The Branch Line Society


Spa Valley Railway
Thursday 2nd August 2018

Various BLS members were seen heading for the Spa Valley station at Tunbridge Wells West, obviously something worthwhile was on the horizon. Participants were met by a friendly BLS fixtures team face, Gary Pullan, who oversaw their arrival. The Spa Valley Railway managed the trip, so the usual multitude of 'orange' BLS volunteers was not required. Promptly our group was shepherded towards P2 at 12.30 to board the DEMU set (60142 & 60916 - the latter incorrectly carrying 60909) instead of the advertised single DMU coach as ticket sales had been so good.


It was in Shed Road 2 and boarding (of the 29 members and a similar number also booked by the railway) was in stages via a set of steps into various sections of the unit starting with the leading trailer. Then the DEMU drew forward to the station throat for the first of 15 reversals in total, which was to the Run Round Line to attach 73140 before doing the yard Headshunt (previously the running line before being damaged by the Nov 2012 landslip). With the '73' powering, the tour returned to the run-round loop, but not before the stepladder was required to set down some very overheated passengers who had not realised what sort of trip this would be in the heat wave! Next it returned to P2 where two shunters 'Colonel Tomline' (D3489) and Drewry 'Southerham' (2591) were added to the south end (front) of the unit.

Now 30 minutes late, it was off to Groombridge with both shunters appearing to work hard at times judging by the amount of clag. At Groombridge loop both Ashurst spurs were full of stock; some sheeted over, others looking in need of much attention and this was not thought to be a good sign. However, 'Southerham' ran round and stayed on the Tunbridge Wells West side of the loop. Then 'Colonel Tomline' proceeded into the right hand of the two sidings and attached to the stock, mainly the set of coaches that is used regularly. It then dragged everything out into the loop with a very sad looking '9104' right at the end. Things were looking up! Meanwhile the DEMU had taken participants to the end of the Engineer's Siding (which was the Up Tunbridge line in British Rail double track days).

Our train pulled forward, returning to the loop, and then reversed right up to the sleeper across the very end of the siding. One side successfully done, the tour returned to the loop and reversed back to the Engineer's Siding. 'Colonel Tomline' then set back with its consist, uncoupled and returned to the loop. Some were surprised when it ran to the left hand siding and attached to the brake van at the end. Having seen the state of some of the stock in this siding we had thought it could not possibly be moved, but the whole siding was emptied and the contents pulled out to the end of the loop. While this was in progress participants watched the 'top & tailed' service go back and forth between Tunbridge Wells West and Eridge with 33063 and 33201. Then it was back to the loop, only this time to the very end of the left-hand siding, so both sidings were well and truly covered (for the final time).

Leaving both shunters at Groombridge the tour proceeded out of the loop to the normal P2 at Eridge. There was a much needed leg stretch and chance to purchase ice creams and drinks (also much needed!). Back on the unit it was off towards Uckfield, well to the buffer stop at the end of the line. Another bit of track successfully covered. Return through P2 cleared the points to enter bay P3 and all available track at Eridge was covered. There was just time to collect a few passengers for Tunbridge Wells West and it was back to Groombridge loop where a very late running service train was crossed. The two shunters were reattached with 'Southerham' leading and worked to Groombridge station to pick up a few passengers, before returning to Tunbridge Wells West P1 by now 58 mins late at 16.35.

We do wonder where the Spa Valley will store all the stock when they lose the two sidings as there is very little spare space on the railway. The available track on this tour was not great because of this and extra visiting locos for the diesel gala, but by carrying out much shunting the tour covered the most important and needed bits of the Ashurst Spurs completely. An excellent appetizer to their Diesel Gala. Track not done was either occupied or could be achieved on the Class 33 service train. So, all in all, a successful day for many; the usual thanks to the BLS team, the Spa Valley and their volunteers. One of the staff took a small group of members round the shed after the trip into areas not otherwise accessible which was much appreciated. [A composite of three reports received with thanks - Ed.]

The DEMU in Shed Road 2 at Tunbridge Wells West.
[© Gary Pullan 2018]

Shunting stock to clear the right hand Ashurst Spur line.
[© Tom Gilby 2018]

The Engineer's Siding - the Up Tunbridge Line in double track days.
[© Tom Gilby 2018]

At the extremity of the right hand Ashurst spur boundary fence.
[© Gary Pullan 2018]

At Eridge P2, north bay P3 is off left, P1 now used by the Southern Uckfield DMU service is right and far right used to be another platform. Once these were two island platforms serving four routes: Lewes via Uckfield, Polegate via Hailsham, Tunbidge Wells via Groombridge and London via Oxted. Trains were sometimes split or joined here.
[© Gary Pullan 2018]

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