Welcome to Gauging Reaction – the new Steam Railway blog. Here we will put the world of preservation to rights and pick apart the good, the bad and the ugly of steam railways. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the magazine but we hope that they inspire, provoke and entertain.
The last time we checked there was only one Evening Star in the National Railway Museum in York. Imagine our surprise then when we were told of two BR Brunswick Green-liveried locomotives standing in the Great Hall.
No doubt you can also imagine our dismay when we learned the second Evening Star was a Class 66 diesel, No. 66779.
That name is arguably the most symbolic ever fitted to a steam locomotive. In terms of its significance, Evening Star means so much more than Mallard or Flying Scotsman. It marked the end of an era; the last main line standard gauge steam locomotive built in Britain, the culmination of over 150 years of development and progress.
To commemorate this, the Western Region embellished the Riddles ‘9F’ with a Brunswick Green paintjob, a copper-capped chimney and a name - the only member of the class to receive such embellishments until the advent of preservation.
How apposite then that the name chosen for the last British Railways steam engine was Evening Star, voted for by three WR staff. The name Evening Star is sacrosanct as far as we are concerned.
When it came to celebrating the building of the last Class 66, was this really the best that anyone could come up with?
No doubt someone “upstairs” decided that it would generate great publicity to give No. 66779 a British Railways livery and name it in “honour” of No. 92220. They even went to the trouble of making facsimile nameplates and commemorative plaque (complete with a ‘Built 2015 Muncie USA’ Swindon-style worksplate, a ‘9F’ power classification and a Western Region blue route availability spot. Why not go the whole hog and give it a copper exhaust silencer on top?)
We can argue about whether or not we think the livery looks good, or whether the title demeans its magnificent 2-10-0 namesake, but what it says most of all is ‘we have no imagination’.
Perhaps GBRf believed, albeit misguidedly, that imitation is the finest form of flattery.
But from a National Railway Museum that jealously guards the identities of its collection, it does rather smack of double standards, doesn’t it?
When the West Somerset Railway asked for permission to run green-liveried ‘9F’ No. 92214 as Evening Star during its recent ‘Somerset & Dorset 50’ gala – to recreate one of the real locomotive’s most famous exploits, hauling the last ‘Pines Express’ over the S&D – they were refused.
So it’s okay to pinch the name, and livery from a historically priceless, National Collection steam locomotive and stick them on a diesel, but when a preserved railway wants to renumber another ‘Spaceship’ for a few days, for the simple purpose of recreating some railway history, and commemorating a significant anniversary of one of our most revered lines… no, that can’t possibly be allowed? Honestly, where’s the line here?
But are we right to get worked up over what is, and let’s be honest here, just a publicity exercise? After all, GBRf has free reign to do with their rolling stock what they will.
And that’s all it is – publicity. There’s no historical precedent beyond that the ‘9F’ and Class 66 are both the last of their respective classes.
No. 66779 doesn’t embody the end of an era, it wasn’t built in Britain and it certainly wasn’t a BR locomotive. If any diesel was worthy of the “Evening Star treatment” (and inclusion in the National Collection) it was the last Class 58, No. 58050 - the last diesel main line locomotive built in Britain.
In fact, No 58050 was earmarked for the NRM by the Railway Heritage Committee in 2002 (as suggested by our Editor, Howard Johnston), but it currently languishes across the Channel.
Had the Class 58 been given the same treatment, would it have been seen as a shallow, publicity-chasing exercise?
What's most disappointing about the whole affair is that the National Railway Museum, the custodian of our railway history and legacy, has authorised this. Are they not aware of [the proper] Evening Star’s significance? Are they so in need of publicity (have they forgotten their flagship exhibit, Flying Scotsman?) that they would throw history and reverence out the window to grab headlines?
Yes, there were other locomotives that came before No. 92220 that carried the name Evening Star, but to railwaymen and enthusiasts everywhere, there will only be one – and that’s the one built in 1960 in Swindon, not 2015 in Indiana.