The Flying Scotsman was built in 1923 and became the first locomotive in the world to record a speed of 100mph, as well as the first to run the 392-mile journey from London to Edinburgh non-stop.
Perhaps one of the most iconic steam locomotives in the world, Pacific 4-6-2 visited Australia in 1988-89 for a series of events associated with the country’s bicentennial celebrations.
Thirty years on, the locomotive has been restored and hauls tour trains across Britain. It is currently owned by the National Railway Museum.
AusSteam ‘88 was part of Australia’s bicentennial celebrations that took place in Melbourne, featuring steam locomotives from New South Wales and Victoria, as well as the Flying Scotsman from Britain. The event took place at Spencer Street Station from 15 October to 29 October and included tours on Victorian lines with participating locomotives.
According to a Roundhouse report in May 1970, the NSW Rail Museum (NSWRM) had started negotiations as early as 1972 with the locomotive’s owner, Mr Ian Pegler, to bring the Gresley-designed locomotive to Australia.
Mr Pegler had purchased the locomotive from British Rail in 1963. The A3 class Pacific locomotive was touring the United States and Canada on a trade promotion tour when NSWRM representatives contacted Pegler. The tour was financially supported by the British Government.
Negotiations between Pegler and the NSWRM were at an early stage and financial considerations were being looked at. Museum Secretary, Graham Ahern, was scheduled to visit the United States in May 1970 to inspect the Flying Scotsman before travelling on to the United Kingdom for discussions with representatives of the owners.
Unfortunately, government financial support for the North American tour was withdrawn by Prime Minister Edward Heath's Conservative government in 1970, but Pegler decided to return for the 1970 season. By the end of that season's tour, the money had run out and Pegler was £132,000 in debt, with the locomotive in storage at the US Army Sharpe Depot to keep it away from unpaid creditors. Pegler worked his passage home from San Francisco to England on a P&O cruise ship in 1971 by giving lectures about trains and travel. He was declared bankrupt in the High Court in 1972.
The bankruptcy proceedings against Pegler halted any notion that the Flying Scotsman would be able to tour Australia in the foreseeable future and negotiations ceased.
Fears then arose for the engine's future, the speculation being that it might remain in the US or even be broken up. After horticulturalist and steam enthusiast Alan Bloom made a personal phone call to William McAlpine in January 1973, he bought the locomotive for £25,000 direct from the finance company in San Francisco. After its return to the UK via the Panama Canal in February 1973, McAlpine paid for the locomotive's restoration at Derby Works.
The engine then became a familiar sight on British rails as it hauled tour trains around the country.
In early 1986, it was suggested that Steamrail (the Victorian museum) should do something to celebrate the bicentenary and many ideas were considered, including a visit from NSW locomotive 3801. British locomotive Mallard had been invited to visit Australia in 1987, but the National Railway Museum would not let the locomotive leave the United Kingdom due to the 50th anniversary of the locomotive’s speed record of 125 miles per hour recorded in 1938. The Flying Scotsman was suggested as an alternative, but funding had to be arranged.
McAlpine, was worried the locomotive might be stranded in Australia like it was in the US in 1972. McAlpine did thorough financial checks and final arrangements were made when he met representatives of the Victorian Department of Transport.
Locomotives began to arrive in Melbourne for the exhibition from 14 October. A planned parallel run south of Seymour with NSW locomotives 3112 and 1210 and Victorian Railways J515 had to be abandoned due to late running by the NSW locomotives.
A parallel run did take place on Sunday 16 October when VR R761 and NSW 3801 ran from Wodonga to Melbourne.
On the same day, the Flying Scotsman was unloaded from the deck of New Zealand Pacific moored in Sydney. It was hauled to Eveleigh Railway Workshops for a thorough check before taking to the rails under its own power. The engine made a trial run from Sydney to Port Kembla during its time in Sydney.
On Wednesday, 19 October, the Flying Scotsman left Sydney for Melbourne. The engine stopped overnight in Junee before running to Albury the following morning. Many towns along the route turned out to welcome the locomotive.
By Sunday 23 October, an extensive locomotive collection had been assembled at Spencer Street Station.
On 25 October, the Flying Scotsman worked its first passenger trip in Australia when it took a return Melbourne to Albury service.
On 27 October, the NSW locomotives began to leave Melbourne, but the Flying Scotsman stayed until 17 December.
Pacific 4472 settled down to a regime of return Melbourne/Seymour tours. The first took place on Monday 31 October with no more than seven trips scheduled during November. Early December saw the engine continuing to work hard in Victoria.
Departing Melbourne for the last time on Monday 17 December, the Flying Scotsman stayed overnight at Cootamundra before continuing to Sydney. At Moss Vale, 3642 and 3801 hauling special trains met 4472. The Flying Scotsman was officially welcomed to NSW at Moss Vale and a ceremony was held to mark the end of 3801’s participation in the bicentennial celebrations. Locomotive 5910 returned its train to Sydney, but 3801 and 4472 amalgamated their trains before splitting again near Auburn. Both trains then ran parallel in Sydney.
Over the Australia Day long weekend, 4472 was on display at Sydney Terminal with 3801.
The next few months saw tours to Gosford, Wollongong, Kiama, Dubbo, Hunter Valley, Moss Vale, and Maitland. The Flying Scotsman then travelled to Brisbane in March and April, and Adelaide in April. Trips were also made to Broken Hill and Alice Springs. On the Queen’s Birthday weekend in June, the Flying Scotsman and 3801 travelled to Dubbo.
The Flying Scotsman returned to the UK in September 1989 and continues to haul regular tour trains in the UK today.
A Vintage Year For Steam: AusSteam '88 and Flying Scotsman in Australia", Steve Malpass John Dare and Ian Jenkin.
Railway Digest, December 1988, January 1989 and February 1989, Australian Railway Historical Society, NSW Division.
This article was originally published in the summer 2019 edition of Roundhouse magazine. Written by John Casey, Roundhouse Editor.