This whole thing started after I went on a Central Wales line tour in March 2017 with 97301/2 and unfortunately the entire trip was a bit of a fiasco in many ways. The locos misbehaved separately and the train ended up with 97302 on its own and even that was not very well at all, 97301 being left behind in the headshunt at Llandrindod Wells!
I commented at the time to Steve Hale that I could do better and we laughed it off but it did start me thinking about a few things when work was quiet. I mentioned a possible tour in passing to a few Colas Rail contacts and they advised a chat with their Commercial Manager. Now the fact that he lives nearby in Ellesmere, Shropshire, has nothing to do with it (😊)! As he was working at the Coleham Office in Shrewsbury later that week I met with him and a very good discussion resulted. It seemed that a pair of his sought-after Class 37s could be made available and he made a few calls to folks he knew at West Coast Railways so we all swiftly arrived at a potential date of Sat 2 Sep. So, everything was in place and it was a question of if I would take the plunge and go ahead? There was a slight issue of a deposit of around £2,200 to come up with so could I afford to lose that if it all went wrong?
I was given some superb help from Dan Hitchens and Tim Brawn, two good friends of mine and they had all sorts of pointers to assist me and connections as they have a great deal of experience in charity railtours etc. Tim also suggested that the wonderful Kev Adlam of the Branch Line Society would be able to handle bookings and steward so to contact him. I did and the help that Kev himself gave was quite incredible, the man is a real genius and a great person to have on your side. Bookings flew in initially and we covered the cost of running the train and so were now in charity donation territory!
I went on a few more tours for both enjoyment to observe such as 'Retro' to Swansea (37606 expired most of the time), Pathfinder to Penzance (37069 expired before departure and we had two Class 66s). Then the SRPS from Falkirk to Blackpool which finally went very well indeed despite 37219 being a little sluggish and 37025 doing so much work and becoming hot under the collar as a result. Credit to 37516 on the '40' tour that utterly flattened Copy Pit alone on load 10! I did wonder if Class 37s on the main line were maybe just too long in the tooth or was I being too pessimistic?
As some of you know, I lost my 90 year old father in Dec 2015. He was the local bobby in the Rhondda Valley serving in the Glamorgan Constabulary and latterly South Wales Police for almost 30 years until retirement. His police number was '565' so '565 Railtours' were born. I decided to split the tour profits in three equal ways and approached the Wales Air Ambulance, Wales Cancer Research and the Severn Hospice. My father had died of cancer and incredibly the Severn Hospice switchboard ended in '565'.
There is so much that goes into the planning a railtour, it takes a huge amount of time. My company (Pilkington Rail Associates) has train planning software so we started to work out a route with a few hills to give some noise and coupled my love of the North & West / Marches route with a mandatory Welsh destination to decide some parts. The final alterations saw the train starting at Carnforth and the path was bid to NR with me only interfering a little, well OK a good amount as you might expect! Beer was bought from the Shropshire Brewery and a dining option added so we were all good to go.
The special headboard was ordered from Procast and a replica from Newton Replicas to raffle, to earn as much money as possible for the charities and a very fine job they did. I cannot compliment the BLS too much in all they did from stewarding to every small job. The brochure with a front cover photo of my late father in uniform was just another touch that brought a lump to my throat when I saw it.
All too soon it was time to drive to Carnforth and arrived there about 13.00 on the Friday where I met Gareth Williams from WCRC to try the headboard on 37669 - it was fine. Gareth advised me 37668 needed a test run after some work had been done and that we were having a pair of 37s on our train! The coaches were exemplary, a tremendously turned out set! 37668 might need a little prompting and thanks to Ian Morris, technical rider from WCRC for the day; it did the business at some volume!
A little bleary eyed after hardly any sleep the 04.15 alarm was not too welcome for a 05.35 departure. The air was still but the obvious tick over of some 37s was evident and at around 05.25 the train went past on the headshunt with 9 Mk 1 coaches and two 37s as forecast but I didn't look too hard at them. When the train backed in to the station there seemed to something different about the leading loco… We left almost immediately initially via No2 Goods Line, specified to keep a smile on the BLS lads' faces and amid a huge amount of noise we hammered off towards Lancaster. Running a few minutes early, we arrived at Lancaster and I nipped out for a word with the driver, John Baker of WCR and Virgin Trains at Preston who I have known for a while, initially when he worked at Glasgow Eastfield depot.
The 'change' was evident as thanks to a very kind gesture from John, some magnetic shapes in the right livery had been placed on the front loco now 37565 in memory of my father, a very special and emotional touch meaning so much to me and my brother who, with his wife, boarded at Lancaster.
Due to no train heating, it was a shade fresh initially on the train but as the sun rose it warmed up. The the entire day was blessed with brightness and often warm sunshine, showing all the landscapes at their best from some beautiful misty morning to the beautiful Central Wales line. Another section of rare track, Bamfurlong Up Goods (diveunder), was followed by an early arrival at Crewe where two Colas locos were waiting in the shape of ex-Canton 37254 and the venerable 37175 ex-Landore. They made a great sight and off we went (nay sped!) across the Cheshire plains and beyond to my beloved Marches route. Yes I had asked for these two due to their parentage and even managed to get them in a certain order so that 37175 would lead over the Central Wales, which it must have done in the past. For some it was the first chance to do the re-doubled Saltney Jn to Rossett Jn (and in both directions).
My daughter, her husband and dog (!) were on the platform at Church Stretton and (at my request) a good horn blast was kindly made to let her know the train was coming! At Hereford the rare Down Relief, Centre Road, as requested, was used then on to Newport. Next there was a very poignant and personal tribute I wanted to pay. My late father spent his final few months in a nursing home near Pencoed in South Wales and his room overlooked the railway. As the train passed under the M4 road bridge, again at my request, a long blast on the horn was made, effectively in tribute to why we were all here. At Carmarthen P1, one loco ran-round to top & tail with an on-time departure after the break with all three sides of the triangle included in the tour. This was mainly to keep coach 'A' behind the leading loco. As '565' featured through the day even the reporting numbers I specified were 1Z56 outward and 1Z65 on the return! Rare track on return included, in quick succession: Llandeilo Jn Up Goods Loop then the Up Loop and the Up Genwen loop. Unusual 'top & tail' 37s on the Central Wales were sampled and we reached Llandrindod Wells for a break and to run the rear loco around the train.
Again, leaving bang on time the tour crossed the southbound unit at Knighton which was a little tardy by a few minutes. The onward running was really spirited and noisy and all too soon we had even gone through Shrewsbury and were at Chester. Here we bade farewell to the Colas 37s and the two WCR 37s emerged from the darkness for again a superb run directly to Warrington BQ and Carnforth. The BLS lads kept the train in a clean condition all day and the amount of rubbish collected was massive!
WCR commented on the fact the set was returned in very good condition! I cannot praise the stewards enough for their efforts on a very long day, so professional from window labels to walkie talkies.
The day went like a blur but I do have many memories of smiling faces of contented passengers, many BLS members, who were so valuable in filling the train. So many people want more, and yes, all being well there will be another tour in 2018, but what an act to try and follow! Thanks to many people including: Tim Rogers, Steve Hale, Tim Brawn, Dan Hitchens, Gareth Williams, Kev Adlam, Paul Richardson, Ian Morris, John Baker, Julian Bracchi, Peter Collins, Jimmy Tipping, Steve Beames, Jonathan Edwardes, Craig Nicholson, Nick Collins, Simon Metcalf and Pat Marshall.
Kev informed me that £10,800 was raised, £3,600 for each charity which will make a huge difference to folk who are not having the best time in their lives and will receive a little more comfort. My main memory will be the pounding from the wall of noise known as 37175, tremendous on the Central Wales line. All the locos behaved very well and added to a most enjoyable day.
[BLS note: Many thanks, Simon, for organising this most enjoyable and well supported tour, particularly the sunshine; the food in First Class Dining was superb too!]