Steam Special

photos  by

Tony Bartlett

The latest sightings will appear at the top of this page

Please click on Photo Gallery (top right of this page) as all 2018 trains are featured there.

updated 10.12 .2019


Tuesday 10th December 2019 **Sighting** –
LNER A1 Class Pacific 60163 Tornado on the Bath and Cardiff Christmas Markets

The Bath & Cardiff Christmas Markets (Railway Touring Company)

  • 60163 London Paddington (pu) – Slough (pu) – Reading (pu) – Newbury (pu) – Bath Spa (sd) – Cardiff Central (break/rev) & return

It appears that there is a late change of motive power for this tour with Tornado substituting for the Duchess originally advised. The RTC web-site indicates that steam will start the journey from Paddington so we may expect to see the train coming through Hungerford at about 09:20 Clun Castle last weekend was putting on a good display of steam power in the cold conditions – we can hope for something similar from Tornado, especially when working hard accelerating away from Newbury or climbing to Savernake summit.

On the day: wishful thinking – the day dawned dull and gloomy and heavy rain was cheerily forecast before I set out across the Common. The train was running well to schedule and on time after it water stop at the Racecourse and picking up passengers at Newbury. Mercifully the rain abated as the train approached from Kintbury, whistling for the private crossing before announcing its imminent arrival with a healthy steam plume ahead of its hi-vis headlight coming in to view.  My photograph was about the best I could do in the conditions, taking my usual sharp but noisy approach instead of the smooth and blurred option with a slower shutter speed:

The substantial train of 11 carriages was brought up in the rear by a WCR Class 47 diesel as reversals were required for the return journey – it appeared to be under power but not obviously contributing to the haulage at this point:

Table lamps are clearly de rigeur for classy rail travel, and would be serving a useful purpose on such a gloomy day. Good job that the passengers are sitting comfortably because a later check revealed that the train reached Bath OK on time, but disappeared from its planned journey at North Somerset Jct. Trawling through OTT Maps, 1Z41 was seen to be parked at Bristol Temple Meads, possibly a revised destination following disruption in the Severn Tunnel area during the morning.

Sunday 1st December 2019 –
GWR Castle Class 4-6-0 Clun Castle on the Bath Christmas Market from Solihull to Bristol TM

There are two steam trains passing through our area today at approx the same time on parallel routes some thirty miles apart – so I’ve had to choose one of them:

  1. Steam Dreams Excursion (Steam Dreams) with Mayflower

61306 London Paddington (pu) – Slough (pu) – Reading (pu) – Bath Spa (break/rev) & return goes out via Basingstoke, Salisbury and Westbury, returns via Swindon and Didcot (taking great care to avoid coming through Hungerford, why??) Typical timing Andover 11:39

  1. Bath Christmas Market (Vintage Trains) with Clun Castle

7029 Solihull (pu) – Dorridge – Warwick Parkway (pu) – Banbury (pu) – Bath Spa (sd) – BristolTemple Meads (break/rev) & return comes down from the Birmingham area, and takes GW Main line (avoiding Didcot PW) across the Vale of White Horse. Typical timing Challow 11:50

On the day: the train is promptly away from the Birmingham area, but loses time around Banbury and is nearly twenty minutes late south of Oxford. However a clear run round Didcot West curve and on to the GWR main line, together with no looping for passing IET expresses means that by the time it roars past me at Shrivenham it has recovered half the losses, and goes on to arrive at Bristol TM only 4 minutes behind time:

Needless to say the urgency of the situation and the great lighting produced a memorable demonstration of GW steam power in action, and the steam exhaust resulting from the overnight freezing air did a good job to disguise the worst intrusion of the masts and wires.

Saturday 23rd November 2019 **Sighting** –
Steam Specials on the GW main line with the Tornado and Union of South Africa Pacifics

  1. The Marches & Severn Express (Pathfinder Tours) hauled by 60163 Tornado *steam loco only operates Gloucester – Shrewsbury*

Routed via Eastleigh (pu) – Basingstoke (pu) – Reading West (pu) – Didcot Parkway (pu) – Swindon (pu) – Kemble (pu) – Stroud (pu) – Stonehouse (pu) – Gloucester (pu) – Chepstow – Abergavenny – Ludlow (sd) – Shrewsbury (break/rev) & return

On the day: I am indebted to my correspondent Ian who was up early and in position at Didcot Parkway to see what actually turned up for these trips. This train was diesel-hauled for the early part of the journey and can be seen here arriving at the station to pick up passengers:

The loco is one of the pair of Class 67s (67024) which are usually used on the British Pullman, when steam is not scheduled, and has matching chocolate and cream livery. With a 125mph loco at its head the special had no difficulty completing its sections of the excursion on time!

  1. The Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fair (Railway Touring Company) hauled by 60009 Union of South Africa *status uncertain after recent firebox defect*

Routed via Slough (pu) – Reading (pu) – Didcot Parkway (pu) – Swindon (pu) – Bristol Parkway (pu) – Ludlow (sd) – Shrewsbury (break/rev) & return

On the day: even earlier in the morning Ian was able to get this character portrait of the crew of the replacement LMS Black Five 4-6-0 Mixed Traffic loco:

This would have been a long and arduous excursion for such a locomotive. The crew have built the fire up and the safety valves are lifting in preparation for its run along the ‘racetrack’ across the Vale of White Horse to Swindon, turning right at Wootton Bassett for Bristol PW and the Severn Tunnel into Wales.

Saturday 5th October 2019 ***Sighting*** – 

LNER 4-6-0 no. 61306 Mayflower on a Steam Dreams excursion from East Grinstead to Bath

I’ve looked into this and the routing is now available for this excursion, and …. good news! It is coming through Hungerford on its outbound journey – at a time of approx 12:35. The return trip is via the GWR mainline under the wires across the Vale of White Horse – stopping at 18:13 for water at Milton Jcn. It will be getting dark shortly after this, if not already so on a gloomy day. My latest reference site says that Mayflower has been scheduled for the trip – a colourful smaller loco which is always worth stepping out for, and we should now be getting back to the time of the year when steam exhaust starts to become visible again!

On the day: rather a gloomy morning but good enough to enjoy seeing, and hopefully getting a good shot of, this colourful loco. I choose the Common as my vantage point as the sweeping views round the curves are still available, even after another year’s growth at the lineside. The train is slightly late getting away from its water stop at the racecourse – not ideal as the Penzance (IET) express is scheduled only a few minutes behind. Mayflower is putting on a good show as it passes at speed:

… but it is an unequal task and it is unable to maintain its 60mph schedule over Savernake (don’t know if there were any delays en route), only clearing the way for the much faster train when it reaches the junction for the Avon Valley line at Westbury. This seemed to be an unrealistically tight piece of scheduling which was very likely to cause conflict.

Wednesday 11th September 2019 **Sighting** –
Bulleid SR Pacific no. 35028 Clan Line on a British Pullman to Bath and Bristol

The scheduled Belmond Hotels luxury dining train to Bath and Bristol is again taking the GWR mainline route so I’m off to my current ‘go to’ location south of Shrivenham in the Vale of White Horse on a rather dull day with a fine drizzle attempting to dampen my spirits. I’m well on time to set up the optimum view but the train is 9 mins late into its water-stop at Challow, and consequently misses its planned departure time. Unfortunately there then followed a seemingly never-ending procession of GWR IET expresses careering down the line at 125mph, so it was nearly an hour late that the BP was eventually allowed out onto the main line from the loop. The one other hardy soul waiting for a view of the train and I were rapidly reaching the conclusion that there was a problem with the loco – or that the water-bowser had been sent to some incorrect distant location

One advantage of the delay was that in the mean time the light had improved as the drizzle receded, and the train passed in workably good light, looking well in control of its 13 coaches, with no rear-end diesel to give it a healthy shove back up to speed:

In this case the green, and chocolate and cream liveries of the train chimed well with the natural colours of the Vale without getting lost in the background – and there was just the one visual aspect to mar the nostalgic view!

Thursday 5th September 2019 **Sighting** –
LNER A4 Pacific no. 60009 Union of South Africa on a Dorset Coast Express passing Basingstoke

You may have seen the first episode of the new More 4 TV documentary series last week in which number 9 was making its ‘farewell run’ on the Great Britain XII in May this year to Aberdeen – we had a sighting of the train earlier in the nine day tour crossing the Vale of White Horse on 27th April behind the Duchess of Sutherland. Well it appears that rumours of it demise are ‘greatly exaggerated’. I noticed that the loco was scheduled for today’s run of the DCE so thought it was desirable to get one ‘last’ shot of the loco before it really does go into retirement on John Cameron’s estate in Fife.

I availed myself of a £5.35 senior’s off-peak return trip on the GWR to Basingstoke (unexpectedly valid on a train departing before 9.00am) and was in place well in time to sort out the logistics of the train movements at this complex station layout. Unlike my recent sighting of Mayflower there, the DCE was due to pass through the down Platform 2, allowing me to be on the right side on a sunny morning and without the train ‘in my face’. Only problem was there was due to be a normal service train of 3 x 4cars turning back to Waterloo from Platform 1 and it was most likely to block my view. In the event that train ‘failed to launch’ (no driver) so the DCE and a normal express were both held up on parallel lines contending for the Platform 2 line as Platform 1 was blocked. Somewhat surprisingly the OTT display on my tablet computer showed that the steam special was signalled to cross over to Platform 2 ahead of the waiting SW Railway service, giving helpful warning of the need to get set for a series of photos, of which this gives the best loco portrait:

As well as the conventional shot, I swung run for a final(?) parting shot of number 9 showing the situation in the station with the offending unit blocking off most of the rest of Platform 1 apart from the short section which I had relocated to:
You can see the black plaque with the springbok symbol which John Cameron indicated in the programme had cost him three-quarters of the original purchase cost of the loco again to repatriate after it had ‘disappeared’ when the loco was withdrawn by BR. We have got used to seeing this loco in action in recent years with a number of visits to our local line but we should never become blasé about such sightings – because they will come to an end, sooner or later! Apparently this is the only A4 Pacific in mainline service at this time.

Sunday 25th August 2019 ***Sighting*** –
LNER Pacific Flying Scotsman on a circular trip from Oxford out bound through Hungerford

Flying Scotsman comes to West Berks – originally advertised by Steam Dreams as a circular trip from London to Oxford – out via High Wycombe and returning through Oxford and Reading – I have just noticed that there is an add-on while the loco is ‘idle’ during the stopover at Oxford. As a separate extra revenue-generating opportunity there is a circular return trip from Oxford out via Reading, passing through Hungerford and returning via Westbury, Swindon, the Vale and Didcot PW – probably reversing there so that the loco is facing the right way for the return trip to Paddington. This itinerary divides into to two sectors with a break at Newbury Racecourse, probably for water. It will as usual be a popular working with anyone vaguely interested in steam trains and very busy during the break at the Racecourse station. From the timing sheet on RTT it looks as though the train will be passing Hungerford at about 14:25

On the day: the Bank Holiday weekend turns out to be a scorcher – one of phew! So no chance of seeing steam as such, and also essential to be on the sunny side of the train for a good view and well-balanced photograph. Looking for a different view and getting away from the crowds at the popular viewing points, I end up on Freeman’s Marsh. Unfortunately the pleasing view as the track winds out from past the back of the houses in Marsh Lane has become unusable since earlier in the year and the best option without rushing elsewhere is from the Cow Bridge.

Everything seems to be going to plan although the old three-car DMU on the down local service seems to be taking forever to get to Bedwyn and out of the way of the special. Eventually the distinctive three-cylinder beat of the A3 Pacific becomes discernable in the distance, and mounts steadily as the train comes out into the open on the marsh

The result is more like ‘landscape with steam train’ and the wide-angle view looking down on the famous loco certainly looks ‘different’ as intended, but I’m unlikely to repeat the experiment. The landscape is interesting, although locals may take it for granted, featuring common land grazed by cattle bounded on the far side by the A4 Bath Road and crossed by the Kennet & Avon canal and River Dun, as well as the GWR main line to the South West.

Unless there is a problem with my photograph, Flying Scotsman seems to have had an issue with its lubrication system as the cylinder case and motion on this sideare covered with brown gunk. Let’s hope that it will complete its long itinerary today without recourse to the diesel at the rear of the train!

Saturday 24th Aug – LMS Pacific
Duchess of Sutherland on a Cotswolds Venturer out via Swindon and return via Oxford

After two recent visits to our line on West Somerset Steam Expresses, the Duchess is again in action for the Railway Touring Co in our area, making a clockwise circuit of the popular Cotswolds itinerary. An early start from Paddington means that the day may not have fully developed into the bright sunny affair which is being forecast for the Bank Holiday.

On the day: with temperatures down to single figures overnight, the first inklings of Autumn are in the air as I set out for my usual Vale of White Horse destination. However the mist has mostly burnt off by the time I’m in position, and slightly late running helps my cause further. The special is 15 mins late off Paddington and running at schedule has little chance to make up the time. Further delays in the Didcot area mean that it is still 18 mins late leaving its water-stop at Challow loop. By now the promised summer day is fully in swing and before long, in the rural quiet of the Vale, the staccato 4-cylinder beat of the Duchess can be heard on the air. Just as the train comes into view, the Stanier hooter sounds and the scene is set for a memorable passage of the fast moving train:

It was too much to expect any display of steam in the warm air, but the fire is evidently being built up ready for the climb over Sapperton before plunging down into the Golden Valley. Fortunately there was some slack in the schedule later and arrival at Worcester Shrub Hill was RT.

Saturday 17th August 2019 **Sighting** –
LMS Duchess Pacific no. (4)6233 on a West Somerset Steam Express picking up at Newbury

 The second run of the WSSE is due to be a repeat of the previous edition, probably down to the Duchess coming through Hungerford in pouring rain if the current forecast is to be believed – with the same timing of about 10:25 at Hungerford after a stop to pick up at Newbury. No doubt RTC will be hoping not to have to repeat sending out a diesel from Southall to bring the train back after the steamer allegedly caused some fires at the trackside beyond Westbury on the outbound journey. There have been considerable amounts of rain since then, so hopefully the steam ban has been lifted.

On the day: the unpromising weather forecast has eased and it’s a sunny morning when I set off for a trip up the valley to Bridge 99 on the Kennet & Avon canal – the viewing grandstand which the Canal & River Trust set up a couple of years ago. The parapet is already well occupied when I arrive, but I’m able to get my usual wider view at this location – the competition is usually for those positions close to the trackside where people can get long telephoto shots. The train seems to be running well to schedule (after the event RTT showed that it never deviated by more than 3 minutes from schedule outbound) and everything is set for the train’s prompt arrival – except any helpful sunshine:

It is a tribute to this powerful locomotive that it was barely extended with its eleven coach load on the climb to Savernake – but consequently I did not get the display of extreme steam action which I had hoped to capture here. I’ve made extensive use of Photoshop to give a more realistic view of the train by the canal in the low light.

Thursday 1st August 2019 **Sighting** –
a Steam Dreams excursion to Cardiff double-headed by the LNER and the LMS

Late last year we had the unusual spectacle of such a pairing when the LNER Pacific Flying Scotsman and an LMS Black Five 4-6-0 worked a train to the West Country across the Common. The prospect of two 4-6-0s, one of each, working today’s special to Cardiff via Gloucester was too good to miss and I chose the healthy option to the reach the Vale of White Horse rather than a rather inconvenient trip on the GWR to get ahead of the special in the Thames Valley.

I was uncertain that the trip would go ahead steam-hauled after the problem of lineside fires at the weekend, but was cheered on arriving south of Shrivenham to hear that two fire engines (acting as water bowsers) had been seen earlier at the watering point in Challow loop. The special left the loop after the service train had cleared the main line section and it was just a matter of waiting for the tell-tale sight of smoke and steam appearing above the distant horizon. The sound of a shrill LNER whistle to an orange-suited gang round the curve indicated what most had hoped for – that no. 61306 Mayflower was in the lead, with Black Five no. 44871 (the same one as with FS last year) following.

Some youthful spectators were starting to get noisily excited as the more senior of us tried to concentrate on getting a good record of the event. Everything went to plan (except that the sun shining on the top of the Ridgeway stayed there) and my calculation that both locos and their tenders would fit in the gap between the electrification masts proved to be correct:

The two locos were both contributing to the effort, and their exhausts combined to give a good show for a summertime shot. It appears that the LMS loco was responsible for the smokiness in the distance. After the train had sped past there still appeared to be residual smoke on the horizon – uh-ho!

Saturday 27th July 2019 **Sighting** –
LMS Duchess Pacific no. (4)6233 on a West Somerset Steam Express picking up at Newbury

At last our first steam-hauled special for the year is on the horizon – the Railway Touring Company are expecting to run two of their specials to Minehead on the preserved WSR. The first one is due to be hauled by the big LMS Pacifics Duchess of Sutherland – it should make a grand sight in the green and pleasant surroundings of West Berks and Wiltshire. In the current absence of updates from UK Steam Info the provisional timings are already posted on Realtime Trains with departure from Newbury at 10:16, and with arrival back at Newbury at 21:10 – may be some twilight photography opportunities! The second run is scheduled for Saturday 17th August.

On the day: it’s a sad irony that after a run of blisteringly hot days with glorious sunshine today is dull grey with steady rain falling since I became aware of the daylight hours. So either side of the track is fair game for today and I choose my local station which affords cover from the persisting rain and a clear shot of the train as it passes through the platforms, which are clear of rampant vegetation. After the havoc to schedules caused by the recent exceptionally hot weather the WSSE is running on time out of Paddington and through the electrified section to Newbury, where a booked stop provides a degree of assurance against early running. There is a risk that an up express from Penzance may interfere with my plan – and I keep a nervous check on the two trains as they start out from their respective Newbury and Pewsey stops and head for a meeting, hopefully not in Hungerford station where neither stops!

The Duchess manages to cover the slightly rising nine miles from Newbury faster than the IET express does its 14 miles over Savernake Summit from Pewsey and I get my intended shot, the best I could manage in the conditions with the individual raindrops showing clearly on the enlarged image. The cooler temperature today has unusually for a summertime shot produced a distinctive steam plume, although my low angle of view has conspired to camouflage it against the similarly-coloured sky:

My plans for a twilight shot of the returning train later in the day are scuppered when I find that it is 90 minutes late away from Taunton.

Thursday 18th July 2019 **Sighting** –
LNER Class B1 4-6-0 no. 61306 Mayflower on a Steam Dreams excursion from Southend to Winchester

This attractive apple-green liveried locomotive is again passing our area and is worth a train journey to Basingstoke for a sighting. This is do-able today leaving here after the rush-hour as it is scheduled to pass Basingstoke at 13:16. I note that the comfortable new bi-mode unit is running on diesel power all the way to Reading (why?) but I change there to a traditional Diesel Multiple Unit for the trip down the branch, stopping at Mortimer to get some shots of the Brunel ‘wayside’ station buildings still remaining there.

The steam excursion has been delayed navigating its complicated itinerary round the north of the London area. Once clear of the suburban area it is travelling fast on the old L&SWR mainline though Woking and is only a few minutes late as it rounds the curve on the four-track route through the station, hurrying past without stopping:

The steam excursion has been delayed navigating its complicated itinerary round the north of the London area. Once clear of the suburban area it is travelling fast on the old L&SWR mainline though Woking and is only a few minutes late as it rounds the curve on the four-track route through the station, hurrying past without stopping:

I’d originally taken a position on the other side of the track to get a wider view of the train blasting through the station, but made a late change (and a dash) to get to the right side when the sun came out brightly. However as the train approached the sun went in again. I should have held my nerve at my favoured position. Ho – hum!

Thursday 27th June 2019 **Sighting** –
LNER 4-6-0 no. 61306 Mayflower on a Steam Dreams excursion from Chinnor to Weymouth

There is another special this week in our area, travelling all around us but not along the Berks & Hants line. It is a Steam Dreams excursion (as opposed to their Cathedrals Express brand – don’t know the difference pricing or service-wise) starting at Chinnor on the preserved line to Princes Risboro and thence to Bicester, Oxford, Reading, and Southampton to Weymouth. Return is similar but reverses at Southampton to Salisbury to get the steam loco on the front again. It’s an early start – outbound see 1Z45 with Goring 08:42 for example. I may meet up with it on its return journey – see 1Z46 with Andover at 18:00 for example

On the day: the RTT entries for the train do not extend beyond Princes Risborough on to the ex-Watlington branch, still open as far as Chinnor thanks to the cement works which continued in production well after the end of passenger services (the last run being memorably recorded by Peter Handford for Argo records). However one of our number was up early enough to see the train in the Thames Valley, and I was heartened to hear that Mayflower was in charge, back in service after boiler problems earlier this year.

Very much later in the day I was in position on the platform at Andover station, waiting (as were a couple of SW trains services) while the steamer was taking water just down the track at Grateley. There seems to have been problems earlier in the day with cancellations and delays. The steam special was only 4 mins late away again, and, with every incentive to prevent further delays, made an exciting run past at commendable speed after a standing start, whistling a warning to the people waiting resignedly for their train:

With the sun still high in the west I’ve had to tease out the colours of the loco and rolling stock. Features of note here – the Andover landmark of the RHM flour mill beside the track (no longer in production?) and the turnout for the military branch line to Ludgershall camp, again not much used now – but a potential preservation project as it has its own bay platform and yard at the station. This is the first time I’ve attempted a shot from here – when needs be ……

Thursday 20th June 2019 **Sighting** –
LMS Black Five 4-6-0 no. 44871 on a Cathedrals Express to Bath & Bristol

Another journey under the wires to Bristol is presenting the usual challenge of finding somewhere suitable to record the event without the OLE (overhead line equipment) being too intrusive, or distracting from the serious business of reliving the past! I’ve used before this location south of Shrivenham where an occupational bridge replaced a level crossing to enable the farmer to move cattle between his facilities on both sides of the track. For down trains the ground level access is too far from the track to be satisfactory, and the high parapet on the concrete bridge too tall for easy access. However today I worked out a scheme for hanging on the Eiger-face of the bridge (on the safe side) to get closer to the action.

The steamer was taking water in Challow loop when I arrived – waiting for due time I was treated to a number of the now ubiquitous IET units and a container train for a reasonable practice shot (travelling at a similar speed to the steam special). After a number of days of intermittent showers the sun actually shone over the Vale, and hadn’t completely disappeared (dark shadows were not a problem) when the special came into view. A herd of cattle had been peacefully grazing in the field opposite as IETs screamed by at top speed, but suddenly bolted away from the trackside as the percussive exhaust of the Black Five came into earshot. The elevated position on the bridge does give a good view of the countryside but the loopy wire linking the masts (a common earth?) does overlay the top of the locomotive:

Every time I see this sort of image I think what a crime it was to allow such ugly OLE to desecrate the countryside!

Saturday 15th June 2019 **Sighting** – 
LNER Pacific no. 60103 Flying Scotsman on a Cotswold Venturer excursion

Still no steam to report yet for our local Berks & Hants line, but this may be worth travelling a distance for. The Railway Touring Company is promoting this outing for Flying Scotsman working out from Paddington direct to Oxford and the north Cotswold line to Worcester. In usual fashion the return completes the circuit, getting back to Didcot for the run back in to Paddington via the Golden Valley route over Sapperton to Swindon. Times are not available yet and may only be published at the last minute because of trespass problems on recent trips.

On the day: when the timings did become available they showed that the direction of the circular had been reversed – perhaps there was concern from Network Rail or the National Railway Museum (60103’s owners) regarding its ability to manage the climb to Sapperton out of the Golden Valley – GWR 4-6-0 locos were more sure-footed than Pacifics climbing gradients. The run up to the summit from the Swindon direction is much less severe – thus it was that I was at my usual position just outside Swindon to add another top steam loco to my collection taken here. To get the least cluttered view under the wires, I had to go ‘wrong side’ which also today applied to the wind as well as the sun! A risky proposition made worse by the fireman having to build up the fire again after the water stop at Challow a few miles further back:

The smoke deflectors were clearly failing to lift the very smoky exhaust and the wind was doing a job masking the train from view. A month ago I was on my own to see the impressive Duchess pacific pass this way, but today a small crowd was lining the narrow bridge outside Bourton village.

Saturday 15th June 2019 **Sighting** – 
GWR Castle Class no. 7029 Clun Castle on the Oxford 175 Luncheon Circular

Our usual source at UK Steam Info has not been updated to show a second steam special on the day. The Oxford 175 will run as two excursions – out and back to Oxford from Birmingham, and as a luncheon circular from Oxford to London via Reading outbound, and the Wycombe line and Bicester for the return to Oxford. GWR 4-6-0 Clun Castle from the Tyseley collection is in charge of this Vintage Trains operation, celebrating the 175th anniversary of the opening of the original branch line to Oxford. The city had been by-passed by the Brunel route from Paddington to Bristol – which otherwise would have made it an even Greater Way Round!

On the day: with heavy showers forecast for later in the day I opted for a ride on one of the new IET units to Reading and then a conventional electric unit to Pangbourne. I like to use these Thames Valley stations for the best possible photographs of steam under the wires. The connections worked well and I was in position on the platform in light rain as the train came round the Didcot by-pass. After a normal service train had cleared the platform the special came storming round the curve making good time:

With some quick work on the zoom lens I was able to capture a second, more informative, shot of the train passing through what is still recognisably an ex-GWR station:

The Cross-Country unit heading north in the background threatened to block the view until it was helpfully crossed over to the main line from the relief at Tilehurst. As a footnote the train had the two-tone green Class 47 from Tyseley at the rear. As the train passed me it started to brake very sharply and was seen to have stopped just round the curve (the diesel remained in view for a couple of minutes) before the distinctive bark of the Castle’s exhaust could be heard getting its train going again. It would seem that the preceding service train was slow getting away from its next stop!Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Sunday 9th June 2019 **Sighting** –
LNER A4 Pacific Union of South Africa working back to base at WCR Southall depot

Yesterday the Railway Touring Company operated a Dartmouth Express day excursion from London to Kingswear. It was seen travelling through Hungerford at just after 8am in the charge of Class 47 diesels top and tailed. Nice to hear the Sulzer sound again as the special sped through here, slightly delayed by the previous Paddington – Bedwyn IET. This was nominally a steam excursion but was not picking up steam haulage until reaching Bristol, and similarly the late return was to be diesel-hauled back to London.

On checking RTT today there was an empty stock STP (short term plan) working from the West Somerset Rly, which I did not immediately connect with the previous day’s special. I decided to turn out to see what nature the train would take. On the way to Freemans Marsh I noted that 5Z81, running over an hour early, was held at Woodborough loop with an empty road ahead of it – suspicious, and likely to have been a water stop after what appeared subsequently. There were a few anxious moments while a down express was approaching fast and likely to obscure my view of the special – but this cleared just in time for me to hear the distinctive chime whistle of a Gresley Pacific sounding off for the footpath crossing before steaming easily round the curve on the down grade with just a support coach in tow:

The loco clearly has the RTC headboard still affixed from working the Bristol – Kingswear train yesterday, and was presumably kept in secure storage at Bishops Lydeard on the WSR before returning to Southall today – providing my first sighting of steam on our local line this year!………….

I visited the site of the turnback siding at Great Bedwyn today (23.05.2019)to capture one of the service trains during its brief stopover before returning to Paddington. I also hoped to get a photo showing a down train passing while the 800 was inactive. The schedules don’t hold out much hope of this happening, but I noticed on RTT that the three o’clock empties from Allington was running 20 mins late and likely to be held back for the IET local service. This turned out to be the case when I was in position waiting to see the outcome, and the stone train hauled by 59203 was close enough behind the IET (800009) to appear just before the latter set off again for the platform at Bedwyn. So an unlikely result achieved – at the first time of asking!

I was at Hungerford station yesterday evening (20.05.2019)  to catch one of the new trains to Bedwyn on the first day of the new timetable:

Hi all – after my coverage of the last GWR HST service over the weekend, I’m pleased to be able to report the official start of the 5-car bi-mode IET services on the Paddington – Bedwyn trains. Just a few days ago I took the first post-rush hour old service to Paddington which was formed of one of the elderly turbo diesel units – and at 2-cars only it was absolutely heaving by the time we’d stopped to pick up at Kintbury, Newbury, Thatcham, Theale and Reading! Those services where IETs are deployed will benefit from much more space, and efficient electric traction from Newbury onwards to Paddington.

….. where there was just one passenger waiting for the onward service, plus yours truly, although many homebound commuters spilled out of the train:

At Great Bedwyn the remaining passengers decamped before the unit proceeded to the upgraded turnback siding at the back of the churchyard (it was expensively re-engineered with a relocated footpath last year to accommodate the longer IET units):

It was very difficult to judge the comfort levels of the new trains on such a short journey, but I can confirm reports that you don’t sink into deeply upholstered seating. The ride did not seem as smooth as the old HSTs and the engine noise/vibration from the under-floor diesels was much more noticeable to passengers than from the remote power cars of the HSTs. However this is the new, more environmentally friendly, order and no doubt we will get used to it.


Wednesday 15th May 2019 **Sighting** –
Merchant Navy
Pacific no. 35028 Clan Line on the British Pullman to Bath & Bristol

There was a time when this would have travelled out and usually back via our line through Hungerford, for a quieter more scenic experience than that offered by the mainline route to Bristol via Swindon. We now seem to have lost that privilege, and I chose to take the train to Reading for a view during its station stop. As an aside, the timetable changes next week should bring an improved service to Reading and Paddington with 5-car IET units. As if to emphasise the improvement to come, today for the first train after the full-price commuter rush GWR laid on a 2-car DMU, which was heaving with passengers by the time I got off at Reading!

Clan Line was just pulling in to the station as I descended from the heights on to Platform 15, and I was able to get a number of shots in rather cramped conditions before the train drew out again on time, after deafening everyone – first when blowing off excess steam, then by blowing steam to clear through the cylinders. There were only a few spectators as the loco seems to attract relatively little attention compared to the hysteria which seems to surround Flying Scotsman, although the MN Pacifics provide no less an impressive spectacle:

Remembering that this is not really a steam train for steam fans, I thought it was worth featuring one of the named Pullman cars where all the Belmond Hotels lavish dining with fine wines takes place:


Saturday 27th April 2019 **Sighting** –
LMS Pacific no. (4)6233 Duchess of Sutherland on the first leg of the 9-day Great Britain XII

The Railway Touring Company is again (for the twelfth time) running its extended steam parade around Great Britain with a visit to Plymouth on the agenda for the first day before heading north for several days in Scotland. Storm Hannah is as forecast providing a turbulent start to proceedings, making for a very uncomfortable wait on the bridge at Bourton buffeted by the chilly blasts from the south west. Fortunately the train is running well to time and makes a prompt exit from its stop at Challow loop in the middle of the Vale of White Horse, venturing out on to the main line where the new IET units are running at impressive speed under electric power.

After an unsatisfactory result with a previous steam excursion this year I have opted for the dependable viewpoint where several masts are missing, providing a clearer view of the steam action. The sun is directly in my line of sight but high enough not to cause a problem, given that this already a difficult ‘wrong side’ shot. As the steam plume from the Duchess appears the sun makes a brief appearance in the stormy skies, providing just enough sparkle on the exhaust without making it impossible to appreciate the details on the side of the loco, which was carrying two headboards – one for the train and the other for the operator. The train was consistently liveried with the LMS maroon and the only ‘blot on the landscape’ (apart from the electrification hardware) was a WCR diesel – here far enough away at the rear of the train not to register in the photograph:

Saturday 6th April 2019 **Sighting** – 
GWR Castle Class 4-6-0 no. 7029 Clun Castle crossing the Vale of White Horse

This well-known loco has been missing from the main line for 31 years, but is now back in service after a lengthy restoration project at the railway works at Tyseley near Birmingham. It has had a number of proving runs in that area and is now undertaking a longer day trip for Vintage Trains on a circular route based on Dorridge which brings it into Swindon on the Sapperton line from Gloucester, crosses the Vale and heads back north at Didcot for Oxford and the Cotswold line.

Clun Castle was actually built after the GWR ceased to exist with nationalisation, the new management continuing to build some of the successful designs from the previous four railway groups to meet haulage needs – before ‘modernisation’ and diesels appeared on the horizon! 7029 was famous for a number of exploits among which was working the last scheduled steam train out of Paddington before the axe came down. Who was to know that the axe was made of rubber and would bounce back again once the preservation movement got established! The loco continued to work sporadically on the main line during the Return to Steam – I have just two records from my days on the Chiltern line in the 1980s – but was eventually withdrawn in 1988 requiring major restoration.

On the day: although the morning was cold and dreary I was tempted back to the Vale for a sighting of this distinguished loco, also providing an opportunity to see GWR haulage on the main line, of which there has been a dearth here in recent years. I was a little unnerved to find no enthusiasts waiting on the bridge by Shrivenham station (as was) but a check on the tablet PC confirmed that the train was just approaching Swindon. After a short wait for an IET express to take priority I soon spotted smoke and steam above the gantries and the train came past at good speed, its steam exhaust doing a fair job to hide much of the ugly masts and wires:

From memory the baggage van immediately behind the loco is in fact a disguised water tender enabling much longer distances between water stops.

Tuesday 19th March 2019 ***Sighting*** –
Flying Scotsman in transit to the Swanage Railway

The famous (almost renowned) LNER Pacific is due to operate a short season of special trains on the preserved Swanage Railway shortly. The loco is currently at the WCR steam depot at Southall and will be making its way down to Swanage tomorrow with some additional coaching stock for the crowds who are expected to flock to the railway to travel behind FS. The train will be traveling out to Reading and then taking the Basingstoke branch down to the Southampton line. Although not operating for paying customers (I believe) it will to all intents and purposes look like a bona fide steam special. Although its route only takes it along the boundary of ‘our area’, you may wish to watch out for the train if you happen to be in the area, especially if you have to travel by train up to Paddington anyway. The usual caveat applies that these transfers are not restricted to observing a passenger timetable and thus may travel well before or after the planned times, depending on operational needs.

On the day: I note that the train is due to make a stop at Platform 7A so decide to take the GWR (never thought I’d say that) to Reading to get a few static shots rather than the usual risky take as it rushes past. On the way in, the train appears to be traveling an hour ahead of schedule, but then sits in a loop outside the station giving me ample time to plan my photography – from Platform 8. The appearance of a yellow-vested junior-school party ready to greet the famous loco gave a hint that it was due and it pulled into the mainline platform as soon as a down HST had cleared the way:

Having expected to see a full set of rolling stock with Flying Scotsman it was a slight disappointment to find only a support coach into tow, although the shorter subject was much easier to deal with in the confines of the station. There were only a few railfans present as this was a largely unpublicized ‘light engine’ transfer – the station announcer issued stern warnings to stay behind they yellow line. From my viewpoint on the other side – chosen to get a full-height view of the train – I was largely oblivious to any activity on Platform 7A:

Technical note – the loco has stopped with the visible cranks at ‘dead centre’ so the driver will be relying on the left and centre pistons to get the train on the move again. The crank-pins on the driving axles are spaced equally around a rotation so that the loco does not get stuck fast (and in order to smooth out the drive of six beats per revolution, remembering that each of the three cylinders pushes and pulls). After a short stop, the driver opens the cylinder drain cocks to clear any condensed water from the cylinders (a very bad thing) and the loco disappears in a cloud of its own steam, something which is best captured from behind the train!

Thursday 7th March 2019 **Sighting** –
LNER B1 Class 4-6-0 no.61306 Mayflower on a Cathedrals Express to Bristol

The B1 was a star performer in recent years but has been out of action undergoing major maintenance. After a number of running-in and test runs since the start of the year in the north of the country, the loco is fully back in service and due to operate a Cathedrals Express for Steam Dreams using the Southern main line, avoiding either of the more direct GW routes.

On the day: the weather is extremely variable so I’m not expecting any great results as I set out for Whitchurch to photograph the train outbound between Basingstoke and Salisbury. The chance of bright sunshine looks slim so I opt for my usual ‘wrong side’ position in the station. The train is a few minutes late away from its water-stop at Winchfield and is called by the station announcer at the same time as an ‘up express’ from the other direction. So it’s a nervous few minutes waiting with the eyes in the back of my head looking out for an interfering train sneaking up behind me. I’m lucky on this occasion and the steamer hurries through and away before the view gets blocked. It turns out that the sun was stronger than estimated and there was a lot of work to do to get an acceptable-looking image. Here is the last in the short sequence taken – the front of the loco is passing out of the frame (rendering it un-publishable elsewhere) but the image does give a close up view of this loco which we have not seen since 2016:

Of note is the new headboard featuring the name of the operator rather than their Cathedrals Express brand – a subtle shift in marketing emphasis.

Saturday 16th February 2019 **Sighting*

* – A4 Pacific no. 60009 Union of South Africa on The Cotswold Venturer

Union of South Africa is due to be working the Cotswolds Venturer for the Railway Touring Company this coming Saturday 16th Feb. It is doing the Cotswold circular through Worcester, clockwise for a change, so it will be crossing the Vale of White Horse in the morning and returning via Oxford probably after dark. People near the Didcot – Reading Thames Valley section get two bites at the cherry!

On the day: the past three days of unseasonably bright and mild weather have ended too soon and there is a misty drizzle hanging over the Vale of White Horse as I wait for the excursion train, which leaves the loop line at Challow promptly after its water stop to fit in behind one of the now ubiquitous IET express sets. Having taken the recently much-used loco in all the acceptable locations on its route through our area I’m at one of my old haunts at Bourton to take on the challenge of the electrification masts – only to remind myself why I had vowed never to venture into the Vale again to photograph trains. The good news is that the demise of ‘number 9’ on the mainline ‘has been greatly overstated’ due to delays in planning permission for its (final?) museum home and the A4 is scheduled for several more trips again this year.

The loco has already accelerated its train up to its permitted speed as it passes below me and so is not sufficiently exercised to mask the ugly steelwork with its steam plume. The resulting photo could be considered more a ‘tribute’ to the brutalist style of the electrification infrastructure than an evocation of the glory days of steam!

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