‘World’s most famous locomotive’ Flying Scotsman visits Edinburgh to mark its 100th birthday
It is the locomotive that lived in the shadow of the celebrated train after which it was named – only to become the most famous steam engine in the world following retirement from mainline service 60 years years ago.
Flying Scotsman will celebrate the centenary of leaving the Doncaster works where it was built on Friday with a special visit to Edinburgh at the northern end of the east coast main line it plied in the heyday of luxury train travel during the inter-war years.
The appearance at Waverley Station will be followed by the latest of a series of charters north of the Border since the locomotive completed a mammoth £4.2 million restoration six years ago.
The first of these in 2016 was nearly cancelled at the last minute when it was discovered Network Rail staff had failed to make safety checks to ensure the locomotive would fit past bridges and platforms, but the work was completed with hours to spare.
A “Centenary Weekender” will see Flying Scotsman haul a four-day excursion from June 30 between London and Aberdeen, costing up to £2,225 per passenger.
The locomotive is also due to visit the Strathspey Railway in Aviemore, with details due to be announced on Friday, while two further Scottish excursions are being finalised.
The Waverley event will include the first reading of The Making of Flying Scotsman, a new poem by UK Poet Laureate Simon Armitage written to commemorate the centenary.
Dancers from the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society were also due to perform The Flying Scotsman, devised by Hugh Thurston in 1966, which tells the story of the train’s journey.
The floral clock in Princes Street Gardens will also have a Flying Scotsman theme later this year.
Flying Scotsman was designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, renowned as one of Britain’s greatest railway engineers, who was born in 1876 in Edinburgh.
The Pacific class A1 locomotive was plucked from obscurity by the London and North Eastern Railway to front an upgraded Edinburgh-London rail service, which had operated since 1862, originally known as the Special Scotch Express before becoming the Flying Scotsman.
The new non-stop service, launched in 1928 in an attempt to trump the company’s west coast rivals, took rail travel to new heights of luxury.
Railway author Simon Bradley has described it as “truly a train to remember”, with its mahogany-panelled first class dining car, hairdressing salon and barber shop, and Britain's first cinema carriage.
However, confusingly, many locomotives as well as Flying Scotsman hauled the Flying Scotsman train, which left both Waverley and London King’s Cross at 10am. Flying Scotsman, which was named in 1924, was switched to run other services after notching up the 100mph speed record in 1934, being superseded by more streamlined engines.
The locomotive was retired by British Rail in 1963, but that’s when its fame really began, according to Andrew McLean, assistant director and head curator of the York-based National Railway Museum, which rescued it in 2004.
He told The Scotsman: "After its working life was over, it had a second life as a celebrity that travelled the country, tapping into the nostalgia people had for what was then the recent past.
"It became famous because of its association with the train service and came to absorb that fame after preservation. Flying Scotsman became known as the ‘most famous locomotive in the world’ in the 1960s after it was uttered for the first time on Blue Peter by John Noakes standing in front of the locomotive.”
The engine has since toured the United States and Australia, while its longevity as Britain’s oldest mainline locomotive still in service has added to its fame.
Mr McLean said: “The fact that Flying Scotsman is still operating after 100 years is something that would absolutely amaze people back in the 1920s.
"It was also remarkable that 40 years after its first non-stop run between London and Edinburgh, it did the same again in 1968, and we are now considerably further on than even that.
"You can hear Flying Scotsman because it has got a distinctive beat from the three cylinders as part of the design that Gresley put into it. If you’re in the right sort of carriage and in the right conditions, you get a great sensation of it. It’s a very special experience.”
However, Mr McLean, who is also author of The Flying Scotsman – Speed, Style, Service, said it was difficult to predict the locomotive’s future prospects.
He said: "We’re committed to running Flying Scotsman for the next few years, but there’s all sorts of circumstances that could arise and put a stop to it.” These include major maintenance throwing up unexpected problems.
"In theory you could run the locomotive forever more, as long as you accept the challenges of having to replace parts as they wear out,” he said.
"However, there are all sorts of questions that could stop steam locomotives running”. Factors include the increasingly busy and faster national network, the availability of coal and the viability of alternatives such as biofuels.
While Flying Scotsman’s immediate future is secure, it has had a chequered post-service past.
Initially bought by Alan Pegler, who restored the locomotive to its LNER condition, its succession of private owners have included pop impresario Pete Waterman and Flying Scotsman plc, a debt-ridden firm whose plans to make the locomotive the centrepiece of a heritage centre beside Waverley Station stalled.
When the company put Flying Scotsman up for sale, it was saved for Britain after a fundraising campaign led by the National Railway Museum, backed by the National Heritage Memorial Fund.
Its subsequent restoration took far longer and cost much more than expected because far more extensive repairs were found necessary than had been anticipated.