Scottish fact of the week: The Flying Scotsman

BUILT in 1923 for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), the Flying Scotsman - LNER Class A3 Pacific steam locomotive No. 4472 to give it its Sunday name - is one of the world’s most famous steam locomotives.

BUILT in 1923 for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), the Flying Scotsman - LNER Class A3 Pacific steam locomotive No. 4472 to give it its Sunday name - is one of the world’s most famous steam locomotives.

Designed by the Edinburgh-born Sir Nigel Gresley, the Flying Scotsman was initially employed on long-distance routes, most notably on the 10am London to Edinburgh Flying Scotsman train service that gave the locomotive its name.

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The Flying Scotsman train service had been masterminded by Walter Leith of the Great Northern Railway who, in 1862, decided to run a through train from London to Edinburgh.

It set two world records for steam traction; becoming the first steam locomotive to be officially recorded reaching 100mph - on November 30, 1934 - and setting a record for the longest non-stop journey by a steam locomotive when it ran 422 miles in Australia on August 8, 1989.

Although it was retired from regular service in 1963 as the railway moved away from the steam age, the Flying Scotsman gained fame in preservation under the ownerships of Alan Pegler, William McAlpine, Tony Marchington and lastly, the National Railway Museum.

Used for pleasure trips in the UK, the locomotive was also toured extensively in the United States, between 1969 and 1973 and Australia (1988-89).


The locomotive was completed in 1923, built as an A1 and initially carrying the Great Northern Railway (GNR) number 1472.

Something of a flagship locomotive, the Flying Scotsman represented the LNER firm at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 and 1925, acquiring its name and new number of 4472 in February 1924.

The Flying Scotsman was one of five Gresley-designed Pacific locomotives chosen to haul the London-Edinburgh service, pulling the inaugural train on May 1, 1928.

History and service

The locomotive was able to make the 392-mile journey between the two capital cities in eight hours.

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In 1929, the Flying Scotsman appearing in the film of the same name and in November 1934, became the first steam locomotive to officially reach 100mph.

The locomotive was given an extensive revamp in the late 1940s, being recast from the older A1 locomotive to the newer, Pacific-type Class A3.

British Railways announced in 1962 that they would scrap the Flying Scotsman, with its last scheduled run taking place on January 14, 1963.

Life after service

Although a campaign group named ‘Save our Scotsman’ attempted to rescue the locomotive from being scrapped, they failed to raise the required £3,000. Alan Pegler stepped in and bought the locomotive outright, with the political support of Harold Wilson.

He spent large amounts of money having the Flying Scotsman restored at the Doncaster Works, as close as possible to its LNER condition.

On completion, Pegler convinced the British Railways Board to let him run pleasure trips and the locomotive completed a non-stop London-Edinburgh run in 1968, the same year steam traction ended on Britain’s railways.

US tour

Pegler was forced to continually modify the locomotive as steam was replaced, having earned a contract permitting him to run the Flying Scotsman until 1972. But after an overhaul in the winter of 1968, Wilson agreed to support Pegler - via the Trade Department - running the locomotive in the USA and Canada in a bid to support British exports.

The locomotive required extensive modifications to comply with American rail laws and ran into problems, including some states viewing the Flying Scotsman as a potential fire hazard, as well as rising costs, but completed a three-year tour of the USA and Canada, taking in Boston, New York, Washington DC, Montreal, Toronto and San Francisco, covering a total of 15,400 miles.

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As 1970 drew to a close, Ted Heath’s Conservatives ousted Wilson’s Labour Party, and withdrew financial support for the tour.

Pegler ended up in debt to the tune of £132,000, with the Flying Scotsman kept in storage at the US Army Sharpe Depot. He managed to return to England from San Francisco on a cruise ship in 1971, and was declared bankrupt in 1972.

Australian visit

In 1988, the Flying Scotsman travelled to Australia in place of the Mallard - celebrating the 50th anniversary of her world record-breaking run - as a key part of the country’s bicentennial celebrations.

In August, she arrived in Australia to take part as the central attraction in the Aus Steam ‘88 festival, travelling over 28,000 miles over the next year on Australia’s railways.

The locomotive set its own haulage record, taking a 735-ton train over the 490-mile journey between Tarcoola and Alice Springs. On the same trip, the Flying Scotsman set a record for the longest non-stop steam locomotive journey - the 422 miles from Parkes to Broken Hill.

Return to Britain

The Flying Scotsman returned to Britain in 1990, continuing to work on mainline pleasure runs until 1993. After it was shunted back and forth between various owners and consortiums, Tony Marchington bought the locomotive and had it restored over a three-year period for the sum of £1 million - the most extensive refurbishment in the locomotive’s history.

Post-2000 life

In 2003, Edinburgh City Council turned down Marchington’s proposed plans for a ‘Flying Scotsman Village’ in the capital, and Marchington - like Pegler before him - was declared bankrupt.

The Flying Scotsman was acquired by the National Railway Museum in April 2004, and is now part of the National Collection.

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After a 12-month repair period, the locomotive ran for a while to raise funds for its upcoming 10-year overhaul.

The Flying Scotsman is still undergoing extensive repairs and is expected to be restored to running condition by 2015, in its familiar Apple Green livery - it had been painted in LNER Wartime Black livery during its test runs.


Although LNER were very much inclined to use the locomotive for publicity purposes, the Flying Scotsman’s appearance in popular culture didn’t end there.

The subject of the 1929 film of the same name, the locomotive has also appeared in 102 Dalamatians (preparing to haul the Orient Express); a 1986 British Rail TV advert; the Rev W, Awdry’s books about Thomas the Tank Engine (the Flying Scotsman was included as the brother of Gordon) and on the back of the specially-produced £5 coins for the 2012 London Olympics.