I’d been looking forward to seeing the new A1 locomotive 60163 Tornado, ever since it took to the rails in 2008. I caught up with it at the Barrow Hill Roundhouse “Fab Four” event in April 2012 – a well-organised facility for connoisseurs of locomotives to stand and stare at them and, in many cases, take photographs.
I happened to find my way to the trackside at the moment when a large, loudly hissing cloud of steam advanced down the line. By the time it came alongside, anyone with a camera needed to shield their lens against the fog of cool condensation that completely enveloped us.
The cloud turned out to contain 60019 Bittern, one of the glorious streamlined A4 Pacifics now displayed in garter-blue livery.
The next cloud of steam proved to be 61994 The Great Marquess. It was a damp, cold morning, and each loco was loudly blowing off surplus steam through its safety valves.
It’s an extraordinary sensation to stand within a few feet of a railway line, amply protected by safety fencing, as a hundred and more tons of locomotive glides past, the steam exhaust utterly deafening, the wheels and motion barely audible.
The final cloud of steam was something else. 60163 Tornado snorts and clanks and blows steam in all directions: it’s intended to speed down long, straight stretches of main line, and doesn’t take particularly kindly to doing a catwalk turn.
Once this procession had reversed back into exhibition position I took an opportunity to look over Tornado closely. It’s a strange beast: it makes weird banging noises while sitting doing apparently nothing.
It is indeed a magnificent piece of engineering, built from scratch to fill the gap in the ranks of preserved main-line locomotives that ran the East Coast route in the days of steam, to the original post-war design by Arthur H Peppercorn, the last Chief Mechanical Engineer of the London & North Eastern Railway.
In order to run on present-day main lines the design is necessarily adapted to present-day railway conditions – slightly lower than the original, fabricated with the advantages of modern engineering, equipped with the data recorders and warning protection that modern trains carry, with riding-lights that look like traditional oil lamps but are in fact LED clusters.
In effect Tornado represents the form that the original A1s would have evolved into if steam had continued in Britain after the 1960s, and it carries the “next in class” running number accordingly. Its name commemorates the RAF Tornado pilots who flew in the first Gulf War.
The first standard-gauge steam locomotive to be built in the British Isles since 1960, Tornado has all the dignity and elegance of original museum pieces, with the added frisson of being virtually brand new.
The very sight of Tornado brought audible expressions of ecstasy from hardened rail enthusiasts.
This must have been how it felt to see Flying Scotsman, Mallard and the rest when they emerged from the workshops between the wars. Tornado’s website is at http://www.a1steam.com.
It won’t be the last. Other new builds of lost locomotive designs are on their way, led by a new LMS ‘Patriot’, which will take the last-in-class number 45551 and the name The Unknown Warrior as a national memorial engine, replacing the long-lost, much rebuilt original 1919 London & North Western Railway memorial locomotive, Patriot: http://www.lms-patriot.org.uk/overview.html.