A mainline steam locomotive built in 1922 is back on the rails in Normandy after nine years and a through restoration by a team of volunteers – and railway fans can enjoy trips on the train this month.
It will run from Sotteville-lès-Rouen station near Rouen to Dieppe on August 11 and 25. Tickets cost cost €54 return in second class and €64 return in first class. Passenger wagons date from the 1930s and have been restored by the association. Reservations for the next day trips can be made through the club’s website, www.pvcasso.fr.
As well as the trips, the locomotive can be hired for film and photo shoots.
The Pacific 231 locomotive broke down in 2009 when a brass and oil lubricated “hot box” bearing on one of its 1.94m diameter driving wheels failed due to a faulty oil supply. The brass parts melted.
“It is a big part and very expensive,” Philippe Caron from the Pacific Vapeur Club (PVC) told The Connexion. “There was nowhere in France which was able to make and fit it so we had to take the wheel and axle off and send them to a specialist in Germany. But first we had to raise the money to do so, and it all took time.”
The PVC has 60 volunteers who gather every Tuesday to spend a day working on locomotives (the also have two old diesel engines), and on the carriages dating from the 1930s which they use for special trains to raise funds.
“We are a mixed bunch, all retired, and nearly all from engineering backgrounds,” said Mr Caron. “We have people who worked in paper making, oil rigs, electricity, construction, newspapers, and former members of SNCF. What unites us is our passion for locomotives and especially our big Pacific, which we call Princess.”
While the wheels were off to get the hot-box fixed, the team cleaned and repaired parts of the machine which might otherwise have been neglected.
The work uncovered two gas tubes, taking gas from the fire towards the exhaust which also provide heat to build up steam, that had rusted and which were replaced.
“You are working with big heavy parts but we are in a well-equipped workshop and there are always people around who know how things should be done, so we are able to cope,” said Mr Caron.
The part was fitted late last year and in January the team were able to fire up the boilers and take the locomotive on test runs.
“It was wonderful to see, hear and smell it in action again,” said Mr Caron. “I really think there is nothing else like it.”
In April power was down and a worrying noise was heard from the low pressure steam circuit. When it was taken apart it was found that a “cutter” inserted into the steam flow to improve its mix with exhaust fumes, had rusted away and had rattled into a valve.
Again, no parts were available but two of the volunteers were able to make a replacement.
The Pacific 231 locomotive owned by the PVC was one of 30 of its type built in the 1920s which were modified in the mid 1930s. There are only three remaining.
Used on the main lines going to Normandy from Paris they were capable of sustained travel at 130kph, which made them some of the fastest trains in Europe at the time.
The PVC locomotive narrowly escaped being cut up for scrap because it was used in 1969 and 1970 at Dieppe docks as a static furnace to heat fuel for the car ferries using the terminal.
When it was replaced it was left at Dieppe station where locomotive fans started trying to buy it to make sure it was not scrapped. They also repainted it to stop rust, and the SNCF agreed to park it in a hangar to stop further deterioration.
The fans eventually formed the PVC and took it out on its first trip in 1984.
It weighs 25.5 tonnes empty, and 60 tonnes when loaded with coal and filled with 8,500 litres of water. At maximum power it produces 2,500 horsepower consuming 15m3 of water an hour and between 1.5 tonnes and two tonnes of coal per 100km.
When pulling 600 tonnes, its top cruising speed is 120kph, which climbs to 130kph when it pulls 500 tonnes.
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