What is it like on the footplate of a steam engine when going through a long tunnel?

Discussion in 'Railtours & Preservation' started by infobleep, 12 Jun 2019.

  1. infobleep

    infobleep Established Member

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    Wasn't quite sure where to post this. Could anybody here, who works on the footplate of a steam engine, explain what is it like being on said footplate when going through a long tunnel?

    It's not something I'll ever get to experience myself.
     
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  3. JonathanP

    JonathanP Member

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    Not really an answer, more an advert :D , but...

    The Severn Valley Railway offers 'Taster experience' which for a relatively low price compared to a full day event offers a short trip on the footplate between Bewdley and Kidderminster, which includes a 440m long tunnel.
     
  4. ArchieWoodbine

    ArchieWoodbine Member

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    Not from personal experience, but a few thoughts:
    • Combe Down tunnel, on the S&DJR, was subject to an incident in 1929. In the un-ventilated tunnel, the crew of a goods were overwhelmed by smoke on the incline and lost control of the engine as it crested and ran-away down to Bath (killing three people).
    • There's a rather good account in a book I've got called Great Western Steam about a passage through Severn Tunnel. I can quote it verbatim later, but the general gist was that owing to a speed restriction and passing a heavy goods in the other direction, all of the crew were having to lean over the sides and gasp for fresh air after leaving the tunnel. The air in the tunnel was described as "hot sulfur".
    • These two RAIB reports into cases of firebox blow-back might make interesting reading, as to the hazards faced on the footplate in a tunnel. Report A & report B. EDIT: Actually, that second incident didn't occur in a tunnel as I'd remembered. It might still be of interest though so I'll leave it in.
     
  5. 70014IronDuke

    70014IronDuke Established Member

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    As per Mr Woodbine's mention of Combe Down Tunnel, I believe the old tunnels (were they called 'slows' on the GN?) out of Kings Cross were single bore and no ventilation shafts. Not good for the lungs.

    I think the old bores under on the Penistone line to Manchester were also single bore. These were terrible for enginemen working heavy mineral trains, especially if there was a plot loco. I'm sure there were others.

    There are stories of men crouching on the footplate where the air was cleaner. I have no idea how true they were. But couldn't be introduced today.
     
  6. Marton

    Marton Member

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    I have read there was a signal box half way through Woodhead.
     
  7. infobleep

    infobleep Established Member

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    Whilst I can't afford that right now, never say never.
     
  8. infobleep

    infobleep Established Member

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    I've heard of the Coombe Down tunnel accident.

    I will read the other reports.
     
  9. DanDaDriver

    DanDaDriver Member

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    There’s a bit in, “Engines Must Not Enter The Potato Siding,” (which is available free on iplayer) where the old enginemen discuss being given white cloths which they used to wet and wear as masks while crouching low on the footplate going through Woodhead.
     
  10. infobleep

    infobleep Established Member

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    I see Woodhead is about 3 miles long.

    It was a trip to Cardiff for the cricket laat week and my reading of the tunnel lengths of the Seven Tunnel that got me wondering about this. Seven tunnel is roughly 4 miles. I have a copy of the Great Western Railway general appendix. Published from memory in the 1930s with stuck in amendments to 1948, it has lots of fascinating details. I would quite the exact figures but I don't have it to hand right now.
     
  11. krus_aragon

    krus_aragon Established Member

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    There aren't many tunnels longer than the London Underground.

    Here's a news article I transcribed last year, describing what it was like being on the footplate of the Circle Line in 1893: When the Circle was Steam Operated
     
  12. Spartacus

    Spartacus Established Member

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    These days it won't be nearly so bad as it used to be due to there usually being quite a long time between steam hauled trains through any long tunnels, but while most services were steam hauled there would have been tunnels where the smoke often never truly cleared, the number of slow hard working freights, sometimes banked or double headed, would have contributed greatly. I'm sure one of the transpennine single bores was reputed to only be clear on Christmas Day.
     
  13. infobleep

    infobleep Established Member

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    I actually have some annual volumes of the English Illustrated Magazine but I don't think I have 1893 one. I do have some articles on railways in other Victorian magazines though.
     
  14. Andi-H27

    Andi-H27 Member

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    It's quite an experience! The noise and the smoke - unreal! Keep your mouth covered with your jacket and try to keep your eyes almost shut and hold on to something! The smoke, soot and coal dust are whipped around the footplate and there's very little light as the firehole door must always be shut before entering the tunnel to protect you from blowbacks.
     
  15. infobleep

    infobleep Established Member

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    So I take it one doesn't look ahead to check for any obstructions when going through a tunnel as you might when driving outside of a tunnel.
     
  16. Andi-H27

    Andi-H27 Member

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    You really can't see much but the driver usually makes the effort tucked into the front corner of the cab! ;)
     
  17. duffield

    duffield Member

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    I'd have thought that with the limited visibility under those circumstances, even if you were being observant at all times, you'd hit any obstruction before you could even start reacting (unless you were going at walking pace).
     

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