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!


  1. I like the looks of the 4F. I only ever saw one of these in steam, at Patricroft in 1967. It looks nicely work worn...perfect.
    I'm looking forward to seeing more of no.22 on your blog...pretty please! I love burgundy red on locos, not just because that's the FR colour...
    Mrs RM and I have missed out on the Easter fun here on both railways due to being on-shed with the smokebox lurgi. Not that I could ever work on the till like you. My numeracy and patience threshholds are far inferior to yours!
    Great post, as always.

  2. Work stained 4F - funnily enough I was saying just that when chatting with Matt, the Guard, on Monday. A freight loco such as this needs to look somewhat world-weary, especially in BR livery when it's days were numbered. It's with us until October, so hopefully a little more weathering can take place.
    As for the J94; I was looking forward to seeing this loco, and having seen the beautifully applied livery I just can't wait until April 25th when she starts steaming. No. 22 is on long term loan, so hopefully there will many opportunities for video and photos.
    As for the till, funnily enough if it was paid work I couldn't do it. I'd go mad. But at the NVR, you're with people who want to be there and customers who have arrived by choice and are generally in a good mood, so the atmosphere is relaxed and very pleasant. Put me on a till in Asda and I'd be arrested on my first day.


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