Blue Peter

Blue Peter was designed by the LNER to work the fastest and heaviest passenger trains on the East Coast Mainline. She has spent many years in the public eye thanks to the association with the BBC's Blue Peter, and is now undergoing an overhaul that will see her return to steam on the mainline.

18 Years
service
69 Years
of age
75 Miles
Per Hour
101 Tons of
engine

London North Eastern Railway Co.

The Peppercorn A2s

Blue Peter is the last remaining L.N.E.R. Class A2 Pacific and was one of the most powerful express passenger locomotives in the UK. She was one of 14 of the class designed by Arthur Peppercorn and entered service in 1948 just weeks after the amalgamation of the Big Four railway companies into the newly nationalised British Railways.

All 15 of the A2’s had names. Contrary to what you might think the engine was not named after the TV program (which was to air for the first time 10 years after the engine was built), instead the LNER continued the tradition of naming locomotives after famous racehorses. The horse won the 1939 ‘Epsom Derby’ and the '2000 Guineas' earning almost £32,000 for its owner.

British Railways

Exploring the East Coast

Blue Peter spent the duration of her BR career on the Eastern region, hauling express passenger services as well as fast freight and parcel train duties. The A2s were designed to work 500 – 600 ton trains at speeds of more than 60mph, impressive speeds for steam locomotives!

She was initially allocated to York shed working express trains to Newcastle and London Kings Cross, but for most of her BR career she was based at Aberdeen and latterly Dundee Sheds working trains over the challenging gradients in the highlands of Scotland.

End of steam

Final days in service

In 1965 Blue Peter became the last Peppercorn Pacific to be overhauled at Darlington Works. Being in good shape she was in great demand to haul enthusiast excursions all over the UK, becoming a celebrity locomotive as the last working A2.

In her final months of service during 1966 she travelled as far south as Holyhead and Exeter before her final journey in October of that year, over the much lamented but now partially reopened Waverley route and the West Coast Main Line over Beattock Summit. Blue Peter was withdrawn from service on the 31st December 1966 and put into store after just 18 years of service, and that could have been the end of the story!

A new era

Saved from scrap

Having become a celebrity loco, a group of enthusiasts formed a preservation society to save Blue Peter. They persuaded British Railways to store Blue Peter at Thornton Junction in Scotland for two long years while they tried to raise enough money through an appeal to purchase her.

In 1968, Captain Peter Manisty managed to entice Geoff Drury in partnership with Brian Hollingsworth, to step in and buy the loco from BR. Both had already helped save other locomotives from scrap, Geoff having two years earlier bought and saved another Icons of Steam loco, No.4464 Bittern.

Blue Peter and Blue Peter

Return to steam

By the late 1960’s the Blue Peter name meant something quite different to the British public than a steam locomotive. The owners of Blue Peter formed a new society to support the loco, with it’s president being no less than the author of the Thomas the Tank Engine books, the Rev. Wilbert Awdry!

Since this time the BBC’s Blue Peter programme has always been closely involved in the story of Blue Peter, following her preservation from the very beginning. The loco underwent an overhaul in Doncaster begird being unveiled and rededicated by the programme’s presenters Val, John and Peter on the 22nd November 1970 in front of some 60,000 fans.

While operational once more it was difficult for Blue Peter to run on the mainline at this time. She spent the following years travelling across the country, visiting the National Railway Museum, Didcot and Tyseley before coming to rest at Dinting Railway Centre.

North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group

A new lease of life

After a difficult few years, in 1986 an agreement was signed with NELPG, with the group taking responsibility for the overhaul, operation and maintenance of Blue Peter on the mainline, as part of its collection of LNER locomotives.

Blue Peter was moved to Teeside and underwent five years of major work that saw her return to steam in December 1991 when she was rededicated for the second time by BBC Blue Peter presenter, Diane-Louise Jordan. Blue Peter then moved to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway where she hauled her first passenger train for 25 years, before returning to the mainline in March of 1992. She was to spend the next 9 years working across the national network.

An incident and an overhaul

Disaster strikes

On 1st October 1994 Blue Peter suffered a violent wheel slip while departing Durham station, during which extensive damage was done to Blue Peter’s valve gear, cylinders and driving wheels.

Following the accident NELPG volunteers carried out the extensive and very expensive repairs necessary. One of the most difficult tasks was the removal and refitting of the slipped leading driving wheel from its axle and much of Blue Peter’s valve gear is brand new. On 23rd November 1996 Blue Peter made her return to the mainline where she was to remain for four years until June 2001, prior to the expiry of her boiler ticket in 2002.

The years since and the future

What now for Blue Peter

Since her withdrawal in 2002 Blue Peter has been on public display, firstly at Darlington Railway Museum latterly at the Barrow Hill Roundhouse in Derbyshire. Cosmetically restored and lovingly looked after in her stunning original BR Apple Green livery, she has remained a popular attraction.

In October 2014 the Royal Scot Locomotive & General Trust purchased Blue Peter with the intention of returning her to steam for future generations to experience. She has been moved to LNWR Heritage in Crewe, once again filmed by the BBC programme, and her overhaul to mainline condition has now begun. She will return to steam in the coming years.

Photography courtesy Andrew Southwell.