Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Setting off a Train of Thought

Anyone for spam?

In my last post I briefly mentioned that The Nene Valley has a new visitor – or to be more accurate, a returning resident after an extended holiday.  The locomotive is 34081 92 Squadron, a Battle of Britain class Bullied Pacific.  A potted CV of the loco reveals that she was purchased from Barry Scrapyard by The Battle of Britain Locomotive Society in 1976 and despatched to the NVR where rebuilding commenced.  The lengthy project took until 1998 to complete, when 34081 entered service as a mainstay of the locomotive fleet.  In 2003 the loco departed for visits to other heritage lines, latterly the North Norfolk Railway.  Recently 34081 failed a boiler examination with 13 broken stays and although the owners were hopeful of an extension if the stays were replaced, this did not prove to be possible and a full overhaul is required.  With many of the society volunteers living locally to the Nene Valley, it made practical sense to bring 92 Squadron back to Wansford.  So much for the technical side – but when I saw 34081 stabled in the yard on Saturday morning, tightly squeezed in between 31108 on one side and the DMU on the other, it immediately brought back faded memories of an early trip to the NVR in 1998.  When I returned home I went through my photo archives, and found that my memory had not deceived me after 12 years – which is amazing, as it always lets me down after 12 hours and I have no idea what I did yesterday.  Or today, come to that.

The relatively smart exterior hides a huge engineering task to be tackled.

I was aware of the NVR at the time, having previously paid a fleeting visit to see Flying Scotsman in 1995.  However, my interest at the time was in the contemporary scene and heritage railways were merely an occasional diversion.  On this occasion, Susana and I were having a day out together, and I’d suggested Ferry Meadows as neither of us had ever been there and the brochures looked appealing.  I’d noticed that the railway ran right through the park, but at the time it was of passing interest rather than the destination itself.  It presented an opportunity to gently break Susana into the world of railways; in fact it would be her first sight of a real live steam train as she hails from Madeira.  Ironically enough, in the same month that 34081 returned to the NVR, Susana also made her first visit after 12 years – coincidence, or am I missing something?

Perhaps this early visit to the NVR sowed a small seed in my mind; after all I usually take some time to catch onto things and taking 12 years to reach a decision really isn’t unusual.  But back to the day in question – unfortunately my notes have long gone so I only have some skimpy scribbles on the back of the pictures (no digital camera in those days!) plus my rusty memory to rely on for information.  Fortunately I numbered all my pictures, so at least I can work out the order they were taken in and work back from there.  Who needs Inspector Morse when you’ve got a system and a mind like mine?  

We must have parked up at Ferry Meadows, then walked to Mill Lane - in the intervening 12 years since I took this photo the vegetation has taken hold and this scene is much more closed in.

Then we followed the Nene Way through the park and caught the next working approaching Orton Mere – the fireman is holding out the single line tablet for the signalman as the train approaches, and the riverside boathouse in the background confirms the location. 

We’d then followed the train down to Peterborough – quite how I persuaded Susana to do all this walking is lost in the mists of time; these days she’d take a taxi round Asda if they’d let her.  I got a couple of grotty pictures at departure time before walking back up towards Ferry Meadows later in the day for this shot at Yacht Club Crossing, still a perennial favourite photographic location that has featured in many Grumpy Git Productions videos.

Now, although my fuzzy brain had vague recollections about 34081 in service, it wasn’t until I began trawling through the photos that I discovered these two pictures that I’d completely forgotten about, taken on the same day.  They feature Austerity tank 75006 in service on the Danish rake of coaches and the pictures were taken at Lynch Bridge.  Susana is the girl in blue watching the train.  Yes, of course I’ll edit you out … This is not the same loco that has recently entered service on the NVR in lined maroon; 75006 has been out of use for some time and is currently stored in the loco depot at Wansford.

75006 as she appears today; stored unserviceable in Wansford shed.  Shame.

I’m delighted to make a re-acquaintance with 92 Squadron once again, and it was interesting that seeing the loco after all this time rekindled fond memories of the past in an area that has become of great relevance today. 

For more information about 34081 and The Battle of Britain Locomotive Society I can recommend a visit to their website.  The overhaul is going to be a long one – years, rather than months are being talked about, after which the loco is expected to remain on the line in passenger service.  

Monday, 24 May 2010

A Steamy Hot Weekend

It was certainly a hot and steamy weekend, and that was even before I left the house to travel to the Nene Valley for my Booking Office turns on Saturday and Sunday.  Generally speaking, if the temperature in Peterborough rises above 70ºC then the good citizens all pile into their cars and spend several hours baking away in traffic jams that eventually deposits them at the overcrowded seaside town of Hunstanton.  Quite why they put themselves through this when they have the delights of Ferry Meadows on their doorstep is a mystery.

It’s not that difficult a choice … is it?

Saturday was a normal operating day, whilst Sunday saw the annual and very popular event that is Thomas’s Big Adventure. This entails Thomas working a six-car rake over the whole length of the line more or less non-stop.  Given the age of the participants, plenty of events take place on the train to avoid any tears, tantrums or boredom setting in – and there are also activities designed to amuse the children.  They think of everything.  At Peterborough the loco runs round, but is also refilled with water – and a neat twist here is that the children take part in this activity themselves by filling the tanks by hand with buckets!  It’s a great way of keeping their interest and up and can wear them out sufficiently for the return trip to be thankfully mellow …

From an operational point of view the train was an interesting one as it consisted of two Danish open seconds, two Wagon-Lit saloons, a Belgian sliding door saloon and the unique Norwegian timber bodied coach with open vestibules.  I would love to ride the whole line on one of these open platforms sometime.  The Norwegian saloon is only used on special occasions and for film work – the vehicle’s X-Factor moment came in 1982 when it had a prominent role (along with the NVR as a whole) during some set-piece scenes in the James Bond film Octopussy.  With gun battles, knife fights, fisticuffs and a chase over the roof of the coaches before a car was crashed into the path of the oncoming train, the film convincingly portrayed a typical Saturday night in Peterborough.

Meanwhile Class 40 D306 (carrying the Irish Mail headboard), and Standard 5 73050, now cleaned up and reunited with its City of Peterborough nameplates after various special events, operated the normal service throughout the weekend.  With the exception of the Thomas event, which was all pre-booked, the line was not especially busy – it was a hot day, so people decided to go and sit in even hotter cars in traffic jams on the road to Hunstanton as I mentioned earlier.  This meant that I could pop out and take some photos, which made a nice break.  To accommodate the Thomas timetable, a different working pattern was established at Wansford, the upshot of which meant that in between trains the spare loco was stabled at the signalbox on platform 3 road – the perfect location for pictures.  It also meant that a great shot could be obtained as the incoming train passed the stabled loco, with the green 40 nicely complementing 73050 and the crimson and cream coach rake.

Later on I took a walk to see the latest visitor to arrive at the Nene Valley; however this is worth a post of its own in the near future.  When Thomas returned to Wansford, I have to say how pleasant it was to be greeted by the 350 passengers with big smiles, and we received very many thank-you’s from happy parents and excited children.  It’s always nice when people leave the line with happy memories, and the organisers of the Thomas event really do put an enormous amount of work in to ensure that it all goes off smoothly.  I’m glad that I wasn’t the one who had to handball all the catering supplies off the train, across two platforms and into the café afterwards, all in humid temperatures of 80ºC.  On top of all the actual work, I should point out that very few of the Continental coaches have opening windows, and the temperatures soared during the day.  It must have been almost as hot on the train as it would have been stuck in a Fiat Punto on the way to Hunstanton ….. Oh well, there’s always next weekend.

Monday, 10 May 2010

The Pines Express - Film

Following the Pines Express event and the running of a recent charter train on the NVR, Grumpy Git Productions have released a film to celebrate the recreation of the Somerset & Dorset summer Saturday in the fifties.

It’s a straightforward enough premise; we see Fowler 4F 44422 being prepared for service followed by the arrival at Midford Station.  Boarding the train, we take a journey down the line – seen through both the eyes of a passenger and a lineside spotter.  The train arrives at Orton Mere in heavy rain – well, we’re recreating the British summer after all!  44422 is turned by hand on the turntable, and we see the train depart from the station tender first before it runs alongside the river where a couple of dogs are enjoying a splash about – a nice addition the film.

We then change trains and watch as 73050 leaves the loco shed.  Boarding the train we take another journey down the line with some energetic running by the Standard 5.  Finally both locos are paired up for The Pines Express itself, with the final scene following the doubleheader all the way along the Nene flood plain towards Castor with regulators off and whistling for all they’re worth as they approach the historic non-stop dash through Wansford.

Although filmed over two days, the weather was consistently grotty enough not to cause any noticeable changes between scenes.  

The Austerity J94 was also running on the day hauling demonstration freight trains.  However, it didn’t really fit into the context of the film and would have meant chopping up some nice footage to squeeze it in – and that would spoil things.  Fortunately I got some cracking scenes that feature this loco, and have enough material to give no. 22 a film of it’s own – so Austerity fans, do not despair!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

You Spin Me Round

In my recent post ‘Go East’ I photographed the Nene Valley Railway’s collection of locos all positioned heading east.  This came about because of The Pines Express event that featured turntable demonstrations.  The locos had to be turned round once again ready for the coming weekend’s normal service, and Wednesday was chosen for that purpose.  No passenger trains were running, but the line had been hired for a private charter with both 44422 and 73050 in service that day, so the opportunity was taken to turn both locos during the lunch break.  Fortunately I happened to have a day off work on Wednesday, and equally fortuitously, I happened to need to visit Wansford to drop some stuff off.

It’s a pity I didn’t get there earlier as I missed both locos double-heading out to Peterborough.  But the garden needed doing, and it was the only day my gardener was available at short notice (you don’t think I do it myself, do you?  If there’s one activity I find more tedious than filling in tax returns, it’s gardening).  However, after dropping the stuff off and having a coffee and a chat in the cafe, I managed to film the arrival back at Wansford, albeit tender first.  Then both locos were turned on the manual turntable; 44422 first followed by the heavier 73050.  All went well with the 4F, but the Standard 5 proved more troublesome as the turntable came to a halt around 10 feet from the end of the turn.  Cue lots of manhandling; expended energy (not mine); lots of bad words my mother wouldn’t approve of (again, not mine.  For once) until the good old fashioned answer turned up – a man with a big stick.  Respect – that’s how I fix things.  After some poking around in the depths and a good whack or two the blockage was freed, and 73050 joined 44422 for the afternoon runs.

I filmed departure over Wansford Bridge, then nipped round in the car to Orton Mere where I was lucky enough, despite having to negotiate the school run, to capture the passing of the train.  Then in readiness for the final return run boiler first to Wansford, I walked to Yacht Club crossing as there is a good run up on a bend here.  As the train was operating private hire with photo run pasts, there was no schedule – it was a case of waiting it out until the participants ran out of film, battery life or interest.  This turned out to be a long two hours that I hadn’t expected.  Annoyingly, I could hear the whistles every so often and knew where the train was – but as many a photographer knows only too well, if you pack up and walk down to meet the train, it will leave and you’ll miss it.  Fortunately I had Custard Creams and a drink on standby, as well as a book to read in the unusually dry weather so it wasn’t too much of a hardship.  If I can spend hours standing in fields of snow for the Santa Specials, I can cope with a warm and dry level crossing.

When the train finally returned the end results were worth the wait, especially as it was such an unusual event to capture some double-heading.  All locos are now back in their rightful places, and 73050 will shortly be reunited with its nameplates – normal service will resume!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

More Diesel, Gromit?

Sunday and Monday were days I had booked out for a trip to see family and friends in Sunderland, with a chance to do some catching up after the wedding.  On the return trip down the A1, I passed by the Wensleydale Railway, and as the main entrance is at Leeming Bar, literally a minute from the A1 (plus 10 minutes trying to negotiate the junction at the end of the slip road) I thought, ‘Why just pass by?  Why not call in?’

So that’s just what I did.  The weather was typical May Bank Holiday stuff – squally heavy showers and leaden grey skies, so linesiding was out of the question.  I decided to take a ride and explore the line instead.  Unfortunately it transpired that owing to a recent derailment on the line the service was somewhat truncated and a rail replacement bus service transferred passengers from Leeming Bar to the next station down the line – Bedale.

As this was an impromptu visit I wasn’t concerned, and whiled away the next hour in the station buffet cum shop, plus a look round the yard whenever the rain stopped for long enough to grab some pictures.  At 13:25 I boarded the decidedly non-vintage Volvo coach for the short but very comfortable trip to nearby Bedale.  Here a two car Met-Cam DMU burbled away in the platform as it awaited departure time.  No time for photos; get on and let’s get gone.

The exterior of the DMU has been finished in an attractive blue and cream livery, but the interior was literally back to the 1980’s – I kept expecting to see Gene Hunt scream into the car park in a red Audi Quattro.  I felt at home, and so I should – car 51210 was a Heaton Depot vehicle during the 1980’s and I travelled on it many, many times in my misspent youth between Sunderland and Newcastle on trainspotting trips to Gateshead.  In 1985 when I (allegedly) grew up and got my first job, 51210 was one of many such units that bounced and lurched me on my daily commute, in between breakdowns, strikes and point failures at least.

I was pleased to see that nothing – and I mean nothing – has changed since then.  The unit is exactly as it was in 1985, in what BR at the time called ‘refurbishment’ which basically saw some faded old green panelling replaced with some cream panelling and fluorescent lighting to replace the tungsten bulbs.  The ride was as noisy and bouncy as ever; you still need to be a trapeze artist to stay seated on jointed track.  The window frames are either so loose that they rattle your teeth out or are seized solidly together and nothing short of an arc welder will open them.  The heater didn’t do anything, but they never did in winter anyway.  In summer they’d fry you in 100º heat, especially while you sat on the High Level Bridge while a long stream of passing trains crossed the station throat ahead of you.  The great view out of the cab was a high point – unlike many miserable buggers working out of Heaton depot, the WR drivers keep the blinds open!

I took the DMU out to Leyburn, where I left to change trains for some loco haulage.  The National Railway Museum at York had sent up 47798 Prince William for the weekend, and coupled it to the WR’s rake of cream and red Mk2 coaches.  Because of the operational problems caused by the derailment, this train was confined to running between Leyburn and Redmire.  There is no loop at Leyburn, and the train had to run empty several miles to run round in the passing loop.  This caused big gaps between services, but nevertheless, full credit to the WR for keeping a service going in difficult circumstances and coming up with a solution.  Notwork Rail would have just shut down the entire line in similar circumstances.  I managed a nice shot of the DMU as it left Leyburn, but by the time the 47 arrived it was raining.  Again.

The trip out to Redmire is spectacular – well, it is when you can see the view of the Yorkshire dales.  Driving rain doesn’t exactly improve the situation, but every so often there would be a break in the clouds and the magnificent scenery would be visible for a moment.  This meant that I could concentrate on my surroundings – once again, I was transported back to my youth in the Mk2 coach that still retained all it’s BR features – remember those wingback seats and a sea of grey formica panelling? 

At Redmire I jumped out for some less than spectacular photos during a break in the rain as the loco ran round.  On the return to Leyburn the sun came out allowing some pleasing views from the train; in fact it got very bright at one point and I stupidly thought that the bad weather had packed up and gone home until next weekend.  

For this reason I decided to stick around at Leyburn, and took a walk to find some good vantage points ready for the departure of the next DMU, as well as a passing shot of the 47 taking the Mk2 stock back to the loop.  I found a couple of nice spots, but inevitably minutes after the 47 had passed by the rain found me.  Yet again.  Therefore I opted to return to the station and take the DMU up to Redmire, then all the way back to Bedale as it formed the last train of the day.  Redmire is a pleasant enough station and a good starting point for walks in the area, but today the word ‘bleak’ sprang to mind.

Predictably, on the return journey as the DMU got nearer and nearer to the Bedale the clouds majestically parted and bathed the Dales in glorious warm and photo-friendly sunlight.  On the drive home back to Grantham, I had to wear sunglasses all the way.  Oh, thank you, God.  I shall refrain from further observations on this matter and leave you with the lovely parting shot as I left Bedale to pick up the bus for Leeming.

Still, the visit was an enjoyable enough break on my journey home, and pleasant to see another line that I haven’t visited before.  There is great potential for lineside photography, whilst the 12 mile trip to Redmire is highly recommended.  Almost all services are diesel hauled or provided by the DMU, with a peak summer steam service operating with a Standard 2 Tank.  The staff were friendly, and the stations well maintained and tidy.  The stock in service was clean, but decidedly tatty internally as I mentioned.  Personally I quite liked this, as it brought back so many memories of my teenage years following these trains, but it’s a subjective matter on a tourist line.

Overall, despite the weather and unfortunate derailment, my visit was a pleasurable one, and I’d certainly like to make a return visit in more favourable conditions.

Go East

I now have a set procedure when turning up for duty on the Nene Valley Railway.

1. Get a coffee
2. Set up the Booking Office
3. Get a Full English Breakfast
4. Check out the motive power on shed
5. Get coffee
6. Open Booking Office.

This puts me in the right frame of mind ready for the day ahead.  On Saturday I followed my established routine, and when it came to checking out the motive power on shed, I was surprised to see this line up:

Unusually, all locos are facing east following last weekend’s Pines Express event, and normally such a photo is not possible.  The NVR always runs the locos boiler first heading westbound, as the majority of runs take place when the sun (hang on ... sun?  What sun?) is to the southwest and offers the best photographic opportunities.  I therefore made the most of this rare opportunity to capture the moment as no less than three locos prepared for the day ahead, especially recently arrived Austerity 22 looking immaculate as steam is raised for the day ahead.

Meanwhile 73050 has been reunited with its City of Peterborough nameplates, but looks pleasingly worked stained in this view at Wansford during the afternoon.  The locos will be turned back to their usual positions shortly, so it was a good opportunity to get some pictures from a different perspective.

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