Train Sim World
The Twilight of Steam in Northwest England
This article contains photographs of real-world locomotives and locations not representative of in-game content.
The late 1950s arguably marked the beginning of the end for Britain's regular mainline steam operations. Though the 'official' end was not until 1968, by the late 50s it was clear that the future was not in steam power and that the age of diesel and electric was upon the nation. Indeed, one area where this was becoming apparent was in the Northwest of England, where the level and variety of railway services was such that an end to steam had to very much dovetail with the arrival of other forms of traction.
For railfans, the result was often tired and sometimes dirty and neglected steam locomotives, hauling trains under newly erected electrification wires and alongside diesels lurching fresh from the works in which they were built. But this made steam no less of an attraction and indeed for those who had been brought up with steam their entire lives, it was a difficult prospect to let go of the past. Locomotives that, in preservation at least, have since been pampered and nurtured to celebrate their glory days, once were in fact a little worse for wear and probably dreaming of a future where they were still considered useful.
Liverpool Lime Street Station with a Birmingham express, 10th June 1959. View on Platform 8, with LMS 'Jubilee' 6P 4-6-0 No. 45670 'Howard of Effingham' at Platform 7 on the 1005 express to Birmingham New Street. Photo by Ben Brooksbank, CC BY-SA 2.0
Liverpool Lime Street is currently regarded by many as the oldest still-operating grand terminus mainline station in the world, first opened in 1836. More than a century on, steam was still prolific and locomotives like that seen above, the LMS Jubilee Class, were operating trains across large swathes of the British landscape. On 11th August 1968, the station also received the final regular main line steam service in Britain and so became ultimately the venue at which the steam era finally took a bow. Later of course the preservation movement ensured that steam still had its place on Britain's railways, but the consistent use of steam had effectively come to and end.
View northward at the south end of (probably) Platform 6, Crewe in April 1961: major junction on the WCML. No. 45726 'Vindictive' (built 10/36, withdrawn 3/65) shows well the filthy state many engines descended to in the 1960s. Photo: Ben Brooksbank / Stanier 'Jubilee' 4-6-0 at Crewe on Up parcels train / CC BY-SA 2.0
Rather than a terminus, Crewe served as a major junction on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) and still does today, being home to a number of yards and depots, as well as the popular Crewe Heritage Centre. In the photo above, the Jubliee Class demonstrated its ability on a parcels train, rather than passenger and its state is described as such by the photographer: "Pretty mucky, and suffering from steam leaks around the cab/injectors I suspect." This aptly reflects the state that many steam locomotives were in at the time.
Stanier 8F 2-8-0 No. 48345 repainted after repair in 1958 - seems to be being admired. Behind it is 'Jubilee' 4-6-0 45685 'Barfleur'. Photo: Ben Brooksbank / Resplendent 8F outside Paint Shop at Crewe Works / CC BY-SA 2.0
Crewe was also notable for being the location of Crewe Works, built in 1840, where a number of LMS locomotives were built including Jubilees, 'Black Fives' and 8Fs. December 1958 saw the last steam locomotive roll out of the works, (no. 92250). In total over 7,000 engines were manufactured here.
View northward along Platform 4 at Crewe: major junction on the WCML. Stanier 'Jubilee' 6P 4-6-0 No. 45647 'Sturdee' is calling with the Saturdays Only 1010 Edinburgh Princes Street - Birmingham New Street, while two locomotives coupled run on the Up Through from Crewe North Shed to take up southbound trains. Main line electrification had been in operation for a year, but so far only from Manchester Piccadilly. Photo: Ben Brooksbank / Busy scene at Crewe Station / CC BY-SA 2.0
By July 1961 electricification was rearing its head on the WCML and would, over the next half-century, be rolled out across a number of other lines and systems on both the main lines and mass transit routes in major cities. Crewe was one such place where steam was required to look its successor in the face.
View northward on Platform 4, where English-Electric Type 4 Diesel No. D227 is heading the Up Midday Scot (1330 Glasgow - Euston), while across at Platform 5 is LMS 'Jubilee' 6P 4-6-0 No. 45643 'Rodney' on the 1650 Liverpool to Birmingham. Photo: Ben Brooksbank / Crewe Station in transition / CC BY-SA 2.0
Indeed shortly afterwards, by 1962, seeing the face of the future was two-fold and the likes of Jubilee Class locomotives were also made to stare at the raft of diesels being introduced across the nation. English Electric Type 4s were later known as Class 40s and these themselves gained a following of next-generation railfans. A number survive in preservation.
Elsewhere across the country and in areas with vastly differing railway operations, the phasing of steam to diesel and electric varied and the changes were more abrupt, especially when linked to removal of many smaller branch lines in the 1960s, but for Liverpool and the Northwest, the late 50s came to define an important time for railway and railfans alike, when the course of history and implementation of technology would change and develop eventually into the railways that Britain knows today.
Train Sim World 2's 'Spirit of Steam' depicts the line between Liverpool and Crewe in 1958. You can learn more about the building of the route and the signalling in our previous article here.
Train Sim World
The Twilight of Steam in Northwest England