Virgin Trains’ engineering apprentices help to build Britain’s most powerful steam locomotive

As the project to build new Gresley class P2 steam locomotive No. 2007 Prince of Wales prepares for the wheeling of the engine towards the end of the year, a second group of engineering apprentices from Virgin Trains has joined the team in Darlington Locomotive Works to help with the construction of this iconic new steam locomotive.

The class P2 2-8-2 ‘Mikado’ locomotives were the most powerful passenger steam locomotives to operate in the UK, designed by Sir Nigel Gresley to haul 600 ton trains on the arduous Edinburgh to Aberdeen route.  Sadly the design was never fully developed and they were rebuilt in 1943/44 and scrapped by 1961.  The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust (registered charity and builders of famous new steam locomotive No. 60163 Tornado) is building the seventh member of this class over seven years at an estimated cost of £5m. The project will demonstrate how the design can be fully realised through use of modern computer design techniques, enabling the new locomotive to deliver its full potential hauling passenger trains at high speed across today’s national network.

Public interest in seeing a new Gresley class P2 become a reality sooner rather than later is high and well over 830 people have already signed up to the ‘P2 for the price of a pint of beer per week’ (£10 per month or more) covenant scheme since its launch.  In addition to this core scheme, funds have been raised through The Founders Club (over 360 people have donated £1,000 each – target 100 people, now closed), The Boiler Club (over 120 people have pledged £2,000 each – target of 300 people), The Mikado Club (over 160 people have pledged £1,000 each – target now raised from160 to 200 people and £200,000 to £250,000), Dedicated Donations (over £200,000 from existing supporters sponsoring a variety of components) and the sponsorship of the locomotive’s distinctive front-end by The Gresley Society Trust. This means that the project has already received pledges of almost 50% (including Gift Aid) of the £5m needed to complete the new locomotive by 2021.

As part of a sponsorship agreement with Virgin Trains, apprentices are being given the opportunity to experience a different railway environment at The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust’s Darlington Locomotive Works where Peppercorn class A1 No. 60163 Tornado was completed in 2008 and No. 2007 Prince of Wales is now under construction.

The second two apprentices, Scott Henderson and Andrew Patterson from Virgin Trains’ Craigentinny depot in Edinburgh, have just completed a week-long stint with the Trust at DLW working on No. 2007 Prince of Wales. Over this period, they have worked with A1SLT staff, helping with the shaping and fabrication of the locomotive’s distinctive boiler cladding using the dinosaur-like former nick-named ‘Craig the Cretaceous’. More apprentices are expected to follow in the coming months.

John Doughty, Engineering Director for Virgin Trains on its east coast route, commented:

“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.”

Mark Allatt, Trustee and P2 Project Director, The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, commented:

“The original Gresley class P2s worked the arduous Edinburgh to Aberdeen route for the LNER in the late 1930s, a route now operated by Virgin Trains East Coast. We are delighted that apprentices from Virgin Trains is now working with us to build No. 2007 Prince of Wales at our Darlington Locomotive Works, true inheritors to the LNER’s combination of speed and style. We look forward to welcoming many more apprentices to DLW over the next few years.”

Photographs: Virgin Trains apprentices Scott Henderson and Andrew Patterson lend a hand at Darlington Locomotive Works. Gresley class P2 No. 2007 Prince of Walesunder construction at Darlington Locomotive Works (Mandy Grant).