THIRTY years ago today the first public journey of the Scarborough Spa Express steamed in to Scarborough.
The service was created by British Rail to coincide with the re-opening of the 100-year-old Spa in May 1981 after a major refurbishment.
With financial support from Scarborough Council, the town’s turntable was reinstated, and the Scarborough Spa Express was born.
The first journey was made on Saturday, May 23, 1981 when loco No 46229 Duchess of Hamilton left York hauling a special train with the Lord Mayor of York and other VIPs on board.
On arrival at Scarborough everybody boarded two special open top buses for a procession through the town and then to the Spa.
Sadly, on its return to York the Duchess of Hamilton developed a hot bearing, known as a hot-box, and could only limp slowly into York.
With another run scheduled for the Monday an SOS was sent to Steamtown Carnforth and No 4472, Flying Scotsman steamed to York.
So, on May 25 the first public train carrying the ‘Scarborough Spa Express’ headboard was hauled by possibly the most famous locomotive in the world; No 4472, Flying Scotsman.
During 1981 seven different locomotives were used, hauling two return trains a day. The fare was £4.75 return which converts to about £22 today.
A year later, in 1982, the York Circle was introduced, running from York to Harrogate and Leeds, then back to York before departing for Scarborough. The trains ran for three days in July then three days a week during August.
A similar pattern operated in 1983, with six different engines used; No 777, Sir Lamiel, No 5305, Alderman A. E. Draper, No 34092, City of Wells, No 5690, Leander, No 46229, Duchess of Hamilton and No 92220, Evening Star.
The following year, 1984, was the most successful as passenger loading was good, and the No 60009 Union of South Africa and No 46229 Duchess of Hamilton had been restored.
However 1985 was a different story. Operating with only three engines the Scarborough Spa Express lost money, and British Rail announced it would not be running the following year.
Scarborough Council was not too pleased, following its earlier investment, and British Rail finally relented and planned trains for six weeks during July and August in 1986.
In 1987 only seven days were scheduled. All except one ran on Sundays.
Although in 1988 the Scarborough Spa Express had only four trains booked, three more ran with No 4468, Mallard to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the loco setting a world steam speed record of 126 miles per hour.
After dwindling in recent years from 1989 to 2001 there was no Scarborough Spa Express services.
However in 2002 and 2003 the service was re-introduced by West Coast Railways. Unusually it began at Scarborough, travelling to York twice a day on three days a week. The two locomotives used were No 45181 and No 5972 Olton Hall, better known as Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express.
In 2004 the National Railway Museum purchased No 4472, Flying Scotsman, and decided to resurrect the Scarborough Spa Express, which also ran in 2005, with many of the two trips a day virtually full.
The 25th anniversary of the Scarborough Spa Express was marked in 2006. To celebrate the National Railway Museum had a celebratory headboard cast which graced trains between York and Scarborough throughout the summer. Only two locomotives were used that year; No 4771, Green Arrow and No 30777, Sir Lamiel.
In 2007 the National Railway Museum declined to sponsor the Scarborough Spa Express so the Railway Touring Company offered to operate the service.
The format was similar to previous years and the three locomotives selected were No 6233, Duchess of Sutherland, No 60009, Union of South Africa and No 45231, Sherwood Forester.
For 2008 and 2009 West Coast Railways once again sponsored the service, and again the trains were well filled bringing many people to Scarborough.
A change of route was introduced in 2010 due to operating difficulties around the Harrogate area, so a line was utilised from York calling at Normanton, Wakefield, and Castleford back to York and on to Scarborough. This new route proved extremely successful and many of the trains were sold out.
This summer celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Scarborough Spa Express. The route this year is the same as in 2010 and the service begins on July 19, running until September 1.
Details about the Scarborough Spa Express can be found at www.westcoastrailways.co.uk and brochures will be available shortly from the Scarborough Information Centre.