May 9th, 1904 – Steam Engine Sets Speed Record!

Today-In-History

Number 3440 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). Its maximum speed has been the subject of much debate over the years.

City of Truro

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 May 9th, 1904. This timing was recorded from the train by Charles Rous-Marten, who wrote for The Railway Magazine and other journals. If exact, this time would correspond to a speed of 102.3 mph (164.6 km/h); but Rous-Marten’s stopwatch read in multiples of 15 second, so the next possible longer time it could register was 9 seconds, corresponding 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, Somerset. This claim was based on the stopwatch timings of a postal worker, William Kennedy, who was also on the train.


 

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