Last night, at 0100, a special train left Lillie Bridge depot. Bracketed by L24 and L26, it was a very different configuration from that normally seen by passengers (not least because it included Sarah Siddons, the heritage locomotive), but then many of the Underground’s out-of-hours are. Having reached Earl’s Court at 0135 (via Olympia), this particular configuration then ran via the District line to Edgware Road before proceeding to Baker Street. It was at Baker Street that something genuinely unusual happened.
The train worked up a steam.
Last year, we revealed that plans were afoot to try and bring steam back to the Underground to help celebrate the Metropolitan Line’s 150th Birthday. Such a plan isn’t as unlikely as it might at first sound – the District Line was graced briefly by steam during its own 125th birthday celebrations.
The first indication that such a plan was being considered for the Met’s 150th came back in May when the London Transport Museum placed a tender in the OJEU to return a Metropolitan Railway steam locomotive to full operating condition. The locomotive in question was the E Class 0-4-4T No.1 then residing at Quainton.
Given the proximity of the 150th celebrations and the fact that the Museum had already confirmed they were intending to restore Metropolitan Railway ‘Jubilee’ First class carriage No. 353, the reasons for this restoration seemed rather obvious. Indeed No. 1 seemed a rather apt choice. Seven E-Class locomotives had been built for the Metropolitan between 1896 and 1901, remaining in service in some fashion on the Underground until 1965, but No. 1 was the locomotive that worked the very last steam-hauled LT passenger train in 1961. It had also run various special services on the Underground until its boiler certificate ran out in October 2010.
Nonetheless, many potential barriers to some kind of limited steam running on the Underground remained (and indeed still do – not least funding) and thus the Museum were unwilling to confirm to LR at the time that this was definitely the intention. Since then, however, work has continued behind the scenes at both the Museum and London Underground to try and bring this about and last night – with an understandable degree of secrecy – an important milestone was reached.
The locomotive that can be seen under steam at the head of this article, and in the video below, is Beattie Well Tank No. 30587 , an old L&SWR unit that was withdrawn from service in 1962 and has carried out various heritage runs since being restored. Now owned by the National Railway Museum, it worked up a protracted steam last night at Baker Street so that heat and steam levels at the station could be tested and monitored – not least to make sure they didn’t trigger any fire warnings at the station. It then shunted briefly, before the train ran back to Earls Court (and from there to the depot). Units of both S-Stock and C77 were then run through the station to help establish what impact the presence of steam (and a steam locomotive) in advance of them might have on their operation.
Overall the test appears to have been largely successful and no doubt more information on, and photos of, the night’s work will emerge over the coming days (indeed if any LR spotters have photos we’d be grateful for them).
The steam birthday running is still far from guaranteed, but if nothing else last night it provided us with an interesting image of old-meeting-new that will endure for some time to come.
Many thanks to Leon Daniels, whose own excellent account of the event can be found here.