When people talk of the ‘greats’ of the East Coast main line, one name tends to be mentioned above all: Sir Nigel Gresley, designer of Mallard and Flying Scotsman. But impressive as Gresley’s achievements were, if we talk of just him then we miss the last 50 years of development and record-breaking on Britain’s premier London to Edinburgh line.
One thread that is emerging with Railfest 2012 is that you’ll get the chance to get ‘up close and personal’ (as the Americans put it) with the locomotives that have kept the East Coast main line at the cutting edge of passenger travel in Britain – and that includes some significant record breakers.
On the steam side, Flying Scotsman (first official 100 mph on rails in the UK) and Mallard (fastest ever steam locomotive) will be there, as well as Sir Nigel Gresley, the post-war steam record holder.
Moving beyond the steam age, we will have an example of Lord Nelson’s great gamble (that’s Lord Nelson of Stafford, not the bloke with one eye) in the form of Deltic 55002 Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. At 3300 horsepower, the Deltics were the most powerful locomotives in the world when new, and 55002 is a recent award winner for the volunteer team that restored it to working order.
The Deltics gave electric train timings to the the East Coast main line, without the need for expensive infrastructure – enabling the route to compete with other modes of transport in times of financial stringency. (The gamble? Well, £250,000 was spent on the prototype Deltic and yet it took two years of testing before British Railways placed an order with English Electric.)
The Deltics sit on bogies designed by another name that’s all but unknown in the UK yet hugely influential: John Dowling. Dowling was Chief Mechanical Engineer for English Electric and later GEC.
By a lot of negotiation, Dowling’s British masterpiece, the Class 91 electric locomotive is going to be represented at Railfest.
In September 1989, 91110 achieved 162.8 mph on an ‘overspeed’ test, the fastest speed ever recorded by a UK locomotive. (The locomotives were originally planned to run at 140 mph, hence the test). Railfest 2012 is fortunate indeed to feature 91110, and we’d be interested to hear from people involved in the 1989 test run.
91110 will feature in a special naming ceremony on the first Saturday of the event, which also features a vintage flypast by the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. It’s involvement after the first Sunday cannot be guaranteed given the need to keep the East Coast main line moving during the holiday season – but if it does have to go back to work, at least it will have achieved a long overdue recognition of its place in the UK’s railway history.
Were you involved in the 1989 test run of 91110? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.