Saturday, 13 May 2017

A Burton Ramble: Panniers On The Main Line...

"9600 & 9466 Crossing The Trent" (Pic - D.Chandler)
In the twenty first century it is arguably a blessing that such a wide variety of steam traction can still be found on the busy tracks of the national network. The smallest steam locomotives still operating on the main line are the Pannier Tanks which operate Tyseley's enthusiast trips and today 9600 & 9466 hauled the "East Midlands Rambler". This gentle stroll through the Leicestershire countryside took the train from Tyseley to Burton via Nuneaton whilst also traversing the freight-only line through Coalville. The two tank engines would be double-heading throughout the day, helping each other up some stiff climbs and reaching their maximum permitted speed of 45mph. I arrived at Tyseley at around 5:30am, devouring my recently collected McDonalds breakfast shortly after parking up. The usual struggle then took place: changing into my overalls, collecting my kit and stumbling down to the engine shed. 9600 was sitting in the shed when I arrived, with steam on the clock from yesterdays moves. The bunker was stacked high with coal in readiness for the days efforts. With the engine outside, I continued with my cleaning tasks from yesterday. By 7am, the engine was simmering over on the adjacent road awaiting the "off" to join 9466 on the train...
Built at Swindon in 1945, Tyseley's 9600 is one of the popular 57xx Pannier Tanks of which 863 were built. They were designated as "shunting and light goods" locomotives but many found themselves on light passenger and suburban work. Sixteen of them survived into preservation. 9466 on the other hand is the final development of the GWR Pannier Tank, designed by Hawksworth and built for BR by RSH in 1951. The 9400s had the same chassis as their elder sisters but were fitted with taper boilers and Belpaire fireboxes. This gave them a larger heating surface although they retained the 200psi working pressure. Eventually 210 examples of the 9400 Class were built and two survive in preservation - 9400 and 9466. 9466 is owned by Dennis Howells and has been a regular performer in preservation for many years. Together the Panniers make an interesting comparison...
Our departure this morning was planned for 7:55am and with the two tank engines simmering happily at the head of the stock, passengers were boarding in readiness for the off. Aboard the Support Coach, Tony & Craig were completing their usual task of making crew breakfasts. The coach had a wealth of helpers on board today as the mix of staff who support the two locomotives converged on its compartments. Right on time, leaving the intoxicating smell of bacon behind us, the Panniers steamed out of Tyseley up the hill. It is almost odd seeing the Panniers on the busy main line: 9600 in particular must have felt like she was escaping from the zoo or something! The engines easily got the train up to speed and we were soon trundling towards Water Orton for a quick water stop. The Pannier trips are certainly more for the enthusiast as the 'little' engines can only manage 30 miles or so on a tank of water and so water stops are regular...
"Panniers At Water Orton" (Pic - D.Chandler)
After our initial stop at Water Orton there was a further passenger pick-up at Coleshill Parkway. From here, the Panniers were ready to steam on to their next water stop in the loop at Whitacre but, for whatever reason, we were signalled onward to Nuneaton and held in Platform 6 running 'bang road'. Nuneaton was another passenger pick-up but as the train had arrived roughly an hour early due to the rearrangement of the water stop, the two Panniers simmered at Nuneaton until right time came at 10:39. I would have thought that the passengers found it much nicer being held at Nuneaton rather than in a loop where they could not alight and view the locomotives. The two Panniers created quite a stir as they simmered away, with the usual looks of disbelief from 'normal' travellers. When right time came, the Guard gave the "Right Away"...
"Pannier Tanks Leaving Nuneaton" (Pic - R.Wasley)
Leaving Nuneaton under the wires, the Panniers steamed around the corner towards the Hinckley straight. Its quite a good pull up here and the two tank engines were quite audible as they attacked the climb, working gradually up to speed. Its amazing how smooth a shunting engine like a Pannier is at 45mph - it just seems to settle down. We whistled through Hinckley at a good pace, with a surprising amount of onlookers waving enthusiastically from all angles. One thing that really did surprise me was how many people came out for the Panniers, more so I'd say than for the Castle. I guess its the thought of something different as you don't see a Pannier on the main line everyday, let alone a pair! Having joined the midland main line, we then steamed onto the usually freight-only Coalville branch for the run towards Bagworth...
"Crossing The River Sour" (Pic - Pete, 'Loose Grip 99' on Flickr)
For a freight-only line, the Coalville branch offers some very nice scenery and I was impressed with the route it takes. The Panniers worked slower over this section and the climb up Bagworth Bank towards Bardon Hill really got hold of them as their 17.5" cylinders pounded away at the rails. I was so impressed with the performance of 9600, having only been on 5786 in a "down the line" setting in the past at Shack. Tyseley's Pannier was a long way from her easy life operating the yard shuttles at the open days as we climbed through the greenery towards Bardon!...
"Climbing The Bank" (Pic - J.Peatfield-Straw)
Our next water stop was at Mantle Lane where both engines enjoyed a drink before the final section through Moira towards Burton-upon-Trent. We were on board the Support Coach by now, supping tea over a chat about all things Tyseley. Upon arrival at Burton the passengers left the train in readiness for their afternoon in the town. The Panniers meanwhile would have to take the ECS a little further down the line in order to propel backwards into the depot at Nemesis Rail, on the site of the former BR wagon works. Mr Busby works at Nemesis and was on hand to shunt release the steamers as we pulled in. The servicing tasks then began. The fires would be cleaned, the motion oiled, the tanks topped up and the bunkers refilled with coal. One job that you don't have to do with the Castle but you do with the Panniers is the smokebox. Sure enough, 9600's smokebox was full to the dart with ash. Andrew got the job of shovelling it out whilst I operated the barrow! Ashing out complete, the Panniers were ready for coaling...
"9600 Rests On Shed at Nemesis Rail"
Servicing the engines in a depot is much calmer than doing so on or at the side of the main line. We can move more freely here, provided you abide by the depot rules of course. For coaling, the engines were reconnected to the ECS and to the GUV, which had also been shunted to the new head of the train. Bunkers refilled, departure time wasn't far away and the Panniers were soon propelling their train back out to the main line for a bunker-first return to Burton station. The passengers were waiting eagerly on the platform, no doubt a meal and a pint heavier by now! Train refilled, the Panniers retraced their steps over the morning route. Water was taken at Mantle Lane and Knighton Junction before the passenger set-down at Nuneaton. Leaving Nuneaton, the engines steamed towards Whitacre for their final water stop...
"Daw Mill" (Pic - D.Chandler)
After our final top up at Whitacre, the engines steamed homeward to Tyseley, arriving on time at 18:53. The passengers would then alight prior to the shunt moves...
Once the several happy passengers had alighted from the stock, the Class 08 diesel locomotive drew up the vacuum ready to shunt release the Panniers. 9600 and 9466 were then uncoupled from each other on 'middle road' before the Hawksworth engine steamed down to the turntable for a quick spin. She would be departing Tyseley early in the week for her summer trip to the Mid Norfolk Railway. 9600 meanwhile chuffed back to the shed where she is captured simmering prior to disposal...
You can't help but be taken in by the achievements of these small tank engines today. On a twenty first century rail network they steamed problem free at 45mph between much faster, far more modern trains and came home victorious. Its a great experience to see them at work and a great pleasure to be involved with Tyseley. I must thank all of the Tyseley team for a fantastic day out once again and of course thank the various photographers who have kindly sent in images for use in this post. For a cracking video of the days events...click here. Until next time - Cheers, Sam...

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