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Great steam train trips for any occasion

If you are looking for a steam train trip of any sort, we've run a wide search of the net to make finding and choosing an experience easier. For other train enthusiasts, who simply enjoy interesting, nostalgic or historic journeys, we've also included train holidays, breaks and luxury experiences.

These trips range from short steam train journeys on heritage railway lines, all the way through to luxury dining in first-class carriages, to give nostalgic steam travel experiences, combined with visits to interesting places along the route.

Whether you want to indulge yourself and/or a partner, or simply buy a gift for someone you know who loves steam trains, we hope there will be something here for you. We've also included various sections of information about locomotives, rolling stock, routes and history of the railways.


Larger steam locomotives in use on trips

For many people the sight of a train in "full steam ahead" mode is one of the biggest thrills of this sort of trip, not to speak of that wonderful smell of fire and steam combined as it wafts back along the train and in through the carriage windows.

Perhaps the most famous of all locomotives is the Flying Scotsman, which until recently could only be experienced by buying a model. However, this Class locomotive is now being rebuilt and in due course, you might be able to ride on it again.

The largest engines you are likely to see are probably the 4-6-2 tenders, which if you're not familiar with the terminology means 4 wheels at the front, 6 driving wheels and 2 under the cab.

Where a long train and distance are in operation, you may see a tender steam locomotive being 'helped' along by a diesel ! They are restored well, but some won't be operating at full efficiency as they did in the old days and steam train trips are getting very popular, so some of the trains are quite long and heavy.

Smaller engines used on steam train journeys

When steam locomotives were in regular use, the type of engine used was dictated mainly by the distance of travel required and the load. Tank engines were generally used for shorter distances, perhaps up to 20 mile journeys on branch lines, with a small number of coaches. This was because they held less water and coal than a tender engine and would therefore need refuelling more often.

If you're on a steam train trip where the carriages are hauled by a tank engine, you may be surprised to find it pushing the train, with the engine running either forwards or backwards. This highlights one of the advantages of a tank engine, in that it can run perfectly well in either direction. Tender engines can do this but only at lower speeds, because of the risk of derailment.

The larger engines would have been used for longer excursions, on express trains, with more coaches on account of the tender allowing much larger capacities of both coal and water to be carried.

Now, you'll find both in use on many heritage railway lines. Trains are not generally that long, so they don't often need a tender engine, but its good to see them renovated and in operation, regardless of the location.

The tank engines in use are mostly 0-6-0 or 0-6-2 for slightly longer distances.


Differences between tank and tender steam locomotives

Tender engines are so called because the fuel (coal) and the water are stored in a separate tender which is pulled behind the engine, therefore giving the train a greater potential distance before any renewal of fuel or water is required. In general, tender design has been fairly standard, with the coal stored above the water on a sloping base, so that it naturally flows down towards the cabin.

In the case of a tank engine, the water and coal storage is generally separate and the 'tank' refers to the water tanks, which can be found on either side of the boiler. Coal is stored just behind the cabin in a small extension of the engine.

There are several designs for tank engines with the main three as follows. Firstly there is a very common version, where there is a tank either side of the boiler, sitting on the main body of the engine. Secondly there is a design where the tank curves around the top of the boiler (saddle) and thirdly a pannier design, where the tanks are attached to either side of the boiler, but with a gap underneath. These all have different benefits which you can read about in more detail on steam locomotive sections of enthusiasts' website, such as the one in the link below.

There are plenty of all 3 types restored and working on various railway lines, so there's a fair chance you'll see one on any steam train trip or journey you take, particularly as they are more easily maintained and moved around than a tender engine. Specifically you may see a tender engine pulling a train backwards because there isn't a turntable to turn it around at the end of each journey.

Tank engine types