As well as its own Named Trains such as the Atlantic Coast Express, the Southern Railway ran many Ocean Liner Specials to carry the passengers from the liners that docked at the railway’s Southampton Docks to London. Arguably the most famous of these Ocean Liner Special’s was the Cunarder. The Cunard Line had some of the most glamorous ships of the era with the RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth and that glamour and prestige begun when the passenger stepped on board the train at Waterloo.
The ‘Cunarder’ would have a specially designed headboard on the locomotive with nameplates on its coaches with the typical train being comprised of Pullmans and ordinary first class stock. The inaugural run of the “Cunarder” was on July 2 1952 when the train left Waterloo at 7.5pm, hauled by “Merchant Navy” class locomotive 35004 “Cunard White Star”. A similar Waterloo-Southampton boat express the “Statesman” made the connection with United States Lines ship the SS United States hauled by Mid Hants resident 34007 Wadebridge. The reason why Wadebridge was selected because 35012 United States Line was under repair at Eastleigh Works at the time and the Southern Railway wanted a West Country locomotive because it would avoid the first Statesman train being a Merchant Navy class loco named after a rival line. Soon after other shipping lines wanted the prestige of having a titled train so services like the “Union-Castle Express”, “South American”, “Holland-American” and “Greek Line” became common place on the run to Southampton.
Despite the first Cunarder being hauled by a Merchant Navy class locomotive, the train was not big enough to warrant a loco of that size so the majority of the services were hauled by either Lord Nelson’s or the West Country class. The exception to this was when, because of a tug strike at Southampton, the Cunarder ran from Plymouth on 20th April 1953 and 35004 Cunard White Star worked the train of 14 vehicles including 10 Pullmans, between Exeter and Salisbury.
But by 1964 the ocean liner trains had fallen on hard times; Pullman cars had been withdrawn, engine headboards forgotten, the coaches were dirty and punctuality was poor. But despite all this passengers were still charged a premium fare. Special boat trains ran on for several more years but as unnamed trains which meant sadly famous trains like the Cunarder just faded away without any pomp or ceremony.
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