The Flying Scotsman is 100 - and I've driven it!
The most famous train in the world. A thing of beauty and mechanical excellence, the Flying Scotsman is more than a train. It sets hearts racing and memories flowing.
Back in the 1980’s, I was working for British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) in their publicity department.
It was a time when people were strongly against the idea of nuclear power, and my colleagues and I had an uphill battle producing brochures, writing copy, and commissioning photographers to sell the message that nuclear was safe and a key part of the UK’s power supply.
Someone came up with a concept of ‘From Steam to Nuclear’ which involved chartering the Flying Scotsman to take people from all around the country to come and see the wonder of the age - the Sellafield Visitors Centre.
The Sellafield Visitors Centre was right in the heart of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant, and was an interactive museum explaining nuclear power. It was a bit dry and technical if I’m honest, and its only busy days were when the heavens opened in the Lake District and there was absolutely nothing else to do.
The train line into the Sellafield site usually carried spent fuel rods, shipped in to Barrow and then taken by train to Sellafield for reprocessing, so bringing visitors in this way would be a novelty.
We organised 5 trips - from Edinburgh, Bristol, London and a couple of other cities which I forget (it was a long time ago).
We thought the tickets would be a hard sell, but to our surprise they sold out immediately and we were on.
Together with colleagues, this meant a night out in each of the cities beforehand on expenses (messy), then being on hand on the train to answer any tricky questions about nuclear power on the way to Sellafield.
There were no questions. Absolutely everyone who bought a ticket for the ’Sellafield Sightseer’ couldn’t care less about nuclear power, they just wanted to ride behind the famous train.
When we got to Sellafield, most of them didn’t even want to go to the visitor centre and wanted to stay with the train. We only persuaded them to go because the Scotsman had to be turned around and refuelled.
That's where I got my chance - to get the train to the turntable on site and the water storage area, meant going onto the 'live' part of Sellafield - only possible for staff and accompanied security-approved guests. So I hopped into the cab and joined the drivers who took the train onto the site.
Once on the site, the train was turned around and I asked "Can I drive it?"
The driver showed me a handle to pull (or push, I can't remember), and whatever I did, the mighty Flying Scotsman lurched forward a couple of meters with me at the controls. That was enough. I'd driven it.
I took these pictures on film and these are scans of prints done at the time, so not the best quality, but the trips provided some great memories (and a few good nights out) Happy Birthday Flying Scotsman!
The Sellafield Sightseer - the nameplate was raffled off to one of the passengers.
A little oil to keep things moving - I probably set this shot up!
A photo-stop en-route
On site in the heart of Sellafield. The building in the background is the THORP reprocessing plant - at the time the biggest construction project in Europe.
All images © Duncan Lomax, Ravage Productions