Virgin Trains’ apprentices join “steam team”.(Virgin Trains)

Virgin Trains’ engineering apprentice Michael Olley works on the smokebox door of the steam locomotive Prince of Wales.(Virgin Trains Image)

Engineering apprentices from Virgin Trains are helping to build Britain’s most powerful steam locomotive.

The apprentices have been helping the team at Darlington Locomotive Works where steam locomotive No. 2007 Prince of Wales is being built at a cost of £5m.

Virgin Trains is sending apprentices to gain firsthand experience of working on the steam engine as part of a sponsorship agreement it has established to help the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust as it builds the class P2 2-8-2 ‘Mikado’ locomotive. The trust, which is well known for having built Peppercorn Class A1 locomotive No. 60163 Tornado from its original drawings, had asked the public to choose its next project.

Mark Allat, Chairman of the Trust, said: “With its elegant and unusual smoke deflectors, this big and beautiful design by Sir Nigel Gresley was the overwhelming choice of people polled. There were originally six of these locomotives which were built to haul up to 15 carriages on the arduous Edinburgh to Aberdeen route until a rebuilt version was scrapped in 1961.

“They were once the most powerful express passenger steam locomotives in the UK, and we’re using modern computer techniques to enable this new version to deliver its full potential to take passengers at high speed from 2021. We’re delighted that apprentices from Virgin Trains are now working with us to build No. 2007 Prince of Wales, a true inheritor to this route’s combination of speed and style.”

Michael Olley and Simon Nadolny, both 23, are usually stationed at Virgin’s Bounds Green Depot in London. As part of their apprenticeships in Electrical Mechanical Systems Maintenance Engineering, they work on the maintenance and repair of Virgin Trains’ electric 225 fleet, which is in daily service on its east coast route.

Simon, who is from Doncaster, said: “This week we’ve been getting down to basics, bending metal and hammering nuts and bolts into place, helping to install three large fabricated frame stays and assembling the smokebox lifting sheets. It’s been a real privilege and I’m proud to have played a small part in creating what will be the UK’s most powerful steam engine.”

Michael, from London, said: “It’s been great to have the opportunity to work in a different type of environment. The Trust’s approach to solving problems has provided really good insights which we can take back to the day job.”

John Doughty, Engineering Director for Virgin Trains, said: “While we look forward to introducing our new Virgin Azuma train fleet from 2018, it’s important to promote and preserve the history and heritage of our east coast route. Our sponsorship of the trust gives our apprentices the opportunity to experience a very valuable taste of the heavier side of railway mechanical engineering.”