Forget all the bluster about to the general election and Brexit: what is making Britain truly great again is the heritage railway sector!
In the past month, attention has again focused on the East Coast Main Line, where a succession of steam, diesel and electric speed records were set, the latest being 101mph recorded by A1 Pacific Tornado on a 90mph overnight proving run.
It was the first time in 50 years that a steam locomotive reached the magic ton in the UK, and what is even more remarkable, it was a first by an engine that was not built by or for a major railway company, but by a group of enthusiasts who for many years were persistently told it was impossible.
I have long maintained that Tornado is to the 21st century what Flying Scotsman – which reached 100mph on November 30, 1934, was to the 20th. However, the world’s most famous steam locomotive of all time was by no means ready to hand over its many-jewelled crown to the young pretender
Before April was out, yet more global transport history was made on the route. A unique spectacle saw four trains – one headed by Flying Scotsman – run in staggered formation in parallel down 10 miles of the route southbound into York. Intended to promote Virgin Trains’ new Azuma units which are due to enter service in 2018, the spectacle was watched by – and inspired – millions across the globe after being captured on film both on the ground and from helicopters.
Away from the main line, the heritage sector is pulling out all the stops to boost the nation’s tourist economy, with several towns set to be added to the steam railway map. A phenomenal response to the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway’s £1.25 million Broadway extension share issue means that trains will be running into the tourist honeypot next year, giving the line a meaningful northern destination.
June 13 will see the Swanage Railway revivalists’ dream of more than four decades finally realised, when their first timetabled trains into Wareham run.
In Wales, the Llangollen Railway is making rapid progress with building a new western terminus at Corwen Central, at the end of one of the most beautiful scenic standard gauge lines in Europe. Corwen in a traditional Welsh town waiting to be ‘discovered’ by new generations of visitors rather than being passed through in seconds by motorists on the A5, and with a major attraction now in its midst, has everything to play for.
The railway has launched a share issue to raise £370,000 to complete the station and a run-round loop. The issue, like that of the G/WR, richly deserves support from enthusiasts all across the country, and once completed, will see the heritage line linking two towns for the first time, thereby creating a major addition to the sector’s portfolio.
Again, Llangollen’s new share issue is a rallying cry for everyone to get on board another big one, and having seen the development for myself, implore our readers to help in any way they can.
Robin Jones, Editor