The End of BR Steam
45255 at Manchester Victoria in March 1968. Photo by David Rostance.
2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the end of steam locomotives under British Rail on the mainline. 1968 was a key moment in British transport history as mainline steam traction was finally overtaken by diesel and electric stock for good.
The death knell for steam was struck with the 1955 British Railways Modernisation plan, with a future aim to eradicate steam from the mainline by 1968. Britain, at the time, was not able to fund replacement of all its steam stock straight away, hence the need to wait 13 years for the plan to come to fruition. By 1968, huge parts of the rail network had been closed down following the "Beeching Axe" and the car had increased in popularity substantially. The general public accepted the death of steam as an inevitable and necessary change but there was extensive fondness for the trains we were about to lose forever.
45388 and an unidentified 8F at Burnley in July 1968. Photo by Terry Campbell.
In the final days of steam, swathes of enthusiasts and members of the public alike would head to stations and depots for their last opportunities to see steam traction in action! Railway workers were equally passionate and would adorn "their" locomotives with chalk slogans - mourning the loss of the locomotives, cracking jokes and celebrating them.
44690 & 44899 at Rose Grove in August 1968. Photo by Gordon Edgar.
There were three key dates in August of 1968 that were memorable for various reasons.
3rd August 1968 - The last 'normal' timetabled day of full-scale steam services
4th August 1968 - The official final day of steam services
11th August 1968 - The Fifteen Guinea Special - Final Mainline passenger service
3rd August 1968 - The Last Timetabled Day
48392 at Bolton. Photo by Gordon Edgar.
Crowds of enthusiasts gathered at the final depots operating steam locomotives and in some cases the British Transport Police had to be called to deal with trespassers desperate to get one last look at these locomotives in action. It's unclear as to what was the official "final" freight service that day but several 8Fs and Black 5s working out of Carnforth and Rose Grove were some of the last to return to their depots - being withdrawn after their final trips out. The 4th saw some passenger services still hauled by steam locomotives, on what British Rail had hailed as the official final day for steam services. Huge crowds descended upon Preston station as the 5:05pm working from London Euston arrived. Men in funeral attire marched the platform, hoisting a coffin over their shoulders adorned with slogans regarding the end of steam. 45212 performed a service to Blackpool and upon its return shunted sleeping cars off the 11:45pm Euston-Preston to another platform - this was officially the final time passengers were hauled by a steam loco in normal service. Far more attention was given to the 9:25pm working to Liverpool Exchange, headed by 45318 which was the last 'normal' timetabled service of the day.
4th August 1968 - The Official Final Day
Various locomotives at Carnforth. Photo by Gordon Edgar.
Hailed as the last day of steam by British Rail, this was the last day of "normal" steam locomotive workings. However, just two engines had a full head of steam at Rose Grove. 48493 performed some shunting duties, this simple duty comprising the final non-passenger steam working on the network. This was undoubtedly overlooked by enthusiasts who descended upon the North West for six "Farwell to Steam" specials that ran through Lancashire at the same time.
11th August 1968 - The Fifteen Guinea Special
70013 leads 1T57 "The Fifteen Guinea Special" at Ribblehead. Photo by David Rostance.
Occurring one week after the 'official' end of steam, British Rail ran a one-off special working on the national network - "The Fifteen Guinea Special", the name pertaining to the high cost of tickets (roughly £250 with present-day inflation). The excursion began at Liverpool Lime Street, headed to Manchester Victoria and then on to Carlisle over the wonderful Settle-Carlisle route.
The train was hauled by a total of four different locomotives - three LMS Class 5s (45110, 44781 & 44871) as well as Britannia Class 70013 "Oliver Cromwell" - the last steam loco to be overhauled by BR. All but one of the locos has been preserved and since 1968 there have been three re-runs of this iconic railtour.
If you want to recreate the special, you can now pre-order a new anniversary train pack from Hornby, complete with 70013 "Oliver Cromwell" and 3 Mk1 coaches, due into stock in September. Click HERE to order yours.
R3607 - 15 Guinea Special Anniversary Train Pack with Class 7P 4-6-2 70013 "Oliver Cromwell" and 3 Mk1 Coaches - £239