Bringing steam to the railway mainline

By | Category: Travel news
steam train on mainline

Tornado on the Ribblehead viaduct © Settle to Carlisle Railway

Yesterday the first timetabled rail service hauled by a steam engine for nearly forty-nine  years travelled over the Settle to Carlsile line.

Today is the second day of the three day service which Northern Rail has instigated to mark the re-opening of the line after landslides caused one of the prettiest rotes in England to be closed.

Many years ago there was an outcry when it was suggested that this line be closed because of falling passenger numbers and maintenance issues. Now, the six services pulled by the newest steam engine in the UK, Tornado, has had all of its 6,000 seats sold in advance as people flock to take advantage of steam travel at usual rail prices. Tourists regularly travel over the line and the famed Ribblehead viaduct before dropping down into the valley. But the trains that they travel on aren’t eight coaches like those being pulled by Tornado. Sometimes they are just two.

It just goes to show the appeal of steam and how it can be used to increase tourism.

Sometime ago, I argued that there should be mainline steam services to attract visitors rather than just one-off steam specials. Northern Rail may have shown the way for other rail companies.

Media coverage has been huge with the BBC keeping a reporter and film crew at Kirby Stephen station all day. All major news outlets recorded the journey just as they had with the Flying Scotsman trip last year. Then the train had to stop because of passengers on or to close to the line.

The time has come for rail companies to move into the twenty-first century by linking the appeal of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Arriva Trains Wales could copy the idea by laying on a steam train service in the summer on the Swansea to Carmarthen route or Machynlleth to Pwllheli; Great Western could use the Exeter to Dawlish and Torquay route and Scotrail could expand the tourist appeal of the line from Dingwall to Kyle of Lochalsh which might help to stem the decline in rail passengers using Dingwall. It would probably spur action to re-open the line between Tweedbank and Carlisle if steam operated every month for a few journeys as it might if the Carmarthen -Aberystwyth line is re-opend.

Working hand-in-hand with heritage railways, mainline companies could sub-contract a few services a day and reap more passengers than, I bet, any other promotion could do. In January and February when tourism numbers are low and the promotions flood into my in-box, a steam journey through an ethereal, frosty landscape could warm the cockles of a cold-hearted financial director of a mainline rail company. And get people out of their homes to see more of our countries!

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