It’s back to ex-LNER locomotives for our latest Q+A: we’re grateful to the Claud Hamilton Locomotive Group for taking the time to answer some questions.
Things have been pretty quiet online recently – is the project still progressing?
Yes the project is progressing well, we are working on completing a CAD structure of the bogie assembly, ensuring it is updated to the latest known variations of all the parts.
When finished we will concentrate on building the bogie assembly. Once constructed it will act as an advertisement and be used for fundraising for the build. It will be a showcase sample, of skills needed for the bigger build, as the parts used will be cast, machined, drilled, forged, engineered and assembled. We have sent drawings for the frames out to tender.
You’re a younger group than most of those running new build projects – how did you come together, and how did the idea for the project emerge? And at the risk of horrifying more mature readers… how young are you, exactly?
We are a group of friends with an interest in heritage railways, and we have been volunteering within the Norfolk heritage railways for several years. We help to maintain and run the railways as well as drive and look after the steam trains. It was suggested that the Claud was missing within the GER express fleet and several preservationists had said this was the one that should have be saved. This sparked the idea for the group. Our ages are early to mid-twenties.
Has there been much change or turnover in the personnel involved since the project started? Who’s involved now (in outline terms), and how does the governance of the project work?
There were a few changes at the beginning as people moved away etc, but since then the group has remained stable. The group is based at Whitwell and Reepham Heritage Railway, which opened in 2009. It has plans to expand on the original track bed, which would be ideal for our completed engine. It would also be another attraction and working engine for Whitwell. Although we are included as part of the charity all funds and donations we raise are restricted to the Claud project.
Rail enthusiasts tend to be older, white and male – what’s the profile of your supporters been, and how have you found them (or they found you)?
Generally supporters have been through on-line media or meeting us at one of our stands. There is a range but it does tend to be people who know of the class or are in the East Anglia area and can remember the engines.
How do you feel the wider heritage rail community has responded to the project? Because you’re a younger group, some people seem to have lumped you in with a few obviously unrealistic projects (little more than websites and social media accounts) a few years back – that must have been annoying?
We are a young group but we have time and enthusiasm on our side. We are learning as we go, both volunteering and working on original engines. Although the project was difficult to get off the ground, as we were seen as too young and inexperienced, we now feel we are being taken more seriously and we will prove we can complete the build. When the bogie assembly is complete it will be a great asset for fundraising. We are grateful for all the support we currently have and look forward to its continued growth in the future. We have communicated with several builds and they have been helpful and supportive to us.
What’s the plan for the build? You’ve been focusing on CAD work – what’s been done so far in terms of design and technical research, and how will the physical build be undertaken?
We have been working on producing the Claud class as it was in its D16/2 form. The class of Clauds had many different variables, starting with the first D14 oil fired round top boiler and moving on to a coal fired Belpaire boiler. The next change was the D15 which began changes to the tender cab and smoke box. Followed by the D16, this had three variants within the class, all with different splashers, cabs, tenders, boilers, slide valves or piston valves. The addition of piston valves to the Clauds caused frame issues, so the frames were strengthened. As you can see, catering for all the different changes and designs for the Claud is a difficult task. This is why we set out to build a pre-existing well known engine. This gives us a direction to head to, whilst upgrading some parts by taking on the knowledge of ex-workers who worked on the Clauds. Our main aim will be providing an engine which is easier to maintain and run. We will also be looking at constructing a few spare replacement parts for known wear issues. Making the long term maintenance more efficient and having less down time.
What’s your approach to fundraising? How much do you need to raise, and what approaches do you expect to use (and targeting which audiences)?
We estimate the cost to be in the region of £1.5 million. This could increase depending on inflation and materials, which is the same for all new build groups. We aim to target people who can remember the Clauds, as well as introducing the Clauds to people who are interested in the preservation and experiencing the golden age of steam.
You’ve spoken in the past in terms of a 20 year timescale for the project. Do you have a more precise timeline, and what’s your expectation for how the locomotive might fit into the heritage rail scene when complete?
Although we’re committed, at present a completion date is unknown, as this will depend on the funding, sourcing and building. It is important to get the build correct from the start, so eliminating any faults will help this process later on. As a group, seeing our 8783 Claud pulling a set of teak coaches is the ultimate goal, as they were built for pulling the London express trains. Currently the Claud is missing within the link up of surviving East Anglian express engines. LNER E4, D16/2, B12, B17 (new build) and BR Britannia Class 7.
What prompted the change of name from Lady Hamilton to Phoenix, early on?
The name change was quite early on. Originally given a female name, as we understand that machines tend to be given a female persona, with the class of engines being called ‘Claud Hamiltons’ we combined the idea. It was changed as we wanted a name that reflected the rebirth of the class, that was short and memorable. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the logo reflects this idea too, with the steam and smoke forming a Phoenix shape around the engine. This led to the conversations with the Australian project V499, where 19 of their engines were built at the Phoenix Foundry Co. Ltd.
What has the ‘twinning’ with the Australian project involved?
We currently share information, progress and news between the two groups. It is great to know people on the other side of the world share an interest and are also building a steam train.
All images courtesy of the Claud Hamilton Locomotive Group.