The Christmas Brush
Saturday 2nd December 2017
Report by RJD
When first advertised I must admit to having some concerns as to whether to book (312 did book!). Reading departure was less than 10 minutes after the first service train arrived so not a realistic option; it was Hobson's choice - stay overnight in Reading and walk to the station. The ECS arrived from West Coast Railway's Southall depot a few minutes early. I for one appreciated this, as despite massive expansion (or maybe because of it), Reading station really is an inhospitable place on a winter morning. Enough of this time wasting; it's time to get down to action! NB: Many names/layouts have changed since Aug 2010 TRACKmaps!
We left on time at 07.45 from P12 eastbound, a less common move as this platform is mainly used by westbound Thames Valley stopping services; all through platforms at Reading are now bidirectional. The Up Relief line was gained via one of the many segments of Kennet Bridge Jn installed during the station rebuild and expansion. It was now a case of waiting for events to unfold which they did thick and fast. The recently installed track forming the new Maidenhead Loop (P5) from the west was next - it is used by some stopping services to Paddington and on the day of the tour by terminating services from Oxford. Then it was on to non-passenger track proper. The first of the day was the lengthy Slough Goods Loop (19m 36ch to 18m 60ch) which, like many, has permissive working for freight trains, immediately before the station and accessed off the Up Relief. This has been altered in recent times so a 'new' layout as well. Soon after we were signalled into Dawley Up Goods loop (UGL) situated almost entirely beneath the Heathrow Airport Jn complex. In another change the eastern exit stood in the way of the new flyover so the loop has been shortened at the London end to accommodate the Up Airport Relief. For the record, the Up Iver Loop at 15m 12ch is out of use due to the condition of track as was evident. Next on the list was to be Hayes Up Goods Loop except it didn't happen. The reason soon became clear as it was occupied by one of the many stone trains from Somerset which often run six days a week, so an omission which caused some transient disappointment but that soon passed…
This was because at Southall West Jn (9m 70ch) we crossed from the Up Relief to the Down Main then into the yard on the Up Brentford Loop (formerly the Up Brentford Siding) passing Southall station 'P0' (left) then back to the Up Relief via the Southall East Jn crossovers. Hanwell Up Goods Loop was thus omitted but most participants would probably have preferred the route taken given the choice.
After stopping to pick up at Hanwell ('and Elthorne' according to the original Great Western Railway (GWR) running in boards) it was onto the Greenford route via the Loop line between Hanwell Jn and Drayton Green Jn, required by many, before veering right at Greenford South Jn to the former GWR main line from High Wycombe at Greenford East Jn and into Paddington direct (well almost). In time honoured BLS tradition our tour made a brief deviation onto Reception Line 1 off the 'Down/Up Wycombe' then the Carriage Line, the Up Relief and Line 5 to Paddington P11 to pick up and reverse.
We departed on Line 6, which was then about to disappear in its previous form courtesy of Crossrail Christmas engineering works (it did indeed). Making use of the versatile bidirectional signalling here the tour switched to a new, indeed very new, layout at Portobello Jn (1m 33ch) where the previous installations had been demolished to make way for Crossrail. The infrastructure here was pristine, only commissioned a few days before (and refused during planning stages as it was not then in the system!). We were the first ever passenger train to use the new 'Crossrail Depot Line 1' and 'Crossrail Depot Line 2'. At Kensal Green East Jn we went left (2m 11ch) over the diamond crossover to Line 1 again passing the flyover line before joining it (Engine & Carriage Line) at the next diamond and then Reception Line 1 at Old Oak Common East!
Park Royal and Greenford West Jn were next to reverse for the curve to Greenford South Jn, then Drayton Green Jn and Hanwell Jn (so cleverly covering that curve in both directions). The GW main line was followed for a straightforward journey to Reading with a couple of booked 'weaves' thrown in for good measure. In the event there was even more. The stone train at the Tarmac siding at Hayes had shunted clear of the two adjacent loops so it was now possible to traverse the Hayes Up Goods Loop in the rarer Down direction, then through Hayes & Harlington P4 to regain the Down Relief via the crossover within the Heathrow Airport Jn complex (and complex it certainly is now!). During an earlier iteration of this junction, this crossover was used by Heathrow Connect services but in the opposite direction off the Up Airport line. This is shown in the current (Aug 2010) TRACKmaps but overtaken by changes.
The next item of interest was the relatively short Langley Up Loop (15m 61ch - 16m 01ch). No mention of this was in the initial publicity or the timings sheet, so a big 'thank you' to the Didcot signallers for including this. The loop was reached at Langley East Jn facing crossover (15m 48ch) returning to the Down Relief (16m 08ch) before Langley station. Just to make sure everyone was still concentrating! Then it was back to the script with the use of Slough P5 (the Up relief in the Down direction).
Maidenhead Up Relief (P4) and Twyford (P4 also) with attendant crossovers were covered in the Down direction before we entered Kennet Passenger Loop, distinguished by its 25mph restriction and jointed track. Kennet Bridge Jn was used to move from the Down Relief to Down Main and into Reading P8 (Down Main Loop). From here we traversed the bidirectional Down Reading Festival Line (named after the Reading Music Festival held in the fields on the Up side each August Bank Holiday - yes really!) to go beneath the Up and Down Main which pass overhead on the flyover (constructed as part of the £800M rebuild of Reading station and its environs). Before we could continue on to the Down Relief, the 10.00 intermodal working from Southampton Maritime Container Terminal to Daventry (six minutes late) was given priority on to the Down Relief off Reading West curve, but our delay was only two minutes. Once on the move it was yet more crossovers (hope you are keeping a tally - there will be a test later) switching from Down Relief to Down Main at Tilehurst East Jn and back to the Down Relief at Didcot East Jn then via Didcot Parkway P3 to reverse in Milton Siding (MP 54½). Interestingly there was a possession on the main lines from here to Swindon so we were the only train.
On returning from Milton with the out of use (but connected) former Didcot Power Station tracks to the left, it was via Didcot Goods Loop (formerly used by loaded coal trains from Avonmouth to reverse in to/out of Didcot PS) and into Didcot P4. Serious consideration had once been given to building a direct curve into the power station for these trains. Yet more crossovers followed with a switch to the Up Main at Didcot East Jn to promptly return to the Up Relief at Moreton Cutting and an opportunity for 47760 to get a move on but not for long. At Scours Lane Jn, the Up Reading Passenger Loop was taken (a routing in common usage during the rebuilding of Reading in 2014/15 when the Up Relief was severed here). We only used the aforementioned loop from 37m 60ch to 37m 40ch where crossovers took us to the Up Reading West Curve and the Berks & Hants (B&H) to Westbury for more new track.
The first objective on the B&H was the 762m Towney Down Loop followed by a run through the Down Newbury Loop (Newbury Racecourse P3, of course) before a very welcome leg stretch at Newbury itself. The only rare track between here and Westbury was Woodborough Down Goods Loop (78m 73ch) before the intended break at Westbury P1. In the event the doors were not released and, after a 35 minute wait (with plenty of interest to see as usual here), we were off towards Melksham. Once behind the branch signal at Bradford Jn the Christmas Brush reversed again and at Hawkeridge Jn took Hawkeridge Curve to Westbury East Loop Jn, then the West of England line proper (Heywood Road Jn), now 50 minutes late.
Hawkeridge Curve round to the Melksham line had originally been requested but was not in the final timings as the single track line was being used for diversions. However, the reason the tour did end up doing it on the day was to turn the train for the healthier loco to lead.
Woodborough Up Goods Loop and Hungerford Up Passenger Loop followed but the Newbury and Newbury Racecourse P1 moves with the attendant crossovers and Theale Goods Loop (bidirectional) were omitted to make up time. The reason behind this decision became clearer later on and was quite important as the crew also risked going over their permitted hours. Entry into Reading P14 was via the Reading Feeder Relief, a great relief and one of the many newer alignments created during the rebuild. P13, 14 or 15 is needed to access the single track bidirectional Reading Low Level Line. This unelectrified spur passes beneath the Paddington lines (recently electrified at 25kV overhead, but not in passenger use at the time of the tour) to join the third rail 750 volts DC electrified lines to Reading P4-6. We fortunately left at 17.05 just 12 minutes late, ahead of the 17.09 to Waterloo, but were not early at Earley. A fast run enabled passage through Ascot (Down) P2 with two more crossovers done.
At Feltham Jn the tour took the Hounslow Loop with yet more non passenger track in sight. The curves from Kew East Jn to South Acton Jn and from Acton Wells Jn to Neasden Jn then Neasden South Jn were traversed en route to South Ruislip. [This latter spur, the 'Neasden Curve' was regularly declined for tours in the 1980s but was covered by default on 12 Mar 1983 by the 'Class 127 Farewell' as the driver did not know the booked route avoiding it! I offer my apologies for this nostalgic interlude.]
After reversal at South Ruislip (an optional set down) we headed towards Paddington, ostensibly via the 'Down/Up Wycombe' again. The train was barely on the move before it was 'diverted' on to the route from Greenford to Drayton Green Jn and West Ealing via what has become the lesser used and remodelled (single lead) connection onto the relief lines with the opening of the 'Greenford' bay (P5) at that station. There was more to come, with the use of the new, Acton Dive-Under (on a loco-hauled train as well) (5m 20ch - 4m 40ch) off the Up Relief between Ealing Broadway and Acton Mainline. So no need to check the signals to see if your train is going that way now! (It has since TCA anyway.)
There was still a flurry of activity to follow. After leaving the Up Relief at Friars Jn (3m 53ch) to cover Reception Line No1, it was via the Engine & Carriage Line onto Crossrail Depot Line 1 then Line 4 at Ladbroke Grove (1m 68ch) to terminate at Paddington P11. So ended surely one of the best railtours mystery trips ('off route' five times) for unusual track (even by modern BLS standards) in 2017.
Footnote: The 312 participants are very grateful to West Coast Railways, NR and particularly the Didcot Thames Valley signallers both at that Signalling Centre and the posse on the train. It is pleasing to report that £4,400 was split between The Brush Type 4 Fund and Railway Children as a result of the tour raffle etc.