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New Speed Records on the LNER

100 mph by “Flying Scotsman” Locomotive

The "Flying Scotsman"

The photograph above, shows No. 4472 “Flying Scotsman”, probably the best known locomotive of its class. The records described on this page are in keeping with its already distinguished career. It was exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 and 1925, and was the first engine to make the London to Edinburgh non-stop run in 1928.

SPEED records of quite a sensational nature were achieved on Friday, 30th November last, when the LNER made two experimental runs - from London (King’s Cross) to Leeds, and back from Leeds to London. On the down journey the 185.7 miles were covered non-stop in 2 hr. 31 min. 56 sec., at an average speed of 73.4 mph, while on the return trip, with an increased load, 5 min. more were taken, the average speed being 71 mph. Over the 371.4 miles of the double journey the average speed was 72.2 mph. The fastest regular train between King’s Cross and Leeds is the “Queen of Scots” Pullman, which performs the journey in 3 hr. 13 min; so that the outward run of the special train beat the best regular run by 41 min.

The locomotive responsible for these remarkable exploits was the famous Gresley “Pacific" No. 4472, "Flying Scotsman”. In the down direction the train consisted of a dynamometer car, a first-class corridor coach, a dining car and a brake van, weighing altogether 147 tons. For the up journey two more coaches were added, bringing the load up to 207 tons.

The demonstration was made as an answer to the challenge of the German Diesel-electric “Flying Hamburger” train that makes the run between Berlin and Hamburg, a distance of 178 miles, in 138 min. The special schedule adopted was actually suggested by the German railway authorities at the request of the LNER, and the timings set were those judged suitable for a “Flying Hamburger" service between London and Leeds. That schedule, which allowed 2 hr. 45 min. for the journey in each direction, requiring a speed of just under 70 mph, was improved on by 13 min. in the down direction and by 8 min. in the up.

The details of the running show some astonishing features. King’s Cross was left at 9.08 a.m. and Hatfield (17½ miles) was passed in 17 min. although the line is on the up grade almost all the way for the 12½ miles from the start to Potter’s Bar. On the favourable stretch between Hitchin and Huntingdon travelling became exceedingly swift and a maximum of 94½ mph was reached. Peterborough (76¼ miles) was passed in the phenomenal time of 60 min. 39 sec. from King’s Cross On the rising grades beyond, the running was astounding in its brilliance, and what was probably the most amazing feat of the day was accomplished by covering the 10 miles of decidedly adverse grades - averaging 1 in 200 - from beyond Essendine to Stoke summit box at an average speed of 82½ mph. So far from being “winded”- by the long climb to the summit, “Flying Scotsman” went over the top at 81 mph. Grantham (105½ miles) was passed in 83½ min. and Doncaster (156¼ miles) in 122½ min, the speed to this point having averaged 77 mph. Over the difficult, heavily-graded road beyond Doncaster, the running had to be somewhat restrained, while for the final 10 mile stage from Wakefield to Leeds, a speed limit of 45 mph had to be observed, so reducing the overall average.

The return journey was commenced at 2 p.m, and although, owing to the increased load and a severe p.w. check to 40 mph at Sandy, the time taken was longer by 5 min. and the average speed correspondingly lower, it was none the less of a record-breaking character, and in the course of it the highest speed of the day was attained. Owing to a reduction of speed in passing Grantham, and the stiff bank that follows, Stoke box was passed at 68 mph, but down the falling grades beyond acceleration was astonishingly rapid, and the speed rose steadily until 90 mph was reached. Even then it still continued to soar until ultimately near Little Bytham the stop-watch timing recorded a rate of 98 mph. For 3½ miles an average of 97.3 mph was sustained.

These, it would seem, are the highest fully authenticated speeds ever attained oil British railways. The long-credited 102 mph record of the GWR locomotive “City of Truro” has recently been subjected to a searching analysis in the “Railway Magazine” by which it has been well-nigh proved that a mistake was made in the timing and that so high a speed was not achieved. Of the accuracy of the speeds of “Flying Scotsman” there can be no doubt. In addition to the records that were taken in the dynamometer car, the running was timed with meticulous care by Mr. Cecil J. Allen, the most expert of train timers.

The LNER state that subsequent examination of the dynamometer car records has shown that the experimental train actually attained the magic rate of 100 mph, and maintained this over a distance of 600 yds. near Little Bytham station. For the first time therefore in steam locomotive history the claim to reach a speed of 100 mph has been supported by the precise and authentic records of the dynamometer car.

The GWR ‘‘Cheltenham Flyer” still holds the unbeaten record, made on 6th June, 1932, for a steam-drawn train, with a start-to-stop run from Swindon to Paddington at 81.6 mph, but that was for a distance of only 77¼ miles and over a very easy road. The LNER runs were for much longer distances, over a decidedly more difficult route, and far surpassed anything accomplished previously. In the course of that wonderful day no less than 250 miles were run at an average speed of 80 mph, and 40 miles at an average of 90.

Mr. Gresley’s splendid engine has certainly made new records and demonstrated that coal can still hold its own against oil in railway traction. It has shown conclusively that great accelerations are possible in British railway services.

The special train was in charge of Mr. V M Barrington Ward, superintendent Western Section, and the driver in both directions was the renowned Sparshatt of King’s Cross depot. His driving was supremely able and he was competently aided by fireman Webster, who during the double journey had to shovel 9 tons of coal from the tender to the fire-box.


You can read more on “The First 100mph on Rails”, “New Speed Records on the LNER”, and “Speed Trains of Britain” on this website.