Monday 14 December 2015

Welcome Back Old Friend

According to reports the steam locomotive, "Flying Scotsman" may soon be back on track after a major refit.  It has taken some time to raise the money and then do the work.  I would prefer it without the blinkers (smoke deflectors) but at its current running speeds they are probably needed.

The figure given is over four million pounds and I suspect that if you added other costs, some hidden, some arising from voluntary or willing low paid work of various kinds, it could be a lot more.  This type of work was done in locomotive works and more or less hand built during the age of steam.

Most of its working time was spent on the East Coast Main Line, but there was a spell in the late 1940's, early 50's when it was allocated to Leicester Great Central (code 38C).  On the major express trains on that line, notably "The Master Cutler" and "The South Yorkshireman", there were engine changes at Leicester.

When the railway system had steam hauled trains, passenger, parcels and freight it had a total of around thirty thousand steam engines.  All of them needed major refits after a period of years, say twenty, but some less or more.  But to that has to be added all the ongoing routine maintenance and minor work done in the engine shed to which they were allocated.

For a locomotive being worked hard and regularly, this was on a daily basis for the smoke box, firebox, sand boxes, boiler tubes and greasing and oiling all the many moving parts.  It was usual when a train stopped at any station for the fireman to be out with the oilcan squirting here and there.

Doing my back of the envelope calculation, I think that in today's values the total bill for works refits of all steam locomotives would be around £100 billion and the annual bill say somewhere between five to ten.  Add to that the local shed routine costs and you are looking at serious money.

So in 1946, at the end of World War 2, given that refits and routine maintenance were skimped, the size of the bill the four major companies were faced with was huge and this was inherited by Nationalisation in 1947.  In fact, the railway system was badly broke and the inbuilt running and other costs made it unlikely they would ever turn a real profit.

Some interesting accounting together with ignoring many cost features made it possible to dress up the figures to make them more politically acceptable and persuade the public that all would be well, given a decade or ten, but that never really happened.

"Flying Scotsman" is indeed a wonderful sight in full steam so long as you don't count the costs.


  1. AAAGH again! The locomotive is "Flying Scotsman" one of the few A3s not named after a racehorse; "THE Flying Scotsman" is - or was - the morning train from London to Edinburgh and vice versa.The train WAS sometimes pulled by the locomotive of similar but not identical appellation.

  2. A few years ago, chap from the West Somerset Railway said their coal comes from Russia. How times change.

  3. We need to offer a round of drinks to Arthur and the comrades for removing any obstacles to the importation of said mineral.

    1. Surely you mean Thatcher? Her importation of evil communist Polish coal broke the miner's strike. Oh and the stuff mined by children from Columbia too.

    2. Alas, it was Callaghan who to help the Clydeside shipbuilding industry gave Poland thirty state of the art freighters designed to carry coal.

    3. Thatcher didn't 'need' to buy it. Oh hang on - she did.