Saturday, 8 April 2017

Tyseley: The Real Thing - A Castle To Salisbury...

"A Castle On The Great Western Main Line" (Pic - D.Chandler)
Steam hauled excursion trains on the National Network are arguably the closest one can get to experiencing the bygone age of steam on Britain's railways. The sights and sounds of an express passenger locomotive thrashing along with its great snaking train of hurrying coaches trailing along behind is something to behold. The noise, the excitement, the waving arms from the side lines, the broken peace as she sails through the countryside throwing white steam over her shoulder. Today, Tyseley's immaculate Castle Class 4-6-0 No5043 was off to Salisbury and I would be joining her as part of the 84E Support Crew. I rose well before dawn and found myself arriving at a dimly lit Tyseley at around 5:30am. The hearty breakfast I had picked up on route was all I could use to summon some strength after this early morning start...
The telltale cloud of white steam rising steadily skyward immediately revealed 5043's position. She was now at the head of the waiting stock, simmering away on the middle road. She looked a real picture as first light came...
As usual with Tyseley trips, almost all of the preparation was carried out on the Friday and so there was little to do but board the Support Coach in readiness for departure. At 6:15am, 5043 burst into life, expelling reams of condensation forwards from her drain cocks. The upgrade push out of the yard gave the Castle something to think about on the damp rails. Propelling a lengthy 11-coach (10+GUV) load up the stiff bank to the signalbox is no mean feat! Once up at the box the road was then given for the Castle to drop down through the loop adjacent to the Tyseley site before climbing out onto the main line. 5043 then got into her stride on route to our first passenger pick-up at Solihull. It was unusual today to leave Tyseley in this direction, hence the lack of a Tyseley Warwick Road pick-up stop. Aboard the Support Coach, we were supping tea over a nice sausage sandwich as the Castle tore onward through the morning mist. Having picked up at Solihull there were further stops at Dorridge and Warwick Parkway before continuing southward towards Leamington Spa... 
"Approaching Leamington" (Pic - D.Chandler)
A short operational stop in the middle road at Leamington was followed by a brisk run towards Banbury. David Chandler was chasing the train...
"On Route To Banbury" (Pic - D.Chandler)
At Banbury us Support Crew members wandered down the platform to reach the leading brake coach (the BFK) in readiness for the Oxford water stop. The passengers would be enjoying their morning out and in the Pullmans the diners would be eating breakfast and so its always better to walk outside the coaches if you can! At Oxford, the Castle was checked over but water ended up being taken at Didcot...
"Kennington - A Final Sprint To The Didcot Stop" (Pic - D.Chandler)
We had a 1-hour booked stop at Didcot to allow the passengers to explore the adjacent Railway Centre and so 5043 ended up watering at one of their water columns. Didcot Railway Centre is adjacent to the main line station, nestling in a triangle of running lines. It is the home of the Great Western Society and their impressive collection of all things Western. Sadly, though its lovely to see them, most of the members of the fleet are out of use. The Churchward Mogul No5322 is seen here basking in the Spring sunlight at the shed doors alongside Small Prairie No5572...
I had a quick wander around the shed, amongst several of our passengers. Didcot has a great and varied fleet that includes Panniers, Prairies, Halls, a Castle, a Manor and even a King. The blue liveried 6023 "King Edward II" was sitting on the middle road. I saw this engine during her running in period at the GCR some years ago and was most impressed with the sight of her in action. She has since been cut-down to bring her into gauge for main line use but there are no signs of her venturing out just yet, despite being several years into her ticket. Its amazing just how big the Kings are. Though smaller in the wheel than the Castle, the King is a frightfully powerful machine...
"Didcot's Caged Lion - 6023 King Edward II"
Back outside, 5043 was brought in from the main line. Once stabled she had the coal trimmed and the tender replenished from the water column. The weather couldn't have been better as the Castle simmered away under beautiful blue skies...
"The 'Earl of Mount Edgcumbe' Simmers At Didcot"
The Didcot men certainly seemed pleased to see a Castle feathering outside their engine shed once more. Their own Castle - No5051 "Earl Bathurst" - is currently out of ticket. Once ready, our "Earl" moved back out onto Network Rail metals to reassume her place at the head of the train. The passengers then trotted back across and reboarded ready for departure. From Didcot we had a fast run along the Great Western main line to Reading. The main line from Didcot is now under the wires with little trace of the clear views that used to be - I guess times change...
"Under The Wires To Reading" (Pic - D.Chandler)
After Reading we took the Basingstoke route to Salisbury, arriving there not long after midday. With the passengers having alighted for their sunny afternoon in the city, 5043 propelled the stock backwards into a loop for stabling. The engine meanwhile was on a platform, allowing the coal in the GUV to be quickly brought forward by the Support Crew and loaded into the tender. It was hot, sweaty and very dusty work on a day like today I can tell you...so much for summer...
With the GUV now empty of coal, 5043 departed Salisbury for a short turning move. Those of us remaining with the train took the opportunity to have a wash and a nice can of Coke. 5043 was watered by a tanker during the turning move and, as well as the tender, the GUV was replenished ready for the return run. The GUV allows us longer distances between water stops as it provides a far greater water capacity than the tender alone. After a sunny afternoon in the sidings watching the countless Class 158 units pass us by, 5043 propelled the stock back over into the station at around 4pm. Our departure was planned for 4:26pm and during this waiting time we decided to grab an ice cream from the cafe. The cooling taste was most welcome indeed in this warm weather: everyone else was in shorts whilst we had work boots and full overalls!

Right on time, the 1936-built 4-6-0 left Salisbury and began the return to Tyseley via the outward route. The nattering aboard the Support Coach included the usual mixture of putting the world to rights and a cross examination of various locomotive performances. Our next stop was Didcot where we were held for a few minutes before we got the road to continue to Oxford. There the engine was watered again before the final slog homeward. The sun was going down as we passed Kings Sutton...
"A Kings Sutton Castle" (Pic - D.Chandler)
Banbury would see a 15-minute or so stop too, allowing the passengers to leave the train and view the engine once more...
From Banbury the engine was climbing towards Leamington before commencing the climb up Hatton Bank. The Warwick Parkway stop resulted in an upgrade restart, with the 11-coach load hanging back like dead weight. However, the double chimney Castle soon got the train moving again and accelerated admirably towards Birmingham. The noise was something to behold as the Castle tore into the climb. Its amazing how much an engine moves about at high speed. I'd never realised before how much stress and strain is put on the various components when a heavy load is being dragged along at 70mph+. Its a completely different experience to preserved railway practise and is as near as you're ever going to get to "the real thing". Amazing...
"Roaring Through Hatton Station" (Pic - D.Chandler)
After further passenger set-down stops at Dorridge and Solihull, the Castle continued to Tyseley with the returning ECS. Just as this morning, the Castle crossed over into the yard before propelling the stock backwards into the museum site. Once the stock had been stabled safely, the Castle hissed gently over into the shed after another most successful day out. As they say, "its a long way to Salisbury!"...
"10pm - A Castle At Rest"
Its quite poetic really watching the 81-year old Castle simmering away in the shed after a long run like this. Back in the day this was all she would have known, day in, day out. These days steam engines have become celebrities in their own right. The amount of people that came out to see her today was staggering...they were everywhere. One guy was even spotted on the roof of his house taking a picture as we passed! Steam still has a massive draw and in particular main line steam where you can see them at work in their home setting. Its great...just, great. Thank you all for reading, thank you to David Chandler who once again sent in images for use in this post and thank you to Tyseley for another grand experience. To give you all an idea of the run today, click here for a video from Youtube. Cheers all, Sam...

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