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  • Andrew P.M. Wright

Chance for public to drive historic steam locomotive that hauled King George VI funeral train


She is an impressive and historic leviathan of steam – an iconic and powerful 95-ton express locomotive that had the honour of hauling the funeral train of King George VI from King’s Lynn in Norfolk to London during February, 1952.


Now, in a premiere hour-long driver experience opportunity, the public is being given the chance to experience the exciting once in a lifetime opportunity of driving No. 70000 ‘Britannia’ on the Swanage Railway with a full train of carriages in tow.


Driver experience slots are available across three days – Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 27, 28 and 29 March, 2023 - with participants having to be 18 years or older and complete a health and safety declaration.


No. 70000 ‘Britannia’ will be starring in the Swanage Railway’s three-day Spring Steam Gala from Friday to Sunday, 24 to 26 March, 2023, inclusive.


With one driver experience participant on ‘Britannia’s spacious footplate – and under the guidance of an experienced locomotive crew – the public can experience the excitement of being at the regulator of No. 70000 on an 11-mile, one-hour, return journey from Swanage, past the dramatic ruins of Corfe Castle and on to Norden.


Robert Patterson, the volunteer chair of the Swanage Railway Company - which runs the trains for the Swanage Railway Trust - said: “This is an amazing opportunity for the public to drive an historic leviathan of steam that had the sad honour of hauling the funeral train of King George VI, from King’s Lynn in Norfolk to London, during February, 1952, and there are currently only 12 slots available across two days.


“It’s like offering people the chance to pilot the iconic Concorde or drive a classic Formula One racing car – the stuff that amazing memories are made of.


“Unlike the Swanage Railway’s usual driver experience trains, this exciting premiere ‘Britannia’ taster driver experience offers the participant double the driving miles and double the driving time at the regulator of No. 70000 through the beautiful Purbeck countryside,” added Robert who is also a volunteer station porter on the popular heritage line.


Built at Crewe, and completed in January, 1951, No. 70000 ‘Britannia’ was the first British Railways Standard design locomotive and the first of 55 Britannia class locomotives to be built.


The powerful Class 7 locomotive was withdrawn from British Rail service in May, 1966, after 15 years of service on main line express trains out of north London to the east coast and across the London Midland Region of British Railways.


Swanage Railway Trust volunteer chair Gavin Johns explained: “No. 70000 ‘Britannia’ is historically important because it was the first steam locomotive of the new early 1950s range of standard designs to be built by British Railways aimed at taking our country’s railway network through the 1950s and the 1960s and replacing worn out steam locomotives from the late Victorian and Edwardian era.


“The early 1950s saw British Railways design a range of standard steam locomotives, of varying power classifications, that shared common parts with the new steam locomotives being cheaper to run and maintain.


“The last of the British Railways standard design of steam locomotives worked right up to the final day of steam traction on British Rail, in the north of England, during August, 1968,” added Gavin who is a volunteer signalman on the Swanage Railway.


The rare double mileage, double distance and double driving time opportunity at the regulator of No. 70000 ‘Britannia’ is reflected in the price of £550 per person.


To book a place on No. 70000 ‘Britannia’, visit the Swanage Railway website at swanagerailway.co.uk/events/view/britannia-driving-experience


Anyone interested in finding out more about volunteering should contact the Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention office on 01929 475212 or send an email to iwanttovolunteer@swanagerailway.co.uk.


More details about the varied volunteering opportunities on the Swanage Railway can be found at swanagerailwaytrust.org/volunteering.


Story and photograph by Andrew P.M. Wright,

Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer.

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