Back in 1990, in the north eastern town of Darlington, someone had a daft idea. The discussion, by a group of rail enthusiasts, had been around the fact that, when BR was running down the use of steam traction, many locomotive types had been wiped out without any examples being saved for preservation. So, the argument went, the only way to see one or more of these back on the railway would be to build them from scratch.
So what? Well, for a while, nothing happened, but then in 1993 the decision was taken to actually build a steam locomotive in the UK, which had not been achieved since 1960. Few of the skills required still existed, but once the idea took hold, there was no stopping the process. The new machine would be an A1 class Pacific to the design of Arthur Peppercorn, last Chief Mechanical Engineer of the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), and would complete the set to go with A2 Blue Peter, A3 Flying Scotsman, and a clutch of streamlined A4s like the one named after their designer Sir Nigel Gresley.
Ultimately the new locomotive cost a cool three million notes, but is now out and about paying some of that money off. An association with the RAF brought the name Tornado, with one nameplate carrying the motto of the base at Leeming, with the other showing that of Cottesmore.
Was it worth it? Well, if the number of punters prepared to travel behind Tornado is anything to go by (it’s not easy to find a free seat, whether you go Standard Class or shell out for Premier Dining), the signs are good. And if the size of the galleries is taken into account, there can be no doubt: sometimes you have to really want to get a sight of this machine.
Fortunately, we in Crewe had our own photo session recently as Tornado stopped off en route from a tour in the north west before setting off for her next temporary base.
And has this exhausted those who saw the project through? Not a bit of it. They’re all for building another loco as soon as they clear the debts for this one.
Daft? Certifiable, more like.