On the evening of Saturday 3 August 1968, people arriving at Preston station to catch the 2048 to Blackpool North or the 2125 to Liverpool Exchange, must have wondered just what was going on. There were hundreds of people milling about – many carrying cameras and recording equipment. Anyone not in the know could have been forgiven for thinking that these people were awaiting something special. The Queen? The Beatles? No.
They were railway enthusiasts, local historians, or just those with a passing interest. They were there to witness the last scheduled passenger services on BR booked to be worked by steam locomotives. When BR came into existence on 1 January 1948, it had inherited over 20,000 steam locomotives, and built a further 2500, ending in March 1960 when the freight locomotive Evening Star was completed at Swindon Works. Now only a handful remained, spread between the last three sheds open to steam, Carnforth, Lostock Hall and Rose Grove.
At around 2015 locomotive 45212 arrived from Lostock Hall. It would take the rear portion of the 1705 from Euston on to Blackpool North. The front portion would carry on to Carlisle hauled by a diesel-electric. Just over an hour later, hundreds gathered on platform 6 to record the arrival of the train from Glasgow, its diesel-electric come off and steam locomotive 45318 go on. Before it left for Liverpool Exchange, someone had climbed on the front 45318 and attached a headboard “The End Of LMS Steam.”
So many people travelled on the 2125 that anyone wanting to spend a penny would have to cross their legs as many of the toilets were crammed with passengers. Hundreds turned up at Liverpool Exchange, crowd control in the hands of a lone policeman and his dog. After a bit of a sing along, that was it. Steam traction on BR had come to an end.
On Sunday 4 August, various railway societies operated six there and back steam hauled specials, including Manchester Victoria to Southport; St Pancras to Carnforth via Manchester; Stockport to Carnforth. From Monday, 5 August, BR was steam free, apart from the three engines it operated on the narrow-gauge Vale of Rheidol line between Aberystwyth and Devils Bridge.
The following Sunday, BR ran its own commemorative special. Limited to 470 passengers, paying 15guineas each – £272.39 at 2018 prices, it ran from Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Victoria and then on to Carlisle and back. The first leg of train 1T57, hauled by 45110 departed Lime Street at 0910, pausing at Rainhill to mark the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1830. From Manchester Victoria, the train was hauled by 70013 Oliver Cromwell, the last steam locomotive overhauled for use by BR. At stations, on bridges and embankments along the route, enthusiasts gathered to watch, wave, cheer and photograph 1T57 on its way. They did the same for the return run.
The return leg Carlisle to Manchester Victoria was hauled by two engines 44781 and 44871. At Manchester, 45110 took the train back to Liverpool, arriving at Lime Street nine minutes late though no one cared.
Even this was not quite the end. 70013 ran light engine from Carlisle back to Lostock Hall and then ran overnight to Norwich, from where it was taken by road to Diss for preservation at the Bressingham Steam Centre. Of the other locos that had taken part in 1T57, 45110 and 44871 were preserved. 44781 was used in the movie Virgin Soldiers in which it was derailed and apparently arranged in an artistic pose for filming. It was bought for preservation but there was a problem in arranging for BR to re-rail it, so it was sold on to a scrap merchant who cut it up on site.
Once 70013 had reached Norwich, BR imposed a total ban on the use of steam locomotives though there was one exception. Alan Pegler, the owner of the preserved express loco Flying Scotsman, had a contract with BR allowing his engine to haul special trains.
And as for the railway enthusiasts? There was still a large number of steam locomotives operating in the UK but they were in industry, working at collieries, quarries, in steelworks, shipyards, engineering plants and so on – even the army still owned one or two.