“The Elizabethan” Express

by Chris Jones on February 14, 2015

Ever since railway companies were established there has always been intense rivalry between them, on land and even on water, and this was especially true for destinations on the Clyde. Fast trains would depart Glasgow for the railway company railheads where passengers would board the steamers and the race would then continue on the water. The competing vessels would be in close proximity to one another, sometimes even side by side. One can imagine the captains yelling instructions to their engineers to give them more speed, and the heat generated down below as the stokers were busily shovelling coal into the furnaces. As time progressed and railway companies amalgamated, the competition became less intense, but even in the days of British Railways (BR) when the remaining independent companies had been forced to merge, there was still competition between regions and nowhere was this more apparent than on the main lines between London and Scotland. The West Coast Main Line (WCML) between London Euston and Glasgow Central, formerly operated by the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS), was now part of the London Midland Region of BR while on the other side of the country, the East Coast Main Line (ECML) running between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh Waverley and formerly operated by the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), was now part of the Eastern Region of BR. Both the LMS and LNER had developed powerful steam locomotives to operate on the long routes north and every effort was made to maximize their horsepower and speed. Streamlining was introduced to minimize air-resistance and although this was later removed from the LMS locomotives it persisted on the LNER A4 Pacific locomotives designed by the legendary Sir Nigel Gresley. It was one such locomotive, number 4468 Mallard, that captured the world speed record of 126 mph for steam traction on 3rd July, 1938, a record that still stands to this day. Nigel Gresley also designed a special corridor tender for his top link locomotives so that footplate crews could change over without the train having to stop. Every second counted and Gresley was particularly mindful of this.

Produced in 1954, Elizabethan Express is one of the best British Railways films that captures the competition between regions by telling the story of “The Elizabethan”, a summertime, non-stop express that operated between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh Waverley from 1953 until the mid-1960’s. There are some great scenes in this film, particularly of the locomotive 60017 Silver Fox traveling at high speed. See if you can spot Scottish fireman Mungo in his best brogues vigorously shoveling coal on the fire. I could not find a film of similar calibre for the West Coast route and so regret that Glasgow is not included. However, the railway employees featured in this film were representative of those employed on trains and in stations and depots throughout the country. I can say from my own family experience in Glasgow that they certainly took pride in their work.

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