Here’s a scenario for you, and one that I’d like to know if you’ve experienced… How many of you have arrived at a preserved line, heard and seen steam… full of excitment rushed into the ticket office, glanced through the window but seen only a carriage, all the while wondering what could be there… then having purchased a ticket you’ve stepped onto the platform and low and behold you mutter “not another austerity!”
The Hunslet Austerity saddle tank is probably one of the modern day steam enthusiast’s biggest disappointments, simply because it is so common. But to try and combat this attitude; this week we will look at this unloved machine in a different light. The Hunslet Austerity tank is in many ways a machine that all steam enthusiasts should love and there are many reasons for this.
Today we will delve a little into the class’ history. It was designed and built during the second world war as an “austerity” design. It was a design by Riddles; the man who would become Chief Mechanical Engineer of British Railways. His remit was simple enough – to produce a simple, cheap to build and maintain shunter that could be used both in the UK and overseas. And that’s exactly what he did, borrowing a lot from the standard Hunslet industrial inside-cylinder 0-6-0ST.
The class were not designed to last long but be cheap to build. The construction of them required minimal steel castings; with cast iron and welded steel plate used instead were possible. The class were soon found to be reliable and easy to maintain. Post-war 75 Austerity’s were purchased by the LNER who designated them class J94. Crucially; these are the only examples that can be called “J94″‘s. Many more examples of the class were kept by the military and the design proved popular by industries so continued to be manufactured. In total, between 1943 and 1964; 485 examples were constructed; distributed across industry, the War Department, on continental Europe and the LNER/British Railways J94’s.
Their wide distribution at a range of sites meant that many escaped the cull of Dr Beeching. So although only 2 of the Austerity’s that became J94’s survived, another 68 out-lived the mass extinction of steam in service or reserve elsewhere.
Now that we can understand why there are so many Hunslet Austerity tank engines around today, in part 2 we look a little closer at why they deserve a little more respect…