Union of South Africa locomotive to steam into Shildon

The Union of South Africa The Union of South Africa steamed in to join its siblings

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Britain's A4 Locomotives, built in the 1930s, send shivers down the spines of railway enthusiasts around the world.

Later on Friday, The Union of South Africa will steam into the National Rail Museum in Shildon, County Durham.

It will join two other A4 locomotives in readiness for a celebration in 2013 of a steam locomotive milestone.

The record speed of more than 100mph, that sets the A4s apart from all other locomotives, was established by the A4 class Mallard, built in 1938.

When the Union of South Africa arrives in the sidings there will be, as Pam Porter from the NRM Shildon museum said: "A collection of railway history that will create massive excitement in the railway world."

'Threesome lineup'

At the beginning of October, the Dwight D Eisenhower and Dominion of Canada arrived by ship into Liverpool from America.

The Dwight D Eisenhower, normally resident at the National Railroad Museum of America in Wisconsin, was off-loaded in two parts and transported by low-loader to the Shildon National Railway Museum.

The Dwight D Eisenhower and Dominion of Canada The Dwight D Eisenhower and Dominion of Canada are already at the museum

Following closely behind, the next day, the Dominion of Canada from the Exporail in Montreal, arrived to sit alongside its sibling.

"Now all we're waiting for is the Union of South Africa which will arrive under its own steam on Friday to complete a threesome lineup," Ms Porter said.

"This cutting edge design of the 30s wes incredible in its time and the great pride in them continues today in this gathering," Ms Porter continued.

Despite an economic depression at the beginning of the 30s, the large locomotives reflect an exciting era of modernism in design.

Britain's railways of the 1930s were also the beneficiary of the innovative design of Sir Nigel Gresley.

He was the LNER's chief mechanical engineer from 1923 into the 1940s.

Ms Porter said: "It was Sir Nigel who developed the design for the A4 Class locomotive and all the locomotives of this class.

"There were 35 A4s designed and built in total and these are the final six still on track.

"He also designed a number of other classes of LNER locomotive.

The Union of South Africa

  • Designer: Sir Nigel Gresley
  • Builder: LNER
  • Serial No: 1853
  • Built: 1937
  • Gauge: 4'81/2"
  • Boiler Pressure: 250psi
  • Class: A4
  • Number in class: 15 of 35

"Other famous locomotives built to his designs include Class A3 No. 4472 Flying Scotsman and Class V2 No. 4771 Green Arrow."

Springbok plaque

The Union of South Africa was built in Doncaster in 1937 and was originally named The Osprey, but took to service from the Haymarket Shed in Edinburgh as The Union of South Africa.

It transferred to the Aberdeen Shed in 1962.

In 1954, a Bloemfontein benefactor donated its Springbok plaque which was mounted on its left side. It remains there today.

However the contentious politics in South Africa had a bearing on the name and it reverted to the Osprey through the 80s and 90s - but it went on through to its last day as the Union of South Africa.

That last booked steam haul was from King's Cross in June 1964 in the BR Brunswick green livery, but sadly, because of a broken rail, it was 20 minutes late into Grantham.

Any railway enthusiast will be able to see these giants of steam - more details can be found at the NRM Shildon Website.

People are urged to listen out for its American Crosby-chime whistle.

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