It was quite a moment.
Crowds thronged the platforms of York station, waiting in their designated space (to keep the platforms clear). Anticipating. A dog looked on intently. Perhaps it was the enthusiast, its owner merely company.
Finally, the announcement came over the tannoy after an hour filled with delays caused by trespassers.
‘Flying Scotsman’ was on her way.
And indeed, in the distance, the black frontage of the famous locomotive could be seen rounding the bend and passing beneath Holgate Road, framing her return home. A cheer leapt up from the crowd and an applause rang out from below the canopies as the engine, seeming to breathe proudly, almost alive, brought its limbs to a stand in Platform 9.
No sooner had she come to a halt than the crowd, kept mainly to the foot of the station, made their way straight for the locomotive. Not even in rush hour is a station so packed, and 60103 (née 4472/502/103), standing tall above us all, seemed to know how loved she was by rail enthusiasts and ordinary folk alike.
But this is not the Scotsman’s first run through York station since her restoration and newly applied British Railways green livery (complete with post-1957 crest on her tender) – just a few days prior to this ‘inaugural run’, she made a couple of test runs to Scarborough and back, perhaps in anticipation of maybe being utilised once more on the Scarborough Spa Express later this year. The reaction and sheer volume of people who turned out to see her ‘return’ reveals just how important this trip really was: after over ten years out of action, and under restoration by the National Railway Museum, and later Riley and Son Ltd., Bury, Greater Manchester, the Scotsman had made her first successful run on home turf.
London King’s Cross was the starting point for the famous service called The Flying Scotsman (for which the locomotive was named), the non-stop run from there to Edinburgh Waverley which still runs today under the auspices of Virgin Trains East Coast, albeit severely reduced. The service in its heyday was run by the London and North Eastern Railway and was their premier train.
While 60103 wasn’t making the complete trip, its run up the East Coast Main Line is an important one for the history books. After so long out of action, to make a successful trip up its home line really does demarcate the start of a new era in the locomotive’s life.
Now nearly ninety-three years old, the A3 class was moved to the National Railway Museum’s North Yard for a period of respite.
From 4pm onwards, the yard was opened up for free access by the general public, and the Scotsman’s adoring fans kept her company until 10pm, taking beauty shots, talking with the locomotive crew, getting pieces of coal as a souvenir, or just standing, observing, taking the scene in: the world’s most famous steam locomotive, the first to officially reach 100mph, the first (and only) to circumnavigate the globe, symbol of so many childhoods, of so much history, of the romance of an idealised bygone era full of pastoral acrylics and dark, satanic mills, is back.
And she’s here to stay.
Author details: Mike Atkinson; Mike Atkinson is a student, writer, prospective researcher, and evident train buff currently based in Sheffield.