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Conceived in 1937 when Oliver Bulleid became Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Southern Railway, the Merchant Navy Class represented Bulleids vision for a quick accelerating, mixed traffic 4-6-2 locomotive, equally capable of hauling passenger services (such as the Golden Arrow and Atlantic Coast Expresses), or freight workings, to a speed of around 75mph. Mainly designed from the Brighton Works Drawing Office, under C.S Cocks, Bulleid, always aware of practical applications and costing implications, ensured that the best design practices of the time were applied to the new locomotive.
New X-ray inspection techniques were specifically developed to monitor wear to the welded areas, whilst the newly designed Bulleid Firth Brown 6 2 driving wheels reduced the amount of hammer blow to the rails, also resulting in less wear. Of all the new features Bulleid incorporated into the design, perhaps the most ingenious and, ultimately, most controversial, was his decision to totally enclose the valve motion in an oil bath, to prevent attritional wear through grit ingress. Despite the onset of war in 1939, Bulleids design was accepted by the wartime Railways Executive Committee and production commenced through November 1940 at Eastleigh Works, the first loco, 21C1 Channel Packet, being named on March 10, 1941.
Locomotive 35024 East Asiatic Company entered traffic on November 13, 1948 at Exmouth Junction and had its naming ceremony at Waterloo Station on May 5, 1949, where HRH Prince Axel of Denmark officially named the locomotive. East Asiatic Company remained at Exmouth until February 26, 1959, when it went in to works for its rebuild.
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