Posted by: wrha | May 30, 2020

The Railway Race – Grand Running

The Evening Telegraph, Tuesday 2nd July 1901

Yesterday the North British and Midland Railways inaugurated their new series of fast trains between St Pancras and Waverley, with improved connections to the great Midland cities and to the West of England. The North British, writes a railway correspondent in the “Scotsman,” has undertaken some very plucky train working over their mountainous road between Edinburgh and Carlisle, by booking themselves to cover the 98¼ miles in 135 minutes no fewer than five times each day. This works out at an inclusive speed of 44 miles an hour, which may not seem wonderful for modern work till it is remembered that two high ranges have to be crossed, that the ruling grade is 1 in 70, and that Galashiels and Hawick stations are on curves, which have to be taken at 30 miles an hour.

The run between Carlisle and Edinburgh was booked without a stop some 11 years ago, but the time allowed was 4 minutes longer than now, and the weight of the train was much less. The first train of the new service left Waverley at 9.25am, being due in London at 6pm, giving the first booked arrival of the day in the Southern capital. The train equalled nine heavy coaches (or 130 tons), and was made up of the handsome and roomy “M. and N.B.R. Joint Stock,” and comprised a first and a third class dining car. The locomotive was N.B.R. No.738, one of Mr Matthew Holmes’ latest express engines, with 6ft 6in four-coupled driving wheels and a leading bogie, having about 1350 square feet of heating surface, and a tender carrying 3500 gallons of water and six tons of coal.

A strong side wind was much against good running. On the long gradual descent to Galashiels the speed at once rose, successive miles being run off at speeds equal to 42, 45, 52, 55 and then at 56 miles an hour, so that Fountainhall (22½ miles) was reached in 38 minutes, Stow (26¾) in 42½, Bowland (29¾) in 46. The speed was 55 miles an hour through Galashiels town, except that a sharp slack was made  to 30 miles an hour through the station. Once past Galashiels, the speed rose to 53 miles an hour, and Melrose (37¼ miles) was passed 54½ minutes out from Edinburgh. In the first hour exactly 41½ miles were covered. Hassendean (48½ miles) was passed in 69½ minutes, the speed keeping steadily at 58 miles an hour.

738 carlisle 1900 built cowlairs 0498NBR 738 stands at Carlisle Citadel with a Waverley Route train in 1900. 

Photo M.G.Stoddon Collection


Hawick (52¾ miles) was reached, at 30 miles an hour, in 74 minutes. There began the long pull over the Cheviots, the speed of necessity fell to 37 and 38 miles an hour, till the summit at Riccarton (65¾ miles) was passed in 96 minutes. The speed then rose successively to 56, 60, 58, 58, 59, 58, 58, 56, 60, 60, 57 miles an hour, which was maintained practically to Carlisle. To Newcastleton (74 miles) was done in 105 minutes, Riddings (84 miles) in 115, Longtown (88½) in 121, Harker (93¾) in 128. From this point the speed fell till a mile outside Carlisle, where the bad curves were taken at 10 miles an hour. Finally Carlisle was reached 134½ minutes from Waverley, or half a minute under time. Considering the gale in the hills and the various slacks this was good running.

Coming North, the Glasgow and South-Western express left St Pancras punctually at 9.30am, with dining cars for both Edinburgh and Glasgow, the weight being 200 tons. The train was hauled by one of the Midland locomotives, having single driving wheels 7 feet 6 inches in diameter and a leading bogie, the heating surface being 1200 square feet. The Right Hon. Lord Farrer (a Director of the Midland) and the Rev. W.J. Scott (a railway expert) travelled by the train, which gained 3 minutes on the run to Leicester (99¼ miles). At Leicester a 7-feet coupled locomotive came on, and the train left this station 5 minutes late. It arrived at Chesterfield 2 late, and from there to Leeds 13½ were lost by constant checks in connection with relaying. Here a similar coupled engine took charge.

On passing Settle the train was still 12½ late, but before Carlisle this was reduced to only 6½ minutes. Here the train was divided, and the Edinburgh portion weighing 150 tons left 9 minutes late, drawn by locomotive 738, which took the train South in the morning. The opinion of those familiar with the road was that in the strong north-east gale blowing it would be all the driver could do not to lose more time.

Excellent work at once began. Longtown (9½ miles) was passed in 12½ minutes, Riddings (14¼) at 62 miles an hour in 17½, and up the hill to Riccarton good speed was maintained, the 32½ miles being covered in 45 minutes. Downhill to Hawick 61 miles an hour was not exceeded, and that station passed in 62 minutes (45½ miles) while St Boswells (57¾) was passed at 64 miles an hour in 76¼ minutes. Melrose was run through at 61 miles an hour, and Galashiels slowly at 83½ minutes from Carlisle. Here it was realised that the train was making a very fine run, and hopes rose that Edinburgh might be reached in time, Heriot (79 miles) having been passed in 103 minutes, and a steady 55 miles an hour having been kept up to Portobello, the 95½ miles was covered in 122 minutes, with the results that the train ran into Waverley only half a minute late, thus nearly redeeming the 9 minutes lost before leaving Carlisle.

At Waverley a large crowd awaited the arrival, including the Lord Justice Clerk and the Superintendent of the line, and a group of North British, North-Eastern, and Midland officials. It was found, however, that the “Flying Scotsman” had come in 2 minutes before or 12 minutes before time, in spite of a dead stop for 6 minutes at Tweedmouth and a weight of nearly 300 tons.

This article was originally published in The Waverley Issue 30, Autumn 2017. It has been reproduced here as part of our historical articles series during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prepared for WRHA by Matt Stoddon.