The Let's Play Archive

Chris Sawyer's Locomotion

by Jaguars!

Part 30: Interlude: BR Standard 4MT (Paul.Power)

And double post because hey, why not.

Credits: myself, Wikipedia, Phillip Capper

Standard 4MT Tank
Company: British Railways (BR)
Designer: Robert Riddles
Wheel Arrangement: 2-6-4T
First produced: 1951
Total built: 155
Total preserved: 15

The goal of the BR Standard classes was to provide a modern, standardised, economical and versatile steam locomotive fleet for British Railways - the logic being that it would be more economical to keep using steam (fired by local coal supplies) and gradually electrify the network rather than switch to diesel and expensive imported oil (note: this logic did not eventually get followed up on - more on that later). The leader of the design team was Robert Riddles, who had previously designed the War Department's "Austerity" locomotives, as well as working for the LMS. The LMS, thanks to the efforts of Stanier and his successors, were by now producing the best (in terms of simplicity and economy) locomotives of the Big Four, and most of the Standard classes took inspiration from LMS designs.

The Standard classes ended up as something of a mixed bag. The Britannia 7P light pacifics did an excellent job of providing express power to regions like East Anglia, that couldn't support the axle-loadings of previous designs. The 9F heavy freight locomotives proved themselves to be masters of the gradients typical of the UK's coal and iron ore regions in Northern England and Wales. Some classes produced less spectacular results, like the Clan class 6Ps and the 3MTs - or the singular 8P Duke of Gloucester, which only proved its true potential in preservation (and of course, as the BR 8P/SH 8P in Transport Tycoon, the final and most advanced steam loco in that game). Others did reasonable jobs, but were simply slightly more modern versions of pre-existing locos, designed with extra convenience features and fitting into BR's new L1 loading gauge.

The Standard 4 Tank fell sort of into that bracket as an evolution of a Stanier and Fairburn design (with a few small differences: the curved tanks were a requirement of the L1 gauge), but it still played an important role: chiefly suburban passenger work out of London, requiring fast acceleration and a fair turn of speed to cope with demanding start-stop schedules. Being a tank engine also helped with the fact that these suburban lines were essentially glorified branch lines, with no turntables. They were also seen on a variety of other branch lines around the country, filling useful roles.

Unfortunately, the time of the Standard Classes would be all too short, as the Modernisation Plan of 1955 decided that switching to diesel would be the way to go after all . So all of these shiny new locomotives that could have taken British steam traction through the 70s and into the 80s? Abolished from the national rail network by 1968, with the vast majority of them scrapped. The paradoxical upside of this was that the glut of steam engines being shunted off to the scrapyards meant that the railway preservation societies starting to spring up around the country had plenty of time to raise funds and buy some of the locomotives before they were all scrapped.

Had the locomotives been phased out more normally, the railway preservation movement in the UK would be nowhere near as strong as it is, and there would probably be far fewer steam locomotives running around on preserved lines today (see also the Beeching cuts that resulted in the axing of many of Britain's branchlines - several of which would become ideal sites for preserved railways. It's weird to have mixed feelings about this stuff). Of particular note was Woodham Brothers' scrapyard in Barry, South Wales, where 213 locomotives were saved from scrap. Of the 16 largest preserved railway sites in the UK (not counting the National Railway Museum, presumably), 162 of their 262 steam locomotives came from Barry.

Either way, the Standard Classes were a fitting way for steam traction in Britain to bow out.