Humble’s Grumbles : Getting steamed up about trainspotters

Mike Humble

After a 10 year overhaul. Flying Scotsman eases away from "The Cross" on her 393 mile journey to Edinburgh. It wasn't smooth running though.
After a 10-year overhaul, Flying Scotsman eases away from ‘The Cross’ on her 393-mile
journey to Edinburgh. It wasn’t smooth running though. (Image: Reuters)

It’s not all about cars you know. Here, at AROnline, we love all modes of transport in general and, within a few weeks of the celebration of Concorde’s 40th anniversary of its maiden passenger flights which took off at exactly the same time from Paris and Heathrow, another transport legend has made the news. I’m referring, of course, to LNER Class A3 4472 Flying Scotsman returning to all of her 29,500lb ft tractive effort steam glory after one of the most extensive and longest overhauls ever undertaken on a preserved locomotive.

Purchased by the National Railway Museum (NRM) with the aid of a £300,000 donation from Virgin Trains in 2006, Scotty didn’t exactly get off to a flying – or, rather, steaming start when she finally found a stable environment to live in. Previous entrepreneurs had owned her in the past – all of them running into financial or operational difficulties in one form or another.

The last time I viewed her, she was undergoing a boiler certification and specification overhaul at York shortly after purchase and, on that occasion, a retired British Rail Engineering Engineer with a loose tongue whispered some facts into my ear that made my heart sink.

It transpired that, once the Engineering Team at the NRM had done an in-depth inspection, they realised that the Flying Scotsman was, in the aforementioned chap’s words, ‘pretty knackered’. The NRM had been so keen to purchase the arguably most famous steam engine in the world that not enough time had been devoted to really checking the loco over beforehand.

The Flying Scotsman had, in fact, received a detailed and extensive overhaul work previously but this turned out to be inferior in almost every aspect – one of the most serious worries being an extensively cracked chassis frame. The engine was in such a condition that she was eventually moved to specialist engineer’s in Lancashire for attention.

Anyway, to the present – it’s brilliant news that she’s now back doing her best and plying her trade by pounding the almost 400 route miles from London’s Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverly. Sadly, this lovely event was spoilt by so-called train enthusiasts trespassing on private property and Network Rail (NR) sites.

I spoke to a contact who’s brother-in-law owns a property that’s literally a few feet away from the four-track racing stretch between York and Darlington and very close to the old water troughs at South Otterington. Being a rail fan himself, he expected a handful of people to access his land to grab that perfect steam snap but drew the line (no pun intended) when the eventual tally came to about three dozen.

When he confronted them, he was met with either being ignored or treated to verbal abuse so the police were called. Network Rail had, of course, forecast that there would be huge public interest and had therefore dispatched dozens of marshals and security staff to strategic points but, as is often the case, a minority spoil things for others.

It got so serious that ECML drivers were reporting to signallers and operational control about members of the public trespassing in places literally inches away from certain death or serious injury. The situation was so bad that the train was stopped and the line shut down for almost 20 minutes as it made its way across the Fenlands of Cambridgeshire because 60 or more people were actually standing in the cess (the trackside gravel) all in the name of photography.

Scotty at North Road works Darlington prior to her tour of the United States of America. I'm proud to say that both my late Father before leaving his B.R apprenticeship for a long career in the Army and Grandfather both worked on her in the early `60s
Scotty at North Road works Darlington prior to her tour of the United States of America.
I’m proud to say that both my late Father (before leaving his BR apprenticeship for a long
career in the Army) and Grandfather both worked on her in the early 1960s at both the
North Road assembly shops and Shildon fabrication works. (Image: BR Eastern region)

The train’s arrival at Edinburgh was over an hour late owing to a NR instruction to operate at a much lower speed which meant that NR was forced to cause delays to some scheduled high-speed services. What annoys me more than anything else is the sometimes selfish behaviour of these so-called rail fanatics. We are talking of people who often claim to have an above average understanding and empathy for the railway industry and infrastructure.

Sadly some, but not all, are nothing short of a pain in the @rse. I personally recall a visit which another preserved loco, LMS Princess Coronation Class 6233 Duchess of Sutherland, made to Darlington’s Bank Top station – its driver refused to acknowledge the right to depart signal until spectators were moved from the bottom of the platform ramp.

Now I and many of you good readers adore both old diesel and steam locomotive traction. Indeed, had previous life events been different, I would have certainly entered into a career on the railway, but it saddens me to hear and read about grown adults behaving like nothing more than spoilt children.

I know for a fact that some key people within Network Rail would like nothing more than a total ban on preserved rail operating on the network – any repetition of situations like this will make it harder for Rail Tour Operators to obtain permission to access and use the lines for the benefit of enthusiasts like you and I who are blessed with a bit more common sense and a desire for self-preservation.

Be a fan by all means but, for crying out loud, play safe and respect the safety of yourself, the railway operating companies and employees – not to mention the travelling public!

Mike Humble


  1. Hear hear. These people really should know better and a few prosecutions for trespass maybe would send the message to these otherwise law abiding citizens.

    It is far from a rare occurence that the railways are delayed due to “persons on the track”.

  2. I cannot conceive of anything more stupid than standing on a high speed track to take pictures. It is a great shame , and as Alastair says , just gives ammunition to the Network Rail attitude . Incidentally, I cannot understand why there is quite such fuss about 4472 – I would have thought that the far more famous locomotive ( and much, much more beautiful ) was Mallard

  3. Yet another demonstration of the Darwin Award mentality of so many people. Glad the loco is back up and running, doesn’t surprise me that the engineering checks could have been more thorough, most people today if you mentioned Walschaerts valve gear would think you were talking about a new indie band. Wonder how much filler and newspaper they used on the chassis rails..

  4. Not just the trespassing bit, but doing it on a railway you run the risk of getting a Criminal Record! serious business.

  5. Whilst we are having a grumble, can I point out that the people who were trespassing yesterday should NOT be considered ‘enthusiasts’. I am amongst those that you call an enthusiast, and go trackside, on the correct side of the fence regularly, and I was joined at Werrington junction yesterday by huge numbers of ‘the public’. Fortunately where I was everyone behaved well, but as has been reported, at other locations this was not the case. The real enthusiasts, including myself, were very critical of the actions of yesterdays trespassers, and would be only too happy for those guilty to be prosecuted by NR. Sadly, as usual, we all get Tarred with the same brush. We do not support, nor condone trespass, as we also realise that certain groups and individuals will jump at any opportunity to remove heritage operations from the main line. Incidentally, Scotsman’s run yesterday was only as far as York.

  6. The same occurs in aviation circles, mike. XH558 (the last airworthy Vulcan bomber) almost had to cancel certain flights and the actual final flight was shrouded in secrecy to avoid the selfish Muppetry you describe above.

  7. Hear hear, I’m a big rail fan myself and do a bit of railway photography but I would never trespass onto the tracks to get a picture of anything. I agree all who trespassed should be prosecuted for it

  8. Trainspotting, Plane Spotting, Motor Racing… unfortunately the same brain deads always get involved….
    Rallying is always on the edge because of where brain deads stand, more stages get cancelled in rallying because of this over everything else.
    To see the reports yesterday doensn’t surprise me, people just seem to get more and more selfish… or is it that it just gets reported more?

  9. By the way will Humble’s Grumbles become a regular feature? A forum for us all to have a good old fashioned moan? I hope so

  10. I love to see Class 37s haul trains between Carlisle and Barrow and took great pleasure on being on one of these trains after 27 years of Pacer and Sprinter tedium.

  11. The image showing Scotsman prior to the tour of the USA, note the bell and cowcatcher, the caption states Darlington, I think it is not darlington, but Doncaster Plant, and Scotsman is standing on one of the Painting Shop Roads, and gabled roof of the Erecting shops in the background.

  12. I would have given the order to keep running as normal. The result: all trains would have been on time and the halfwits would not be around to disrupt things ever again. I mean – what’s not to like?

    I read somewhere that NR/BTP will not be prosecuting anyone – which, of course, is a green light to these morons to do the same thing again and again.

    BTW, I’m not sure I like her new smoke deflectors. They spoil her elegant lines. Are they really necessary? Do they really make a difference?

  13. Sorry Mike but I think someone’s been feeding you duff gen. “Scotsman” only went as far as York on Thursday, didn’t pass through Otterington, or get anywhere near Edinburgh.

  14. I blame social media. I’m willing to bet the large majority of idiots referred to are just punters jumping on the band wagon not true rail enthusiasts.

  15. Sadly this egocentric attitude is not just the preserve of train enthusiasts but in other areas too, where laws relating to restricted access due to no public right of way being blatantly ignored.

    Consider people who ignore health and safety signs near unstable cliffs or on moorland, only to end up getting lost, injured or even killed. They all have the same egocentric traits which is often further fueled when they meet up with other members of the in-group, thus sharing and reinforcing social norms, even if it is against their own personal beliefs. Then when someone looks to challenge those norms and in-group behaviour, you get the pack behaviour. A social psychologists dream definitely, but for everyone else not interested in studying human behaviour it represents a potential inconvenience and loss of moral and legal respect.

  16. Magnus – ref the smoke deflectors – they are period correct for the late 50s/ early 60s livery she wears at the moment because a double blast pipe was fitted then, giving a lower pressure exhaust which drifted more and obscured signals. She didn’t have them between construction and the late 50s. Agree they don’t do anything for looks though!

  17. Those modifications gave the Gresley Pacifics an Indian Summer on the East Coast mainline, For the steam to diesel paseneger haulage transition in the early 1960s, the early 2000 hp diesels were not really up task of to the accelerated passenger diagrams.

    The quick fix of the double-blastpipe and German-style smoke deflectors was the work of Peter Townend of Kings Cross 34A, the extra power and speed, plus lower coal consumption meant the elderly A3 pacifics could match or even beat with their modern diesel rivals!

    Peter Towend:

  18. “I spoke to a contact who’s brother-in-law owns a property that’s literally a few feet away from the four-track racing stretch between York and Darlington and very close to the old water troughs at South Otterington. Being a rail fan himself, he expected a handful of people to access his land to grab that perfect steam snap but drew the line (no pun intended) when the eventual tally came to about three dozen.”

    Some of them can be complete arse****s. I visited a preserved line a few summers ago, at one of the stations I decided to walk up to the end of the train to take a look at the loco. Alas I didn’t see the guy with the video camera set up at the back of the platform.

    He comes out swearing his head off, and stands directing in front of me, face inches from mine. He then starts threatening to thump me and find me later. All because I got into his shot one whole second, when I didn’t see him. Even if I did, there was no way he could simply block the whole platform.

    Fortunately the station staff intervened and led the psycho nutter off the premises. It shook me up and I’m afraid it has soured my opinion of train spotters.

  19. My father in law is a self confessed train spotter but he gets so furious at these people. My parents have also had the experience of dealing with these numties on a heritage line. They got on at Kidderminster and was in a coach for disabled people (my dad has to use a wheelchair because of his Parkinsons) and was ceremonially barged out of the way by these people as they wanted to take a picture of a train at the next station.

    However this does not just relate to those who like trains. The Vulcan flyover at Southend Airport saw the same idiots dumping their cars everywhere including other peoples driveways so they could get to see the plane! It was utter madness.

  20. There are a minority who give this interest a bad name and for decades rail enthusiasts have had a negative image among the general public, as people who are a bit weird and spend their days on station platforms taking photos and discussing at great length the noise made by a Deltic. The behaviour of that so called enthusiast bartelbe has mentioned is more like that carried out by some of the idiots who latch on to football.

  21. @ Ralph Pipers Haircut, I can think of a few other names for the lunatic fringe who give the rail enthusiast scene a bad name, but I won’t publish them here. Luckily most people in the scene tend never to trespass, jump on railway lines, or harass people for access to their gardens near a railway line.

  22. Given that we invented railways in Britain, why is it that we seem so incapable of not getting killed by them?

    Whilst our railways are heavily fenced off we seem to hear endless stories like this of people killing themselves or nearly killing themselves by trains usually complete with some newspaper campaign for yet more fences, guarded crossings etc. Yet the car (something we did not invent) we seem able to live with without throwing ourselves under its wheels despite most of our roads being unfenced.

    In Sweden a country known for its risk adverse nature, I think mainly because that element left as Vikings to go raping and pillaging so leaving behind a people who would not go near a longboat due to its lack of side impact protection, I note does not fence its railways off to anything like extent we do, and yet they seem able to avoid throwing themselves under the wheels of their trains, or creating a short circuit with the overhead cables.

  23. Good piece. And a valid point that the minority (so often) spoil it for the decent enthusiasts. Isn’t that true across all walks of life though? Also, you’ve adopted my ‘Humble’s Grumbles’ suggestion, hooray!

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