Published:18 September 2013
The crowd gathering at Crewe to board a morning train north would never have believed it if they had been told what would happen almost half a century later.
They were about to join a train that held special significance, because it was intended to be the last time anyone would be hauled along the main line by one of the Coronation class built from 1937. Some of these were streamlined and decorated in a way to rival the LNER A4 Class which included Mallard and Sir Nigel Gresley. They were also used to pull a Wolverton built special train called ‘’The Coronation Scot’.
And yet 49 years later there was to be a remarkably similar scene as a member of that very class prepared to steam out of Crewe in the same direction. This time the occasion was a happy one. For here was a locomotive that had come back from the dead, not one that was about to be ignominiously scrapped.
The first occasion was ‘The Scottish Lowlander’ special that ran on 26 September 1964 from Crewe behind number 46256 Sir William A. Stanier FRS.
At Carlisle that locomotive handed the train over to ex LNER streamlined rival, A4 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley, which stormed off on a spectacular run along the Waverley Route through Border country. 46256 brought the train back from Carlisle to Crewe later that day, dropping the fire for the last time after its round trip of 282 miles.
Memories of that earlier occasion were very much alive as number 46233 Duchess of Sutherland backed down onto her train in similar circumstances on 6 September 2013. I travelled on both trains and it was certainly time for reflection as that magnificent Duchess coupled onto her 75th anniversary special. Back in 1964 I never dreamt that in 2013 I would be standing in the same place watching one of these beautiful locomotives prepare for a new run.
This year’s trip was to see her perform in fine fettle. She headed 12 carriages over the stiff grades of her once familiar stamping ground along the 292 miles to Perth from her birthplace at Crewe, from where Duchess of Sutherland had gone into traffic in 1938.
And the Duchess retraced her steps next day on 7 September to make it a return journey of no less than 584 miles. Unlike 46256 that never turned a wheel in revenue earning traffic again, 46233 was merely taking an exhilarating break from her regular appearances on the Scarborough Spa Express and other special trains to celebrate her continuing operation 75 years after construction. 46256 were barely 27 years old when sent for scrap.
In spite of some minor delays that had nothing to do with the locomotive, her triumphant arrival in Carlisle was 23 minutes early. She glided through Tebay with speed effortlessly up in the 70s mph before storming Shap until speed finally dropped to 35 mph just before the top. Later, a climb of Beattock in similar style heralded some grand running down the Clyde Valley to Carstairs where there was another water stop.
Signalling delays meant a few minutes’ late arrival at Perth, but she had made a grand run. Next day she had no trouble getting back to her birthplace at Crewe a few minutes early.
All in all it was a fantastic excursion, superbly well organised by the Trust. Such a pity, then, that they were let down by the hotel at Perth where arrangements were not as smart as would have been expected.
Nevertheless, the occasion was marked in tributes to these locomotives at a gala dinner in Perth in speeches by Andrew Scott, the former boss of the NRM, Dugald Cameron, a past principal of Glasgow School of Art, and old drivers Bill Andrew and Frank Santrian.
During the return trip it again became obvious that the West Coast Main Line is very much busier than it was half a century ago. Within moments of Duchess of Sutherland pulling into loop lines at intervals for routine attention, a succession of modern trains – freight as well as passenger – flashed past. This was a notable demonstration of how the busy Network Rail signallers juggle trains of different lengths and speeds to keep them all moving, day in, day out.
Looking for old notes to refresh my memory of what it was like back in 1964, I came upon confirmation that as a 17-year-old I had been out and about on the route to Perth and along the West Coast Main Line in an increasingly desperate search for the last of the Stanier Pacifics in traffic.
I spotted 46250 City of Lichfield at Carlisle on one occasion but otherwise I was frustrated by an almost constant succession of diesels interspersed by the occasional Britannia. Then I turned up details of a forgotten journey behind 46256 from Carstairs to Carlisle, when that last of the class in traffic hauled a train grossing 460 tons over the 73.5 miles in 71 minutes, achieving 77 mph more than once along the way. What a pleasure it was to recall such fun 49 years on.