Posted in Railways on Saturday 11th November 2006 at 9:52pm
It was a late decision to book on this tour. With the daylight failing early, and the budget for such events definitely blown this year, it seemed like an extravagance. But faced with the long closure down here and very limited opportunities to get out and about, I threw caution to the wind, booked some accommodation in Ealing, and pretty much forgot about things until earlier this week! Glad I stayed last night rather than attempting any heroic journeys to the starting point today. We left rather late, but getting to Ealing early and chatting with some regulars was a nice gentle start to the day. After some signalling delays, our stock arrived around twenty minutes down, with 67016 at the head. The traction wasn't the attraction on this tour though, and it soon became apparent that our coach was a travelling meeting of the Branch Line Society. So, Quail maps out, we set out via Acton and the Brent Curve for the Midland Mainline. For some of us the tour fell at the first hurdle, with the booked routing via the Hendon Chord not producing. An announcement indicated that Network Rail claimed it was locked out of use pending removal, but there were some doubts expressed. Instead, we went over the top at Silkstream Flyover - new to me so not a problem. We were now a little under an hour late - and remained so for much of the day.
Once all of our pick ups were complete and 60013 was added to the rear of the train at Kettering, we headed for Loughborough South Junction where we took the curve behind the Brush Falcon Works and onto the northern section of the Great Central Railway. This former mainline to Nottingham, much more direct and less convoluted than the current route, has always fascinated me. Slow progress to East Leake where gypsum traffic still uses the lines, then a crawl to Rushcliffe Halt where the GCR(N)'s 25279 was attached to the front of our train to pilot us to Fifty Steps Junction. Once attached, the assembled masses were allowed onto the track for pictures. Unprecedented on the national network, this reminder of railtours past was welcomed by all but the most rabid track neds who wanted to ensure they saw all of our proposed route in daylight.
Also realised looking at the map that we were near the curiously named village of Bunny, where someone I'd met in my local had mentioned his parents owned a pub. After a reversal near to the Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre, back down the branch to Loughborough South and a bit of a score for me in doing Syston North to Syston East. This is possible on a number of service trains according to PSUL, but none that I'm likely to use this side of the next chance at a rover! Just shy of Melton Mowbray the train reversed again, onto the former Midland line to Nottingham at Melton Junction. This was the start of the test track proper, but first there was the matter of the lines into the Alstom Asfordby Test Centre to cover. Taking the curve at Asfordby Junction we progressed along the line beside the locked and gated Test Centre building well into the headshunt which was formerly the branch to the coal mine. as we made slow progress towards the buffers, one of the original Pendolino test drivers began a detailed, fascinating commentary on the tannoy which lasted throughout our visit. A bit of a surprise on reaching the end of the road however as 57311 was waiting for us courtesy of Virgin Trains and was soon attached to the back for the run up to Edwalton. How they got the locomotive there without anyone finding out in these days of the internet and the mobile 'phone is anyone's guess!
After rejoining the line at Holwell Junction (or at least somewhere near the site of the original junction) we made a fairly quick trip along the full extent of the line. This section of track is 25kV electrified and fit for 125mph running in places for the recent Pendolino tests. There are a number of curves laid at zero cant too, for tilt testing purposes. Naturally we took these fairly carefully! On reaching Edwalton, the end of the line for some time now, we crept as far as possible. The village of Tollerton was visible to the east, and to the west our first port of call today at Ruddington was only the matter of a couple of miles away. Time for some fun now, as 57311 was to haul the entire train (fourteen Mk1s and two locomotives) unassisted back to Old Dalby. Amazingly, the loco did incredibly well - with some quite speedy running. Had we been on time here, the plan had been to do a second run up to Edwalton. Someone somewhere was clearly having enough fun to decide that despite the lateness we could justify the run - and off we went again, this time stopping a little short of the buffers, and returning with both 67016 and 57311 providing traction. With the twilight descending, the lights of Nottingham were visible not far from line's end, and it was rather sad to realise just how close to having a direct route the city was, and how soon it might all be disappearing!
In gathering gloom, back to Holwell Junction where we bade 57311 goodbye and traversed the last side of the triangle before negotiating Melton Junction once again. An unscheduled stop at Melton Mowbray for some to escape, then via the Up Goods Loop (last used by Pedigree Petfoods!) to Corby and back to the Midland Mainline for a fairly quick run back to Ealing reversing the outward route. Given that I was undecided and rather late in booking, this turned out to be a really good fun 'old fashioned' railtour. Lots of atmosphere, lots of new track and some surprises. The timekeeping was not bad, considering we were at least consistently behind, not gaining and losing all the way like on some recent trips. Whether we'll be the last passenger train on the Old Dalby Test Track remains to be seen, but I think this tour will be remembered by all those on board for some time to come!
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.