Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Crewe Arms Hotel And A Speed Record

In the last years before the Second World War, trains got faster, and the London, Midland and Scottish Railway looked to get a piece of the action that had previously been the preserve of its rivals the London and North Eastern, with their streamliners Silver Link and Silver Fox. A new train, the Coronation Scot, was launched, with a new, streamlined locomotive. A speed record attempt was decided upon.

Coronation was blue with white stripes, but otherwise similar to Duchess Of Hamilton, seen here at the National Railway Museum

The problem was where to do it. The LNER had a mostly straight main line from London to the north, what is now called the East Coast Main Line. The West Coast equivalent had rather more curvature. Where was the equivalent to the southbound descent from Stoke Tunnel towards Peterborough? The stretch chosen was the last few miles from Whitmore summit towards Crewe.

So it was that new loco Coronation, with senior Crewe North driver Tom Clark at the regulator, set off from Euston on its demonstration run. Three men well versed in timing trains went along armed with their stop-watches. All was routine as the train passed Norton Bridge at a mere 60mph, but then Clark steadily built up speed, and after Whitmore he gave Coronation her head.

The acceleration carried the train through 100mph, and the three recorders reckoned it had ended with a maximum of 112.5, just short of Silver Fox’s 113. But Tom Clark had left his braking late, and when a full brake application was made, only two miles were left before Crewe, and only a mile and a half before the first of the switches and crossings that would take them into Platform 2 (now Platform 12).

The speed limit over these was 20mph, but the vacuum brakes of the time had only slowed the train to just under 60 when it hit the first switch. The men with stop watches were already on the floor. Crockery flew around in the dining car. The footplate crew hung on grimly, fearing the worst as the locomotive just about remained on the track. There was much relief when it was brought to a stand.

After those on the train had collected themselves, all repaired to the Crewe Arms Hotel for much needed refreshment and food, there to be told that the maximum speed attained had in fact been a brief 114mph. This enabled the record to be claimed for the LMS. There were raised eyebrows and some quiet disbelief, but the record stood. It was not to last for long.

The following year, the LNER made sure, with Mallard putting the record out of sight with a top speed of 126mph. And so the day in June 1937, that almost ended up with a brand new train being wrecked on the approach to Crewe station, was after that largely forgotten. But for that brief period of time, a product of Crewe works was officially the fastest locomotive in the UK.

And that’s why the Crewe Arms Hotel has something it can celebrate.

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