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Yesterday (Saturday the 14th of March 2009), 70013 hauled what is possibly the last ever passenger train on the Folkestone Harbour Branch.

The passengers embarked at Waterloo, although for 70013 and the support crew, the trip began at Southall Shed on Thursday afternoon when they began preparing her for the trip. As always there was plenty of oiling, greasing, cleaning and general fettling to be done before she was ready to meet her public. On this occasion we had time in hand so Kevin, Hugh, John, Alison, Nick and Dave were able to sort out a number of little fiddly jobs which had been on the “when we have time” list for a while.

Cleaning in progress.

And oiling.

The start off the depot wasn’t until 07.11, (practically lunchtime compared to some start times), and the day looked lovely, despite the weatherman’s promise of rain. The trip began well; one of those days where the sun shines, the engine steams well and the coal all seems to go on the right way up. There was a slight ‘cloud’ on the day as we approached Penge East, when a minor fault caused an unscheduled station stop. The fault was quickly traced to the diesel at the rear of the train and we were underway a short time later. By now we were behind time but Driver Pete Roberts and Fireman Pete Anson obliged with some spirited running to get us back to time by Folkestone. 

An off duty support crew member was waiting at Sandling to photograph the train as she came through.

A view of Folkestone Harbour in the distance.

We descended the branch from Folkestone East to Folkestone Harbour to the sound of distant music. All became clear as we crossed the bridge towards the station: we were greeted by a huge crowd and a marching band!

The crowd and band were there because the line is scheduled for closure and our trip is expected to be “definitely the last steam hauled passenger train to use the line”. However over the last few months there have been several “last ever” trains on the branch and who knows, given Cromwell’s starring role in the “last ever steam passenger working on British Railways”, perhaps the plans to preserve the line will come to fruition, and Cromwell will be invited back in 40 years time to work a commemorative train? 

The branch line down from Folkestone East to Folkestone Harbour was reputed to have the steepest gradient of anywhere ever on the Southern Railway, and although it is only short, it makes a sharp climb out of the station to the junction at Folkestone East. The climb certainly made Cromwell work for her keep, the sound of the exhaust was echoing off the walls of the surrounding houses all the way up the branch.


People had turned out in their droves to see the train – it was standing room only on the platform next to the engine, there were people three-ranks deep on the over bridges, people on roofs, in gardens, by fences, thronging next to level crossing gates, at the windows of the hotel across the harbour and even on the boats in the harbour.

We were scheduled to take coal at the harbour, which meant that the engine had to stand blocking the level crossing next to the signal box for some time while it was loaded. No one seemed to mind being blocked in for that time because they were all admiring the locomotive.

While the train was stationary some of the support crew were able to take a walk down to the far end of the train to take photos of the station and see the driver of the diesel and use his cab as a photographic vantage point!

We made three trips up and down the branch and the crowds were only a little thinner for the last departure than they had been for the first. As we passed one level crossing we saw three Harley Davidson’s Motorbikes parked next to the gates, with three burly bikers standing watching us leave. That’s hardcore train spotting.

We took water three times during the day: on each occasion our friend John from Bells and Two Tones obliged with T999 BTT, and we returned the gesture with tea and biscuits. It really makes a big difference having a tanker service like that, because when we run in the hoses are already laid out to where we need them so it is a quick job to connect up, we can have water running into the tank within a minute or two of arriving. Thanks John.

Despite the promise of rain from the weatherman, we had a fine run back to Waterloo through the Kent countryside.  For the journey back we kept the same driver, but there was a change of Firemen: John Fletcher took over from Pete Anson. Both men know the engine, and both were full of praise for her. Pete said at the top of the Harbour branch “She’s a cracking machine, everyone should have one. It’s a privilege to be on her”. John said similarly complimentary things about her as we crested the top of the Sole Street bank at 40mph. We ran back into Waterloo two minutes early, to the sound of the Chime Whistle echoing off the station walls and round the train shed. 

At Waterloo, Pete Roberts was relieved by Tommy Farr, who took us back to Southall.

Meanwhile, back at Loughborough things keep happening while the Brit is out playing: Tone the Clean was busy cleaning Lamiel today, and the Peak has been in traffic recently. She has been used to train army personnel to drive at speeds of up to 60mph. Special thanks to Mark and Neil for shouldering much of the burden of this work, which enables the Peak to earn her keep. The support coach is progressing, and, over at Tyseley, the Five’s boiler is steadily reaching completion.

Other good news from Loughborough is that Mogus has been on day visits to the shed recently; this weekend he managed both Saturday and Sunday, with a strenuous schedule of sleeping in the mess room all day, with intervals of Fuss from Tom. Many thanks to everyone who send contributions to the “get Mogus well fund” it goes to prove that he is a major part of the team!


By Info | Sunday, March 15, 2009 | Tags : 70013

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