August 11, 1968: Britain’s last steam passenger train
After World War II, the low price of domestic coal meant that steam trains continued to operate in the UK for two decades. But when the price of oil began to fall in the 1960s and so-called “dieselization” began, it marked the beginning of the end for steam.
Diesel engines were faster, easier to maintain and cleaner. And on August 12, 1968, British Railways imposed a ban on all mainline steam traffic – although there were still some heritage services running and some locomotives had been used in the industry until the 1980s.
The last mainline steam passenger train preempted the ban on that day in 1968 from Liverpool via Manchester to Carlisle and back. He was named the Special Fifteen Guinea, due to high prices for travel – £15 15s 0d equals £250 today. By comparison, an open second class ‘anytime’ return on the same journey today would cost £101. Despite the cost, 450 rail enthusiasts joined the tour to say goodbye to over 138 years of British history.
Four locomotives took turns pulling the final excursion: three unnamed Class 5s and the Britannia class Oliver Cromwell, which was the last steam locomotive to be overhauled by British Railways. Three of the four locomotives have been preserved, with Oliver Cromwell taking almost four years to be restored to working order.
The steam ban was lifted in 1971, paving the way for the many heritage specials currently in service on the railways.