On the 9th May 1904, The steam locomotive City of Truro unofficially becomes the first steam engine in Europe to exceed 100 mph (160 km/h). GWR 3440 (3717) City Of Truro is a Great Western Railway (GWR) 3700 (or ‘City’) Class 4-4-0 locomotive, designed by George Jackson Churchward and built at the GWR Swindon Works in 1903. (It was rebuilt to a limited extent in 1911 and 1915, and renumbered 3717 in 1912). It is one of the contenders for the first steam locomotive to travel in excess of 100 miles per hour (160.9 km/h).
City of Truro was timed at 8.8 seconds between two quarter-mile posts whilst hauling the “Ocean Mails” special from Plymouth to London Paddington on 9 May 1904. This timing was recorded from the train by Charles Rous-Marten, who wrote for The Railway Magazine and other journals. If exact (Rous-Marten’s stopwatch read in multiples of 1/5 second), this time would correspond to a speed of 102.3 mph (164.6 km/h), while 9 seconds would correspond to exactly 100 mph. Initially, mindful of the need to preserve their reputation for safety, the railway company allowed only the overall timings for the run to be put into print; neither The Times report of the following day nor Rous-Marten’s article in The Railway Magazine of June 1904 mentioned the maximum speed.
However the morning after the run two local Plymouth newspapers did report that the train had reached a speed between 99 and 100 miles an hour whilst descending Wellington bank in Somerset. This claim was based on the stopwatch timings of a postal worker, William Kennedy, who was also on the train. After the 1904 speed record, 3440 continued in everyday service until it was rendered obsolete in 1931, being withdrawn from service in March that year. The historical significance of City of Truro led to the locomotive’s survival after withdrawal from service, with the GWR’s Chief Mechanical Engineer Charles Collett asking that the engine be preserved at the London and North Eastern Railway’s Railway Museum at York when she was withdrawn in 1931, after the directors of the GWR had refused to preserve the engine at the company’s expense. It was donated to the LNER, being sent from Swindon on 20 March 1931, and was subsequently displayed at the new museum in York.
In 1957 City of Truro was returned to service by British Railways Western Region. The locomotive was based at Didcot, and was used both for hauling special excursion trains and for normal revenue services, usually on the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton line, and was renumbered back to 3440, and repainted into the ornate livery it carried at the time of its speed record in 1904, despite this being inaccurate due to its minor rebuilding in 1911. She was withdrawn for a second time in 1961. She was taken to Swindon’s GWR Museum in 1962 where, renumbered back to 3717 and in plain green livery with black frames, she stayed until 1984, when she was restored for the GWR’s 150th anniversary celebrations the following year. After that she returned to the National Railway Museum from where she was occasionally used on main line outings. She made a guest appearance in an exhibition called National Railway Museum on Tour which visited Swindon in 1990.
Her latest restoration to full working order was undertaken in 2004, at a cost of £130,000, to mark the 100th anniversary of her record-breaking run, and the loco has subsequently hauled several trains on UK main lines, although due to the lack of certain safety features she no longer operates on the main line. Her latest restoration to full working order was undertaken in 2004, at a cost of £130,000, to mark the 100th anniversary of her record-breaking run, and the loco has subsequently hauled several trains on UK main lines, although due to the lack of certain safety features she no longer operates on the main line. City of Truro is now based semi-permanently at the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway, where she can often be seen hauling trains between Toddington and Cheltenham Racecourse. However she frequently leaves her Toddington base to visit other UK heritage railways. In 2010 as part of the celebrations to mark the 175th anniversary of the founding of the GWR City of Truro was repainted and took up its 3717 guise once again. This is the first time it has carried an authentic livery for its current state whilst operating in preservation.GWR 3717 was withdrawn from traffic at the Bodmin & Wenford Railway in early September 2011 with serious tube leaks, and was moved to Shildon Locomotion Museum and placed on static display (I was lucky enough to see it in steam at the Severn Valley Railway’s 2008 Autumn Steam Gala).