The Southeastern Metrolander
Saturday 23rd September 2017
Report by Terry Cotter
Being quite local to me and having many pieces of sought after track, I was very much looking forward to this mainline EMU tour with a new TOC, Southeastern Trains, the first organised by Darren Garnon. If it was as good as his heritage railway tours for our 3-day 2016 AGM, it would be very thorough and it certainly was!
And for the organiser that was an issue. Organising a tour on the 'real railway' seemed a big leap from the relative safety of preservation, but organising one that would 'pass muster' and hold its own in our pleasingly extensive fixture list was going to be tough. For three days your organiser sat opposite to an unknown gentleman in a compartment on a foreign rail tour. Only in the last two hours of the tour did we speak meaningfully, and amazingly in that time the 'Southeastern Metrolander' was conceived.
There were many tour regulars waiting on P6 at Charing Cross, indicating the rarity of the track on offer and, as a nice touch, the indicator even displayed the tour name (hopefully the 'Empty to Depot' part wouldn't be true though!). 465009 duly arrived and was prepared for 2Z20 the 07.30 departure, there being adequate seating room for all aboard as opposed to its normal weekday commuter runs.
Some participants were quickly scratching in new track as we crossed from the Down Fast to Down Slow before reaching Waterloo East. A few also appreciated the new alignment then from Ewer Street Jn and London Bridge P7 as it had been a few years since they had visited the area. Continuing ahead, the tour then used the Down Kent Fast line on the recent new route via Bermondsey diveunder to Parks Bridge Jn where we crossed to the Down Slow. After Hither Green we headed left on to the Down Goods / Arrival line there (the Up Goods was used by service trains in March 2013) and then No4 Washer Road (the quick scramble to shut all windows proving unnecessary as it wasn't operating).
Our tour was the first passenger train on Grove Park Carriage Service Shed Road No12 (to the stop blocks, as at most places on this day), the furthest from the running lines. One participant asked why this tour was regularly accessing lines furthest from the running lines. He was told that this was deliberate and requested as part of the very detailed route negotiations!
The train then moved to the other side, crossing the fast and slow lines before entering the Up Sidings Headshunt to reverse before running into Road No28, again furthest from the running lines but this time only the second passenger train (a Southern Electric Group tour visited in 1993). We returned to the mainline by means of No5 Carriage Washer Line (the instruction to close all windows was certainly needed this time as the unit received a quick wash and brush up en route!). In a now very rare move it then crossed to the Up Slow before Hither Green to run back to New Cross reversing in Platform 'B'.
Now running as '2Z23', the tour returned to Hither Green, crossing to the Down Fast at Courthill Loop Jn South. The sidings visited earlier were noted, before we passed through Grove Park, then crossing back to the Down Slow just after the station. The tour paused briefly in Orpington P4 to pick up a handful of extra passengers before carrying on to another major track target, where the degree of coverage we were to do was still unknown to most. As we passed through Sevenoaks P4, the announcement that there would be more Gusset available was warmly received, before this unusually named line was traversed in full then reversing at the very end of the vacant Down Siding (22m 46ch).
For your organiser this was the 'riskiest' and yet most rewarding moment of the tour. An 8-car unit was booked to be in the Down Siding, which in theory still allowed room (a matter of feet) for our train to clear the points back out onto the Down Main via the intermediate crossover. Failure to clear the points would mean a long deviation via Otford to Chislehurst, for a reversal to Orpington - all at the signaller's whim. We talked many times about omitting the Gusset to eliminate the risk - but your organiser lived for many years in Sevenoaks and this was a hugely sought after piece of track. It was not going to be omitted and in the event the line was clear to the blocks (thank you, Southeastern, Network Rail etc!).
Our EMU now returned through Sevenoaks P3 back to Orpington where the little used crossover giving access to P5 was taken (normal passenger use being confined to the 17.06 Sevenoaks to Charing Cross SSuX) before a short break in P7 (accessed via No.4 Carriage Siding to the temporary buffer stop). On departure, our tour crossed to the Up Fast taking the Up Fast Tonbridge Loop to join the Up Chatham Fast. At Beckenham Junction, the tour headed right to reverse in P2 at New Beckenham before a visit to the Networker Siding here (the Down line when Beckenham Curve was double track) and much longer than expected. The Southeastern Metrolander continued through Lewisham and Denmark Hill before stopping on the Up Cambria Spur. Reversal here allowed rare passenger use of the Cambria Jn trailing crossover to gain the Down Catford Loop, which was taken as far as Bellingham for another reversal (plenty of them on the tour but no setbacks) alongside the fully occupied carriage sidings with another rare trailing crossover bagged. The trip now gained its eighth headcode of the day (but '2Z30' rather than '2Z27') for the run to Victoria, which was via the Up Atlantic crossing to the Chatham Reversible and arriving at P2. 'Royal Scot' was just leaving it with the Belmond British Pullman on a circular tour via Shelford. This was the third of three steam tours from Victoria this day.
After a short lunch break, the tour headed off slowly to Grosvenor Carriage shed; possibly a little too slowly as the EMU became gapped entering the sidings and was unable to move. The situation was quickly and efficiently resolved by using unit 465907 stabled in No7 Road to couple up and then allow us to run along this line rather than the expected No9 Road, the furthest from the mainline [next time, Darren!]. This was still winning track for most, if not all; return to Victoria P5 was just 10 minutes late.
Your organiser used to work close to the Embankment, the busy main London arterial route that the Grosvenor carriage sidings run up to. He never thought we could run up to the Embankment on a train, and we still have not (quite) as 465907 prevented our unit reaching the blocks. If there ever is a second iteration of this tour, then there will be a strong push to give us another crack at that one.
Our tour EMU then set off towards Plumstead for further rare track, starting with a run via the Down Stewarts Lane and then the Down Atlantic lines to Crofton Road Jn. At Plumstead, reversal was in Yard Road No.2 before returning to Charlton to re-reverse and then proceeded to Crayford for yet another reversal. This took the unit to its home depot of Slade Green. The visit here took the train to just short of the carriage washer before taking the line towards the lifting shed (it doesn't, they use jacks!) and then back through the (dry!) washer to the West Headshunt before changing direction to run via No.5 Road to the East Headshunt. As these movements were completed in good time, further bonus track was gained by a visit to No.13 shed road (lucky for most on the train) and back again.
Departure saw the tour head off to Barnehurst to take the trailing crossover there for a further direction change and then it was through Dartford P4 before covering the Down Siding. A further reversal and again in P2 allowed Up Siding No.4 (we hope you are keeping up with all this) to be taken. Returning through P1, it was off to visit Sidcup Reversing Siding for its intended purpose. Next was the little used Lee Spur and then through Grove Park sidings No.38 road, the furthest out electrified line.
Departing on time, our train now headed south via the Reversible Chatham Loop and St Mary Cray crossovers to access the Down Chatham Fast running through Swanley to reverse on the Down Maidstone using the rare trailing crossover by the siding. It had originally been thought that the tour would return to Victoria but, due to engineering work, a run back to Charing Cross was possible. The Up Chatham Loop was traversed towards Chislehurst then the Up Kent Fast and London Bridge P9 before now '2Z48' terminated in P1 at the starting terminus.
All in all a very successful and enjoyable tour and a big thank you to Southeastern, drivers John & Gary, Emily & Ellie, Stuart Clarke for the excellent route planning, the East Kent Railway for the catering facilities and of course Darren and the BLS team for another top class fixture. It had been a very long time since so many participants did so many sections of new track on one railtour of any kind, and a new record is suspected for the most headcodes on a one day tour too (20 - table at start of report)!
The organiser's thanks to everyone mentioned above but especially Stuart Clarke, his silent companion on the foreign railtour. Stuart's understanding of our particular requirements made the tour the great success for participants that it was. Stuart spent many days visiting each depot manager so that every detail of our itinerary was covered. The final word is to acknowledge all who supports the organisation of our fixtures. With the many fixtures the Society is organising, the preparation of brochures, decals, tickets, raffles, publicity, stock lists and maps etc is a substantial and generally anonymous task. Southeastern Coastlander is the target for 2018…via Grosvenor Carriage Shed Road 9 end of line!