Posted in Railways on Saturday 20th October 2007 at 11:59pm
Stumbled the few yards from the hotel to the station still half asleep. It was a cold and foggy morning, but it had the promise of turning out bright like the last few days. After a fruitless search for breakfast at this early hour, headed for platform 12 where the stock was sitting - a motley and rather mixed selection of Mark 1 coaches. Soon found my seat, and having settled in for the long day ahead went to watch 86101 being attached. This, in itself, was something of a highlight. After all that has been written about this tour, and given the constant changes and the final hint of a possibility that 86101 would lead the tour, it was fantastic to see the gleaming machine slowly appearing out of the mist to haul the train.
Initial progress was breathtaking. Effortless acceleration had us touching 100mph several times between Crewe and Stafford. Things would surely have continued in this vein too, had Network Rail not scuppered progress with a signalling fault at Penkridge. We crawled through the Midlands in a queue of trains heading south. The actual delay was fairly modest as far as railtours go - around 30 minues - but was to have some knock on effects later in the day. Once we'd completed pick-up stops at Tame Bridge, Birmingham International and Coventry, we made good progress again via Northampton towards Euston. However, a slight change of plan was to cause a little more delay - instead of us hoging valuable platform space at Euston, the EUKL 37s would be attached to the rear of the train at Wembley and we'd haul them into the station to detach the 86. All went well, but a brief stop turned into a long wait to escape the terminus. We finally set off, making the connection to the Southern via the intricate network of lines around West London.
Once out of London's compelling gravity, I dozed a little - particularly during the trip to Tonbridge and then Ashford. This has never been a favourite bit of line for me with it's flat, featureless and uninspring countryside. It has always amazed me that Kent is so highly regarded as an example of England's finest scenery on the basis of this miserable stretch of line. Soon into Sevington Loop where our leading locomotive ran around to prepare for shuttling up and down branch lines - the real business of the day. Soon off again, wrong line as far as Herringe crossover. A short run through Folkestone before leaving the mainline and coming to rest in one of the 'train roads' which allow access to the Harbour branch. A quick reversal, then down the steep bank through the town and around the tight curve into the station. Again, this appeared to be a very unlikely event, as 37s are effectively barred from the Harbour due to adverse clearances on the platform. Network Rail had given a once-only approval and we crept gingerly into the station. A fair leap down to the platform too. Explored and took some shots of the locos and the rather unusual station area. Like all port stations it has a sort of faded glamour and a sense of importance which outshines it's rather tired appearance.
Off the Harbour with an impressive effort from the locos. The rear loco seemed to shut down halfway up the bank, and we were treated to a noisy standing start. Into a train road for our reversal back to Ashford. Pathing on the Southern and some rather weird operational decisions left us over an hour late, but no-one seemed concerned and there was no question of missing the trip to Dungeness. Pathing again caused delays, but we were soon off towards Appledore. Here we took the branch, curving southwards towards the coast through very flat, marshy country. Numerous open crossings meant slow progress but it was pleasant to hang out of the window enjoying the autumn sunshine and spotting a very late dragonfly. The closed but still intact station at Lydd Town was also of interest, sitting beside the only overbridge on the branch. The power station complex loomed large over the marshes, and soon dominated the scenery. We crept to the loading crane at the end of the branch before reversing once again.
A short break was promised at Ashford, and after watching the run-around to put both locomotives back on the front of the train, wandered into the shop to find a huge queue. Likewise for the toilet as the stock was rapidly running out of serviceable toilets with sufficient water. Again, pathing and some strange signalling decisions saw us delayed for much longer than expected, and we finally set off once again towards Appledore nearly two hours late. There were some concerns already being expressed about how things would work with an engineering possession due to start at Rugby but there was no official word, and we pressed on via Hastings and Tunbridge Wells, the driver coaxing excellent performances from the locomotives and gaining back time despite tight paths and frequent single-line sections. We were soon in the suburbs of London, and it was as ever intriguing to look down on the city at night. An additional stop at Brixton saw us lose a little time, and it was interesting to note the effect our train had on locals, looking up at us in puzzlement as they wandered drunkenly between pubs.
Negotiated the maze of lines once again to find our way to Wembley where 86101 was waiting. The time we'd gained back was spent swapping locos and we set off almost exactly two hours after time. Again noted the incredible performance of 86101, and we started to gain time once again only to lose it at pointless signal checks outside Milton Keynes and Birmingham International. Finally arrived at Crewe at 01:22 where we learned just how lucky we'd been to avoid being taken home by coach which would have meant a much later arrival. Virgin staff unlocked the station to let us out - and then had to contend with people trying to get in, including one young woman wearing what appeared to be the top half of a mermaid costume! She left without complaint, and I last saw her wandering casually and rather wistfully by the hotel, shimmering in the light from the street lamps. A strange end to a strange and long day - but one which succeeded against all the odds.
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.