The surprising story of how Britain entered a new age of steam railways after the Second World War and why it quickly came to an end.
After the war, the largely destroyed railways of Europe were rebuilt to carry more modern diesel and electric trains. Britain, however, chose to build thousands of brand new steam locomotives. Did we stay with steam because coal was seen as the most reliable power source or were the railways run by men who couldn’t bear to let go of their beloved steam trains?
The new British locomotives were designed to stay in service well into the 1970s, but in some cases they were taken off the railways and scrapped within just five years. When Dr Richard Beeching took over British Railways in the 1960s the writing was on the wall, and in 1968 the last steam passenger train blew its whistle.
But while steam use declined, steam enthusiasm grew. As many steam engines lay rusting in scrapyards around Britain, enthusiasts raised funds to buy, restore and return them to their former glory. In 2008, the first brand new steam locomotive to be built in Britain in nearly 50 years rolled off the line, proving our enduring love of these machines.