The end of steam traction by British Railways in 1968 gave renewed impetus to the railway preservation movement. As diesel and electric locomotives replaced steam devoted enthusiasts started to rescue steam locomotives destined for the cutters torch. In the beginning locomotive and rolling stock restoration was neither a co-ordinated or planned affair. Various like minded, but mainly unconnected groups launched literally hundreds of rescue operations, not all succeeded. Fortunately a great many did and preserved steam locomotives from the former British Railways stock list total almost 400. In addition there are at least 10 ‘New Build’ BR type steam locomotive projects under way, some of which are utilising preserved but un-restored engines as ‘donors’. Several locomotives, not of BR origin but of ‘type’, now carry BR series numbers in preservation.
In addition to those owned by us all (the National Collection) steam locomotives are also owned by individuals, trusts, companies and preserved railways. Indeed the preservation of unwanted sections of railway track and associated infrastructure ran hand in hand with locomotive rescue; accordingly 40 years after the end of steam the UK now has 71 standard gauge heritage railways and some 45 listed narrow gauge steam operations.Restored steam locomotives are used extensively on main line specials and in the summer of 2008 there were 11 tour promoting companies listed, operating between them some 25 main line steam specials per month, during the high season. There are also regular steam services on offer during the holiday months on routes which include Fort William - Mallaig, Birmingham - Stratford upon Avon, Bristol - Kingwear and York - Scarborough.Almost all of the preserved railways operate steam services and they are collectively a very important element of the UK tourist industry. Significantly the preserved railways cater not just for enthusiasts but for family groups. In the main the railways are operated by volunteers who have the privilege of working with preserved engines, carriages, signalling systems, stations and railway workshops etc. Those all important volunteers are effectively the custodians of our nation’s rich railway heritage. The National Railway Museum plays an important role in the preservation of steam locomotives as in addition to the national locomotive collection it holds important engineering drawings and invaluable railway archive material.To their credit the preservationists also rescued diesel and electric locomotives and a large number of Diesel Mechanical Units (DMU’s) many examples of which can be seen at preserved railways and occasionally on the main lines of the UK network.
© John Bowler - UK Mainline Steam Locomotives