Updatedd 06.043.2019

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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the Return to Steam – I have just two records from my days on the Chiltern line in the 1980s – but was eventually withdrawn in 1988 requiring major restoration.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!