Steam train rescues stranded passengers in Britain where electric trains failed

Both my father and grandfather, both of whom had connections to steam locomotives in their life are undoubtedly cheering this story(wherever they are) from the BBC. So am I. Inconveniently, it runs on coal.


In arctic like conditions, Tornado hauls the only train running on time through Britains big freeze - Image: Craig Stretton A1 Steam

Steam train’s snow rescue ‘glory’


Passengers were rescued by a steam locomotive after modern rail services were brought to a halt by the snowy conditions in south-east England.

Trains between Ashford and Dover were suspended on Monday when cold weather disabled the electric rail.

Some commuters at London Victoria faced lengthy delays until Tornado – Britain’s first mainline steam engine in 50 years – offered them a lift.

They were taken home “in style”, said the Darlington-built engine’s owners.

Train services in Kent were hit hard by the freezing conditions at the start of the week.

The weather-related disruption included three days of cancellations for Eurostar services through the Channel Tunnel.

Tornado, a £3m Peppercorn class A1 Pacific based at the National Railway Museum in York, was in the South East for one day, offering “Christmas meal” trips from London to Dover.

About 100 people were offered free seats, according to Mark Allatt, chairman of The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust – the charity which built Tornado.

Mr Allatt, who was on the service at the time, said he only saw a handful of other trains between London and Dover throughout Monday.

A spokesman for Southeastern Trains congratulated Mr Allatt on his “moment of glory”.

He said: “I’m sure those passengers were saved from a lengthy wait, all credit to him.”

Read the complete BBC article here


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My father, who died in 1993 at age 90, was a great lover of steam locomotives. His dad had worked for the railroad as a section foreman (actually knew Casey Jones) until killed in an accident. My father always spoke of the great engineering involved in designing and manufacturing the steam giants. Looks like they still work!

Adam from Kansas

And the ironic thing is that train must be spewing out much more CO2 than the trains that got stuck assuming they’re burning coal or wood to make the steam.
But anything that pumps out plant food then………


Perhaps the stranded passengers can take this up with Hadley. Hadley has this winter as the warmest on record as their prediction.


What a lovely story. I showed this to my young son, whose comment was “He’s green – it must be Henry.” I’ve been amused – or perhaps bemused – by the problems with the Chunnel trains. I guess they never banked on snow, as the design problems with snow intake were encountered and overcome in North America over 50 years ago, and the problems then seen were a result of failure to visualize all weather eventualities on the part of design engineers.


in the “old days” they overcame hardships, now they’re government subsidised.


Didn’t know electricity could freeze. 😉

What a great story. The broader lesson, that not all technologies, like all climate models, actually work under the full range of real world conditions, may be lost on the general public.
Merry Christmas to all, especially fans of steam locomotion.

Paul R

The picture reminds me of the stock standard alarmist photo of power station cooling towers where the water vapour is annoyingly mistaken for some evil catastrophic carbon molecule.
At least in this picture there would indeed be some good old CO2 pushing that steam about, or vice versa.

You mean a steam train that runs on …….. coal ? 🙂

So Al Gore was right after all! He did say that global warming would mean we’d see more Tornadoes, didn’t he?
The remarkable thing about steam engines is that they seem to blend into and become part of the landscape – whether hurtling through a snowy rural scene or trundling into an urban station. I don’t think that is true of modern machinery although a lot of that could be down to the garish paint schemes that are so popular today.


Proper engineering. My friend Dave Wilson was one of the last tender men on the Southern Railway. He and the driver broke the record for the Penzance-London run with the last steam train before it was withdrawn from service, just to prove the point.
Then he wrote a guide to the preserved steam railways of Britain while we studied together at Leeds in the ’80’s. He sent me a first edition copy with a private joke written in the front cover:
Time and tables ; The essence of Philosophy.
While we studied the history and philosophy of science, we would often ‘sit in’ on spontaneous debates in the Philosophy department foyer. Many of these would revolve around the nature of time, and our understanding of matter. “take this table for example” became a standing joke. 🙂
The head of the University finance department was heard to say to the head of the physics department who had just asked for an expensive piece of experimental equipment;
“Why can’t you be more like the philosophy department? All they ask me for is paper and pens… and waste paper baskets.”


About 15 years ago, I heard a speech by a civil engineer who said that it’s not wise to assume that hi-tech will work during a disaster.
Though I wouldn’t call heavy snow a disaster – he was talking about earthquakes and major flooding etc – I guess that this illustrates the point.

Steve Oregon

More popcorn please…. 😀
Yeah, AGW and unhealthy diet…

Jack in Oregon

My father was one of the last coal shoveling firemen on the old steam engines on the Alaska railroad just after WW2. He become an engineer, and weeks later they switched to diesels.
He still has some amazing stories to tell about life in Alaska in the late 40’s. At one time, he was the second youngest engineer in North America.

Peter of Sydney

So who is going to pay for the necessary upgrades to the railway systems throughout Europe and the US if the global cooling continues to produce more and more snow? Will it come from the global warming taxes?

What a sense of humor the Old Man has!
With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel

Roger Knights

There’s only white smoke (steam, I presume) shown in the photo, not black. That can’t be right.

This is “wrong” on so many levels it’s great!
If only Dr. Pachauri needed the rescue….
BTW, the cog railway that runs up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire is gaining some new biodiesel locomotives to augment the classic coal fueled steam locomotive. The latter have to stop halfway up to take on extra water. See

Pamela Gray

Wonder how many carbon credits they bought in order to do that. Or is that not the way it’s done?

Peter of Sydney (17:08:50) :
“So who is going to pay for the necessary upgrades to the railway systems throughout Europe and the US if the global cooling continues to produce more and more snow? Will it come from the global warming taxes?”
No need. At least here in the US, were used to lots of snow falling on the rail lines. Don’t expect the cooling to last forever, maybe just a few decades. Everything cycles.
The european high speed lines will need more plow engines running. They will also likely run power through the rails to make them heat up.


Definitely not Thomas according to my 4yr old.

Pamela Gray

My grandfather was a telegrapher and cabooseman (? title) for the railroad back in those days. He was also the hogmaster. That was the person that worked for both the RR and local farmers to get hogs onto the trains and ship them out of the county. He kept the records as the hogs were loaded as to which hogs belonged to what farmer.


You know, if what you need for a hard-working steam-driven locomotive is a reliable source of heat, but people are worried about the CO2 emissions, you could equip them with a small and simple nuke plant. 😉

a jones

Yes Henry was green engine but as I recall had indigestion problems until he was sent bak to Crewe to have his firebox rebuilt.
The UK southern railway third rail system at around 750 V AC was very satisfactory.
To cope with frost under British rail they used to run the ghost trains overnight which flashed and sparked splendidly.
Heavy snow was a problem but they were well equipped to cope with it, they had four diesel snow plough units which cleared the line and they had a fairly efficient plan of putting people on trains which would more or less get them close to their destination. No charge.
And because they did not charge the old rule was always first train forward and sort it out from there.
All I can say is we knew how to deal with this kind of weather back then. Seems AGW hasn’t stopped it either.
Kindest Regards


Gary (16:25:34) :
“Didn’t know electricity could freeze. ;-)”
Every time it’s turned off.

Andrew EUSSR

Newspapers here in england (eussr) called the steam loco the Polar express how very apt lol


LoL… Ya just couldn’t make this stuff up. Europe, England, Canada, most of America all under great swaths of Christmas snow…. Steam Loco’s the only rail stock working. Unbelievable…. What’s next? Harry Potter riding by on a broomstick? Headlines reading, ” IPCC declares Magic the only solution to global warming”…..;-)


Proof were any necessary that namby-pamby modern tech is pants in comparison to the evolved steam locomotive. Bring on the Strategic Reserve.


I’m confused. Don’t they have diesels? Or is it too non-green either?


Old stuff often works better than the new.
I am working on developing new risk-of-life communication systems using VOIP to replace copper wire phones. The new system is at least an order of magnitude less reliable than the old system which was good for 5 or 6 ‘nines’. Perhaps I can squeeze 4 ‘nines’ out of VOIP. Electricity fails. Goodbye phone. Data link broken, goodbye phone.
I was also involved in computerizing train signaling. In terms of reliability, computers are the pits, We had to put huge intrinsically safe relays in – in parallel – so that no matter what went wrong with the computers the trains were at least safe.


I don’t know the mix of electric sources there. Around here any electric train would be powered about 50% coal and ~28% natural gas. Remember that only about 1/3 of the energy makes it through the generation/transmission process.
I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine if burning the coal directly in the locomotive is any worse.
The other ~12%?…that would be nuclear! There are more wind powered generators here than any other state and they still don’t amount to any signicficant fraction.

tim c

This is a great story and just goes that we can still build them like they used to with a little love.

tim c

This is a great story and just goes to show that we can still build them like they used to with a little love.

Power Grab

@ Jack in Oregon
I, for one, would love to read those stories about live in Alaska in the 40s. Is it possible to capture them and put them on the web?

My father used to drive these things in the North of England, out of York, until he died prematurely in 1948. He was strafed a couple of times by the Luftwaffe. My much older sister was also torpedoed twice during the war when she worked for ENSA. Small world, at times isn’t it?

Douglas DC

tallbloke (16:47:23) :
My Uncle George Campbell was firing a Union Pacific Northern,on the Portland Rose
run when they broke the Huntington-Portland record (Three crews) those things could
as with most passenger locomotives of the 800 series they flew-averaging well over 90 mph-with stops. 844 is the last one running of the 4-8-4’s of UP.
At least the British didn’t rush headlong into modernization-and kept a few around…
Also reminds me of one story of the local mainline flooding this was in the late 1950’s
the Diesel-electrics were not able to ford the flood but Steam did because of the
high positon of the firebox…
Love it…

Pachauri should be right in his natural element in a situation like this. And he might actually make some useful contribution to the planet if he was still driving trains.


This reminds me of a favorite ‘Top Gear’ bit where the lads race various vehicles of roughly the same vintage….Clarkson in a coal fed steam train, May in an old Jag & Hammond on a Russian (?) bike of some sort…..i wonder if that is the same locomotive?


I love it! Speaking of “Mature” technology, I wonder how many high tech hikers, and other people, could navigate their way across town, or find their way out of the woods, without GPS? Doing it the way I used to do it with just a topographical map and a compass; sometimes with nothing except the clothes on my back.
One good CME and bye bye satellites. Morse code anyone?


Those global warming taxes have already been spent on political ‘nice to haves’; no, upgrades to the railway systems will require more taxes.

Gregg E.

Something for a future post on WUWT.
Voyager Makes an Interstellar Discovery 12.23.2009
December 23, 2009: The solar system is passing through an interstellar cloud that physics says should not exist. In the Dec. 24th issue of Nature, a team of scientists reveal how NASA’s Voyager spacecraft have solved the mystery.
“Using data from Voyager, we have discovered a strong magnetic field just outside the solar system,” explains lead author Merav Opher, a NASA Heliophysics Guest Investigator from George Mason University. “This magnetic field holds the interstellar cloud together and solves the long-standing puzzle of how it can exist at all.”
The discovery has implications for the future when the solar system will eventually bump into other, similar clouds in our arm of the Milky Way galaxy.

Well that’s interesting for the future, but what about the past? What other such “fluff clouds” has the Solar System interacted with before now?

some bloke

Richard Bransons shiny new Virgin Voyager trains could not cope with a bit of rough sea on the Devon, England, coast because the intake for the air conditioning sucked in seawater when this happened

They tried to make out that the weather conditions were getting worse (AWG!) but the locals know otherwise. Virgin don’t run that route anymore but older diesel locos and coal fired excursion trains still do quite happily.


seasons greetings anthony.
thank u so much for your blog.
more power to u in the new year. best wishes to u and yours.

Andrew EUSSR

The only downside to this was the fact that the boiler had to be built in germany 🙁


btw anthony am reading michael crichton’s ‘state of fear’ and decided to check his wikipedia entry. now i wonder who edited any/all of the following:
wikipedia: Criticism of Crichton’s Environmental Views
Many of Crichton’s publicly expressed views, particularly on subjects like the global warming controversy, have been rebuked by a number of scientists and commentators. An example is meteorologist Jeffrey Masters’ review of State of Fear:
Flawed or misleading presentations of Global Warming science exist in the book, including those on Arctic sea ice thinning, correction of land-based temperature measurements for the urban heat island effect, and satellite vs. ground-based measurements of Earth’s warming. I will spare the reader additional details. On the positive side, Crichton does emphasize the little-appreciated fact that while most of the world has been warming the past few decades, most of Antarctica has seen a cooling trend. The Antarctic ice sheet is actually expected to increase in mass over the next 100 years due to increased precipitation, according to the IPCC.”[28]
Peter Doran, author of the paper in the January 2002 issue of Nature which reported the finding referred to above that some areas of Antarctica had cooled between 1986 and 2000, wrote an opinion piece in the July 27, 2006 New York Times in which he stated “Our results have been misused as ‘evidence’ against global warming by Michael Crichton in his novel State of Fear.”[29] Al Gore said on March 21, 2007 before a U.S. House committee: “The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor […] if your doctor tells you you need to intervene here, you don’t say ‘Well, I read a science fiction novel that tells me it’s not a problem’.” This has been recognized by several commentators as a reference to State of Fear.[30][31][32]
[edit] Michael Crowley
In his 2006 novel Next (released November 28 of that year), Crichton introduced a character named “Mick Crowley” who is a Yale graduate and a Washington D.C.-based political columnist. “Crowley” was portrayed by Crichton as a child molester with a small penis. The character is a minor one who does not appear elsewhere in the book.[33]
A real person named Michael Crowley is also a Yale graduate, and a senior editor of The New Republic, a liberal Washington D.C.-based political magazine. In March 2006, the real Crowley had written an article strongly critical of Crichton for his stance on global warming in State of Fear.[34] Crowley responded by saying that he was “strangely flattered” by his reference in Crichton’s novel. “To explain why, let me propose a corollary to the small penis rule,” he wrote. “Call it the small man rule: If someone offers substantive criticism of an author and the author responds by hitting below the belt, as it were, then he’s conceding that the critic has won.

jerry (18:05:07) :
Old stuff often works better than the new.
I am working on developing new risk-of-life communication systems using VOIP to replace copper wire phones. The new system is at least an order of magnitude less reliable than the old system which was good for 5 or 6 ‘nines’. Perhaps I can squeeze 4 ‘nines’ out of VOIP. Electricity fails. Goodbye phone. Data link broken, goodbye phone.

We replace copper, even fiber, and sometimes even dependence on the loathed (and misunderstood) ‘grid’ system (of electric power reliability) every morning (1,000 Watt or less generator is all that’s needed for our purposes).
And , we ‘talk’ all over the State of Texas, OK, LA etc without wired/fiber ‘circuits’ of any kind. We can even send pictures/data/text files using the available (free) Easypal utility. There are even digital voice modes available.
What’s this called? Ham radio!!!
To use a modified phrase from an old Humphrey Bogart movie:
” Wires? Wires!? We don’t need no stinking wires!! ”
(We meet on 3840 kHz LSB (Lower Side Band) all mornings ~ 7:45 .. 9:15 AM CST)


“pat (19:26:37) :
btw anthony am reading michael crichton’s ’state of fear’ and decided …”
Sounds like he was way smarter than i thought! Gotta check out that book…


Barack Obama flees AGW-induced snowstorm towards a less impacted area:
(the last pic)