The Metropolitan Special

Railtours remembered: The Metropolitan Special

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In the first of an occasional new series, Andrew Royle looks back to a forgotten railtour over London Transport’s Metropolitan line in 1954.

65 years ago it was possible for an enthusiasts’ special train to attract the attention of the wider public – even at a time when steam traction reigned supreme on Britain’s railways. 

The event was a social occasion, and here the mayor of Willesden, Coun Horace Thorley, is delivering an oration at Willesden Green station on the outward journey.

The ‘Metropolitan Special’ tour operated by Railway World magazine achieved this feat during its run from London’s Moorgate station to Quainton Road and return on Sunday, May 23, 1954. 

The train was organised in response to suggestions from readers, and was formed of five Metropolitan compartment coaches in teak livery. It was headed by ‘E’ class 0-4-4T No. L48, one of a type which had worked passenger services over the ‘Met’ during the early years of the 20th century. 

The fare was 15 shillings. The crew were driver Robert Kettle and fireman Hicks of Neasden depot, accompanied by Mr Lowton, the train guard. 

The majority of the 300 participants boarded at Moorgate, from where the train departed promptly at 1.45pm, and set off at some speed. Indeed, they ran through King’s Cross at 34mph, much to the surprise of ordinary tube passengers, who looked on in amazement as the special clattered through, amid swirling smoke and steam.

One of the special requests made beforehand was for the train to be allowed to pass through Baker Street non-stop, something which the Daily Mail (perhaps a little over-dramatically) later said was unprecedented.

Having run round, No. L48 prepares to shunt the train from the Down platform to the Up, ready for the return to to the capital. 

However, the early pace meant they had soon caught up other traffic, and a series of signal checks were to precede a stop short of the station, presumably a regulation to avoid having to stop in the platform. 

Once through Baker Street, the loco was given its head up the grade to Finchley Road, emerging into the daylight and sending showers of sparks into the air; let’s say there was less concern over the fire risk in those days!

Read more and view more images in the July 2019 issue of The RM – on sale now!

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