Ben Alder to be first steam locomotive built in Scotland for 60 years

Plans to build the first steam locomotive in Scotland for more than 60 years are taking shape in the latest sign of a revival of classic railway traction.

A team of engineers is devising a brand new engine based on Ben Alder – the last of a class that ran on lines across the Highlands which was scrapped in 1967.

They have been inspired by the success of Tornado, which was completed in 2008 as the first new main line steam locomotive built in Britain since the 1950s.

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The engine has completed many tours across Britain, hauled the Royal Train, featured in a London-Edinburgh race on the BBC’s Top Gear, and is due to return to Scotland for several excursions this summer starting in two weeks’ time.

The original Ben Alder at Inverness shed. Picture: Mike Morant
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The company involved is now building another steam locomotive, Prince of Wales, while a century-old Great Western Railway locomotive was recreated as Lady of Legend in 2019.

The Ben Alder project is expected to cost up to £7 million and could take more than a decade to complete.

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It would see the resumption of steam locomotive construction in Scotland, which is believed to have ended in 1958 when the North British Locomotive Company finished its last in Glasgow.

The city once produced more locomotives than any in Europe, with many exported across the world, some of which are still in service.

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Ben Alder Project team members Jack Goodall, Gavin Johnson, Anthony Wiaczek and Ross Isdale in front of Tornado during its visit to the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway in 2019. Picture: New Build Locomotive Scotland

The original Ben Alder was built for the Highland Railway by Dubs and Co in Glasgow in 1898 and operated until 1953, then broken up 14 years later after preservation plans fell through.

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Most of the project team are volunteers at the Scottish Railway Preservation Society (SRPS), which runs the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway, east of Falkirk.

Member Gavin Johnson said: “The main motivation has been the success seen in England and Wales with new engines being produced.

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“The flag bearer for all ‘new builds’, as the movement is described, has to be Tornado.

Ben Alder in storage at Dawsholm shed in Glasgow after being taken out of service in 1953. Picture: Mike Morant
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"This engine has become world famous and only the Flying Scotsman can claim to be better known.

"But for Scotland, there hasn't been a new build project, and as a country that was home to the UK’s largest private builder, the North British, we felt there was a need to remedy this.

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"Most projects of this scale predict ten to 15 years, and this is what we are aiming for.”

Mr Johnson said he hoped as many parts as possible could be made in Scotland, potentially at foundries in Bo’ness and Glasgow, but the tyres and axles would have to come from South Africa.

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New-build steam locomotive Tornado was completed in 2008. Picture: Ian Georgeson.

He said: “Our ultimate plan is to collect components together in storage, and once we have proved ourselves as a viable group, align ourselves with one of Scotland's heritage railways to start the main construction.

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"Once finished, it would act as an ambassador for Scottish heritage railways and engineering.”

SRPS chairman Stephen Humphreys said: “It is really encouraging to see yet another new build project of a steam locomotive.

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"Following on the success of Tornado, which once again we shall enjoy seeing travelling around Scotland over the summer, the number of new build projects underway demonstrates the public support for steam locomotives.

"The Ben Alder project is part of that and will provide, in time, a new locomotive with a very clear Scottish ancestry.”

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