Phil Girdlestone, steam pioneer – obituary


Philip Girdlestone, who has died of most cancers aged 61, was a passionately dedicated engineer who made it his life’s work to design a brand new technology of steam locomotives that have been way more environment friendly, dependable and environmentally pleasant than their typical forbears.

Girdlestone and his fellow engineers David Wardale, Shaun McMahon and Roger Waller have been disciples of the visionary Argentinian Livio Dante Porta, who was satisfied that trendy steam might match or exceed diesel in effectivity. Every labored with Porta on tasks worldwide, and his demise in 2003 left them to hold on his legacy.

Sadly for these innovators, the world’s main railways noticed even trendy steam as a distraction from diesel or electrical traction. Principal-line steam haulage has ended virtually in all places, and most engines nonetheless working cater for vacationer site visitors. Within the phrases of a colleague, Girdlestone was “forward of his time, 20 years too late”.

Philip Girdlestone was born at Perivale, Middlesex, on September 1 1954, to Len Girdlestone, a constructing firm web site supervisor, and his spouse Mamie. He grew up in Wokingham; from Forest grammar faculty, Winnersh, he learn Engineering at Birmingham College.

As a boy Phil was impressed by the romance of steam and simply months after BR ran its last steam prepare, he turned, at 15, to the 1ft 11½ in gauge Festiniog Railway in north Wales to start out his profession. Becoming a member of the Festiniog in 1970 as a volunteer fireman, he certified as a driver and in 1979 joined the everlasting employees on the FR’s Boston Lodge Works.

He was quickly appointed technical assistant. In 1982 he started corresponding with Porta and Wardale about trendy steam growth work in South Africa and Argentina. That they had re-engineered a South African Railways heavy narrow-gauge loco, nicknamed the “Pink Satan”, to include the most recent in thermodynamics together with particular exhausts and a modified rotary oil burner; the rebuilt engine generated 43 per cent extra energy than its classmates, might exceed 75 mph with a 22-car passenger prepare, and saved 30 per cent in coal and water.

Girdlestone sought to carry comparable applied sciences to Britain. As works superintendent at Boston Lodge from 1983, he transformed the diminutive Victorian engine Linda again from oil-firing to coal. Linda proved her price, hauling longer trains at lower than 70 per cent of the fee, however after a drop in oil costs she was re-converted to grease.

Porta reckoned Girdlestone the very best draughtsman he had come throughout, and put him on standby to maneuver to the US as chief draughtsman on his ACE 3000 locomotive undertaking. As a substitute, nonetheless, he went to Hugh Philips Engineering in South Wales, making South African-style enhancements to Sudan Railways locomotives.

He designed new boilers for the Brecon Mountain Railways’ engines, and consulted on the corporate’s acquisition of BR’s narrow-gauge Vale of Rheidol department. In 1988 the two ft gauge Alfred County Railway in South Africa resumed steam haulage of freight and passengers over a 75-mile route utilizing articulated Garratt locomotives, and appointed Girdlestone its chief mechanical officer.

In what grew to become a everlasting transfer to South Africa, he recruited McMahon as his assistant and commenced rebuilding a 62-ton engine, augmenting his ordinary enhancements with a self-cleaning smokebox and computer-designed light-weight piston valves. Nicknamed the Pink Dragon, its significantly improved effectivity and decrease upkeep prices paid for the work inside 12 months.

Rebuilding a second engine introduced equally spectacular outcomes, and Girdlestone went on to design new locomotives for the ACR and different South African narrow-gauge traces. He was co-opted to a committee contemplating the gas choices – and methods of stopping line-side fires within the dry season – within the occasion of a last-minute reprieve for steam on South Africa’s 3 ft 6 in gauge principal traces.

The outcome was the primary oil-fired SAR steam locomotive since 1946, with Girdlestone supervising testing and tuning up.  Within the mid-Nineties he was concerned with overhauling Garratts shipped from South Africa to what grew to become the Welsh Highland Railway. 

He fashioned Girdlestone & Associates in 1996 to undertake superior steam engineering and retrofitting work worldwide. Its first undertaking was modernising an Australian loco to function excursions over the 166 miles between Melbourne and Warrnambool to tight schedules.

G&A went on to construct a contemporary steam locomotive for a personal buyer in Britain and devise an exhaust unit for a Russian broad-gauge engine operated by Golden Eagle Luxurious Trains; the 1-ton unit was air-freighted from South Africa to St Petersburg.

For Argentinia’s “prepare on the finish of the world”, a former convict quarry line on Tierra del Fuego, G&A constructed a British-style small diesel hydraulic locomotive, and a Garratt steam engine made largely of spare parts, which has operated since 2006 with diesel-like reliability and low upkeep and gas prices.

In 2014 Girdlestone revealed Camels and Cadillacs, a historical past of South Africa’s “Pink Satan” class of loco, and he leaves an autobiography prepared for publication.  Phil Girdlestone married Fiona Lynch in 1985. They divorced in 1994 and there have been no kids.

Philip Girdlestone, born September 1 1954, died April 20 2016


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