Once upon a time, one of the most romantic sights on the railways was a glamorous locomotive at the head of a train, waiting to whisk its passengers off to some far-off destination. Gleaming paintwork, polished brass, often an evocative name, the locos and their numbers were often legendary, such as Mallard and No. 4472, the Flying Scotsman. Branch line engines also had a charm of their own – witness the enduring attraction of Thomas the Tank Engine or the Titfield Thunderbolt. Even the diesel locomotives that replaced the giants of steam had their own special romance – many reckoned that the Deltics on the East Coast Main Line were as characterful as the ‘Streaks’ they replaced.
But as modernisation gathered pace in the 1970s, more humdrum multiple unit trains, which had already taken over the branch lines started to populate the main lines also. Somehow a train which looked the same at the front as at the back could never radiate the same kind of glamour. And the ease of operating ready-made trains in fixed formation seemed to mean that we would never see new locomotive hauled services again. One of the last bastions of loco haulage has been the class 91-hauled trains on the ECML, which later this year are to be replaced by multiple unit ‘Azumas’. Just about all that is left are the handful of ‘Silver Trains’ that run on the Chiltern line between London and Birmingham.
Who would have thought, then, that in 2018 new carriages would be built specially for loco-hauled services – the first since 1992 – and will form services running on Transpennine Express services between Liverpool and Scarborough. Although the locos will be modest second-hand diesel Class 68s, the 13 new rakes of coaches, built in Spain and due into service this autumn, look splendid. I can’t wait to try the new trains and go ‘back to the future’, hearing the roar of a locomotive on full throttle as the train powers over the hills.