IT seems a long time since the days of steam traction on British railways. Although when you think about it, it’s not that long ago.
In 1968 mainline steam was still active on British railways.
Many will remember the dying days of steam, when it was confined to the North West. This was because of the 1955 modernisation plan.
The first stage was to cease the production of steam locomotives. This took five years to complete, when no. 92220 Evening Star was completed in March 1960.
The second stage was the withdrawal of steam locomotives. This officially started in 1962. The third stage was the withdrawal of steam traction from different regions. This started with the western region and finished with the North West.
In our own town of Todmorden, steam engines were still running up to August 4, 1968. Many will remember the cross-Pennine freight trains from Healey Mills (Ossett, near Wakefield) to Preston.
Another memorable sight was the Copy Pit banker. This was where an engine would wait for a train to go past and then push from behind up a section of uphill track. In Todmorden’s case, this was the Todmorden Curve – which remains visible from the pink girder bridge linking Stansfield Road with Hallroyd Road – up to Copy Pit Summit on the line to Burnley.
The gradient reached one in 60 in certain places. This may not sound like much to us, but to a steam locomotive, with a train over 800 tons in weight, it is a hard thing to do.
This was one of the last places in Britain where it was practised.
On August 11, 1968 the 15 guinea special ran from Liverpool to Carlisle via Manchester and Settle. The first part of the journey was behind no. 44781 and no. 44871. The return was behind no. 70013 named Oliver Cromwell.
So the question remains open: is steam still alive? Some would say no, but others would say yes it is.
For one thing there are several preserved steam railways open around the country, regular mainline steam hauled specials and more and more enthusiasts keep deciding to build their own engines.
In one case the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust decided to build their own engine from scratch.
On August 1, 2008 no. 60163 Tornado was officially unveiled to the public. It is schemes like these that keep steam alive.