In April 2017, Tornado became the first steam locomotive to reach 100mph on the UK network for over 50 years. Ricardo’s experts - the country’s only UKAS accredited signatories for heritage vehicles - helped bring this labour of love to life.
Once the emblem of the national railway, steam powered locomotives began to disappear from the UK's network during the mid 1950's.
In the face of intense competition from road haulage and the private car, the industry opted to replace steam locomotion with electric and diesel power. By the end of 1960's, they had been withdrawn entirely from regular service.
Some models transferred into the safe custody of enthusiasts who preserve them to this day as museum showpieces or as attractions on preserved heritage lines.
The Peppercorn Class A1, however, fared less well than most.
At one point in the immediate post-war years, forty-nine A1s were in operation on the main line between London and the north east of England. By 1967, despite less than 20 years' service, they had all been replaced and sent to scrap. None were preserved.
A locomotive fit for today's main line
However, in 1990 a group of enthusiasts, the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, embarked on a unique and ambitious project: to design and build a steam-powered locomotive fit for today's network. In 2008, after almost two decades of gradual design, manufacture and assembly, Tornado finally became the 50th Peppercorn Class A1 to enter into service.
Nine years later, in April 2017, Tornado - now fully equipped to operate on the main line - passed another major milestone: in a test run overseen by Ricardo's experts, Tornado became the first steam engine in almost half a century to reach 100mph on the UK main line.
It was landmark occasion for all concerned. Increased levels of traffic on the network means steam trains - which must operate under strict speed restrictions - are struggling to secure paths on the network.
By proving it can safely operate at higher speeds, Tornado, which is operated by DB Cargo, should secure greater across to the network.
Ricardo - unique signatory role for heritage rail
As per the Certification standard applicable to steam locomotives in the UK, GM/RT2003, Tornado must undergo regular audits by expert independent assessors.
Eddie Draper, a Principal Consultant at Ricardo, is one of only two UKAS accredited signatories for steam locomotives in the UK (the other signatory, incidentally, also works for Ricardo) and has been closely involved with Tornado’s audits and a steady stream of design upgrades for a number of years.
"Although Tornado was designed as a 90 mph vehicle, since 2008 it has operated with a speed limit of 75 mph", says Eddie.
"When a potential path for Tornado in the Saturday timetable was agreed with Virgin East Coast, it was on the understanding that the loco would need to be able to safely reach speeds of 90 mph if it was to avoid disrupting regular services. So, in addition to its annual routine audit, Tornado would also require a higher speed test run."
Eddie completed the regular audit over two days at the Stewarts Lane depot, Battersea in March 2017. By that time, preparations for the speed run, on a stretch of track between Doncaster and Newcastle, were already advanced.
Tornado was brought back up to Doncaster for a test run that had been scheduled for the early hours of April 12th. Eddie began his inspections the evening before, including an examination of the new temperature transmitter for the middle big end bearing, the design and installation of which he had had previously approved.
An indication of local interest in the upcoming test run was already apparent. "By the time I had arrived a television crew was already in place fastening cameras all over the loco, so I gave these the once over for gauging and security," says Eddie.
"Once the test run began I actually rode part of the way on the footplate to evaluate the loco's performance. You have to remember that the cab on a steam loco is a filthy and noisy environment. And operating these machines is downright hard work: the fireman probably shovelled more than six tons of coal over the course of the night and early hours"
There were also technical challenges to consider too, says Eddie. "Steam locomotives have large reciprocating masses connected directly to the axles, and attempts to balance these with rotating balance masses in order to improve the ride can lead to large out of balance vertical forces on the track. Tornado has only 12%, the bare minimum of balance for its reciprocating masses, and being a 3 cylinder locomotive, has a better performance in this respect than a 2 cylinder locomotive."
The test run, however, went without a hitch. "With RSSB's higher speed for test certificate in place, I produced a further Attestation Statement which would allow the loco to be registered for the higher speed limit test at 90 mph +10% for the purpose of ride and dynamic forces evaluation.
All the hard work should prove worthwhile. Having demonstrated its ability to safely reach higher speeds on the network, Tornado remains on track to complete the necessary certification processes within the next twelve months.
Future heritage talent
In the meantime, Eddie is also focusing on ensuring expertise of these heritage models remains in the industry.
"Despite the hard work, these grand machines are a lot of fun" says Eddie. "They are popular with the public and loved by those who give so much of their time to keep them in service."
"There are only two accredited signatories for heritage vehicles in the UK, both of us working in Ricardo. So succession is something we are thinking about. In Ricardo we are currently training a young chartered engineer to take over. It's important to us - and to the industry as a whole - that we can continue to support the safe operation of our heritage fleets.