Tornado may have run at more than 100mph, emulating Flying Scotsman’s world record feat of 1934, but its crowd-pulling April tour proved that it is not ready to concede its crown as the world’s most famous steam locomotive to the young pretender yet! Special report by Colin Tyson, Brian Sharpe, Robin Jones and Don Benn
The seven-day Easter gala visit of LNER A3 Pacific No. 60103 Flying Scotsman to the Bluebell Railway gave the Sussex line a much-needed spring boost, following heavy expenditure of over £500,000 on three track replacement projects during last winter.
Laying over at Southall for servicing after travelling from Keighley, the locomotive and its support coach steamed into East Grinstead via the national rail link early on April 12, its path having been cleared from gauging issues at Dormans by Network Rail contractors in March.
Bluebell Railway Preservation Society vice-president, Roy Watts said: “For me it all began at 1.30am, having been the nominated person to open the boundary gates and see Scotsman onto Bluebell Railway metals.
“The whole process was undertaken and achieved – bar a small slip of the loco – as quietly as possible to avoid disturbing our neighbours.
“It was when it paused by the ground frame and, looking up, became completely framed by the full moon that could you appreciate the majesty of the loco!
“With the gauging complete, the sound of the loco working south towards Kingscote carried across the quiet countryside.”
In an event billed as ‘Flying Scotsman Flying South’, the locomotive hauled three breakfast and three evening dinner ‘Golden Arrow’ Pullman trains, all of which sold out at premium rate within 35 minutes of the tickets going on sale – followed by three Scotsman-hauled return trips a day between April 13-19 as part of an intensive three-train service each day – with all pre-booked tickets for Scotsman trains also a sell-out.
On April 13, the debut service left Sheffield Park at 7.30pm to the sounds of the Caledonian Pipe Band.
The whole station was buzzing with excitement, with members of the press reporting from all trains, and TV companies filming and conducting interviews throughout the day. The railway received widespread coverage on both BBC and ITV and was also visited by a number of VIPs and friends from neighbouring heritage lines.
The seven-coach Scotsman rake included the Howlden Trust’s Bluebell-based GNR Directors’ Saloon, reunited with the locomotive and attached to convey special guests which included Sir William McAlpine and Sir Nigel Gresley’s grandson, great granddaughter and great, great granddaughter.
The railway’s general manager Gordon Owen produced a daily blog, stating that more than 2200 visitors a day also poured into Sheffield Park station to either view the star attraction or ride on one of the service trains, assisted by over 300 Bluebell volunteers who were designated ‘gala makers’ for the event.
Visitors were treated to plenty of steam action from BR Standard 5MT 4-6-0 No. 73082 Camelot and SR S15 4-6-0 No 847 on service trains, while SR Q 0-6-0 No. 30541 was operating brakevan rides at Horsted Keynes and SECR pair 0-6-0 No. 592 and 0-4-4T No. 263 were employed at Sheffield Park on station pilot duty.
Glorious sunshine over the seven days indeed brought out the customers and a total just short of 20,000 visitors passed through the gates to either view the star attraction or ride on one of the service trains, assisted by over 300 Bluebell volunteers who were designated ‘gala makers’ for the event. More than 8700 of the visitors travelled behind Flying Scotsman.
The Bluebell extended an invitation to the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway to bring its Henry Greenley-designed Pacific No. 7 Typhoon, which spent the week in the locomotive yard.
Built in 1927 and inspired by the Gresley A1 Pacifics (the original classification of the A3s) Typhoon visited King’s Cross shed in the same year and was displayed alongside Flying Scotsman – a meeting that was recreated 90 years later!
Back in 1927, the press and newsreels described the pair as ‘the Giant and the Dwarf’.
RHDR general manager Danny Martin said: “There is no more pertinent way to kick off our 90th anniversary celebrations than to look back at the historic meeting of these two railway icons in 1927 and to celebrate that they are still here for future generations to enjoy.”
In a ‘Scotsman through the gauges’ special display, a third Gresley-inspired Pacific – a 10.25in gauge version of No. 4472 Flying Scotsman – attended from the South Downs Light Railway at Pulborough, while in the locomotive shed were a collection of A1/A3s in miniature alongside road steam vehicles from the Claude Jessett Trust at nearby Hadlow Down.
The Flying Scotswomen
Flying Scotsman seems to have the uncanny knack of making railway history at every twist and turn.
Liz Groome, daughter of former Nine Elms driver Clive Groome, who for many years has offered steam driving courses through his Footplate Days and Ways outfit, drove the A3, with her sisters Ruth and Rebecca acting as fireman and cleaner. Meanwhile dad Clive, was driving No. 847.
The turns were conjectured to be the first time that No. 60103 had been operated by an all-female crew, and formed a direct link with the end of Southern steam 50 years before, when their dad worked for BR.
Liz said ‘The opportunity to drive Flying Scotsman was one we didn’t hesitate to accept, being rostered with family doesn’t happen very often and made the day even more enjoyable; an experience of which we now share fantastic memories.
“Such a great atmosphere across the railway for the duration of the event and the enthusiasm for the loco itself every time we drew into a station was a clear reminder of how lucky we were to be crewing.”
Flying Scotsman reopens the Settle and Carlisle
The phenomenally-successful Bluebell visit was the climax to an action-packed month which saw the A3 launch its 2017 programme by reopening the Settle and Carlisle route by hauling a sell-out excursion from Oxenhope on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway.
The legendary line had been closed north of Armathwaite since February 9, 2016 after a serious landslip at Eden Brows. Network Rail’s engineers and contractors had spent 14 months rebuilding and stabilising the trackbed in time for the line to be reopened to through traffic on March 31.
The work had involved clearing the 70-metre slope of vegetation and excavating four metres below track level before installing piles; 16,000 tonnes of spoil had to be removed from site before a concrete guide wall could be installed to assist with piling works using 226 steel-cased piles; followed by pouring in 1,300 cubic metres of concrete.
Flying Scotsman travelled with its support coach from the National Railway Museum to the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway on Wednesday, March 29, ready for the excursion to Carlisle which was followed by a week’s operation on the KWVR.
Departing from Oxenhope at 8.30am, with a ten-coach train of maroon Mk.1 stock from West Coast Railways at Carnforth, Scotsman joined the Aire Valley main line at Keighley to head for a water stop at Hellifield.
After an on-time departure, the special topped the climb to Blea Moor eight minutes early, continuing to Appleby where it was greeted by a piper and speeches were made to mark the occasion.
After Appleby, the train crossed the newly-reinstated section of track at Eden Brows with much whistling and watched by the large team of engineers which had carried out the work of rebuilding the line.
The engine was turned and serviced at Carlisle before retracing its steps to Keighley, from where a banking engine was required over the 1-in-58 gradients of the Worth Valley branch. All seats on the train at £220 per ticket were sold many weeks in advance and the event made headlines nationally, although the BBC was criticised for using old footage of Tornado on Ribblehead viaduct instead of Flying Scotsman on the day!
Taking Bronte country by storm
Following the high-profile relaunch of the stricken line, Flying Scotsman helped draw around 17,000 visitors during its nine-day stint at the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway from April 1-9. One family came from as far away as Australia.
The railway’s chairman Dr Matt Stroh said: “It showed the railway and our volunteers at their absolute best.
“We had about 17,000 visitors over the nine days, including 12,500 passengers who travelled on the Flying Scotsman.
“A lot of the passengers who came to travel on the Flying Scotsman stayed on the line and in the villages, because they really wanted to make a day of it, which was great.
“The sense of achievement among the hundreds of volunteers who gave their time during that nine days is palpable. Everyone worked so hard.
“We probably had over 100 volunteers rostered for each of the nine days Flying Scotsman was here. The feedback we received, which ranged from the chairman of Network Rail to the various other passengers I spoke to, was incredibly positive.
He said that the family from Australia included a young boy with autism who enjoyed a “journey of a lifetime” on the railway, and had been thrilled to meet driver Noel Hartley from the National Railway Museum.
After its exploits on the line made famous by the EMI big-screen version of Edith A Nesbit’s 1970 classic The Railway Children, Flying Scotsman travelled south over the national network for its appearance at the Bluebell Railway, where a subsequent and now largely-overlooked TV ‘remake’ of the film was made.
Flying Scotsman also made another spring appearance in the Sunny South – at the Kent & East Sussex Railway.
However, it was not the full-size A3, but a 26ft long model made solely from Lego bricks.
The model, with three Pullman coaches, has been made by Bright Bricks, a Hampshire-based company that specialises in building Lego models. Built with over 100,000 Lego bricks, it formed the centrepiece of an exhibition at the KESR Tenterden station of 30 Lego models that chart the history of Britain from Stonehenge to Concorde.
Titled Bricks Britannia, the exhibition opened on April 1 and ran until May 4.
Afterwards, the exhibition moved to the Midland Railway-Butterley which will run a special ‘Butterley Brick Event’ from May 27 to June 4.
The models will be on show in various locations around the railway and there will be a “Find Billy Brick at the Midland Railway-Butterley” competition. There will also be brick workshops and a specially-designed limited edition kit will be available.
Trains will be steam-hauled at weekends with the heritage Diesel Multiple Units in use on the weekdays.
No longer too famous to run
On February 25, 2016, Flying Scotsman made its official comeback run following overhaul, between King’s Cross and York. However, the event was marred by delays caused by trespassers at two locations on the East Coast Main Line.
Lineside trespassing was to dog the A3 for months to come, with British Transport Police issuing pictures of offenders in the hope of identifying them and bringing them to court.
Trespass became so great a concern to operators that some trips featuring Flying Scotsman were rerouted or cancelled.
In May last year the legendary locomotive was due to run a sell-out Steam Dreams excursion train from Ely to Norwich and back.
However, the trip was called off, amid fears of fences being climbed and spectators risking their lives.
Now Steam Dreams has announced a new tour featuring No. 60103 including Norwich and Ely.
The new trips will be running from Wednesday, October 18, until Friday, October 27. There will be short tours and circular trips, with starts in Peterborough, Ely, Norwich, Leamington Spa, Banbury, Derby and Sheffield.
Steam Dreams’ chairman Marcus Robertson, said: “We are delighted to be able to announce that the ‘Cathedrals Express’ has extended its Flying Scotsman programme this year.
“We’re looking forward to taking fans of this fabulous engine along some of the most scenic railways this country has to offer from a number of stations that ‘The Cathedrals Express’ rarely visit.”
For further information and prices for remaining tickets for trips with Flying Scotsman, contact the Steam Dreams booking office on 01483 209888 or visit
Next stop Minehead!
Steam Dreams’ May 23 trip from Bristol Temple Meads to the West Somerset Railway’s Minehead terminus behind Flying Scotsman has sold out.
As we closed for press, there was just one seat left on the Guildford-based operator’s West of England evening tour behind the A3 from Bishop’s Lydeard, a similar morning tour having long since sold out.
The locomotive’s third and final visit to a heritage line comes in late summer, when it will return to operate regular services over the West Somerset.
It will arrive on the line on Monday, September 4, and run public services from September 5-12, with a rest day on Friday, September 8.
Full details of the services and seat availability are available at www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk Bookings can be made on 01643 704996.
Scotsman on the Isle of Man?
While the Isle of Man never had a standard gauge railway on which a Gresley A3 could run, it may soon have its own live steam version.
The 2ft gauge Groudle Glen Railway network has announced plans for a 1/32 scale model of the iconic locomotive to be called the ‘Flying Manxman’.
It is hoped that once completed, in a nod to the classic non-stop run of Flying Scotsman between London and Edinburgh, it will attempt to break the speed record between Lhen Coan and Sea Lion Rocks, currently standing at five minutes 25 seconds.
GGR volunteer Alex Brindley said the new locomotive has a top speed of over 60mph.
He said that the name was chosen after research indicated a proposed public ballot would choose the far less suitable ‘Trainy McTrainface’.Click here to subscribe.