Posted in Railways on Saturday 17th December 2011 at 11:35pm
It's been a rather odd, frustrating year for railtours. Lots of cancellations, lots of uncertainty, and a great deal of politics and rivalry entering the market. Amongst this, I've tried to do as many as possible, with an emphasis on rare or unusual track wherever possible. This hasn't always been easy, with UK Railtours and Pathfinder both refocusing somewhat on the enthusiast market, while Spitfire plough a steady furrow doing there own thing. None of these operators have been immune to problems this year, but there have been some memorable trips too. I reflected on this as I headed for Bristol Parkway this morning to pick up this tour - the last of the year, and one that again had no timings until late in the week, and for which tickets had yet to be delivered. The run up was surprisingly smooth, with time to grab a quick breakfast at Temple Meads before switching to the Swansea HST which reverses at Parkway. Just as well, as virtually nothing was open at Parkway despite things being fairly busy. Caught up with a few familiar faces while waiting for the tour, which had used the Rhubarb Loop to avoid Temple Meads and arrived exactly on time. Found my seat as notified by 'phone and settled in for what was to be an interesting trip.
With the skies starting to lighten, but the stock still very steamy - something that didn't change much all day really - we headed north to Birmingham, making pick-ups at Cheltenham and Barnt Green, before heading for Internation for a loco swap, where our Class 66 gave way to a Class 92. Frustratingly one I'd had before, but good to be behind one of these fast, powerful machines again. Also an opportunity to get a decent coffee before setting off north for Crewe via Bescot. Some very swift running once we were out on the mainline, and we were soon drawing into Basford Hall Yard where a Class 60 was to take over the reins for the exit via the Liverpool Independent Lines before our perambulations around Merseyside. This involved a bit of a spin on lines familiar from a couple of previous tours, ending up with a rather extended wait in the Down Wapping Siding at Edge Hill. Luckily, we weren't stuck in the tunnel - and after the stop we made our way back to Warrington via a highlight for me, the traversal of the through line in Dallam Royal Mail terminal, much to the surprise of a gang of postmen working hard to clear the festive backlog no doubt! At Warrington we deviated from our route a little, ending up in the Canal MSC Sidings rather than those at Warrington Old Junction. This whole area is a mess of tracks, but this stop was just to allow a reversal, via the addition of 31601 to the train. It was of course supposed to be a Class 08, but with the resident example out of action, this had to do. The Class 31 drew us along the line to Latchford, alongside a waiting coal train, before detaching and allowing 60011 to haul us forward to Ditton Reception Sidings via Fiddler's Ferry.
Another run around here accomplished swiftly and efficiently, as all of the manoeuvres were today, then off to Crewe once again using the Independent Lines to access Gresty Lane Loop, where the 60 was detached and 66206 arrived on the other end of the train to pull us home. The run back to Bristol was quick, on time and entertaining in a coach with no lights - who said it only happens to 'other operators' tours then? This only improved the fairly sociable atmosphere on board, despite an amusingly ill-informed and geographically challenged loudmouth sitting behind us! At this point I realised that I'd not taken a single picture all day - either the locos had been in the wrong place, we hadn't had a break or it had been too dark to get a shot on every occasion. I hope a few shots will turn up on the web in any case.
So, my return to Pathfinder Tours was an enjoyable, sociable jaunt to largely familiar lines with some winning traction. I can only hope the quality stays this high next year...
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.