This guest blog is written by Bob Gwynne, Associate Curator, Collections and Research at the National Railway Museum.
Back in February 2016, Flying Scotsman had just come out of a 10-year-long protracted overhaul. Its return to steam had wowed the crowds at the East Lancashire Railway and now it needed a loaded test run; somewhere it could truly ‘stretch its legs’. In the end it was arranged for the locomotive to haul the ‘Winter Cumbrian Mountain Pullman’ from Carnforth to Carlisle, returning via the Settle-Carlisle line and Hellifield. The train stormed Shap watched by hundreds in the pouring rain and arrived at Carlisle to a station packed with people of all ages who had turned out to see this British icon back on the tracks.
A few days earlier, a landslip had been detected on the S&C line near Appleby and there was some speculation as to whether the train would be allowed to travel back on the route. In the end the train was allowed to travel this way, though to do so required an unusual reversing move and a short section of ‘wrong line’ running (i.e. when a train uses the line normally reserved for going the other way). The landslip at Eden brows, near Armathwaite, was clearly more serious than first thought.
Given that winter 2015/2016 had been very wet, and ‘Storm Desmond’ had caused havoc and major flooding, a landslip did not seem too unusual on a line that has lots of embankments and cuttings. What those on the train could not realise however was the fact that the storm had increased a landslip problem the Settle-Carlisle had always had at this point of the line.
Eden Brow was being undercut by a swollen river and a 130-metre-long by 70-metre-wide landslip had happened, and was not stable. The line closed completely three days after Scotsman steamed by, while Network Rail faced up to how to fix the repair. Historians of the route pointed to the fact that the original builders had had problems at this point when the line was being built. 140 years later and infrastructure owners Network Rail soon realised they faced the most complex infrastructure repair of their existence. In the end to rebuild the line at this point they had to go down to bedrock and place 230 concrete piles on which they could float a concrete decking across the site, a bit like building a concrete viaduct and burying it. The job cost £23 million and took a year to complete. In the meantime, trains ran from Leeds to Appleby, with a bus link to Carlisle, not ideal for those trying to promote travel over what is the most scenic main line in Britain.
Eventually all the work to repair the line at Eden Brow was complete and to re-launch the railway Flying Scotsman was booked to haul a train over the line, starting from the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. Friday 31 March 2017 proved to be a fine day for the Pennines, with only a bit of rain, and good weather for the thousands of people waiting to watch the train steam by.
Bagpipe players saw the train off from Keighley and TV crews were there to cover the story. Back in February 2016, thousands had braved the weather to photograph the train along its journey, including several hundred stood in the near dark at the Ribblehead Viaduct. Then the train had been around 30 minutes late as a result of the extra manoeuvres required to go ‘wrong line’.
This time, in a bright spring morning and spot on time, Scotsman steamed over Ribblehead with a crowd watching from the line side. Indeed there must have been thousands of people out to see the train go by all along the line. The Settle-Carlisle was back – and even the weather seemed to be celebrating.