The East Coast Main Line over which the Flying Scotsman runs was built in the 19th century by many small railway companies, but mergers and acquisitions led to only three companies controlling the route; the North British Railway, the North Eastern Railway and the Great Northern Railway. In 1860 the three companies established the East Coast Joint Stock for through services using common vehicles, and it is from this agreement that the Flying Scotsman came about.
The first Special Scotch Express ran in 1862, with simultaneous 10am departures from the GNR's King's Cross Station in London and North British's Waverley Station in Edinburgh. The original journey took 10½ hours, including a half-hour stop at York for lunch; however, increasing competition and improvements in railway technology saw this time reduced to 8½ hours by the time of the Race to the North in 1888. From 1900, the train was dramatically modernised, introducing such features as corridors between carriages, heating, and dining cars.
In 1923, the railways of Britain were 'grouped' into the so-called 'Big Four'. Consequently, all three members of the East Coast Joint Stock became part of the newly formed London and North Eastern Railway . It was the London and North Eastern which, in 1924, officially renamed the 10 AM Special Scotch Express linking Edinburgh and London in both directions as the Flying Scotsman, a name under which it had been unofficially known since the 1870s.
The 1928 non-stop Flying Scotsman had improved catering and other on-board services - even a barber's shop. With the end of the limited speed agreement in 1932, journey time was down to 7 h 30m and 7h 20m by 1938. The Flying Scotsman would remain an express service, making stops only at Newcastle upon Tyne, York and Peterborough through nationalisation (with the exception of the Second World War) until 1962 when the Deltic diesel locomotives took over.
The Flying Scotsman name has been maintained by the private operators of Anglo-Scottish trains on the East Coast Main Line; the former Great North Eastern Railway even subtitled itself The Route of the Flying Scotsman.
After the privatisation of British rail, the service was operated by GNER from 1996 to November 2007, and then by National Express East Coast until November 2009. Now operated by East Coast, a publicly operated company created after the collapse of National Express East Coast, the northbound service departs from London King's Cross at the traditional time of 10.00, while the southbound service leaves Edinburgh daily at 13.00 (having originated from Glasgow Central at 11.50 on Mondays through Saturdays).
The present-day Flying Scotsman is usually operated by an InterCity 225 ‘Mallard’ set, and the journey takes around 4½ hours.