The Branch Line Society


The Cliffe Hopper
Friday 7th October 2016

Initially with my wife working nights I was on childcare duties first thing. Living between Preston and Blackburn meant the 07.17 was required from Preston to Crewe but my wife doesn't normally reach home from nights until 07.30! Anyway lucky man that I am, my good lady arranged for a friend to relieve me of childcare duties at 06.45….giving 30 minutes. Tight sectional running times, but just achieved!

Things only got better from then on as I was fortunate enough to join our railtour ECS (the 04.25 from Carnforth Steamtown to Crewe) waiting in Preston P6…..thus saving me from a fate worse than….. a Pendolino.

Above: Souvenir ticket, designed and printed by Jim Sellens.
After our stewards' briefing (some had come from far and wide specially, including the far south, leaving home in the early hours, and all pay full fare for the privilege) we were rewarded with a spirited Preston departure at 07.20 behind 37668, which performed flawlessly up the West Coast to Crewe. My normal commute is a Class 319 (07.30 Preston to Liverpool); this was a far more enjoyable start to a Friday! A short wait outside Crewe on the Down Fast allowed the National Measurement Train to depart from P12, then we arrived 9 min early with time for a photo of the two locos (33207 on the rear). It was also great to see the time and effort someone had spent programming the Customer Information Screen to show the charter train and loco numbers, hats off to the Virgin staff involved!

Left: Crewe P12 in the morning before departure. [Peter Glass]

The end of line on the Cliffe Vale branch.
[Geoff Plumb]

Left: Cliffe Vale China Clay unloading facility, early morning before the tour.
        [Kev Adlam]

These tours are always a great opportunity to catch up with railway industry colleagues whom I have worked with over the years, particularly as one of the Freight Managers for the London North Western area played a significant part in assisting with the smooth operation on the day. A right time 08.35 departure from Crewe across Crewe South Jn (relatively unusual from the far west P12) then in to the Up & Down Potteries Loop saw me following a well-trodden track from my days at East Midlands Trains, but a far cry from the usual Class 153. The gradient up through Harecastle Tunnel gave 37668 a good work out as we pottered along to Stoke-on-Trent.

The first new track and traction highlight came after the reversal in Stoke P2; 33207 providing the motive power down the much sought after Cliffe Vale branch, only the second tour ever to do the line. It still receives china clay from Cornwall by rail but typically just one train a week now on a Monday, tripped from Bescot.

The loco buffers were compressed on the buffer stops and reached via a different track route from the 'other' tour that had done it (not by accident either). Our slow and steady progress from Stoke North Jn gave much amusement to a group of workers in the adjacent DHL depot, assembled on their break in the car park. Needless to say on our return some 40 minutes later they were still there….clearly enjoying the very rare sight of a Class 33 and passenger train on the branch.

The tour traverses Aldridge crossover. The proposed passenger station with its single platform would be on the left this side of the (A454) bridge in the background. However, the crossover would need to be moved further west closer to Walsall to accommodate the Class 350 EMUS.
[Rich Hickman]

The slower than anticipated run to Stafford via the flyover gave time for bacon butties and brews before taking in the jointed track of the Rickerscote Up Slow (uncommon for a passenger train). The 20 minutes accumulated late running was recovered by Wolverhampton. Running to Darlaston Jn saw my next bit of new track, round to Pleck Jn. After passing through Walsall, I didn't realise we would be proceeding on to the Sutton Park line, another required one for me. Now as I grice track at Baker (not Quail) level, I faced the quandary of how to mark Aldridge trailing Crossover on my map providing much entertainment amongst the party; claiming I was marking it up way too big in Baker! Anyway I still need Aldridge to Park Lane Jn (c'mon Kev) and, frustratingly, I flagged it several times when the XC Nottingham to Birmingham services ran this way in Feb 2014 for the Water Orton block.

South of Pleck Jn our tour was the first train to use the Dudley Reversing Siding since the final coal train on 29 April 2016.
On the right A freight heads north on the Down Walsall line.
[Rich Hickman]

Again the trip to Aldridge and back saw more bemusement from a group of NR staff on vegetation clearance, as we passed them once and then again in the opposite direction a few minutes later. It was nice to see our local 'Tame' (think about it!) Mobile Operations Manager (Rich Hickman) receive warm applause, waves and smiles for making the crossover move happen safely, scoring an exceedingly rare move for all onboard. This location does not exist on TRUST hence the apparent timetabled run to Park Lane Jn and back in the schedule (the giveaway was the one minute shown to do the 8½ miles!).

Rugeley Power Station end of line, looking north, (the West Coast Trent Valley Line is in the distance but not visible).
[Geoff Plumb. See for more of Geoff's railtour pictures.]

Back through Walsall via the Up Fast for the second time it was in to the Up Dudley siding, (thanks to Rich again who proved to be a very mobile MOM reaching there before our tour) as far as a tree protruding from the four foot. Another reversal and back through Walsall again for the Chase Line to Rugeley 'B' Power Station and the 'Hopper' part of the tour. Passing Rugeley at 125mph on the West Coast Main Line does not do the size and scale of the former power station justice. Being able to get much more up close and personal is something I really enjoy on our tours, particularly when you visit such industrial locations. It was also great to see the Society making a donation to the 'Millie Bea's Walking Wish' in recognition for being granted access to the site. The tour proceeded via the inlet road and run-round line to the end of the line (where else!?) actually a good distance south of the WCML.

Looking west from the end of the branch; the loco crew is changing ends.
[Geoff Plumb]

Our train passed the Rugeley Power Station Society of Model Engineers' lengthy 7¼" gauge elevated line, where we had a very enjoyable evening visit on 20 Jul 2016 but is sadly closing down after 31 Mar 2017. Back on the standard gauge, return was via a different route through the Limestone Unloading and Gypsum Loading line, then the Hopper House provided more enjoyment than seeing Kev on his knees, well just about. This was only the second ever tour to do this branch (the first on 6 Jul 1991 was our 'Donnington Farewell' but that stopped short of the unclipped second set of run round points.) The power station closed on 8 Jun 2016 and is being demolished; few on board had thought there would ever be a farewell tour four months after! This was entirely down to Kev Adlam's drive, determination and energy; he made no less than six site visits to sort our tour out, thank you Kev!

Above left: The 'Cliffe Hopper' arrives from Walsall and is about to take the Rugeley Power Station branch (off left).
The trailing crossover to the left of the engine was taken on return after reversing in Rugeley Town station P1.
Above right: On the branch travelling in.
[both Rich Hickman]

After doing the rare trailing crossover at Rugeley Power Station Jn [someone is developing distinct Quailing tendencies; resistance is futile - Ed!] it was time for another run down the West Coast behind 37668 to Stafford Royal Mail Terminal 'P7' - the first passenger train over the new extended Stafford Goods Loop and 18 minutes early. After some sweet talking from our NR Freight Manager an early departure was secured, to then be one of the first Down passenger trains over the new single track reversible Norton Bridge East Chord. This 'unusual direction' gave the new crossovers each end.

The winner of the charity auction for the third nameplate on the tour actually worked at the Power Station.
To the right is an A3 colour flyer designed by Tim Wallis for our railtour charity raffle.

Next a lateral move along Sideway Loop with a final bonus for the day of arriving at Stoke P1 to set down. This was much to the bemusement of the passengers on the platform who were not expecting a train to arrive from the south. In fact some tour participants then changed their minds and stayed on to Crewe do the trailing crossover at Glebe Street Jn on departure! Retracing our tracks and crossing the layout south of Crewe station again found us back in P12 about 20 minutes early around 16.15. This secured me enough time to bid my friends 'adieu', a quick couple of photos and an earlier connection to Liverpool than planned for an evening out. The packed Class 350 London Midland EMU on a Friday afternoon did not quite have the same level of appeal, but gave me time to reflect on another superb and excellently organised BLS tour. Many thanks to everyone concerned. [Railman]

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