Wednesday, 27 November 2013

'Planet' comes of age

'Planet' in the Liverpool Road East station tonight

Many thanks to MoSI Railway Volunteers Jan Ford and Duncan Hough for the photographs in this post. As ever, please click on any picture for a larger image.

The replica 1830 Robert Stephenson 'Planet' locomotive at the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry (MoSI) is 21 years old today. The Museum organised a birthday party and invited everyone connected with the locomotive; volunteer train crew past and present, and those involved in the planning and building of 'Planet' over 21 years ago.

In the early 1980s the museum was perhaps more aware than it is today that it is situated on probably the most significant heritage railway site in the world; Stephenson's original 1830 terminus of the world's first purpose-built passenger railway, the Liverpool & Manchester. As Steve Davies, former museum director and former director of the National Railway Museum said "if this was in the United States, it would form the heart of a multi-million dollar entertainment complex. In UK, it is just considered an attraction at a regional science and technology museum". And of course this historic railway, and this historic grade one listed site is threatened by Network Rail's Ordsall Chord rail line cutting right through it, between the grade one listed 1830 station and Stephenson's 1830 grade one listed stone bridge over the river Irwell, carving up the site and emasculating the site's railway line to little more than the lines within the station itself (and thereby making meaningful running of our 1830 heritage steam train impossible). How philistine is that when alternative schemes are possible to achieve NR's ends without disrupting this unique site?

After the site had been restored in the 1980s, the Friends of the museum realised it needed something to 'bring it to life'. What better than a working replica 1830 train? First thoughts were to build a replica of Stephenson's 'Rocket', but it was realised that several such replicas already existed, and anyway 'Rocket' was a one-off experimental locomotive of 1829 which led a year later to the production of the more sophisticated 'Planet' class, many of which were built for the Liverpool & Manchester and for other railways. It made more sense to build a 'Planet' replica, and two replica open 4-wheel passenger coaches, as representative of what would have run through Liverpool Road Station in 1830.

Back then the museum had a fully equipped workshop in the area now occupied by the Textile area of the Great Western Warehouse, and that's where the locomotive was built. More of that later.

Another view of 'Planet' at Liverpool Road East tonight 

The evening opened with 'Planet' giving train rides to all invitees. Although I've traversed this railway hundreds of times on the footplate of 'Planet' and 'Agecroft No.1' (the other resident steam locomotive at MoSI) I had not done so at night before.

'Planet' steams between the 1830 Liverpool Road station on the left and the 1830 warehouse on the right

Fifth from the left on the platform is former MoSI and National Railway Museum director, Steve Davies

Loco crew member changes the points at Ordsall Lane ground frame so we can reverse down the Pineapple Line (so named from the erstwhile Pineapple Pub on Water Street)

Duty guard, David, warms his himself from Planet's fire (it was a chilly evening!)

After the train rides we assembled in the main hall of the Great Western Warehouse, where tables were laid out.

'Planet's name up in lights!

After an official from the museum welcomed the guests, Chairman of the Museum Friends (and railway volunteer) Mike Crawley gave a short speech before railway volunteer Dave Ward made a presentation to Matthew Jackson. After six years as MoSI Railway Officer, Matthew is leaving for a career on 'The Big Railway'. We wish him every success.

The main speaker was Michael Bailey who had headed the team who built 'Planet'. His was a fascinating talk. After making the decision to 'build a Planet' they had to work out how!

 Invited guests listening to the speeches

Drawings were sourced from the National Railway Museum, and a team assembled. Michael's deputy was manufacturing engineer John Glitheroe. Other founder members of the team were Frank Beard (Crossley's works director), John and George Chadwick (engineering draughtsmen), and Ron Whalley (Chief Engineer Davies & Metcalf). When Michael approached The British Engine Insurance Company for sponsorship, not only was that forthcoming but their Assistant General Manager, Jim Brown, joined the team as boiler expert and stayed to become volunteer locomotive footplate crew.

Research revealed that each 'Planet' locomotive produced at Robert Stephenson's Newcastle works was slightly different, as improvements were incorporated. MoSI's 'Planet' is therefore representative of the class generally rather than being replica of the original 'Planet' of 1830. For safety reasons the replica would have to have brakes (the originals had none other than the tender hand brake) so air brakes were added to both engine and tender. And rather than the riveted wrought iron construction of the boiler of the original, the replica's boiler was of welded steel and run at a pressure of 100 PSI rather than the original's 50 PSI so a live steam injector could be incorporated. This ensured water could always be fed to the boiler, an essential safety feature for modern day operation (the injector hadn't been invented in 1830, and the original locomotives had only an axle-driven boiler feed pump, which the replica also has).

The boiler was constructed off site, and the wheels likewise cast at a foundry, but the rest of the locomotive build took place in the MoSI workshops.

'Planet' had cost around £60,000 to build, but how does one value the thousands of volunteer hours that went into her build? For insurance purposes, she was valued at £250,000 but Michael believes that if you had to have her built professionally today it would cost quite a bit more than that.

'Planet' has proved to be a reliable and crowd-pulling locomotive, and has visited many heritage railways over the past twenty one years. But she is most at home in Stephenson's 1830 Liverpool Road Station, which only survived in almost original condition because after only a few years it became a goods depot. Manchester Victoria station (Hunt's Bank in those days) became the new passenger terminus for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway.

Interesting times lie ahead for the MoSI Railway with the threat posed by Network Rail's proposed Ordsall Chord. One hopes the museum (which rightly supports the Northern Hub scheme) will  push Network Rail as hard as they can for an alternative routing of the chord. However, at least one rail magazine has accused them of not recognising what they are custodians of, and of not fighting hard enough to protect their charge; the most significant heritage railway site in the world.

This blog will keep you informed of developments!

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