Saturday, 14 April 2007

'Planet' locomotive in Operation

'Planet' on a non-rainy day

The 'Planet' class was used on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1830 and represents a significant advance on the 'Rocket'. The Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester operates a modern replica of 'Planet' on weekends and holidays and Sunday 13th May 2007 was one of the days I was rostered to drive.

It's not true that it always rains in Manchester, but it certainly rained most of the day on this Sunday. Fortunately, most of the preparation was completed before the rains came - there's nothing more miserable than getting a locomotive ready for service, examining, oiling round, taking coal and water and shunting when you're wringing wet! Few steam locomotives offer very good weather protection to the enginemen but 'Planet', being a copy of an early locomotive, has no cab at all and I was resigned to being thoroughly soaked by the end of the day and so it proved. But there were plenty of passengers (the museum is currently hosting a 'Doctor Who' exhibition) who seemed to accept the rigours of a journey in our two imitation 1830 carriages. These are actually ex-BR 4-wheel wagon underframes with a custom-built semi-open top offering plenty of scope for getting cold and wet.

The train normally operates from about noon to 4.00pm, with a trip around every 15 minutes. There is a single platform near the main museum buildings where passengers board and alight. 'Planet' draws the two coaches over a demonstration line laid in between the 1830 Warehouse and the Coaching Shed, past the original Stationmaster's House (now Museum offices) and over the Water Street road bridge. The line continues over Stephenson's original Irwell Bridge and the train stops near the Museum railway gates, alongside the Network Rail line, just after the Museum's Pineapple Line converges from the right. When the Pineapple Line is in use, the fireman will go to the Ground Frame with the train staff (the driver's authority to run). Using a key attached to the Train Staff, the fireman reverses the points and secures them, before returning to the footplate. 'Planet' then propels its train onto the Pineapple Line which curves around the back of the 1830 Warehouse, past Granada television studios, coming to a stand quite close to the platform where the passengers boarded. The propelling movement is supervised by the train guard in the rearmost compartment. 'Planet' then draws the train forward to the Ground Frame, the fireman restores the points to the main demonstration line and the coaches are propelled back to the platform where the passengers disembark. On days when it is not possible to use the Pineapple Line, the fireman is saved the exercise of working the Ground Frame: instead, the train will make two or three round trips on the main demonstration line before letting the passengers off.

More photographs of 'Planet'