Sunday, 15 May 2011

First day firing 'Agecroft No.1' at MoSI

Since before I joined the railway at the Museum of Science & Industry (MoSI) in Manchester 'Agecroft No.1', a Robert Stephenson 0-4-0 saddle tank engine built in 1948 that used to haul coal from Agecroft pit to Agecroft power station, has been under restoration. She was steamed a few weeks ago and first ran last month; today was my first rostered turn firing her.

'Agecroft No.1' on the pit at MoSI getting up steam this morning

Agecroft's cab. Until I get steam pressure and can use the blower to draw the fire, evil thick smoke frequently fills the cab from the ill-fitting fire hole doors when the wind blows the wrong way.

It takes around three hours to raise steam from cold on Agecroft, about the same as it does on Planet, the replica 1830 locomotive I have fired up to now on this railway. One advantage Agecroft has over Planet on what turned into a very wet day, is that the former has an enclosed cab. What a stroke of luck that the first really wet day in a while on the MoSI railway coincided with my first firing of Agecroft!

Once we have 'first pressure' (which is usually after about an hour) I can use the blower, which directs steam up the chimney from below, drawing the fire and sucking any smoke forwards instead of it drifting back into the cab.

With 'full pressure' of steam (about 140 psi - she blows off at 160) we can commence passenger services. The ex-BR coach will not negotiate the sharp curve on our 'Pineapple' line so with Agecroft each run is from the station to the far end of the site (just over the Irwell into Salford) and back - twice. With Planet and her two replica vintage 4-wheel coaches we normally reverse from the Salford end down the 'Pineapple Line' (adjacent to Granada Studios), then run back to the station, reversing again at the Salford stop (so a 'Y' shaped journey).

Agecroft passes the Power Hall on her way to Salford. Her train comprises an ex-BR suburban compartment coach (hired-in from the Llangollan Railway) and a brake van for the guard.

The view from Agecroft's cab at the Salford end of the site. The Network Rail Manchester South Junction line from Deansgate to Salford Crescent is on the left, while the locked gates ahead are across MoSI's link to the main line. We will reverse from here back to the station, but when working with Planet and her train, we would reverse from here down the 'Pineapple Line' which diverges behind us to the north and runs alongside Granada Studios, then retrace our route back to the station.

Agecroft has a vacuum brake to brake her train, unlike Planet's air brake. This means the ejector which creates the vacuum to keep the brakes off has to be 'on' the whole time the train is running, which uses quite a lot of steam and therefore coal. This, together with her generally larger boiler and firebox means that she needs a fair bit more work with the shovel than does Planet.

Finally, here's a short video of Stuart driving (and banging his head!) as we reverse at the Salford end of the line and set off backwards to the station:

He puts the loco into reverse gear, gets the 'right away' from the guard, toots the whistle, and very gingerly opens the regulator. As Agecroft starts to creep backwards, he leans out to check when she is fully buffered-up to the train before opening the regulator further before notching the valve gear up to the next setting. That continuous hissing sound, by the way, is not the loco blowing off; she wasn't. It's the very noisy live steam ejector which uses a lot of steam to generate the vacuum required to keep the brakes off.


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