GNRI Class V
|Great Northern Railway (Ireland) class V|
|85 Merlin approaches Peter's Bridge, Co. Down on 18 June 2004|
|Designer||George T. Glover|
|Builder||Beyer, Peacock & Co.|
|Gauge||5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)|
|Driver diameter||6 ft 7 in (2.007 m)|
|Locomotive & tender
|103 tons 11 cwt (105.2 tonnes)|
|Boiler pressure||250 psi (1.72 MPa), later 215 psi (1.48 MPa)|
|Cylinders||Three – 1 HP (inside) and 2 LP (outside)|
|17¼ × 26 in (438 × 660 mm)|
|19 × 26 in (483 × 660 mm)|
|Tractive effort||23,762 lbf (105.70 kN) later 20,435 lbf (90.90 kN)|
|Career||Great Northern Railway (Ireland)
Ulster Transport Authority
|Number in class||5|
|Preserved||No. 85 Merlin|
|Disposition||One preserved, four scrapped.|
The V class was intended for the GNR's most important passenger service, the Dublin — Belfast expresses. The S and S2 Class that had previously served the route were giving trouble as boiler pressure had been raised to increase power and performance. This increased maintenance (particularly with broken crank axles) and as a result the boiler pressure was brought back down. This obliged the GNR to develop a more powerful engine.
The locomotives were ordered from Beyer, Peacock and delivered in 1932. They cost £5,847 (ca. €500,000 in 2008), which was £3,000 cheaper than the ‘SG3’ 0-6-0 class built ten years previously. Beyer, Peacock built only the locomotives; the GNR itself built the tenders at its works in Dundalk. They were named after birds of prey: 83 Eagle, 84 Falcon, 85 Merlin, 86 Peregrine, and 87 Kestrel. The V class was the first three-cyclinder compound locomotives anynwhere in Ireland. They had a round-topped boiler and Stephenson valve gear and weighed 103 tons 11 cwt including tender.
The result was an engine that looked dramatically larger than their predecessor the S Class. This led to the unfounded rumour among railway workers that they had been designed for use in the USSR.
As the GNR's only compound locomotives they were often called simply "The Compounds".
They were introduced for the accelerated Dublin — Belfast schedule, on which they reduced running times by up to 22 minutes. However, as for the S-Class before them, the demanding timetable resulted in severe maintenance problems: hot axle boxes, connecting rod issues and boiler re-tubes, and as a result the boiler pressure was reduced by 50 lb./in., leading to a 20% drop in tractive effort.
No. 87 Kestrel was the first to be rebuilt in 1946 and was the first GNR loco to receive a Harland and Wolff-built square topped Belpaire firebox. Merlin had one fitted in 1950 with its old boiler rebuilt as a spare.
The V Class was chosen to haul the new Enterprise non-stop service between Dublin and Belfast in August 1947. The premium service was limited to seven bogie vehicles. During the early 1950s the ‘Pounders’ shared most of the heavy main line work with the newer ‘Vs’ class but, with the introduction of new railcars in 1957, the class was relieved of its main duties.
Withdrawal from service
In October 1958 the old GNR, (now the Great Northern Railway Board, or GNRB) was split between Northern Ireland’s Ulster Transport Authority (UTA) and the Republic’s Coras Iompair Éireann (CIÉ). Nos. 83, 86 and 87 went to the UTA and Nos. 84 and 85 to CIÉ. The letters ‘UT’ or ‘CIE’ were stencilled on the front buffer beams. CIÉ withdrew steam traction in 1963 and subsequently all but No. 85 Merlin were scrapped.
Merlin spent her final years as a spare in Dundalk works, occasionally hauling a Dublin train. The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum rescued her from the scrapyard in 1965, acquiring her (minus tender) for £600. She was stored variously at Inchicore, Amiens Street, Dundalk, Adelaide locomotive shed in Belfast and Lisburn before finally moving to the museum's gallery at Witham Street, Belfast, in 1969. Displayed here until 1976, she was moved to Harland and Wolff for a comprehensive overhaul organised by the Museum, the RPSI and Lord Dunleath. On completion in 1982 she was moved to the RPSI’s Whitehead headquarters.
Merlin was officially returned to traffic on June 30, 1986 heading an official Belfast — Dublin ‘Enterprise’ that September. She repeated the trip on the 40th anniversary of the ‘Enterprise’ the following August, hauling the same length train as in 1947 (seven bogie vehicles) and matching the timings of the original run.
Having received a further overhaul in the 1990s, Merlin continued to be leased by the RPSI and used on the main line until the expiry of her boiler certificate in 2004. In August 2009 the RPSI announced that she is to be overhauled with a view of returning it to traffic by 2011. Work has begun on dismantling her at the RPSI's main base at Whitehead to allow the boiler to be lifted for overhaul.
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