'The world's most famous train' - The Flying Scotsman celebrates 150 years

Flying Scotsman train
Image caption The Flying Scotsman has also been known as the 'Special Scotch Express', 'The Flying Scotchman' and the 'Ten O'Clock'

"Take me by the Flying Scotsman."

These were the words emblazoned across a London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) poster in 1932 promoting the famous London-Edinburgh train service.

The poster wasn't re-issued - its futurist art design was unpopular at the time - but the sentiment has survived. For many, the Flying Scotsman epitomises the nostalgia, romance and glamour associated with rail travel of a by-gone era.

The Flying Scotsman - the train often labelled "the most famous in the world" - celebrates 150 years in operation this month.

A named, daily passenger service between London's King's Cross station and Edinburgh called the Flying Scotsman has been running since 18 June 1862.

Not to be confused with 'Flying Scotsman' - the engine, which, in 1923 was given the same name as the East Coast Main Line's most illustrious express to honour the service.

'Forgotten man'

Image caption The Flying Scotsman was sped up in 1932, with LNER promoting the service with this poster

Bob Gwynne, associate curator of rail vehicles at the National Railway Museum in York - where the engine 'Flying Scotsman' is being restored - said the famous train came about because of one forgotten man.

He said: "18 June 2012 is a landmark in Britain's railway history, thanks to the forgotten story of one man.

"150 years ago at 10:00, a new service, the 'Special Scotch Express' was launched from London King's Cross going north and from Edinburgh Waverley going south at 10:00.

Mr Gwynne said the train was the idea of Walter Leith, General Passenger Supt of the Great Northern Railway, whose story has since been erased from all popular history of the service.

He said: "Leith's innovative idea saw the introduction of through carriages up to Scotland at a time when the East Coast Main Line was operated by three separate railway companies."

In 1862 the journey time was 10 and a half hours between London and Edinburgh. The service now runs at a time of four hours, operated by East Coast.


From the 1920s the train was considered the height of luxury. Onboard there were first-class restaurant facilities, a cocktail bar and radio equipment, so passengers could hear the horse-racing results.

There was even a hairdressing salon where men could have their facial hair shaved with an open razor, made possible because the barber's chair was set in such a position that there would be "no jolting".

The train's hairdresser was reportedly known as "Sweeney Todd of the Rails", given his precarious trade.

Image caption In the 1920s the train even had a barber on board

In 1928 the train broke the record for the longest regular non-stop train journey in the world, when the LNER ran an express service for the entire 393-mile route.

This record would last until 1948, when, unintentionally, the train broke its own record. The Flying Scotsman ran for 408 and a half miles in May of that year when flood damage to the main line caused diversions via St Boswells and Kelso.

Throughout World War II The Flying Scotsman was one of the few titled trains that continued to operate along the East Coast - it carried troops between London and Scotland, although the headboards and roofboards were removed for security.

And, on 21 June 1958, in a historic move which would signal the decline of steam, The Flying Scotsman was hauled for the first time by a diesel locomotive.

'Set clocks'

The service is currently run by government-owned East Coast.

In May 2011 they relaunched the service, painting one of their locomotives, the Class 91 No. 91101 with Flying Scotsman branding.

At the launch East Coast said the move was "part of our policy of bringing back train names and restoring pride, passion and even a touch of glamour and romance back to the East Coast railway".

Image caption "Flying Scotsman" engine, which hauled the train is being restored at York's National Railway Museum

However, railway enthusiasts have lamented the loss of the traditional 10:00 departure time. The Flying Scotsman now only runs in one direction, leaving from Edinburgh Waverley at 05:40.

Despite the new time, East Coast said the service was still extremely popular with rail passengers and the train was being promoted "far and wide across the UK."

On its centenary, in 1968, railway writer C. Hamilton Ellis described the Flying Scotsman's endurance.

He said: "For a century it has been with us. Out on the great fens, across the Plain of York, in the hill villages of the North East and in the Border farms, people have set their clocks by it, down the long years."

On its 150th anniversary, the Flying Scotsman continues to hold a similar place of affection in the public consciousness.

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