Posted in Railways on Saturday 1st August 2009 at 11:57pm
There hasn't been a good old fashioned spin'n'win tour for a good while now, so when Spitfire announced this trip, using a variety of traction from the varied and interesting DRS fleet, I was keen to book. Thus I found myself in the familiar surroundings of Birmingham New Street at an unearthly hour once again, grabbing a rushed breakfast whilst trying to find a member of staff willing to commit to a platform for the tour. In the end descended to a very congested platform 7 still in some doubt, but sure enough the parade of Voyagers all left for their various destinations in time for our stock to crawl into the platform behind 66430 - and then to stop dead at the mid-platform signal. Rushed back to board as close to my carriage as possible, and found myself seated in a very strange saloon called "The Red Knight" - clearly not one of WCRC's finest efforts. The train did eventually pull forward enough for it all to be accommodated, and we finally left around ten minutes down. However, things soon seemed to be picking up as we gathered speed via a pick-up at Burton-on-Trent and then took the Stenson to Sheet Stores freight line to head through Toton and further stops at Alfreton and Sheffield. As we headed north again via the Dearne Valley, noted that the skies were darkening somewhat. Indeed from Wakefield Westgate onwards the storm deepened. As we arrived in Leeds via the Copley Hill Chord, the rain was falling hard from a slate grey sky. Thus, only headed briefly out onto the platform to see that 37607 and 604 were already on the back of the train and preparing to work forwards. The start-up on 37604 was particularly noisy, smoky and impressive! One of these locos was of course supposed to be a Class 20, but the shortage of this class while most members are at Eastleigh receiving attention made this impossible. Not a big issue for me, with the second 37 being an fine choice of replacement.
Returned to our strange carriage to dry off and enjoy a run along the legendary Settle and Carlisle line. It's been a while since I've been in these parts, and I'd forgotten just how impressive the scenery and the isolation is up there. The Ribblehead Viaduct as ever, made a huge impression on everyone on the train. Amazingly too, as we passed over the Pennines and into the west, the clouds broke and the sun came shining through. We descended into Carlisle in strong midday sunshine, with a few hours to spend in the border city. Since my injured knee was still giving me a fair amount of grief, I hobbled carefully into the centre and found some food which led to an impromptu picnic in the grounds of the Cathedral. Decided I wanted decent coffee now, and thus made for the Market Square, formed by the confluence of English Street and Scotch Street. The significance of this was not lost, as while I cooled off in the coffee shop, the sound of pipes drifted in. Drank up and headed out to find a small band of pipers and brass musicians performing for charity. Stayed and watched for quite a while, particularly enjoying the moment when two Buckfast-swilling neds on tour persuaded the bandleader to strike up 'Flower of Scotland'. The locals took it in good humour, however!
Back to the station to find out what Kingmoor Depot had turned out for our trip back. After a short exploration of the station, 57007 arrived with the stock of our train - indicating that this would be hauling the final leg of our tour after a reversal at Wakefield Kirkgate. Walked to the front to find DRS 37087 paired up, rather unexpectedly with WCRS's 37676! Another failure at Kingmoor had meant this late substitution - and while 676 wasn't a winner for me (having featured on a couple of trips this year) the leading 37087 was. Back on board in great weather for and on-time departure, and things were looking good for a fine run home...
..but these things almost never work out quite that easily - and would of course, be dull if they did. What would people find to gossip and whinge about on the internet for starters! Out first problem, it seemed related to the roof-mounted horns on 37676 which were out-of-gauge for tunnels on the booked route via Barnsley! A substitute plan was concocted with us heading instead via Wakefield Kirgate, not reversing as planned but progressing presumably via Crofton and Hare Park to gain the route via Moorthorpe. We would then reverse at Sheffield and take the 'Old Road'. However, just west of Blackburn the brakes went on pretty sharply. At this point someone leaning out of a window said with some dismay "Hmm. We seem to be on fire!".
Indeed there was a great deal of smoke pouring from one of the wheelsets on 57007. Whether there was in fact a fire, or just lots of heat, oil and therefore smoke is hard to establish. Suffice to say that 57007 had appeared to have been moving for a good few miles with it's brakes on. Enough in fact to cause the tyres to shift. After a long, quiet delay when the broken PA meant that at least we didn't get any speculation, 6201 'Princess Eliabeth' arrived with it's steam special. We endured a good few minutes ribbing from the steam cranks' on board, but they were soon away and that just left the local youngsters to have their own pop at us!
Finally the decision was taken to move forward to Blackburn on the Up & Down Goods line, then to detach 57007. All this was duly accomplished very swiftly and efficiently and we were under way once more - delayed, but with some prospect of making up time as a reversal would now not be necessary at Sheffield. Despite some slow running, presumably due to following units over Copy Pit, we seemed to be holding time and not getting any later. The loss of a potential haulage was disappointing, but we were moving which was positive. Until of course we stopped - just outside Wakefield Kirgate, and for no apparent reason. As we had no PA in "The Red Knight" we had to wait for the news to filter back - a points failure, and cable theft in the Dearne Valley. We sat for a long time, chatting through the various options available. A mention had been made of travelling via Doncaster - but that meant a likely very much longer route out to the ECML. Eventually, as we set off through Kirkgate and turned north at Altofts Junction it became clear. We in fact travelled via Methley Junction and almost back to Leeds, before taking the Whitehall Curve and the spur line to avoid the station. Throw in for good measure a second traversal of the Copley Hill Chord in the other direction, and within the space of a few minutes we'd scored a fair bit of very rare track indeed! Feeling much better about things now, we sped off south towards Doncaster, crossing over the bridge above the spot where we'd waited outside Kirkgate almost an hour earlier!
37087 and 676 did solid work in getting us home, especially as I understand they were being driven in tandem due to problems persuading them to work in multiple. We made very good progress south via the Erewash Valley and into the Midlands, and arrived at New Street at around 00:38 - about 80 minutes late - which given the challenges which the day presented, is far from bad going! The tour terminated here as Network Rail had already taken possession of the line between New Street and Wolverhampton. So we were efficiently shepherded out of the station via a secret exit onto the cab road and while the Wolves-bound passengers headed for their coaches, I very gratefully descended the stairs to Station Street and my hotel. It would be easy to use the usual term 'farce' for this tour - and some of the situations were pretty unlikely. For them all to crop up on the same trip is incredibly bad luck. However, the way things were handled, the positive attitude to getting everyone home and the general good humour on board reflected very well indeed on Spitfire. The bonus of some extra mileage and some extremely hard-to-get track made my day, and you'll get no complaints from me!
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.