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We were both sad and glad to leave Carnforth earlier this week. Those of you who read the earlier post about the Carnforth Sunshine will understand that you can only have so many sets of damp overalls drying in a support coach before knees, ankles and elbows start to rust, so you will understand the “Glad” part. The “Sad” part is because the staff at Carnforth Depot were brilliantly welcoming, friendly and helpful – we enjoyed being there, (apart from the rain!) and are looking forward to our next visit. Plus it was a privilege to be on a steam shed on an ordinary day in 2008 and see six main-line ticketed steam locomotives all either being prepared or standing ready for their next trips. And to know that elsewhere on the same site an “unrepairable” locomotive is reaching the late stages of overhaul. And to know that in yet another corner of the same site there was a collection of diesel locomotives which, if they were on a preserved railway, would be the makings of a major diesel gala (for those who care about such things). Besides, the coal tower and ash plant make a stirring sight first thing on a morning, or last thing at night silhouetted against a dark sky.


Ironically, given the amount of rain we’ve had up there all “Summer”, the weather was lovely on Thursday as we left Carnforth: we set off into an autumn morning with just a support coach. We knew that we were booked to cross with the Duchess at Preston where she was due to be taking water, but because we were running a bit early we actually crossed on the move outside Preston. Our first booked water stop was at Crewe, then Bescott. One of the on lookers at Bescot commented about “all that engine for that one coach” so we explained that actually the coach is there for the engine because how else do you carry tools, hoses and spare support crew for a thirteen-hour journey.  Luckily during our water stop at the now-disused Bletchley Carriage Sidings we were able to make use of the excellent cold running water to wash in – the glamour of steam!

By the time we arrived at Southall after a very long day we were all properly tired and were glad to have our usual coach which was waiting for us in the shed so we were able to have a hot meal and plenty of fresh tea once we’d put the engine to bed.

We’d noticed on arriving that the Class 47 was missing from the shed and wondered in passing how we would manage to get the engine coaled the following day if there was no diesel to shunt her as we wouldn’t have steam on a prep day. The problem was solved at 2am when the diesel arrived back from an ecs move, waking me, but the others managed to sleep through to be surprised by the sudden appearance of a big maroon monster outside the windows in the morning.

On Friday we had to clean out the remains of the fire from the move the day before and begin prepping for the Cathedrals Express trip to Gloucester on Saturday. Because she had been stood outside over the summer at Carnforth, she wasn’t up to our usual standards of cleanliness, so we had a big push to get her tidied up ready for her Southern Public. Luckily the skeleton crew who’d brought her down from Carnforth were augmented by more support crew members, so by bed time, which thanks to the shed lighting was well after dark, she was looking much better.

The Saturday trip also enjoyed good weather, there was a bit of mist in the morning, but it was sunny by the time we arrived at Waterloo.

Driver, Fireman and engine all pose for their photo

We left Southall at “silly o’clock” (06.25)

and weren’t booked back onto the depot again until “stupid o’clock” (23.46). There were plenty of people at Waterloo including some who had made the long trek (or in some cases, dash) along the adjacent platform to get a look at 30777 as she stood ready to leave.

The timings for the journey looked quite leisurely on paper because there were a number of speed restrictions through platforms, particularly in early part of the trip. But of course we had to make up time between speed restrictions which made for a fair amount of acceleration to line speed, short stretches of run followed by braking back down to a crawl for the next station. For operational reasons we had the class 47 on the back of the train, but it only worked where necessary, leaving the Arthur plenty of scope to stretch her legs.

Our old friends ‘Bells and Two Tones’ provided the water for the journey. We have an arrangement that we provide tea for the tanker driver(s) at water stops. At the first water stop they didn’t have time to finish their tea by departure time so they promised faithfully to return the mugs at Gloucester. At Gloucester they’d forgotten them and promised that they’d be returned at Wantage Road on the return leg. A threat of “No mugs, no tea” was countered by “no tea, no water, no steam, no go”. Luckily it was all in good humour and both tea and mugs were exchanged later in the day.

Servicing at Gloucester takes place in a siding behind the platforms which provided an ideal viewing point for interested parties to have a grandstand view of proceedings. The siding has road access so the coal lorry and the water tender were both able to get alongside while we cleaned the fire and the smokebox, and oiled round. John the tanker driver kindly slacked down the ash and char for us so that the yard was left cool and tidy ready for next time.

Taking Coal

Water and smokebox

After servicing we went to turn on the triangle. As we had the services of the class 47 the easiest way to manage the movement was to attach the diesel to the back of the support coach so that we all went round as one unit with a driver on each end. Then the diesel chopped off and we had to wait for the road to propel the engine and support coach back onto the train.

The fireman waiting for the road

Once we were re-attached to the train we had a lengthy wait in the sidings before going into the platform. While we were there one of the support crew noticed that we get lovely reflections in the windows of passing trains – old and new united.

The climb out of Gloucester is pretty fierce and culminates in Sapperton Tunnel. Because the engine is working hard on a climb there’s no time for the footplate crew or owners’ rep to enjoy the view, they’re too busy watching for signals, managing the injectors, shovelling coal, and generally looking after the engine, luckily through the wonders of modern technology and the genius of the inventors of the internet, we are able to come home afterwards and see footage of what we’ve been doing to remind us of why it’s all worthwhile.


By Info | Sunday, October 12, 2008 | Tags : 30777

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