Trackside Outtake: The 0825 Appleby – Skipton Makes History

CC has already met the replica Peppercorn A1 Pacific no 60163 ‘Tornado’. But on 14 February she did something special, which I think merits an encore – she became the first steam locomotive to haul a scheduled mainline train on Britain’s railways since 1968. And she did it in a special place – the Settle and Carlisle (S&C) line.

To understand how this happened, we have to understand the S&C. It originated as the final link in the Midland Railway’s route from London St Pancras to Glasgow, opening in 1876 – thirty years after its East Coast and West Coast competitors. It was always the poor relation, and came close to closure in the 1980s, until a vocal local campaign of Councils, businesses and enthusiasts persuaded the Tory government to reprieve it. Today, the beautiful Ribblehead Viaduct, surrounded by the highest mountains in Yorkshire, is perhaps second only to the Forth Bridge as a railway landmark.

The saving of the S&C was the landscape it ran through – first the stunning Yorkshire Dales (Bill Bryson called it his favourite landscape) and then the high Pennines into Cumbria. This comes at a price – northbound trains face 25 miles of 1% grade to the summit at Ais Gill; at 1,169ft, this is the second highest main line in Britain and the highest railway in England.

It is now a key freight route for imported coal from the Clyde to Yorkshire power stations, a diversion for the West Coast Main Line and lifeblood of the area’s important tourist industry; not only are the Pennines and Dales spectacular, they are also some of England’s best walking country, and on summer weekends trains are packed with walkers escaping the metropolises of the north west and Yorkshire

So a landslip 30 miles from Carlisle last April, which severed the line as 500,000 tonnes of hillside slid down to the River Eden, was a big blow. As repairs near completion, train operator Northern Rail wanted to announce  the return of through trains with something special. What they came up with was a steam locomotive hauling a regular scheduled passenger train, on the regular timetable and at the regular fares, for the first time since the end of mainline steam in 1968. Yes, for three days, Tornado and seven coaches are replacing two car diesels on two return Appleby – Skipton workings.

Tuesday’s morning’s 0825 Appleby- Skipton was the first service, and it was probably the first time a commuter train has merited being live on BBC News. This was the sight at Appleby, as Tornado headed south tender first.

And here, she heads north over Ribblehead later in the day.

So good work, Northern, Network Rail, A1 Steam Locomotive Trust and many others – a nice way to brighten a winter morning