In the early years of the twentieth century, Herbert Garratt, the London-based inspecting engineer for New South Wales Government Railways, was trying to interest locomotive manufacturers in his innovative design for an articulated locomotive. In effect, a Garratt offered the customer a powerful locomotive equivalent to two ordinary locomotives.
Essentially, the locomotive was divided into three sections. A rigid frame section comprising the boiler, cab, water tank and coal bunker, mounted on top of two flexible power-driven wheel sets. The flexibility of the wheel sets would enable such a locomotive to negotiate existing curves and gradients.
After several rejections, Garratt’s idea was taken on by Beyer, Peacock & Co, who were based in Gorton, Manchester.
During 1909 the first Beyer Garratt locomotives were completed. They were a pair of 2ft (610mm) gauge 0-4-0+0-4-0 engines for the Tasmanian Government. Each was 32ft 2ins (9.8 metres) long and weighed 32.5tons (29,483.5 kg).
Step forward to the early 1930s. The worldwide economic depression had left Britain’s commercial locomotive manufacturers struggling as orders for new engines all but dried up. For example, in 1928, the UK’s nine major manufacturers completed 682 locomotives. In 1932 they turned out just 39 between them. Beyer Peacock built twelve, Kitson & Co eleven, Nasmyth Wilson eight, Hawthorn Leslie five, and the mighty Vulcan Foundry just three. The North British Locomotive Co, Robert Stephenson & Co, and Armstrong Whitworth didn’t build anything, and William Beardmore & Co threw in the towel.
So, when the very existence of Beyer Peacock was under threat, it was trebles all round at Gorton when the company received an order for what would be the largest steam locomotive ever constructed in Europe.
The customer was the Soviet Union, where, following a study into the viability of using articulated locomotives both in industry and on Soviet railways, an order was placed for a 4-8-2+2-8-4 locomotive.
Built to the Soviet gauge of 5ft (1524mm), it was 109ft (33.22 metres) in length, 17ft 2 in (5.232 metres) tall. Coal was fed into the firebox using an automatic stoker. The locomotive weighed 262.5 tons (238135.99 kg) in full working order.
Beyer Peacock pulled out all the stops. Special attention was paid to preventing heat loss. External pipework was heavily lagged and fitted with drain cocks so water couldn’t freeze inside them, and the main steampipe was enclosed in a special casing. The cab was lined with wood to protect the crew from the cold.
Following completion at Gorton in early December 1932, Ya-01 as the locomotive was now numbered, was dismantled and taken to Manchester Docks for shipping to Leningrad. On arrival, it was reassembled and sent to the Urals to run a series of trials and was reported as operating successfully in temperatures as low as -41C.
In May 1933, Ya-01 moved to the Moscow area for a series of trials organized by the Research Institute of Traction Reconstruction. Some of the trials might have occurred on the Institute’s Experimental Railway Loop, the world’s first such facility to be built. There, YA-01 would have been put through its paces by Professor N I Belokon and his staff.
When the Institute published its findings, they were highly critical. Why it was is unclear to this day. It might have been to hide that the USSR lacked the foreign exchange reserves necessary to purchase Garratts in quantity. Another problem facing the Soviets was that they would need to spend considerable sums building support facilities for these engines.
Following the trials, Ya-01 was allocated to Nizhnedneprovsk-Uzel engine sheds of the Stalin Railway at Dnipropetrovsk (modern day Dnipro) in the Ukraine. There the Garratt was used for hauling heavy coal and freight trains.
Following the Nazi invasion in June 1941, the Research Institute was evacuated to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Ya-01 was also transferred to the east where, despite problems with maintenance, including sourcing spares, it worked on the Eastern Siberian Railway until early 1957. However, some sources state Ya-01 was withdrawn from service in 1937.