There must have been some point during the 10-year restoration of Flying Scotsman when even the most optimistic of the engineers involved wondered whether the world-famous locomotive would ever run again.
The restoration was meant to be a short pitstop but when work began, the scale of the challenge suddenly became apparent. But at lunchtime on 25 February, Scotsman, with its recognisable green livery, pulled into York station for its official ‘Welcome Home’ party.
‘It’s been quite long,’ said Noel Hartley, operations manager at the National Railway Museum (NRM), about the day. Noel, who stood, well-sooted, in the locomotive’s cab following its arrival into York, continued, ‘We were up through the night preparing the engine, and we left the shed this morning at 03.50.
‘It’s been a really good day. It’s been great that the engine’s performed faultlessly throughout and it’s been… adored by thousands of people along the lineside.’
Flying Scotsman is indeed loved by the public. Much of the £4.2 million cost of the restoration project came from public donations.
The return of such an iconic piece of Britain’s engineering heritage is also big business. To celebrate the Flying Scotsman’s comeback, Speyside Distillery, which is located within the Cairngorms National Park, has produced a special edition Beinn Dubh (black mountain) whisky especially for NRM.
Scotsman, now numbered 60103, hauled the very first non-stop London to Edinburgh service in 1928. However, its main claim to fame came in 1934 when it became the first steam locomotive to be recorded doing 100 mph.
The 93-year-old locomotive is the last surviving of the 51 original A1 class locomotives which were rebuilt to the A3 specification.
Designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, Flying Scotsman has had numerous owners since it was retired by British Rail in January 1963, before eventually being brought back into public ownership in 2005. Flying Scotsman’s first private owner was British businessman Alan Pegler. In a video produced by the NRM for the inaugural run, his daughter, Penny, described the moment she found out that her dad had bought the famous locomotive.
‘My father came into my room on a wintry day in January and said today I’ve bought a steam engine. Unfortunately it cost my father his fortune, but it was all worth it because he saved this wonderful engine for future generations to enjoy.’
Speaking at the event last month, Colin Green, works director at Riley & Son, which has led the restoration, said that many of the engineers who had worked on Flying Scotsman had grown up on the project.
He spoke about the complexity of sourcing the parts for the restoration and the skills needed to carry out the work. ‘We pulled the boiler to pieces, sussed out what was wrong, had to order the new bits… We then constructed it and built the boiler with all the old technology… It’s traditional skills to the original drawings of what the LNER would have made.’
A series of events will be held throughout the year for what NRM is calling ‘Scotsman Season’. The programme includes exhibitions at the museum in York and a sold-out series of tours around the country. NRM is also inviting members of the public to share their stories and pictures of Flying Scotsman on social media using the hashtag #MyScotsman.
Photos courtesy of the National Railway Museum
Additional reporting by Graeme Bickerdike