Published: September 30, 2016
Story and Photographs by Andrew P.M. Wright Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer
Named after Her Majesty the Queen when she was a child, the country's largest operational steam locomotive has hauled a special main line excursion train from London down to Corfe Castle and Swanage.
Built by the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company at Crewe during 1933 for hauling prestigious express trains, the iconic 160-ton No. 6201 'Princess Elizabeth' made history by being the largest steam locomotive to visit the Swanage Railway.
The powerful steam locomotive still holds a world record speed record for a steam locomotive that was set in 1936 when it ran at more than 70 mph on the west coast main line between London and Glasgow.
Crowds gathered at Corfe Castle and Swanage to watch the arrival of the 621-tonne ten-carriage train organised by Steam Dreams with the locomotive sporting a Cathedrals Express headboard on its smokebox door.
A majestic leviathan of steam owned and operated by the Princess Elizabeth Locomotive Society, 'Princess Elizabeth' departed London's Victoria station just before 9am for the five-hour journey to the Isle of Purbeck.
After its passengers spent more than three hours enjoying the delights of Swanage and Corfe Castle, the long train departed Swanage for London's Waterloo station at 5.20pm – reaching the Capital just after 10pm.
Swanage Railway Company chairman Trevor Parsons said: "It was a great honour, and very exciting, to play host to such a prestigious, powerful and record-breaking steam locomotive that was the largest to visit Corfe Castle and Swanage.
"A member of the Princess Royal class of steam locomotives, No. 6201 is a magnificent and majestic piece of engineering – it was absolutely wonderful to see it in steam and doing what it was designed to do more than 80 years ago.
"Named after the Queen when she was the seven year old Princess Elizabeth of York, 'Princess Elizabeth' sounded its whistle on the Battersea railway bridge over the River Thames in London to signal the start of the Queen's Thames diamond jubilee pageant in the summer of 2012.
"Then, a few weeks later in 2012, the Queen travelled in the Royal Train behind 'Princess Elizabeth' from Newport to Hereford and then from Worcester to Swindon and Oxford as part of the Diamond Jubilee Tour," added Mr Parsons, a volunteer Swanage Railway train guard and signalman.
Swanage Railway volunteer Geoff Truscott, from Puncknowle in west Dorset, had the honour of signalling 'Princess Elizabeth' and its long Cathedrals Express excursion train into Swanage station.
Geoff explained: "With its classic lines and iconic maroon livery of the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company of the 1930s, 'Princess Elizabeth' looked and sounded marvellous – a truly majestic symphony of steam.
"I knew the railway to Corfe Castle and Swanage in its dying days back in the late 1960s and was saddened to witness the line's closure and demolition. I never dreamt that, 44 years later, I would signal the country's largest operational steam locomotive into Swanage. It was a real honour," he added.
After a working life of almost 30 years hauling long and heavy main line express trains from London to the north, British Railways withdrew 'Princess Elizabeth' from traffic in 1962 – the year of the Cuban missile crisis – when the locomotive was saved from the scrapyard and purchased for preservation.
The summer of 2016 saw No. 6201 'Princess Elizabeth' return to hauling main line excursion trains around the country after an engineering overhaul that took more than three years.
The Swanage Railway welcomes new volunteers – for an informal chat, contact Swanage Railway volunteer co-ordinator Mike Whitwam on 01929 475212 or email '[email protected]'.