The last day of steam

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

a picture of Flying Scotsman in days gone by. Its still around and still turning heads © NRM

It was on August 12th, 1968 that a ban on steam trains running on the mainline network came into force. After this date steam trains would largely only run on heritage railway sites apart from the odd excursion That was only allowed provided certain regulations were met. The only engine that was exempt was Flying Scotsman because the buyer from the then British Rail – Alan Pegler – had enough foresight to insist that the contract of purchase contain a clause saying it could run.

Except that isn’t real true either. there was another train, or rather service that British rail continued to run, which was powered by steam and which was regularly timetabled. This was the Vale of Rheidol Railway which opened in 1902. When railways were nationalised, this narrow-guage railway that steams thirteen miles from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge in what is now Ceredigion, was absorbed and painted in Britsh Rail colours. When I first caught the train in 1974, it was listed in the British rail timetable so you could argue it was running on the mainline!

the Prince of Wales positioning carriages ready for a trip back to Aberystwyth

Today the Vale of Reheidol Railway still runs although since 1989 it has been owned by a charitable trust and is said to be the second most visited tourist attraction in Wales.

Apart from that railway, steam no longer is on the mainline as a timetabled service and the last standard gauge service being an excursion from Liverpool to Carlisle and back on this very day, fifty years ago.  Given that an excursion may not be considered a regular service that is why some celebrated the anniversary one week ago.

Steam popularity seems to have no bounds. throughout Europe steam heritage railways are said to be worth €4 billion per year. When Flying Scotsman ran on the mainline earlier this year, crowds gathered to watch it and the brought the train to a halt as they crowded near the tracks making it dangerous for the train to continue.

Last year when Northern Rail re-opened the Carlisle to Settle line after a landslide, the first scheduled steam trains ran over the line for three weeks. Needless to say, all seats on the steam train were sold out. Tickets for the diesel services were a little slower.

Over 300 steam hauled excursions were timetabled to run on the mainline during 2018. Some will have been cancelled, new ones will have been added but that there is such a number signifies how important steam railways are to the tourism industry and how much appeal they have to individuals most of whom never travelled during the days of steam.


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