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Jet Engine Snow Blowers

In 1947 First experiments were made using Jet Engines as a snow blower for the railways. The experiments were carried out at, Dowlais, near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wakes, UK.

Two Rolls Royce RB.41 Nene Turbojet Engines were mounted side by side on a 12 ton container wagon. Each provided 5000 LBF Thrust.

The idea was abandoned as it was found that the jet blew track ballast away and distorted the track.

Rail-based snow melter in Liberec – Czech Republic

The summit at Stainmore: the highest point reached by an English railway

A report in the Darlington and Stockton Times tells the interesting story of an unsuccessful attempt to rescue a steam engine trapped deep in the snow on Stainmore Summit in that wicked winter of 1947.

At that time, someone who wasn’t Jeremy Clarkson had a brilliant idea of how to get rid of snowdrifts that were blocking railway cuttings in remote places like Teesdale. First of all, get a Rolls Royce jet engine. Attach it to a railway wagon, tow it to a large snowdrift, turn it up to 1,000mph and…away we blow! The winter of 1947 was probably the worst in living memory. It snowed for 55 days from late January through to mid-March by which time there were 14ft high drifts and rural communities had been cut off for weeks. At Forest-in-Teesdale, there was 83 inches – that’s 7ft – of lying snow covering everything. It was said to be the deepest general layer ever recorded in an inhabited part of England. Bulldozers and flamethrowers were used to cut and melt through drifts to reach some isolated place, but the railways took the efforts to a different level. The Ministry of Supply’s Snow Dispersal Unit called in two jet engines which had once powered a Whitley Mk II bomber. This curious turn of events came up a couple of weeks ago when Looking Back delivered a Zoom talk on the history of Teesdale’s railways to the North Eastern Railway Association. An engine had left Kirkby Stephen bound for Darlington on February 3, 1947, only to get stuck on Stainmore, the highest railway point in England at the top of the Pennines. All conventional efforts to free it failed, so on March 1, the Ministry of Supply's Snow Dispersal Unit attached two jet engines to old chassis and sent them out from Darlington to set it free. “Press reports of the experiment were somewhat inconsistent,” says Robin Brooks. “The Daily Express had three photographs with detailed captions suggesting that the outcome was relatively satisfactory but at the same time the Yorkshire Post ("From our Special Correspondent, Barnard Castle, Friday Night") reported that the project was spectacular but ineffective!” The D&S Times seems not to have reported upon this particular innovation, but its sister paper, The Northern Echo, put a photo of the revolutionary device – which looks like a supercharged leafblower – on its front page.

The Northern Echo's front page photograph from March 1, 1947,

showing the jet-powered track-clearing device

The jet-powered snowblower in March 1947 in Bowes station -

you can see the station nameboard above the snowdrift in the background

The hot air came billowing out of the leafblower’s pipes at 1,000mph. "Great blocks of ice and snow were blown into the air," reported the Echo, as the jetblower breezed into action at Bowes station. The report, headlined "Jets on the job", is dressed up as a triumph – but there are hints of tragedy. Five miles of track were cleared, but the blowers "did not reach the summit where great drifts 30ft in depth may yet defeat modern science". The report ended with the jets returning to Darlington for modifications because the drivers were so regularly showered by a "back draught" of vicious flying ice that they had to retreat after only a few minutes' blowing time. And, of course, it wasn't only snow that was blown about in the jet-powered blizzard. Stones, bushes, ballast, even fences were up-rooted by the 1,000mph hurricane. The next mention of the jetblower was on March 6, beneath the headline: "Jets replaced by shovels on blocked line". The blower was still in Darlington as railwaymen and troops – possibly including Polish volunteers and German prisoners of war – tackled the Stainmore drift with time-honoured spades and ploughs. "The LNER yesterday had little information on the merits of jets but the whole experiment is still regarded as being in the 'test' stage," said the Echo. It wasn't until the end of March that shovelpower freed the trapped engine – "the train now approaching Bank Top station is seven weeks late" – and jetpower was never given a job on the railway again.

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