Saturday, 12 November 2016

The "Pannier Rambler IV" - Panniers On The Main Line...

"9466 Tears Through Selly Oak" (Pic - C.Skidmore)
Hi all. Today would see the smallest engines still cleared for use on the National Network take their place at the head of the "Pannier Rambler IV" railtour from Tyseley to Stratford and then on to Worcester. The duo would return via the infamous Lickey Incline, climbing from Bromsgrove to Blackwell on a gradient steepening to 1 in 37 at its worst. Sadly, it didn't go entirely according to plan as you will read. The day began like most with steam: at dawn: and I awoke from my broken sleep to the unwelcome sound of rain battering the window. With bated breath I peeled open the blinds and sure enough it was pouring down: "grand" - just what you want for a 5am start! After heading out into the "absolutely foul" weather I had a steady run over to Tyseley. My journey into Birmingham is never complete without the early morning McDonalds stop - a must before these long days...
Having eaten my breakfast I headed down to the Mess Room to get changed. At the far end of the loco shed I found some of the lads working away on and around the Pannier Tank No9600. Today's outing would feature not one but two Pannier tanks, the other being the visiting Large Pannier No9466. 9600 was just about to be dragged out into the damp morning air when I arrived at 6:30am...
Once outside, a pile of wood was thrown into the box and the fire began to crackle away. 9600 was built at Swindon in 1945 and is one of the numerous GWR 5700 class. 863 examples of this plucky little engine were built and 16 have found their way into preservation. Both of Tyseley's operational Pannier's (9600 and 7752) are certified for use on Network Rail and have operated several trips around the Midlands in recent years. Today however, 9600 would be teaming up with a different Pannier...
During the morning we carried out a variety of tasks. 9600 was oiled up at the Birmingham end of the shed whilst 9466 steamed up around the turntable. The latter engine has her own support crew who were taking care of her needs. Support Crewing is a different kind of hard work. There are coal bags to be filled, carried and loaded as well as various tools and hoses - plenty to do before departure! The outward leg of the "Pannier Rambler IV" trip would take us to Stratford via the North Warwick line. To leave Tyseley in that direction the engines first have to reverse the stock out of the TLW site and then proceed forwards through an adjacent loop to reach the Stratford line. To do this, the Panniers had to be top & tailed and would remain so until our arrival at Shakespeare's birthplace. 9600 would be on the rear of the train and is pictured steam heating the set for the fully loaded train...
We departed Tyseley pretty much on time and proceeded out onto the North Warwick line in the persistent damp weather. 9466 is a Hawksworth Pannier, known to some as the Large Panniers. They have the same chassis arrangement as the 5700 Class but with a larger tapered boiler with a Belpaire firebox. The increase in boiler size gave the engines a little more reserve (if you like) than the 5700 Class but with the same boiler pressure they were not more powerful as such on paper, though tractive effort was higher due to the increase in weight. 9400s were very heavy on axle loading for an 0-6-0 tank, bringing them out in the Western region's Red Route availability range with a 19-ton axle load. 210 of the 9400 Class were built and only two survive in preservation: 9466 who led our train today and the first of the class No9400. 9466 was built by RSH in 1951. She has just returned from a full 10-year overhaul to main line standards and only achieved her main line ticket two weeks ago. I've been on 9466 way back in 2008, having a go at firing on her sizeable footplate. Here she is today flying through Shirley, with 9600 tailing...
"9466 With The 'Pannier Rambler IV' Trip" (Pic - G.Nuttall)
We arrived at Stratford in good time and many passengers alighted to see the engines being made ready for the return run upgrade to Tyseley. We did the water from the safety of the car park and here we see the Panniers waiting for the off...
I don't think what happened next is any secret as its been all over the net the last few days so I can relay it. Sadly a warm running axlebox was discovered on 9600 and it was decided to continue back to Tyseley at reduced speed and assess it again there. Anyone involved with steamers will know that axleboxes can run warm for a variety of reasons without warning and no amount of testing can force one to do it unless it feels like it. Steam engines are very much heritage equipment and these things happen. Thanks to the support of Network Rail, 9466 & 9600 double headed the train back to Tyseley as planned. Watering would take place in the same loop...
"Panniers at Hall Green" (Pic - A.Roberts)
The engines ran neatly back to Tyseley making some great noise along the North Warwick metals. The climb up to Wilmcote is always audible! Upon arrival back at Tyseley I believe 9600 was a happier engine but for obvious reasons it was decided not to continue onward just in case. You can't take any chances with these things, for both the welfare of the engine and other trains on the network. 9600 was removed here and replaced by Tyseley's trusty Class 47 - 47773. Due to the time lost so far, 9466 was watered and then led by the 47' down to Worcester where servicing of the Panniers was planned to take place whilst passengers took an afternoon break in the city. It was a shame it turned out that way but it was certainly a testament to the cooperation of all involved with train operations that the tour managed to keep running. So, the 47' took us to Worcester with 9466 in between...
"A Brush With Hawksworth" (Pic - K.Wilkinson)
After an easy run to Worcester, the pair are seen arriving...
"Arrival in Worcester" (Pic - S.Burdett)
With all passengers having alighted, the ECS was soon stabled in a nearby siding. At this point 9466, the 47' and the Water Carrier (the GUV) were uncoupled and headed off to perform their shunting moves. This eventually resulted in the 94' leading the Duff, with the GUV coupled between them and the stock. Thankfully, we departed Worcester right on time and with only minimal assistance from the diesel engine. 9466 was in fine form and made her voice known as she steamed towards Bromsgrove. Bromsgrove Station sits at the foot of the Lickey Incline and the 94' had a pathing stop here...
9466 should have probably felt at home at the new Bromsgrove Station. In steam days, Bromsgrove was alive with a variety of banking engines, used to push trains up the stiff grade to Blackwell. Plenty of 9400s were based here once Bromsgrove was transferred to the Western Region in 1958 and they would have been no special sight in the days of BR steam. Today however, 9466 was something of a celebrity Pannier! Leaving Bromsgrove on time, the Pannier and the Duff dug into the climb. 1 in 37 for 2 miles is certainly a tall order and the Pannier performed admirably with only the 'required' help from the diesel. I know the loss of 9600 was disappointing for all of us but 9466 still put on a great show. Following the topping of the Lickey, the Pannier sped onward...
"9466 at Selly Oak" (Pic - A.Grieve)
The engine made a quick appearance at New Street before heading off into the darkness on the final leg to Tyseley. Once there we performed our usual shunting movements to free both the Pannier and the Duff using the Class 08 shunter. With the 47' put to bed behind 4965, the job was done. Well, despite the setbacks it had been a brilliant day and the big Pannier had showed her might on one of the most fearsome gradients in the area. Steam engines for all our love of them do have faults occasionally and this is to be expected with equipment of this age. Even so, the tour still went ahead and that I believe is admirable under trying circumstances. Well done Tyseley and well done to all those outside of VT who made it happen. Finally, of course, well done 9466! I must thank Tyseley once again for their excellent company and a great day out and of course the many photographers who have very kindly sent in images for use in this post. I could not write these posts without your valued contributions! Many thanks indeed for reading, Sam...
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are merely my own and do not by any means represent the views of the company or any other organisation. Many thanks.

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