During the 1930s the railway companies were starting to feel the increased competition from air and road travel as the demand for speed, efficiency and luxury grew. Despite the proved success of the A3s, Gresley and his engineers needed to take the next step to become quicker and more efficient.
Whilst looking at ways to progress he travelled to Germany and America looking at their evolvement but because of size restrictions on the British railway network he discovered that their larger locomotives were not an option. It was then that chief designer Sir Nigel Gresley looked into aerodynamics, thus creating the ‘Silver Jubilee’ streamlined trains which were inspired by a Bugatti rail-car that he observed on a trip to France.
After wind tunnel tests it was also discovered that not only could they achieve greater speeds whilst using less energy, the design also meant that an updraft off the locomotive pushed the steam upwards giving the driver improved driving vision. Over a three year period between 1935 and 1938 there were a total of thirty five A4s built at the LNER’s Doncaster works.
The first four A4s all had the word ‘Silver’ in the title, this was in relation to the King George V Silver Jubilee, five were named after Commonwealth countries but with Gresley being a keen bird watcher, the majority were named after fast flying birds. Arguably the most famous of all the class is the Mallard, carrying the distinctive streamline casing in Garter Blue, the appearance of this A4 depicts the 1930s real captivation with speed and luxury.
The Mallard was the locomotive chosen to attempt breaking the world speed record, on the 3rd July 1938 heading south at Stoke Bank near Grantham, the Mallard broke the record measuring 125.88mph. To this day it still holds the record for being the fastest steam locomotive in the world. The Mallard is now part of the National Railway Collection on static display at Shildon.
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