A Union of Two Passions | Union of South Africa A4 Steam Locomotive, Scottish Railway Preservation Society, Photography, Scotland

Everyone knows my deep love of steam. I have been obsessed with it since the age of 14. Volunteering at the East Lancashire Railway whenever I had spare time, I was never without a smile on my (grubby) face. Sadly, though it was inevitable that after beginning a career as a photographer and traveling all over the UK, my obsession and I would part ways - for over twenty years.

Three years ago, after becoming self employed, I began volunteering at Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway. Here I finally achieved my life-long dream of becoming a fireman.

Under the umbrella of the Scottish Railway Preservation Society, we are occasionally lucky enough to see some of the mainline locos pass through whilst they are on tour.

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Union of South Africa, no 60009 is part way through what is likely to be her last tour before she retires. When I was asked if I would like to come out and see her on her Linlithgow to Aberdeen run, I jumped at the chance. My photographer brain clicked in - I hadn’t done a black and white project for sometime, so this was the perfect opportunity.

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‘No9’ is up there with my favourite locos so I could barely sleep the night before! A 5am start before her SRPS run from Linlithgow to Aberdeen meant that I could get a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of the amazing support crews that are responsible for the preparing and running of the loco. Without the dedication of teams such as this, we wouldn’t see these great engines grace our lines and we would lose such an important part of our heritage.


The dedicated team relentlessly checked, cleaned, oiled and filled the loco with fuel and water before it was time to move off shed and up the link to the link that would take the train out to Linlithgow to pick up it’s eager passengers.

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Both beautiful and powerful in equal measures, Union of South Africa, an A4 locomotive, was designed for the London North Eastern Railway by Sir Nigel Gresley. She was built in Doncaster in 1937. The aesthetic curves and sleek design of this engine was completely ahead of its time - in fact, her sister engine, Mallard, officially owns the fastest speed record for steam locomotion at 126mph.

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Union of South Africa has been owned by Sir John Cameron since 1966 and following overhauls, has been on the mainline ever since. Sadly, she is now approaching the end of her current boiler ticket, meaning she will gracefully retire at the end of the year.

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The crowds that turned out to see this magnificent engine was spectacular. Young and old, generations are bridged when a part of history such as this comes to life. Cameras and phones alike captured precious images of her as she sped up the line to Aberdeen. Seeing out her mainline adventures in style.

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After a swift arrival at Aberdeen, No. 9 was topped up with coal and her 5000 gallon tank replenished, before enthusiast and onlookers were treated to the spectacular turntable at Ferryhill. As the loco was turned, there was a very brief moment of rest for some of the dust-clad support crew!

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The Ferryhill turn table was certainly a sight to behold. The grade A listed structure, which is more than 100 years old, was on the at risk register. Yet a dedicated team of enthusiasts have worked tirelessly to restore it to its current working order. An impressive achievement which began back in 2007, now means Aberdeen can yet again welcome mainline steam. This was the first public event to be held at the turntable and the crowds that turned up to see No. 9 whirled around were certainly not disappointed. Well done to all involved!

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With Union of South Africa turned (and a chance to see the unique tender corridor) the loco was back on the train, ready for us to head back south. All in all, passengers were treated to almost 12 hours of steam, snaking it’s way through the Scottish countryside. Perfectly topped off with a beautiful sunset as they were carried back over the impressive Forth Rail Bridge. A lasting memory and perfect end to a wonderful day.

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A Huge heartfelt thank you to the team for allowing me to follow them and document just a small part of what they do. It was a privilege to capture such an important part of our history and say a fond farewell to No.9 as she makes her way into a well deserved retirement XX