Tornado Plandampf by Robert Mason
A winter’s daybreak on a cold northern railway platform is not where you would expect to find a crowd of people on Valentine’s Day. But that was where you could find me and a few hundred others – on Appleby station waiting for the first scheduled mainline passenger train to be hauled by a steam locomotive for nearly 50 years.
Unlike the numerous steam excursions that take place throughout the year, this was actually a regular service train. The only difference – the three-coach diesel multiple unit was replaced by a steam locomotive hauling nine carriages. And with Britain’s newest mainline steam locomotive 60153 Tornado in the starring role, TV crews and reporters were out in force.
I was standing on top of the station’s very windy footbridge trying to get a glimpse of Tornado waiting in a distant siding when a photographer from the Press Association asked whether he could take a picture of me holding my ticket. I obliged despite reservations that my valuable pass for the 8.25am train would be blown away. And before my journey was over this picture was already appearing on the websites of the BBC, ITV, Daily Mail and The Guardian!
There was one particular reason I was especially keen to be on this train. I was christened on 11 August 1968, the day of the last British Railways mainline passenger train to be hauled by steam locomotive. Known as the ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’ the service ran from Liverpool Lime Street to Carlisle and back via Manchester Victoria and the Settle-Carlisle line.
I was constantly reminded of this fact by my late father as he claimed he would rather have skipped church to say goodbye to steam. A drive up Wensleydale could have seen him at Garsdale station, but duty prevailed.
My father grew up after the Second World War when a large proportion of schoolboys were loco spotters. In 1961 he left the UK to work in East Africa, spending his last afternoon in London photographing locomotive movements at Paddington Station before heading to Heathrow. By the time he next visited these shores in 1965, steam was in its death throes, and then when he returned with me in 1968 the last remaining steam locomotives were confined to a few sheds in the north. Fortunately, there was still steam in East Africa as I grew up, so I naturally became an enthusiast too.
The 8.25am from Appleby to Skipton on 14 February was the first of three days of a ‘Plandampf’ operation, the German word meaning ‘scheduled steam’ given to running steam-hauled timetabled trains on the main line.
Tornado, which was completed in 2008 48 years after British Railways’ last locomotive Evening Star emerged from Swindon works, was a fitting engine for the trip, although a class 67 diesel was also required to provide power for the modern Mark 2 carriages.
The mood on board was buoyant, with seats filled not just by ordinary passengers but also film crews, British Transport Police, and representatives of organisations like the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line who campaigned to save the line back in the 1980s and now act as a user group to improve facilities and services for passengers along the 72-mile line.
Travelling tender-first on its southbound trip Tornado coped smoothly with the ascent up to Ais Gill Summit, which at 1,169 feet above sea level is the highest point on a main line in England. With clear visibility, the ‘roof of England’ provided a spectacular backdrop with snow-covered peaks occasionally obscured by long drifts of white smoke as the engine worked hard.
By the time we reached the iconic Ribblehead viaduct legions of photographers were lining the trackside while above the modern phenomenon of drones were tracking our progress. Our train then eased down through Settle and arrived right on time at 10.08am in Skipton where large crowds were out in force to greet us.
So now the ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’ can no longer claim to be British Railways’ last steam train. And the price of my ticket? A bargain at just £15.00!
Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line
A1 Steam Locomotive Trust (owner of Tornado)
Robert Mason and Tornado © Sian Lewis
Robert Mason and ticket © Danny Lawson/PA
10.30am, 11 February 1961, Paddington station. 6010 King Charles I. © E. Ian Mason
Robert Mason christening day 11 August 1968 (father holding cine camera)