The B17 Steam Locomotive Trust are the latest to answer questions for our Q+A series – with thanks to John Peat and Brian Hall.
What are the origins of the project? New Build Steam has struggled slightly to understand the situation with the two B17 projects, but it looks somewhat as though they emerged from a single project that then became two – is that right? How did you get to where you are now?
The project to create two B17s by The Sandringham Locomotive Company Limited was reported in the railway press during June 2008. This was a private commercial company, limited by guarantee having an authorised share capital with two appointed directors. The company was incorporated in May 2008. The basis of the project had originated from The North British Locomotive Preservation Group (NBLPG) during 2007. The intention was that one locomotive would serve for mainline operation whilst the second was to be a full size ‘mock-up’ for display purposes. The latter was to be made from component parts of appropriate shape, size and materials to resemble the locomotive.
Marketing and promotional work commenced from the latter half of 2008 and into the following year. Although interest from enthusiasts was high the take up of shares was modest, where support tended to be from those who recalled these handsome locomotives during their service life and for whom not one but two ‘Sandringhams’ was like manna from heaven. The last few Sandies had been condemned nearly fifty years before – so was this missing link in LNER steam power about to be addressed? Now there was real hope – Tornado, representing another defunct LNER locomotive class, was about to be commissioned and take to the rails in the 21st century. Passions were sky high. It must be possible!
However fate intervened with a double whammy as 2009 passed into 2010. First there was the deepening crisis in the financial markets worldwide. The credit crunch thwarted any hope of big business coming forward to take up a major shareholding in the Sandringham project. At the same time, modest investments made by enthusiasts also slowed. Next, the company was to lose its dedicated Chief Engineer following a brief battle with cancer, which proved fatal and was a cruel blow to morale. At this stage the project was on the buffers!
At the end of 2010, a proposal to change to a charitable organisation was agreed with both directors of The Sandringham Locomotive Company Limited. Next, arrangements were put in hand to liaise with each shareholder and also establish the B17 Steam Locomotive Trust (B17SLT) as a registered charity with the objective of creating one locomotive in compliance with main line operating and maintenance requirements. Previous shareholders transferred as the first members into the new organisation, which was ready to commence operation by the end of 2011. The other B17 emerged afterwards supported by NBLPG.
A successful inaugural meeting with members provided the launch in February 2012, and later in the year at the first annual general meeting (September) members voted in favour of Spirit of Sandringham as the name and 61673 as the number to badge the project. Communication with members continues to be maintained through two meetings per year, social media including a website, and a quarterly newsletter.
From inception, consistent growth year on year by B17SLT has continued to deliver increased membership and support by the general public inclusive of component sponsorship. Sufficient funds enabled the birth of the new B17 to be achieved in 2015 when the frames were produced and delivered to The Llangollen Railway were construction has commenced.
What is the estimated total cost of taking the build through to completion?
An active marketing and business plan supported by a live Engineering Development – Construction – Certification and Budget plan defines the programme having an estimated cost to completion of £2.7 million for locomotive including the overhaul and full restoration of both types of tender which operated with the Sandringhams, and which are owned by B17SLT. The timescale to completion is 10 – 11 years with the aim of commissioning the locomotive by 2028 in time for the centenary when the first ten engines entered service with the LNER.
A B17 would obviously be a useful addition to the main line fleet – what operational balance do you foresee for Spirit of Sandringham between main line and preserved line work?
Spirit of Sandringham provides almost universal route availability on the main line network. It is realised that the rail authority may impose restrictions due to capacity considerations in preference for normal service providers operating under current franchise arrangements in the future. There may however be opportunities for main line running on certain secondary routes. However it is anticipated that operation would be in the order of 60/40 heritage to main line.
Maximum train lengths were recently set for trains on the main line, but classes under construction were not included in the work – do you have an idea of where a B17 might fit into that schema? (Might it be treated similarly to a Jubilee, for instance?)
Spirit of Sandringham is typically class 5 route availability similar to the locomotives suggested i.e. Black 5, Jublilee etc.
How big is the active membership of the group? Who does the work on the locomotive? Steam enthusiasts tend to be older – what’s the demographic of your group like?
As B17SLT continues to grow the membership the management team is currently implementing a local area group plan to encourage project ownership and freedom of operation where a local focus and knowledge can be used for publicity and promotional purposes, recruiting members and raising funds. This has tended to influence greater participation amongst close knit groups and develop a teamwork approach. The majority of members are based in areas once frequented by B17s with East Anglia and the East Midlands dominant. Experience to date indicates that members are typically aged above 65 years. Active volunteers in promotional work typically amount to 20% of the membership. Work on the locomotive is contracted to the Llangollen Railway team who possess the appropriate skill competency for this work in compliance with the rail authority’s requirements.
What’s your approach to fundraising – what kind of person is donating the money, how do you find them, what are the revenue streams?
Project funding is provided by members and the general public on an entirely voluntary basis by way of either regular and affordable subscriptions, annualised membership, donations or sponsorship of specific parts or processes. These funding streams are supplemented through sales stand activity at special events such as steam galas held at heritage railway centres and presentations related to the B17 project to institutions, enthusiasts groups and community groups. All provide opportunities to enthuse and recruit new members and supporters whilst freely engaging with the general public to share the vast knowledge base available about B17s and general railway history. The interest and generosity of the general public is amazing and is to be acknowledged. Support from the best in British industry has also commenced with a significant stakeholding by William Cook Cast Products Limited for the supply of steel castings to the Spirit of Sandringham project.
What’s the status of the project at Llangollen – for instance, do you have dedicated workshop space, and what engineering support do you get from the team there?
The Llangollen Railway already provides a permanent space inside their works where the frames are now erected with bufferbeam and dragbox fitted, with supporting secure storage nearby. Engineering support provided by the indigenous team covers all the skills and know how required for new build steam, including succession planning involving opportunities for apprentices and young people in conjunction with the local technical college based in Wrexham. Overall this provides a proven and capable method of working which was carefully evaluated by members of the B17SLT management team during earlier negotiations with the Llangollen team. A formal written agreement between the parties is in place and working.
What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome so far?
The initial obstacle was to combine personal initiative, self motivation and confidence demonstrated by individuals into a cooperative and integrated team capable of working together to grow the organisation and income in order to fund the birth of the locomotive. This same challenge becomes more onerous to sustain momentum to continue moving the project forward.
What has your approach been to archival research for the project, and what have you found the status of original documentation for the class to be?
Research has been largely derived from NRM records by way of LNER drawings to define the 1935 technical baseline for the spirit of Sandringham project. Clarity of the design definition has been good with read across to similar locomotive classes such as D49, B1 and A1 where certain facts may need corroboration. Help from NRM Search Engine staff is to be acknowledged. In addition ,practical design and development expertise is provided to the project by David Elliott who operates as the consultant engineer and whose experience with Tornado and more latterly Prince of Wales (P2) is gratefully acknowledged. Similarly appreciation is also extended to the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust for their help and advice.