Steam on the Main Line – The Return

Steam on the Main Line – The End of Steam on BR

Steam was banned on BR standard gauge track in August 1968. The ban lasted for three years and ended in October 1971 when GWR No.6000 King George V hauled a Return to Steam Special.

In 1971 Richard Marsh became the chairman of the British Railways Board and he agreed with the proposal of Peter Prior (the managing director of Bulmers) to use 6000 King George V to haul a five coach train on a Bulmers promotional tour of the country. In September 1971 the locomotive was inspected and passed for main line running  and two days later an unannounced trial run was made to Newport.

In early October 1971 6000 King George V made a four-day tour of the Western Region which included Kensington and Birmingham. Three British Rail Mk1 coaches were added to the Bulmers’ Pullman coaches and fare paying passengers were allowed to travel on the train. Two further runs were undertaken later in October 1971.

In June 1972 allowed a very limited return to steam on the main line.

This has been followed by many others but all steam locomotives operating on the main line have to meet conditions laid down by Network Rail and regulatory bodies.

All locomotives operating on the main line are required to have an annual operating certificate which amongst other things requires a boiler inspection. The boiler certificate can be renewed annually for up to ten years subject to at least one major intermediate inspection and re-tube of the boiler, normally after about 5-7 years.

Under the latest guidelines steam locomotives hauling passenger trains are normally limited to a maximum speed of 60mph, except for a few locomotives which have driving wheels of 6ft 2in diameter or larger which are approved for 75 mph running. Engines with driving wheels below 5ft 8in diameter are normally limited to 50mph, and those below 5ft in diameter are normally limited to 35mph.

It is compulsory for locomotives to be fitted with-

  • Speedometer
  • BR automatic warning systems (AWS)
  • Train Protection Warning System (TPWS)
  • On -Train Monitoring Recorder (OTMR) data recorders

Steam locomotives must also travel with a support coach.

All steam locomotives operating on the main line have to be recordered in the TOPS system which is used to identify all classes of electric, diesel and steam power operating on the network. Steam locomotives are coded 98 followed by a number for the specific locomotive. See full list of TOPs number allocated to steam locomotives. Many of these are no longer operating on the main line.

In 2013 A4 locomotive 60019 Bittern was allowed to exceed the 75mph limit which it normally operates to. It achieved speeds of around 93mph on two occasions. This speed was exceed in February 2017 when new build A1 locomotive, 60163 Tornado, achieved a speed of 100mph on a secret night time run on the East Coast line between Doncaster and Newcastle. This was the first time that a British steam locomotive had run at this speed since 1967.

In March 1993 Standard class 4MT 2-6-4T 80080 became the first steam engine to work a normal stopping passenger service on the mainline for over a quarter of a century. It worked for over a week on the Settle and Carlisle line working from Carlisle to Kirkby Stephen and back. In February 2017 Tornado worked an ordinary passenger train on the same route.

Steam on the Main Line – The End of Steam on BR

An excellent site for information

For details of steam hauled tours and locomotive movements on the main line go to This site also has up to date information on which locomotives are approved to run on the main line and where they are currently located.

This site has not been updated since May 2019 and a more useful site might be