Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Pines Express

A typical summer holiday afternoon at Midford, S&D.

The spirit of Evercreech Junction was recreated in Cambridgeshire when the Nene Valley Railway held a 1950’s Somerset & Dorset event on Sunday 25th April.  I’d been looking forward to this mini gala for some time as it would offer a number of interesting photographic opportunities that don’t occur during regular running days.  For that reason I decided not to undertake any railway duties on Sunday as it would enable a day of linesiding with the camera instead.  I therefore planned out an intensive schedule so as to maximise locations and not miss too much of the action.

44422 and 73050 simmer in Saturday afternoon sunshine.

The line up was an interesting one – Fowler 4F 44422 and Standard Five 73050 would haul the passenger trains, consisting of a six-car blood and custard Mk1 rake, including a specially created Club Car for dining services.  For authenticity, 73050 had its City of Peterborough nameplates removed, and both locos were weathered to give a work stained appearance.  Recently arrived J94 Austerity Tank 22 Lord Salisbury would be making her debut in service on the Nene Valley, and I was particularly looking forward to the sight of this loco working the freights.  Although not an S&D loco as such, No. 22 is similar to the many industrial locos that used to work at a colliery on the line.  Finally, BR class 14 D9516 would be undertaking some stock movements and shunting duties to add variety.

22 and D9516 look at home on a rake of coal wagons.  
TTI Carl looks equally at home on a platform seat, taking a well earned break!

Interest wasn’t just confined to the trains themselves, as much thought had gone into creating the S&D atmosphere.  Wansford station became Midford, with all platform nameboards and even the signalbox altered for the day.  Vintage timetables were displayed and specially printed Edmonson tickets were issued to all passengers.  The continental coaches and TPO vehicles were banished to Orton Mere so that they would not spoil photographs – a nice touch.  The station must have looked convincing, because when I was working in the booking office the previous day a lady looked around with much curiosity, and turning to her friend said, “You know, I’m sure it said on the website that this station was called Wansford!”

All passenger services would be hauled by 44422 or 73050, with locos being turned at Wansford on the turntable to permit some rare boiler first running eastbound to Peterborough.  The turntable operation was publicised, as it would be of interest to the expected crowds being such a rare spectacle on any preserved line.  The highlight of the day would be The Pines Express itself – 44422 and 73050 double-heading a one-off non-stop express from Peterborough to Yarwell Junction, including the high speed dash through Wansford – a first for the line.  So you can see why I wanted to be out and about, camera in hand!

A grubby and nameless 73050 looked the part as she steamed onto the turntable at Midford.

Despite a gloomy start followed by an hour long torrential downpour that required a rethink about the early part of my schedule, the day gradually improved and by lunchtime was quite pleasant with good lighting.  The filming would start at Peterborough, but I popped into Wansford first thing as Jayne had asked if I’d call in and take some pictures of her Club Car – a MK1 saloon laid out for dining services complete with table linen, fine china and even fresh flowers. 

Pines Express Club Car ready for lunch service as 73050 gets up steam in the background.

 It was essential to get this done before the hordes descended, and a stop at Wansford meant that I’d get some coffee down my neck at the cafĂ©, and take the edge of the 06:15 start time.  Then scoot off and park up at Orton Mere before walking the length of the line with regular photostops, filming each passing train at my planned locations.  In the event, the substantial downpour meant substituting the dry shelter of Orton Mere for the open air of Peterborough for early scenes, but after 11:00 things steadily improved.  I ended up at Wansford for more photos before catching the last train back to Peterborough behind the 4F, then back again one stop to Orton Mere for the car.  This was a fortuitous move indeed, because the J94 had worked down with the freight and was added to the train at Peterborough for the return trip instead of going back with the class 14.   Thus I managed to travel on the first passenger train hauled by 22 which rounded off an excellent day on a high note.

All three stars of the show in preparation for duty the previous day.

The Nene Valley Railway certainly deserves credit for hosting such a great event.  It just goes to show that you don't need a vast line up of prestigious locos to make an interesting gala - a well planned themed event with plenty of attention to detail works equally well.  Therefore I hope the planned video of the day does it all justice!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Easter Eggspress

Spring has arrived at Peterborough

For the tourism industry, Easter generally signifies the start of the new season and now is the time to put into practise all the new plans and ideas that have been evolving over the quiet winter period.  The Nene Valley Railway is no exception, and after my adventures as a 1940’s spiv on Sunday, I was moving up a decade into the 1950’s to do a busy shift in the Booking Office on Monday.

The Easter break had already seen huge numbers of visitors coming through the doors, and Monday was no exception – in fact it proved to be a record breaker, which was fantastic news.  To attract families, Thomas The Tank Engine was in steam, and was certainly a great attraction judging by the visitors that I spoke to.  The NVR has a generally sensible policy regarding Thomas, by using him to haul trains only to Yarwell Junction and back – a round trip of about 25 minutes.  Many parents were delighted by this – it offered the Thomas experience in a time frame that ensured that boredom wouldn’t set in, and all the problems that entails!  Indeed I think it works remarkably well – visitors ride Thomas through the haunted tunnel to Yarwell and can watch the loco run round before returning back to Wansford.  Thus a natural break is provided in the journey, and the kids actually get to see the engine up close and personal – hopefully planting subliminal images in their minds for future reference!

The rest of the service between Wansford and Peterborough was provided by Fowler 4F 44422 on the Mk1 rake, and class 14 D9514 on the DSB set.  Neither loco wore a ‘Thomas’ face, so I’m assuming that my earlier blog post on this subject has been read and absorbed.  Sadly the Polish Slask loco, number 5845, that I mentioned previously wasn’t ready in time for service over the weekend, but is undergoing a steam test and runabout this week – so here’s hoping it will soon be in service.

The massive bulk of the Slask loco on shed at Wansford.

The Booking Office was extremely busy as you’d imagine, and two of us manned it.  I was delighted to get the ‘cash only’ till as this meant cashiering as I used to do it in the good old days – adding up in your head; charging the customer the total, taking cash then giving them the change.  None of this pressing umpteen buttons then receiving error messages and crashes in return.  Just straightforward giveusyercash.  Progress has a lot to answer for.

The atmosphere amongst the visitors was good natured, and as the customer’s first point of contact with the railway, we wanted to get their day off to a good start.  The welcome that people receive at attractions like this often has a bearing on their whole day, and it’s a point I’m always mindful of, whether I’m visiting or working.  I’d visited Crich Tramway Museum the previous day, and received a genuine, warm welcome from the very pleasant girl on the till (called Nikki, in the highly unlikely event she reads this, but thanks anyway) and it really does make a difference.

By 3pm we’d got the vast bulk of visitors through the doors, and that meant that my till could close.  Cash up (and balance first time, whey hey) and then I had the option of going home or riding a train.  The 4F was in steam – what would you do?  Naturally I jumped the 15:10 and used the outward journey to do a bit of on-train PR amongst the Thomas groups.  The trip down to Peterborough and back was lightly loaded, so I just chatted with the various crew on board.  I remained on the train as it worked the last Wansford – Yarwell – Wansford shuttle service, before helping to close up the stock and knock off for the day.  

44422 recouples after running round at Peterborough.

Then time for a quick trip into the loco shed, to get my first glimpse of our recently arrived J94 locomotive number 22 from Scunthorpe.  I haven’t been able to find out much background about this loco – I’m assuming that it must have been up at the Steelworks.  I have to say that even in the gloom of the shed, the loco looks magnificent in lined maroon livery.

No. 22 is booked to make her debut in service on Sunday 25th April at The Pines Express gala day.  Even better – she’ll be hauling freight trains, the raison d’etre of these locos.  More about the gala in due course – but it should be a cracker!

Saturday, 3 April 2010


Hi there, pop-pickers! - let me take you on a trip down memory lane. It’s a spring weekend during the swinging sixties, and you’ve taken a walk with some friends to indulge in an afternoon of trainspotting in the Midlands. Along with the sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper that your Mum made this morning is your most prized possession – a transistor radio, so that you can all tune into Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman playing Pick of The Pops on the BBC Light Programme – without being shouted at to ‘turn that damn racket down!’ Appropriate tunes blast out at full volume – The Loco-motion by Little Eva from across the pond, with John, Paul, Ringo and George giving us Ticket to Ride and Daytripper – it’s as if they knew! We stand at the lineside fence and wave at the train crews; the fireman often takes a break here on the up trains as the track is downhill all the way to Barchester. A game of cricket is taking place across the tracks in the nearby school playing fields. We wave at a fellow spotter, who suddenly takes a dive into the undergrowth. Oh no! He’s been bowled out – looks like the teacher’s on his way over to sort him out …

Photo: N.H. James

Down at the lineside a variety of trains pass by – ever familiar Black Fives, Standard 2’s and Jinty tanks that are steadily being usurped by the new green diesels of types 1 and 2 – not to mention the futuristic diesel multiple units that offer a driver’s eye view of the track ahead; how cool! There’s even an interloper from the LNER on a holiday express; now there’s a new one to be underlined in the much handled Ian Allan pocket book. Pick up freights trundle along, squeezed in between the fast mainline expresses. If we get lucky, there might even be a Jubilee on the up Master Cutler…

Home for tea and changing into your best suit before begging your Dad to give you a lift in the Humber so that you can attend the youth disco in town. Sitting with your mates on one side of the room, you gaze across the chasm of the dance floor to the girls sitting on the other side – waiting for the DJ to put on Nights in White Satin so that you can ask Julia McCloughlin for a dance. And all the time praying that the lights will be lowered so that the darkness will hide the latest outcrop of spots; not much chance of a snog in the corner if she cops an eyeful of that lot!

If any of this has reawakened a memory or two after forty odd years, then this new film from Grumpy Git Productions is for you. If not, then watch Heartbeat (currently weekdays on ITV3 and well worth watching). More recommended early trainspotting memories may be read at Iain Robinson’s Losing Track blog, in particular this piece which inspired the storyline behind Twist & Shunt.

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