In 1968 British Rail ran its final mainline steam passenger service. In the intervening 55 years, the love of steam has not diminished.
The excitement of travelling in the company of a magnificent steam locomotive has lost none of its charm and, with the most famous of them all, Flying Scotsman, celebrating its centenary this year, the fascination with steam travel has reached new heights.
A company renowned for helping to keep steam running on the mainline is The Railway Touring Company. For over 25 years this heritage rail operator has organised steam specials giving new generations the chance to experience the thrills of steam travel.
With more than 15 trains from the London area this summer, The Railway Touring Company’s schedule provides a great choice of scenic routes and destinations, including fascinating historic and maritime cities Exeter, Plymouth, York and Worcester, and favourite seaside resorts Bournemouth, Weymouth, Minehead, Margate and Herne Bay.
Magnificent steam locos
Some of the country’s best preserved steam locomotives will be in action hauling The Railway Touring Company’s trains, including No. 6233 Duchess of Sutherland, No. 45596 Bahamas and No. 35018 British India Line. Steaming at the head of vintage rail coaches these mighty locos will turn heads all the way.
Departure points include London stations, Slough, Staines, Guildford, Woking and Reading, depending on where your train is heading.
Settle & Carlisle Line
Take the Cumbrian Mountain Express on Saturdays, May 13, June 3 or August 5, from London Euston and you will enjoy all the drama of the famous Settle & Carlisle Line. Your vintage train will be joined by a steam locomotive at Carnforth, then, sit tight as you steam across the rugged Cumbrian Fells to Carlisle. A stroll round this ancient border city will reveal its imposing castle, cathedral and museum, before you re-board for the highlight of the day, a steam run over the breath-taking Settle and Carlisle Line. Watch out for the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct and the towering Three Peaks along the way!
Steam to the coast
Leave from London Waterloo steam hauled on Saturday, May 20, on board the Atlantic Coast Express and you are in for a scenic journey along part of the route of the old ‘ACE’ service, which started back in 1926. Today, enjoy the run as far as Exeter where you will find plenty to see before the journey home.
For more maritime adventures there is the South Devon Explorer from Woking and Guildford on Saturday, May 27, picking up steam traction at Bristol. A run along the Dawlish sea wall adds to the excitement as you head to the historic port of Plymouth. There, you can see the Hoe and old Barbican area with the Mayflower Steps or explore the city’s shops.
The End of Southern Steam on Sunday, July 9, marks the anniversary of the end of Southern steam. Departing from Victoria steam hauled, this train will pass through the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at Tisbury in Dorset. You can visit the seaside town of Weymouth for the afternoon.
North to York
York is the destination of The White Rose from Kings Cross on Saturday, July 15. No. 46233 Duchess of Sutherland is due to head the train as it races north to this historic walled city, with its majestic Minster, river cruises, medieval shopping streets and excellent museums, including, of course, the National Railway Museum!
Summer seaside specials
Summer seaside specials include the West Somerset Steam Express from Paddington, Slough and Reading, on Saturdays, July 22, August 12 and September 16. This service offers the bonus of travelling with two steam locomotives in one day – the train departs from Paddington with No. 45596 Bahamas, which will be replaced by a West Somerset Railway loco at Bishops Lydeard for the run into the resort of Minehead.
The Dorset Coast Express also operates during the school holidays on Wednesdays, July 26 and August 2. Steaming from Victoria, Staines and Woking, this seaside train will take you for an afternoon in beautiful Bournemouth, or stay on board for the seaside town of Weymouth with splendid scenery along the way.
On Sunday, July 30, departing from Slough and Reading, The Royal Duchy will be joined by an historic steam loco at Bristol. With steam along the Dawlish sea wall, there is plenty to see before reaching Plymouth, where you can spend the afternoon or continue to Par to visit the pretty Cornish port villages of Fowey or Charlestown.
More options include The Kentish Belle on Wednesday, August 9, from Victoria and Bromley South to Canterbury or the Kent coast resorts of Ramsgate, Broadstairs, Margate, Herne Bay and Faversham, and The Cotswold Venturer, on Saturday, August 26, from Paddington, Slough and Reading to the cathedral city of Worcester.
Treat yourself to on board dining
With The Railway Touring Company, passengers travelling Standard are welcome to take their own picnic to enjoy on board or purchase refreshments. However, for a real treat book First or Premier. With First Class, during the morning there is tea or coffee, a bacon/breakfast roll and a muffin and, in the afternoon, tea or coffee with a savoury of the day followed by a scone with butter and jam.
For a truly special occasion opt for Premier Dining. You will enjoy a full English breakfast and a four-course dinner, freshly prepared on board and silver served at your linen clad table. What better way to celebrate a birthday or anniversary or give family and friends a most memorable day!
Want to make a holiday of it?
The Railway Touring Company also offer a wide range of rail-themed holidays exploring the length and breadth of the British Isles, including Scotland and the Welsh Mountains, as well as rail adventures across Europe, including stunning Switzerland, Italy and Norway, and far beyond to Colorado & the Rockies and Sri Lanka!
To find out more or to book visit UK Steam Rail Day Trips and Worldwide Rail Holidays