Since discovering a derelict P36 locomotive on our inaugural Trans-Siberian tour in 1996, our Company Founders, Tim Littler and Marina Linke, purchased and restored what is known to be Russia’s most modern express-steam locomotive design. However, after being out of service for several years, the decision has been made to gift our P36 locomotive to the Russian National Railway Museum. Here, the museum will be able to fully repair and renovate the steam engine so that it can be used once again on Russian Railways.
There is quite a story behind this historic locomotive. It was first allocated to the main Saint Petersburg – Moscow – Ryzan route in 1963, moving on the infamous gulag line to Vorkuta, north of the Arctic Circle. After working trains over the central portions of the Trans-Siberian from 1966 to 1973, it was put into the reserve at Magocha depot when it was just 19 years old. In 1982, P36.0032 was transferred to be used as a stationary boiler at the Kadala lumber plant on the outskirts of Chita, where it was discovered derelict by Tim Littler and Marina Linke in 1996. The locomotive was purchased from Kadala in 1997 along with spare parts from P36.0103.
Having secured the locomotive, it had to be moved 7,000km (4,350 miles) to Saint Petersburg for restoration. Unfortunately, two (opposing) groups of Russian enthusiasts arrived and managed to drag the locomotive over 7,000kms to the Ukraine before this could happen. It seems remarkable that they were able to move 175 tonnes of scrap metal by rail without permission and smuggle it into the Ukraine – but at the time Russia was the ‘wild east’ and anything was possible. Tim and Marina assumed it was lost forever until 1999 when the Ukrainian tax police confiscated the locomotive as property without owner and put the locomotive up for sale. The decision was made for Golden Eagle to buy it (again).
At last, the locomotive arrived in Saint Petersburg in early 2000 and, once it was made sure that ownership was correctly registered with the appropriate Russian authorities, restoration started in early 2001. This was no easy venture. It took fourteen fitters and engineers working 7 days a week for 3 months to bring the P36 back to running order. On 17th April 2001, the senior engineer blew the chime whistle, pushed the regulator and P36.0032 moved under its own steam for the first time in 26 years.
On 28th April a three day trip around Lake Ladoga took place and the locomotive ran faultlessly throughout the 577 mile trip, a great tribute to the engineers who had laboured long and hard though the winter. Then, on 15th June, the locomotive hauled its first revenue train when it took the Eastbound “Trans-Siberian Express” out of Saint Petersburg for the first 100kms on its journey to Vladivostok. Until recently, it has featured on short sections on some of our departures, usually departing from or arriving into Moscow.
On 26th April 2007 the locomotive stood at the head of the company’s new $25 million ‘Golden Eagle’ as it was launched by HRH Prince Michael of Kent and Vladimir Yakunin, President of Russian Railways. Prince Michael even drove the P36 twice around a 3km test track at the Sherbinka Railway Institute in Moscow. A few months later, during a speech at the Dorchester Hotel in London, the Prince said that in his life he had been fortunate to take the controls of a Soviet supersonic fighter jet and a Formula 1 racing car but neither had given him the feeling of sheer power that he got from driving the P36.
The Russian National Railway have plans to give the P36 a new lease of life, restoring it to full working order so that it can run on Russian railways once again and hopefully for many years to come. Kubarev Igor, Deputy Head of Traction Directorate, said of the gift: ‘This is not only an act of friendship in relations between the countries, where cannot be any barriers, if there is a devoted passion for history on both sides, but also a very serious replenishment of the national collection of operating locomotives created by JSC Russian Railways’.
You can find out more about the history of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains here.