Thousands cheer rebirth of famous steam train

Choo choo: The engine will now be on display until 7 March and between 25 March and 8 May.

The Flying Scotsman, which made its first journey in 1923, has returned to service after a multi-million pound restoration. It has inspired a nostalgic response — but is this justified?

Thousands gathered in London and York. Safety warnings were issued after 60 people got onto the track amid the excitement. Many passengers paid up to £450 for a ticket.

This was all the result of a steam train, the Flying Scotsman, which made its official return to service yesterday morning.

The Scotsman left London King’s Cross at 7:40am. Soon the 300 people on board were enjoying a three-course breakfast, served with champagne. Onlookers who lined the route were treated to clouds of steam and friendly whistles. At 1:20pm the train pulled into York — 54 minutes behind schedule, after hold-ups caused by trespassers.

The engine, which is 70 feet long and weighs 96 tonnes, was built in Doncaster in 1922 and took its first journey in 1923. It became the first locomotive to go non-stop from London to Edinburgh and — officially — the first to travel faster than 100mph. It has featured in films, in books and on coins.

In total, it has travelled approximately 2.5 million miles. It has been on tours of America and Australia since it was retired from service in 1963. In 2004, it was bought by the National Railway Museum, who have spent the last decade restoring it at a cost of £4.2m. The engine will now go on display in the museum.

On board yesterday, railway enthusiast Michael Portillo, who was filming a BBC TV series, called it ‘an engineering triumph,’ adding ‘this is certainly the most famous journey and most famous locomotive in Britain’. Ron Kennedy, who drove the train in the 1950s and 1960s, said the experience of riding it again was ‘unbelievable’.

Such nostalgic impulses have inspired similar recent trends in music and fashion. Almost 1.3 million vinyl albums were sold in the UK in 2014, compared to 205,000 in 2007. The rise prompted Tesco to stock a range of vinyl records shortly before Christmas. Clothes associated with the 1960s hippy movement, such as bell-bottoms and fringe wear, have also seen a revival.

Flying visit

The excitement around the Scotsman’s return is heartening, say some. This old steam engine helps us understand what our ancestors were capable of in simpler times and reminds us of some timeless traditions. Those on board yesterday could contemplate the myriad experiences of passengers from decades ago, many of whom were dead but with them in spirit.

That’s an excessively misty-eyed view, others retort. There is a reason why steam trains are no longer in use: electrified rail allows people to travel faster, more affordably and in greater comfort. Old engines, records and clothes may have been wonderful in their time, but new opportunities rendered them obsolete. We should accept that nothing lasts forever, and move on.

You Decide

  1. Would you prefer to travel by steam locomotive or on a modern train?
  2. Is the nostalgia for the Flying Scotsman justified?


  1. In pairs, create an advert for a journey on board the Flying Scotsman. Then swap with another pair. Would their advert convince you to take a trip?
  2. Think of an item which you use regularly. Write a one-page letter, addressed to someone who will be your current age in the year 2066. Explain why they should, or should not, value the item you have thought of.

Some People Say...

“Time is the most severe test of all.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Is it healthy to be wistful?
Psychologist Gabriel Trionfi says nostalgia allows people to relive ‘something familiar, something they remember, a positive emotional experience’. But some worry that replaying the past means people do not invest their energy in the present or future.
What made the steam train go out of use?
In the 1950s and 1960s, British Rail — which ran Britain’s railways — produced a modernisation plan. Diesel and electric trains, and others which were a hybrid of the two, soon came into widespread use across the country. Rail electrification is now an important political issue in the north of England, where last year a cross-party report recommended 12 lines should be fully electrified. They said it would speed up trains, increase capacity and reduce overcrowding.

Word Watch

The platforms at King’s Cross were full of onlookers, and about 3,000 people gathered to welcome the train as it arrived in York.
Steam train
The first steam engine was invented in 1698. The first steam train journey took place in 1804; the first passenger railway, the Stockton and Darlington line, opened in 1825.
The Scotsman gained fame when it appeared at the British Empire Exhibition in London the following year.
This record is disputed — some claim the steam engine City of Truro broke it in 1904, saying it reached 102mph running down a slope.
It was the subject of the film The Flying Scotsman in 1929 and more recently featured in 102 Dalmatians, in which it pulls the Orient Express out of London.
The Scotsman features in the Reverend Awdry’s Railway Series of children’s books.
A special £5 coin which was created for the London Olympics in 2012 featured the Scotsman on the back.
The supermarket’s music buyer Michael Mulligan said a trial selling vinyl over summer 2014 had been ‘a real success, with all our stock selling out’.

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