The Metro Meanderer
Sunday 25th February 2018
Report by Phil Logie
The iconic 'Stand clear of the doors please!' was, sadly, one message we didn't hear during our railtour of the northern part of the Tyne & Wear Metro system. This message was replaced firstly by the more mundane 'Doors closing' in 2004 and then the hustler alarm sound from 2011 on the 86 refurbished units.
Souvenir tickets by Jim Sellens.
Arriving South Gosforth at 08.17 there was a significant number of people already waiting for our charter, due at 08.49. The arrival of the Metro to South Hylton 15 minutes later swelled the numbers further, bringing those who had parked their cars at Regent Centre. Having been helpfully advised of the order of the carriages, 'A' leading from South Gosforth with 'D' at the rear, participants gathered on the appropriate part of the platform. Shortly our tour train appeared, formed of 4046 & 4060 from the Regent Centre direction before it reversed in Stoneyhurst Road Siding. A number of stewards were observed on board, whose Sunday morning will have begun significantly earlier than many of the participants to ensure everything was in order for the tour. Helpfully several of them were holding carriage letters above their heads, as they couldn't be attached to the windows due to the anti-vandal film applied to the glass. Perhaps this display was also in anticipation of the new track to be scored?
While our train was reversing, another Metro arrived on P1 for St James via the Coast. There were some bemused looks from the passengers on it, no doubt wondering what so many people were waiting for. Once it had left our train arrived from the siding and was soon filled (it was fully booked). With everyone on board we headed off towards Benton to take the facing crossover and reverse in P2.
On our way we passed the perimeter of Gosforth Depot where the three battery locos could be seen in the distance, with one Metro unit in Emirates advertising livery (giving a choice of four possibilities sets). It was later identified as 4040, one of the four un-refurbished units.
Marked up tour map by Martyn Brailsford.
We soon passed Longbenton and Four Lane Ends, the former of which is an all too familiar sight to me, as I use it twice each weekday commuting. This figure however was to be significantly surpassed on our tour, as this was our first of seven visits! However, this was still rather fewer than our 11 visits to South Gosforth stop! Could this be a new Branch Line Society record for the most times we have visited a single station on one tour?
Having quickly reversed at Benton we soon headed back through South Gosforth for our first visit to Stoneyhurst Road Siding, well for most of us, several stewards had been there earlier. After doing the necessary the tour made for Tynemouth. Travelling through stations at speed was unusual when I'm used to stopping at each one. It was probably also confusing for passengers waiting on the platform to see the screens displaying 'This train is not in service', then to see it speeding through full of people.
After Northumberland Park station we passed the site of Backworth station (originally named 'Hotspur' from 1864 to 1865!). This was the first to close on the North Tyneside loop line from 13 Jun 1977 and one which I used to regularly travel from, also occasionally meeting my Dad on his return home from work. Two recollections, firstly steam engines from Eccles Colliery (Backworth's last pit; closed Jun 1980) on the former overbridge half way along the platforms. Secondly, when the original station buildings on the platform for Tynemouth were demolished they were replaced with a bus type shelter, but there was no shelter entrance. The only way in was to climb through the windows, fortunately unglazed then!
Passing through Shiremoor (which replaced Backworth) we passed the facing crossover occasionally used for trains to terminate from St James when engineering work takes place. West Monkseaton station was next, recently announced as one of three to be refurbished as part of the part of the £350M 'Metro All Change' modernisation, along with Monkseaton and Cullercoats. At Monkseaton several businesses operate in the station buildings including a Micro Pub, 'The Left Luggage Rooms'. It is often busy and was visited the night before our tour, purely for research purposes of course. A quirk of the pub is that the gents is behind the former ticket window. [You won't get very far by spending a penny though...] Fortunately the window is covered over, preventing any embarrassment. Leaving the station on the right is the crossover and loop to reverse the Pelaw to Monkseaton peak trains, an ECS move.
At Whitley Bay a craft market was in progress. Years ago this was a popular location, particularly during the 'Glasgow Fortnight' when what, seemed to me as a child, the entire population of Glasgow filled the B&B accommodation, caravan park and town for the last two weeks in July, the Glasgow Fair holiday. Many came by train with a direct service being operated from Glasgow. This continued until the 1980s when more exotic destinations became affordable. I recall once waiting in Glasgow Queen Street for an Edinburgh train when the train departure boards clicked over, surprisingly stopping at Whitley Bay. Sadly, this was an error and it soon changed. There used to be a signal box on the end of the Tynemouth bound platform, only used in the peaks for the additional express trains to the Coast.
After Cullercoats the North Sea appeared on the left of the train before our arrival in Tynemouth P1 to reverse. Here the regular Sunday market at the magnificent station was just beginning.
We returned over the trailing crossover for our first visit to Pelaw sidings to reverse and as we rounded the corner from Longbenton towards South Gosforth, our cheery driver pointed out the derelict factory, formerly the home of Greggs the bakers. The company was founded by John Gregg in 1939; the first shop was in Gosforth in 1951. The factory closed in 2010 and moved to a new site in Longbenton and was home to the Greggs Sausage roll or 'Byker dummy' as it is colloquially known. This name arose from the habit of parents of the area to give one to their bairn (child) to silence them.
Through South Gosforth, our tour continued through Ilford Road and West Jesmond, noting the line ahead to Manors which we would follow later in the tour, before curving right into Jesmond followed by a fast run through Haymarket. After here the trailing crossover to Monument P2 could seen on the right. Using it restricts the number of trains that can be run so it is generally only for times of severe disruption. We passed through the recently refurbished Central Station before emerging on the Queen Elizabeth Bridge with views of the River Tyne (no fog). Gateshead soon followed by Gateshead Stadium, before running alongside the NR lines to Felling and Heworth to Pelaw Reversing Siding No3.
After doing what the siding name suggests, the train headed back to Monkseaton and this time took the facing crossover into the reversing siding/loop. Having changed direction Stoneyhurst Road Siding was used to reverse, then 'go round the bend' to Regent Centre passing Gosforth Depot where Metro units could be observed. These included 4002 one of the prototypes partly out of the shed. We were advised that this was attached to 4001, the other prototype, but this was inside the shed and not visible. After Wansbeck Road we had to stop at the next four stations due to the level crossings. Past Fawdon was the former rail served Rowntrees factory, now owned by Nestlé. Freight trains serving this site were usually Class 31 or Class 37 hauled and had an unfortunate habit of setting off the fire alarms at Regent Centre and Four Lane Ends stations. The trailing crossover just before Kingston Park is occasionally used during engineering work when trains terminate here. The next station, Bank Foot, was where the Metro terminated from 1981-91 with an Airport bus link. I tried to photograph the infrequent freight train which continued from here to the ICI Prestwick site several times but never did so. The tour continued to Callerton Parkway and into Airport P2 pleasing at least one participant.
A Rowntree's freight train with 37126 at Fawdon in 1986
[© Phil Logie 1986]
A Rowntree's freight train with 37126 at Fawdon in 1986.
[© Phil Logie 1986]
A break here allowed use of the facilities but the Sales Officer was kept busy distributing TRACKmaps Book 1 and our rafflers sorted out the prizes (always difficult when tour trains are in two parts that are incommunicado with each other). Airport flight EZ6411 at 13.30 attracted some attention as its destination was Newcastle!. It was also shown on the arrivals screen as due 14.30 (from Newcastle!), an Easyjet Fearless Flyer experience which is operated from time to time for those nervous about flying! [Would there be any 'mileage' in Train operating companies running trains like this too‽]
Refreshed, it was back to Jesmond Jn for probably the most sought after piece of track, the Stock Transfer Line, especially for those who had to walk from New Bridge Street Depot to Manors on a previous tour while the tour did it ECS! We were all asked to remain seated while traversing the very tight curve, then it ran to the end of Stoddart Street Siding 1. After reversal St James P2 was next, pausing in the platform to gain permission to do the run off to the end of the line beyond the station. The bemused look of a passenger on a train in P1 as we headed west out of P2 was quite something.
Returning to P2, a short leg stretch followed [those with long legs didn't need to bother] before continuing to Pelaw Sidings via the coast. This was through Byker and Chillingham Road then next to Heaton Depot. The facing crossover here is often used to turn around late running trains towards St James during disruption to help fill the gaps in service to the Coast. This was also the site of a 'non-invasive' crossover installed for access to some temporary sidings used when the Metro reinvigoration work was taking place in the area. Before Wallsend is a facing crossover used in service for trains from St James to terminate during line closures. During disruption however trains from/to St James usually turnback at Wallsend shunting ECS. Next it was over Howdon viaduct and into Howdon P1 stopping for the crossing to activate. A 'temporary' depot will be built here for when Gosforth depot is rebuilt.
The now staggered platforms at Howdon were originally both on the Percy Main side of the road before the Metro opened and linked by an original North Eastern Railway (NER) footbridge. It is now at Goathland (North Yorkshire Moors Railway). Before Percy Main the Riverside branch (CP 23 Jul 1973) used to join on the right, soon followed by the Blyth & Tyne lines diverging left, prior to the former signal box. There is now little trace of these lines. Percy Main had low platforms in BR days, a challenge when boarding, especially as a child! As my grandmother lived close to the station we would often visit and hide used rail tickets in the structure of the NER footbridge and check next time to see if they were still there, which invariably they were. The footbridge is now at York National Railway Museum, but I must admit I haven't checked to see if any of the tickets are still there.
Approaching North Shields, Hylton Street Permanent Way Depot is on the right where the Metros were transferred to/from road trailers to go to Doncaster for refurbishment. They were moved from Gosforth Depot with the battery locos observed earlier as the yard isn't wired. On return, leaving the yard, they reversed into North Shields bay (was P3, used by St James - North Shields short workings). No longer in passenger use, a staff building now extends almost to the edge of the platform. From here the units crossed to Preston Refuge Siding ('Bagnall's Siding') on the opposite side of the line and reversed for a third time to run to Gosforth Depot. [Well, that explains the strange layout here - PAS.] At Tynemouth the Sunday Market was in full swing, and then it was past the coast via Whitley Bay.
We received some excellent news before Monkseaton that we were to be routed via the loop (where the tour paused). It was then non-stop to the Queen Elizabeth Bridge, pausing to admire the view again - it was still there! At Pelaw, Siding 3 was taken as on our previous visit, but the good news is that we ran back to P2, reversed swiftly then did the Refuge Siding confusing some passengers waiting on the station [not difficult]. It was then back to Regent Centre for the facing crossover from P2 to the reversing siding buffer stops. Then the tour called at P1 to set those down who had parked their cars here. An intending passenger wasn't too amused that it was a 'special' and suggested it wasn't fair that he couldn't board - no doubt he would have been unhappy about being made to leave at South Gosforth too and the £50 fare. Without him we then ran to South Gosforth for the 11th and final time.
An excellent nearly 100 mile tour with new track for all. The fully booked trip with 130 members raised £6,500 (including the raffle etc) for St John Ambulance, Mind and the North Tyneside Steam Railway. Thanks to John Cameron for the negotiations. The ultimate accolade (BELOW) was a very positive review in ASLEF's journal, including a group photo of our 14 stewards, Society details and how to join!
A very positive review in ASLEF's journal
From the centre of Gosforth Depot (which is enormous); the ECS before the tour; the middle unit has 'Manors' as its destination and the far one 'Regent Centre'.
[© Geoff Plumb 2018]
In the other direction.
[© Geoff Plumb 2018]
Preparing the unit for the tour, part of the raffle flyer (71 prizes is not a Society record but did mean that there was a high chance of winning one on this tour). The flyers are compiled by Tim Wallis.
[© Geoff Plumb 2018]
Mark Haggas affixing a Jim Sellens window decal. As well as being a keen steward Mark is also a Society Committee member, updates website fixtures and archives, documents and sends out e-BLN.
[© Geoff Plumb 2018]
Prototype unit 4002 at Gosforth Depot.
[© Geoff Plumb 2018]
Familiar faces at South Gosforth waiting to join the tour. The Airport line goes off to the left and right is the route via Benton to the Coast.
[© Geoff Plumb 2018]
Reversal in Stoneyhurst Road Siding, South Gosforth - taken by authorised T&W staff.
Stoddart Street Siding No4 with a lovely sunny day - taken by authorised T&W staff.
St James P2 overrun buffer stop (Mr Adlam looks pleased) - taken by authorised T&W staff.
The driver's cab.
[© Geoff Plumb 2018]