The Grand Farewell - A Grand Day Out
Sunday 17th December 2017
Report by Jonathon Kirby, Performance Manager, Grand Central Rail
In August, myself and two others at Grand Central (GC) started discussing a suitable send-off for the GC HST fleet, which was intended to retire on 31 Dec 2017. A railtour was the obvious answer, and after contacting Kev Adlam work started to try to achieve an attractive and achievable itinerary. After various conversations with contacts across the industry, and a number of meetings around the array of fine hostelries in York poring over track maps, a seed of an idea started to form. Before we knew it a rough route had been formulated and many of the key areas identified and scoped out before we sought approval to formally proceed.
After a nervous wait the good news was received, and planning started in earnest. Version 17 of the route was the one finally bid to NR, incorporating unusual lines - the strangest routing decision being that the best way to reach Bradford from Doncaster in a 'different' way was (obviously) via Stockport! Having received an offer from NR, thanks to the outstanding support from GC train crew, preparations continued as the date approached rather rapidly. The final days leading up to the event saw all sorts of little details thrashed out, to the point where we were fairly comfortable with how the day would play out. However, we were still rather nervous given that this was something new and incredibly complex for GC as a business, with day jobs and service trains to keep running before and during the event!
Before we knew it the date was Sat 16 Dec and the HST set for the tour arrived onto Heaton TMD in the early afternoon. After a fuel top up and a trip through the wash plant 'GC02' was positioned in the shed ready for preparation. Armed with copious amounts of cleaning materials, rags and silver spray paint, work commenced to bring 43423 and 43480 up to top condition, along with the rake of coaches. Several hours of furious spraying and polishing later, the orange stripes on both power cars were gleaming, celebratory silver buffers were complete and the headboard had been test-fitted. With a bit of time to spare, 43480 was also adorned with a '10 Year' celebratory vinyl, to mark the then imminent 10th birthday (on 18 Dec) of Grand Central's operation. Once darkness had descended, supplies were loaded and arrangements made for the set to be stabled in a suitable road for the morning, it was time to wash away the smell of HST and get an early night ahead of the following day's excitement.
06.00 on Sun 17 Dec saw the arrival of assorted GC volunteers at Heaton, greeted by the gleaming silver buffers on 43423 as cars were parked and supplies loaded while we awaited our Driver. A quick call to Tyneside IECC saw a slightly early departure for 5Z41 at 07.34. Despite a few signal checks on the way, the train arrived at Newcastle P4 spot on time, with the remaining GC and BLS volunteers eagerly standing by, along with a remarkably good number of passengers and photographers.
With photos taken and more supplies loaded 1Z41 departed via the King Edward Bridge on time. After a trundle through the urban surrounds of Tyneside there was little time to pick up speed before we were slowing for the 'feather' to run via the Up Pelaw Goods Loop then proceeding towards Boldon, where further stately progress was made through the Up Loop (as at Pelaw given away by its jointed track). The onboard volunteers were busily preparing sales stands and the buffet in Coach 'E' while starting to serve breakfast to the First Class passengers, the majority of whom boarded at Newcastle. From start to finish one thing that stood out was the wonderful friendly atmosphere on the train.
Before we knew it the River Wear was crossed and we ran in to the bidirectional Sunderland Down P3/4 for our second pick-up. At Ryhope Grange Jn the train came to an ominous stand at RG33 Signal. Thankfully, a GSM-R call to the Signaller confirmed that the only issue was an incorrectly signed speed restriction at the entrance to the sidings and, with our Driver aware, the road was cleared to allow progress into Ryhope Grange No1 Siding, to the normal point of HST operations. After a brief (staff) photo stop, we reversed (aided by a Driver at both ends of the train) and proceeded back but onto the Down Sunderland, to reverse again behind RG10 Position Light Signal thus covering the facing then trailing crossovers. We were well ahead of schedule as the first Northern service passed on the 'Up'.
A steady run along the nowadays attractive Durham Coast line, the sea very calm, followed with a pick-up at Hartlepool P2 and a non-stop run was on the cards to York. With none of the usual GC passenger calling points, and routed via the Up Fast at Northallerton, the HST set was soon up to 125mph on the ECML, covering the 30 miles from Northallerton to York in 18mins, prior to our next pick-up there in P3. (Here Stewards had to work hard to convince 'normal' passengers that we were not the train a few minutes later to King's Cross! One asked where we were going - a good question.) We also collected our DRS Route Conductors for some of the unusual moves, turning left towards Selby at Hambleton North Jn and then traversing the now single track Selby Canal Curve in the direction that conveniently covered the facing then trailing crossover before/afterwards to rejoin the ECML at Temple Hirst Jn.
A quick sprint down the ECML and it was time for the next passenger call at Doncaster P4, before proceeding on the 'Down Side' towards Sand Bank Jn to reverse. Drivers and Route Conductors at both ends led to a seamless reversal, traversing the south side of the triangle. Then a glimpse, left, of our next destination and we were reversing again to proceed into Roberts Road Depot from the west.
A pause at the first set of handpoints saw radios exchanged, and a depot staff member join the Guard as Route Conductor, as well as a NR Mobile Operations Manager who accompanied the train for most of the journey. With points secured in advance, the train soon reached the buffer stops in No.7 Road (furthest from the main lines), affording passengers a good view of various GBRf locos on the depot, positioned specially for best visibility. Unfortunately, the elusive Niteq battery shunter wasn't visible, due to working on the wheel lathe with a Mobile Maintenance Train that was undergoing tyre turning.
The HST returned to the departure signal, to run to Sheffield as 1Z42. Having deposited the member of Electro-Motive Diesel's staff, we were away on the Down Hexthorpe Goods line a few minutes early. A clear run was achieved to Nunnery Main Line Jn, then, after a few minutes, in to P1 spot on time.
With just shy of half an hour here, many participants (and staff!) took the opportunity to capture the unusual sight of a GC HST in the station, as well as enjoying the fine surroundings of the Sheffield Tap (sadly not tour staff!). Staff photos complete, all the volunteers worked rapidly to clean the train and top up supplies, for a prompt departure at 12.55 onto the steeply graded 'Old Road' towards Barrow Hill as First Class lunch service progressed. Slightly slippery rails made for a challenging climb, but both power cars performed well and we took the bidirectional Staveley Goods line in the Up direction, stopping at a red signal at the south end of the loop. After a brief conversation between Driver and Route Conductor, a GSM-R call was made to York ROC, Rotherham Workstation, to ask the reason for the delay. It was confirmed that the schedule wasn't entirely clear as to the reversal point, but with the assistance of the Signaller the position light soon cleared and with an 'X' in the route indicator the train proceeded through Barrow Hill South Jn facing crossover to reverse on the Down Barrow Hill.
Now running under the rather appropriate headcode of 1Z43, a trip through the Barrow Hill Goods line (on the Down side) was completed, before retracing our tracks to Nunnery Main Line Jn. After a brief signal check the route was pleasingly set to run though the very rare Sheffield Down Station Siding where we paused again to swap Route Conductors. The DRS lads were able to take a breather, and were relieved by a pair of fine West Coast Railway Company gentlemen who had joined the train during our earlier layover in the 'Steel City'. Soon on the move again, a steady run was undertaken over a rather soggy Hope Valley, with a covering of snow noted as we climbed further into the hills.
Before we knew it the train was through Hazel Grove and crossing the ladder on the approach to Stockport, before rolling to a halt in the Down Main (which one participant had wanted to do for 20 years) - much to the surprise of the Northern Shunters who were enjoying a quiet afternoon in the Mess Room attached to the adjacent carriage sidings! To the surprise of all the train crew, we were soon on the move 21 minutes ahead of schedule, and took the junction at Heaton Norris Jn towards Denton. After a brief conversation between train crew and Signaller it was decided to make the most of the early run and pause at Reddish South for a staff photo and have a chat with the Friends of Reddish South Station - who had been eagerly awaiting our passing. With time still in hand, it seemed only right to also pause at Denton, both stations currently only being served by one passenger train per week (FO). With the Signaller's permission the stop was completed and more photos captured.
From this point it was onward round the outskirts of Manchester, including Brewery Curve before proceeding onto the Calder Valley as darkness proper began to set in - with First Class passengers enjoying their afternoon cream tea and (except for the Stewards) a couple of glasses of Prosecco! Before we knew it we were passing Dryclough Jn and on a portion of railway more used to black and orange trains - although not normally the buffered variety! Having paused briefly outside Halifax for an Up GC train, earlier work by the organisers paid off and we completed the rare bidirectional move through Up P1, then ran into Bradford Interchange - only the fourth visit of a Grand Central HST here!
After bidding farewell to the WCRC Route Conductors and reversing, the train proceeded as 1Z44 via New Pudsey and the Whitehall Curve before passing Stourton and branching left towards Castleford. The excellent results of both raffle (an incredible £1,365.80 for 125 Group who were really delighted) and the silent auction (over £7k achieved!) become apparent. The raffle is a new BLS tour record - one person even bought £120 worth of tickets! A clear run through Milford Jn saw us traverse the curve to Gascoigne Wood Jn, cross into the Down Loop and reverse for the final time in service. The tour took Sherburn Curve to set down (and also pick up a few) in York P5 with a final staff photo before our DRS Route Conductors went off duty to enjoy a well earned pint while we enjoyed more 125mph running.
Approaching Longlands Jn we were on flashing yellow aspects and took the crossover from the Down Fast to the Down Longlands Loop before emerging back onto GC core route at Northallerton East Jn. News reached the traincrew that Eaglescliffe Down Loop could not be traversed due to a points defect, the first 'loss' from the complex itinerary. As we headed for Hartlepool, the BLS team worked tirelessly collecting litter, with the catering crew setting up First Class and arranging stock ready for the next day's service train and various sales stands were dismantled. At Sunderland it was unfortunately not possible to traverse the Up Platform in the Down Direction as planned due to an ongoing sewage leak.
With a few hardy souls left on board, the final 'move' of the day saw the train traverse the Up Pelaw Goods Loop again, but this time in the Down Direction - a signalled move and achieved non-stop! In no time at all before the train was crossing the High Level Bridge back to Newcastle P4, affording the classic view of the River Tyne by night, almost exactly 12 hours after leaving P4. Equipment was rapidly offloaded and the train locked up, with 5Z44 then departing promptly to Heaton, silver buffers once more glinting in the station lights as we bid our train for the day a fond goodbye.
Among the GC and BLS volunteers there was a collective sigh of relief and an awful lot of smiles that the event had gone off seamlessly in support of some excellent causes - at the final count of all funds a wonderful £21,000 was raised for the Railway Benefit Fund and Railway Children (half going to each).
On a personal level, the four months leading up to the event had seen an incredible amount of hard work by many to make the day possible - and at some points we were somewhat concerned that various stumbling blocks might upset the plan entirely! While acting at Project Manager, it would not have been possible to deliver such a fantastic day without all those assisting. People often comment on how fragmented the rail industry has become since privatisation, but this event showed the 'railway family' at its best, coming together successfully to support worthy charities.
The list of people to thank is extremely long, but it is only right to mention David Craigie and James Trebinski at GC, who were instrumental in coming up with a plan and assisting execution, Kev and the BLS team who were outstanding both in the build-up and on the day. Alex Jackson and the rest of the team in NR LNE Operations offered invaluable support and insight in terms of planning and operations.
Also thanks to the rest of the GC team involved in timing and bidding for the service and, importantly, the volunteer train crew who gave up their time on the Sunday before Christmas to operate the train and provide outstanding service to those onboard. We also owe a massive thank you to DRS and WCRC for the provision of Route Conductors for much of the day; EMD/Progress Rail for allowing us to take the first ever passenger train onto Roberts Road. In addition Rail Gourmet, Virgin Trains East Coast, EMT, Northern, GBRf and Harsco gave their support and contributed to the fantastic raffle and auction lots that were on offer during the day. All in all a fantastic experience, and we very much look forward to meeting up with the excellent guys from all the causes supported, to present some sizeable cheques in early 2018!