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Old Timers and Youngsters Nearing the End

Keeping steam going throughout over half of the 20th century. . . . . . .

1913 vintage GWR 2-8-0 freight locomotive number 2853 working in its 50th and last year, seen with a freight train for Acton Yard at Ealing Broadway station in 1962. Photo: Mike Peart.

There was a mix of longevity and novelty towards the end of steam traction. At the end of 1946, the Great Western Railway (GWR) recorded that the company had 546 locomotives in daily service that were over 40 years old. This was an increase of over 20% on the pre-war total and was made necessary by the poor state of the railways and its locomotive stock following the Second World War. In 1938, GWR passenger trains suffered a locomotive failure every 126,000 miles: in 1946 the failure rate was more than three times higher at 40,000 miles. This is a real demonstration of the consequences of heavy usage and backlog of maintenance due to war.

Nonetheless, steam locomotives carried on being built until 1960. British Railways Standard 9F number 92220, the last and 999th Standard steam locomotive to be built for British Railways, was named “Evening Star” by Mr K W C Grand at Swindon Works where it was built on 18th March 1960. A special train from Paddington to Swindon hauled by “Castle” class 7007 “Great Western” in immaculate condition brought the British Railways officers and their guests to the event. The naming ceremony was presided over by Mr R F Hanks, Chairman of the Western Area Board of the British Transport Commission. Calling the locomotive the “hero of the day”, Mr Hanks admitted that she wasn’t of the Great Western breed, but he said that Swindon Works had done their best by “dollying her up in good old Western colours and by conferring upon her the finest honour we can - the halo or crown of Swindon - the copper cap on her chimney”. After a short working life for British Railways of five years, 92220 became part of the National Collection and had a new life working on heritage railways and special trains until the flangeless middle driving wheel became a problem with some types of points on the national network.

Showing the flangeless middle driving wheel in the middle of this picture on a British Railways Standard 9F 2-10-0 at Didcot shed in 1962. Photo: Mike Peart

“Castle” class number 7007 “Great Western” in less than immaculate condition one early morning at Plymouth (Laira) depot in 1961. The GWR coat of arms was shown on the middle splasher under the nameplate. This locomotive had a working life of 16 years covering 851,649 miles before being scrapped. Photo: Mike Peart.

At the 1948 nationalisation, the new British Railways had inherited 20,023 steam locomotives. Sixty years ago, at the end of December 1962, the number of steam locomotives on British Railways had fallen to 8,767 and the number of diesel locomotives had risen to 3,683. By 1965 the total of diesel locomotives (4,811) outnumbered the numbers of steam locomotives (2,989).

One of the numerous “Black Five” locomotives pictured at Carlisle (Upperby) in August 1961. 842 of these locomotives were built to William Stanier’s design. Photo: Mike Peart.

To mark the last day of steam power on British Rail, the “15 Guinea Special” ran on the 11th August 1968 – with a few empty seats on account of the price! £15.15s.0d was around £220 at current prices. The special excursion took in Liverpool, Manchester, the Settle & Carlisle route to Carlisle and return to Liverpool. Motive power was provided by “Britannia” class Pacific number 70013 “Oliver Cromwell” and three “Black Five” locomotives, numbers 44781, 44871 and 45110. Three of these four have survived into preservation and only 44781 didn’t survive and was cut up. 44871 is at the East Lancashire Railway, 45110 is at the Severn Valley Railway and 70013 is part of the National Collection.

Mike Peart

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