Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Iron Horse of the Apocalypse

There are 70 missing large and powerful steam locomotives in the UK which did not get scrapped, and they are not owned by any preservation lines. They were some of the most modern of their kind and built just before British Rail went fully diesel and electric. This anomaly has baffled both trainspotters and insurance brokers for decades.

Now here is where it gets fascinating. There are stories of railway men who were told to drive the locomotives to secret locations by the Ministry of Defence, and then the steam engines were shunted down sloping tracks into individual oil pits built for each loco. Completely submerging them in oil. The rail workers were then told to sign the Official Secrets Act and never mention anything about what happened ever again. Naturally, some did in time, and the story filtered out from the railway industry into the general public. 

Now why would (in the mid 1960's) the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) do this? The answer was to stockpile a strategic reserve of steam locomotives in case of nuclear war. In the event of a large EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) from atomic explosions which would knock out all electrical powered networks and vehicles. This would also include ignition systems for combustion engined driven machines. 

The stored steam locomotives could be then hauled out of the oil pits (the oil storage bath was use to prevent rusting) and put almost immediately into service as good as new. This is not unique to the UK. The Soviets actually built a huge fleet of steam locomotives, once manufactured, were then immediately placed into storage - on remote lines and sidings in Siberia and throughout the former USSR - in case of nuclear war. The Swedes also had a preserved roster of locos for the same reason; in case of EMP knocking out their diesel and electric locomotives. 

To this day, rumours persist as to the whereabouts of the 70 missing British steam locos. The two main potential hiding sites most commonly mentioned are; near Bath in Somerset inside a tunnel - off a main tunnel - which was once an underground quarry. Another possible location is underneath a hill in Scotland. So many rural lines were closed under the Beeching Act in the early 1960's, that any number of disused and sealed tunnels could be hiding these engines within their oily slumber waiting for the day when they were needed once more to roar out of the tunnel mouth and into service under the fiery, radiated skies of Britain's nuclear bedlam. 

It would also make sense to scatter the locomotives around the country rather than risk them all in one or two locations. This is what makes this 'urban legend' one of the most highly plausible - if not, almost 'romantic' - conspiracy theories around and one that deserves serious investigation. It's indeed remarkable to think of the idea of steam locomotives hauling trains through a post apocalyptic landscape of the future. But that is precisely the contingency that has been made.

Let's hope they remain within their oily sarcophagi.


  1. Actually, I think you are on to something there. Although do you think the variable threat of E.M.P. is much on the same level of Nuclear weapons where it might not happen by man, but by a natural solar occurrence like the 1859 Carrington Event? Would love to hear your thoughts.

    Also, I've been reading/following the likes of Vinay Gupta and Nassim Taleb who both seem to have a good stance on the realistic problem of modernity, which is it is very fragile, and most of the entire human population is not trained in old ways enough to survive a week, let alone a few days. Since I was in my early twenties I've thought in the back of my mind that the most dangerous thing in our lifetime could be our own lack of educational redundancy for those same old ways.

  2. I heard from someone that the US military has large (probably steam) locomotives stored as backup.

  3. Fascinating! I am now researching this online! Getting into outdoors pursuits and learning basic survival skills is v useful also learning local knowledge for example did you know elephants are repelled by burning old elephant dung. Also using your intelligence to weigh up risks is v imp say if you are crossing a river the speed of the water etc etc. Growing vegetables and hunting also.