Saturday, 13 January 2018

Lion Tavern closes - then re-opens

Not exactly 'hot' news, but this report mentions a little hiccup in the history of Liverpool's historic 'Lion Tavern' back in 2016.

The 'Lion Tavern' has a commanding corner location opposite the former Exchange station.

Because of my involvement with the Old Locomotive Committee (OLCO), I knew of the 'Lion Tavern, located at the junction of Moorfields and Tithebarn Street but I'd never been there until OLCO provided assistance to the Museum of Liverpool in the making of a video about Lion's history. That visit is described in the short post here.

John Hawley does his 'piece to camera'. Sound Recordist Malcolm and Producer Fiona in the background.

Some years after, I came across the Liverpool Echo article from 15th June 2016 "Last orders called at two Liverpool city centre pubs - including the historic Lion Tavern" here.

Later, I found another Liverpool Echo report dated 16th November 2016 proclaiming "The historic Lion Tavern re-opens today" here. Although I've not been back to the Lion Tavern yet, it seems to be thriving: there's a website here. And the Ale? I'm sorry, during my visit I only took tea.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

A Trip to Merseyside

Regular readers may be aware that the Liverpool area has fascinated me since my early visits as a child. Periodically, I make a day trip there.

In the post Liverpool (again) I updated matters to 2014 but there have been more trips and posts since.

On 29th December, 2015, I made a day trip to Liverpool which is described in the post Merseyside in December.

On 29th December, 2016, I made a day trip to Liverpool which spawned a three-part post:-
Return to Merseyside (Part 1)
Return to Merseyside (Part 2)
Return to Merseyside (Part 3)
With my surveys incomplete, I returned on 4th February 2017, resulting in the post Exploring Liverpool's former South Docks.

At the beginning of January, 2018 I travelled to Liverpool again and that trip is described in this post.

Our weather had been cold and often windy, frosty or wet. I consulted the forecasts but eventually plumped for the first Saturday in 2018 and left my home at eight o'clock to catch our first bus of the day which goes to Penkridge, where I hoped to catch a train. The main roads from Brewood to Penkridge aren't usually too bad but the bus takes a circuitous route through Bishop's Wood, Wheaton Aston, Lapley and Whiston, involving narrow lanes and sharp, unsighted bends. Despite offering a transport service to all these communities, I was the only passenger from Brewood and just one young man joined us at Wheaton Aston. To keep anywhere near time, the bus had to be driven quite hard so I found it quite an exciting journey. The young passenger and I got off at Penkridge Medical Centre and I showed him the footpath under the railway and through the churchyard to the station.

South Staffordshire: Penkridge, pedestrian tunnel under railway with churchyard in the background.

My new friend was travelling to Birmingham and, by dashing up the stairs to platform 1, he just caught a train which arrived as we approached. I had time to negotiate with the touch-screen ticket machine which was running new software, presumably because the Train Operating Company at Penkridge has recently changed.

The previous 'London Midland' franchise was taken over by West Midlands Trains on 10th December 2017. There's a useful Wikipedia article here. The new company is operating two 'brands'. Trains within the West Midlands form the 'West Midlands Trains' brand whilst 'long-distance' trains to London and Liverpool form the 'London Northwestern Railway' brand. Although I'd seen a picture of a West Midlands Trains trainset in their new livery, the trains I saw during the day all retained their old 'London Midland' livery.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: A gloomy Penkridge Station, looking towards Stafford.

The journey to Liverpool Lime Street was on-time. When I saw that our arrival was into one of the low-numbered platforms usually reserved for local trains, I remembered that Liverpool Lime Street is in the throes of an Upgrade Programme which will create one new platform and lengthen two others. There's a little more about this in the section 'Liverpool Lime Street Upgrade'. I purchased an 'All-Zones 1-day Saveaway' giving unlimited bus, train and ferry use in Merseyside and descended to Liverpool Lime Street Low Level to catch a Merseyrail service two stops to James Street.

A few minutes later, I was emerging into sunshine at James Street and, although it wasn't exactly warm, the walk to the Museum of Liverpool was pleasant enough. I'm secretary of the Old Locomotive Committee (there are lots of posts about the 'Old Locomotive' in question - 'Lion' here) so, when in Liverpool, I like to check-up on the Museum's 'star exhbit'. All was normal (although I'm never very happy to see a steam locomotive 'stuffed and mounted').

'Lion' Exhibit, Museum of Liverpool.

A display case in the foyer now covers the Liverpool tram system. I was impressed by the detailed model of a 1936 tram as that's the design of tram I remember seeing on my early trips to Liverpool.

Tramways Exhibit, Museum of Liverpool with model of 1936 'Green Goddess' tram.

This year, I was surprised to find the waterfront between the Museum and the Ferry Landing Stage hosting a Fun Fair, with a few hardy ride operators open for business - the wind was noticeably keener near the water.

Liverpool Waterfront with Fun Fair.

I was probably even more surprised by the appearance of the iconic Liver Building and its clock. The clock face facing the museum was missing both hands: that facing the river was working but 20 minutes fast!

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Liverpool Waterfront.

It's become a tradition for me to take the 'Ferry cross the Mersey', so I boarded 'Snowdrop' on the 11 o'clock sailing still, I'm afraid, in her 'Dazzle' livery. I've complained before about Sir Peter Blake's interpretation of 'Dazzle Painting' which bears only a slight relationship to the actual livery applied to many ships in World War I (see the post here).

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Mersey Ferry 'Snowdrop' approaching Pierhead in bright sunshine.

Of course, I positioned myself on the open promenade deck near the bow, despite the sharp wind. I never tire of the views of the the old docks and modern shipping. As we slipped away from Pierhead, we were preceded by 'Ro-Ro' (Roll-on, Roll-off) ferry 'Stena Mersey' heading for Belfast which joined a procession of departing ships.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Three ships leaving Liverpool just after 11.00 a.m. (L-R) Unidentified, 'Seatruck' 'Ro-Ro' ferry to Dublin, 'Stena Mersey' 'Ro-Ro' ferry to Belfast.

Whereas the gangway at Pierhead is now hydraulically operated, at Seacombe (and Woodside) gangways remain counterbalanced and manually operated. The 'shore party' at each location is now one man to handle the bow mooring line, the gangway and the gate on the landing stage which allows passengers onto the ferry. On the ferry, two deckhands appear to handle all activities. In the tricky waters of the Mersey, safe ferry docking depends upon good co-ordination between the Captain, the deckhands and the shore man. According to the state of the tide, the ferry docks either facing upstream or facing downstream.

We docked at Seacombe Landing stage, landed a handful of passengers and boarded others.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Docking at Seacombe Landing Stage.

'Snowdrop' then headed upstream, passing 'Ro-Ro' ferry 'Stena Precision' moored at Twelve Quays Ferry Terminal and made a loop to starboard so as to dock with the ferry facing downstream.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Birkenhead Woodside Landing Stage.

A section of gunwhale on either side of the ship, fore and aft has a sliding section which, when pushed open, allows the gangway to drop onto the main deck. A sign warns passengers 'In the interest of safety please stand behind the brass line until gangway is lowered' and a (rather tarnished) brass strip is set in the decking. I found this a delightful survivor from more innocent, less Health and Safety obsessed times.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Passengers obediently stand behind the brass line, waiting to disembark.

I made my way ashore and walked to Hamilton Square station, with its impressive tower, listed Grade II. Pevsner comments:-
Station. c1886. By G.E.Grayson. Brick and terracotta. Italianate style. Hamilton Street elevation has hydraulic tower on angle, and pedimented central block of booking hall, with triple round-arched windows in apex and inserted lower openings. Deep cornice band of terracotta panels. Glazed roof to booking hall. Glazed canopy projects from this block and from the tower. 3-bay range to left with louvred windows to right and doorway to left, possibly generator house. 3 paired round-headed windows above, and a row of oculi over. Terracotta cornice and mouldings to openings. Prominent 4-stage tower with round arched windows in lower stage with clusterd shafts. Triple round-arched windows above, then single round-arched windows and ribbed panelled band with paired segmentally arched windows, some now blocked. Cornice above, then giant segmentally-arched recesses housing 2 tiers of mullioned and transomed windows with enriched terracotta detail. Machicolated embattled parapet then high round arched recesses with paired windows and oculi. Clustered shafts at angles form pinnacles. Balustraded parapet and small lead fleche. 3 bay 3-storeyed return elevation to Bridge Street with continuous arcading at each level. Interior of booking hall has glazed tiled walls and queen post and collar roof with wrought iron ties. The station was built as part of the Mersey railway and Mersey rail tunnel, which opened in 1886. The engineers were James Brunlees and Charles Douglas Fox.
(The Buildings of England: Pevsner N and Hubbard E: Cheshire: Harmondsworth: 1971-).
The underground platforms have always been accessed by lifts which were originally hydraulically-operated (the tower housed the hydraulic accumulator) but are now electric. The station was refurbished in 2014-2015.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Hamilton Square Station.

I took a New Brighton Train from Platform 3. The current trains are Class 507 and 508/1 3-car units built between 1978 and 1980. Although these trainsets are elderly, an Alstom refurbishment programme between 2002 and 2005 has improved the "passenger experience". However, in 2016, Merseytravel placed an order with Swiss train builder Stadler which will replace the entire fleet with Class 777 METRO 4-car sets by 2021.

Passing through Birkenhead, I noticed the top of the superstructure of a navy ship in the Cammell Laird Yard (which is discussed in the section Bidston Graving Dock of my post here). On my return home, I identified the ship as 'RFA Ford Austin' using the Ship AIS page here.

I was soon at New Brighton Station. Merseyrail make up for the fairly spartan trains by having stations which are staffed, warm, well-lit, provided with clean, working toilets and, usually, a shop or refreshment facilities.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Booking Hall at New Brighton Station.

I set off on foot down Victoria Road towards the estuary, pausing at Victoria Road Fish and Chips for a take-away portion of excellent chips which lasted me to the Promenade. The massive, red-painted container cranes at the new deep-water port at Seaforth called 'Liverpool 2' dominate the view across the river. I briefly discussed the building of this facility, to handle post-Panamax vessels, in the post Notes on Liverpool and its Docks and I think I first saw these cranes in December 2016, as reported here.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018, view from New Brighton Promenade across river: (L:) Panamanian-registered bulk carrier 'Lord Nelson' (28,653 DWT) heads out to sea, (R:) Liberian-registered container ship 'Songa Antofagasta' (35,534 DWT) moored at 'Liverpool 2'.

Although the new quay is open, there have been problems with the unexpected appearance of a sink-hole in the North Quay and locals have grumbled that they haven't seen many super-sized container ships yet. Needless to say, a Peel Ports spokesman remained confident for the future of this facility. The modern Floral Pavilion lies on the landward side of the promenade.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Floral Pavilion Theatre, Promenade, New Brighton.

Before I made my way back to the railway station, I watched 'Oramalia' heading out to sea, following 'Lord Nelson'.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Viewed from New Brighton Promenade, Gibraltar-registered oil/chemical tanker 'Oramalia' (6,863 DWT) heads out to sea.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Panamanian-registered bulk carrier 'Lord Nelson' 28,653 DWT heads out to sea with the former New Brighton Lighthouse on the right.

I arrived at the station in time to see a train just leaving. I spent the short time waiting for the next service taking pictures around the station.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Class 508 'Merseyrail' service leaving New Brighton station.

The train returned me quickly to the City and I alighted at Liverpool Lime Street station where escalators took me to the main line concourse. I'd originally intended to explore a little more but I was tired from the walking and the temptation of a Wolverhampton-bound train standing in the new platform 8 proved too great so, after a quick photograph at the platform end, I boarded the train home.

Liverpool Lime Street station Upgrade

When complete, the Upgrade with give Lime Street one extra platform and two lengthened platforms. Originally, the wide island platform 7/8 carried a carriage road allowing taxis and other vehicles direct access to trains. This was a common feature at important stations when I was growing up but appears to have fallen out of favour (although on my 2009 visit to Howrah station in Kolkata I was delighted to find the carriage road still in use). For some years, the carriage road at Lime Street had been used for various buildings, including the Virgin Trains First Class Lounge since the Virgin services to London used platform 7. All these buildings have been demolished (the Virgin First Class Lounge has been relocated on the concourse. Eliminating the space used by the carriage road has allowed the island platform to be narrowed, leaving room for an additional track and platform which will be the new platform 7, increasing subsequent platform numbers by one.

Trip to Merseyside 6-Jan-2018: Liverpool Lime Street Station. L: New platform 7 under construction, R: New platform 8 in use.

My train departed from the new platform 8 but work on the new platform 7 was still under way. There's a colourful (but inaccurate) computer-generate publicity image showing the final arrangement reproduced below.

Computer image of Liverpool Lime Street after Upgrade.


Although I returned home from Liverpool Lime Street without incident, the following day Network Rail closed the station to all trains for an estimated two days because of the discovery of dangerous corrosion in an Overhead Line structure affecting all lines.

Corroded OLE gantry on approach to Lime Street pictured by RMT Union.

This is not the only case of Network Rail's shortcomings affecting Lime Street. Less than a year earlier, in February 2017, the station was closed for a week following partial collapse of the stone-built retaining wall in Edge Hill Cutting. In November 2017 the Rail Accident Inspection Branch published its report on the incident which you can find 17/2017.

Related posts on other websites

Although the links worked at the time this post was published, changes made by that website's owner may 'break' the link.
West Midlands Trains.
RAIB Report 17/2017.

Related posts on this website

As I comment above, 'Merseyside' is a recurring theme in this blog. Your can find all my posts about Merseyside here.
Posts on the Old Locomotive Committe are here.

My photograph albums

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, pictures may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the album covering this trip:-
Trip to Merseyside.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Review of the Year 2017

I'm amazed that this is the twelfth annual review since I started this blog. Another year older, with a generous collection of new memories and a clear understanding of how fortunate I've been.


In 2017, two overseas trips proved sufficiently ambitious, and they both included my beloved Burma (Myanmar, as it is now known). To track down overseas visits I've written about in earlier years, to both Burma and other countries, you can try the following posts:-
Jan Ford's Travels (2001 onwards).
Jan Ford's Travels - The early trips (before 2001).
Jan Ford's Travels: Around the World in pictures (alphabetic list with links to pictures).
Burma and Australia in 2017

I set off on 19th April and visited Yangon, Mon State, the Bagan Medical Clinic and local schools with Doctor Hla Tun (as in previous years) before a visit to Kayah State and Inle Lake. The first of a series of posts is here and each post in the series has a link to the subsequent episode.

Taung Gwe Zedi, Loikaw.

Then, I spent a few days in Australia visiting Perth, Melbourne and Hobart. The first of the Australia posts is here and each post has a link to the subsequent episode.

Port Arthur Historic Site: The remains of the Penitentiary.

Second trip to Burma in 2017

I set off on 29th September and visited Yangon, the Delta Region, Myitkyina, Indawgyi Lake, Mandalay. Then, I travelled on the 'Road to Mandalay' river ship to Bagan with Doctor Hla Tun. After spending time at Bagan Medical Clinic, I returned to Yangon for a final stays at the Belmond Governor's Residence. The first of a series of posts is here and each post in the series has a link to the subsequent episode.

Shwe Mykitzu Pagoda, Indawgyi Lake, Myanmar.


During the year I made a few trips (mainly by rail) to various destinations in the UK, some of which have blog posts.

By Bus to Brighton.
Croydon Airport (site of).
London: The Shard.
Exploring Liverpool's former South Docks.
Interlude in London.
Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
Rail Research UK Association Annual Conference 2017.
Quinton Rail Technology Centre.
High Speed One.
The Postal Museum and Mail Rail, London.

London Bridge Station: View from Tooley Street, with the Shard in the background.


During 2015, I continued to support the Old Locomotive Committee and remained an active volunteer at The Battlefield Line and Peak Rail.

The Old Locomotive Committee

On Saturday, 17th June 2017 the 32nd Annual General Meeting of the Old Locomotive Committee was held in the Museum of Liverpool. As usual, I travelled to and from Liverpool by train. Various photographs I took have been added to the appropriate album.

Liverpool: View from Pierhead as 'Manannan' leaves for the Isle of Man with Seacombe Landing Stage in the background.

The 'Lionsmeet' event was held on Saturday, 22nd July 2017 at the Worden Park track of the Leyland Society of Model Engineers. My report is here.

'Lionsmeet 2017' at Leyland SME: During the afternoon John Brandrick, Chairman of OLCO, made a short address of thanks to Leyland S.M.E. for their hospitality.

You can find all my posts about OLCO here and there's more information on the Old Locomotive Committee's website (and becoming a member) here.

The Battlefield Line

I had a number of driving turns during the year, some of which are described in blog posts:-

Dugald Drummond and the 'T9' - Historical Background
Bank Holiday with Steam and Diesel
Battlefield Line Model Steam Weekend, 2017
DMU Days at the Battlefield Line
Summer at Shackerstone
Battlefield Line Fish and Chip Evening Special
Two Failures
On the Footplate: the Drummond 'T9'
On the Footplate
Santa Specials at the Battlefield Line 2017

Drummond 'T9': 30120 being prepared at Shackerstone.

You can find all my posts about the Battlefield Line here.

Peak Rail

I regularly drove steam during the year at Peak Rail and there are a few blog posts:-

Peak Rail in 2017
Cars and Trains at Peak Rail
Peak Rail 1940s Weekend 2017
On the Footplate
Peak Rail Santa Specials

Visiting locomotive 'Jennifer' at Peak Rail.

You can find all my posts about Peak Rail here.

Myanma Railways

During my two visits to Burma in 2017 I again spent some time studying the railway system, resulting in a number of blog posts:-

Last Full Day in Yangon
Train movements at Yangon Central station
Features of Railway Signalling in Myanmar
Railway Signalling in Burma - Index
Around Mandalay
Mandalay Wednesday
Mandalay and its Circle Line
Non-operational steam in Myanmar
Rail-mounted Cranes on Myanma Railways
Final day in Yangon and the Circle Line

Jan in Kyee Myin Daing South Signal Cabin (Photo: Myanma Railways)

You can find all my posts about Myanma Railways here.


The Brewood Garden Party was held at Brewood Hall for the fifth time on Saturday, 8th July 2017. There's a report here.

Brewood Garden Party 2017.

You can find all my posts about Brewood Hall here.


Ty Gwyn is a small commercial woodland around 27 hectares in area near Corwen in Wales. There's a review in the post Ty Gwyn 2017
. To see all my posts on Ty Gwyn, click here.

Ty Gwyn 2017: Memorial Pool in August.


For a number of years, I've supported the charitable initiatives operated under the above name in Burma. When I visit Burma, I try to see as much as possible of the work in hand. The charity provides Educational Support to a range of schools and orphanages (including the Orphans & Vulnerable Children Project in Mon State) and Medical Treatment to all ages (centred on the wonderful Bagan Medical Clinic).

You can find all my posts on Educational Support here.

Hlaing D.I.C. in Mawlamyine.

You can find all my posts on Medical Support here.

Bagan Medical Clinic, Friday 13th October 2017.


This review covers trips and events during the year but doesn't include other types of post including:-
Technical or historical articles, mainly about railways;
Recollections of past events;

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Quinton Rail Technology Centre


Quinton Rail Technology Centre at Long Marston was originally a large Ministry of Defence site established early in World War II which boasted an extensive private railway. Main line rail access was provided via the adjacent Great Western Birmingham-Stratford-Cheltenham Line which crossed the Great Western's Oxford-Worcester-Wolverhampton line about two miles south of Long Marston at Honeybourne where elaborate junctions between the two lines gave good rail connections in various directions.

Post-war, military use steadily declined. British Railways withdrew passenger services through Long Marston around 1966 and, by 1976, the line to Stratford had been lifted north of Long Marston, retaining a single line south of Long Marston to a connection with the Oxford and Worcester line at Honeybourne so as to maintain rail connections to the Ministry of Defence site. South of Honeybourne, the Stratford-Cheltenham route was removed but the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway have restored operations between Toddington and Cheltenham.

With further reductions in Ministry of Defence use, Bird's Commercial Motors took over part of the site as a scrapyard with the advantage of rail connections. The Wikipedia article here and the Warwickshire Railways site here document this period, together with various Open Days held at the site for enthusiasts. Initiatives to establish a permanent preservation presence were not successful.

Following the privatisation of British Rail, completed in 1997, the extensive sidings proved attractive to various ROSCOs (the Rolling Stock operating companies) for storage of out-of-use rail vehicles. This gave rise to various comings-and-goings of rolling stock to and from the site which are documented on Peter Tandy's photograph site here.

In 2004 the 479 acre site was sold to 'regeneration specialists' St. Modwen who, with Bird's, proposed to redevelop the site as 'Middle Quinton Eco-town'. The present plan retains the rail storage and railway equipment restoration facilities with the eastern part of the site developed as a "100 million pound mixed-use leisure-based scheme" called Meon Vale.

The site in 2017

On 21st November 2017, a wet, wintery day, I visited the site for a meeting and managed to take a few indifferent pictures. The remaining railway facilities are operated by Motorail Enterprises as Quinton Rail Technology Centre. Rail vehicle storage mentioned above is still important and I saw various freight vehicles and a number of Class 319 Electric Multiple Units.

Quinton Rail Technology Centre, Long Marston: Class 319 EMU in store.

I didn't have an opportunity to explore but I also saw a number of taken-out-of-service light-rail trams and London Underground D78 vehicles.

Quinton Rail Technology Centre, Long Marston: Light Rail units in store.

Quinton Rail Technology Centre, Long Marston: former London Underground D78 vehicle in store.

There was a Class 01 diesel shunter, 01547, in the purple and white livery of the Defence Logistics Organisation, and two rubber-tyred 'shunting locomotives' complete with buffers, drawhooks and air brake connections in the same livery.

Quinton Rail Technology Centre, Long Marston: Diesel shunter 01547 in the purple and white livery of the Defence Logistics Organisation.

Quinton Rail Technology Centre, Long Marston: Two rubber-tyred 'shunting locomotives' in the purple and white livery of the Defence Logistics Organisation.

A number of companies involved in various aspects of modern railway operation have established a presence on the site.

The Rail Alliance is a B2B (business to business) networking organisation "that sits at the very heart of the rail supply chain". In partnership with RAIL Magazine, an annual outdoor exhibition called 'Rail Live' is staged at Quinton Rail Technology Centre. Rail Alliance works closely with the Rail Research UK Association (RRUKA) which is also based at Long Marston. Various rail-related tests can be carried out at Quinton Rail Technology Centre in connection with product development, certification and training. One section of the continuous test track is equipped with overhead catenary and, on the day of my visit, Keltbray Rail had a selection of road/rail Overhead Line Equipment maintenance vehicles operating, carrying out what looked like training.

Quinton Rail Technology Centre, Long Marston: Road/Rail vehicle in use on the section of test track with overhead catenary.

Perhaps the highest-profile company on site is Vivarail, who are producing Class 230 trainsets using redundant London Underground D78 vehicles.

Quinton Rail Technology Centre, Long Marston: Vivarail DMU 230001.

Track diagram

There a simplified track diagram of the system when owned by the Ministry of Defence in the publication:-
‘Railway Track Diagrams Book 3: Western’ (TRACKmaps: 4th edition) ISBN: 0-9549866-1-X.

Related posts on other websites

Although the links worked at the time this post was published, changes made by that website's owner may 'break' the link.

Long Marston railway station (Wikipedia).
Long Marston (Warwickshire Railways).
Long Marston (Peter Tandy's photograph site).
Meon Vale (St. Modwen).
Quinton Rail Technology Centre.
Keltbray Rail.
London Underground D78 vehicles.

Related posts on this website

Rail Research UK Association Annual Conference 2017

My pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, pictures may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-

Quinton Rail Technology Centre.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Santa Specials at the Battlefield Line 2017

The Battlefield Line 'Santa Special' trains between Shackerstone and Shenton are of two types, which run alternately - the 'Classic' train with vestibule stock and the 'First Deluxe' train with corridor compartment stock. On the 'Classic' train, Santa's Helpers take groups of passengers, in turn, to see Santa Claus in his Grotto, where the children receive a Christmas present. On the 'First Deluxe' service, families or groups can book a private compartment with a Christmas Hamper of food, drink and Christmas Crackers and are visited by Santa distributing presents.

Events of Saturday 9th December 2017

"Well, that didn't go quite as planned" I commented to Carl just after 9.00 p.m. as I left the railway after a long day. I'd arrived at 6.30 a.m. to drive the Great Western 'Light Prairie' 5542 and Carl had arrived earlier to drive 'Cumbria', the second engine in steam that day. We'd both experienced various difficulties during our shifts but managed to operate the booked service and, hopefully, had helped to make quite a few adults and children happy.


I'd last been on 5542 on 22nd October 2017 when we'd had an enjoyable and trouble-free day (although the exhaust did sound a little 'off-beat'). There's a bit about Preparation in my post describing that day On the Footplate. I'm forever banging on about the importance of careful preparation of steam locomotives by both the fireman and driver and it's a recurring theme in my posts labelled 'MIC' in tribute to the Mutual Improvement Classes of the old steam railways which continue, in one form or another, for today's preservation volunteers.

5542 was at the north end of the locomotive shed, over the inspection and disposal pit, with 'Cumbria' 'brewing up' behind her and the resident engine 'Sir Gomer' hidden at the back, out of steam. Tracy was the fireman (we don't indulge in the politically-correct term 'fireperson') and, having done the initial checks, she'd just lit-up but was unhappy with the fire. Apparently, there was general agreement that the particular batch of coal we were working through was dusty, smokey and reluctant to make steam. However, she was confident she'd sort it so I carried on with oiling-round the locomotive. Harry was our cleaner.

The water tanks on a side tank design prevent access from the side under the boiler except at the very front so oiling all the inside motion and axleboxes on the leading and driving axles means 'going underneath' the engine and climbing up. I discuss the various methods of carrying water on tank engines and the resulting problems of access to inside motion in the post Water, water, everywhere.

Unless you're very fit and flexible, 'going underneath' requires the engine to be over an inspection pit. Ideally, the pit should not be as I found it, with various piles of ash remaining from previous disposals and two inches of water at one end which the electric pump had failed to clear. However, I eventually completed 'oiling underneath' and clambered out of the pit.

The smoke from two engines meant that visibility in the shed was very poor and small flakes of coal were falling like snow. Eventually, with aggressive use of the blower, our boiler 'came round' but it certainly wasn't steaming as I'd expect from a Great Western engine. Right at the beginning of the twentieth century, the designer Churchward introduced a range of very carefully-proportioned taper boilers with Belpaire fireboxes. They weren't cheap to build but they gave excellent water circulation producing very free-steaming locomotives.

5524 on the 'Classic' train

The rather cramped track layout at Shackerstone requires careful choreography to manage two trains. We were to take the first departure of the day - the 10.00 a.m. 'Classic' so the Ground Frame was operated to let us come 'off shed'. The 5-coach 'First Deluxe' train was standing in platform 1 and our 5-coach 'Classic' train was in platform 2. The stock in platform 1 had been positioned carefully, just leaving room for us to clear the points so that the Ground Frame could be restored. The signalman, Leon, then 'gave us the road' to move through the crossover onto the running line. With the crossover restored, he then 'cleared' the disc ground signal to allow us onto our train.

Shackerstone track diagram sketch.

Once we were 'out of the way', Carl was able to bring 'Cumbria' off-shed. But he had a special task before we started the service. Our self-propelled tamper, which had been 'working in the section' earlier in the week, had decided to expire near 'Airport Bridge' (on the Shackerstone side of Market Bosworth) so 'Cumbria' was despatched to drag the failure back to Shackerstone.

Battlefield Line 'Santa' trains 2017: Carl, driving 'Cumbria', arrives at Shackerstone having rescued the tamper.

Whilst 'Cumbria' was performing the rescue, we had coupled-up and started the steam supply for carriage warming. Our locomotive had a steam brake so, whilst light engine, it's conventional to leave the vacuum hose at one end of the locomotive 'off the stopper' so that the system operates as a 'straight steam' rather than a 'combination' (steam/vacuum) brake. Our Guard asked for vacuum but I noticed that our 'back bag' was still 'off the stopper' so I replaced this before placing the Driver's Combination Brake Application Valve in the 'create' position, so that the vacuum ejector would suck air from the train pipe and release the carriage brakes. Instead of the duplex brake gauge indicating the expected '25 inches' (partial vacuum is measured in 'inches of mercury'), it stubbornly stopped at just a few inches. Assuming that the fault was in the coaching stock, the Guard started to examine the coaches, noting a suggestion from Adrian that the exterior of the coaches had been washed during the week, so it was possible that a 'Butterfly Valve' had been disturbed. There's a brief description of 'Butterfly Valves' in the post MIC - The Working of Trains.

'Butterfly': The indicator for the communication cord on a passenger coach. With the 'flag' horizontal as shown the system is normal.

I didn't find out what our Guard discovered but, after a while, the vacuum came up to the required 25. The Guard should then do a 'Brake Continuity Test' by ensuring that taking the vacuum hose off the 'stopper' at the rear of the train destroyed the vacuum but, in practice, Guards often simply use the 'Setter' (the Guard's Brake Application Valve) in the Guard's compartment.

I'm afraid the Great Western, always prepared to be different, set their vacuum brake 'released' level at '25 inches' whereas every other British railway is content with '21 inches'. I think it was Churchward (before he succeeded William Dean as Chief Mechanical Engineer) working with Armstrong who made this decision. There's sound logic behind their thinking. 'Vacuum' brakes can be described as 'differential pressure' brakes. The bigger the differential between 'released' (a partial vacuum of 25 inches of mercury) and 'full application' (atmospheric pressure), the greater the brake force which can be produced by a brake cylinder of a given size. Looked at another way, more leakage can be tolerated in at system designed to run at '25 inches' before the braking effort available is seriously compromised. There's a little more on the topic in the post MIC - Brakes.

Ideally, the Guard or Driver would also carry out a functional brake test on the train. First, '25 inches' is created in the train pipe which should ensure that all train brakes are off. This vacuum is destroyed and the length of the train is inspected, ensuring that all brake blocks are 'on' (or, in practice, that all brake blocks on the non-platform side of the train are 'on'). If this is satisfactory, vacuum is re-created and the whole train is inspected again to ensure that all brake blocks are now 'off' and clear of the wheel tyres, with the exception of the Guard's coach, where the Guard's Handbrake will keep the brakes applied. The piston in each brake cylinder should be 'up' when the vacuum brake is applied and 'down' when the vacuum brake is released. Similarly, brake blocks should be tight against the wheel tyre when the brake is 'on' and hanging clear when the brake is 'off'. Where necessary, kicking a brake block will show whether it is 'on' or 'off'. I'm afraid I didn't carry out this test and I don't think the Guard did.

It's not unusual for Santa trains to be late away. All seats are normally pre-booked and, although the booking form clearly states "We are not able to hold departure of trains for late arrivals", the commercial department will often allow a few minutes 'grace'. When we finally received the 'Right Away' from the Guard, we made sure the handbrake was fully 'off' and I eased the regulator open. Steam poured from the open cylinder drain cocks but there was no movement. Vacuum was still correct, so I opened the regulator a little further. No movement. Sometimes, even with correct vacuum, some brake blocks on the train may be reluctant to drop clear of the wheel tyre. Rarely, the piston in the steam brake cylinder on the locomotive may 'stick' although, during preparation, cylinder oil is manually fed to the steam pipe leading to the brake cylinder from an oil pot in the cab to prevent this happening. Very rarely, the Guard may forget to release his handbrake (operated from a wheel in the Guard's Compartment). Finally, I opened the regulator even further and there was a small lurch from the engine. After a short pause, the whole train slowly moved. It was obvious that the exhaust beats from the chimney (four 'chuffs' for each revolution of the driving wheels) were uneven. With perfect steam distribution, they should all sound the same. No arrangement of Stephenson Link Motion gives perfect distribution, although Swindon's arrangement as used on the 'Light Prairie' comes close. But 5542 sounded distinctly unhappy.

As the train moved away, I 'linked up' the gear but left the cylinder drain cocks open a little longer because I'd seen that the boiler was rather over-full. The function of the cylinder drain cocks is to 'purge' the steam circuit and cylinders of condensed steam (water) which may collect whilst the engine is stationary. In a locomotive with slide valves, the 'buckle' which imparts the motion to the valve is arranged to allow the valve to move away from the port face which helps to clear any condensate. But the design of piston valves (as used on 5524) means that water can only escape through the drain cocks so 'aggressive' use of drain cocks becomes more important. Since water is incompressible, allowing a piston to squeeze water trapped in a cylinder risks serious damage, such as a broken cylinder cover or cylinder casting. Once I was happy that water had been expelled from the cylinders, I closed the drain cocks.

As we continued slowly up the cutting and passed under Barton Lane Bridge, things seemed a little better but I remained concerned at how 'off-beat' the exhaust sounded. We had been told to stop at Market Bosworth to pick up a staff volunteer. On receiving the 'Right Away' here, 5524 was once again rather reluctant to get under way but we carried on to Shenton and ran round our train. I discovered that the shunting signal controlled by the Guard from the ground frame reading from the run round loop to the single line had failed but the Guard displayed a green flag to authorise the movement. We coupled onto our train and created vacuum ready for the return journey, this time chimney leading. After a wait, the Guard whistled and displayed the green flag and we set off back to Shackerstone.

We arrived back late and were signalled into platform 2 at Shackerstone where I stopped with the leading coach just clear of the barrow crossing, meaning that our locomotive completely blocked the crossing. With the footbridge currently out of use, the barrow crossing is the only way for passengers to get to and from platform 1 so quite a crowd built up at the north end of the platforms waiting for us to uncouple and move forward into the North End sidings, where the bucket loading shovel was waiting to replenish our coal bunker.

Battlefield Line 'Santa' trains 2017: On our return to Shackerstone, we had to uncouple and draw away before passengers could use the barrow crossing.

With a full bunker, we moved back towards the station and stopped at the ground signal (lever 7: a Southern Railway pattern electrically-operated disc without the characteristic external floodlight). Ahead of us, our train was in platform 2 and the 'First Deluxe' train, with 'Cumbria' at the head, was still in platform 1. Once 'Cumbria had departed with the late-running 11.30 train, the ground signal cleared and we cautiously moved over the barrow crossing, ran through platform 1 negotiated the crossover outside the signal box. With the crossover replaced normal, the signalman cleared the "bottom dolly", allowing us to move onto our train and take water. We'd used about half a tank of water since leaving the shed that morning with a full tank. There was then nothing for us to do, except keep our train warmed, until 'Cumbria' returned with the 'First Deluxe' train, so I took a few pictures.

Battlefield Line 'Santa' trains 9-Dec-2017: Late-running 12 noon 'Classic' train ready to leave Shackerstone.

Santa Claus won't be hurried when he's distributing gifts on a train, so we were not surprised that 'Cumbria' returned having lost more time. We were keen to get started but, when we received the Green Flag and I opened the regulator, there was a loud, continuous 'blow' through the chimney but no movement. Having re-checked everything, I tried again, applying more power. The third attempt finally produced a sluggish movement and we slowly left the station, with a very uneven exhaust beat. We kept going but I couldn't be sure of the problem - possibly a broken piston valve ring.

Once again, we'd been asked to stop at Market Bosworth, this time so that train staff could establish how much more time Santa needed for his present distribution. On being given the 'right away' even full pilot valve regulator opening failed to produce movement as it should. The most likely reason was either a dragging brake or a damaged piston valve (or both). I put the reverser into 'Full Forward Gear' (we were bunker leading), opened the regulator and was rewarded by a few inches of movement. With the lever returned to 'Full Back Gear', this time we had movement in the intended direction and I was able to carry on to Shenton where, once again, we ran round our train. This time, we'd used half a tankful of water in just a one-way journey and Tracy was having to fire quite heavily to keep on top of things. I discussed our problem by mobile phone with Shackerstone and it was agreed that Adrian would take a look before we attempted our third and final booked trip that day.

Tracy firing 5524.

We returned to Shackerstone without incident but had managed to use most of our remaining water, suggesting that a fair amount of steam was going to waste. Shortly after our arrival, 'Cumbria' left with with the second 'First Deluxe' trip that day. With platform 1 now clear, we were able to shunt to the other end of our train and re-fill the water tanks. We were then asked to propel our 5-coach train to the North End No 2 siding where it would remain until the next morning. The line from the platforms to the North Sidings is on a down grade so, after a small push to start the train, it was a case of controlling the speed of the movement with the brake until our shunter, at the far end of the train, signalled us to stop.

When 'Cumbria' arrived back, Adrian appeared and, having made arrangements with the signalman and I'd collected the Single Line Staff, he took us on a test run part way down the line and back light engine. We agreed that, with 'Cumbria' still in steam, it might be prudent to dispose of 5524 and use 'Cumbria' on the last train, the 'Santa Evening Train Special'. Leon in the Signal Box loosed us onto platform 1, so that we could use the Ground Frame to reach the shed. Unfortunately, the train in platform 1 had stopped a little short and, even closed-up to the coaches, we were not clear of the Ground Frame points. 'Cumbria' was no longer attached to the stock so it fell to us to find a shunter, couple-up, create vacuum and, under the control of our shunter, ease the train forward sufficiently to clear the points. With the Guard's handbrake securing the coaches, we uncoupled and moved the engine to the shed. Having made sure that there was plenty of water in the boiler of 5524, Tracy, Harry and I made our way to the station. Carl had watered 'Cumbria' and coupled it to the stock in platform 1. Once I'd relieved him on 'Cumbria', Carl then finished disposal of 5524 for us.

'Cumbria' on the 'Santa Evening Train Special'

In the section 'Notes on driving Cumbria' in the 2016 post Sunday at Shackerstone there's some information about 'Cum

Battlefield Line: Christmas illuminations for the 'Santa' trains 2017.

Our last run was timed to start at 6.15 p.m. and, of course, it was dark (we were just 12 days before the Winter Solstice). The passengers managed to arrive on time and we were only a little late departing. Driving on a traditional British steam railway at night is quite different from driving on roads. There's no powerful headlight and sound cues become more important to the driver to identify his position. Increased light pollution today means that the sky is rarely completely black - nearer tall objects can appear as a dark silhouette against a dark purple horizon, provided that the driver can retain his night vision when, each time the fireman opens the firedoors to feed coal to the fire, there's an intense white or yellow glare from the firehole. There's a little about driving at night on the Battlefield Line in the section titled 'The Specials' in the post 'Operation: Market Bosworth' - On the Footplate. There's a little more in general about railways at night in the post here.

Because Santa was making his way through the train greeting all our visitors, our speed was modest and we were asked to stop at Market Bosworth (where there were more Christmas illuminations on the platform). We were soon on our way again to Shenton, where the series of traditional lamp standards along the platform cast a dim but welcome glow. I eased-up the locomotive to make uncoupling easier but failed to persuade the regulator to close properly. After we were 'un-hooked', I couldn't get the reverser into 'full back gear'- it remained 'steam locked' in mid-gear. This is an irritating habit 'Cumbria' (and other engines) sometimes display which I discussed in the section 'Steam Lock' of the 2017 post Bank Holiday with Steam and Diesel. A bit of brute force (and a lot of not-very-ladylike language) eventually released the lever and we ran round without further delay. We were told to return gently as Santa completed his task but without stopping at Market Bosworth. On the Shackerstone side of Market Bosworth, we received the 'tip' that we could resume normal line speed so, complying with the lower limits through Headley's Crossing and the approach to Shackerstone, we were able to finish up with a little 'romp'.

I was careful to stop correctly in platform 1 at Shackerstone to leave room for 5542 to come 'off-shed' the following morning and we uncoupled. Then we were asked to re-position the 'Classic' train from the North Sidings to platform 2, ready for the morning. I was told we'd a shunter and I asked if the "strings had been pulled". 5542 had put the set in the sidings "blowing 25 inches". Since 'Cumbria' "blows 21 inches" it was essential that all the release cords along the train were pulled before I attempted to Create vacuum. On receipt of the 'move away' hand signal, I attempted to move but 'Cumbria' was slipping badly. Well, the train was on a reverse curve, on a wet rail with an adverse gradient and we were making slow progress so, encouraged by voices from the ground, I persevered for a while but when we stopped again I asked for "better and further particulars" of the string-pulling. It appeared that, in the dark, there had been some confusion and either not all the strings had been 'pulled' or the residual vacuum had not been fully discharged. After more delay, we received the 'move away' hand signal again and, this time, we slowly dragged the 5-coach train into position in platform 2. We then lost no time in uncoupling and moving to shed where we levelled the fire and filled the boiler. I completed the paperwork, made the "Well, that didn't go quite as planned" comment to Carl and went home.

Related posts on this website

Shackerstone Santa Specials.
All my Battlefield Line posts.
On the Footplate.
All my MIC posts.

My photograph albums

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Battlefield Line 'Santa' trains 2017.
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