14th March 2019 · 40 Years of Preserving the Legendary Deltics

Presenter: Murray Brown – Deltic Preservation Society

Murray began with a brief resumé of his background in railways mentioning that his father used to work for ICI and knew Dr Beeching before he was asked to produce a report on UK railways. It was in childhood that Murray caught what he described as ‘the railway disease’ before going on to talk about his first encounter with a Deltic – D1093, in 1962 while travelling from Leeds to Kings Cross – his first really fast train journey. After leaving school he started his working life with BR initially in a position within the signalling and technical department, but his heart was set on working with Deltics. So when he saw an opportunity to work directly with them he took it. He worked his way up via experimental work, trialling new parts etc until there was a vacancy for the position he really wanted. Using some slightly unorthodox methods to make sure that he was noticed, he reached the interview stage for that post and achieved success. However, it was not long before the HSTs came into service, and Murray made a good argument for considering that the Deltics were in many ways a precursor for the HSTs that were now to displace them. The withdrawal programme and the Deltic Preservation Society (DPS) started at about the same time in 1977 although there was disbelief in some BR minds that the DPS would be able to run even one of these locomotives. Gerard Fiennes – BR manager and author of “I tried to run a railway”, was one who saw potential in the idea.

After the official withdrawal programme there were still 14 surviving Deltic locomotives and BR held an open day for them in February 1982 with around 8000 people turning up. DPS had a presence there producing an excellent boost to their fundraising and publicity and it also showed the popularity of this class of locomotives. They were popular with the staff too who had continued to maintain them well and taken good care of the spares available which eventually proved to be a real benefit for the DPS when it came to buying locomotives and sourcing the spare parts to keep them operating. By August 1982 they had two locomotives with an arrangement that the NYMR would house them. This wasn’t perfect because it was not possible to run them at anything other than the relatively low speed limits applying on heritage railways, and they were kept outside rather than under cover. The preservation era had truly begun by this time and the NYMR were the first heritage line to stage a proper diesel gala so having the Deltics there was a good opportunity. There were concerns about pollution and environmental issues with running diesel locomotives, but with experience and knowledge these were minimised although there were some funny stories about the learning process not least when the fire brigade was called out. Luckily on that occasion knowledge prevailed, the engine was not flooded with water that would have resulted in major damage, and they learned how to make sure that the same problem did not happen again. The DPS had access to an excellent workshop for bodywork restoration but they still did not have covered storage space which was an on-going issue for them.

The aim was to have the Deltics running on the national network rather than being confined to heritage lines but this had not been achieved under BR. However, the advent of privatisation changed this and opened up the opportunity for both of the DPS locomotives to run initially on the East Coast Main Line.This was taken up although they became acutely aware of the delay attribution penalties if one of their locomotives should cause a problem – it can be very expensive. The DPS moved their base from the NYMR to the GCR and then on to the East Lancashire Railway. It was during this period that a request came through for 2 Deltics to haul a luxury train. Initially they thought it was a joke but no, it was for real and provided real work that would pay. The DPS really wanted their own depot facility and once enough money had been raised they started searching for a suitable base. They are now based at Barrow Hill where the Deltics are housed under cover and can be looked after properly. They own the new depot but not the land so fundraising is on-going to buy the land that is currently leased. The depot will eventually have room for 6 locomotives on 3 roads with some limited space for displays in addition, and renting out ‘spare’ space in the meantime helps to provide funds for further improvements to the facility. It has been nicknamed “Finsbury Park” but that is another story.

The DPS has progressed and developed over time and now they “rent out” locomotives with the drivers being provided by the relevant TOC (train operating company).This works very well with the DB Cargo drivers mainly used now as they seem to take good care of the locomotives in use. The DPS strategy is very clear – to keep the Deltics going for as long as possible with proposals to do another Deltic hauled special around Scotland amongst other things, before they are ‘stuffed and mounted’. As with any project like this the key to on-going success is sufficient money and volunteers. Currently the Deltics are running well and have done more hours between intervals than was managed under BR! There are a number of future possibilities under consideration and the DPS would dearly like to get the prototype up and running again. This is owned by the NRM and based at Shildon but with no engines inside. However, the DPS have two possibly suitable Napier engines although there are a number of technical issues to be overcome before the prototype could be run on the national network, and it is unlikely that the NRM would sanction the idea. The DPS have some good working relationships both within railways and outside such as the link with the Green Howards – one of the Deltics carries that name, and there are many other proposals in the pipeline although not everyone who would like to hire the DPS working locomotives understands the cost of doing so.

With some really good photographs, Murray gave an excellent and well illustrated presentation on the Deltics from the prototype, English Electric engines and Napier engines, to the current state of preservation showing clearly the interest and fondness for this class of locomotives. Question time was all too short as Murray had to catch his train home but included discussion of the original English Electric engines being ‘swapped’ for Napiers, and had they tried the Coca Cola trick with a seized engine.

The vote of thanks highlighted the extent of enthusiasm for this classic locomotive and a mention of the ‘fabulous’ and atmospheric closing photograph of the Deltics in action in Scotland.