Scotsman returns to the tracks

Words by:
Lydia Onyett
Featured in:
February 2016

Since 1862, the Flying Scotsman train service has been synonymous with elegance, speed and luxury, speeding along the East Coast Main Line through Lincolnshire to transport passengers between London and Edinburgh in true style. 2016 marks the year that the iconic Flying Scotsman locomotive, which hauled the famous passenger train, will return to the tracks following a complex £4.2m restoration.
In celebration, the National Railway Museum, the steam star’s owner, is preparing a season of ambitious events and exhibitions at its York and Shildon sites running from February to July 2016. The season will tell the story of the internationally famous locomotive and the world’s longest-running express train through the decades.

The Flying Scotsman story originates in the 1860s, when the Great Northern Railway, which ran trains from London King’s Cross to York via Peterborough and Grantham, pooled its vehicles with the North British Railway and the North-Eastern Railway to operate services along the length of the East Coast Main Line. In 1862, the companies ran the first ‘Special Scotch Express’ service between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh Waverley.

The much-needed direct link between the English and Scottish capitals was an instant success, and an unofficial name for the service came to the fore: in 1875, the first use of the epithet ‘The Flying Scotchman’ was first recorded in The Times. The service proved more than equal to this popular nickname, and by 1888, the journey time had been reduced from over ten hours to eight and a half.

By 1923, the three railway companies became part of the newly-formed London and North Eastern Railway (LNER). The PR-savvy company capitalised on the increasingly popular name for its renowned express train service by naming its flagship locomotive the Flying Scotsman in 1924, and debuting it at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley in the same year.

Right from its entrance into the spotlight, the iconic loco’s career has been anything but a smooth ride, as Jamie Taylor, interpretation developer at the National Railway Museum, explains: “Flying Scotsman’s life so far has been an incredible rollercoaster ride. We’ve had so much fun exploring its ups and downs to prepare our ‘Starring Scotsman’ Gallery exhibition, which opens in February. I’m sure the public will be fascinated by the wonderful stories we’ve uncovered and the exhibition’s playful approach to the amazing story of the original steam star.”

The Flying Scotsman brand was carefully managed by the LNER Advertising Department through a series of promotional stunts and public appearances that transformed the locomotive into a media darling and the train service into the epitome of luxury and glamour. The steam icon racked up a string of record-breaking feats, including hauling the first non-stop Flying Scotsman train service between London and Edinburgh in 1928, a starring role in the first British talkie movie in 1929, and becoming the first locomotive to achieve an authenticated 100mph run in 1934.

Kate Hunter, the Museum’s public events manager, said: “Our free ‘Stunts, Speed and Style’ display gives visitors the chance to step on board a line-up of four historic locomotives that hauled the famous Flying Scotsman passenger service from its nineteenth century origins through to the post-steam era. The star of the show is undoubtedly the world’s most famous locomotive, Flying Scotsman, which will be paired with the LNER dynamometer car that captured its record-breaking 100mph run during a London to Leeds journey on 30 November 1934. For those who want to photograph our star attraction without the crowds, there are a range of photography events.”

Throughout the interwar years the LNER promoted the Flying Scotsman passenger train service as “a hotel on wheels”. Onboard luxuries included a ladies’ retiring room, a hairdressing saloon, and a ‘travelling newsman’ from WH Smith’s who supplied the latest papers. Passengers could also enjoy fine dining in an opulent Louis XVI-style restaurant, sip a special Flying Scotsman cocktail in a sophisticated bar, or, for a brief period, take in a film in the train’s cinema car.

Kate Hunter continued: “Our ground-breaking ticketed exhibition ‘Service with Style’ offers visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the vintage glamour of the Flying Scotsman passenger service. Three carriages of the kind that would have accompanied the London–Edinburgh service will recreate the atmosphere of the world’s longest-established express train. This unique experiential exhibition is a chance to trace the development of the iconic service through the decades from the Victorian era, through the Roaring Twenties and Swinging Sixties, and up to the present day.”

With the advent of the Second World War, the steam star was transformed into a wartime workhorse, and post-war its status declined. In 1962 the LNER celebrated the centenary of the historic Flying Scotsman train service by displaying a new Deltic diesel locomotive at King’s Cross station, and sent its former pride and joy away from the celebrations to avoid sending an old-fashioned message to the public. With Flying Scotsman no longer needed to promote its namesake service, it faced the scrapyard.

Alan Pegler, a British businessman, entrepreneur and railway preservationist, felt such sympathy for the beleaguered loco that he bought Flying Scotsman outright in 1963, and had it restored to its former apple green glory at Doncaster Works. Huge public interest and publicity surrounded the restoration process, and Flying Scotsman became a symbol of the 1960s railway preservation movement inspired by nostalgia for Britain’s railway past.

The locomotive legend exited the Sixties in style, setting off on a tumultuous three-year tour of the United States. In the 1980s, the globe-trotting icon added yet another stamp to its passport with a tour of Australia under owner Sir William McAlpine, where it smashed the world’s non-stop steam record, travelling a remarkable 442 miles in 1988. It then became the first locomotive to circumnavigate the globe when it returned from Australia to the UK via Cape Horn.

In 2004, Flying Scotsman hit the headlines again with yet another crisis over its ownership. A campaign spearheaded by the National Railway Museum to save the locomotive for the nation amassed the support of thousands, confirming its status as a national treasure. Since 2006, Flying Scotsman has been undergoing an extensive restoration in the workshop of Riley & Son (E) Ltd. It is now in the very last phases of the painstaking £4.2m project to bring the legend back to life, resplendent in its BR green livery in its guise as 60103.

The next chapter in the Flying Scotsman story will be its triumphant return as a working museum exhibit, conquering yet another record as the oldest mainline working locomotive on Britain’s tracks. Paul Kirkman, director of the National Railway Museum, commented: “As a national museum, we are committed to ensuring that as many people as possible can enjoy our remarkable collections, including icons like Flying Scotsman, and when it is not on Britain’s tracks it will return home to the museum so people can get up close.”

Undoubtedly one of the jewels in the crown of the museum’s world-class collection, Flying Scotsman will now be presented to a new generation of fans, captivating the public for generations to come. Lincolnshire residents will be able to see Scotsman pass by during its Inaugural Run from King’s Cross to York along the East Coast Main Line in late February, as well as see it depart from Cleethorpes on its way to Tyneside on 11th June 2016, operated by The Railway Touring Company. For more information about the National Railway Museum’s Scotsman Season, visit

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