Building an old-style locomotive for use in the 21st Century has thrown up a world of challenges, from tackling European law to overcoming language barriers, as Sarah Judd discovered.
PICTURE the scene. You are standing at Darlington railway station when a shiny new, yet old-fashioned steam train whisks along the platform, transporting you back to 1940s Great Britain.
The freshly-painted green, red and black steel provides a stark contrast to the bleak grey sky, and as you step on to the train, hair blowing in the breeze, the smell of hot coals tickling your nostrils, your trip to Newcastle, York or London just got a lot more exciting.
With a brand new mainline steam locomotive – believed to be the first in Britain for almost 50 years – being built at Darlington Locomotive Works, this will soon be a reality along the East Coast Mainline.
The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust is in charge of the £3m project to develop, from scratch, a new Tornado steam train celebrating the region’s railway heritage.
The train is modelled on the A1 Pacific class of steam locomotives designed by Arthur H Peppercorn, the last chief mechanical engineer of the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER). But even with Mr Peppercorn’s widow, Dorothy Mather as president of the trust, the exciting project has not been without its glitches.
Darlington Council made the original carriage works of the Stockton and Darlington Railway available for the reconstruction at Peppercorn-era rental costs.
But despite their support, it was not possible for the new train, which aims to balance modern safety standards with an authentic 1940s feel, to be a simple replica.
Components needed to be manufactured to modern standards, and the boiler needed to be completely redesigned.
As a result, European law was the first obstacle the trust had to overcome.
This was only possible with the expertise of Martin Boyle, a European legal officer for the Tees Valley Joint Strategy Unit, who advises firms on matters of European legislation affecting their business.
“A steam locomotive boiler built nowadays has to comply with the Pressure Equipment Directive,” Mr Boyle explains.
Though trained as an English lawyer, Martin spent some time with a firm of German legal professionals in Cologne, and then with the German Chamber of Commerce in London, before joining the Tees Valley European Legal Information Service.
As a fluent German-speaker, he is especially well-equipped to give help and support with British-German business, as the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust discovered.
“It’s frustrating to see how nervousness about these issues holds some firms back from doing good business in Europe,” he said.
And it’s not just niche engineering projects he is talking about.
“There is massive potential for lucrative co-operation with European partners in new, expanding fields like information and communications technology, software development and e-commerce.
“That’s why it’s so encouraging to see people like the A1 Trust getting out there and doing the business.”
The team, accompanied by Martin Boyle, visited Germany to purchase the boiler, which was manufactured by Dampflokwerk Meiningen, a steam locomotive workshop of the German Federal Railway, Deutsche Bahn – one of the few places left in the world where new steam locomotive boilers are still regularly designed and built.
German engineers created a modified version of the original steam train’s boiler, incorporating modern materials and manufacturing processes, such as welding and a steel rather than copper firebox.
Mr Boyle’s legal assistance in the early stages of the project has meant plans for the completion of Peppercorn Class A1 Pacific No. 60163 Tornado are right on track.
Mark Allatt, chairman of the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, said: “The locomotive will steam for the first time just before Christmas, and will move under its own power for the first time by next spring.
“In early summer 2008, it will be going down to Great Central Railway in Loughborough, and in mid-summer, will be tested on the mainline. The loco will also go on exhibition at the National Railway Museum.”
Tornado is also expected to begin a mainline service around the beginning of September 2008.
“The train will run through a variety of different stations on the East Coast Mainline and will be available for hire by rail tour operators,” said Mr Allatt.
With almost all of the major components now manufactured and trial fitted, the next few months will see feverish activity in Darlington Locomotive Works, as the final assembly takes place.
Mr Allatt said: “We have faced a series of challenges, but we have overcome every one.
“It wasn’t like going to a model shop and buying parts to put together. We had to find the original designs from an enormous collection of drawings and work out which were missing – but all the critical ones still existed.”
He added: “We had to rediscover what materials were used, how we would put it together, and what tools and techniques were required.
“The project has involved lots of rediscovery of old skills and finding new, modern ways of doing things that were done nearly 50 years ago.”
The trust, a registered charity, has also worked hard to raise vital cash to complete the £3m scheme, with regular and single donations from the public, as well as industrial sponsorship providing a welcome contribution.
Mr Allatt said: “We are grateful to everyone who has contributed to funding the scheme, and now have approximately £75,000 to raise.”
But despite the cost, Tornado has positive implications for tourism, and the restoration of an essential part of the region’s heritage.
Martin Boyle said: “I think Tornado could have a considerable impact on the area. If you can say to steam enthusiasts they could be taken from King’s Cross up to Darlington, with the option of stopping off at York on the way, this could attract visitors from all over the world.”
For more information, visit www.a1steam.com