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ON THE TRAIL OF THE STRATEGIC RESERVE. By Rory Lushman

Firstly we need to establish what the Strategic Reserve is. There are many claims that equipment of various kinds are being kept stored away up and down the country for future use. Its always the phrase "future use" that has puzzled me.

Why would anyone want to store surplus equipment at a number of locations up and down the country. What is the point of all this? This is where the conspiracy theorists come out to play. They hint that in the event of a nuclear war, the stored equipment would be brought into good use.

I am at the moment chasing up one part of this case and that is the rail connection to the Strategic Reserve. There are many accounts of locomotives going missing, especially steam trains. Again, why would old, out of date equipment like a steam train be locked away.

Having contacted a number of people, they come up with two reasons for this. Firstly, they say that most of the worlds oil come from Arabic countries and should there ever be a shortage due to political reasons then the steam trains could be resurrected.

There are a number of problems with this argument. Why would an oil shortage only affect trains, surely the car would be the biggest commodity hit. Given a shortage, we still have electric locomotives. This itself also has problems. Many routes across the country are not electrified. Places such as many parts of Scotland and the Great Western Region are not electrified.

So if we did have an oil shortage and we brought back steam trains into service, where would they get their coal and water from. Steam trains obviously carry enough water and coal for a number of journeys but where would they replenish the engines when the fuel ran out. The water pumps and the coal bunkers have long gone.

Secondly, one of the claims again deals with a nuclear war. Steam trains have minimal electrical equipment on them and there are claims that a nuclear explosion would not harm a steam train. However all the diesel and electric locomotives would be rendered useless due to the blast wiping out any electrical circuits.

So are we chasing our tails. Does the Strategic Reserve really exist. Many rail crews would say it does. Are they just saying this in some desperate hope that in the future they hope their beloved engines will come back to life.

I contacted a driver who used to work out of various depots. He recalls his friend who was a main line diesel engineer telling him that there was a rail served RAF establishment that had class 47 diesel locomotives stored away. He describes that the engines had been modified and had many differences to other main line locomotives.

Class 47s were however diesel locomotives, so maybe the modifications were made to prepare it for "future use." If alterations could be made to diesel locomotives, then why not just dispense with the whole pool of alleged steam locomotives.

The driver also recalls that a former boss at the Stratford Depot told him that army personnel were having driver refresher courses on the Class 31 diesel locomotive. They accompanied him from Stratford to Kings Lynn and back.

So now we have stories of both steam and diesel locomotives caught up in the case. The most popular opinion as regards missing steam locomotives seems to be attached to the Stanier 8F and the BR Standard 9f. These are the two locomotives that seem to be caught up in all this confusion.

The alleged ratio was 3-1, 8fs to 9fs. Five hundred Stanier 8fs and 9fs were mothballed between June 1967 and January 1968 and it is claimed that many of the records for the engines being scrapped were fabricated.

The favourite location for many of the engines was the Box Hill Tunnel. We know the tunnel on the London end of the Box and next to the main line portal was too low for steam engines to get in and the diesel engines that did work there had cut down cabs.

Many of the sites claimed to be storage points are not rail connected, such as warehouses alleged to contain the trains. Other locations that crop up, are:- Heapey in Chorley, Shoeburyness in Essex and Rhydymwyn in North Wales.

A ministry man claims that on the 8th May 1973, he witnessed eight Stanier 8fs located within the Cohen 500 group yard at Cargo Fleet. They were all painted matt black, unnumbered and with the side rods bolted to the cabs. They appeared to be in ex-works condition.

It is claimed that in 1991 there were still eighty Stanier 8fs around the country. It was also claimed that many were being kept in the Leeds area but no precise location was forthcoming.

As for the crewing arrangements, it is alleged that a number of TA/army personnel were trained on steam locomotives on the West Somerset Railway in 1989 when the Evening Star was there on loan.

I e-mailed the West Somerset Railway and asked them if this was true, here is their reply:-

Hi,

Thanks for your e-mail. Evening Star was here in 1989. We are not allowed to comment on the Army - Official Secrets Act. The Strategic Reserve myth is just that; a myth.

Gavin Duenas Commercial Dept

This is an unusual statement, you wouldnt think that a privately run railway would be covered by the Official Secrets Act. They have not denied that army personnel were being trained how to drive steam locomotives.

Many say that army personnel are trained on locomotives for conflicts abroad, as a railway is the heart of any transport system. Contradicting this statement are many rail employees who insist the Strategic Reserve is real.

Diesel engines stored were supposedly:-

Class 17 _Claytons - unconfirmed number stored at Longtown, ( Waverly Route.) Class 24, some still stored but numbers not known. Class 29 - hard to believe this one - seen passing through Stoke-On_Trent in 1982/3. Class 31/0. Two stored. Class 47s. An Unconfirmed quantity of plain all over green/non yellow ends. Also NATO liveried class 47s, two of which were alleged to have been stored in a shed patrolled by British Transport Police at Newton Abbot in 1981.

As with the steam locomotives, fake scrapping records were produced to cover up the disappearance of these machines. It is also claimed that a number of class 47s were built new and secretly stored away.

The famous Blue Pullman units were not to escape the Strategic Reserve. One man claims that there is a complete set locked away in Scotland. He cites the fact that there were never many pictures of the cutting up of these formations. Engine numbers W60090 and W60091 were listed as being preserved by the Blue Pullman Group, whereabouts unknown. It is also claimed that one unit was painted black and was to be used as a Mobile Command Centre.

The London Underground even comes into this story. Poole Street Pumping Station on the Southbound Northern City Line into Moorgate has its own exit tunnel to..who knows? The location South of Highbury and Islington claims to have a secret third portal.

There also seems to be a case for the Strategic Reserve abroad as well. In Latvia there are a number of L type 2-10-0 steam locomotives allegedly stored.

The problem with the story of the Strategic reserve, is that there is so much contradicting information. Firstly it is claimed that only steam trains are locked away but then we get accounts of diesel locomotives are being stored. Much of what we hear is platform end rumour but much of it comes from railway employees who insist it is real.

Why would any Government department want to hide locomotives away from us. Why do they not just store locomotives at a secure site. Questions would start to be asked as to why locomotives were being stored. If it was all kept secret people would not ask so many questions. There are probably more questions asked about this subject now because of its alleged secrecy.

Locomotives are definitely stored at various locations but these are part of the various rail operators pool. Just pass Crewe Basford Hall and Bescot in Birmingham and there are numerous locomotives held there awaiting scrapping. In fact there are so many locomotives awaiting scrapping that some are even advertised in rail magazines for sale to the general public, subject to a number of conditions. Ive always wanted a cab of a class 31.

Some of these stored locomotives have been at various locations for years. Some locomotives are stored unserviceable and await robbing for parts for other engines or just to be scrapped. Some locomotives are stored serviceable, being brought back into use as and when needed but usually lay dormant, especially now there are many new build of locomotives.

It is claimed the class 17 diesel could run on low grade fuel. These machines had very low running hours on them and were twin engined at 2 x 450hp.

Steam locomotives would be able to run whatever the fuel problem was. Maintenance is relatively easy on them. Preparation time is not so good though. To get a steam locomotive up to pressure from cold, takes a good 6-8 hours depending on the size of the locomotive.

Our investigations have covered a number of sites across the country. We have thoroughly investigated the SR connection at the Box Hill Tunnel and I would presume the low entrance into the tunnel would exclude steam engines with their large funnels. However, could the funnels have been removed before taking them into the tunnel. These steam locomotives could certainly not be brought up to steam in an enclosed environment such as the tunnel.

Heapey in Chorley, Lancashire is another place of interest. I think here the holding point for scrap engines has enthused people into believing the trains were stored in the Ordnance site. We still have a problem with this site. When it was snowing we took video of the tracks made by the police patrol into the site. If this site is abandoned why patrol it. I went back at 11pm at night and the place is lit up like a Christmas tree. All the bulbs in the lamp posts are working, not bad for three years of abandonment. With locals saying wagons still visit in the middle of the night, there is something happening here. Whether it has anything to do with the Strategic Reserve, well just have to wait and see.

We have not investigated the sites at Rhydymwyn in North Wales or Shoeburyness in Essex as yet but we are on the trail and will report as soon as we have. It is however said that when the first converted car transporter for Night Riviera trains, that they were being tested at the Defence and Evaluation Research Agency at Shoeburyness. Rhydymwyn is an old storage site that was mainly used for chemical weapons. Stories suggest that because the site is so dangerous that this would be an ideal place to hide locomotives from prying eyes.

Questions have been asked as to why the MOD site at Bicester requires a once a week coal train, we are looking into this now.

Are the stories of army personnel learning how to drive trains true. If you get an army information leaflet, listed in one of the many jobs, is train driver. There are accounts of drivers who at the start of their shift have been relieved by other drivers and told to go home and that they would receive full pay for the day. The original drivers, never saw their trains again or to be more precise, their locomotives.

Many of the above claims sound so outlandish and seem to be a hard concept to swallow. Yet many people across the country believe the Strategic Reserve to be a real phenomenon.

These cases are still ongoing and we have a lot of information to sift through.

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