Friends of the National Railway Museum
South of England Group


Breaking The Bank At Shap


Gliding effortlessly up the famous incline at Shap, between Lancaster and Carlisle, comes the perfect image of InterCity in the eighties: Class 87/0 electric No. 87008 City of Liverpool at the head of the Euston to Glasgow "Royal Scot". Locomotive and carriages alike are decked out in the new InterCity 'executive' livery introduced in 1983 making a bright, sleek train snaking northwards beneath the threatening rainclouds.

Inside the Mark Ill carriages passengers relax in air-conditioned, wall-to-wall-carpeted comfort, gazing through double-glazed windows at the high, bare Fells outside.

For more than a century, Shap was steam's great bogey on the West Coast route. 915 feet above sea level its summit was reached after a gruelling final four miles at 1 in 75 that tested man and machine to the ultimate.

Generations of steam-age railwaymen pitted their muscle power and the brute strength of their locomotives against the grade here. A small stud of banking engines was kept at Tebay, at the foot of the climb, to shove the heaviest trains all the way to the summit. A summit that steam locomotives, in an orgy of sound and fury, topped at around 30mph if they were lucky. And, truth to tell, even when the diesels arrived in strength in the late 1950s Shap remained a formidable obstacle.

Now the bank at Shap has been broken, flattened, ironed-out. Electrification between Crewe and Glasgow was completed in 1974 and brought the whole West Coast route under the wires. There was a significant speed-up which reduced the fastest journey time for the 401.4/4 miles from Euston to Glasgow to just five hours.

Built in 1973/74 to work the newly electrified line, the thirty-five 5000hp Class 87/0s are InterCity's (and BR's) most powerful locomotives. And they, and their sisters, go up Shap like it wasn't there. No hard slow slog, no sweat, no problem, and the passengers - cocooned in comfort behind those double-glazed windows - hardly even notice.