On 11 August 1968, 138 years of British Railway history came to an end with the running of the final steam-hauled passenger service. Called the 15 Guinea Special on account of its high cost (around £260 in today’s money), the train ran from Liverpool to Carlisle and was pulled by a succession of four locomotives.
Britain had brought steam and railway locomotion to the world through Richard Trevithick, builder of the first steam locomotive, and father and son George and Robert Stephenson who, in 1825, set up the first passenger service on a public line running from Stockton to Darlington. Britain’s fortunate geological location meant the abundance of quality coal that supplied the rail system also perpetuated its existence long after other countries had converted to diesel or electric power. That’s one reason why steam was still in use in 1968.
The last steam journey to be a scheduled national railway service started from Liverpool’s Lime Street Station, with 450 enthusiasts aboard. The carriages were pulled first by ex-LMS Class 5 45110, followed by Britannia Class 70013 Oliver Cromwell, ex-LMS Class 5 locomotives 44781 and 44871, and finally 45110 again.
The following day a complete ban on steam locomotives was applied to the main-line network. The ban was partially lifted in 1971 to reflect growing interest in heritage and nostalgia, and there have been anniversary re-runs of the 15 Guinea Special in 1993, 2008 and in 2013. The latter two even used one of the original engines from the 1968 journey, the Oliver Cromwell. There will, of course, be a 50th anniversary celebration this August.
Note the phrase ‘main-line network’, above. That’s because the steam locos of the Vale of Rheidol narrow-gauge railway operated under British Rail ownership (and were even painted BR ‘corporate blue’ for many years) until 1989 – when this steam railway became the first part of BR to be privatised.