Updatedd 02..08..2019

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.


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 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!

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!

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.

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:

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

At 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!