February 26, 2016

"Flying Scotsman"

I write this a few hours into the day after the most publicised railway event of all time, to give a hearty congratulations to everyone involved in Flying Scotsman's inaugural run. I was on the train, and despite the incident at St Neots, it was a truly brilliant trip. For me, none of the magic was taken away from the day by anything which was perceived to have gone wrong.

I met Michael Portillo, a true gentleman in every sense of the word, at King's Cross early doors, who is filming for his next in the series on Bradshaw's guide, and he of course had his copy with him. 

Shortly afterwards on the same platform I met Sir William McAlpine, who shared a heart rending moment with me when he said "I only wish Alan was here to enjoy the day with us". Alan being Alan Pegler of course. I was very choked up by that, and whilst it is true that preservation is the poorer for Alan Pegler's passing, we owe him such a large debt of gratitude for the locomotive still being with us. 

There was a great tribute to him, in that the locomotive did of course pass the large brick chimney with "Peglers" still written on it on its journey north to York. For me, that was a significant moment passed by us in the carriage with a moment of quiet reflection. We do also of course owe Sir William the same, as a former owner and supporter of the people's engine.

I was in coach G and shared my compartment with a delightful group of fellow enthusiasts. The trip was fascinating, as the life experiences of my fellow passengers was something to behold. An ex-King's Cross driver, no less, a gentlemen doing timekeeping of the run (and seeing the speeds come up on the iPad as we travelled northwards was great fun!) and a car designer who had worked on the McClaren P1 too, together with a very knowledgeable Electrician and another fellow Scotsman enthusiast. 

There is nothing quite like the ambience of a steam train at speed on the east coast main line, in great company with food and drink plentiful. The catering staff were fantastic as you'd expect - champagne drunk at half eight in the morning! Such a pleasure cannot be understated!

The weather was perfect throughout (perhaps a little overcast on arrival at York) and the locomotive performed beautifully. Speeds in the high 70s were definitely recorded throughout the trip, and she just went on and on, sounding like a sewing machine at times. It was a memorable, wonderful sound.

On arrival at York, there was time for a buffet lunch, courtesy of the wonderful people of the National Railway Museum, and time to spend around the museum, taking in the sights and sounds of the exhibits before retiring to the North Yard to see her arrive. 

The speeches by Mr Kirkman and the head of the heritage lottery fund were thought provoking and enjoyable, and being able to get up close to the people's engine and take photographs and converse with other members of the general public was wonderful. A very human and very memorable experience. 

I was later on in the day interviewed by Dominic King for BBC Radio Kent, and you can listen to it here from 1:35 hours in: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03j0jcz
Former Medway MP & now novelist Bob Marshall-Andrews QC chats to Dom about his new book

In my interview with Dominic King, I said that the story behind Flying Scotsman was people. It was the story of people who built her, ran her, watered her, fed her, bought her, took her to America and Australia, sold her, fixed her, painted her and loved her. That this still remains true nearly a hundred years after her building cannot be understated. She remains Britain's most treasured locomotive, the engine which shines a light on the pleasures of railway travel and brings people from all walks of life together.

Overall, it was just one of the best experiences of my life. Thanks - big thanks - to everyone involved in bringing the legend back to steam. Thanks to the National Railway Museum for buying her, and persevering with the overhaul through everything. Special thanks to Helen May and Catherine Farrell for their part in making the day particularly memorable for me. The buffet lunch and chance to rub shoulders with some icons of the railway preservation industry was terrific. 

Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the donations to help the project along. Thanks to everyone, who like myself, have over the years donated sums of money to the locomotive for her purchase and later restoration.

Thanks to the A1 Trust for the loan of Tornado's support coach at the last minute, a great gesture and I said as much to their chairman Mark Allatt on the day. Thanks to Heritage Painting for the superb finish which looked the business. 

And of course - the man of the decade - we must give thanks and props to Ian Riley and his team for bringing her back to life. I am sure there are others we haven't mentioned and they too deserve praise for their part in the wonderful day that was. 

You have all made this young man very happy, remembering times spent with his late grandfather and his father watching this locomotive go by in days past, remembering that very first childhood memory of steam: a dark green steam engine, with 60103 in cream on the cab sides, pulling a train of maroon coaches through the green valleys of Wales.

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