Steam railways update

Two steam trains which in normal circumstances would have expected to visit our line were diverted via the GW main line to Swindon during the recent Network Rail closures. Only one working, the Quantock Intruder to Minehead on 26th May hauled by the newly-invigorated Bulleid Pacific Clan Line, made it while the line was open, although poor weather conditions conspired to dampen people’s enthusiasm to turn out in support.

Celebrity loco no. 60103 Flying Scotsman duly appeared on a couple of half day excursions via the Thames Valley line. The station at Tilehurst during the school holidays was packed with spectators of all ages, and for the later visit the four platforms at Goring were just as busy without the younger element, safely back in the classroom. I nearly fell victim to an inconsiderate camera-phone photographer who stepped out just as I was taking my picture. The resulting tightly-cropped image (see right) is being used by Steam Dreams to advertise their October Flying Scotsman special on our line, whereas I suspect that the camera-phone blur has been consigned to the dustbin icon on the phone display!

The postponed St David’s Day express eventually ran on the 14th June, and A4 Pacific no. 60009 Union of South Africa made a welcome return with appearances on our other two main lines during the heat-wave conditions in July, necessitating the provision of an extra diesel locomotive to reduce the chance of causing wildfires at the lineside.

The dry conditions have led to a steam ban being imposed in some parts of the country, causing disruption to the steam excursion programme, but in the south/west we are less affected. On our line in particular we will hope to have seen the second West Somerset Steam Express with no. 60009 on 18th August, and the problem should have passed for the Cathedrals Express to Plymouth with no. 60103 on 4th October and no. 60009 again on the 24th November with the Bath Christmas Market. As usual there may be other trains routed this way when Network Rail finalises the plans for other westbound excursions.

I reported last time that popular Class B1 4-6-0 steam loco no. 61306 Mayflower was due to be back in service on the main line, but this has not yet happened, and stalwart A1 Pacific Tornado suffered a disastrous failure earlier in the year putting it out of action for the time being. The impact of this is less serious while the demand for steam locos is reduced, but operators may feel the pinch when it picks up again at the end of summer.

Tony Bartlett

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