It is our ambition to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the first section of the world’s first underground railway with a steam-hauled commemorative train. The last time a steam engine hauled a Metropolitan Railway service from Paddington to Farringdon is thought to be 1905, before the conversion to electric traction on the sub-surface railway. Steam hauled engineers’ trains were a feature of the Underground however up to 1971.
A proving run was held early in the morning on 26 January 2012 to test the feasibility of a steam special, with the NRM’s Beattie well tank 30587 (built in 1874) marshalled with ‘Sarah Siddons’ and a coal and water waggon, nurse-maided by two battery locos. If the restored Met No.1 , the Met coach 353 (both under restoration) and the Asbury set of teak coaches were tore-enact the first run to Farringdon in 1863, what effect might a steam engine have on the modern underground? Formed up at Lillie Bridge, the train picked up a stakeholders and potential major donors at Earl’s Court at 1.30am and then ran round the extension of 1868 to Edgware Road where we joined the original section of the Metropolitan Railway to Baker Street, opened to traffic on 10 January 1863.
At Baker Street we paused for 30 minutes to test the effects of the loco blowing off steam which billowed around the brick arched roof, before our train continued eastwards and then pulled back on the westbound road. We were joined at Baker Street by the latest ‘S’ stock train to test for any effects from the steam, which provided a neat contrast between the old and the new. Later we pulled back to Edgware Rd and then back to Earls Court and Lillie Bridge. The run went off without a hitch thanks to meticulous preparations and the programme for 2013 itself is now being planned.
The run did give a sense of the atmosphere of the steam-hauled era from 1863 to 1905. The smell of steam and coal smoke underground and the deafening noise of the safety valves blowing off demonstrated just why coke rather than coal was used to reduce the smoke and condensing apparatus fitted to absorb the spent steam in the Victorian Underground. The cab view of the twists and curves as we ran up from Earl’s Court, as well as seeing the sharp uphill gradient was a revelation to me. The double track tunnel brickwork is craggy and irregular, punctuated by open sections where we could see the dawn creeping up over west London.
Many thanks to our Underground colleagues, to the NRM for the loan of the loco and to Bill Parker and his crew from the Flour Mill for contributing to a highly successful and atmospheric event. The success of this test run gives us added incentive to raise the money for the restoration of Met No.1 to head a unique commemorative event in January 2013.