gradually worked his way through London Underground, finally becoming Emergency Incident Manager before considering retirement  in September 2012. However, his boss offered him the post of Heritage Operations Manager – it didn't take too much persuasion for him to accept!

Peter Hendry, London Transport Commissioner, had already decided to run steam train for the sesquicentennial (150th) celebrations of the London Underground. Andy was asked to organise it and was encouraged to ensure that staff were to feel part of it. As it turned out, most of those involved in the events were volunteers, so staffing wasn't a problem. The real problem was finding suitable rolling stock. While London Underground has access to vintage motive power, it didn't have any suitable carriages. So he approached the team at the Bluebell Railway who were willing to loan some vehicles. However, their use also needed the acceptance by the Office of Railway Regulation (ORR), meaning that they needed a safety case and emergency plan in case things went wrong. Finally, the entire thing had to be integrated into an effective timetable, with the challenge not to put one minute onto delays to normal operations. He had to get the proposals cleared through the safety committees and the unions and a long list of agencies from the ORR to St John's Ambulance. Then there was the question of whether the rolling stock fit the loading gauge.

To satisfy the ORR he needed approval for derogations from a whole range of current railway standards, from crash-worthiness to slam-doors. To achieve the latter derogation it meant banning children from travelling in the stock and providing individual briefing to passengers. To meet the fire precautions, it was agreed that a trailing, electric-powered, locomotive would start the train, thus avoiding the steam locomotive from emitting sparks onto the wooden coaches. The smoke and fire detectors at stations needed modification, but this was helped by most of them being reprogrammable from the control centre between heat and smoke sensitivity.

It was agreed to use 0-4-4T Met No 1 but this required overhaul, so £250k was provided to the Buckingham Railway Centre with the strong message that the work must be completed by November 2012. Tenders for the work were received from two organisations but the Flour Mill won the contract. The locomotive was stripped, the boiler overhauled, everything checked and repaired and then rebuilt. It was then run-in on the Avon Valley Railway and Severn Valley Railway, the latter having the benefit of allowing running up to 50 mph. It was found that the horn-blocks were some ¾inch out of square and needed correction. One unusual thing about the locomotive is that the tyres are bolted to the centre, and several of the bolts had suffered fatigue fractures.
The restoration of coach 353 was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It was rebuilt from derelict condition by the Ffestiniog Railway. It needed a new steel underframe and had to be fitted with both air and steam brake, as well as LED lighting to simulate the original gas lamps. The Ashley coaches, which were originally  steam-hauled stock, had been converted for EMU use between 1908 and 1921. They were restored back to original condition by the Bluebell Railway. The final piece of rolling stock was a 1896-built 4-wheel milk van, which had seen its last use in 1963. After restoration it was to be used to haul emergency equipment – fire-extinguishers, ladders and spare water. Sarah Siddons was also to be used in the celebrations but needed to have vacuum brake fitted so it is compatible with the steam stock; this was done at Eastleigh.

Having organised the rolling stock and motive power, Andy now needed to look at the operational management. This involved getting route agreement, organising safety, and training for staff and volunteers. Fitters were to ride on the train for rapid response in case of problems, and stewards were put on every coach to oversee passenger safety. All the staff and volunteers were provided with “crib sheets” to “educate” passengers on the use of the antiquated stock – such as not putting heads or arms out of windows.

To check out the operational side the Beattie well-tank was brought up to London from the B&WR in February 2012, which proved that the operation of steam locomotives in the tunnels was possible. The first full trials took place at night in December 2012, with Met No. 1, a coach, flat wagon (with spare water) and Sarah Siddons at the rear. Following this, the stock went back to Acton to receive its final painting and lining. The full rehearsal took place in early January before the real runs  on 13 and 20 January. The rehearsal showed that there could be problems with the visibility of intermediate signals from the cab due to drifting steam. As a result a video camera was mounted on the buffer-beam to give a good view of the route ahead. Andy played a recording of one such run which gave a fascinating new view of a trip along the Met/District line – the original intention had been to go back to Lillie Bridge Depot on the Hammersmith & City for overnight storage, but they were routed along the District Line to Gloucester Road which resulted in some startled views from the few ordinary passengers waiting on the platform at Kensington High Street, although all seemed to love it with waves, cheers and clapping.

In April and May the celebrations extended to runs to Amersham. This time different rolling stock was used – the 4TC stock, which were fitted with internal door locks. Volunteers from the Buckingham Railway Centre needed TfL medicals, route training on how to operate the trains safely at speeds of up to 50 mph, significantly higher than trains on their home patch. All were assessed for competence using an external expert.
Based on past experience of running “Steam on the Met”, showed that three steam locomotives were needed, which were Met No. 1, GWR Prairie No. 5322 (running as L150) and Pannier No. 9466. The first two had some problems on the first weekend Sarah Siddens and two Class 20s were used on the rear of the trains. All the motive power needed to be fitted with trip-cocks. One novel arrangement was that Bachmann produced a model of the Class 20s in a suitable livery, and London Underground paid the real one to match the model!
There were some problems. The vacuum brake was quick to apply (so safe) but slow to release (so causing delays). Because a Class 20 + Sarah Siddons + 4TC was around 400t load, the Met No. 1 was not powerful enough to handle the train. The only solution was for the Class 20 to give some assistance. On the operation side, the coupling and uncoupling had to be done over non-electrified lines, which meant some shunting. There could have been substantial delays from checking passenger tickets, but this was simplified by using wristbands rather than tickets, and all loading and unloading taking place just at Amersham.

The Lord Mayor's show (the Saturday before the lecture) saw Coach 353 in the parade. To place it on a flat-bed lorry cost £7500.
That's not the end. There will be more events during next year, with August 2014 marking the 150th anniversary of the Hammersmith and City line. This is likely to involve the Chesham set running on the first two weeks from Hammersmith to Moorgate. Next year has been designated the “year of the bus” by the LTM so the vintage train will link in with vintage bus operations. There will also be runs of the 1938 Tube and A stock. In 2015, the Q stock is scheduled for return and there could be further steam runs in central London. Finally 2018 if the 150th anniversary of the District line.

I suspect Andy is going to be very busy over the coming years.