Because they took ages to start, they needed a lot of maintenance, and they were ‘difficult’ to drive, — as machines they are gorgeous, truly magnificent engineering creations which hearten everyone who sees them. But as ‘practical machines’ for a railway system they are non-starters.
To get 60 tons of water (c.5,000 Gallons) from cold to boiling before you can even move; to get ‘a head of steam’ ready for an upcoming hill — then ‘avoid a surplus’ going down the other side; raking out the fires and dropping the ash / cinder each night —
“The scales fall from your eyes” (or more accurately the rose-tinted spectacles fall) when you see one of the last large steam locos which were oil-fired (the power output of a steam loco is limited by how much fuel you can get into the firebox and men could not shovel coal fast enough for big machines).
So you have the anomaly of a steam loco burning oil in a firebox to create steam to drive the pistons — instead of just injecting the oil into a diesel engine and getting a much more efficient ‘engine’ which produces ‘power on demand’ — with no start-up time, no shut-down time, with instant power for the hills, and shut back for the descent — all almost fully automatically.
We don’t have steam trains now for the same reason we don’t have steam Lorries or steam cars – they are lovely but not very practical. Here are some examples of Britain’s best steam locomotives:
I. The No.4472 Flying Scotsman: A London and North Eastern Railway LNER Class A3 (1922-35) British 4-6-2 “Pacific” steam locomotive designed by Nigel Gresley. It was built in 1923 at Doncaster Works. It reached 100 mph in 1934. It is without doubt the world’s most famous express locomotive known for going non-stop from London to Edinburgh on a regular run.
II. The Great Western Railway Collett 4073 Castle Class 4-6-0 “Ten-wheeler” locomotives: The Castles were designed for express passenger trains by Charles Collett, Chief Mechanical Engineer. The 4073 Castle Class locomotives (Caerphilly Castle was No.4073), a group of 171 locomotives, were introduced from 1923. On 6 June 1932 No.5006 “Tregenna Castle” was the fastest “Cheltenham Flyer” over 77¼ miles from Swindon to London in 56 minutes 47 seconds, averaging a speed of 81.6 mph, which was very, very fast for 1932! No.5043 “Earl of Mount Edgcumbe” was built in 1936, and was given a double chimney and a 4 row superheater.
III. The GWR 6000 King Class 4-6-0 “Ten-wheeler” locomotives: 31 were built from 1927. This ‘Super-Castle’ Class was also designed by Charles B. Collett, as an enlarged version of his Castles (which in turn were an enlargement of George Jackson Churchward’s Star Class). The new design was in response to having the title of the ‘most powerful express passenger steam locomotive in Britain’ taken away from the Great Western Railway’s Castles in 1926 by the Southern Railway’s Lord Nelson Class. William Stanier based his LMS Princess Royal Class design on the King Class, but with an enlarged boiler and firebox necessitating a 4-6-2 wheel arrangement. Four-row superheaters were fitted to the Kings, and double blast-pipes and chimneys were fitted. British Railways saw the very best of their performance, particularly on the steep South Devon banks at Dainton, Rattery, and Hemerdon.
IV. The LMS Princess Royal Class British 4-6-2 “Pacific” steam locomotive designed by William Stanier. Built in 1933 at Crewe. They were used to haul the Royal Scot train between London Euston and Glasgow Central. On the 3 May 1936 No.46203 Princess Margaret Rose attained the Class speed record of 102.5 mph. Later examples of 4-6-2 express passenger locomotive built by the London Midland and Scottish Railway were of the related but larger, Coronation Class.
V. The Black Five 4-6-0 LMS Stanier Class 5: Black Five — Stanier Class 5MT No.45407. The “Ten-wheelers” were introduced by William Stanier in 1934. By 1951, 842 were built. Many members of the class survived to the last day of steam on British Railways in 1968, and eighteen are preserved. The Lancashire Fusilier (No.45407) was built in 1937 by Armstrong Whitworth.
VI. The LNER V2-Class 4771 “Green Arrow” 2-6-2 “Prairie/Tender”: The story of No.60800 “Green Arrow” (built 1936) is her heroic attempts to become the first V2-Class locomotive to reach Plymouth, particularly on the infamous Devon banks. Designed by Sir Nigel Gresley for express mixed traffic work with 184 built 1936-44.
VII. The No.6229 Duchess of Hamilton (National Railway Museum, York): Is a London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) Princess Coronation Class British 4-6-2 “Pacific” streamlined steam locomotive designed by William Stanier. Built in 1937 at Crewe they were a larger version of the Princess Royal Class — and holds the honour of being the most powerful steam engine ever built to pull trains on Britain’s railways. No.6220 ‘Coronation’ reached a record speed of 114 mph in 1937. Three Princess Coronation’s survive: Duchess of Hamilton, Duchess of Sutherland and the City of Birmingham.
VIII. The No.4468 Mallard: A London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) Class A4 British 4-6-2 “Pacific” steam locomotive designed by Nigel Gresley. Built at the Doncaster Works in 1938. It became the holder of the steam speed record of 126 mph in 1938. The world’s fastest steam locomotive continues to steam triumphantly on into the Millennium.
IX. The Great Western Railway Collett 7800 Manor Class 4-6-0 “Ten-wheeler” locomotives: These “Manors” were designed for express passenger trains by Charles Collett, Chief Mechanical Engineer. Like the “Granges”, the “Manors” used parts from the GWR 4300 Class “Moguls” (2-6-0), but just on the first batch of 20. These Twenty were built between 1938 and 1939, with British Railways adding yet another 10 in 1950.
X. The Southern Railway Clan Line, 21C1, “Merchant Navy” Class 4-6-2 (Pacific) locomotives: The first members of the Oliver Bulleid class were constructed during the Second World War from 1941, and the last of the 30 locomotives in 1949; No.35028 was built at Eastleigh Works in 1948. The Bulleid Pacific No.35028 “Clan Line” was saved from destruction in the 1960s.
XI. The London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) Class B1 British 4-6-0 “Ten-wheeler” steam locomotives: The LNER B1’s were was designed by Edward Thompson and introduced in 1942. The No.61306 Mayflower B1 was built by North British Locomotive Company in 1948. They were the LNER’s equivalent to the highly successful GWR “Hall Class” and the LMS Stanier “Black Five”, two-cylinder mixed traffic 4-6-0s. The Mayflower is now based at the North Norfolk Railway.