The art deco style image of one of the greatest of steam locomotives lit up a North East landmark building last night to signal the last stage in a poignant railway reunion.
The image of Mallard, the A4 streamlined engine which became the world’s fastest steam engine in July 1938 when it reached 126mph on the East Coast Main Line, was projected on to Durham Castle.
The castle, which can be seen from the main line, was chosen to highlight the end of the Great Gathering in which Mallard was joined by her five surviving A4 sisters in a reunion at the national Railway Museum in York to mark the 75th anniversary of the record-making run.
Now, after the Great Reunion comes the Great Goodbye, which will be staged in County Durham from February 15-23 at Locomotion, the National Railway Museum at Shildon.
Two A4s which crossed the Atlantic for the reunion – Dwight D Eisenhower and the Dominion of Canada – will be returning to their bases at the National Railroad Museum in Wisconsin in the United States and the Canadian National Railway Museum in Montreal respectively.
The Great Goodbye week of events will be the last chance for people to see the six classic Sir Nigel Gresley-designed locomotives together.
The York gathering of the locomotives attracted 250,000 visitors and Shildon expects to double its normal attendance figures for the Goodbye event. It is forecasting more than 26,000 visitors for the week, compared to the 13.173 in the same period last year.
“This is a great coup for County Durham and we want people to know it is coming to the North East,” said museum spokeswoman Catherine Farrell.
Melanie Sensicle, chief executive of Visit County Durham said: “The county is the cradle of the railways so it is only fitting that we host the final event in the Mallard 75 season. We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Mallard and sisters to tell the story of high-speed travel down the East Coast Main Line and we hope that the ‘Mallard effect’ that saw a quarter of a million visitors flocking to York will create a rail boom for Durham.”
Michelle Crawford, bursar at University College, Durham Castle, said:
“The castle is the perfect canvas for the lighting projection. The historic building is the venue for many special events and the last ever family reunion for Mallard and sisters is a particularly special occasion which we are delighted to be involved in.”
Anthony Coulls, senior curator of railway vehicles at the National Railway Museum, said: “Lighting up a February evening demonstrates how our Mallard 75 events showcase our collection to new audiences and turn the spotlight on to the wonder of British engineering.
“Our Mallard 75 February half term will showcase all six streamlined Gresley giants, some in steam at Locomotion at Shildon. Mallard is now off display being prepped for the big move to Durham this week.”
Northern Rail is operating an enhanced service throughout the Great Goodbye with its Timothy Hackworth train operating on the route to Shildon throughout the event, celebrating the town’s own famed steam locomotive engineer.
Alex Hynes, managing director of Northern Rail, said: “We’re pleased to be able to provide additional services to Shildon so that as many train fans as possible can visit and enjoy the last opportunity to see all six of these historic A4s together.”
At Shildon, the big six will be displayed outside on tracks with Sir Nigel Gresley, Bittern and Union of South Africa in light steam. The order of the six locomotives will change each day.
A gala dinner at Locomotion will round off the event, with a preview extract of Steamsong, a multimedia opera by John Kefala-Kerr, inspired by Mallard and the story of the A4s.
This includes a live vocal and instrumental performance blended with the sounds of chime whistles and footage from the British Transport Film archive. For details visit www.nrm.org.uk/mallard75
From the late Thirties to the Sixties, Mallard and its sisters hauled the luxury Silver Jubilee train from London to the North.
Designed in celebration of King George V’s Silver Jubilee, Britain’s first streamlined train was introduced in September 1935 between London and Newcastle, pulled by the A4 Silver Link and reducing the journey between the cities to four hours.
It was said at the time that the Silver Jubilee meant “London becomes a suburb of Newcastle.” The service was a great commercial success, with the seven streamlined carriages featuring and art-deco interior of chrome and blue and two restaurant cars providing hot meals and drinks for the passengers, which often included the celebrities of the day.