The Flying Scotsman Great British Railway Journeys


The Flying Scotsman

Michael Portillo embarks on a journey from London to Edinburgh aboard the most famous train in history, the Flying Scotsman. But all does not go to plan.


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For Victorian Britons, George Bradshaw was a household name.

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At a time when railways were new,

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Bradshaw's guidebook inspired them to take to the tracks.

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I'm using a Bradshaw's guide

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to understand how trains transformed Britain,

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its landscape, its industry, society and leisure time.

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As I crisscross the country, 150 years later,

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it helps me to discover the Britain of today.

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London.

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Kings Cross Station.

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Predawn.

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I'm here for a great British railway journey like no other.

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Television cameras, paparazzi, flashbulbs -

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the world's media assembled, not for a rock idol,

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not for a film star,

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but for royalty.

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The royalty of railway engineering.

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I'm going to board a train

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whose name conjures the excitement and romance of steam travel.

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The Flying Scotsman.

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After a painstaking 10-year restoration

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overseen by the National Railway Museum in York,

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and paid for by public and private donations of more than £4 million,

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this world-famous locomotive is ready to roll again.

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Joining me for its inaugural journey is the museum's senior curator,

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Anthony Coulls.

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Anthony, when is there first

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a rail service from King's Cross to Scotland?

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It starts in 1862, London to Edinburgh is the great challenge,

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to get there as fast as possible.

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The London North Western Railway from Euston are running at 40mph

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up to Carlisle and Glasgow - must have been absolutely turgid.

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So the Great Northern Railway say,

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"Let's see what we can do, let's go faster.

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"We'll knock spots off their service."

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It wasn't known as The Flying Scotsman particularly at that time.

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It had all sorts of names, the Great Scotch Express, The Flying Scot,

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but the appellation Flying Scotsman came out of that around 1880s.

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So, when the service begins from King's Cross,

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that inaugurates a period of faster travel between London and Scotland.

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It does, yes. There was a 45 minute lunch stop at York

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from the ten o'clock Flying Scotsman service from King's Cross.

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As they try to make the service quicker,

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the lunch stop gets put down to 20 minutes,

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and you could imagine the absolute chaos that there was there.

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-No dining car?

-No, exactly.

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No toilets either. You had to have a comfort break at Newcastle.

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So, from some time in the 19th century,

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there's a service that people are calling The Flying Scotsman,

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but Flying Scotsman the locomotive, that comes about in the 1920s.

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It does, 1923,

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the London North Eastern Railway introduced this new locomotive,

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the A1 Pacific.

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It was only natural that the LNER

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would want to name their new locomotive

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after their most prestigious service so it bore the name Flying Scotsman.

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Designed by Sir Nigel Gresley,

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one of Britain's most famous railway engineers,

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the 96 tonne locomotive, built at the company's Doncaster works

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was a record breaker.

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In May 1928, it completed the first nonstop service

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from King's Cross to Edinburgh.

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And, in 1934,

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Flying Scotsman became the first steam engine to record 100mph.

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Like me, my fellow fans here on the concourse are eagerly awaiting

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the first glimpse of this superb piece of engineering.

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Are you passengers on The Flying Scotsman today?

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We are, yes.

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Ahhh, fare paying passengers?

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-Yes.

-Indeed.

-What have you paid?

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£450 each.

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That is a lot of money!

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It's the once-in-a-lifetime journey. We'll never see this again.

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You don't have any memory of steam engines on rail services, do you?

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-A little.

-A little?!

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And, I mean, is it the nostalgia?

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Is it because you want to relive what happened in your youth?

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It is, it is nostalgia.

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It's remembering going to see my grandma.

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And John's a bit of a steam nut.

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The Flying Scotsman, I used to see when I was a child.

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You used to go chasing the Flying Scotsman

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when you knew it was coming through, and it was an amazing thing to see.

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It's just one of those fantastic trains with all the history.

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What will you feel when the train comes in, do you think?

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I'm shaking already because I can just feel the family history.

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My grandfather was head chef to King George V on the Flying Scotsman.

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That is extraordinary.

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I remember my mother said that the Queen said,

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"Aren't the peas nice?"

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I hope you have a very stirring day.

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-Yes.

-I think we all will.

-I will, I will.

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As the anticipation builds, I'm in the spotlight, too.

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Today we can recall a bit of great British history.

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Have you been on the locomotive before?

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I have not. I'm a Flying Scotsman virgin.

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This is going to be the most exciting day.

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I mean, I just can't wait even for it to enter the station.

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-Thank you very much.

-Thank you.

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-Swap your Bradshaw's with my Bradshaw's.

-Thank you.

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-Are you going on the train?

-Yes.

-That's fantastic.

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Have a wonderful time. Thank you.

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The word has got out that the train is due,

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and the Flying Scotsman is going to reverse into the platform.

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That's been enough to send everyone scurrying to this end

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to capture the moment when the iconic locomotive arrives.

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What a beautiful sight.

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In its gorgeous dark green livery,

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the Flying Scotsman has arrived.

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I'm now going to touch engineering brilliance.

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Around 300 of us in 11 vintage carriages

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are going to be hauled from King's Cross to York by Flying Scotsman.

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I'm keen to meet the crew.

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-What are you doing today?

-I'm the traction inspector today.

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This is absolutely amazing.

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You're all mobbed here as though you were film stars and celebrities.

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-What does it feel like?

-It's an honour, really, and a privilege.

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It's been away for a long time, but it's not been forgotten.

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So it's great.

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-Oh, it's the old famous Bradshaw.

-This is my famous Bradshaw!

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This is your famous Flying Scotsman.

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-It certainly is, yeah.

-You must feel wonderful today.

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I've been very honoured, yeah.

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-Very lucky.

-How is the engine today?

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Yeah, fine. Everything is working well, yeah, great.

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-Think we'll make it?

-Of course we will. Yeah, yes, we'll make it.

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Done it many times before, hasn't she? So...

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Finally aboard.

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Coming into the carriage is like stepping into history.

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This lovely upholstery,

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the antimacassars,

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the napkins,

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the tablecloths,

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the crockery.

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The elegance of old travel.

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I must have left King's Cross station a thousand times,

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but never with these crowds,

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never with this style.

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Good morning, can I offer you today's menu, sir?

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Thank you. It's all been so beautifully done, hasn't it?

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Porridge, grapefruit, bread basket,

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smoked back bacon, free-range egg.

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-The whole thing is here, isn't it?

-Indeed it is, sir,

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and you have to leave room for lunch when you get to York!

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The glamour and sophistication of the nonstop service

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between London and Edinburgh, as well as its speed, made it famous.

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In its 1930s heyday,

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passengers could dine in a luxury Louis XVI style restaurant.

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Sip cocktails in the elegant bar.

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And have their hair coiffured in the train's salon.

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George Bradshaw would surely have been amazed

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by how luxurious steam travel would become after his death.

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To ride the flying Scotsman as it raced along the East Coast mainline

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must have been thrilling for both passengers and crew.

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I want to hear first-hand from some of the people who were lucky

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enough to experience it.

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Ron, how many years were you on the railway?

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-50 and a half.

-And what age are you today, may I ask?

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I'm 83.

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I started in 1947.

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I was an engine cleaner

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until I was 16, a year later, I went out as a fireman,

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and then in '58, I become a driver.

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-Was it very hard work?

-Oh, definitely hard work.

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On a run to Newcastle

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you would shovel between six to eight tonne of coal,

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and use 55,000 gallons of water.

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And when you was a driver, it was a hard work concentrating,

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watching the signals, knowing the road, inclines.

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If you had a good fireman you always had plenty of steam available

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for doing it.

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Lots of drivers used to see them sparking.

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That was seeing the ashes coming out the chimney top red-hot.

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If one of them landed on you, you used to yell.

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And, pleased to be on the train today?

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Oh, yes. Never thought it would happen.

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Some of my friends will be very jealous.

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This engine belongs to the public

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because they put their coppers in it to have it all rebuilt.

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It's a wonderful achievement and it got it going.

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And we should be very proud in this country

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because we was the birth nation of fast steam engines,

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and our workmanship is beyond belief.

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Hello. What's your connection with Flying Scotsman?

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Well, I was the shed master at King's Cross from 1956 to 1961,

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and the Flying Scotsman was one of my locomotives.

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It had just over 1,000 staff,

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and we turned round the engines that came in from the north

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and sent them back again.

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And we turned our own out every day.

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We had to clean them, service them, coal and water, and everything.

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Everything to do with steam locomotives.

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Flying Scotsman was very well-known.

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It was very well-known.

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It was the first specific build after the formation of the LNER.

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And it proved the reliability of these locomotives

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when it started running the nonstop in 1928.

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Previously, steam engines had had to stop to change crews.

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But, keen to create the fastest possible journey time,

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Sir Nigel Gresley built a corridor

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just five feet high and 18 inches wide through the tender,

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where coal and water were stored, to the locomotive.

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A relief crew could squeeze through on the move

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between the capital cities.

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There is an apocryphal story that he arranged in his lounge

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two rows of chairs to get the spacing right

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for the corridor tender,

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which was used every day on through workings to Edinburgh.

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Innovative ideas such as that helped to make Flying Scotsman

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the United Kingdom's most famous steam engine.

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And it still pulls crowds today.

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With our delicious breakfast served,

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the train has made an unscheduled stop.

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And the reason is perfectly clear.

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There are people trespassing on the line.

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They're so overcome by the need to photograph

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and look at this wonderful locomotive

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that they've forgotten all the basic rules of common sense and safety.

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So I think not just our train, but all the trains on the line,

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have been called to a halt until we get the people away from the track.

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Now that the steam enthusiasts have retreated to a safe distance,

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we're on our way again.

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Since today's Virgin East Coast services to Edinburgh

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are scheduled at just four and a half hours,

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you have to imagine how astonishing was the speed of Flying Scotsman

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in its day.

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In the 1840s,

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the journey on the West Coast route had taken 12 and a half hours.

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But, by 1934,

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Flying Scotsman travelled between the two capitals in just over seven.

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Every second counted, and this legendary service was loath to stop.

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But train manager Robert Tibbets has to bring her to a halt today.

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Rob, it occurs to me that people under the age of 50

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may not even know why we've made the stop. What's the reason?

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The reason we've stopped here

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is so that Flying Scotsman's tender can be filled with water.

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In the days gone by,

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water columns would be situated at the end of platforms

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all over the country.

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But there was a system where you could pick up the water

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by having a scoop dropped from the tender into water troughs,

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which were situated between the rails and the railway.

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So the train could be picking up water on the move,

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which is how it enabled them to run nonstop trains with steam

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between London King's Cross and Edinburgh Waverley.

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Extraordinary. How are we taking in water today?

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Well, these days we have to get water either from our hydrants,

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but in the case as it is today,

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from a tanker which comes and pumps water in.

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Any idea how much water the engine will take on?

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I would think at this stage they'll be looking at something like

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2,500 to 3,000 gallons to go into the tender.

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From the 1950s, British Railways was keen to modernise,

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and diesel and electricity were the future.

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In 1963, after 40 years of service and more than two million miles,

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Flying Scotsman was retired.

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But its astonishing story continued.

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Rumours circulated that it would be scrapped.

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When a campaign to Save Our Scotsman failed to raise sufficient funds,

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steam enthusiast Alan Pegler, then on the board of British Railways,

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bought it for £3,000.

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'All dressed up for the part, the proud man from Nottinghamshire,

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'Alan Pegler, was with the engine he saved from the break-up yard.

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'Flying Scotsman has years of work in her still.

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'But progress in the shape of diesel locomotives has pushed her aside.'

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Having overseen its restoration

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at the Doncaster works where it had been created,

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Pegler wanted to show off the famous engine beyond Britain's shores.

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In 1969, backed by Prime Minister Harold Wilson,

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he planned a trade mission by British companies

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to the United States, with Flying Scotsman as the star of the show.

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'The world's most famous railway engine was off to America

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'on a trade-boosting mission.

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'On the other side, the engine will follow a 2200-mile route,

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'showing the people of the United States

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'carriage-loads of British goods.

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'The Scot is expected to attract millions of visitors.

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'Who said the age of steam was dead?'

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Supported by big names like BP and Pretty Polly,

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and, with a traditional British pub on board, it crossed 17 states,

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attracting huge crowds.

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Davina Pike and Tanya Hopkinson were there.

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You're Tanya, aren't you?

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-Yes, how do you do.

-Davina?

-Davina, yes.

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Why was Flying Scotsman accompanied by lovely ladies like you?

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I think because it was a trade promotion tour,

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they wanted to show everything that was great about Great Britain,

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and they wanted to have some fun and they wanted to have some

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light-heartedness to go with it.

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We had little miniskirts, little kilts like that.

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You can see they were very short.

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And we had white boots,

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and then we had either a frilly white shirt or we had a red jumper,

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and we had little Tam o'Shanter hats.

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Of course, this was the swinging '60s,

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and Britain was the heart of the swinging '60s.

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What was your role, Davina?

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I was Executive Secretary to Alan Pegler.

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I coordinated between all the people on board,

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like the Royal Shakespeare Company,

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Cutty Sark Whisky,

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Cunard, who had shipped the engine,

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and it was just generally helping Alan with the promotion.

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What was the American reaction to the locomotive?

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Absolutely fantastic.

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What I do remember is loads of people all over the bridges,

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and to see all of the cars just suddenly,

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all the brake lights would go on and they would look over,

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you could almost see them saying, "What the heck is that?", you know.

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This was over 40 years ago, we did this,

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and it was such an experience for young girls in 1969,

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and the people we met, you know,

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John Churchill, Winston Churchill's nephew, was on board.

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So many exciting people.

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It just, honestly, it brings a lump to your throat,

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you almost feel like crying.

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Tanya, just one question.

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Why haven't you worn your tartan miniskirt?!

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Because I'm a little bit bigger now than I was then!

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And it was a bit short.

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I don't think I'll get away with it.

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I wish!

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Despite the fun and success of the first mission,

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a second planned for the following year,

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without the support of big companies or the Government,

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lost money.

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In 1971,

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Alan Pegler had to leave his beloved steam engine in the United States,

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and return home to file for bankruptcy.

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But all was not lost.

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Hearing of Flying Scotsman's fate,

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businessman and steam railway fanatic Sir William McAlpine

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came to the rescue.

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Bill, at one time you owned Flying Scotsman. How did that come about?

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We heard that she was in trouble,

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and some of us were getting together to organise a rescue bid.

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Alan Pegler had gone bankrupt, she was marooned in San Francisco.

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And knowing everybody loved her,

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and she was so much of a British icon, we got her back.

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You bought the locomotive with your own money?

0:20:460:20:48

Yes, I fortunately had some at the time!

0:20:480:20:52

Is it a matter of public record how much you paid?

0:20:520:20:56

I think it was about £25,000.

0:20:560:20:59

The dollar exchange was pretty good in those days.

0:20:590:21:03

And soon she was on her travels again.

0:21:030:21:05

This time in Australia, as part of the 1988 Bicentennial celebrations.

0:21:050:21:11

I said at the time, you know, as long as I have a return ticket,

0:21:110:21:14

paid for before she leaves, you can have her.

0:21:140:21:17

And so she went over,

0:21:170:21:19

and she went up to Alice Springs, Sydney to Perth,

0:21:190:21:23

and she was very popular over there.

0:21:230:21:25

How did it feel to be the owner of Flying Scotsman?

0:21:250:21:28

It felt very odd.

0:21:280:21:29

I remember sitting and thinking, I own this locomotive,

0:21:290:21:33

but it doesn't feel like it.

0:21:330:21:34

I mean, I really bought her for the people who loved her.

0:21:340:21:38

And I felt that I didn't really own it, she belonged to the nation.

0:21:380:21:41

I was in the right place at the right time with this amount of cash.

0:21:410:21:45

You've owned a lot of locomotives,

0:21:450:21:47

what's special about Flying Scotsman?

0:21:470:21:50

Well, I mean, she is the best.

0:21:500:21:51

I can't find anybody who will argue

0:21:510:21:54

that she is not the most famous locomotive in the world.

0:21:540:21:57

So, you know, how can you beat that?

0:21:570:22:00

Returning to Britain in 1990,

0:22:020:22:05

Flying Scotsman was owned by a succession of wealthy individuals

0:22:050:22:09

before public and private donations

0:22:090:22:11

allowed the National Railway Museum in York

0:22:110:22:14

to buy it for the nation in 2004.

0:22:140:22:16

Now, today's remarkable 200-mile journey is coming to an end.

0:22:190:22:23

Since we left London, every station, level crossing and bridge

0:22:250:22:30

has been crowded with people, young and old.

0:22:300:22:33

It seems as though half the population of England has turned up

0:22:330:22:37

to cheer on Flying Scotsman.

0:22:370:22:38

And, if that's so, the other half of the population of England

0:22:380:22:42

is gathered here at York Station to see the arrival.

0:22:420:22:45

Look at that!

0:22:450:22:47

Well, the enthusiasm, the mania, the madness continues.

0:22:590:23:03

People are pressing to get towards the locomotive.

0:23:030:23:07

I think they want to touch it, they want to put a hand on it.

0:23:070:23:10

And we're, what, about 20, 25 persons deep,

0:23:100:23:14

just trying to get near Flying Scotsman.

0:23:140:23:17

-Hello.

-How did the locomotive perform?

0:23:190:23:22

Very well, thank you. Yes.

0:23:220:23:24

I think the engine knew it was on the East Coast Mainline again

0:23:240:23:26

and it went for it, it did very well.

0:23:260:23:29

Do you ever see anything like the crowds we've encountered today?

0:23:290:23:32

No, I've never seen anything like this before, for a steam engine.

0:23:320:23:35

It's quite amazing, to see how many people have turned out.

0:23:350:23:38

Well, thank you, we had a really memorable ride.

0:23:380:23:41

And so another emotional moment,

0:23:430:23:45

as Flying Scotsman returns to her home

0:23:450:23:48

at the National Railway Museum in York.

0:23:480:23:51

Today's memorable journey is a celebration

0:23:510:23:54

for Flying Scotsman's passengers and devotees.

0:23:540:23:57

And, for the skilled engineers at specialist locomotive company

0:23:570:24:02

Riley and Son, who have spent the last decade restoring it

0:24:020:24:06

to prime performance.

0:24:060:24:08

Director Colin Green headed the team.

0:24:080:24:11

Colin, ten years rebuilding Flying Scotsman.

0:24:110:24:14

It's been quite a big job, then?

0:24:140:24:16

Yes, it was a major challenge.

0:24:160:24:17

We looked at the boiler, and decided that it was beyond economic repair.

0:24:170:24:21

And then we found there was major problems down on the chassis,

0:24:210:24:24

which involved having to cut off the front-end of the engine,

0:24:240:24:27

graft a new piece on it -

0:24:270:24:28

it's almost major heart surgery, in layman's terms.

0:24:280:24:32

So how much of this is the original locomotive?

0:24:320:24:35

The tender pretty well is complete and original.

0:24:350:24:37

On the actual engine side, there's quite a lot that we have renewed.

0:24:370:24:41

Copper pipework, all the electrical wiring's all brand-new installation.

0:24:410:24:45

All the boiler fittings have been refurbished.

0:24:450:24:47

What do you and your team feel like today, having seen it on the tracks?

0:24:470:24:51

Oh, it's a massive honour, it's a massive privilege

0:24:510:24:54

to have been in charge of this team of guys

0:24:540:24:57

that are absolutely dedicated.

0:24:570:24:58

You know, there's been ups and downs.

0:24:580:25:00

We've found things wrong, we've had to start again.

0:25:000:25:03

It's just absolutely fantastic now to experience this, see the crowds,

0:25:030:25:07

you know, see the engine, where it needs to be, back in the limelight.

0:25:070:25:11

So if someone comes to you tomorrow, Colin, and says, you and your team,

0:25:110:25:14

you can do another locomotive now, there'll be another locomotive,

0:25:140:25:18

but it is going to take you ten years - do you accept or refuse?

0:25:180:25:21

You've got to accept, haven't you? You've got to accept.

0:25:210:25:24

It's been an emotional roller-coaster,

0:25:240:25:26

but I think it'll be worth it.

0:25:260:25:28

-She's done us proud.

-Congratulations.

-Thank you.

0:25:280:25:31

At last, the moment to go on board.

0:25:470:25:51

-Matt?

-Hi.

-I'm Michael.

-Hi, Michael.

0:25:550:25:58

-Nice to meet you.

-How do you do?

0:25:580:26:00

So, what has your role been on Flying Scotsman?

0:26:000:26:02

Once the engine was nearing completion,

0:26:020:26:04

we started testing the engine.

0:26:040:26:06

We was on the footplate, trialling it, seeing what it was like,

0:26:060:26:09

seeing if there were any faults.

0:26:090:26:11

What's it like to drive this engine?

0:26:110:26:13

Quite responsive.

0:26:130:26:15

You realise there's a lot of power that you have in your hands.

0:26:150:26:17

You get a good feel for it,

0:26:170:26:19

you feel what the engine wants to do just through driving it yourself.

0:26:190:26:22

Can you give me a bit of a tour of the controls?

0:26:220:26:25

Yes, no problem. We'll start with this here.

0:26:250:26:27

This is like your gears in your car.

0:26:270:26:29

And then after that, this is your regulator,

0:26:290:26:32

which is like your car throttle.

0:26:320:26:33

That's what makes it go. Then you've got your brake valves.

0:26:330:26:36

We've got two separate ones on this engine.

0:26:360:26:38

Also we have what's called the blower.

0:26:380:26:40

That puts an artificial draught in the firebox.

0:26:400:26:44

It gives it a draw on the fire.

0:26:440:26:46

A speedometer.

0:26:460:26:48

Then we've got how much steam you're actually putting into the cylinders.

0:26:480:26:52

And then we've got three different brake gauges here.

0:26:520:26:55

One part of the locomotive that even I can normally make work

0:26:550:26:58

-is the whistle.

-Do you want to give it a pull?

-Here goes!

0:26:580:27:01

SHORT WHISTLE BLASTS

0:27:010:27:02

-Good noise.

-It's all right, isn't it?

0:27:020:27:06

The engine has made the journey from London today.

0:27:060:27:08

-How do you feel?

-Very proud. It's great to see.

0:27:080:27:10

I mean, the engine's performed magnificently.

0:27:100:27:13

It's great to see it here. Fantastic day.

0:27:130:27:16

Was this an exercise in national nostalgia?

0:27:200:27:23

Yes, in part it was.

0:27:230:27:25

A commemoration of the days when British engineering ruled supreme.

0:27:250:27:30

But the fact that, over the last ten years,

0:27:300:27:33

a dedicated group of people has put Flying Scotsman back in steam,

0:27:330:27:39

and back on the tracks, demonstrates that British ingenuity and skill

0:27:390:27:45

also exist in the present.

0:27:450:27:48

Next time, I work up a sweat.

0:27:520:27:54

Oh, joy!

0:27:540:27:56

Chuck the exercise bike, get a pump trolley and a mile of track.

0:27:560:28:02

Discover the archive of one of our best-known Victorian writers.

0:28:020:28:07

These were sold on the Indian book-seller stalls in the railways

0:28:070:28:12

for one rupee.

0:28:120:28:15

And, get steamed up in a vintage car.

0:28:150:28:17

Apply the throttle, and we're off!

0:28:170:28:20

A once-in-a-lifetime journey aboard the most famous train in history, the Flying Scotsman, begins for Michael before dawn at London's King's Cross. Excitement builds on the platform as the world's media, fans and 300 passengers await the arrival of railway royalty.

Boarding a vintage carriage, Michael recaptures the glamour of the 1930s, when the Flying Scotsman's passengers dined, sipped cocktails and had their hair done en route to Scotland. Among his fellow passengers are a former Flying Scotsman driver and a previous owner of the locomotive. But all does not go to plan, and the historic non-stop service is forced to halt for trespassers on the track.

Arriving at York, Michael meets the restoration team and gets his hands on the hallowed controls.


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