Charles Fairburn and his 2-6-4T

2015 - Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway - British Railways Fairburn 4MT 2-6-4T 42073

Following yesterday’s blog post that shared the exciting news that the LMS-Patriot Company that they will be recreating the long lost Fowler 2-6-4T 4P class, today we look at a class that can be regarded as the granddaughter of Fowler’s machine – Charles Fairburn’s 4MT 2-6-4T.  My interest in the class was sparked by purchasing Bachmann’s 00 scale model of it that is (in my opinion) the best performing steam outline model (read more here.)  As regular readers know, due to my upbringing I have a particular leaning towards locomotives of the Southern region and this type has a strong association with the south.  The southern railway’s electrification policy had led to a lack of investment in steam traction and an ageing long life-expired fleet, exacerbated by being worked hard during the Second World War.  At the formation of British Railways in 1948 there was immediate demand for new steam engines and Fairburn’s design was used by British Railways to fill this requirement, with construction in Brighton.  This was prior to Riddles developing the closely related British Railway’s standard 4MT 2-6-4 tank. 

2015 - Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway - British Railways Fairburn 4MT 2-6-4T 42073One of the great things about railway history is that no matter how narrow anyone’s specific area of interest is, you soon learn and find interest in wider subjects as stories are interlinked.  And so is the story of Charles Fairburn’s only credited steam engine design.  It is no surprise that types of the former Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) would have a wide influence across the UK.  Without a doubt, the LMS was a significant company by anyone’s standards.  Claims to fame include not merely being the biggest of the “big four” railway companies of 1923-1948 but being both the largest transport and largest joint stock organisation in the world.  The LMS was the largest commercial undertaking of the former British Empire and after the Post Office was the UK’s second biggest employer.2015 - Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway - British Railways Fairburn 4MT 2-6-4T 42085

A story of a model of southern region built locomotive therefore brings us to a story of one of the arguably more obscure Chief Mechanical Engineer’s (CME) of the former largest transport organisation in the world.  Charles Fairburn’s career as CME of the LMS lasted only just one year, due to his untimely death when he suffered a heart attack aged 58.  The subject of today’s blog post is both about the only locomotive credited to his name, but also his influence within the LMS and beyond, an interesting story in its own right.

Fairburn’s career is remarkably diverse and although we steam enthusiasts might only know him from the 4MT 2-6-4T, he was involved in more modern areas of engineering.  Fairburn spent two years of his career as a pupil under Henry Fowler of the Midland Railway, after which he was a researcher and then assistant to the Resident Engineer on the Shildon-Newport electrification of the North Eastern Railway, whilst working for Siemens Dynamo Works Ltd.  This and a few years working for English Electric (after serving in the Royal Flying Corps in an experimental squadron during the First World War) gave him the experience that no doubt led to him attaining the role of Chief Electrical Engineer in 1934 and in 1938 he became William Stanier’s deputy.

2015 - Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway - British Railways Fairburn 4MT 2-6-4T 42073A mathematician with a calculating mind, Charles Fairburn understood efficiency and recognised that the future of railway motive power was in electric and diesel electric.  Indeed, he even went as far as seeing steam locomotives as out of date.  It is fairly ironic to consider that for many like myself, his name be associated with a steam locomotive design.  Following supporting the use of diesel electric traction for shunting, he also laid the foundations of the development of diesel power for the mainline.  It is not surprising to think that Ivatt, Fairburn’s successor, went on to develop the first mainline diesels in the UK (LMS 10000 and 10001.)  Diesel electric traction would eventually replace steam engines and therefore Fairburn has a part in a wider story of our railways.  It is interesting to consider whether the pace of modernisation might have increased if Fairburn lived longer than one year after becoming CME of the LMS in 1944.

2015 - Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway - British Railways Fairburn 4MT 2-6-4T 42085As mentioned beforehand, Fairburn’s 2-6-4T 4MT class is the only steam locomotive type attributed to him.  The class was a development of Stanier’s previous design, which has ancestry in both Fowler’s Midland 4P 2-6-4T and Churchward’s GWR 45xx class.  277 were built between 1945 and 1951, before Riddles tweaked the design further to produce the successful BR Standard 4MT 2-6-4T class.  It differed from Stanier’s design in having a shorter wheel base, which also saved more than 3 long tons of weight.

Only two of these locomotives survived into preservation.  Both are Brighton BR built examples that spent a proportion of their career working in the southern region and both are now found on the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway.  Unfortunately during my visit to the preserved line they were not in action, but I had good look at 42073 that was simmering outside Haverthwaite engine shed and 42085 inside.  I hope you enjoy the pictures taken of the both steam engine.

To read more about this visit to the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, please click here.  Thanks for reading.

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