By Robert H Foster

1967 was an Indian summer for Jubilee locomotives on the Settle-Carlisle line.

By an unexpected historical accident, the last express steam locomotives to haul scheduled passenger trains before the final demise of steam traction on British Rail, were the last two surviving former LMS (London Midland and Scottish Railway) Jubilee locomotives, nos. 45562 Alberta and 45593 Kohlapur, both based at Leeds Holbeck depot.

These engines were turned out each Saturday in the summer of 1967 to haul two relief trains over the 113 miles from Leeds to Carlisle.

Those trains were the 0640 Birmingham-Leeds and the 0920 London St. Pancras-Leicester, both of which were extended on summer Saturdays to Glasgow.

The 0640 train from Birmingham ran as a relief to the normal 1025 Leeds-Glasgow, while the 0920 from St Pancras ran through to Glasgow as a relief train to the Thames-Clyde Express.

Both these trains reached Leeds hauled by “Peak” class diesels – so called because they were named after peaks including the Three Peaks of Yorkshire, yet ironically it was the two Jubilee engines which took these trains past all the principal Pennine peaks, including the highest of them all, Cross Fell at 2930 feet.

On the morning of Saturday 10th August 1967 I joined the Birmingham-Glasgow train at Skipton, having paid 12/6 (62½p) for a child day return ticket to Carlisle, together with a large crowd of other passengers keen to witness something that it was expected would never be repeated.

The 8-coach train was hauled by 31-year old locomotive 45562 Alberta and left platform 4 at Skipton on time at 11.11 a.m. immediately behind the regular 1025 Leeds to Glasgow express, a train which itself no longer runs, which left at 11.05 a.m.

My train caught up with the regular train as the latter called at Settle, which the relief did not. The result was that we passed Settle Junction almost at walking pace right at the foot of the 15 mile climb, facing an almost continuous gradient of 1 in 100 to Blea Moor Tunnel – the line’s longest at 2629 yards – where the line levels out.

Having entered the tunnel at about 35 mph, the train emerged into the daylight of Dentdale travelling at 60 mph and held that speed along the undulating line through Garsdale before the final short climb to Ais Gill summit, just below the source of the River Eden, and at 1169 feet the highest railway summit in England.

The Eden in fact begins life as Hell Gill but one presumes that to Victorian Society Ais Gill – one mile north of the watershed – had a better ring.

Travelling mostly downhill to Carlisle at sea level, speed reached 80 mph at several points, compared with the overall line speed limit nowadays of just 60 mph.

All those interested in railways knew that this would be the last summer of steam hauled passenger trains, and although a few freight trains remain steam hauled into 1968, steam was eliminated completely as from 11th August 1968 – and not expected ever to return.

It is nostalgic, and sad to think that at summer weekends, even as late as 1967, there were seven express trains daily covering the Leeds-Carlisle line in each direction, including the daytime Waverley, and its overnight sleeping car counterpart, which ran between St. Pancras and Edinburgh.

One could take a direct train from Skipton to Edinburgh at 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. These took the North British Railway route north of Carlisle via Hawick, another beautiful railway.

However this was on borrowed time and closed 16 months later in January 1969. Although the northernmost third of this line between Galashiels and Edinburgh reopened in September 2015, the St. Pancras-Edinburgh trains will never return.