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The FNRM’s support coach

These days, those observing steam operations on the national network will be familiar with the presence of the support coach, or private owner brake (POB), which accompanies the locomotives on nearly all their workings. It was not always so and it was the National Railway Museum and the Friends that both played a leading role in the use of a support coach becoming widespread.

After the NRM opened in 1975 its steam operation was largely in the hands of the V2 Green Arrow and the BR 9F Evening Star and any members of the crew accompanying the engines on their trips were usually accommodated somewhere in the train. By and large in these early years the trips were relatively short, such as a return trip to Scarborough or a run around the Harrogate Circle with the engine beginning and ending the trip at York. In March 1978 this situation began to change when the Settle and Carlisle line was reopened for steam and Green Arrow worked the first steam hauled train over the route since 11 August 1968, when the “15 Guinea Special” had marked the end of steam on the BR network. The V2 and the support crew spent two nights at the Upperby Depot in Carlisle before the return working. It was becoming apparent that further such workings would benefit greatly from the use of a permanent vehicle being available to accompany the engine and its support team.

The original support coach, a museum piece in its own right, dating from the early 20th century and originally London & North Western Railway 5155. Photo: Mike Lamport

In 1979 the centenary of railway catering was celebrated by the operation of a train of historic catering vehicles which toured the country. Certain legs of this tour were steam hauled including a run around the Harrogate Circle, again Green Arrow being the motive power. Included in this train was the former LNWR/LMS Royal Train Brake 1st, number 5155, which was by then part of the National Collection. This had been used as a staff vehicle on its royal duties providing accommodation and cooking facilities, and was seen as ideal for a similar function in support of Museum engines when they ventured onto the BR network. So it was on 29 December 1979 that 5155 was used to accompany the V2 from York to Carnforth and on to Sellafield and return, a long trip in one day. Understandably the facilities of 5155 were much appreciated by the support team that day.

After its return to service in 1980, 46229 Duchess of Hamilton was also paired with 5155 acting as a support vehicle. However, 5155 was not always required, for example on the regular BR organised Scarborough Spa Expresses, passes were issued to the support team to ride on the train.

An example of the pass issued for support crew members by BR when a support coach was not used. Note that this one was authorised by the current FNRM chairman in a previous role. Photo: Rob Tibbits

The arrangement to use 5155 on the longer trips continued until the autumn of 1983 although there was an occasion in March 1983 when it was not available and a 20t brakevan was used instead to convey the crew and equipment to Hellifield. It was not attached to the tour train there! However, following an incident at Carlisle Upperby 5155 was withdrawn from active mainline service after the southbound Cumbrian Mountain Express on 5 November 1983. The loss of 5155 created a problem for future support for any York engine engaged on mainline duties.

It should be remembered that at that time the Duchess was the engine which made most use of 5155 as a support vehicle. The engine still belonged to the Butlin’s Organisation which had saved it from being scrapped, but it was operated under an agreement with the Friends of the NRM. So the Friends took the lead in securing a replacement coach to operate in support of 46229.

A Mk 1 brake to act as a support vehicle was already being used by some loco owners, the Merchant Navy Locomotive Preservation Society (MNLPS) being one example. It was decided that the Friends would acquire their own such vehicle to be the support coach to be used when the Duchess was in action. The coach would also be made available for other Museum engines when required. John Peck who was the FNRM’s Chief Mechanical Engineer organised the acquisition of BSK E35362 which made its first trip in its new role, in blue and grey livery, on a test run with 46229 on 15 December 1983. Two days later the Duchess and its new support coach worked a northbound Cumbrian Mountain Express to Carlisle.

Whilst the new vehicle was suitable it lacked the facilities which had been available on 5155, particularly the onboard kitchen. Under John Peck’s guidance thoughts began to turn to how E35362 might be altered to become more functional as a support coach. The upshot of this was that the FNRM financed work over the winter of 1984-85 which saw one of the compartments removed and a kitchen installed instead. This included a full size gas stove with oven, a fridge, cupboards and work tops. Tables with fold up tops were put into the other compartments for use at meal times. Plates, mugs, cutlery, pans, etc. were acquired as were two large water carriers. However, to really complete the job the coach was repainted in maroon livery with “Friends of the National Railway Museum” clearly displayed on the outside confirming the ownership of the vehicle. Under the TOPS scheme it now became number 99950. Its first outing with 46229 was on 16 March 1985 when the engine hauled The Northern Belle. Having first worked engine and coach to Thornaby, where the Duchess was prepared, it then hauled the train from Eaglescliffe via the coastal route through Hartlepool to Newcastle, on to Carlisle and then returned south over the S&C. It was on such long trips as this that the availability of such a well-equipped support vehicle was appreciated.

Over the next five years 99950 covered many miles travelling far and wide. Particular memories are the visits to London Marylebone in 1985-1987 for workings to Stratford-upon-Avon with the Duchess, Mallard, and Green Arrow; the special trains operated by Mallard between 1986 and 1988, including the 50th anniversary run from Doncaster to Scarborough on 3 July 1988; the move to and from Edinburgh between 6 and 8 April 1986 with the V2 and Evening Star when the two engines were used on an EMI sponsored special working from Edinburgh to Gleneagles; and the two day visit of the V2 to Dundee for the Tay Bridge Centenary on 19 – 21 June 1987. The FNRM coach was indispensable on these trips.

It was not long before 99950 attracted plenty of attention from other locomotive owners and I believe that the FNRM coach was a trail blazer in the customising of many other support vehicles. However, by 1990 there were changes. Following its overhaul, Duchess of Hamilton had been transferred into NRM ownership so the Friends were no longer responsible for its operation and work was required to keep 99950 fit for operation. So the Museum decided to acquire its own support vehicle, suitably adapted like 99950. This was 35468 which under TOPS became 99953 and was painted in Great Western chocolate and cream livery.

The two MK I support coaches used by the Museum shown together on 2 May 1992. City of Truro hauls 99953 as it leaves for railtour duty while 99950 stands out of use alongside, Rob Tibbits at the window behind 3440 City of Truro. That day we were heading for an overnight stop at Butterley before working a train the following day from Derby to Paddington! Photo: Peter James

Meanwhile 99950 was transferred to the Museum Education Service and for many years it stood in the South Yard repainted in green. In 2014 it was sold to the Aln Valley Railway. However, 99953 is still available for traffic and has been most prominent in recent times being used in support of Flying Scotsman. I consider myself both fortunate and privileged to have been part of the support team using both 5155 and 99950 on the duties described above. It has left me a legacy of wonderful memories not only of the operation of the locomotives involved but the host of people who made it all possible, including fellow volunteers, NRM staff and British Rail employees. Whilst I must take responsibility for what I have written I need to acknowledge the help received from both Adrian Ashby and Peter James.

Rob Tibbits

Find out more about Friends contributions here

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