Posted in Railways on Saturday 12th September 2009 at 10:50pm
There's had been something of an ad-hoc feel to this whole weekend - planned late, and booked on a whim to use a discounted ticket. As the whole thing sort of crept up on me during the week, found myself dashing about to prepare for the trip up to Birmingham after work yesterday. Despite some last minute work-related calls on the train, things had calmed down and I'd had a pretty good night's sleep before a thankfully not too early start. Over to New Street, just minutes away from my hotel, for breakfast and a wander out to the end of the platforms where the daylight promised a pretty good morning. Watched the trains arriving for a while until the tell-tale high intensity lights in the tunnel signalled the arrival of our train with 66414 'James the Engine' at the front. Time for a quick photograph before a quick walk along the train to find my seat - thankfully this time around in a decent FO, rather than the odd vehicle WCRC supplied on my last Spitfire excursion. Indeed, enduring that vehicle on an extended trip had earned today's discount! Settled in for the first leg of the journey north - with our destination once again Carlisle. People have actually begun to ask me what the attraction of this border city is - have I some illicit assignation or secret? I'm not sure quite why so many tours have headed this way lately, but on each occasion the weather has been good, and it's been an enjoyable trip. There may even be one last jaunt before the year is out if things go to plan too!
Our route curved west, through Telford and the connection to the newly opened Donnington Freight branch, before turning north again at Shrewsbury. After picking up at a variety of smaller stations which rarely see a tour, we covered the now rather popular Gresty Road curve into Basford Hall Yard at Crewe. Here, after a quick rehersal, we set off via the Liverpool Independent lines to rejoin the WCML, now with 37229 and 37510 leading. 37510 in particular was a winner for me, having reportedly not worked a passenger train for a good few years. We made excellent progress with this pair of locos, until a little north of Preston where we came to a shuddering halt. Soon heard that 37229 had shut down with no coolant and fire bells sounding. 37510 pulled us forward into the Up and Down Goods Loop at Carnforth, where after a brief delay, it was decided to put 66414 back on the front. Run around effected, we set off 59 minutes behind schedule. This meant a much shorter stop in Carlisle, but given recent visits I wasn't too concerned. The sun was shining, 37510 was still assisting the 66, and we had the delights of Shap ahead of us. The train made the climb with no problems, apparently at a little over 50mph. Having said that, tackling this climb with one 37 and a pair of dead locos could have been problematic! A good, fast run into Carlisle for a break of an hour.
However, an hour was barely long enough for all the activity going on almost as soon as we arrived. Firstly, 70013 'Oliver Cromwell' was steaming gently away with a good number of enthusiasts watching as the stock was propelled south out of the station. Almost immediately on our arrival, 66412 arrived with 37682 in tow. These two locos were due to be attached - and with 66414 hauling the ailing 37229 off to Kingmoor, there were plenty of movements to photograph. With most of the manoeuvres done, headed over to grab a drink and enjoy the sunshine which was now very strong. Back over to the platform to prepare for the arrival of our train for the return. 66412 did the honours, and would be at the rear, letting 37682 - another winner for me - lead 37510 on the first leg of the return. On boarding, found the stock very hot and stuffy, with cable-ties restricting the small windows in the Mk 1 stock. The tight clearances via Maryport have usually meant the use of Mk 2 air-conditioned stock, so not surprised by the warnings. Brief concern there may be trouble from a small group in the carriage who broke off the tie and argued medical grounds for keeping cool, but all quietened down eventually. The long, rather dull section to Maryport soon passed, and windows were very gratefully opened as we curved alongside the Irish Sea in truly fantastic conditions. Spent a good bit of the coastal journey at a droplight enjoying the sound of the locos and the fresh sea air.
This time, we took the line through Barrow-in-Furness rather than the much shorter avoiding line, passing the seemingly deserted but huge Light Maintenance Depot here. Soon curving back into the loop at Carnforth to let a couple of fast trains pass before setting off south at speed. We stayed on the WCML until Warrington, where we took the Chester line, gaining time as we went. Finally arrived at Chester around 10 minutes before due time. The station was busy with natives in their finery seemingly preparing for a night out in Crewe, surprisingly enough! Watched the fun for a while before a 10 minute early departure with 66412 again at the helm. After passing Crewe electric and marvelling at the locos abandoned to the elements outside, we slewed across the lines and crossed onto what is a fairly rare bit of track, linking the former Depot departure line to the Chester Independent lines. All seemed to be going well until we came to a halt well short of Salop Goods Junction, which we needed to clear to get back round onto the Salop line. After a brief wait, we were informed that Basford Hall was full of ballast trains and that the signaller wasn't expecting us. All the signs of another Gresty Road farce were assembling, when after a delay of around ten minutes, and actually at our booked time, we began to move off north with the 37s leading again. It was hard to appreciate what was happening in the growing gloom, but we soon found the train curving to the east, and passing the back of the coal sidings, with the Salop lines and Diesel depot at our left. It soon dawned that we'd done a fairly innocuous and nameless link back into Platform 12 of the station which the assembled BLS contingent couldn't recall being done in at least the past 30 years of railtours. Somewhat elated, so didn't even notice the brief delay while the driver again changed ends to take us south, the 66 in charge once again.
Once on the Salop lines again, things ran fairly smoothly and we made our booked set-down stops only a few minutes late, thanks to the early running accumulated on the run into Chester. Reflecting on the tour as we approached the Midlands once again, noted that the mishaps with locos and track had actually only improved the day - and brought back a bit of that feeling of 'the old days' when you never knew quite what would turn up or where it might take you. Of course, I don't remember anything but the tail end of those days - and for me today was just a good old-fashioned railtour with interesting traction and even more interesting track! What's more, it was a relaxing and enjoyable day which had taken the pressure off just for a little while. Another good 'un from Spitfire - long may they continue.
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.