Modern train travel is (for the most part) comfortable, organised and efficient. But it simply can’t match up to the joy that can experienced from riding on a steam train. Rides on these trains are still enormously popular across the UK, and yet outwardly it is not clear exactly why this is the case.
For those who love to experience steam trains and heritage railways, this is an opportunity to travel back in time. There you can enjoy excellent service, beautiful views and a journey on a powerful vehicle powered only with steam. Here we take a look at the enduring popularity of steam trains, and try to establish what makes them so special in the national psyche.
From a bygone era
There is something about steam travel that takes us back to a bygone era – a trip not only on a train but into nostalgia. Trains rose through the 19th century leading to expansion and ease of transport across the UK and beyond. Rather than taking months to cross a continent, a train journey could do the same thing in weeks with a high level of comfort.
This is something that many love to hark back to. On a train journey from London to Glasgow you might be able to enjoy a packaged sandwich and drink from the buffet car, but it’s not quite the same as dining service. Steam trains are a remnant of the past that imply luxury and quality.
A great time with minimal effort
There is also an element of the train travel that provides us with a journey with minimal hassle. Travel and seeing different parts of the country are extremely popular, but some forms of travel in the modern era can sometimes feel like they are more trouble than they are worth. With flying, for example, you are expected to arrive hours early, boarding is a slow queueing procedure and the actual journey might provide you with a half decent view, if you’re in a window seat, on the lucky side of the plane.
On a heritage railway you can enjoy stunning views, and whole experience is unhurried and relaxed. It feels like almost the opposite of modern travel – the service is in comfort, you arrive minutes before you depart and there are no stringent regulations.
It still works
Ultimately, people take a level of enjoyment in the fact that steam engines still work just as they did in their heyday. It is a source of great pride that the steam locomotives have been kept in great condition and restored. Heritage railways are run in the main by staff of volunteers and enthusiasts, but they remain some of the finest attractions across the country.
Five heritage railways you need to experience
The UK is home to a large number of heritage railways which continue to be extremely popular attractions. No matter where you live (or if you are just visiting) there will be a stunning steam locomotive railway not far away. Here are some of the best that you can experience:
- Great Central Railway – this is the only mainline heritage railway in the country with two tracks, and this means it gives you the opportunity to watch a stream train pass from your train. It is open all year round and hosts a range of events for the family.
- Bluebell Railway – offering picturesque rides through the West Sussex countryside, the Bluebell Railway has more than 30 steam locomotives, which gives it the largest collection in the UK apart from the National Railway Museum.
- Ribble Steam Railway – a rather small heritage railway in Preston, Ribble Steam Railway unique runs through the heart of the town. This is somewhat unusual for steam trains, which are typically limited to countryside views.
- Ffestiniog Railway – a beautiful Welsh narrow gauge railway that is among the most famous in the UK. Running services for more than 150 years, the railway climbs over 700 feet in the Snowdonia National Park.
- North Yorkshire Moors Railway – by passenger numbers and the mileage operated, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway is the largest preserved in the UK. It is based across 18 miles and offers something of the most stunning views from any train in the country.
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