Saturday, January 7, 2012

South African Mancunian retired to Gwynedd

(Rain in Wales? Maybe occasionally.)

Here at SRM HQ there is a soft spot for steam trains, hence the "Occasional Steam Train" series.

Today - in honour of Mr. Joe Fuller's birthday, we look at some of the most powerful 2ft gauge steam engines ever built - the South African NGG16 Garratts. A Garratt is a type of steam engine in which a larger-than-otherwise-possible boiler is carried on a paid of articulated power units, to make a smooth-riding and extremely powerful locomotive for its size. Though there were some standard gauge examples in the UK, including 33 on the LMS and the LNER's unique U1, Britain's most powerful steam locomotive, Garratts were synonymous with 3' 6" (Cape Gauge) systems in southern Africa, (though they also appeared in Australia, too), where despite being "narrow guage" were often larger than contemporary British practice on standard gauge.

But what concerns us here is 2' gauge super-power. Weighing in at around 60 tons and delivering over 21,000lb tractive effort, the NGG16s, behemoths of the narrow gauge, are more than twice the 24t weight of the iconic Ffestiniog Railway Double Fairlies like Livingston Thompson which produced less than 9,000lb tractive effort.

(Not a Garratt - a Double Fairlie)

And after retirement from South Africa, some of these Manchester built Beyer-Peacock Garratts (known worldwide as Beyer-Garratts) were repatriated as the ideal power for the rebuilt Welsh Highland.

Why are these Garratts so important? Well partly due to their size, they provide the capability to run profitable trains over the fabulous Welsh Highland Railway, something that the original line torn up in the 1940s never achieved. The WHR features a 1-in-40 ascent from the lovely village of Beddgelert to the base of Snowdon and then across farmland to Caernarfon Castle. It also runs through the breathtaking Aberglaslyn Pass, below:

Interestingly, one of those on the WHR is number 143, the last Beyer-Garratt produced, so in sharing the line with the first, K1, Wales now has the Alpha and Omega of these characterful engines that did so much to open up narrow gauge lines across the British Commonwealth in the first half of the 20th century.

(Last Beyer-Garratt ever... No 143 at Rydd Ddu)

So let's celebrate these returnees, and hope that they will continue to trundle visitors through the Snowdonia National Park for generations to come. Bravo!

(Number 87, one of the Belgian-built engines at Rydd Ddu - pronounced Writh-Dee, more or less.)

Happy Birthday Joe!

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