The Branch Line Society


The Marching Crompton Railtour
Monday 27th August 2018

Report by Chris Tennant

Another grey, early, morning on Crewe station, waiting for yet another Railtour and wondering what share of new Track/Haulage/ Scenery/Food etc (delete/add as required) this one will bring. Soon enough the indicator boards show a 06.25 Charter departing from P12. A stream of familiar and new faces gradually form-up on the platform awaiting the arrival of the stock, which soon appears, being propelled into the station by what is hoped are the required locos. Yes, two gleaming, maroon liveried Class 33s (33029 & 33207), a rare site now, at what will be the head-end. They are soon being filmed from many cameras, both still & Cine (Digital for our younger readers).


Crewe P12 at 06.21, Mon 27 Aug, awaiting departure of 'The Marching Crompton'. All pictures by Society photographer Geoff Plumb unless specified.
[© Geoff Plumb 2018]

Mileage table

After some chivvying, the 'must get the master shot' passengers are all on-board and the train pulls out on time - or at least as far as your scribe is concerned, full minutes only! A healthy roar from the front-end augers well and we are soon pulling away to Gresty Lane, and on past Gresty Green Sidings, where the previous Society Class 33 tour ('The Sussex Salopian') waited for loco problems to be sorted, and through the gradually lightening, green, Cheshire countryside. The locos were obviously well in command as we climbed up to the first major summit just north of Whitchurch. The long, mainly downhill run to Wem saw a reduction in noise from the front end but time continued to be gained, so much so that on reaching Harlescott Crossing we were 12 minutes to the good.

Alas the good work was then negated by a wait before entering (Crewe Bank) Up Goods Loop while the train crew had the incorrect route reset for us. This nearly half a mile long recently fully relayed loop has metal sleepers, continuous rails and is well ballasted. Arrival at Shrewsbury P7 was still one minute early. More eager souls joined and we left on time, passing the massive three floor ex-GWR Severn Bridge Junction Signal Box (left) - now the biggest operational manual box in the world.

Route (current Sectional Appendix names) by Paul Stewart with thanks to Martyn Brailsford.

Then it was over the Red Brook (not the River Severn), just after the third side of the triangle trails in left at English Bridge Jn. The name refers to the road bridge where the old A5 crossed the River Severn (Welsh Bridge is the road bridge carrying the old A5 into Wales and is to the west of the town centre).
The locos now faced a long climb up to the summit just beyond Church Stretton, our next passenger pick-up. Unfortunately, the views of the hills that close in, particularly on the west side and especially the Long Mynd, were restricted due to the low cloud as the weather had deteriorated slightly. Much of the roughly seven miles from Wayford Bridge to the Summit is now at 1:100 so the locos were earning their keep. However, we were still four mins early at the station (time to note the incorrect platform numbers in June 2018 TRACKmaps) with a slightly early start, having collected all intending passengers and extra supplies of liquid refreshment. The just over half a mile run to the summit was taken without undue effort. The route is now more or less downhill to the River Wye crossing just south of Hereford.

A successful run through the Craven Arms Down Goods Loop, thanks to the especially arranged attendance of a Mobile Operations Manager, preceded a pickup at the station (platform numbers correct here!). Track work for the new connection to the Central/Heart of Wales Line was noted, for installation from the end of Sep. A slight improvement in the light and the hills receding improved the views; but for much of the trip the prospect was spoilt, at least for the writer, by the fact that many of our railways have become 'green tunnels'. [Devegetation is costly with safety/manpower requirements and can only be done at certain times. It grows back rapidly without fires started by steam locos - Ed.]

Craven Arms Down Goods Loop looking south at the signal box (taken by WCR staff).

A fine collection of some of the Society train stewards and WCR staff are seen at Hereford, Julian Bracchi is the driver. The south departure from P1 which the train will make on restarting is only normally done in passenger service by the 05.26 (SSuX)/05.42 (SO) from Hereford to Barry Island.
[© Geoff Plumb 2018]

On down through Ludlow and its tunnel and then Woofferton where the line from Bewdley through the Wyre Forest once trailed in left and Leominster, with little to see of the former branches to New Radnor/Presteigne and Bromyard/Worcester - the latter is now part of the bypass (A49). A sharp brake at Shelwick Jn, where the Worcester line trails in left, results in a Hereford P1 two-minute late arrival for a different 'break' of nearly 20 minutes so no need to worry. This was another chance to photo the locos, view the fine station with its impressive architecture or exit, some for a quick smoke.

On restarting it was hoped that the buffet facilities might start to produce the much in demand bacon rolls for those 'slumming it' in Standard Class, but coffee was taken in the interim. Once over the River Wye the climb sharpens to around 1:100 up past the site of Red Hill Jn (2m 11ch) where the original double track line from Hereford (Barton) trailed in right. Then downhill to south of Pontrilas before the locos have to start digging deep for the climb up to the summit at Llanvihangel, with more long stretches of around 1:100. A visit to the Society sales stand to collect pre ordered copies of the new Western & Wales TRACKmap - excellent and only £10, with now the whole of Wales and even the new Craven Arms layout. One disappointment, a gap from Old Oak Common to Aynho Jn, and since this is not covered in the current Book 4 [new edition pending], it requires a session with the photocopier!

On down past Abergavenny and the site (right) of the triangular junctions with the long lost Heads of the Valleys Line - No1 in the writer's list of Welsh lines for visiting once the Society's TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension in Space) is working! Another unrecognisable railway scene at Pontypool Road, where the once vast collection of lines, the Goods Lines, yards and industry here and to the south have now disappeared apart from the Panteg Down Goods Loop which was successfully traversed.

After joining the main line from Paddington at Maindee West Jn we crossed a very full flowing River Usk and took the Down Relief Line as far as Gaer Jn before a rather nice - gricing wise - move to the Down Main and back to the Down Relief at Ebbw Jn. Arrival at Cardiff Central P3, to set some passengers down and collect our final batch, was nine minutes early; so time for more loco 'shots'.

A smart, one minute early, departure saw us routed via the Leckwith Loop followed by a visit to the Down Miskin Goods Loop, Tremains Down Passenger Loop, Down Stormy Passenger Loop and the Ogmore Vale Extension before Port Talbot, all required by many. An early arrival at Llandeilo Jn via the Swansea District Lines saw our first disappointment of the day; we were unable to access the Llandeilo Down Goods Loop as it was out of use but not appreciated by our NR timers in Milton Keynes. Oh well, you can't win them all, so on to our stop at Llanelli 8 minutes early.

That's just the ticket … with thanks, as usual, to our ticket ace Jim Sellens (and for the other fixtures as shown).

Here those visiting the recently opened Llanelli & Mynydd Mawr Railway on the former Cynheidre Colliery site left us in a small fleet of road coaches. In true Heinz style here are 57 varieties of photos of the event can you see yourself or anyone you know? The main tour run alongside the Loughor Estuary gave the locos little need to show off their power, being almost flat. It was interesting to note that the tide here was nearly out as compared to that at Newport, showing the vast range that the Bristol Channel/Severn Estuary affords. Carmarthen P2 was reached 13 mins early, an excellent end to the first half of the tour. After photos, many of those remaining made their way into the town crossing the Afon Tywi/River Towy by the old road bridge north of the station or the new footbridge from the station entrance. Over the river a fairly steep ascent was required to the town.

Back again our two locos were repositioned at the head of the train with 33207 leading. A chance to take a few more photos and to note the buffer stops marking the limit of the old line to Aberystwyth (56 miles) with branches to Newcastle Emlyn and Aberaeron. After another gentle run back to Llanelli, arrival was still three minutes early to collect our 'Preserved' batch of passengers. Unfortunately, three quarters of the party suffered from a broken brake problem, so were unable to achieve the haulage but all covered the Cynheidre track including the Welsh 'rarebit'. A slight delay in loading led to a two minute late departure. Llandeilo Jn Up Goods Loop is out of use so we were not signalled that way.

Mileage table

Our train then took us over the main line between the former Duffryn (sic) West Jn to Cockett West Jn which both ceased to be with redoubling in 2013. Next was Swansea Loop West Jn across the single track bidirectional Swansea Avoiding Line to Landore Jn and back via Neath to Court Sart Jn. Here we were scheduled to proceed via the Up Through Siding, past the remains of Briton Ferry Yard, to Briton Ferry East Jn. [The first bit of rare track your Editor did on a HST by Sunday diversion in the 1970s.]

Unfortunately, it was not to be, as apparently the 'Civils' had decided to do some work and traffic was barred. Better luck at Port Talbot though; we went through the Up Relief, extended to Margam East Jn on what used to be the 'Up Goods' (explaining why we didn't need Goods Line Authority). Then it was across to the Up Ogmore Vale Extension, past the remains of Margam Knuckle Yard to Margam Abbey Works East Jn, the Up Branch to Margam Moors Jn and the Up Main. Stormy Up Passenger Loop was safely accomplished as was Pencoed and Miskin. However, from arriving in Pencoed Loop six minutes early, we departed 16 down due to late running services! With regard to earlier comments about vegetation, the starting signal for this loop was partly obscured by overhanging tree growth!

Another deletion from route was Cardiff Central P0 (zero) where we ran into P1 instead due to station staff concerns about train length. The following services are regularly booked to arrive in P0 from the west: ●09.45 (SSuX) ex-Bridgend via Barry (so also crosses the Cardiff Central east end ladder); via the main line: ●11.10 (SSuX) ex-Swansea. ●16.47 (SO) ex-Llanelli and ●19.10 (SO) ex-Swansea. Arrival and departure were both down 16 minutes. Routing was by the Up Main to Ebbw Jn, where we crossed to the Up Relief to Maindee West Jn, before turning off to follow our outward route along the Marches.

Panteg Up Goods Loop was safely traversed but we hurried past the Pontrilas Up Goods Loop as the booked relief signaller had not attended to open the box. More luck with the next scheduled section of grice, the much sought after Hereford Up Relief Line, one of the 'middle' lines, with the station passed twenty minutes early. (The Down equivalent was removed years ago and subsequently reinstated.) The light was starting to fade now, the day never having really 'brightened up', as we made our way steadily climbing north. Through the newer of the two Dinmore Tunnels on an easier graded alignment prior to our set-down stop at Leominster; more time gained here, 21 early arriving and 22 leaving.

So on to Woofferton were we duly entered the Up Goods Loop and here we sat. Having arrived 19 mins early, we finally left on time some 37 mins later. There was concern by NR that we could have caused problems if we'd have left early. Further set downs at Craven Arms (arr two early) and Church Stretton (arr three late - though left on time). A hoped-for on the day bonus of a trip through Sutton Bridge Up Goods Loop was not to be due to the headways but we did run through Shrewsbury Down Main (Through line), previously out of use and partially lifted for a long while for underbridge repairs.

Beyond Crewe Jn things were taken easily, we were a couple of minutes down at Wem and Nantwich. The approach to Crewe was taken gently as we were routed from Gresty Green West via the Through Siding to Gresty Lane Jn and then the Down Salop Goods Loop to P12, where final arrival was on time.

Well, another tour over and for your 'scribbler' a few more obscure 'Quail' bits inked in, some track not travelled for years re-covered and a chance to catch-up with various acquaintances. The double headed Class 33s were a big attraction. So many thanks to all those involved: the Network Rail staff for much co-operation, the train crews including the kitchen staff - I did get my bacon barm and very good it was too - and especially the West Coast guys, your locos do you credit. Also the BLS 'team' (even the comic duo of Guyl'm & Grabbit doing their best to persuade you that you will win a prize in the raffle) and especially our Kev. As a result of the tour over £3,300 was donated to Railway Children (for UK use) with matched government funding worth £6,600 to them, and £500 went to St John Ambulance.

The Llanelli & Mynydd Mawr Railway, on the site of Cynheidre Colliery National Coal Board sidings looking north, the coach is at the platform. Far left behind the buddleias was the BR branch from Llanelli which closed from 23 Mar 1989. The colliery was off picture (right).
[© Geoff Plumb 2018]

After the brake failure, the brakevan and Sentinel are seen at the north end of the line.
[© Geoff Plumb 2018]

A pair of Pauls at Cynheidre; on the left is our previous BLN Wales Regional Editor, Paul Jeffries who had come especially to see us and right is Paul 2.
[© Llanelli & Mynydd Mawr Railway 2018]

Awaiting departure for Crewe from Llanelli P1 on the return part of the tour.
[© Geoff Plumb 2018]

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