Sunday, 23 July 2017

5043: Double Chimney Magic On The "Shakespeare Express"...

"5043 Drifts Through Wilmcote" (Pic - R.Wasley)
"Shall I compare thee to a summers day?". Well, todays outing of the Castle-hauled "Shakespeare Express" took place in very fair weather, with only the occasional shower breaking the warmth of the afternoon sun. I arose at around 05:30, arriving at Tyseley an hour or so later. Naturally there was the traditional stop for a McDonalds breakfast on the way - I should have bought a ton of shares years ago...
Sitting in the car park eating my breakfast, the morning drizzle was just beginning to slow up and the prospect of more pleasant conditions beckoned. Down at the rear of the shed, the team were already busy with various tasks on and around the Castle Class 4-6-0 No5043. I was asked to gather and fit the hoses required to fill the tender, once I'd polished away the rust from the engines usually shining buffers...
The engine looked a treat as she prepared to leave shed for her second outing of the "Shakespeare" season. With much hissing and expelling of condensate, the 1936-built express locomotive moved forward from her resting place and onto the running line. After a few runs up and down to clear the steam circuit, she was dropped onto the head of the waiting 8-coach train. Our ECS departure for Snow Hill was scheduled for 09:00 and the headboard and lamps were duly fitted in readiness for the off...
With the Support Crew and Stewards aboard, the empty train left a gloomy Tyseley right on time. Strolling through the slowly awakening Birmingham suburbs, the Castle left nothing but a lonely trail of steam hanging lethargically behind her. I wonder how many people know we're there as we slink under bridges and through desolate platforms on our way towards the centre. Passing through Moor Street, the Castle made all around hear her voice as she hit the steep gradient in the Snow Hill tunnel. The mighty roar from the copper-capped chimney is enough to turn the least interested of heads as her efforts echo around the station. Arriving with grace and elegance into the platform, a few eager passengers were already there awaiting our 10:00 departure for Shakespeare's Stratford. Whilst the engine crew ran 5043 round, a couple of us strolled out onto the quiet streets to the local Tesco Metro in order to pick up some breakfast implements. Our return saw the BR liveried Castle back at the head of the stock in tender first formation. We boarded the train at the Support Coach and I was duly crowned King of the Cooker once more...
Right on time, 5043 left Snow Hill in a cloud of steam before descending into the dark of the tunnel towards Moor Street. Further pick-ups at the latter and Tyseley were followed by a steady run towards Henley. Its a beautiful piece of railway the North Warwick, with plenty of unspoilt countryside, open pastures and rural farms. As the sizzling bacon butties slowly left the kitchen, again my relief at not burning the much loved food arrived. 5043 left trails of white steam hanging over the train, coupled with the aroma of bacon! After a final pick-up at Henley, the Castle arrived at a much sunnier Stratford-upon-Avon. We reeled out the hoses and when the Caste arrived and was made safe we were cleared to water her. With the task complete, the engine was dropped back onto the train for the remainder of the layover...
"An Immaculate 5043 Awaits The Road At Stratford"
Its a fairly long layover now at Stratford - an hour or so - not only for operational reasons but also to allow the Pullman staff to change the covers in readiness for the Sunday Lunch passengers. They serve a full Breakfast on Train A, after which those diners tend to spend the day in Stratford before returning on Train D. Trains B & C see the full works of a Sunday Lunch served atop the shining white table cloths of Premier Dining - its all very civilised. Our 12:41 departure for Snow Hill soon came around and we departed in fine style. I noticed a familiar face on the platform at Stratford Parkway - Malcolm Ranieri- who kindly let me use his image of the Castle drifting through the platform having just shut off on the approach...
"5043 At Stratford Parkway" (Pic - M.Ranieri)
We had a good run up Wilmcote bank, with progress slowing at the top to allow for a speed restriction imposed on the platform at the station. Once clear, the Castle accelerated towards the cross-over for the Claverdon branch. This single line route leads us up to the Birmingham - Oxford main line at Hatton North Junction. From there, the 4-6-0 sprinted merrily alongside the M40 towards Dorridge, Solihull and finally Tyseley, where we are captured arriving...
"5043 Arrives at Tyseley On 'Shakespeare Express' Train B" (Pic - D.Chandler)
There was a short operational stop at Tyseley to allow a Chiltern Railways service for Snow Hill to overtake us...
"Awaiting The Road At Tyseley" (Pic - D.Chandler)
With the road given, 5043 strode loudly out of Tyseley on route to Snow Hill via Moor Street. It always amazes me the difference in peoples reactions towards seeing a steam train on the national network. Some act as if its the most normal thing in all the world, scarcely looking up from their papers or iPhones, others stand amazed in disbelief fumbling for their cameras for all they're worth! What is also amazing - and it happens at least once or twice per trip - is how people come up and say "Is this the Oxford train?" or similar..."No, it isn't. Its a steam train?". No reply is given as they turn their backs and walk away. Madness. Anyway, after barking loudly into our usual platform at Snow Hill, the Castle ran round ready for our 14:01 departure back towards Stratford. The Castle looked a real picture at the head of the train...
We had an enjoyable second round trip, watering and servicing at Stratford as usual. The Castle had a cracking run back up the main line, sprinting effortlessly for mile after mile. It wasn't long before we were back at Snow Hill...
Following her final run round of the day, the Castle took the ECS easily back to her base at Tyseley. The usual shunting operation was then carried out to release the engine and put the stock back on Platform 1 road. I was asked to work the signalbox in order to set the points and signals for 5043 to run back to the shed road once the 08 had cleared her path. The engine then chuffed quietly back for a rest...
On the shed, the engine rested quietly in the persistent evening sunshine, offering us all a moment of reflection after another great day out...
"5043 At Rest On The Shed At Tyseley"
Well, that's it folks - "Shakespeare Express" Week 2 is complete. As usual I must thank all at Tyseley for their hospitality and for the experience of another great day out. Its a pleasure and a privilege to be involved. I must also thank the various photographers - M.Ranieri, R.Wasley and D.Chandler who kindly let me use their images in the post. Finally, thank you all for reading. For more information on Vintage Trains and the Shakespeare Express click here. I won't be on the trip next week - we're off to Welland again all being well - but hope to be there the week after. Cheers all, Sam...

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