The Branch Line Society


Northern Tracker
Sunday 6th March 2016

Report by Neil Lewis

With everything packed the night before, including the pre-arranged Mother's day cards and flowers, it was just the (not so) simple matter of waking up the older child, Ruby (age 10), for the car journey across the snowy Pennines for the eagerly awaited Northern Tracker charity railtour. Climbing out of Chesterfield it was obvious that the journey was going to be interesting due to ice on the road. Indeed, on the approach to Baslow, the sight of two cars precariously positioned on the road confirmed how slippery the cross-peak road was.


After a thankfully uneventful journey, we parked at Stockport to board the 08.24 Northern service from bay P3a for the short journey to Manchester Piccadilly. After the customary visit to Greggs just outside the station for tea and bacon butties (food plays a BIG part in a trip with the Lewis family), we made our way over to the lesser used P12. However, due to over running track possession, our train, formed of 142001 and 142004 for the day, was routed into P3. Not a problem for me, as I scored my last bit of track in the station area, the crossover from the Down Fast to Up Fast just after 0m 39ch!

Northern Tracker 09.05 at Manchester Piccadilly P3 on Sun 6 Mar. Did the two on the far right realise they were in the shot?
It is not clear if Jim Sellens (right) is congratulating Mike McCabe (left) on becoming the new BLN Regional Scotland Editor
or if Mike is congratulating Jim on the quality of the tickets he kindly produces for all our fixtures!
[© Geoff Plumb 2016]

With 142001 leading, the tour continued on the Up Fast to Stockport and duly traversed the crossover into bay P3a (again!) for a leg stretch before the move in to the much sought-after carriage sidings. The wellpresented Pacers, with 142004 now leading out of the bay, crossed over for a reversal on the Down Slow on Stockport Viaduct to run into carriage siding No4 road (see three-dimensional picture in e-BLN 1253.559) almost to the end of line. After yet more food for Ruby's never-ending appetite, the Pacers took the Down Fast via the little used crossover at 183m 17ch and across to the Heaton Norris line. I gazed longingly at the Up Goods Loop, which has escaped me on the last couple of tours booked to do this illusive bit of track. After dropping off a member of the 'Friends of Reddish South and Denton Stations' at Reddish South (of one train a week fame, 09.27 FO) and picking up a late arriving passenger, the train reversed at Guide Bridge P1 back on to the Down Main to Ashburys and the Ardwick Branch.

Happy passengers!
  [© Kev Adlam 2016]

It trundled along the Up Ashburys line and really squealing around Brewery Curve, as only Pacers can, the 1980s built DMU crossed over at Thorpes Bridge Jn to take in the No2 Intake line through the carriage-wash at Newton Heath Depot to the very end of the depot headshunt, watched by a number of (bemused?) staff. It was then the No18 South Avoider on the east side, passing the Holding Sidings to parallel the reversible 'Dean Goods' and exit at Thorpes Bridge Jn, taking the Up Passenger Loop and its direct connection to Brewery Curve. The tour then tracked east across Manchester to Stalybridge (P3) via Ashburys and Guide Bridge.

11.20 at Newton Heath Depot, the end of headshunt, taken by a member of train crew.
[© Geoff Plumb 2016]

Ruby acquired a 'Northern Tracker' mug to add to her growing collection of themed 'porcelain', much to her mother's chagrin. While crossing the Pennines, she also took up position in the rear cab of 142004 until Huddersfield P4 (there are some advantages to being 10 years old!). Here there was a stop to pick up the essential catering supplies, particularly hot water to supplement the dwindling flasks. The route from Huddersfield to Wakefield was via the Down Huddersfield, Down Fast and the crossover to reach the Down Lancashire & Yorkshire. However, as we were reminiscing about the derelict Healey Mills Yard, Kev gave us some 'bad news'; that due to a 'signalling problem' we had to take Line 'P' at 'C' Jn (42m 70ch), which passed the remains of the now filled in inspection pits. Thankfully, and almost as if by magic, a Freightliner driver was on board to conduct us along this delightful piece of rare track, sadly now the final through line at this once enormous marshalling yard.

Passing Greenfield in the morning; the special white Pennine ballast is legendary.
[© Russ Clarke 2016]

The tour continued past Horbury Jn via the Down Slow, and Wakefield Kirkgate Through Road, the Down L&Y and the Down Midland progressing nicely towards Leeds Holbeck. Another announcement from Kev! This time, a 'wrong' routing along Stourton Arrival/Departure Line. From here could be seen the very overgrown, but still intact, connection to the Middleton Railway. Soon it was on to the next highlight, Holbeck Depot, taking the line (10 middle) between the Stoneblower and Fuelling lines to reach the final point. After a quick turn-around, the Whitehall Spur was taken, then the crossover at 185m 13ch to reverse on Copley Hill Chord. Our tour then took Line 'E', crossing to Line 'D' just beyond 185m 50ch in to a busy Leeds P11b. The Northern Tracker used the scissors to the Through Road, then the reversible Up Hull Main to the Down Hull Main and veered left at Marsh Lane Jn to the Down Goods Loop. It was then on to Neville Hill Depot via the Departure/Arrival Road, DMU Arrival, No2 Road and actually THROUGH the DMU Fuel Shed. Making our way through the depot (with all four EMT Gronks - that is Class 08s to some - on shed) via both carriage-washers, the train stopped on 2 CET (Controlled Emission Tank Servicing) Road, where the toilet tanks are emptied. Not by chance, 1 CET road had been used by the PLEG/BLS Class 08 internal charity trips on 13 July 2013.

Line 6 - 1 at Neville Hill T&RSMD at 15.04. The outward trip ran as 2Z97 and returned from here as 2Z98,
booked to depart at 15.25. Photo taken by a member of train crew.
[© Geoff Plumb 2016]

After a bit of debate about which road we took back out of the depot, the Pacers returned west via Departure Siding No6, the Local Line and the Up Hull Main, using the Through Road and the crossover to Leeds P11a for a welcome leg stretch and a break for participants to re-fuel. Having eaten through our supplies (enough for a large family sized picnic), Ruby and I restocked, ready for the return to Piccadilly albeit with plenty more track interest to come and of course the raffle! It's worth pointing out (to anyone who 'never wins') that despite Ruby and my son Archie being official raffle ticket 'drawers' on BLS Tours, I have never won a prize. However, there were some great unique prizes up for grabs and an auction raising a substantial amount for Northern's charity, the Railway Beneft Fund.

17.00 at Bradford Interchange Stabling Siding, alongside the large retaining
wall, the platform lines over to the left. Taken by a member of the train crew.
[© Geoff Plumb 2016]

After the break, it was the Through Road again to Neville Hill Up Sidings taking in the ladder after the Down Goods Loop from the Down Hull Main to Up Hull Goods to the Up Arrival Goods No1, coming to a stand just shy of the points with No2 road. The tour returned to Leeds covering the Up Hull Goods to Marsh Lane Jn, through P12, Line 'D' and on to the Down Bradford. Our Tracker later passed the very rusty looking Hammerton Street Loop (confirmed as OOU by NR), and then veered right on to the Bradford Interchange Stabling Siding, the easternmost line. During our booked stop here, Ruby, made an announcement on the public address. After the break, it was over the first crossover from the siding, then immediately back on to the Up line using the first facing crossover.

Mileage table kindly produced by member Jim Sellens (total 279m 37ch).

After a short run to Halifax, during which we used our time fruitfully, spotting a Fruit Pastilles road tanker at the Nestles factory, which Ruby and I drooled over, imagining giant sized sweets; the tour took the facing crossover in to the Reversing Siding. Unsurprisingly the DMUs reversed and ran on to the Down Main to reverse again at Halifax P2; the trailing crossover returned it to the Up Main. Now in the dark, our Northern Tracker headed back to the bright lights of Manchester taking in the Up Branch, Down L&Y and the Up and Down Bradley Branch. At Huddersfield P1 some participants alighted.

After reversing in the reversing siding at Halifax, the train is about to re-reverse.
[© Geoff Plumb 2016]

As booked, the tour took Marsden Up Passenger Loop, and ran west via Guide Bridge, Ashburys and Ardwick, to Piccadilly P3 where we had started 10 hours previously. There followed, for us, a short trip back to Stockport P1 and the car to the delights of Chesterfield. An excellent and very enjoyable day was had, which raised a fantastic £12,048.85 for RBF. Many thanks, of course, to Northern, Freightliner, NR, and not forgetting Kev and his team!

Back to top