Sometimes I think railway photographs, all photographs, have wonderful back stories to tell. I have my favourites and one of them was taken at Liverpool Lime Street by the late Eric Treacy. As I am sure readers will know, Treacy was appointed vicar of St Mary’s parish, Liverpool in 1936, aged 29, and with Edge Hill MPD on his ‘patch’. The temptation is to speculate that this was when the younger Treacy first developed an interest in steam locomotives and photography. But, not quite. There is a grainy photograph taken in 1935 showing railwaymen inspecting a rather strange looking locomotive at the end of one of Lime Street’s platforms. The caption reads: ‘Brand-new Pacific No.6202 — the ‘Turbomotive’ — attracts the scrutiny of railwaymen at Liverpool Lime Street as it awaits departure on a running-in turn, the 12 noon Liverpool–Plymouth. The first coach is a GWR vehicle.’
Picture: Jubilee 45575. BR Steam photos
The Turbomotive was a strange beast. It was a proto-type of a proto-type, taking the frames and some of the design of Stanier’s Princess class of Pacifics and fitting one with a steam turbine instead. Let’s not discuss the relative efficiencies of the Turbomotive compared to a more conventional design, leaving that to the experts. Instead, let’s imagine and look at some old photographs. They show the long casing for the turbine running roughly the length of the running board, one side of the boiler for the main turbine and the other for the reverse turbine (you can’t simple put one turbine into reverse on a steam locomotive). The main (forward) turbine had 18 rows of blades and the reverse, only 4. By operating a dog clutch and the reverse turbine set to 0, you could go backwards.
This sounds fair enough. It was all about efficiency, of course and, on the face of it, things looked promising. No ‘hammer blow’ on the tracks, better steam efficiency. But steam turbines on ships were designed to operate at a constant setting so locomotives, constantly changing speed, created a turbine-esque problem, resolved, ingeniously, by varying the nozzles emitting steam to the turbine – fewer in use at slow speed, for example. Going in reverse was also a problem. With few blades the reverse turbine had little power and was only really designed to get the locomotive around shed yards etc. So the Turbomotive was always ‘boiler first’. With me, so far?
Well, what about that Treacy photograph? It shows a group of three railwaymen approaching along the track side while another group of two are looking up, under the running board to see the main turbine, in its casing. Curiosity indeed, no leaking steam, a brand new locomotive but nothing like the normal visitor to Lime Street. User comments about 6202 were generally favourable, commenting on a ‘smooth’ fire but a weird, high pitch whine instead of the usual exhaust. One fireman explained that it was virtually impossible to back stock down into the platform as the reverse turbine was too weak.
What are our men talking about?
‘This bit goes in there.’
‘That’s the actual turbine. Yes, it is – no it isn’t.’
A shout to the cab. ‘How do you start her, mate?’
Curiosity is the theme, tinged with a whiff of scepticism. Would an important locomotive designer think it would fail when he had gone ahead and built something like this? I rather think there’s a hint of pride too – us, owning a locomotive like this. It’s the future.
Sadly, it wasn’t. There were teething problems, as usual, a lack of spares for a unique engine. Eventually, after the war and an important turbine failure, the LMS gave up and rebuilt 6202 as ‘Princess Anne’, a conventional Princess’, only for it to written off in the tragic accident at Harrow and Wealdstone in 1952. A sad and catastrophic end for many, including the locomotive.
Eric Treacy went on to become Bishop of Wakefield until his retirement, photographing his way around Britain’s railways as the years passed. But that’s another story.
For me, though, I always look at that photograph of curious railwaymen looking over 6202. Treacy has captured just the right moment, the image, frozen in time, when the Turbomotive first emerged on duty. It’s a picture about the bumping together of technology with the photographic image and its maker, a genius I think.
You can see the photograph in the article by Martin S Welch which appeared in ‘Backtrack’ January 2008 here
The NRM holds an extensive catalogue of Treacy’s photographs – see here
And the Turbomotive? See here
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About the author: John Swanwick has a lifetime interest in railways, beginning with trainspotting days in the East Midlands in the early 1960’s. In 2016 John began collecting oral histories for a proposed railway museum at Birstall on the former Great Central route through Leicestershire. The oral histories contain the recollections of many who worked on, or used, the Great Central route prior to its closure in the 1960’s. The recordings are now held in the National Railway Museum archives and the East Midlands Oral History group at Leicester