The Branch Line Society


North Midlands Tracker
Saturday 27th February 2016

Report by Mick Horton

Your reporter joined the railtour at Stoke-on-Trent, Class '156' 156413, and formed the impression from the smiling faces that the 2¼-mile Up Goods Line from Grange Jn to Stoke North Jn had been traversed, and this was confirmed by the stewards. Shortly after departure, the tour entered Caverswall Up Goods Loop, thought to be a first for a passenger-carrying train; it had been OOU at the time of previous tours in recent years. The train was booked to run through it non-stop but instead waited (perhaps because we were slightly late) to allow the following service train to overtake with a 20-minute delay.


Caverswall Up Goods Loop taken by EMT train staff (the Down Goods Loop is far left).
Its rarity can be gauged by the degree of rust and general appearance!
[© Geoff Plumb 2016]

The smiling faces had mellowed a little, but Graeme Jolley made an announcement on the public address that some of the arrears could be reduced. This proved to be very accurate as we drifted into P1 at Kettering just five minutes late with loops at Melton Mowbray (78ch) and Oakham Up (1m 30ch) 'in the book' on the way. After traversing the upgraded Manton Jn and taking the 10½-mile signal block section to Corby, progress was noted on redoubling to the south and re-quadrupling Kettering North Jn to Kettering. At Kettering the 'Pumpkin' café staff nearly had apoplexy when they realised 150 potential customers had turned up unexpectedly (for them) - How long are you here for? They did very well in the 10 minutes available!

Loughborough P3 at 12.04 in sunshine where reversal took place for the run to Loughborough South Jn
to reverse again onto the former GCR route towards Nottingham. The Brush works are right.
[© Geoff Plumb 2016]

After the short 'leg stretch' the tour duly departed on time. Further time was gained in the Leicester area, despite a quite complicated series of manoeuvres. This involved the Up & Down Slow at Kilby Bridge Jn and the Leicester Reversible Slow Line past the Loco Holding Sidings. Then at Loughborough South Jn, (111m 22ch from St Pancras via Leicester) rather than the facing crossover, it was into P3 to reverse (and pick up a pilotman) followed by the trailing crossover to reverse again on the Up Slow.

The NR boundary is now 4ch beyond the junction at 92m 45ch (from Manchester London Road via Penistone!) then it is onto the Great Central (Nottingham) Railway. 15 minutes early, participants enjoyed a good view from the embankment of work recently started on the new bridge to join the two preserved sections of the Great Central here again. The former island platform at East Leake was passed on the single line and remarkably intact. Our DMU arrived at Rushcliffe Halt P1, an unusual situation where freight traffic from the national network comes in over a preserved railway. In this case incoming Gypsum from coal fired power station (generally West Burton) gas desulphurisation. There is a 'wheelstop' at (87m 06ch) just north of Hotchley Hill (British Gypsum) run round loop. It was possible to appreciate how well the former main line had been engineered by the original GCR. Our connecting special train to Ruddington was visible approaching in the distance before it arrived in P2. Interestingly there is no habitation here named Rushcliffe (there is a Rushcliffe 'Lodge', Golf Course, and parliamentary constituency though!). Things were going well, and even the weather, although cold, was dry and reasonably pleasant for late February, which made the lengthy crossing via the overbridge between the platforms not too onerous.

12.39 at Rushcliffe Halt looking south, our 'North Midlands Tracker' has arrived in P1 (right). Note that the telegraph pole to its far right
really does lean at that angle! Graeme Jolley, tour organiser (left), directs the FS attaching the headboard to 56097 before our
CCR(N) special departs for Ruddington Fields. The large BLS blue headboard was on the prototype HST power car at the rear.
[© Geoff Plumb 2016]

Ruddington Fields platform 13.38, after the tour of the GCR headshunt and station areas.
[© Geoff Plumb 2016]

The train headed by Class '56' 56097, with the prototype HST 41001 at the rear, left about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. There was a full buffet service which did very well. Due to the early start we obtained the 'best of both worlds', by traversing rare metals at Ruddington Fields, including the loop and end of line on the former GCR extremity (a first doing track like this on the prototype HST!), followed by a 40 minute break to look around the shed and yard etc. As a bonus, the extensive miniature railway was operating; a few railtour patrons took full advantage.

British Rail's 'Ruddington Requiem' railtour, a 9-car DMU on 9 Jun 1984 from Derby, and the final revenue earning train in BR days,
was advertised as the 'last passenger train to Ruddington' (at least it was until ROP 2 Apr 2000!). [All three photos © Ian Mortimer 1984]

[ABOVE LEFT] The then end of the line (looking south towards Loughborough) which was
about ½ mile further north than it is now; ¼ mile beyond Ruddington station.
[ABOVE RIGHT] From the rear DMU cab on departure, looking north towards Nottingham.

[BELOW] Passing Ruddington station (CP 4 Jun 1963). A typical Great Central Railway island platform accessed from a bridge.
Most stations on the London Extension were built like this so that outer fast lines could more easily be added each side later
without having to rebuild them! Note that both sections of the overbridge were built ready to accommodate the four tracks.

Returning to Rushcliffe, 156413 was re-joined and the main line reached on time. After the High Level Goods Lines spotters were kept busy passing Toton depot at a leisurely pace; many locos were identified, quite a few were stored Class 60s, unlikely to turn another wheel under their own power. Time was not a problem, and despite waiting for a path at Codnor Park Jn, the tour was six minutes ahead of schedule. Shortly after the Tracker crossed the main line to traverse the very interesting Blackwell Up & Down Slow Line, (previously booked on other operators' tours but not covered) and later arrived at Barrow Hill Roundhouse Halt bay platform. Our internal train to the Springwell branch headshunt and back was a convenient cross platform change, Peckett 0-6-0ST No2000 at the front, and three diesel shunters at the rear! Namely Class '02' D2853 (train engine), Class '03' (translator) and the new liveried Class '08' 08924, which seemed to have everything on its bodywork, except 08924!

Our Barrow Hill special returns from the end of the Springwell Branch, through Roundhouse Halt P2 (here)
to the end of line beyond (not covered by public services). The DMU is stabled in bay P1 (left).
[© Geoff Plumb 2016]

Time was at a premium at Barrow Hill; a quick run to the end of the headshunt and back, followed by a speedy look around the complex, was all that could be scheduled to avoid later NR engineering work booked on the return route. It was now getting dark, and just about possible to confirm that the Up & Down Staveley Goods was done. Later, the train took the Derby Up Goods, which became the Down Goods as we passed the station on our right (due to passing milepost '0' for the MR line to Bristol). After completing the Uttoxeter Down Goods Loop, there was a disappointing note, as it was not possible to obtain point detection to clear the signal to enter the very rarely used Caverswall Down Goods Loop (even though the signal out of the loop was able to be cleared). The resulting delay made arrival back at Stoke 11 minutes late. It was a very successful and enjoyable day in good conditions; those smiling faces were still apparent on departure!

The BLS special on the headshunt at Barrow Hill Roundhouse Halt P2.
[© Geoff Plumb 2016]

The organiser, some EMT staff and some of the Stewards at Chesterfield P3 in the evening.
[© Geoff Plumb 2016]

View from the rear cab of the DMU at 14.51, departing south from Rushcliffe Halt.
[© Geoff Plumb 2016]

The organiser, Graeme Jolley, adds: The tour was over a year in the planning with a couple of 'false dawns' due to track access problems either on NR or on the private lines. At all times East Midlands Trains (EMT), GCR(N) and Barrow Hill were extremely helpful; however the availability of all the lines on the same day proved very problematical. Eventually it all fell into place and a date was fixed giving the route, which did not clash with any other BLS fixtures and was reasonably clear of other tours. With confidence, the booking form was prepared and issued, in just a few days the tour rapidly filled. With only two weeks or so to go, it was then realised that in the months between initially preparing the tour and checking movement conflicts, and the now subsequently revised date, a freight was booked to Hotchley Hill on the Ruddington branch at the same time as our tour! After firstly turning grey and then white in sheer unadulterated panic, eventually a solution was found that meant the tour could run in its entirety without missing a major section of the track planned for the day. Phew!

The tour train was prepared by a stalwart band from the Fixtures Team at Crewe just after 6am on the Saturday morning. EMT had kindly provided complimentary water and snacks that were distributed to passengers throughout the day. All the EMT crew who worked with us both on board and on the platforms during the day were very professional, extremely courteous and showed a genuine interest in making the tour the success that it was. The EMT Business Development Manager was on board from Uttoxeter to East Midlands Parkway to make sure all was well; it was! The train started and finished more or less on time (even waiting in Crewe for a few moments after booked departure time in the morning for a passenger off the late running overnight Scottish sleeper) and covered the lines as above. The private lines visited received large donations and did not disappoint as both sites provided variety and interest in different ways. The GCR(N) railway has two distinct areas, both of which were well covered - the old main line and the siding area. The immaculately turned out prototype HST was a big plus too. At Barrow Hill the highlight was steam and the incongruous site of a triple header of shunters plus of course the magnificent roundhouse. Overall a very interesting, varied and enjoyable variety of features in a single trip on one day with suitable breaks. There were a couple of 'firsts':

    1. It is believed that a Class 156 unit had not been as far south as Kettering before.
    2. A tour in Mk3 preserved carriages!

See for a time lapse video of the complete tour.

Finally it should be noted that through the very kind generosity of all our 144 passengers and EMT Staff (including those staff on the service train which followed ours into Crewe in the evening) we were able to pass a cheque for £1,000.00 to the Samaritans; East Midlands Trains' nominated charity.

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