Thursday 27 October 2016

Scotsman Shots Fired: Our Guest Writer has his say

We hand over this edition of the BM to a Guest Writer, Simon AC Martin from the British Railway Stories.

Lively debate springs from our Facebook Page from time to time and more often than not, regarding 'that A3'. Shots Fired are also eminating from major Steam Railway magazines too.

Here is Simon's view.

Flying Scotsman: was it worth it?

Llangollen, March 15 1994.

It backs towards us slowly, clanking as it moves across rails and making hissing sounds as it passes under a bridge. Click click click go cameras from all directions, and there are murmurs of delight and contentment from everyone around me.

The light catches the top of the big green cylinder and it shines, and as it passes me slowly I see in big cream numerals 6 0 1 0 3 encircled by orange and black lining, below a pair of clear windows.

Big black wheels emerge next, and curved over the centre set of wheels in brass letters is the legend FLYING SCOTSMAN. There is smoke, and steam, and a smell of oil, burning and metal in the air.

It is hissing more loudly as it stops, and as it stops I see a flash of red at the front, and smoke pouring from a long, stubby chimney.

“60103” is also on the front, and seems to give this strange machine a face with its white letters surrounded by the polished black metal. I stare up at it, and slowly walk along the platform, my hands in my pockets, trying to make sense of it all. I have never seen anything like this before, and my father takes me by the hand to say 'Come on Simon, let's go to the cab and say hallo to the driver!'

We go to the windows and a kindly face looks down on us, and I smile at him. 'Hallo young sirs!' he says. 'Would you like to come in and have a look at our fire?'

My father lifts me into the cab and the first thing I see is this orange glow from an oval hole, roaring loudly with the sounds of flames licking around the belly of this beast. I stare in wonder as shovel after shovel of coarse black coal is thrown into it, and the orange glow disappears as a gun metal grey door is slammed shut by the man I know to be the beast's driver.

'It's been a great few weeks driving her', he is saying to my father, showing him all of the instruments in the cab, 'she is never short on steam though she is a bit tired, mechanically'. I don't have much time to wonder what that means, as his friend with the shovel has asked if I want to blow the whistle?

Dad lifts me up, and I hold onto the chain, and tug it gently. There's a pathetic 'pffffffft' and everyone laughs, and the driver says to me gently to 'really yank it!' So I do, and there's a loud, high pitched scream from the beast, melodious as I let go and echoing all around.

I look up in wonder at the roof, through which I see steam throwing itself into the air. It's coming from its 'safety valves', the driver tells my father, and that's the last thing they say before we have to climb down and let the next father and son in.

I tug on my dad's arm and tell him how much I loved blowing the whistle. He is smiling the smile of someone who loved it too. I don't know why it's so important to him that we had to see this beast, but I do know as I look around and gaze at its face, with 60103 in white letters on the black background, that she suddenly looks like less a beast and more a racehorse, with blinkers on, waiting patiently for the off and sitting obediently.

Mum and my sister are waiting by what dad calls a carriage, and we get in and Dad slams the door. I am surprised by this and tell him he shouldn't slam the doors. He laughs and says this is how all old trains used to close their doors.

I realise that this IS a train, and ask him if it's like Thomas from the show we both like. He says it is, but that the engine at the front is 'Flying Scotsman', and that she's a very special engine. I ask why it's a “she” when it's 'Flying ScotsMAN' and Dad says simply 'because she is'.

We see a man with a green flag outside, and he shouts 'right away', waves the flag and blows a little whistle.

The whistle I pulled earlier blasts into the air around us, and the engine roars and pants up front, pulling our carriages through the beautiful Welsh countryside. I have never been on a train before, not even the electric ones in London that Dad complains about bitterly as he leaves home every morning for work.

I have never been through a tunnel, but I see one and I am excited by this. The steam billows out the sides of the carriage past the windows, and the train descends into blackness, the lights coming on, and then fading as we exit the tunnel and back into the sunlight of the Welsh countryside.

We get out at a station, and everyone on the train climbs a bank, overlooking the train and the dark green locomotive at its head. I realise there is another engine, but all eyes are on the one with the elephant ears: the one with the stern, powerful face and the look of a racehorse.

All I know is that I can't take my eyes off her, as she whistles loudly, sending steam flying into the air, and she leaves her train behind as she pulls forward, snorting with every move of her metal rods and makes her way into the distance, the sun just setting as she departs.


The story above is a true story. It is also my story. This was my first experience of a steam locomotive in my life, and let's face it, it was a hell of a start to a lifelong love affair with railways.

She was just a steam locomotive, but the very first one I saw. She made an impression, purely by being there. I can still see that dark green livery (and to this day, I will always incorrectly call it "brunswick green" when it was never the like), the cream numerals, the gentle sprinkling of coal dust along the top of the boiler, the smell of the steam and the oil, and how much my father grinned when he was showing me around the engine.

This wasn't just a steam locomotive, this was a living, breathing machine that turned ordinary members of the public, like my father, into railway enthusiasts, even if it was only for an afternoon in Wales in 1994.

When I first clapped eyes on Flying Scotsman, I didn't know her back story. I had no idea of her more famous and iconic number (4472), I did not know about the Wembley Empire Exhibition, where she took centre stage with Pendennis Castle.

I had no idea about the first non-stop run, London King's Cross to Edinburgh, nor was I aware of the many strange events during her working life (such as running out of water due to injector failure on the London-Leicester route, due to fish getting caught in her tender's water tank!) and I most definitely had no inkling of the adventures she had had with at that point, three private owners across two continents and the length and breadth of Great Britain.

She has travelled further than any steam locomotive has ever done by far, clocking up more miles in a single journey than any steam locomotive will ever do (when it went to Alice Springs whilst on its tour of Australia in the 1980s). She was a genuine record breaker, undisputedly the first to be authenticated by dynamometer car in 1934. The first true speed record holder in many respects, however much the Great Western lobbyists may protest.

She was effectively the big publicity machine for the London and North Eastern Railway, from her earliest days and into the 1930s. Not only the poster child for the new non-stop service from 1928, and a record breaker as mentioned, she was taken around the country and posed with other great locomotives of the age, despite at times seeming out of place as one of the original A1s.

During the war years, and after up to her withdrawal in 1963, she was just one of the A3s. Much loved, as an icon, but in many respects a forgotten one. Then the news broke on the National Collection's decision to save Mallard and Green Arrow for preservation - but there was no space for her.

Campaigns were made, such as Save our Scotsman, but it was in Sir Alan Pegler that she found a saviour, and the rest, as they say, is history, with a repeat of the non stop run in 1968 with two apple green tenders, and two incredible trips across America to boot.

She has returned in great form, thanks to Ian Riley and his team, and her journey has been followed by people everywhere.

I was one of a lucky few on board her inaugural run from London's King's Cross in February this year, and in my interview with Dominic King for BBC Radio Kent on the ride home from York, I said that the story behind Flying Scotsman was people.

It was the story of people who built her, ran her, watered her, fed her, bought her, took her to America and Australia, sold her, fixed her, painted her and loved her. That this still remains true nearly a hundred years after her building cannot be understated.

She remains Britain's most treasured locomotive, the engine which shines a light on the pleasures of railway travel and brings people from all walks of life together.

There is in my opinion, no greater ambassador for the steam locomotive than this locomotive. In this year, which can only be described as "The year of the Flying Scotsman" she has been swarmed by people wherever she has gone.

I witnessed the power of her appeal first hand on her inaugural run, and whilst I cannot condone the line side trespassing by ordinary members of the public, I will defend theirs and anyone else's right to be enthused by the sight of this steam locomotive.

There are those who would have this steam locomotive stuffed and mounted in the National Railway Museum forever. There are those who decry that she has any actual achievements, dismissing her as nothing more than hype and pomp and circumstance. There are those who would angrily cry havoc, and unleash the dogs of war on their keyboards in protestation at the total cost of having Flying Scotsman under public ownership once more.

Indeed, Steam Railway Magazine ran a headline of £6.8 million: museum reveals cost of Flying Scotsman in its latest issue. It "asked strong questions" of the museum, but did not reveal what those questions were in that issue.

Online, many people from the comfort of their armchairs have bemoaned this price. They repeatedly state that it is "three times the cost of Tornado" or "you could have built three A3s for the price to overhaul this engine".

These are straw man arguments. These are the words of people with no real understanding of the power of publicity, for example. They say that you could build three Peppercorn A1s but at no point acknowledge that funding is dependent on support and enthusiasm. These are also the words of people who often don't understand the complexities of the custodianship of a real piece of Britain's engineering.

They do not understand the curatorial demands of having the locomotive in the national collection (constantly ignoring the inaccurate overhauls of years past, with an A4 boiler fitted, together with a number of incredibly dubious engineering fixes. These are available in the report put together by Bob Meanley for all to read, in the public domain).

These are normally the same people who demand for someone to lose their job, because they disagree with a decision made by those people. They're also the same people who have enjoyed the sight of Flying Scotsman in steam, but would condemn ever steaming it again and thus rob our children, and grandchildren of the spectacle of the world's most famous locomotive.

To them I will only say this.

If you are in any doubt about this locomotive's status. If you are in any doubt as to whether the money spent was worth it. If you do not feel that the locomotive does provide any positive contribution to the country, and to us, the taxpayers, I urge you to attend in future, an event at a steam railway somewhere in Great Britain in the near future, when Flying Scotsman is in attendance.

Railway enthusiasts are not born, they are made. They are made in a variety of ways. It could be the influence of a parent, or grandparent. It could be from the stories and films of Thomas the Tank Engine. It could be from the journey to school by train, or a fleeting glance of one of our mainline steam locomotives thundering by at speed.

The future of our movement depends on our youngest generations being able to have the fire of interest sparked at a young age. Memory is powerful, nostalgia more so, and if Flying Scotsman is capable of anything in this life, it is capable of one thing: impressing upon a young child the magnificence of the steam locomotive, and the green and pleasant lands on which it runs.

Was the £6.8 million - £2.3 million in purchase, £4.5 million in overhaul, of those vast sums donated by many individuals, companies and entrepreneurs, the Science Museum group and the like, worth it?

You tell me. I know my answer to that question.

Monday 17 October 2016

Green Arrow - The Broken Record plays again

So whats the big deal?

I think once we claim membership of that strange old fan club known as 'being a Rail Enthusiast', we often sit back and wonder - why do we care so much? why do we worry about a lump of metal with some coal and water in it?

Well we find ourselves back in our childhood, or teens, or chewing Werthers Originals, and taking notice of those influential people on the television. Yep Dick Strawbridge. Well no, not this time Dick but your cult status is assured.

It was 'Train Now Departing' which summed it up best for us. Steam locomotives take us back to the time that all you cared about was that 'your beans on toast were on the table for breakfast'. The resounding thud of the mortgage bill was not even on the overdraft radar. This was coming from a man who had sweated out his own grit, eaten it in a sandwich and sweated it out again rebuilding 'Port Line' to its former glory.

So it is curious what enables a Steam Locomotive to enter the realms of iconic status, does it have to achieve a certain greatness or record?

Or can we simply 'Like it'?

There is a love from the British of the underdog, the one that is not claiming the headlines from a multi million pound refurbishment. The Leicester City, the Donald Trump - well you get the point.

We will today claim that 4771 'Green Arrow' is our Leicester City. The one that will never come back, the one that will never claim the title. But one day, in rainy Stoke it somehow manages to capture everyone's imagination. 

Now from our recent Postings on The BM Facebook Page that it is all over for Green Arrow in the fact that the NRM have said it is. 

Green Arrow is destined in fact to become the 'Leicester City' for real. It will be the focal part of the new NRM Museum at Leicester North. A fully laden steaming Green Arrow means no centrepiece for a multi million pound investment in Leicester and the Great Central Railway.

'If someone has a big enough cheque book then it will happen'

This is our saving grace, this is our Claudio Ranieri pulling out of the bag for Leicester nab the Double in 2017. Its a long shot, its a very long shot but at least that is an option that is bounded around and makes clear sense to us without big cheque books.

£9.5M investment, £39M to the local economy over 5 years. That's what is at stake with pulling Green Arrow away from the Great Central Museum. 

Our Opinion? The centrepiece of this museum should always have been 'Butler Henderson', a true Great Central descendant. It is merely demoted to the sidelines of all press interest in what will be a startling Museum, its seeming history cast aside like Craig Logan in the Bros reunion.

We are disappointed that Green Arrow has been thrown in as bait for the focal point of a brand new museum. Someone out there knows the appeal of this V2, knows the star appeal that will attract in the mass funding to a brand new museum. Perhaps it is purely being used as an Apple Green LNER Locomotive trading card.

Ask someone you know who doesn't get Trains. Test them on the 'Trains' they know.

Show them the V2 and ask what it is. 
Show them Butler Henderson and ask again. 

We will already claim to be Billy Big Bollocks by knowing the answer here: The V2 is 'Flying Scotsman', the Director Class is 'a Train?'.

Here comes the Pickle that even Branston would remove from Tesco online - Is it a forgone conclusion that the V2 is done and dusty in a Museum for all time?

Wednesday 5 October 2016

The Day that Onboard Wifi became 'Heritage'

We'll own up.

The Annual Convention of the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust did look from the outside a collection of lucky, lucky people with flexible friends that were always contactless just by the smell of the huge available funds that wreaked from them. Spar would roll out the red carpet and push Jeremy Corbyn to one side to kneel before them as they headed straight towards the premium Baked Beans. Each one of them on average handed over almost £200 each in one weekend.

Despite peace breaking out from Shropshire over the past 36 Hours, we were reluctant to bite the hand that will never feed us by taking the piss out of people filthier richer than us. So we didn't.


The announcement that followed was quite extraordinary and unexpected. 

The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust (A1SLT) ran one Railtour in 2015. They went and ran one more in 2016. The prolificness of their railtour operation wouldn't lead people to believe they need to take over a Steamtown and turn the place into a Mk1 / Class 47 Graveyard just yet.

So what would this Trust need with a rake of ex-Anglia Mk3 sheds coaches?

Well the big announcement from A1SLT is that they are buying a rake of the things from Anglia, doing them up to a top standard and building a brand new Train for the A1 and the P2 to pull all of their tours. A large rush of blood for a train a year you would think.

Not for this new breed of railtour. 'Engineering activity' is now focused on making Tornado run at 90mph and for 200 miles so it can fit in with Class 158s bumbling towards Scarborough. This will make Tornado agile and ready to keep the Clarksons of the world happy again as they steam past Doncaster locating houses where he had a shag in the past.

Sounds fantastic to us, and sounds a real leap forward for steam on the mainline - fast steam on the mainline at that.

It all looks to be paid for by those premium Beans fed supporters and the 'Heritage Lottery Fund'.


Here is where we are stuck. And we will elaborate further with the details from Darlington. The new exuberant Anglia Mk3s will have the luxury of Air Conditioning and Power at Seat (to check the bank balances after buying the ticket) and controlled emission toilets. When you check that bank balance and drop the almightiest of frightening 'Bank Balance Nervous Turd' just South of Banbury, the smell of your nervousness is spread across Oxfordshire in a controlled manner. Phew.

Oh, and the coaches may likely have Wifi.

Now I don't know what image you have of the 'Age of Steam', but controlled turd emissions and Wifi is not on the list. This is not what impressed Cuneo as he sat at the end of the Forth Bridge. Where does this high class plan fit into 'Heritage'?

With the world and excitement of New Builds, have we now lost what Heritage is?

Is this Heritage?
This is about to be Heritage
We are fearful of what this step entails. Heritage becomes a luxurious train that only a few Baked Bean eaters will benefit from. 

The masses will see Tornado and revel in it, the masses will see Prince of Wales and laugh at those ears. Will they experience the world of Steam from those clapped out Mk1s? Or should they experience the world of Steam from a renovated Mk3?

The A1SLT pleaded their case for disposing of these clapped out Mk1 carriages. The railtour market is 'dominated by difficult to maintain 60 years or older vehicles'. Either Heritage has moved ever closer to us or we are getting older.

More New Builds

The New Build 'fad' is here to stay. It is staying in the form of many 'new build projects' scattered around the sheds of the UK. The impending V4 and V3 locomotives that the A1SLT will be providing once they send a Prince out at 90mph to Scarborough are now on the list.

Great News. Who wouldn't want to see all of these locomotives at a Premium Priced Gala with onboard Wifi? We would admit we would. We know the 'masses' would too.

Who wouldn't want to see another completely unsuitable 9F in Black, or another GWR 2-8-0 storming to Minehead? We would admit we would. We're not too sure about those 'masses'. Unless it has a Peppa Pig on the running board or a face hanging from that smokebox, every day, it's a tough sell.

This announcement from A1SLT is big. A seismic shift from an organisation that less than 12 months ago cancelled a Railtour because of lack of sales.

They see the future as onboard Wifi and carefully emissed shite. We are worried that everyone else may see that as the future too.

Sunday 2 October 2016

We have Triggered Article Shitty

Isn't the modern world wonderful?

Technology is king and immediate, it is Live. What happened 5 minutes ago is ancient history and waiting for the next person to become headline news, then annoying, then forgotten. Headline News of course is made up from people with technology who catch it on their devices and share with the world.

Forgive us, were going egoistic. 

Who exactly is The BM for you ask? Well you didn't ask but we're going to tell you anyway. Amidst the shit that life throws at you all, amidst the dullness of another icon dropping dead and you being told they have bitten the dust by the bleep of your BBC News Alerts - we hope to put a smile on your face or a groan at your phone.

If you read these rants articles, we hint at this repeatedly. We let you in on the joke and hint to take life a little less seriously. We have a wonderful hobby that we all share together. Most importantly we couldn't give a right royal shite what others think of our hobby. We're happy - perhaps those poking fun at us are not happy? We feel sorry for these people.

So it did come as a surprise that one of our premier Railways blocked us. Yep, the modern day equivalent of two fingers from the window of your Austin Metro. 

What we must make extremely clear is the support we have received from the volunteers, members, blingers, founders and likers of said Railway that has warmed our cockles immensely during the dark hours after the blocking (too far?) We love you all.

At first we understood, you could say that we have been a little harsh on said Railway but here's the clincher. If you put yourself at the top of the pile, if you proclaim to be top of the BBC News App for Railways then the relatable fun is there with you.

What separates the fun from the harsh criticism is this - when it is obviously harmless fun. Nothing upsets us more than people taking life too seriously. You are wholly invited to not get the joke - we applaud the fact that some don't get it. We love the fact that a minority who have put the effort in to read this shite do get it and appreciate it. 

Morale of the story - it's only Trains guys. 

This leads us onto the theme we began last week, to support the Railways of the UK in whatever form you feel necessary. We asked you all to contemplate jumping up and showing the accountants of the Railways that enthusiasts are there and a viable force beyond those who turn up once a year to see an A3. 

This message was obviously lost to a sense of humour failure. That's a shame.

But, carry on. We presented an argument that could lead to a big problem. The potential lack of support. This is a scary thought, if enthusiast based Galas turn into fantastic flops then where do we find our hobby that lightens up our time beyond those BBC News alerts? 

The North Yorkshire Moors Gala is heading to the end this weekend, the response to this has been staggering and shows hope that an enthusiast Gala can attract the 'normals' and also keep the 'Bash Mashers' happy bunnies. The Great Central is squaring up to show off the queues at Kinchley Lane next weekend. 

Strap on those boots, fill up the backpacks and head out to a Railway near you. Take pictures and send them to us. Take stupid pictures and send them to us. Take ridiculous pictures and send them to us. The circle of happiness is complete.

Thanks, as always,
The Girls of the BM x