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Published 30th April 2013
On July 3, 1938, the LNER streamlined ‘A4’ No. 4468 Mallard recorded a speed of 126mph and took the world steam speed record while descending Stoke bank between Grantham and Peterborough. The 75th anniversary of this event is to be marked with three special trains using Mallard’s classmate, No. 4492 Dominion of New Zealand, (really No. 60019 Bittern in disguise!) on these trains.
The world steam record train was initially disguised by the authorities as a test train to see how a train’s brakes would work at high speed. The reality is that they were out to beat the 125mph achieved in Germany by a ‘Borsig’ streamlined engine. The 1930s ‘A4’ and ‘Duchess’ engines had a design speed of 90mph but in reality only the ‘A4s’ often ran at 100mph into the md 1960’s.
Network Rail and the various safety certification authorities have combined to grant dispensation to run Bittern at 90mph, 15mph over UK steam’s normal upper limit on three charter trains. The engine went out on a 90mph test run between Southall (where it is based) and Didcot on the night of April 16th. This was to look at the effects on the track using a wheel impact detector as well as the locomotive’s performance. It is understood to have run at 90mph few years ago on the same line while on acceptance testing after a £3m rebuild at the Mid Hants Railway’s workshops at Ropley.
Before the electronic monitoring was introduced a decade ago, it was reputed that on February 1995 that Bittern’s classmate, ‘A4’ No. 60009 Union of South Africa, descended Wellington Bank near Taunton at 101mph. LMS ‘Duchess’ No. 46229 Duchess of Hamilton also reached this speed in November 1996 descending Shap towards Penrith. It was not uncommon for steam charter trains to run at 90mph before the electronic monitoring devices were fitted.
The first of the three trains, all sponsored by Locomotive Services, owners of Bittern, runs on June 29 and is and the others run on July 19 and 27. Tickets are available via Pathfinder Tours for these services.
The June 29 train runs steam hauled from Kings Cross to York and returns behind an electric class 90 locomotive. Speeds over 75mph have been sanctioned for 66 miles on the northbound run if conditions allow on the day. Tickets are not cheap and expect to pay at least £199 a seat on each train!
‘The Tyne-Tees Streak’ runs on July 19 and this train runs diesel hauled from Bristol and stations to Derby and York in each direction. The steam section is the 80 mile route between York and Newcastle via Darlington in each direction, which was always known as the ‘racing section’. The ten coach train will be allowed to operate at 90mph for some sections where a risk assessment has been carried out and the ruling linespeed permits.
The July 27 train, ‘The Capital Streak’, may run if conditions allow, at over 75mph for over 80 miles including where the 126mph was achieved down Stoke Bank near Grantham. This train runs from Kings Cross behind an electric locomotive to York, but the return leg will be hauled by Bittern all the way. Again, tickets are available through Pathfinders. This train is a little confusing as it is also being promoted on the Steam Dreams website.