Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Steam Trains

I love steam trains. As an engineer I love the sheer beauty and impressiveness of the engineering of the things, the power and the mechanics of it all. On a different level however, I love them because the are so “real”. With all their hissing and sissing and chunting and blowing they are like live animals and they are not “just” a piece of machinery. My last house in the UK was at Horsted Keynes Station on the Bluebell steam railway, every weekend throughout the year and every day in the summer, steam trains went past my front door. We got to recognise the sounds of each engine and when we heard a new engine go by, we would rush out to see what it was. Stepney was my favourite, he had such a friendly sound, “pip-pop, pip-pop” and the day he fell off the end of the line (OK the day he was driven off the end of the line by accident or by incompetence) we and the neighbours were out with Land Rovers and tractors helping him to be hoisted back on on to the rails again, and hoping he wasn’t too damaged to be up and running soon. The photo here is of him taken from the Bluebell line website and it is as I remember him. He was overhauled last year and I have seen that he has been repainted in a rather too sophisticated “black with red lines” which in no way matches his homely sound, so I didn't want to use that photo.

Imagine my surprise and excitement when I moved to France, 20 years after leaving the UK, to discover that for the first time in years steam trains had started to run on the national railway lines not too far from here. Well to be honest just one train was running, the 241P-17 which is a huge monster of a steam train built in Le Creusot by Schneider and lovingly restored by volunteers based in and around that town. It was one of the most
prestigious locomotives of its day, capable of travelling at exceptionally high speeds - a running speed of 120 km/hr. When we heard about it, we headed to the nearest vantage point on top of a bridge and watched it rush underneath us, maybe slower than a TGV, but in my opinion much more impressive. This huge powerful engine was charging down the line, literally breathing fire on those standing above it on the bridge.

Today when doing our shopping in Cluny, I saw the headlines of the paper saying there had been a train accident and it was none other than the 241P-17. It appears that there was a sudden leak of steam into the driver’s cabin and 8 of the 10 crew members have been injured, 2 seriously. The locomotive generates steam at 290 psi which will be about 215 degrees Celsius and that is more than enough to kill. It isn’t exactly clear what has happened, one report says a “steam leak” another says a “steam leak caused by over pressure”. The whole story took me back to my time as a chief engineer in industry and to be honest I wouldn’t want to be the one who was responsible for this engine at this very moment - some serious questions will be asked about the weld quality and inspection procedures and rightly so.

In any case the most powerful steam locomotive still in use in Europe is now in dock and is waiting for inspection and repairs. Hopefully the injuries to the crew of volunteers is not too great and hopefully they will recover quickly, but it does bring home the power of these beasts and the might of engineering and to be honest it does slightly make me itch to get my hands on some machinery again. On the other hand , maybe I will just stick with repairs in the gîtes and on the campsite – a lot safer me thinks !

La Tuilerie Website

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...