Today, the world’s most famous steam locomotive, Flying Scotsman, has returned to Steam, at the tune of a £4.2m overhaul, taking 10 years in the process. While I was not able to attend today’s celebrations, as a railway enthusiast and historian, it is a remarkable achievement that the locomotive is finally operational.
The locomotive was built in 1923, as an A1 locomotive, numbered 1472, under the Great Northern Railway (GNR), due to the LNER not yet decided on a system wide numbering scheme. It soon became the flagship for the LNER, representing it at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembly, in 1924 and 1925. In February, before the event, it was given the number 4472, and named Flying Scotsman.
The modified value gear allowed the locomotive to the haul the famous Flying Scotsman train service, from London to Edinburgh, with it hauling the inaugural train on 1st May 1928. Here is when the first modification was given, which was a large eight wheeled tender, which would hold 9 tons of coal, along with a water trough system, which would enable the locomotive to complete the 392 miles (631km) route in eight hours, nonstop. The tender also included a corridor to connect to the rest of the train, so that the driver and fireman would change through the journey.
The following year the locomotive appeared in the film The Flying Scotsman, and On 30th November 1934, driven by Bill Sparshatt and running a light test train, 4472 became the first steam locomotive to be officially recorded at 100 mph (160.9 km/h) and earned a place in the land speed record for railed vehicles; something which the publicity-conscious LNER made much of the fact.
The corridor tender was used between April 1928 and October 1936, after which it reverted to the original type; then, in July 1938 it was paired with a streamlined non-corridor tender, and ran with this type until withdrawal. On 22nd August 1928, an improved version of this Pacific type, classified A3, appeared, which led to older A1 locomotives to be rebuilt to conform. On 25th April 1945, A1-class locomotives not yet rebuilt were reclassified A10 to make way for newer Thompson and Peppercorn Pacifics. Flying Scotsman emerged from Doncaster works on 4th January 1947 as an A3, having received a boiler with the long “banjo” dome. By this time, it had been renumbered twice: under Edward Thompson’s comprehensive renumbering scheme for the LNER, the number changed to 502 in January 1946. In the May of the same year, under an amendment to that plan, it was renumbered 103. Following the nationalisation of the railways on 1st January 1948, almost all of the LNER locomotive numbers were increased by 60000, with 103 became 60103 in December 1948.
Between 5th June 1950 and 4th July 1954, and 26th December 1954 and 1st September 1957, under British Railways ownership, it was allocated to Leicester Central shed on the Great Central, running Nottingham Victoria to London Marylebone services via Leicester Central.
It was during BR ownership that all A3 Pacifics were subsequently fitted with a double Kylchap chimney to improve performance and economy. This caused soft exhaust and smoke drift that tended to obscure the driver’s forward vision; the remedy was found in the German-type smoke deflectors fitted from 1960, which somewhat changed the locomotives’ appearance, which has caused more controversy in its preservation era.
In 1962, British Railways announced that they would scrap Flying Scotsman, with 60103 ending service with its last scheduled run on 14th January 1963. It was proposed to be saved by a group called “Save Our Scotsman”, however, they were unable to raise the required £3,000, the scrap value of the locomotive.
Enter, Alan Pegler, who first saw the locomotive at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924, which in 1961, he received £70,000 for his share holding when Northern Rubber was sold to Pegler’s Valves, a company started by his grandfather. When Flying Scotsman was due to be scrapped Pegler stepped in and bought it outright, who had the political support of Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Following this, he then spent large amounts of money over the next few years having the locomotive restored at Doncaster Works as closely as possible to its LNER condition, which meant that the smoke deflectors were removed; the double chimney was replaced by a single chimney; and the tender was replaced by one of the corridor type, which the locomotive had run between 1928 and 1936. It was finally repainted in its’ LNER Apple Green livery. Pegler then persuaded the British Railways Board to let him run enthusiasts’ specials; making it, at the time, the only steam locomotive running on mainline British Railways. It worked a number of rail tours, including a non-stop London–Edinburgh run in 1968, the year steam traction officially ended on BR. Over this time, watering facilities for steam locomotives were disappearing on the national network, so in September 1966, Pegler purchased a second corridor tender which was adapted as an auxiliary water tank; which, retaining its through gangway, it was coupled behind the normal tender.
The contract that Pegler had with BR permitted him to run his locomotive on the mainline until 1972. Following overhaul in the winter of 1968–69 Harold Wilson’s government agreed to support Pegler running the locomotive in the United States and Canada to support British exports, and show the good connections between the two countries. To comply with American railway regulations it was fitted with: a cow-catcher, bell, buckeye couplings, American-style whistle, air brakes, and high-intensity headlamp, completely changing the style of the locomotive. Starting in Boston, Massachusetts, the tour ran into immediate problems, with some states increasing costs by requiring diesel-headed-haulage through them, seeing the locomotive as a fire-hazard. However, the train ran from Boston to New York, and Washington and Dallas in 1969; with Texas to Wisconsin and finishing in Montreal following in 1970; and finally, from Toronto to San Francisco in 1971, leading to a total distance of 15,400 miles (24,800 km).
Government financial support for the tour was withdrawn by Prime Minister Edward Heath’s Conservative government in 1970, but Pegler decided to return for the 1970 season. By the end of that season’s tour, his money had run out and Pegler was £132,000 in debt, with the locomotive staying storage at the US Army Sharpe Depot to keep it away from unpaid creditors. Pegler later journeyed home from San Francisco to England on a P&O cruise ship in 1971, giving lectures about trains and travel to raise money, but he was declared bankrupt by the High Court in 1972.
Fears then arose surrounding the locomotive’s future, with speculation rife that it might remain in the USA or scrapped. After Alan Bloom made a personal phone call to Pegler in January 1973, William McAlpine stepped in and bought the locomotive for £25,000 direct from the finance company in San Francisco docks. It returned to the UK via the Panama Canal in February 1973, which led to McAlpine paying for the locomotive’s restoration at Derby Works. Trial runs took place on the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway in summer 1973, after which it was transferred to Steamtown (Carnforth), from where it steamed on various tours.
In 1988, the organisers of the Aus Steam 88 event were interested in having LNER A4 No 4468 Mallard visit Australia for Australia’s bicentennial celebrations that year. Unfortunately due to 4468’s 50th anniversary of its world record breaking run it was unavailable, 4472 was then selected as its’ replacement. In October 1988 Flying Scotsman arrived in Australia to take part in the country’s bicentenary celebrations as the central attraction in the Aus Steam ’88 festival. During the course of the next year, it travelled more than 28,000 miles (45,000 km) over Australian rails, concluding with a return transcontinental run from Sydney to Perth via Alice Springs in which it became the first steam locomotive to travel on the recently built standard gauge lines of the Central Australia Railway. Highlights of the celebrations included Flying Scotsman double-heading with NSWGR Pacific locomotive 3801, a triple-parallel run alongside broad gauge Victorian Railways R class locomotives, and parallel runs alongside South Australian Railways locomotives 520 and 621. Its visit to Perth saw a reunion with GWR 4073 Class Pendennis Castle, which had been exhibited alongside Flying Scotsman at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition. On 8th August 1989, Flying Scotsman set another record en route to Alice Springs from Melbourne, travelling 422 miles (679 km) from Parkes to Broken Hill non-stop, the longest such run by a steam locomotive ever recorded. The same journey also saw Flying Scotsman set its own haulage record when it took a 735-ton train over the 490 mile (790 km) leg between Tarcoola and Alice Springs.
Flying Scotsman returned to Britain in 1990 and continued working on mainline tours until its mainline certificate expired in 1993, leading to 4472 touring preserved railways. To raise funds for its upcoming overhaul, it was returned to BR condition with the refitting of the German style smoke deflectors and double chimney, and repainting in BR Brunswick green. By 1995 it was in pieces at Southall Railway Centre in West London, owned by a consortium that included McAlpine as well as music guru and railway enthusiast Pete Waterman.
Facing an uncertain future owing to the cost of restoration and refurbishment necessary to meet the stringent engineering standards required for main line operation, an eventual salvation came in 1996 when Dr Tony Marchington, already well known in the vintage and heritage movement, bought the locomotive, and had it restored over three years to running condition at a cost of £1 million, a restoration which, up until its most recent overhaul, was the most extensive in the locomotive’s history. Marchington’s time with the Flying Scotsman was documented in the Channel 4 documentary A Steamy Affair: The Story of Flying Scotsman.
With Flying Scotsman’s regular use both on the VSOE Pullman and with other events on the main line, in 2002, Marchington proposed a business plan, which included the construction of the “Flying Scotsman Village” in Edinburgh, to create revenue from associated branding. After floating on OFEX as Flying Scotsman plc in the same year, in 2003 Edinburgh City Council turned down the village plans, leading to Marchington declaring bankruptcy in September 2003. At the company’s AGM in October 2003, CEO Peter Butler announced losses of £474,619, and with a £1.5 million overdraft at Barclays Bank, he stated that the company only had enough cash to trade until April 2004, leading to the company’s shares being suspended from OFEX on 3rd November 2003 after it had failed to declare interim results,
With the locomotive effectively placed up for sale, after a national campaign, suing the original campaign slogan, “Save Our Scotsman”, it was bought in April 2004 by the National Railway Museum in York, and a donation from Richard Branson. it is now part of the museum’s National Collection. and after 12 months of interim running repairs, and appearing at the museums Railfest event, which is where I first saw the locomotive, it ran for a while to raise funds for its 10-year restoration.
In January 2006, Flying Scotsman entered the Museum’s workshops for a major overhaul to return it to Gresley’s original specification, removing all of the modifications that had happened in its 40 years of private ownership, and globe-trotting adventure, and to renew its boiler certificate. It was originally planned to be completed by mid 2010 if sufficient funds were raised, but late discovery of additional problems meant it would not be completed on time. In October 2012, the Museum published a report examining the reasons for the delay and additional cost, which was understandable, the extravagant of usage of the locomotive, and lack of funds, meant most of the repairs were not up to the standards of the museums restoration policy. The locomotive was then moved in October 2013 to Bury for work to return it to running condition in 2015, under the
Riley & Son E Ltd Locomotive Engineers. On 29th April 2015, Flying Scotsman’s boiler left the National Railway Museum to be reunited with the rest of the locomotive at Riley & Sons E (Ltd) in Bury.
During the overhaul, the bay in which the locomotive was being refurbished was on view to visitors to the NRM but the engine was rapidly dismantled to such an extent that the running plate was the only component recognisable to the casual observer. Early in 2009 it emerged that the overhaul would see the loco reunited with the last remaining genuine A3 boiler, a controversial decision, which was acquired at the same time as the locomotive as a spare. The A4 boiler that the loco had used since the early 1980s, to return the locomotive to service quickly when it had returned to the UK, was later sold to Jeremy Hosking for potential use on his locomotive, LNER Class A4 4464 Bittern.
The overhaul was completed in January 2016 and testing began on the East Lancashire Railway on 8 January 2016, with breaking power being supplied by Black Five 45407. Flying Scotsman was originally planned to haul its inaugural mainline train called the Winter Cumbrian Mountain Express from Manchester Victoria to Carlisle on 23rd January, but it was not ready due to faulty brakes. The first mainline run, pulling the Winter Cumbrian Mountain Express from Carnforth to Carlisle, took place on 6 February. A broken spring stopped its run on 22nd February to Scarborough, but happened on the next day, the first time it was seen in its BR Brunswick Green, being painted by Heritage Painting.
Today, the inaugural journey from London King’s Cross to York, occurred, and while many over enthusiast railway enthusiast trespassing on the tracks, the locomotive is now back! She will be in the National Railway Museum until travelling up and down the country, pleasing enthusiasts, young and old.
The images below are of the inaugural run, and taken at Retford. Credit to Neil Everitt.
The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is the first heritage railway to place host to the locomotive in its completed form, on the 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th March.
Thanks for reading.