Clan Line reaches Swanage – 46 years late

Above: another Southern pacific, Manston, at Swanage, 2010

One of Britain’s most impressive steam engines has reached the seaside – 46 years after setting off for Swanage.

British Railways decided in 1966 that Clan Line was too large and heavy to complete its journey along the Swanage branch. But last week, the engine proved the old state rail network wrong and completed its long-awaited journey without incident.

Clan Line is a ‘pacific’ – the largest express passenger steam engines used in Britain. A pacific was the last locomotive you’d expect to see on a branch line. Clan Line’s 1966 trip was a special, and Britain’s preserved lines use far larger engines than they’d have seen in normal life. (A modest tank engine would have been more than enough to cope with a typical train in normal times.)

The Swanage Railway line is a delight. We visited in 2009 when Owen was approaching his first birthday, and took a return trip from Norden to Swanage the following year behind Manston, a Battle of Britain class pacific. The line revels in its LSWR and Southern Railway heritage. And it’s wonderful to reach the seaside by steam.

One last thought. The Southern was our most modern railway, with its extensive electrified network, yet provided London’s last steam express train service until 1967. The steam engines now visiting Swanage were those that took Londoners to the coast in the era of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Here’s the video I shot in 2010 of Southern pacifies on the Swanage line: