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08 July 2013
Replica Southern Railway loco Lyd and Ffestiniog Railway Prince entering an idyllic Tan-Y-Bwlch at 14:12 with a Blaenau Ffestiniog - Porthmadog train on 6 July. Picture by Larry Goddard.
It's been another busy weekend on our railways, with lots of contributions for which many thanks. However this issue may be rough around the edges as at 17:55 on 8 July our district suffered an electricity failure which lasted until 22:40, just the time when most of the final editing is usually done. We'll catch up in next week's issue (Electricity NorthWest permitting) - Charlie
Helsby - Hooton 150
The 150th anniversary of the Helsby - Hooton line was celebrated in fine style on 6 July thanks to co-operation between the North Cheshire Rail Users Group and the staff and managers of three different train companies. There really should be more days like this.
Our first report is from George Jones who got up early:
We took 507 001 on the 07:12 Merseyrail arrival into Chester, and joined the weekly summer-only one-way 'Parliamentary' from Chester to Runcorn, which departs at 07:53 on Saturdays only, formed on this occasion by by 150 111, pictured above at Chester before departure...
... and departing empty from Runcorn, a Virgin Trains-operated station as the building colours reveal. Five passengers were on board for the non-stop run to Runcorn. passing early preparations for the event at Helsby. The arrival at Runcorn for 08:14 shows what a fast transit could be made between North Wales and Merseyside using the Halton Curve, even at a the low speed in force on the on the single line.
The 08:22 London Midland service with 350 260 took us on to Lime Street and unusually terminated in platform 6 rather than the usual 8 or 9.
The reason for this was the departure of the 09:42 Helsby special from platform 9 (above) with a large crowd gathered.
Using this working, followed by the Northern special running via Warrington, and the return via Halton, with an onward return leg to Hooton by Merseyrail meant the Mersey estuary was circumnavigated by rail with three crossings of the river by bridges and one by tunnel giving an unusual view of the region, if I dare say so!
Attracted by the event, but being unwilling to rise early, your editor at least got out of his battered computer chair for once, and arrived at Helsby (above) by means of the 10:50 Manchester Piccadilly - Bangor, a train that was diverted from Llandudno from the last timetable change.
Soon afterwards, 175 103 arrived with the 12:00 departure for Manchester. Helsby must be one of the best-kept stations anywhere, enhanced by its Jacobean-style buildings made from the local sandstone, and by the Victorian signal box still very much in use and controlling a number of semaphore signals, albeit with the rather ugly ant-intruder screen around the doorway. Could it possibly be that the staff presence, soon to be swept away from this and many other stations, pays its part in maintaining the appearance of the station?
Soon afterwards, the anniversary special arrived back from Hooton to make its second trip at 12:10, formed of a pair of Northern Rail Class 156 units, 156 423 nearest the camera, and 156 425. The train departed for Hooton from Platform 4 and negotiated the crossover outside the station. Refreshment trolleys were provided on the train, courtesy of Arriva Trains Wales.
We called at the two intermediate stations, Ince and Elton, where the name-board has fallen victim to target shooters, and Stanlow and Thornton, now missing the array of sidings for oil tankers which once filled the scene, followed by Ellesmere Port which is the normal limit of Northern Rail trains. However, our driver being 'conducted' by a Merseyrail driver ...
... we proceeded to call at stations to Hooton where people alighted to photograph the unusual meeting of companies. 507 020 on the left is bound for Chester.
This sign for the drivers of Chester-bound trains dates from the implementation of a 15-minute interval Chester - Liverpool - Chester service, which is only possible by skipping half the stops at the country station of Capenhurst. Was the sign installed before or after the first driver got it wrong?
The scene at Hooton (Tom Bowen).
Back at Helsby, the signal is off for the return to Liverpool via Frodsham. and the 'stationmaster' welcomes alighting passengers. (Picture by Stuart Harvey). I stayed on board the the special, which was to return to Helsby and then traverse the Frodsham Junction - Halton Junction Curve, arriving in Liverpool Lime Street (arr.14:07).
My idea on arriving at Liverpool was to nip down to Liverpool Central (Lime Street Low Level being closed for rebuilding) and catch the 14:22 Merseyrail train to Ellesmere Port. This would give me half an hour to see the sights of Ellesmere Port, before catching one of the few Ellesmere Port - Helsby service trains which leaves at 15:30. I made Liverpool Central in time (despite taking a wrong turning) only to find that the 14:22 was cancelled, next train 14:52; not the first time I have had problems with cancellations on these lines.
I caught the 14:52 and arrived at Ellesmere Port with five minutes to spare, in time to see 142 040 arriving from Helsby to form the 15:34 return.
Just time to photograph the 142 alongside 508 117 waiting for its next run to Liverpool ...
... have a look at John Oates' superb old Bristol L bus which was running a shuttle service in conjunction with the event, and board the 'Pacer' unit which took my and three or four other passengers to Helsby for a connection back to Manchester at 15:56. My last ride on this line was in about 1980, when an old DMU was in use, and I was the only passenger. The guard, divining that I was an enthusiast, offered to sit down and let me 'bell away' the train from the stations; an offer which I declined! The service on this line is something of a nonsense since Hooton - Ellesmere Port was electrified. Four trains each way on a weekday seems unlikely to attract the casual traveller.
Outside Helsby station, and in steam during the afternoon, was R.J. Pearce, a reduced replica of a typical North Wales quarry loco. The headboard had been made for the special train, but had been designed for a Class 150, and was found not to fit the bracket of the 156, although it did travel on the train. All in all an excellent day, and my first ever traverse of the Frodsham - Halton Junction line. Many thanks to everyone involved.
Mark Barber was on hand with his camera to capture the train makings is way down the Frodsham - Halton link.
This view from the rear shows that the train is about emerge from the trees to join the Crewe - Liverpool main line. The one-way nature of workings on this line is not a timetablers-quirk: the cfrossiver at Halton Junction is been removed making a return train almost impossible.
Problem for the Northern Belle
The 'Northern Belle' luxury excursion on 6 July from Birmingham International to Blaenau Ffestiniog suffered locomotive problems, a most unusual event for the DRS company who provide the traction.
It appears to have come to a stand for over an hour, after passing Wem on the Shrewsbury - Crewe line, and lost time steadily to Crewe where it arrived 138 minutes late. Reportedly, overheating was the cause of the problem. Running times were then maintained to an arrival at Llandudno Junction at 13:35, 143 minutes late, where Peter Lloyd took these pictures of 47 841 leading (above) and 47 832 Solway Princess trailing. Pictures from earlier in the day show 47 790 Galloway Princess leading, so 47 841 must have been summoned from DRS Gresty Bridge depot in Crewe to replace it.
After a half-hour wait the train reversed and set of up the gradients of the Conwy Valley where it must have struggled again, as it finally arrived at Blaenau Ffestiniog at 16:32 instead of the timetabled 12:58. 214 minutes late, a bus connection having been arranged at North Llanrwst for passenger wishing to catch the last Ffestiniog Railway service of the day.
The passengers had been promised some leisure time in Blaenau, which was somewhat curtailed, as the return train left as planned 18:55, experiencing no further problems and arriving back at Birmingham International at 23:28. Above, 47 841 bursts out of the bushes at Glan Conwy on the return journey (Larry Davies).
Looking the other way at Glan Conwy with 'tail-end Charlie' 47 832 (Larry Davies).
Under the watchful eye of the Bodysgallen obelisk the train slows to rejoin the main line at Llandudno Junction (Larry Davies).
More on West Coast Main Line 56s - by Dale Howcroft
As a regular reader the your North Wales Coast website I have been following with interest the class 56 workings to and from Carlisle, as I am from Carlisle myself, and I feel I can shed a little light on the history of class 56 workings on the northern end of the West Coast Main Line.
The first regular booked class 56 workings on the northern WCML were in 1993 when the twice weekly Lackenby to Hardendale and return workings went over to class 56 haulage. The train ran twice a week (Mondays and Wednesdays) and I have attached a picture (above) of 56 034 Castell Ogwr / Ogmore Castle at Hardendale Quarry on the first ever booked class 56 working on the service. I was fortunate to be the Guard (Trainman) on the train that day and I wrote an article for the Class 56 group magazine on the workings. The Lackenby to Hardendale service was interesting in that Carlisle drivers at that time were not trained on class 56s, so the Tyne Yard driver who had brought the train across from Newcastle had to stay on as a "traction conductor" to and from Hardendale.
Later on in 1993 Carlisle drivers were trained on class 56 and the type did for quite a few years become relatively common on the northern part of the WCML. Apart from the aforementioned Hardendale to Lackenby services and the Hardendale to Margam services mentioned by Simon Pilkington in the last issue (which incidentally class 56's took over from class 37/9s) perhaps the most notable workings were the Deanside to Wisbech 'petliner' service conveying dogfood for Spillers. These services were solidly worked by class 56's and unusually the southbound train for a while had a loco change at Wigan Springs Branch. I travelled on the train once, and again wrote an article for the class 56 group. There were other class 56 workings as well, for instance a weekly Dalry Roche to Arpley was a class 56 turn, the twice weekly Stanlow to Dalston oil tanks were also booked for a class 56, the class would also sporadically turn up on Anglo-Scottish coal workings and some of the 'Enterprise' services initiated by Transrail and carried on by EWS. 56s also saw some use on ballast trains.
By the late 90s with class 66s coming on stream the 56's were rapidly falling out of favour with EWS. I passed out as a driver at Carlisle in 1998 and was trained on 56s, however we were already beginning to see a significant reduction in class 56 workings, the last mainstay probably being the Carlisle to Workington Docks daily trip working. Then of course when EWS withdrew its last 56s there were no regular class 56 workings on the northern WCML for a good few years, until the Colas timber trains.
Class 56 pictorial
On the subject of the 56-hauled timber trains, here are some pictures of them. Above, in Ian Pilkington's picture from 5 July, 56 087 and 56 105 pass Balshaw Lane Junction on the West Coast Main Line south of Leyland en route for Chirk. New trackwork can be seen in the distance in readiness for a nine-day possession commencing on Saturday 13 July, during which Balshaw Lane and three other junctions are to be upgraded to 75 mph and the line closed between Euxton and Winwick Junctions. It appears that 6J37 will not run during this period as no paths for it are shown on the diversionary route via Chorley and Manchester.
Mark Barber's picture above shows the same train near Runcorn East on the Warrington - Chester line ...
... and Andrew Vinten photographed it at Rossett on the single-track Saltney Junction - Wrexham section.
New Cambrian book
Using the 'Blurb' self-publishing system, Cambrian lines chronicler Richard W. Jones has produced a 70-page colour book which he describes as 'A photographic record of the steam and diesel locos and DMUs which visited the Cambrian between March 2005 and January 2011.' To preview the book and purchase a copy (£26.99) visit the Blurb website.
A second volume will shortly be available, which will deal solely with the activities of the 'yellow perils' - Network Rail Class 97/3 locos which since the change to the ERTMS signalling system are the only locomotives permitted to haul to haul charter and engineers' trains west of Sutton Bridge Junction, Shrewsbury. Sadly, the summer steam trains which ran for some years until 2010 on the Cambrian Coast line show no sign of making a re-appearance; talk of devising a way in which ERTMS could function with a steam loco seems to have petered out completely.
Ellesmere Port problems - pictures by Mark Barber
Due to cable problems between Ellesmere Port and Hooton on Wednesday 3 July, there was major disruption to freight services. Above, 66 050 passing Ellesmere Port at 11:49, working Ellesmere Port to Warrington Arpley empty sand train.
GB Railfreight 66 739 passing Ellesmere Port at 11:55, working Ironbridge to Ellesmere Port empty biomass wagons. This train was held in Ellesmere Port Goods Loop until the sand train departed.
70 010 at 13:45 with an empty coal train from Garston Yard. This train had waited at Helsby for a few hours until the biomass train left the loop. and then had to wait in the loop until the biomass had done its shunting at Ellesmere Port docks.
Royal Scotsman in Wales