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13 November 2014

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You are in: South Yorkshire > History > Doncaster Rail > Absolutely Chuffed

Steam train on an aquaduct

Steam train on an aquaduct

Absolutely Chuffed

The Tornado was the first brand new mainline steam engine to be built in Britain since 1960. It's story is a remarkable one and its roots lie in South Yorkshire. Tom Ingall tells us about BBC4's 'Absolutely Chuffed: The Men Who Built A Steam Engine.'

True, the idea to build Tornado was hatched in 1990, but the project owes its real genesis to a man whose offices were in Doncaster.

Arthur Peppercorn was the last Chief Mechanical Engineer of the London and North Eastern Railway. The LNER's famous plant works put the South Yorkshire town of Doncaster on the map, producing famous locomotives like Mallard and Flying Scotsman.

Tornado steam engine test crew, © Rob Morland

The Tornado's test crew, Jan 2008 - © Rob Morland

Arthur Peppercorn designed his "A1" class engines just after World War Two. They were an austerity masterpiece, built to run long distances at high speeds burning low grade coal.

While Peppercorn designed them for the LNER, it fell to the nascent British Railways (formed in January 1948) to build the machines.

Between the works at Doncaster and Darlington, 49 of these engines were built. But in the steam cull of the 1960s they were all scrapped before they'd even given 20 years of service.

In terms of steam's family tree, they became something of a missing link. Examples of most other classes produced at Doncaster for the East Coast Main Line were preserved for the nation (including Mallard, Scotsman, the Stirling Single and even the later diesel locomotives like the Deltics).

In 1990 a group of enthusiasts came together in a pub and said they would like to see an A1.

Their solution was simple and breathtaking. Build one!

By this stage many steam engines had been resurrected from scrap condition. Projects presumed impossible had been completed - including smaller so-called 'new builds' - but no one had tried to build a brand new engine to run on the main line. There were those who said this new engine could never be completed.

Parts were duly forged in factories and foundries across the UK and with generous support from William Cook Cast Products in Sheffield, the engine began to take shape.

It took eighteen years, £3 million and almost 200,000 man hours (not to mention the best boilersmiths in Germany to produce a central component) but the new engine is now running!

Christened 'Tornado' it is destined to run mainline specials at speeds of up to 90mph.

The finished engine is a triumphant sight proving that if you put your mind to it, you can get the job done. Even more remarkably, Arthur Peppercorn's widow Dorothy lived to see the engine her husband designed enjoy a second coming. 

In her words, "he would never have believed it..."

last updated: 14/10/2009 at 10:42
created: 10/10/2008

You are in: South Yorkshire > History > Doncaster Rail > Absolutely Chuffed

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