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75 Years Since Mallard Broke World Speed Record


8:46am 3rd July 2013

History is being made in York today as the world’s fastest steam locomotive, Mallard, is united with its five surviving sister engines in the National Railway Museum’s Great Hall, a spectacular international family reunion.

The National Railway Museum say’s two of the streamlined giants were repatriated from the North Americas and are fresh from a complex cosmetic restoration which has seen them transform from sixties shabbiness to the glamour of their heyday.

As the Museum’s (and the nation’s) 75-day countdown to the anniversary of Mallard breaking the world steam speed record finally reached its end, people from all over the world including Canada, the US and Australia were amassed to celebrate Mallard’s achievement and witness a sight never-seen-before which fulfilled the dreams of rail fans everywhere, say the National Railway Museum.

Anthony Coulls Senior Curator of Railway Vehicles at the National Railway Museum said: "Mallard greeted its sister locomotives Sir Nigel Gresley, Dwight D Eisenhower, Union of South Africa, Bittern and Dominion of Canada with its characteristic chime whistle before being ceremonially shunted into its display position. A fanfare played by the York Railway Institute Brass Band marked Mallard’s arrival into the Hall of Railway Greats and signalled that the Great Gathering, the centrepiece of the Mallard 75 celebrations, was complete.

“Bringing the collection to the widest possible audience is what it’s all about, and this Great Gathering, a fortnight-long exhibition celebrating British engineering genius showcasing all six survivors of the A4 class is the stuff that dreams are made of.”  

Joining them to mark this milestone in global history were the people that made the Great Gathering possible.

Representatives from the overseas museums that loaned the repatriated locomotives Dominion of Canada and Dwight D Eisenhower for two years specifically for the Mallard 75 celebrations, were there to watch their star exhibits’ moment of glory, along with Canadian High Commissioner Gordon Campbell. The ‘transatlantic  travellers’ arrived on UK soil last October after an epic transcontinental trek by rail flat car across North America and a 2,527 mile journey across the Atlantic.

Marie-Claude Reid, Executive Director General of Exporail the Canadian Railway Museum said: “Dominion of Canada looks amazing and we have watched its painstaking restoration every step of the way. We are thrilled to be loaning our treasured locomotive to the National Railway Museum to help the British people mark 75 years since Mallard broke the world speed record in style, but we look forward to its return and displaying it alongside the Royal Hudson where you can walk underneath it.

Jacqueline D Frank, Executive Director at the National Railroad Museum said:

 “It’s fantastic to see our locomotive surrounded by its surviving class members at this national and international celebration. The quality of the restoration work is astounding and we can’t wait to show it off in its new home, in a purpose-built climate controlled building along with the World War II command cars. Although built in Doncaster it occupies a special place in the hearts of the American people due to it being re-named after the wartime general that became our 34th president.”

Andrew Goodman from West Midlands firm Moveright International  who has acted as the museum’s agent the other side of the Atlantic free of charge, was also there to see the fruit of his company’s two months of labour across the pond in summer 2012. Shipping company ACL, who generously offered to transport the duo across the ocean in one of their roll on-roll off vessels, were also thrilled to see the culmination of the endeavour. Both firms along, with Peel Ports, have committed to return the locomotives to their home museums next year.

The National Railway Museum workshop teams, alongside expert painting contractors Heritage Painting and M-Machine who gave the Doncaster-built locomotives makeovers in preparation for this year’s 75th anniversary celebrations, were delighted to see their efforts shown off on the world stage. Over 100 litres of filler, 200 litres of paint and 2000 man hours were needed to bring the streamliners back to their beautiful best.

On day 50 of the countdown the National Railway Museum launched a search to find the drivers and other crew that worked on Mallard and its sisters in its final decades on the tracks. Some of these crew who are also attending a special drivers day on 26 October wanted to give testament to the brilliance of the British-built steam giants during the anniversary celebrations.

Former fireman/driver, Ronald Birch, who worked at Doncaster and later the infamous Top Shed at Kings Cross said:

“I’ve worked on diesel but there’s nothing like steam and the Gresley A4 locos were the best of them all.”

Descendents of locomotive designer Sir Nigel Gresley and the footplate crew during the actual record-breaking run also were among the crowds paying homage to their forefathers’ achievements in securing the world speed crown for Britain 75 years ago.

Tim Godfrey from Claverley, Shropshire and his brother Ben from Northiam, Sussex said: “We are so proud of our grandfather’s achievement in designing a loco that created a British record that is unsurpassed to this day. We wouldn’t have missed this anniversary celebration which means so much to so many people including ourselves and our families.”

The owners of the three operational A4s, No. 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley, No. 60009 Union of South Africa and No. 4464 Bittern also witnessed their machines take to the limelight with pride. They generously gave their locomotives a break from rail tours around the UK to help the Museum celebrate the 75th anniversary in a fitting fashion,

The Great Gathering which runs until 17 July is just one event in the Mallard 75 series of events and activities of which HRH, the Prince of Wales is Patron. An art gallery exhibition on the theme of speed ‘It’s Quicker by Rail’ opens on 4 July and over the school summer holidays children can build a miniature vehicle, enter it into a race and take part in a family fun trail based on the theme of speed. On the opening weekend on 27-28 July families can also see live steam scale model demonstrations by The Gauge One Model Railway Association of Mallard's world-record-breaking run.  A recreation of the Terence Cuneo masterpiece Giants Refreshed has also been commissioned as part of the celebrations by Lancashire-based firm Heritage Painting who painted two of the locomotives on display.

A new 12-seater simulator opens to the public on 3 July. The Mallard Experience is a thrilling ride which allows visitors to take a birdseye view of the record breaking run and used the historical expertise of museum curators to recreate the sights sounds and smells as the locomotive legend raced into history on 3 July 1938.

On that day, the mighty blue Mallard was recorded as reaching the awe-inspiring speed of 126mph on the East Coast Main Line, breaking the existing German record of 124 mph set in 1936. No 4468 Mallard built at LNER’s Doncaster Works was chosen as the perfect vehicle for the latest attempt on the world steam speed crown because it was the first of the class to be fitted with a double chimney. Due to the subsequent evolution of diesel traction and the outbreak of the Second World War, Mallard’s record still stands and to this day inspires a sense of National pride that a British locomotive is still recognised across the globe as the fastest steam locomotive in the world.

The ‘Great Gathering’ of Mallard and its sisters takes place from today (3 July) to the 17th July at the National Railway Museum in York.  There are plans to reunite the six streamlined steam giants for two follow-up events, an Autumn Gathering in York and a ‘Great Goodbye event in Shildon, Co. Durham from 15-23 February 2014.

For more information on the National Railway Museum’s 75th anniversary plans for 2013/2014 including photography evenings at Shildon visit nrm.org.uk/mallard75. For regular updates follow the museum ontwitter.com/railwaymuseum or on facebook.com/nationalrailwaymuseum.

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