The Return of The Flying Scotsman

The Flying Scotsman is one of the most famous names in locomotion and with a history as grand as its reputation.  The Flying Scotsman is an express passenger train service that has run the 392 miles between London and Edinburgh since 1862 and which continues to this day.   Of course, a number of trains have had the honour of running this great route but there is one train in particular which has long since captured the  LNER Class A3 Pacific steam locomotive No. 4472 Flying Scotsman.

Constructed by Great Northern Railway (GNR), Flying Scotsman was completed in 1923 and exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 and 1925.  In 1928, Flying Scotsman made the inaugural run of the non-stop service from London to Edinburgh.

The revolutionary design of the Flying Scotsman meant that for the first time it was possible to travel this great distance without stopping.  For one thing, it had a newly designed cabin system so that the train driver and the fire crew who kept loading up the furnace with coal could swap shifts and take toilet breaks.  Additionally, Flying Scotsman could carry nine imperial tonnes of coal which meant there was no need to stop to load up fresh supplies.


There are several reasons why the Flying Scotsman is so beloved, one of them is undoubtedly how it achieved the first official benchmark of a train reaching the 100mph milestone on 30th November 1934.   A momentous achievement that led the way for the even quicker Mallard steam engine a few short years later.

Following the nationalisation of the railways, British Railways allocated the Flying Scotsman’s to run the Nottingham to London Marylebone route until with the coming of the age of electrical and diesel powered trains, the decision was made to scrap the train in 1962 with its final journey being made on 14th January 1963.

For a while, it was thought that this magnificent train would be lost forever until a gentleman by the name of Alan Pegler with the support of the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, stepped in to pay thousands for its repair and refurbishment.   Alan Pegler had first seen Flying Scotsman all the way back in the 1924 exhibition and like many others had fallen in love with it.  Over the coming years, he restored the train back to its original configuration and glory.

By the late 1960’s the Flying Scotsman was back up and running taking steam enthusiasts and tourists from London to Edinburgh and many places in between.  As all steam trains had now been removed from the network, Flying Scotsman was the only left that people could see relatively easily.

In a move intended to support British industrial exports, with government support, Alan Pegler then had the Flying Scotsman visit North America.  After making minor modifications to suit local rail regulations, the locomotive set off from Boston to cities such as New York, Washington and down to Dallas before later travelling back up to Montreal, Canada and finally to San Francisco.  The epic journeys without much of a technical hitch though some states caused legal problems as they saw the steam engine as a fire hazard!

Once again their were concerns for the future of the great train with fears it may remain in the United States or even be sold for scrap once more.  Thankfully William McAlpine stepped in with £25,000 and had the train shipped back to Derby and after a restoration it spent time providing summer tours across SW England until in 1988 the Flying Scotsman found itself in Australia where it crisscrossed the country on journeys totally 15,000 miles before it returned home in 1990.

Due to increasingly strict health and safety standards, the train required a further £1 million service to keep its certification to be able to use mainline train lines until in 2006 it entered an epic ten-year restoration programme at the Nation Railway Museum in York.  Restoring the old train was something akin to repairing an old car or house, the more it was taken apart to repair, the more further problems appeared that had to be resolved first.  For a while there was even doubt if the project could be completed at all and it wasn’t until 6th February 2016 that it made its first proper run across the Lake District to Carlisle.



The Flying Scotsman speeds past The Emirates Stadium (Photo from Getty Images)


Finally, this week on Thursday 25th February, the Flying Scotsman returned to its spiritual home and with much fanfare set out from London Kings Cross station to York.  With tickets costing up to £450, steam enthusiasts, historians and train lovers could have sold out the journey several times over.  Thousands of people waved the train off from London and twice the journey had to pause due to people taking photos from the track.  Even in the open countryside, the route was lined with admirers wanting to see the magnificent sight of the Flying Scotsman roaring past with the white steam blowing back through the air.


The Flying Scotsman arrives at York station


It’s restoration means the train is secure for at least another generation and for 2016, at least, will be making journeys across the U.K.

If you think that some of the people who waited for this day, travelled on it in the 1960’s, then spare a thought for Ryan Allen, who believed that he had found the perfect spot to watch the Flying Scotsman pass by when this happened.

Apparently Virgin Trains have apologised and offered him a free flight to the USA by way of compensation!


The Flying Scotsman Photo by Stephen Daniels

The Flying Scotsman Photo by Stephen Daniels



About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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4 Responses to The Return of The Flying Scotsman

  1. Francis says:

    O for the joys of steam travel!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Return of The Flying Scotsman |

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