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The Strategic Steam Reserve - a very British consipiracy

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posted on Jul, 19 2006 @ 10:21 AM
This article does not fall neatly into any of the ATS subform’s, I eventually chose this one as it is linked to the cold war.

So what is the Strategic Steam Reserve?

The Strategic Steam Reserve (from here on referred to as SSR) is supposedly a pool of steam locomotives kept in reserve in the event of a nuclear attack on Great Britain. It was theorised in the late 60’s that a nuclear attack could damage all or most electrical circuits in the country due to the immense electromagnetic radiation given off by a nuclear blast. Obviously this would render the new diesel locomotives being introduced useless, along with a large proportion of motor vehicles and probably most aircraft – steam trains however would remain unaffected due to their total non-reliance on electronic circuitry.
The theory goes that as steam loco’s began to be replaced by diesel units in the late 1960’s a number of the more modern steam loco’s were surreptitiously hidden away (the usual suspect is the Stanier 8 and 9F models most of which were around 10 years old and with a design life of between 50 and 100 years!) *somewhere* to be brought into use in the event of a nuclear attack.

What evidence is there that a Strategic Steam Reserve existed?

In short preciously little hard facts, but plenty of unconfirmed eyewitness statements and some jiggery pokery when it came to record keeping of loco’s being scrapping.

Perhaps the most provable is the selective record keeping of loco’s going to scrap. At the end of the 1960’s the mass scrapping of Britain’s steam trains began, loco’s were withdrawn from service and sold to scrap men. Notable by their absence in the records are around 60 loco’s of the Stanier 8 and 9F class. Although this in itself is not really proof that these loco’s were spirited away it could be classed as circumstantial evidence. Worth mentioning are the stories from engine drivers/firemen being sent home early from work only to return to find ‘their’ engine had disappeared

There are literally legions of unconfirmed eyewitness stories of steam engines being in sidings long after there were withdrawn, people stumbling into secret holding areas filled with loco’s along with the usual ‘a friend of a friend worked on the SSR’ type stories. The only consistency with all of these stories is a complete lack of corroboration. However following the old adage ‘no smoke without fire’ it would be foolish to dismiss all these stories simply due to the sheer number of them. However it is important to realise that the SSR is perceived as a cross between a joke and a steam enthusiasts dream and has evolved into an urban myth – it is entirely possible that some of these stories may either be false, and created to simply perpetuate an in-joke in the steam community, or may have been exaggerated due to an over willingness to believe by certain members of the steam preservation community, presumably complete with 10 cm thick rose tinted spectacles.

Prior to the scrapping of steam a slightly bizarre experiment was conducted by the Royal Engineers in which a steam engine was jacked up with its wheels clear of the ground and connected to a large electrical generator. Could this have been a trial run for utilising stored steam engines post nuclear war. (I don’t have a source to hand for this but if there is interest I can try and find it)

An investigation by a steam enthusiast in the 1990’s discovered training on the operation of steam trains was given to a small number of Royal Engineers yearly by a steam engine preservation society. When the society was queried about this training they claimed they had signed the Official Secrets Act regarding this and could not comment. The number of steam trains still in regular use in the world today is very small but they do exist, the training could have been simply been in case the RE had to deploy to one of these areas. However the likelihood of this is so small it is almost discountable.
(Again, I don’t have a source to hand for these statements but if there is interest I can find one)

How would locomotives of the Strategic Steam Reserve be stored?

A steam locomotive if simply left to its own devices and with no maintenance would seize solid in a relatively short period of time. Especially so if stored in potentially damp underground conditions. It has been suggested that if the boilers were filled with de-oxygenated water this would prevent the boilers rusting out from the inside.
To prevent moving parts from seizing regular applications of grease would be required – which in turn would require a team of maintenance engineers. This should be bore in mind when considering where the SSR could be stored (discussed in the next section) as regular visits of engineers to a remote area would eventually raise suspicion.
Could steam locos be maintained in underground conditions? I think the answer is yes with the proviso that it would require regular and though maintenance by skilled steam engineers.

If the Strategic Steam Reserve existed, at what location(s) was it stored?

The SSR for some reason seems to have been inextricable linked to Box Hill Tunnel, Wiltshire. A relatively short rail tunnel built by Brunel Box Hill also had a much smaller tunnel running in parallel to it with a narrow gauge railway leading to mineral workings. These workings were taken over by the military and used as an ammunition store until after the Second World Ward. Rumours of secret additional tunnels branching off from the main Box Hill tunnel leading to huge underground facilities are largely baseless. The tunnel has been examined several times for evidence of this, and along with rail workers who claiming nothing out of the ordinary. Box Hill can be discounted as a possible location for the SSR, as well as anything other than a relatively small ammunition store.

Another commonly quoted location is the Woodhead Tunnel, or more precisely one of the 2 closed tunnels as 3 rail tunnels have been dug, with only 1 remaining operational as a rail tunnel. At present 1 of the disused tunnels has a heavy voltage electricity cable running through it along with a narrow gauge rail line for maintenance purposes so this particular tunnel can be discounted. The other tunnel is at present sealed so it remains a possibility, albeit a remote one due to regular activity of rail maintenance gangs and power line maintenance.

If not in Box Hill or Woodhead tunnel’s where could it be. Prior and during WW2 a large number of covered or underground munitions and bomb stores were created, all of these having rail access. Many were decommissioned post WW2 but some stayed open serving their original purpose or operated by defence contractors as secure storage/testing area’s. It is possible that a large underground store could be used to store the SSR, and it is the author’s opinion that if the SSR exists it would be stored in a military storage area rather than a decommissioned rail tunnel where risk of accidental discovery would be much greater.
Some of these surviving WW2 bomb stores are not widely known despite the attempts of Subterranea Britannica (link) to document them. An example of a store used post war and now decommissioned that has not been documented by Subterranea Britannica is the former RAF bomb store at Sudbury Yard, Nottinghamshire which was active until at least the 1970’s and is situated a short distance from a main line and was connected by a rail link capable of taking the heavy main line trains.


So the 64 million dollar question, did the SSR ever exist and does it survive to this day. I would say there is insufficient evidence to say the SSR did exist, but enough circumstantial evidence to say it could possibly have existed. If it did exist at one point does it still exist today, I suspect not. As the cold war came to a close huge defence cuts were initiated in the UK and a prime contender would be the SSR. This in itself leads on to the next question of what happed to the locos?
To cut up a steam locomotive into parts that are unrecognisable would be a major task, not impossible but far from simple quick job. The UK has a very large community of steam enthusiasts who would almost certainly get wind of parts of locos being transported round the country. In the authors opinion a far more likely explanation would be simply to seal them in to their storage area.

The idea of a SSR has been an urban myth for some time, and with urban myths come the Chinese whispers effect where stores of exaggerated and only partially told until they become unrecognisable – this needs to borne in mind whenever a stories are told regarding the SSR.

The idea of a reserve of steam engines is not without precedent – I know of 2 countries that have maintained a steam reserve for use in time of emergency. Sweden maintained a reserve from around 1959 until the early 70’s (albeit for different reasons that the quoted for the British SSR) and Russia still maintains a small steam reserve.

posted on Jun, 23 2008 @ 09:33 AM
I might be wrong here, but wouldnt it be possible to find the location of the SSR (if it even exists) by using the freedom of informations act? Does this apply to military installations. I suppose not, as they would be under the official secrets act, but it's worth a shot, especially with the theory of the loco's simply having been sealed inside the storage compound.
I like that theory, as like you said, with the amount of steam enthusiasts in this country it would have been almost impossible to disguise the scrapped parts of all those locos, no matter how much they cut them up somebody would recognise something, and how would they have ever have transported that large amount of scrap metal. I for one would have been highly suspicious if I'd seen counts of lorrys appearing from nowhere, near a small village, and driving off in convoys.
So therefore, I'd like to believe that somewhere, there are hundreds of sleeping steel and iron giants waiting to be rediscovered. If the complex exists that is!

posted on Jun, 23 2008 @ 10:12 AM
Interesting and well written.

Starred and flagged.

A photo just for fun.
A Northern (type) steam loco on display at Locomotive Park in Kingman, Arizona on Route 66 at the west end of town.

It has a stairway that accesses the engineers cab.
A nice trip to the past for anyone who likes steam locos....

posted on Jun, 23 2008 @ 10:37 AM
do you think that the petrol refineries have them submerged in oil, i mean they will last in there and maintenance free may i add or may be submerged in oil in an oil tanker? i mean every ship yard worth its weight in gold had train tracks
and cranes ?

edit: i mean think about it if you had a lot of steam train to store and you are a government of a rich nation. simple get an old cargo ship, stack the trains in the hold three levels high with drain holes in the flooring then fill the hold with oil,
cover the holds with lids to keep the elemnt out and there you have it. then all you may be looking for as an investigator is a ship or two.

2nd edit: mothball them in oil.

[edit on 23-6-2008 by ST SIR 86]

[edit on 23-6-2008 by ST SIR 86]

posted on Jun, 23 2008 @ 11:03 AM
i found this site just with google have a read you may find it somewhat interesting.

posted on Jun, 23 2008 @ 12:05 PM
I remember hearing years ago as a child about supposed bunkers full of steam locomotives, Willy's jeeps dried rations ect supposedly in case of a nuclear war. There were rumors at the time that one was near Christmas common (not far from RAF strike command) although every time i looked around the area i could never see any trace of it

posted on Jun, 24 2008 @ 02:52 PM
I believe this is based on a radio 4 program a few weeks ago by Steve Punt - you can listen to it here -


posted on Jun, 25 2008 @ 10:26 AM
I reckon this is an old wives story.

I worked in emergency planning in the mid to late 80's with UKWMO & have never heard of this Strategic Steam Reserve. Sure, there were warehouses dotted all around the UK with emergency rations & foodstuffs for post attack UK. And of course we had the reserve of Green Goddess fire engines for civil defence purposes.

But no steam loco reserve. Why not ? Because there just wasn't any need.

Post attack planning was limited to maintaining an operational government, of some kind, maintaining law & order and caring for survivors. In that order. Running a national rail system simply never came into the equation at all.

There were plans put into place, in the 40's & 50's, to harden signalling centres around the country, some "railway bunkers" were constructed for that very purpose. But certainly there was a feeling from the 1960's onwards that civil defence was an absolute waste of time & no matter how meticulous your planning, things just wouldn't work out as the attack scenarios suggested.

As to a steam reserve, what would the point of that be ? Signalling & points will be out due to EMP. There may be considerable track damage in urban areas. The existing diesel locos, Class 37's & 47's, were perfectly capable of being started even if the cab electrics had been fried. Steam locos couldn't be connected to modern coaching or wagons due to basic differences in braking systems. There was little if any trackside utilities on either mainlines or suburbans networks to maintain these locos & a diminishing number of BR staff capable of operating them.

And there wouldn't be any need for secrecy either. The Green Goddesses could be seen from the roadside at their depots, row after row of them. You just couldn't hide 60 to 70 steam locos anywhere no matter how hard you tried. Forget Hornby train sets, mainline steam locos are absolutely enormous.

Sorry, folks, I don't think a Strategic Steam Reserve was ever on the cards.

posted on Jun, 25 2008 @ 09:26 PM
Nice story

I never heard about this before, but it makes sense to have backup vehicles in time of need.

I think the best place to hide them is underground, maybe they drilled some extra subway tunnels to hide them away.

Most of these things are so old that only a handful aging people remember the truth and the truth will probably die with them.

posted on Jul, 28 2008 @ 03:56 AM
reply to post by robin good

Some food for thought on the UK SSR:
Eye-witness account from electrified lines LUL Inspector employed as part of a safety inspection with two structural engineers doing tunnel condition surveys on "dusused tunnels adjacent to LUL running lines" that when the tunnel steel access door was opend, he could see three 8Fs inside. Bunkers boarded across, so the engineers used them to inspect the roof lining of the tunnel. Location not yet confirmed, but probably Hampstead ex-Northern Line tunnels. Date: 2005

Documents relating to the creation of the SSR by falsely recording the scrapping of locos during 1967/68 are in the PRO at Kew - not opened under the 30 year rule - will not be opened under 50 year rule after which a decision will be taken if they will ever be opened. Result of FoI request to PRO quoting exact doc. numbers - Date 2007

October 2007 - Author of two books on the SR and SSR (one covered by a D-Notice, so never published) warned off from further investigation of SSR at UK Reselliance Planning meeting by two ex-SAS guys.

The evidence IS there, if you know where to look. Make your own mind up.

posted on Jul, 28 2008 @ 11:13 AM
why are the latests posts not showing up ????


posted on Jul, 28 2008 @ 11:51 AM

Originally posted by snoopyuk
why are the latests posts not showing up ????


I believe it was an anonymous ats post? don't these usually need to be mod vetted before they allowed to appear?

posted on Jul, 30 2008 @ 06:09 AM
Niall197, The point that you make about the different braking systems etc is a bit misleading. When the reserve was created there would of still been plenty of compatible coaches around and indeed there were until the late 80's (mk1's and early mark 2's). If there was a reserve and if it still existed now then they could easily of followed preservations lead and fitted air braking. Therefore it is possible that the reserve could of still been of use to this day.

posted on Jul, 30 2008 @ 07:12 AM
Theres only one problem with this...

If the SSR existed and has since been decomissioned, why the need for secrecy after the fact?

Edit: read thread more thoroughly, would have to agree with niall.

[edit on 30-7-2008 by seenitall]

posted on Jul, 30 2008 @ 11:38 AM

Originally posted by Niall197

As to a steam reserve, what would the point of that be ? Signalling & points will be out due to EMP. There may be considerable track damage in urban areas. The existing diesel locos, Class 37's & 47's, were perfectly capable of being started even if the cab electrics had been fried. There was little if any trackside utilities on either mainlines or suburbans networks to maintain these locos & a diminishing number of BR staff capable of operating them.

I work with a couple of older gentlemen who are fanatic about steam, so I tested the water by asking them about this Strategic Steam Reserve. Both of them (they were asked about this apart from each other) came up with pretty much the same response as the quote above from Niall197, as well as explaining the problem of deterioration and also gave a reason why such a theory may have come about...

A lot of enthusiasts, train spotters or whatever you want to call them, in the 60's and 70's started to question why certain locomotives were "missing" from working lines or scrapyards. the assumption was, if the train was missing, and hadn't turned up at any of the rail scrapyards, then surely it had been hidden away from the public for some reason.

After speaking to my colleagues, it does seem this is a widely known tale in the steam community, and that it was possibly thought about, but never got any further than an idea.

Good thread!

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