London Underground Testing of Met 1 and Coach 353: The Director’s Perspective

Test train at Moorgate, 16th December 2012

Back in December, we tested Met 1 and coach 353 from Earls Court to Moorgate to prepare for the celebration. For me, it was a remarkable experience to see both our restored vehicles arrive under steam at Earls Court early in the morning of 16 December. The unlined maroon Met 1 pulled quietly into the platform, the varnished coach glinting in the lights behind, cameras were deployed and then followed the cry of ‘All aboard’. We climbed into the plush red seats of one of the four compartments, lit by the Pintsch patent gas lights (LEDs actually), and the doors were slammed shut. With  journalists, and our donors and trustees, I sat expectantly on the plush bench seat and noted the gilded mirrors, buttoned leather door panels, string net luggage racks and rich lettering. Richard Jones opined that this was one of the best restorations he had ever seen. The guard blew his whistle, was answered by the engine whistle and we lurched forwards as the coupling slack was snatched up. The loud beat of the engine quickened and echoed off the tunnel roof as we pulled away, the view on both sides being obscured by smoke and steam. We let one window down on its notched leather strap to get the full effect of steam coal into the compartment. The engine worked quite hard as it tackled the gradient up to Kensington Church Street. For the first time, we began to get just a hint of what travelling on the Victorian Underground might have felt like, the noise of the engine, the movement of the carriage and the swirl of the steam outside the window. We passed through modern stations such as King’s Cross/St Pancras, a rather  surreal experience looking out from a varnished teak upholstered interior onto a modern functional platform with its bright roundels. Orange-clad station staff and contractors smiled and took pictures as we rattled through brightly lit but empty platforms. An unexpected red signal at Baker Street led to the engine blowing off and bringing down the accumulated dust, soot and dead pigeons of the past 150 years onto the pristine carriage and loco. We nosed into the bay platform at Moorgate to take on water before making the return journey to Edgware Road.

This is the experience I hope many of you have been able to taste on the January commemorative runs. Tickets have inevitably been limited and expensive but this is a one-off event, expensive to mount and unlikely to be repeated. To run a  steam hauled service of original carriages within the normal Met timetable has been a huge privilege and a great event to lead off the celebration of the Underground’s profound influence on the capital over the past 150 years. There will be further opportunities throughout the year to ride behind Met 1; from Harrow to Amersham in May and September, at Quainton Road in August and at Epping-Ongar in June and even a Santa Special in December. Negotiations are in hand to hire the loco and coach to heritage railways in the coming years and spread the Museum’s message through a volunteer supporters group to explain them and illustrate the restoration process to a wider public.

Our two projects for 2013 have been the most significant we have undertaken since the 38-stock restoration nearly ten years ago. It’s the first time we have ventured into steam overhaul and operation and we have the eight to ten year life of the boiler certificate to carry the story of the Met and the world’s first underground railway to locations and audiences within and beyond London. We hope to pair it as much as possible with Met 353, our first Met carriage and seen on the test night as one of the highest quality  restorations of its type. Great tribute is owed to the Friends for backing this work from the offset two years ago, to our contractors at the Ffestiniog  and for the excellent and thoughtful direction of the project by Tim Shields. If you are one of over two hundred individual donors, many thanks from the board and myself.

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