Steaming ahead again!

A steam engine of yesteryear is set to go back on the tracks, partly thanks to Rotherham engineering expertise. Malcolm Tattersall investigates.

A steam engine of yesteryear is set to go back on the tracks, partly thanks to Rotherham engineering expertise. Malcolm Tattersall investigates

A LONG extinct class of steam engines that once thundered through South Yorkshire hauling boat trains from Essex to Liverpool could be back on track by the end of the decade thanks to the expertise of Rotherham engineers.

The B17 locomotives — several named after football clubs, including Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, and Doncaster Rovers — were all scrapped 60 years ago when British Rail began switching from steam to diesel power.

But now a £3.4 million replica, numbered 61673 and provisionally called Spirit of Sandringham, is being built.

Owen Springs, in Parkgate, are manufacturing the suspension system of six giant springs that will fit over the locomotive’s 6ft 8in wheels.

Nick Naylor, Owen Springs managing director, said: “Owen Springs are proud to play a vital part of this exciting project that keeps heritage rail alive for the next generation.

“As a local company with deep roots in the area, we’re also very pleased to be able to bring additional work to the Rotherham and Sheffield areas.”

The B17 Steam Locomotive Trust, a charity established in 2011 whose patron is railway-loving rock star Sir Rod Stewart, hope the engine will be pulling special heritage trains on the main line around Britain by 2029.

The trust approached Owen Springs to design the suspension, which is a challenge as the locomotive will run on the mainline and therefore be required to meet modern regulations while maintaining authenticity to the original 1930s design.

Owen Springs, currently carrying out research and development, are one of a select few with the expertise to design and build the suspension.

Trust chairman Brian Hall said: “We are on track to bring back one of Britain’s most historic and best loved railway engines.”

Each of the six springs being built in Rotherham has 15 spring leaves, comprised of 524 inches of leaf — making 3,144 leaf spring inches in total.

And the trust is hoping members of the public will help by sponsoring them for £10 an inch, following a similar appeal to sponsor the 120 spokes on the six 6ft by 8in wheels, which raised £70,000.

The locomotive is being assembled at the CTL Seal factory in Sheffield, with local firm William Cook supplying hornblocks (castings which receive the axle box) and help from engineering students at Sheffield University.

The B17s were the brainchild of Sir Nigel Gresley, the same man who designed Flying Scotsman in the 1920s, and originally hauled expresses between London’s Liverpool Street Station and East Anglia.

But later they regularly worked the cross-country boat train through Sheffield and the Woodhead Tunnel to Manchester and Liverpool.

The first B17, number 1600 but renumbered 61600 when the railways were nationalised in 1948, was named Sandringham, after the Royal Family’s country home in Norfolk, which is why the new locomotive is being called Spirit of Sandringham.

Many of the later locos, though, carried the names of football clubs, which led to the class affectionately nicknamed ‘The Footballers’.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t one called Rotherham United!

Trust director John Peat said: “The B17 really was a railway icon, but there are very few photos or memories of this class of engine.

“We’d love to hear the experiences of any former South Yorkshire railwaymen who worked with them or has photos.

“It is vital to glean as much information as possible before that knowledge disappears.

“We are also looking for people who would like to help us recreate this locomotive — either with financial support, through joining the trust, sponsorship or by offering their skills.”