Published 13th July 2012
YORK - The UK wide tour of the Olympic Torch involved a high speed dash on a steam train from York to Thirsk on June 20 – day 33 of the tour. It was a natural thing to do, given the torch was at York, said Steve Davies, National Railway Museum (NRM) Director.
The torch was in York on June 19 attracting crowds estimated at 80,000 and had to get to Thirsk the following day so the Olympic Team asked the NRM if LNER Pacific Flying Scotsman would be available for the train. In the end it wasn’t (and won’t be ready until Autumn), but another very famous steam locomotive, LMS ‘Scot’ No. 46115 Scots Guardsman proved to be an admirable substitute.
This 120 ton steam engine starred in the iconic 1930s film ‘Night Mail’ and has been put back to working order by West Coast Railways at Carnforth. Steve Davies used his Army connections and called the nearby Catterick Barracks resulting in some Scots Guards piping the train away at 0815hrs from the NRM’s short platform.
An estimated crowd of 1500 cheered as the train departed, with many flags and replica torches being waved. The train comprised of two first class carriages for guests, another one for security staff and one to carry the torch and support crew plus a kitchen car and a spare first class coach.
The torch was extinguished at York next to the train and the flame transferred to a special miner’s lamp and carried onto the train. An unlit torch was paraded through the train where thousands of photographs were taken.
More were taken in the Guards carriage and by the engine at Thirsk where crowds of local schoolchildren greeted the train and were invited onto the steam engine.
The train carried around 75 guests including the Sheriff of York, and The Mayor of York and Deputy Mayor of Shildon, the Chairperson of Durham County Council amongst the civil dignitaries.
There was heavy security surrounding the torch with 40 staff on board the train with names checked against the approved list and ID’s checked on the day, even for the traincrew!
The lineside to Thirsk was crowded the whole way and regrettably, several instances of lineside trespass were seen with at one stage, a couple running across the four tracks of the East Coast Main Line, where other trains run at up to 125mph. The most enterprising family used a raised tractor bucket for their family to use as a viewing platform!
The train was tracked by a helicopter and progress was so fast that the train arrived 15 minutes early at Thirsk. It was held just outside the station to allow guests at Thirsk station to prepare for the torch to arrive from the Guard’s carriage behind the engine.
The steam locomotive had been specially prepared at Carnforth and 12 man days had been spent cleaning it to make it look ex-works. The train’s carriages had been repainted and deep cleaned and all staff suited and booted for the event in front of the World’s media.
On the train, guests were treated to Coffee and cakes provided by Gravy Train Catering company, who provide catering services to West Coast Railways, the train’s owner and operator.
The train travelled from Carnforth the previous day under conditions of strict secrecy via Hellifield and Leeds, where passengers were stunned by the mid morning sudden appearance of a gleaming steam train travelling slowly, but non-stop through the station! Only one person was seen taking a photograph of it as it passed through Skipton when normally this train would attract hundreds of linesiders.
On arrival at York, the support crew cleaned the engine again assisted by a team of more volunteers from the Railway Museum.
After the torch was safely on its way from Thirsk the train carried on to Darlington and Shildon to the NRM’s other museum base. A reception was held for guests and staff before the train returned to York via Eaglescliffe. It arrived over an hour early thanks to co-operation between the operating authorities.
Steve Davies made the excellent point that had the train not carried the torch, it would not have attracted half the watchers along the route but even though the torch could not be seen from the lineside, they still came in droves to see it pass. He hoped that the experience would attract more people to the railways and his museum.
The various civil dignitaries all sent in messages of thanks for a wonderful, trouble free and probably never to be repeated day and one they would not forget.
Even the operating crew agreed that despite having been involved in some amazing train trips and events, this was one that would remain in their collective memories forever.