This short article is intended to give you an idea of the power and speed that the George the Fifth class was capable of in service on the ‘mountainous’ section of the West Coast Main Line, rather than a contest of ‘which is best’. The runs in comparison are 46233 Duchess of Sutherland on the Royal Scot PMR tour from Crewe to Carlisle on 9 June this year (reported in Steam Railway magazine, issue 404, p.81) and 1662 on the Crewe to Carlisle portion of the 10am Euston to Glasgow express circa 1912 (reported on p.89 of O S Nock’s book ‘The Precursor Family’).
Firstly one must put both runs into context and perspective. 46233 was taking a moderate load of 380 gross tons, 1662 was taking a load of 370 tons gross. So the loads are broadly comparable, perhaps even more so given the rolling resistance of the stock in use a hundred years ago. Secondly it is not entirely straightforward to ascertain what timing points Nock was using. For example was his ‘Shap summit’ the modern milepost thirty seven and a quarter, and his Tebay (the old station) appears to be half a mile south of the modern ‘Tebay North’. Thirdly 46233 stops in Carnforth loop for water (roughly 0.31 miles South of Carnforth Station), 1662 was probably doing around 65mph at this point and does not stop at Carnforth. So precise comparison is not possible but it does give a good indicator of the George’s performance. We can use 46233 as the benchmark (albeit a very high one!) being one of the most consistent and higher performing engines ever to grace British railways.
From Carnforth to Oxenholme verifies the above statement, 46233 from a standing start passed Oxenholme in 16.57, whereas 1662 took just 13.34, this was due to passing Carnforth at speed. Having troughs en route it was unnecessary to stop for water, unlike with mainline tours nowadays. The Oxenholme to Grayrigg section, with the two miles of 1 in 173 on the ascent to Grayrigg shows performance one would expect of both engines, 46233 took just 8.56 compared with the 11.20 of 1662. The speeds of both engines were clocked, 47mph for 46233 and a minimum of 32mph for 1662 in passing Grayrigg. 46233 then takes 5.25 from Grayrigg to Tebay (old station) as against 5.44 for Deerhound and so passing through the Lune Valley things would have been pretty much neck and neck (and would Deerhound have been picking up water on Tebay troughs).
From Tebay (old station) it is 5.5 miles to Shap summit and not surprisingly it was here that Sutherland pulled ahead, gaining 2.08 on the George, taking 6.38 as against 8.46. So the total time for Sutherland was 37.05 for the 31.2 miles from the loop as against 39.44 for Deerhound (for the 31.4 miles Nock quotes from Carnforth station to the summit).
This was a very fine performance for the George, but not one that was out of character. For the 59 ton 1662 with a comparable load shows an incredible performance from such a small engine with only 175lb boiler pressure available, but it did have the benefits of high temperature superheat and long-travel piston valves. 1662’s average speed throughout was a striking 47.3 mph and the average drawbar horsepower seems to have in the region of 950.
Taking all the factors together, I think it is a fascinating comparison between a quality climb of Shap on a Scottish express achieved in the conditions applicable around a hundred years ago and an excellent steam performance in today’s conditions, and the experience taken as a whole is a surprisingly close run thing – and in the absence of these plucky little Georges it is pretty clear the West Coast main line is missing something sensational. If you would like to keep updated with progress and become a ‘Friend of George’ click here and fill out the form.
By Tom Mainprize and Paul Hibberd.
LNWR GEORGE THE FIFTH STEAM LOCOMOTIVE TRUST 62 High Street, Buntingford United Kingdom, SG9 9AH
As well as being a member of the LGFSLT, Tom is a volunteer with (4)6233 and The Princess Royal Class Locomotive Trust