The Flying Scotsman locomotive’s cancelled trips to the Borders and Fife tomorrow (Sunday) were reinstated today after frantic behind-the-scenes work by Network Rail.
The track owner appears to have made the necessary checks to ensure the world’s most famous locomotive fits bridges and platforms on the routes - after admitting 24 hours ago it had not done the work.
Transport minister Derek Mackay had demanded action from Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne after accusing the organisation of “appalling incompetence”.
Thousands had hoped to catch a glimpse of the famous engine as it made its way to Tweedbank in the Borders and north across the Forth Rail Bridge to Fife tomorrow following a recent multi-million pound restoration.
Responding to news of the cancellation, Mr Mackay said: “This announcement is hugely disappointing and represents appalling incompetence by Network Rail GB.
“I will be ensuring this mishandling of an application is fully investigated. I believe the rail alliance in Scotland is working well, and this debacle at Network Rail GB HQ is further reason to devolve more functions to Scotland where we take seriously the economic benefits of rail in a way that seems to have escaped Network Rail GB HQ. I will be raising this at the most senior levels.
“The enthusiasm with which the return of the Flying Scotsman was greeted by thousands of people, not only in Scotland but around the UK, was evident in the huge amount of interest there was in seeing this iconic piece of history returning to Scotland.
“This is not only a disappointment for the residents of Fife, Midlothian and the Borders, who will be hit economically by the cancellation of this long awaited and landmark event, but who have also been let down by the farcical nature of how it was allowed to happen.”
An industry source said: “It was a complete middle-management balls up at Network Rail’s office in Milton Keynes.
“When ScotRail Alliance managing director Phil Verster found out at 5pm on Friday, he personally took charge of the situation.
“He contacted Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne and chairman Sir Peter Hendy, who between them got it sorted.
“Sir Peter was incandescent to hear what had happened.
“The Network Rail Scotland team deserve medals.”
Engineers and analysts worked through the night to complete the checks.
It is understood that potential problems with the locomotive fitting under bridges, such as near Dalmeny, south of the Forth Bridge, have been solved by switching Flying Scotsman to the other track where there is more room.
Steam Dreams has announced that their two trips from Edinburgh to Tweedbank and over the Forth Bridge will now run as planned tomorrow after quick work by the combined Network Rail/Abellio Team in Scotland.
“It is hard to think of a more iconic Scottish sight than the Flying Scotsman on the wonderful masterpiece of engineering that is the Forth Bridge,” Steam Dreams chairman Marcus Robertson said. “Celebrating the recent reopening of the Borders Railway is the icing on the cake.
“This morning all looked lost but thanks to some old-fashioned hard work by Phil Verster and his team out on the track measuring the structures the loco passes through and over, everything should be as planned. Nearly 1,000 passengers should have a day to remember and Scotland can pay tribute to the world’s most famous locomotive.”
Robertson said West Coast Railways, which will run the trips, had only been told yesterday afternoon (Friday) that checks had not been made to see if the 93-year-old locomotive would fit under bridges and into platforms on the lines.
In a letter to passengers Mr Robertson wrote: “We can only apologise again for what we believe to be an absolute disgrace and an insult to all steam lovers in Scotland.
“Our train operating company, West Coast Railways, received a call from Network Rail special train planning in Milton Keynes to say that they have been unable to gauge Flying Scotsman to go to Tweedbank because their system did not have the right data.
“This basic job only takes a few hours to complete and Network Rail had weeks of notice to carry this out.”
Mark Carne, Network Rail chief executive, said: “Overnight and through today our engineers and analysts have worked hard to find a way to get the necessary safety checks and engineering assessments done. I am pleased to say that we have been successful and are now able to reinstate the original planned tours of Flying Scotsman in Scotland on Sunday.
“I wholeheartedly and sincerely apologise for the consternation caused by the premature announcement yesterday.
“Once the tours have been safely and successfully run, I will be instigating a full investigation into how this problem occurred on our railway in Scotland.”
Built in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, in 1923, Flying Scotsman soon became the star locomotive of the British railway system, pulling the first train to break the 100mph barrier in 1934.