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Southern Railway Bulleid "Merchant Navy Pacific"
35027 'Port Line', built in 1948, rebuilt 1957.

Bulleid Pacific 'Port Line' approaches Horsted Keynes - Mike Esau - 4 September 1988

Both photos: Mike Esau

The first of the Merchant Navy class were authorised for construction during the war as freight locomotives, and indeed they could haul a substantial goods train if required. However they were thoroughbred express engines, and British Railways' rebuilding programme brought them right up to date, such that at the end of steam they were effectively the most modern express steam engines running on the system. The heart of the machine, irrespective of the rebuilding, though was Bulleid's remarkable free-steaming boiler design, and they were recording record performances on the main line from Waterloo to Southampton right up to electrification in 1967.

35027 'Port Line' with the Golden Arrow - Mike Esau

'Port Line' was an earlier withdrawal, going to Barry scrapyard. Rescued and overhauled by the Port Line group, it became the flagship of the Southern Locomotives Ltd fleet, who have a number of engines based at various sites in the South of England. It originally came to the Bluebell in 1988 after restoration for a short period of running in, but the welcome the group received persuaded them to stay a while. After only a few year, major boiler work was found to be required, and this was undertaken at Sheffield Park. 'Port Line' then continued to run on the Bluebell until withdrawn for replacement of boiler tubes in June 1996. Once this work, and a repaint, was completed, a hydraulic test in September 1997 revealed further faults with the firebox, and so the loco, with only 9 months left on its insurance certificate, was laid aside.

Moving to Swanage (by then well established as the main operational base of Southern Locomotives Ltd) in early 2000, it was returned to service in November that year following further boiler work, and operated for a very resticted number of steamings each year until October 2003, when firebox cracks were found. With a firebox 27% larger than the Bulleid light pacifics, it was considered too large a locomotive for use on a preserved line, and with several light pacifics ahead of it in the restoration queue at Herston Works, it was sold in 2004 to Jeremy Hosking, and moved to Southall.

Class: Merchant Navy
Wheels: 4-6-2
Built: 1948, Rebuilt: 1957
Number carried: 35027
Arrived on Bluebell: 31 May 1988
Last overhaul: 1988
Last operational on the Bluebell: 1996
Left Bluebell: Early 2000
Now part of the Icons of Steam fleet

Go to Audio Recordings of Port Line in action

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