Thursday, 10 January 2013

London Underground 150- A celebration with Steam!

It feels like barely a year goes by without some sort of 'Big' anniversary. Many of the older diesel locomotives have recently celebrated their 50th birthdays, and their was of course the GWR 175 celebrations not so long ago in 2010. Some of these celebrations are marked with big events, others less so. It is pleasing therefore that a very worth landmark this year is being celebrated in style- 2013 marks 150 years since the opening of the Metropolitan Railway. 150 years ago on 9th January 1863 the first underground journey in the world was made between Paddington and Farringdon. The London Underground was ultimately born, and things have never quite been the same since. Today the system carries millions of passengers every day and the idea of an underground railway has been duplicated the world over.
To celebrate the occasion London Underground in partnership with the London Transport Museum have organised a number of events across the year. Surely the most spectacular will be the first- Steam is to return to the original underground tunnels of the Met on a passenger train with a locomotive and coaches which would have worked the service 100 years ago!
The event has been some time in the planning- the locomotive 'Met No.1', built in 1898 has been overhauled for the event and an original 4 wheel 1st class coach has also been extensively restored. Four further original Metropolitan coaches- the 'Chesham' set have been moved from the Bluebell Railway to London and work has also been carried out on original electric locomotive No.12 'Sarah Siddons' which will assist the train. Behind the scenes there have been tests and mountains of paperwork to enable this ancient train of wooden-bodied coaches to once again steam under London's streets.
The final test run took place in the early hours of 10th January with the full train consisting of Met No.1, a milk van (in use as a support coach), 5 coaches and 'Sahra Siddons' running from Lillie Bridge depot to Kensington Olympia, from where a full trip was undertaken to Moorgate.
The train departed from Lillie bridge shortly after 1am and continued to Olympia for an 1:30am departure, picking up invited guests at Earls Court en route.
Eager to avoid the expected crowds gathering for photographs on the advertised runs I made a trip out to Kensington Olympia to record the events. The train looks absolutely stunning and it is a credit to all parties that this incredible event is running. All now appears to be on course for the public to witness the return of steam to the London Underground.

Special heritage steam trains will on London's sub surface lines on 13th and 20th January 2013.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

'The Solent Witness'

66007 arrives at a very dull Woking station.
I don't seem to make it on to all that many railtours these days. I guess there are a number of reasons- the cost, early starts, late running, high chances that the train won't actually do what it was advertised to, condition of the rolling stock- to name but a few.
However it was the week between Christmas and New Year and UK Railtours 'Solent Witness' seemed to tick all of the right boxes. It was local, started and finished at reasonable times (definitely a good thing for short winter days), had an interesting itinerary and was being run under the banner of a reliable and reputable operator.
Friday 28th December 2012 dawned wet. No surprises there then. At Woking there was barely enough light to photograph 66007 at the head of the train of Mk1 and Mk2a stock. I met my friends and we settled into our bay of seats for the journey down to the South West.
Cars for export are unloaded from WIA car carriers
at Southampton Eastern docks
The big surprise of the day (for me at least) was that passengers were allowed to disembark the train at our stop at Southampton Eastern Docks. UK Railtours and Associated British Ports should be acclaimed for allowing this as it was a most welcome break from an entire day on the train- quite aside from being an unusual and fascinating location to take some photographs and observe the surroundings!
66201 stands at the platform at Southampton Eastern Docks
66201 lead the railtour back out of the docks before we headed to further short freight branches around the Solent- those to Southampton Western Docks, Fawley and Hamworthy Goods being traversed. Most of these lines are busy with freight traffic and it was fortuitous that a day could be found to travel over all of them. The exception is the line to Hamworthy Goods which has not seen little traffic in recent years. A stone flow which used only a short length of the branch is reported to have now stopped running, while there have been no trains along the whole branch for some time.

The cruise terminal building seen from the train at
Southampton Western Docks

With all our freight track covered for the day it was time to re-trace ourselves back up the South West Main Line to return home. The train was well run, maintained (quite warm at times in fact) and within a couple of minutes of it's booked time for the entire journey. All I could ask of UK Railtours is some advanced notice in future that hot food was to be available to Standard class passengers- had I known about the very tasty curry and chili on offer I would not have made sandwiches the night before!