THIS month marks 50 years since last day of steam on mainline routes around the country.

In Bolton the final day came sooner — on June 29 1968.

Then, LMS locomotive 45629 rolled out of Bolton loco sheds in Crescent Road, Great Lever — and became the final working steam service to operate from the town.

One man working on the railways that day was Malcolm Frost. He was just 27 years old at the time, and only 12 years into a career that he still describes as ‘the best on the planet’.

Now operating as a volunteer for the East Lancashire Railway, he looks back on the final days of steam with fondness.

Mr Frost’s passion can be traced back to 1956 when his career on the railways began at the tender age of 15.

In September 1956, he joined British Rail at Bury Motive Power Depot and started working as an engine cleaner.

He remembers it as a ‘very dirty job’. Between them, he and the other engine cleaners, had to work six shifts, covering all 24 hours of the day.

The following year, a 16-year-old Mr Frost was sent on a week-long course in Bolton to learn the theory of firing locomotives.

Upon passing the test, he moved up a grade and became a passed cleaner. The role meant that if there was a shortage of a fireman, he would be drafted in to fire the engines.

In 1960, Mr Frost began working as a full-time fireman at Bolton Motive Power Depot. There, he worked on passenger, freight and shunting duties.

His progression continued four years later when he became a passed fireman.

Looking back, Mr Frost said: “To be a driver you had to be 23 years old so in 1964 I was told that I would be seeing a footplate inspector for a two-day examination on driving trains and rules exam.

“On the first day I had to go to Rochdale to meet the inspector and drive a semi express to Wigan and the inspector stood behind me. This went ok, and we then made our way back to Bolton to pick up a freight


train from Halliwell sidings which was going to Wakefield.

“This train was ‘loose coupled’ which meant there was a gap between each wagon’s buffers and that there were no brakes only hand brakes on each wagon.

“The purpose of driving this train was that it went via Bury where the line dipped under the Bury-Manchester electric line, so you had to be extra careful because, with the length of these trains, the front part was going uphill when the back half was still going down. If you got it wrong, the train could become divided. Touch wood, I got it right.

“The second day was spent on the depot going around different classes of locos where I was asked questions about the workings of the engines and naming the many parts.

“In the afternoon it was all rules and questions and, at the end, when the inspector said I had passed, that was my dream come true. So, then I became a passed fireman and would be able to drive trains when there was a shortage for a driver.”

In 1968, it was announced that the Bolton Depot would be closing in June, bringing to an end more than 130 years of continuous running.

On June 29 of that year, Malcolm signed on duty to be told it would be the final day working with steam from Bolton. He remembers it as ‘a sad day’.

“On arrival back on shed, we were told to leave the engine on the ash pit and that was it,” he said.

“The foreman told us that when we signed on duty on Monday it would be a diesel loco waiting.

“Sure enough, Monday came and instead of there being around 20 steam engines about, there were eight diesels - what a difference.”

July and August saw plenty of steam specials run before the last scheduled steam services ran on August 4

But before the mainline steam ban was implemented, and steam drew its final breath, it was decided to run one last tribute to the age of steam - the 1T57 ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’.

The train set out from Liverpool Lime Street on August 11 and called at Manchester Victoria, Bolton, Blackburn, and Carlisle and back.

Four steam locos carried out the task in different sections. Three of the four engines have been preserved and are still working. One, numbered 44871, is based at Bury but spends most of the summer season on the Fort William to Mallaig line in Scotland.

“At fifteen guineas, the price seems cheap today but at the time it was more than a week’s wages for me, so I could not go on it,” Mr Frost recalls.

“I stayed on the railway for another two years working on diesels but it was not the same.

“It was a clean job and there was not the manual effort needed, diesels are more efficient in many ways.”

The end of steam was an emotional time for thousands of people across the country – many around Bolton – involved in designing, building and maintaining the UK’s steam engines.

Mr Frost was one of those. He left the railway in 1970; the reason, he says, was that ‘it was becoming evident that the railways did not want two men in the cab when one could manage to do the job.’

In addition, the Beeching cuts were beginning to bite with line closures resulting in fewer trains.

In 1971, the ban on steam on the mainline was lifted, three years after it was first introduced.

Mr Frost returned to the railways in 1987 and has worked on the East Lancashire Railway as a volunteer ever since.

In the 31 years that have passed, he has witnessed the heritage railway grow in length, as well as in its popularity among tourists.

More than 200,000 visit the railway every year, proof that while the final days of steam may have long since passed, its legacy continues to endure.