Saturday, 22 March 2014

Visit to MoSI on a wet Saturday

It's been a while since I last worked a rostered turn as fireman at the steam railway at the Museum of Science & Industry (MoSI) as my recent firing turns on the roster have been cancelled though no driver being available.

I decided to go to MoSI today to see how the railway was doing. I was amazed to discover just how short of drivers the railway is. Some have moved away, and some have retired as they are getting a bit long in the tooth. Those of us very experienced firemen who have done a great deal of driving alongside a passed driver are keen to be passed out as drivers ourselves, but since we lost our Railway Officer to a job on The Big Railway some months ago, that process seems to have stalled. I understand that the Museum is about to advertise to fill the post of Railway Officer; presumably the difficult funding situation in the Science Museum Group has prevented this happening sooner.

Click on any picture for a larger image.

Waiting for the bus at Manchester Piccadilly station this morning in the intermittent rain, I took this picture of the station approach. The 18 storey tall white building in the centre is 111 Picadilly. It was built in 1966 across the Rochdale Canal (there's actually a canal basin and a lock in the basement of the building). It used to be called Rodwell Tower, and I started my career in IT there with Burroughs in 1970 after a horrendous false career start in a bank! If you click on the picture to enlarge it the Co-Op CIS building can be seen in the background between the trees. When it was completed in 1962 it was the tallest building in Europe! The left-most of the two buses in the middle of the picture is the Number 3 free bus, which I will use to get from here to within a few hundred metres of MoSI.

When I arrived today I found Peter and David as driver and fireman, and Richard as guard. The loco crew in particular were having a hard time of it in the rain and cold winds on Planet's exposed footplate (the loco doesn't have a cab), and I joined them for a run up the line and a chat.

Before joining the MoSI train crew, I had a look around the Power Hall. The largest engine in there is this massive twin-tandem-compound mill engine, made by Galloways of Manchester.

I took a ride with the crew on Planet's open footplate in the rain. Here, fireman David changes the points at Ordsall Lane ground frame so we can reverse down the Pineapple line. 

Ordsall Lane ground frame is adjacent to the main line railway between Deansgate and Salford Crescent. It is usual, when main line trains pass the MoSI steam train here, to exchange whistle and hooter blasts. Here a Trans Pennine class 185 unit from Manchester Airport to Glasgow Central complies with that tradition.

Peter, our driver, prepares to reverse down the Pineapple line as the 185 goes on its way. This section of  railway has recently been electrified as part of the Northern Hub rail improvement scheme.  

Peter drives us back up the Pineapple line to Ordsall Lane ground frame. Lots of steaminess in the damp atmosphere. 

David once again does the honours with the points so we can reverse back down to Liverpool Road station for the passengers to alight and the next ones to board.  

Meanwhile another Trans Pennine 185 unit passes on its way to Manchester Piccadilly

I went down to the railway cabin for a brew and a chat with Operating Officer Bev. Before leaving, I made a billy of hot tea for the train crew and took it up to them. They were certainly in need of it and most grateful!


Friday, 21 March 2014

First day of spring 'Beer By Train'

Class 323 electric train of Northern Rail at Manchester Piccadilly

We last did this on 3rd November 2011, the famous Leeds to Manchester real ale trail. High time for another go. This was our itinerary:

Outbound to the start of the trail:

Wilmslow depart:          10:17
Man Piccadilly arrive:    10:43
Man Piccadilly depart:   10:57
Leeds arrive:                 11:52

Inbound on the trail: 

The pub to pub train options increase as the day goes on, depending how long you spend in each pub. The highlighted trains (in red) are the ones we actually took. 

Leeds dep.

Dewsbury arr.

Dewsbury dep.

Huddersfield arr.

Huddersfield dep.

Stalybridge arr.

Stalybridge dep.

Piccadilly arr.

Piccadilly dep.
Wilmslow arr.

Scarborough Taps, Leeds

A local Northern Rail class 323 train took us to to Manchester Piccadilly where we caught a Trans Pennine Express to Middlesborough as far as Leeds, our first destination. These trips are nothing if not consistent and the first pub stop of the day was the Scarborough Taps just across the road from the station

John, Malc, Ivan, Peter, me, and Frank in the 'Taps' waiting for lunch. Sid, from North Wales, a 'Beer By Train' virgin like John, Ivan, and Peter, took the picture.

Trans Pennine Express (TPE), which provided our transport today between Manchester and Leeds, and back to Manchester. These quiet, fast, comfortable trains are in danger of going south in 2015 when the TPE franchise expires. Chiltern Trains have approached the train leasing company to take them after that date.

After lunch and a couple of pints of excellent ale we returned to the station for the 13:25 train to Dewsbury. Frank, Ivan and me reached the platform only to note the absence of Malc, Peter, Sid, and John. Our Trans Pennine Express rolled in a couple of minutes early, and left on time, still minus the four missing members.

Those of us who are Beer By Train veterans remember the infamous Ray Bull. On that trip he got another pint in at Dewsbury shortly before our train was due to depart for Huddersfield, so we left him behind. On arriving at Huddersfield, there was Ray on the platform, pint in hand, having caught a later but faster train which had overtaken ours!

The West Riding, Dewsbury

Today, something similar happened. The four miscreants had gone off piste. They had spied an earlier local train and boarded that. They arrived on their 'all stations stopper' ancient scrap-yard-dodger train a few minutes before we rolled in in our comfortable express! They just had time to get pints in and do a 'Ray Bull', greeting us on the platform with raised glasses as we arrived!

At Dewsbury Ivan got religion, and is here being comforted by a nun over the evils of alcohol. It didn't stop him falling asleep on the Stalybridge - Manchester train at the end of the day and waking up in Birchwood!

After imbibing a pint or two at Dewsbury, and rescuing Ivan from itinerant nuns, we proceeded by our next Trans Pennine Express train to Huddersfield where the many railway paintings there, and the railway memorabilia collection was admired as we supped a couple more pints of their excellent selection of real ales.

Head of Steam, Huddersfield

Next move was to Stalybridge, with just time for one pint and a sausage roll there before the final Trans Pennine train of our day took us back to Piccadilly. Where we lost Ivan.

Stalybridge Station Buffet

Frank and I sat together on this leg and saw Ivan board at the far end of our coach. We waved him to come and join us but he sat down where he was. On reaching Piccadilly (our train was running a few minutes late) we had about a minute to make the 18:08 connection to Wilmslow so dashed off the train and up the stairs. Our connection had gone, and by then Peter, Malc, John, and Sid had joined us on the Piccadilly footbridge. Where was Ivan? Frank and I had assumed he was close to the others and would get off the train with them (he was at their end of the coach), but the others hadn't seen him and assumed he was with us. 

We said our goodbyes to Sid who was off to catch a North Wales train home to Colwyn Bay, and sought the next train to Wilmslow, the 18:30 Arriva Trains Wales to Carmarthen. We'd just settled in our seats when my phone rang. It was Ivan, "I'm in Birchwood", he said. "No one woke me up! The next train back to Manchester is the 18:50". I did a quick calculation. He'd be delayed about an hour in total. "Get on that train, then on to Wilmslow, we'll see you in an hour or so in the Bollin Fee".

The Bollin Fee, Wilmslow

The final pint of the day was being enjoyed in the Fee, together with a well priced evening meal and we were expecting Ivan to walk in at any moment when he phoned. He was at Manchester Oxford Road station!

Why was he there? Why wasn't he in the Fee by then? I'll find out when I see him. I hope he got home OK!

Postscript: He did! Not far behind us.


Sunday, 9 March 2014

First really nice day of the year

Brilliant weather today; warm, sunny, little wind. A real taste of summer and so different to what we've endured so far this year. The jet stream has at last moved north and high pressure dominates in place of the succession of Atlantic lows we have suffered for many months.

Ivan couldn't join us on manoeuvres today (funny handshakes or some such in Fleetwood on the distaff side, apparently) so Malc and I took the big bikes out for a change, he on his 650 Suzuki Freewind, me on my 1200 Moto Guzzi Griso. Peak Rail preserved railway at Rowsley, near Matlock, Derbyshire was our goal, and I led on the outward journey through Macclesfield, over the Cat & Fiddle, Harpur Hill, all blighted by slow Sunday drivers attracted out by the superb weather. The delightfully sweeping A5270 across to the A6 from Briarlow Bar was thankfully traffic free so we could enjoy it to the full. The Griso's big V twin engine with its Termignoni exhaust sounds amazing when you 'give it the beans', its howling bark echoing off passing walls; it even crackles and pops on the over-run like a Rolls Royce Merlin! It has oodles of character and is immensely powerful with enormous torque, which makes it a delight to ride; but you do have to be careful where you use all that power. A bit different to the little C90 where the throttle is always either fully open or closed!

If you click on any image below, you'll get an enlarged picture showing more detail:

Malc on the left with his Freewind this morning at his house, my Griso to the right

Lots of Sunday drivers notwithstanding, it was a great day for a ride. Here are the bikes at our destination; Peak Rail, Rowsley South

Industrial Hunslet 0-6-0 steam loco 'Lord Phil' at Rowesley South. This engine was apparently overhauled by Hunslets, but 'not too well' according to a railwayman I was talking too. It was subsequently completely overhauled in the Rowsley workshops and looks very smart.

Another view of the Hunslet

On the rear of the seven coach train is 'Penyghent', a 'Peak' class diesel locomotive. These engines used to be the mainstay of traction on the Midland main line before the Inter City 125s took over. Rowsley South is on the former main line from Manchester Central to London St Pancras referred to a couple of entries back in this blog (click here to go there), so 'Penyghent' is on home territory.

We crossed the tracks to the sheds for a look at the many diesel shunters stabled there, and I got a view of 'Lord Phil' from the other side

Looking north up the Derwent valley, with the 'Peak' on the rear of the train

A closer look at 'Penyghent' as the train leaves for Matlock at the other end of the line

Malc had programmed an interesting route home into his sat nav, a route which thankfully was more traffic free than this morning's; hardly surprising as at least one of these roads in the Gratton area was little more than a stony track with a stream running down it! The route left the A6 at Darley Dale and headed west to Winster, Gratton, and Long Rake past Arbour Low. Crossing the A515 Buxton - Ashbourne road and passing under the former Buxton to Ashbourne railway (now the Tissington Trail) near Parsley Hay just across the ridge from Pilsbury Castle on the Dove, brought us to Crowdicote. Crossing the Dove with lovely views to the north of the Dragon's back hills (Parkhouse and Chrome hills, once part of a coral reef!) we soon passed through Longnor, and on to cross the A53 Buxton - Leek road near The Roaches. From there our route home was the same as two weeks ago - Gradbach, Allgreave, Cleulow Cross, Bosley, and Chelford to the Bird in Hand at Knolls Green for a pint of their excellent beer, sitting outside with many others enjoying the last of the day's sunshine

Bird in Hand, Knolls Green

The 'Bird' was busy as well, also because of the super weather.

Just have to clean the bike now, after those 'lanes' in the Gratton area.


Sunday, 2 March 2014

Churnet Valley Railmotor weekend

Turns in Consall signal box are scarce this season as the railway is running fewer multi-train days. However, I was rostered signalman today for the second day of the railway's Railmotor weekend. The lovely Great Western Railmotor that co-starred with West Country pacific 'Wadebridge' at last weekend's Winter Steam Gala was running up and down the valley, together with its 'modern' equivalent, our resident DMU. The best bit was that both units were running beyond Froghall to Oakamoor. The track south of Froghall is not suitable for heavy steam locomotives but is perfectly OK for lighter vehicles, and a few years ago I rode down to Oakamoor in the DMU but it was rainy day, the unit was full, and the steamed-up windows didn't offer much of a view.

So this morning Howard (Consall station master and signalman) offered to stand in for me in the 'box while I took a ride on the steam Railmotor, which will be leaving the CVR this week.

If you click on any of these pictures, they will expand to show the picture in larger format showing more detail:

View from the cab at the non-powered end of the Railcar, at Consall 

Raining again! But the Railmotor's windows remain clear. Note the driver's hand on the remote regulator, connected to the steam power bogie at the other end of the unit 

The Churnet Valley south of Froghall is undoubtedly even more attractive than further north, with the possible exception of Consall where the valley is at its narrowest and is exquisite (but I accept I may be biased in that judgment).  

The end of the line. Just beyond the coach in the distance is the northern portal of the closed Oakamoor tunnel, beyond which was the delightful station of that name. 

Heading north, the crew were driving from the powered end, so I sat in the driver's seat in the rear cab. Here we are at the Consall station stop, Les in his hi-viz on the crossing and Howard in the box. 

Standing room only! Thankfully for the railway's finances, the Railmotor was proving popular with our passengers. 

 On reaching Leekbrook Junction at the north end of the valley, we reversed south again and I traveled in the 'engine room' next to the power bogie. This comprises a vertical boiler mounted on a 4-wheel bogie with outside cylinders and valve gear.

We stopped at the Cheddleton water tower to take water 

Looking back to Cheddleton station from our water tower stop. The Beyer Peacock saddle tank was giving footplate experience rides for £5.

After my ride up and down the valley, I thanked Howard for standing in for me and resumed my duties as rostered signal man in Consall 'box for the day.

Here are some videos taken on the Railmotor: 

Southbound down the valley:
Click here

Heading back north:
Click here

Coming into Consall:
Click here

Leaving Consall, a wave from Howard!:
Click here

Coming into Cheddleton alongside the Beyer Peacock saddle tank:
Click here

Leekbrook tunnel:
Click here

Heading south again, in the 'engine room'  next to the vertical-boilered steam engine on the power bogie:
Click here
And another similar video here



Saturday, 1 March 2014

A Streak at Crewe, and tilting in an APT....

Nice weather today, so Malc and I headed the little bikes south to Crewe Heritage Centre where they had a Model & Miniature Gala in progress.

 Two red C90s; Malc with his on left, mine on right, at Malc's house this morning ready to leave

Malc and the little bikes at Crewe 

Here's a loco we last met at the East Lancs Railway about a year ago (see here). Gresley K4 'The Great Marquis'.

87035 'Robert Burns' . These fine locos were the mainstay of West Coast Main Line expresses before the introduction of the Pendolinos, hauling or propelling (the loco was usually at the 'country' end of the train) rakes of supremely comfortable Mk3 coaches.

A Streak at Crewe! LNER A4 Pacific 'Bittern' which we last saw in the summer at NRM York in 'The Great Gathering' of all 6 extant A4s. 

 I think A4s look a lot better with their valances fitted over the driving wheels, as 'Bittern' has

In recognition of the 'Capital Streak' high speed runs this year by this locomotive, 'Bittern' carries this laurel leaved plaque, inspired more than a little by the world steam speed record plaque carried by A4 'Mallard', below

 Unique 8P BR Standard Pacific 'Duke of Gloucester' hasn't turned a wheel under power for 18 months while a wrangle over finance to pay for repairs is played out. Her name and number plates have been removed, presumably for security reasons.

Prototype Advance Passenger Train - if sensible finance had been available for development these tilting trains would be providing high speed services on the West Coast Main Line today, instead of  Italian Pendolinos. Take a look at ,this a report on our last visit here, with a rant about how APT was killed by lack of vision.

The APT designers could teach the Italians (and Virgin) a thing or two about train interiors. Compare this airy spacious ambiance to the claustrophobic, airliner-like, letter-box-windowed Pendolino. And these seats are far more comfortable than Virgin's. We enjoyed relaxing in them while the Heritage Centre staff activated the train's tilt mechanism. Nine degrees, apparently, compared to a Pendolino's 8 degrees.

One of several model railways on display 

On the way home we called in at the Victory Hall, Mobberley where a 'miniature beer festival' was in progress; 4 real ales on hand pump, 4 direct from the barrel. Here we are about to leave, having spent a pleasant hour or so chatting to John Oates, chairman of the Mid Cheshire Rail users Association, and owner of a vintage single deck bus. John and others can be seen in the cosy 'smoking shelter' behind the hall.