Saturday, 11 March 2017

5043: The "Red Dragon" Goes To Cardiff...

"5043 Hauls The 'Red Dragon' Railtour" (Pic - D.Chandler)
In the twenty first century, heads are still turned to meet the awe inspiring sight of a Great Western Castle Class locomotive thundering loudly through the countryside. Cameras are raised, hands are waved and the general feeling of nostalgia and the atmosphere of yesteryear is hard to shake. Today Tyseley's beautiful No5043 "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe" hauled the "Red Dragon" from Birmingham to Cardiff and back, returning the long way round via the Welsh Marches. The Castle put in yet another great performance, providing a mixture of noise and speed as she put several more miles under her belt. Having been at Tyseley yesterday helping clean the engine, I arrived today at the not so adorable time of 5:15am. The traditional McDonalds breakfast stop was desperately required...
Having devoured my breakfast, I unloaded my various pieces of kit from the car before heading down towards the loco shed. Out the back stood a simmering 5043, proudly wearing the "Red Dragon" headboard. The "Red Dragon" was a named express train which operated on the Western region of BR between 1950 and 1965. The express ran from Paddington to Swansea and Carmarthen and the Castle class engines were regulars on this working until the Britannia pacifics began to take over...
You can never help but feel that these main line steam trips are an adventure. Today the Castle would steam out of her home base at the former 84E with 10 coaches + the GUV (water carrier) behind the tender. Leaving Birmingham behind she would head out via Kidderminster to Worcester before steaming to Gloucester and on to Cardiff via Newport. The "Earl"s last shed allocation was Cardiff East Dock, where she was posted in September 1962. She was withdrawn from there in December 1963. Today would see her first arrival in Cardiff since that time. 54 years later, the "Earl" was going home...
The engine was on the train by 6:15am, simmering away and steam heating the stock. All seats on this trip were sold out and the many eager passengers began boarding in good time for the 7:03am departure. The Castle looked a real picture as she awaited right time at the head of the lengthy train. A good day was ahead...
Right on time, 5043 received the green and the "Right Away", leaving Tyseley upgrade in a cloud of steam. Accelerating away with Driver Ray Poole on the handle, the Castle got the weight moving towards the city centre as we approached the next passenger pick-up at Snow Hill. The echoing blast of the Castle's exhaust amidst the dim gloom of Snow Hill tunnel is always audible! Leaving Snow Hill the Castle steamed through the Jewellery Quarter and out towards Kidderminster. The chat aboard the support coach was the usual mixture of locomotive comparisons and generally putting the preservation world to rights. All the time, 5043 was making progress...
"The Castle Passes Hagley" (Pic - D.Chandler)
Kidderminster was soon approached at speed and we roared through the main line side opposite the terminus of the Severn Valley Railway. Onlookers there marvelled at the express 4-6-0 as she steamed by. The smaller 7802 "Bradley Manor" received a passing screech from 5043's whistle as she was sighted approaching from Bewdley. The crew aboard her waved a reply! With the SVR behind us the engine was well on her way to Worcester for the 30-minute service stop. As well as allowing the Support Crew to service the Castle, the stop allowed passengers to leave the train and admire the gleaming Swindon product that was doing all the work...
"Awaiting The Road at Worcester"
Worcester saw the tender topped up with water and coal. Additional coal (in several bags) is loaded aboard the train and the Support Crew can be found at water stops groaning backwards and forwards with them, gradually topping up the commodity of black stuff. You know you've done it once you get to your 20th bag or more! With the engine ready for the off, we awaited the road and the engine then steamed onward to her next stop at Gloucester. David Chandler caught her again leaving Worcester...
"Onward to Gloucester" (Pic - D.Chandler) 
Gloucester saw the same coaling procedure repeated, with passengers watching in awe at the amount of coal a provoked Castle can eat through in one sitting! Having said that, with the tight timings now imposed by the modern rail services you have to slot in between and the load on the draw bar, 5043's consumption is by no means unusual. This is the REAL world of steam. After Gloucester the engine sped on towards Newport before the final run to Cardiff. The pull up into Cardiff saw the Castle's loud bark turning many heads. A steam engine on the modern main line provides two very different reactions: some people turn and wave in complete awe, others don't look up from their newspaper. Its an interesting topic for the avid people watcher! 11:30am saw our arrival in Cardiff...
With the passengers off the train ready for their day in the city, 5043 and her ECS steamed the short distance into the Cardiff Canton depot: the ex 86C steam shed. Steam engines left the depot in 1962 but today, once more, a Castle was back. 5043 had to go all the way back to Newport to turn before returning to us tender first...
Our return departure towards Birmingham wasn't due off Cardiff until 15:40 and so the afternoon was spent checking and servicing the 4-6-0 in readiness for her upcoming efforts. The tender was coaled with every last lump we had in the train resulting in a gritty and grimy Support Crew. For anyone that hasn't done it and thinks the work of this team is easy...think again! A day on an engine on a heritage railway can often be considered easy steam compared to humping several loaded bags of coal around from floor to footplate! All this has been a real eye-opener I can tell you. By 14:45 the Castle was serviced and ready for the return slog. The return route was an unusual one. Gauging had pushed the Castle from her outward bound path to a longer one around the Welsh Marches route to Shrewsbury. This route is much longer and would see the Castle working hard with her heavy train. Right on time we left Cardiff and began the journey home. Driver Andy Taylor was held in the middle road at Newport for some time, allowing a unit to get away first. Delighted onlookers snapped 5043 as she simmered away...
"Newport Middle Road" (Pic - M.Turner) 
From Newport the Castle steamed on towards Shrewsbury as the light began to fade. The engine marched homeward with a beautiful ease, strolling through the Welsh countryside. Its a beautiful route this one. Shrewsbury was passed at 18:22...
"An Evening in Shrewsbury" (Pic - R.Davies)
Our final water/servicing stop was a loop at Cosford, beside the main line. 5043 was watered for the final run towards Birmingham. She left Cosford in fine style, maintaining some smart acceleration upgrade with a very loud bark...
"On The Move" (Pic - M.Tattam)
The Castle marched at speed for mile after mile, slowing for Wolverhampton and then accelerating again on towards New Street. The exhaust sails neatly above the tender as the 4-6-0 pounds the rails, slipping in between modern rail services with her lengthy rake of coaches snaking along behind her: its just great. Passengers were dropped off at New Street before the final run to Tyseley, arriving home at the Warwick Road platform at around 20:40. Another grand day out for 5043 was complete...
Having been shunt released by the Class 08, 5043 was put to bed...
The "Red Dragon" had been another successful railtour for VT. I must admit it is an absolute pleasure to be involved with the Tyseley team and an even greater pleasure to experience main line steam in the form of 4965 & 5043. Its a real eye-opener. My kind thanks to the Tyseley lads for their continued hospitality and of course to the photographers who have sent in images for use in this post - I'm very grateful. The 84E gang are out again on the Welsh Marches with 5043 on March 25th but as this clashes with a prior engagement with Statfold I can't make that one. However, I plan to be there for the April 8th run to Salisbury. For a great video taken by a lineside enthusiast today - click here. Thanks all, Sam...

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