The World Famous Flying Scotsman


Background

In February 1923, the world’s most famous locomotive rolled out of Doncaster Works, as one of Sir Nigel Gresley’s most notable creations, Class A1 Pacific locomotive 4472 “The Flying Scotsman”. Named after the service from London to Edinburgh, Flying Scotsman made quite a name for itself breaking many speed records, and was an eye-catcher with its massive driving wheels and unmatched speed and reliability. Flying Scotsman was the first locomotive to be built new for the LNER.

No. 4472 became a publicity tool for the railway, displaying it at various occasions as Britain’s most modern type of locomotive. These locomotives widely replaced 4-4-2 Atlantic locomotives on the route, of which Gresley also introduced. The locomotive became the first to travel from London to Edinburgh non-stop, as previously, there would be a stop for refilling water, coal and a crew change.

Timothy E. Baldwin Photo

Built by the Great Northern Railway (GNR) and transferred to the London Northeastern Railway (LNER) in 1924 post-grouping, the Flying Scotsman and the rest of the A1 Class were the largest locomotives in the United Kingdom. Upon delivery, it carried the number 1472, as the LNER had not devised a definitive numbering system, later it was renumber 4472, and was one of five A1 Pacifics given the privilege to haul the railway’s flagship train, “The Flying Scotsman”, from London King’s Cross to Edinburgh.

Built for high speed service along the East Coast Main Line, the A1 4-6-2 locomotive became the mainstay of the LNER passenger fleet. Of the 50 A1s built, Flying Scotsman was by far the most popular as it was used for various promotional purposes, and became the railway’s flagship locomotive. During its life, many tests were conducted on both Flying Scotsman and its sister units. These tests included modified boilers, that increased tractive effort, and double Kylchap smoke stacks. The locomotive was finally retired in 1963, with the introduction of the new English Electric Class  55 “Deltic” diesel-electric locomotives. By the time it was retired, it had traversed 2,076,000 miles of dedicated and reliable service.

A1/A3 Pacific Data Sheet

Build Date February 1923
Wheel Configuration 4-6-2
Driver Diameter 80 in
Length 70 ft
Height 13 ft
Weight 96.25 long tons
Cylinders 3
Tractive Effort A1: 29, 835

A3: 32,910

Retired January 1963

The Flying Scotsman Service (London-Edinburgh)

In a time when the rail industry was booming, the Great Northern Railway (GNR), saw an opportunity to take advantage, and develop a luxury express train that was fast and economical. They decided the route between London and Edinburgh to be an attractive venture, as it connected two populated areas.

The Flying Scotsman locomotive is named after the LNER’s flagship express train from King’s Cross to Edinburgh. The famous route was introduced by the Great Northern Railway (GNR) in 1862, and received the Flying Scotsman name in 1924, when the respective locomotive was built.

David Moyle Photo

Before the A1 locomotive was engineered by Gresley, many early locomotives were assigned to the flagship train including Stirling 4-2-2 “Singles”, built for the GNR, and 4-4-2 “Atlantics” introduced to Britain by Gresley. The new Pacific locomotives had a considerable advantage over the former locomotives used for the train. The new class was built for style and speed, and encompassed this in a fashion that attracted fans around the world.

When the service began in the nineteenth century, the trip took 10 1/2 hours, including a half hour stop for lunchtime. As locomotives grew stronger and faster, the travel time decreased two hours to 8 1/2 hours. As the train grew popular, it became one of the first forms of luxury travel and was the ideal form of transport. By the turn of the twentieth century, the train included dining cars and the ability to walk throughout the train via corridors between the coaches.

When the British government grouped some 150 rail companies into four, the LNER was formed from four existing rail companies, and the Flying Scotsman name was adopted. As the LNER took over the service, its massive A1 locomotives were introduced, and were capable of non-stop service. This was made possible through various modifications of valve gear and the addition of a corridor tender, allowing the crews to switch without needing to stop.

In the 1930’s, the latest Gresley creation, the Class A4 Streamlined Pacific was introduced. This locomotive found a home hauling many high priority passenger trains on the LNER including the Flying Scotsman and the new “Silver Jubilee” service. These locomotives also used a corridor tender, allowing travel time to not be interrupted.

Public Domain

Upon the introduction of diesel-electric locomotives, the Class 40 locomotives began hauling the train in 1958, and later, the high speed Class 55 “Deltic” locomotives, which could reach a top speed of 100 mph. Today, the train survives as the only non-stop train from Edinburgh to London in just four hours, although there is no express return trip. Class 91101 and Driving Van Trailer (DVT) 82205 were painted in a special livery for the service, with “Flying Scotsman” emblazoned on the side.

Owners

Throughout its life after retirement, Flying Scotsman has been passed on to many owners that have saved it from the scrapper’s torch. In their plight, they have preserved the locomotive for many generations, and have taken part in keeping Britain’s history alive. Because of the expense of owning and operating Flying Scotsman, many of the locomotive’s owners went bankrupt. However, these dedicated individuals risked it all to save a piece of British railway history.

Alan Pegler

Pegler was a successful entrepreneur who took over his family’s business, Northern Rubber Company. Upon Britain’s involvement in World War II, Pegler joined the Royal Air Force, and began working with naval aircraft. However, Pegler never saw action, and instead became an intelligence officer. After the end of the war, Pegler started college at Jesus College in Cambridge, however, had to put his education on hold to run the family business due to his father falling ill. After running his father’s business successfully, he became an insurance underwriter for Lloyd’s of London, where he amassed much wealth at a young age.

Penelope Pegler photo
Courtesy of BBC

Beginning in the early fifties, Pegler began running railway excursions, most notably, Pegler ran the “Sir Nigel Gresley” A4, and hit 112 mph, which was the record for any steam train after the war. Pegler always had an interest in the railways, as he spent much of his childhood along the east coast main line at Barnby Moor station, watching Gresley’s steam locomotives speed by. Additionally, Pegler received his pilot’s licence when he was 17, and began following LNER trains down the East Coast Main Line from the air.

Pegler’s career as a railway preservationist began in 1951, resurrecting the narrow gauge Ffestiniog Railway, located in North Wales. With a loan from his father, Pegler reopened the line in 1954 on a short stretch, and by 1984, was fully operational. Pegler continued to grow the ridership of this small railway, and eventually began attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors. The railway was so successful, it became one of the most visited tourist attractions in Wales.

Saving Flying Scotsman

When Pegler first saw the Flying Scotsman at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924, he instantly fell in love. At the young age of four, the sheer size and power of the new A1 class locomotive left him fascinated. Due to the cost savings strategies of British Rail in the early sixties, chairman Richard Beeching took thousands of steam locomotives out of service. Beeching only preserved one Gresley design, the A4 “Mallard” of which he considered to be the most successful. A few British Rail steam locomotives were slated to be preserved, however, Flying Scotsman was slated for scrap.

Pegler was appalled when he learned that the locomotive was not going to be saved, and immediately began making plans to purchase the locomotive. In 1962, on the day that the locomotive was due to be scrapped, Pegler bought the locomotive for its scrap value, after a group named “Save Our Scotsman” failed to do so. After purchase, Pegler sent the locomotive to where it was born, Doncaster Works, and had it revived to its former glory.

After the locomotive emerged from Doncaster Works, it was wearing its original LNER “Apple Green” and Pegler began touring the locomotive around the country, attracting crowds by the thousands. At the time of Pegler’s tour, the locomotive was the only steam locomotive on National Rail’s (now Network Rail) network.

However, his journey came to an abrupt end when British Rail abolished steam on the national network in 1969. All hope was not lost, as Prime Minister Wilson funded him a trip to North America to display the Flying Scotsman, and to support British trade in North America.

Drew Jacksich Photo

Pegler’s trip began in Boston, as he brought along his daughter Penny and many other staff members. The locomotive attracted thousands throughout its three tours, however, Pegler had to pay for the third tour from Toronto to San Francisco out of pocket, as Wilson was no longer Britain’s Prime Minister, and funding for his trip had been cut. Upon reaching the end of his journey in San Francisco, Pegler had gone bankrupt and the locomotive was marooned at a military base in San Francisco.

At this time, Pegler began working on a cruise ship to pay his way back home. His work aboard the ship was to educate passengers about rail travel and other forms of transportation. Pegler stayed involved in the railway industry, and gave lectures around the country about the benefits of rail transportation. Pegler stayed involved in the rail industry until his death in 2012.

Pegler is survived by his daughter Penny Vaudoyer, who visited the locomotive while it was being rebuilt. She also was aboard for the locomotive’s inaugural run from London to York in 2016.

Sir William McAlpine

Sir William McAlpine was born in 1936. McAlpine’s great grandfather Robert, known as “Concrete Bob”, who began the Sir Robert Alpine Ltd construction company, was hired for many railway contracts including the Glasgow subway system. This perhaps began William’s ever growing interest in the railway industry at a young age.

As the locomotive was stranded in the United States, enthusiasts began to speculate on its future. McAlpine, who was an avid rail enthusiast, and already owning a locomotive in his backyard, purchased Flying Scotsman, and had it shipped back to the United Kingdom. The locomotive was shipped on a barge and traveled through the famous Panama Canal on its way home.

Hugh Llewelyn photo

Upon arrival home, the locomotive arrived at the port of Liverpool, and traveled under its own power to Derby, passing through thousands of onlookers. At Derby, the locomotive would be restored and overhauled. It returned to the rails in 1973, and hauled excursion trains at Carnforth.

In 1988, the locomotive was invited to attend Australia’s “Aus Steam ’88”, who sought to have a steam locomotive from every continent present. Upon arrival, the locomotive began its tour, traveling 28,000 miles, including a transcontinental run over the Central Australian Railway. It returned to Britain in 1990, and began running on the main line until 1993, when its main line certificate expired. Once renewed it continued to traverse the British main line until 1995, when the locomotive went in for another overhaul at Southall Railway Centre in London. However, due to the astronomical cost of the restoration, its future was uncertain.

Until his death in March 2018, McAlpine continued to stay involved in the industry, becoming head of the Railway Benevolent Institution, which assisted both current and retired workers in the industry.

Tony Marchington

Because the locomotive was in need of a complete overhaul, the expense was too much to bear for many interested in the locomotive. Salvation came when Dr. Tony Marchington purchased the locomotive in 1996, and put it through a three year restoration, considered to be the most extensive overhaul the locomotive had ever received. It emerged in the original LNER “apple green” livery, and was ready for the next chapter of its journey.

Throughout its period of ownership under Marchington, the locomotive could be commonly seen hauling excursion services throughout the nation, including the British Belmond Pullman, a division of the Orient Express. However, by 2003 Marchington declared bankruptcy, and it was no longer feasible for him to operate the locomotive.

National Railway Museum

Flying Scotsman was auctioned in 2004 and purchased by the National Railway Museum in York. The money was raised with the help of the likes of Richard Branson, the founder on Virgin Group, and the Yorkshire Post newspaper, both contributing significantly.

The locomotive was on display for Railfest 2004, which was held at the museum, and then was put into excursion services. This proved troublesome however, as the locomotive experienced numerous reliability issues that were constantly being repaired by the museum crew. An intermediate overhaul was planned to increase the reliability and decrease the maintenance costs of the locomotive. However, these efforts proved long winded, and a full restoration began, and was slated to be complete within a year’s time.

However, the museum underestimated the amount of work that needed to be completed, and under closer inspection discovered several cracks in the frame and horn blocks, which all needed to be replaced. To further recondition their restoration plan, the museum put forth a report with realistic figures on the extent of the work needed to be completed. The report discovered that the amount of work needing to be done on the locomotive was far beyond what the museum was capable. The museum began bidding contracts to third party companies, with the winning bid going to Riley & Son, which is one of the few companies that work on steam traction in Britain.

Andrew Photo
Flickr

While at Riley & Son, the locomotive underwent a frame off overhaul, and was completely rebuilt,however, using many of the original parts. The experienced engineers at Riley’s welded new frame pieces, installed a new boiler, refinished the many moving parts, and thoroughly refurbished the original parts, such as the massive driving wheels. The National Railway Museum requested that their flagship locomotive be complete within a year.

Upon completion, the locomotive was tested thoroughly at the East Lancashire Railway before being put onto the main line. After many successful tests the locomotive was readied for its reveal at the East Lancashire Railway, being repainted into British Rail green, as it had looked in its last day of service.

The locomotive’s inaugural run started at London King’s Cross and ended in York, where the locomotive was built. After the inaugural run, it went home to the museum and continues to haul excursions throughout the country.

Lasting Legacy

The Flying Scotsman captured the hearts of millions of people worldwide, and is considered to be the world’s most famous steam locomotive. The legacy of the Flying Scotsman has encouraged steam preservation throughout Britain, as today, there are various steam locomotives on the UK rails, including many of Gresley’s Class A4 Pacifics, which were considered to be one of Gresley’s most ingenious designs.

Additionally, the locomotive starred in many films and adverts throughout the years, including one named after the locomotive that was developed in 1929, in which part of the film was filmed inside the locomotive. The locomotive was even included as one of the characters in Thomas the Tank Engine’s “The Great Race”.

Thankfully, due to the dedicated individuals that owned and operated the locomotive throughout the years, and funding its rebuild numerous times throughout its life, the locomotive survives today owned by the National Railway Museum, and with the help of their dedicated team, will continue to inspire for generations.

 

 

 

 

Josef

Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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