There seem to be a lot of good railway items in the news recently – so here’s another, from the Daily Telegraph. Not quite ‘N’ gauge, but a lovely piece of machinery, combining good points from both European and American design.
Calling all train buffs with a spare £800,000
The SNCF 141R 568 is up for sale at just over £800,000. The train is one of two 141R engines in working order, and helped rebuild France after the Second World War
The Swiss-based owners of 141R 568 have decided they can no longer justify keeping the 136-ton locomotive and tender, and have put it on the market, hoping to find a steam buff with money to spare and a rather large sidings in which to park it.
Andrew Cook, the chairman of William Cook Holdings, owners of Swiss Classic Train , which is selling the 568, said: “It’s a fantastic buy for anyone with that sort of money. It really is a wonderful machine with so many gadgets and it is one of the last of its kind. It also has a great history.”
Indeed, behind this particular engine lies an intriguing story of how the United States helped the French railways get back on their feet after the Second World War. Six years of occupation and war had reduced much of the rolling stock and engines owned by SNCF, the French national railway system, to ruin and there was a desperate need for a large fleet of new engines to aid the post-war recovery effort.
With French industry so badly damaged, SNCF looked to the US, which was already providing aid to rebuild western Europe as part of the Marshall Plan, and a team of SNCF engineers crossed the Atlantic to agree specifications. Mr Cook said: “What emerged was the 141R class. It was based on an existing American Mikado design but substantially modified for European use. These [trains] were an immediate success because of their rugged construction, low maintenance and immense power.”
Both coal and oil-burning versions were produced and it took four American locomotive builders to fulfil the orders, with locomotive plants in Lima, Ohio and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, along with one in Montreal, Canada, working flat out. By 1948, the fleet was complete – although 12 ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic when the ship carrying them sank.
Six decades on from when their exploits helped rebuild France, only six 141R engines remain in working order, with two of them, the 568 and the oil-fired 1244, owned by the Mikado Association, operating in Switzerland.
During its 24 years of service with SNCF, locomotive 568 clocked up nearly 900,000 miles. It was initially based at Belfort where, among other routes, it worked the line to the Swiss frontier station of Delle; hauled heavy car sleeper expresses on the first leg of their journey as far as Amiens; and serviced the coal and steel centre of Sarreguemines, in Lorraine, until the early Seventies.
In later life, 568 found its way to the historic French junction of Capdenac, in the southern Auvergne, where it was going to be used to pull tourist trains. But the project failed and in 2006 the engine and tender were moved to Schaffhausen, north of Zurich, where they were lovingly restored by Swiss Classic Train. The 568 was then used as a tourist train. The 568’s tender [i.e. the carriage]is a former French “Postes” mail carriage, complete with the bunk beds used by postal workers in between sorting shifts, a mess room and a workshop.
There is, however, just one hitch to any British owner’s dreams of firing up the boiler, blowing the whistle and heading down the track. Unfortunately, 141R 568 is too wide to be used on most British railway lines, which have less space on either side of the track on corners than Continental railways. In Britain, it could run only on short stretches of “heritage” track.
That might be just as well. When running under steam, loco 568 needs 11 tons of coal for a journey of 250 miles. At a cost of £350 per ton just to refuel, that makes it a rather pricey train set. The problem was it was so expensive to run,” admitted Mr Cook. “But if you have the money, or just want to put it on display, it really is a wonderful machine.”