The Branch Line Society


Tyne & Tees Tracker
Sunday 15th November 2015

This fourth TPE Charter started and finished at York, rather than Manchester, due to our AGM at the NRM. Schedules for the 15 November 2015 had been late to upload (not least due to trying to keep some of the secret bits secret!), but the advertised 09.15 departure time from P11 held true, with 5Z60 arriving bang on time from the depot at 08.50 for a leisurely loading. The fully booked single Class 185 prepped with window labels, charter literature and goodie bags full of merchandise from the basement of TPE's Ivory Tower departed on time from York with the help of our conductors for the day Jonathan Cherkowski, Dave Lewarne, Rob Denison and Gary Wiseman.


The train used the Leeds Line as far as Colton Junction where we ground to a very premature halt. Drivers Jonny Robertson and Andrew Steele had challenged the route laid out in front of them. Some minutes passed before crossing over on Colton North Ladder as opposed to the South. The first TPE tracker traversing the latter points in September 2013 was a small consolation for those who have been on all four charters. Continuing on the Normanton Lines, 1Z60 returned to the Leeds Lines, then Church Fenton P3 and the reversible single track link to the Up Normanton, no problem.

The tour mileage log, thanks to our member, Jim Sellens.

Now firmly off TPE's usual route the train continued betwixt two gleaming rakes of new Drax biomass wagons and 185151 traversed the Milford Up Passenger Loop. One can't imagine many passenger trains needing to be looped here anymore, but at least it was one less Goods Line Authority to obtain! The tour then continued towards Castleford on a section of track that normally observes no passenger trains in daylight hours. A Track Circuit failure meant progress was slow, allowing an even greater appreciation of the Fairburn Ings RSPB Nature Reserve alongside. Castle ford gates signal box from the tour and May 1976 and when the line was semaphore signalled. We sped up after Castleford, traversing Turners Lane UGL and through Wakefield Kirkgate middle road. After reversing behind a dolly at Wakefield West Jn we arrived at Kirkgate P3, some 23 minutes down already. It was here we picked up our two Sheffield Drivers, Matthew Sheard and Vaughan Wingrove and two Freightliner Route Conductors, G Clarkson and C Walker, before proceeding towards Crofton East Spur. A Healey Mills MOM in full hi-viz was a reassuring sight as we entered the turnback and duly traversed it until a large shrub a few metres off the buffers risked creating more 'dynamic lines' than intended on the TPE livery. Reversal was efficient and we were soon traversing Crofton Depot No4 Road, the first railtour ever here and allowed us to take in the pleasant views of suburban Wakefield. Some liaison occurred between the Bombardier depot staff and TPE crew; this saw us go back to the gates to reverse and through Road No3, with an added wash in the mix; well, it's a very dirty time on the network in leaf fall season I think you will agree! The safe limit was reached where the lines start to rejoin before the headshunt, the track on which was too poor (due to drainage problems) to take the train. Back on the Eastern Spur, the MOM was thanked for his time with a BLS brochure and we were then on our way back to Kirkgate P2, having impressively made up 15 minutes for our furtive timekeepers.

How it used to be: Stalybridge, an east bound service on 21 June 1975 with a rather smart looking Swindon built Class 124 'Trans-Pennine' DMU,
at the then P1 (now P4), looking west towards Manchester. The rusty line is the middle siding; its stop block is behind the cameraman.
[© Ian Mortimer 1975]

At this point, we diverted through Oakenshaw DGL, not on the original itinerary. The Sheffield crews were dropped off on the Up Goole before the DMU reversed again at Wakefield West Jn. Next was the Kirkgate through line then Turners Lane and Milford Down loops, with a morsel of regulation for a top priority Knottingley bound pacer at Castleford. On the approach to York, Kev announced the terrible news that an 'operational incident at York' meant we would have to avoid the station using the Slow Lines from Holgate Jn to Skelton Jn. Members were of course devastated at this. There was some impromptu weaving at Tollerton thanks to our drivers liaising with York Box, and the Slows were then traversed from there to Thirsk. Next was Darlington DPL where 1Z60 rolled through and straight out, making up ten minutes in one go. The train lurched onto the Up Line and back into Darlington Up & Down station loop which was surely one of the rarer pieces of track to be traversed by anything regularly, let alone Class 1s! Even some 'normal' passengers awaiting an Up VTEC seemed mildly interested by this unit trundling along a few metres away; I am sure we didn't delay their train!

The 185 was allowed to open up for the 12miles to Ferryhill South Jn, where we reassuringly checked down to a red, which duly cleared to a green with a 'feather right'. The rails here were noticeably on the brown side; presumably, the Leamside Lines had not seen much use recently. Tyne Box took the opportunity of us being in a loop so, after a short wait and a Mk4 powering down, we crossed back onto the Down Main at Tursdale Jn. At Durham we were sent all the way along the Down Slow and again regulated for Cross Country's 1S39 to overtake. Not to worry, the track was scored and that was the important thing! Approaching Newcastle Kev announced our second Brucey bonus of the day, a shunt onto the Forth Banks branch. No one seemed particularly concerned this would eat up a further 10 minutes of their lunch break, presumably as a result of being well looked after by Nathan Bentham, Laura Price and Harry Harwood on the trolley through the day. Countless other staff helped too.

Right: The youngest participant on the tour, Lucy Lewis taking her own picture at Newcastle. Lucy kindly drew the raffle prizes (if you did not win, you know who to blame!); over £700 was raised from the raffle, a brilliant result.

After a colourful group photo on Newcastle P10 in front of 185151[above © Geoff Plumb 2015]now proudly displaying 'Tyne Tees Tracker' on the destination screen thanks to the handiwork of Rob, 1Z11 was ready to depart at 14.15 paving the way for the second half of the day. Crossing the entire throat of [BLN 1246.2186 -cont.] Newcastle Central, the train went round anti-clockwise to Newcastle Provincial Siding buffer stop. Thanks to LNE Control, the resident thunderbird had mysteriously flown off for an hour. This made the ritual walk along the train even more valuable for some. With our Newcastle drivers, Jerry Brown and Simon Davidson, working in tandem, reversal was swift and we made a complete clockwise circuit, to capture the entirety of the Up Slow Line, and in the 'wrong' direction too! Finally, the onset of bridge induced dizziness was ended when we departed towards Durham at King Edward Bridge South Jn just two minutes down. Durham UPL and the Up Slow Leamside were traversed, but the second disappointment of the day came at Darlington, where the UGL was in use by a Goods Train (fancy that); biomass from Tyne Dock to Drax which has increased dramatically recently. We turned off towards Dinsdale in the fading light.

Teesside Airport station officially had a total of eight passenger entries and exits in 2013/14 (probably all enthusiasts too!). At 15.25 on 15 November, 185 people (and a class 185!) stood on P2 of Britain's least used station 'served' (?) by one train a week each way Sundays only. The Paris terrorist attacks had rocked emotions across the whole of Europe on the Friday and respectfully, on the sound of the train's horn, a minute's silence was observed. The guard completed it with a blow of his whistle. After further pictures, passengers rejoined the unit and we continued towards Middlesbrough.

Eaglescliffe Down loop was taken and at Thornaby the train began to slow once more. We jolted onto the Down Goods, north of Tees Yard as station staff held up a sign on P2 saying 'hello'. Then it was an amazing package lined up by Middlesbrough Signal Box. Crossing over at Newport East Jn, Middlesborough P2 to Guisborough Jn, the DMU reversed and ran back through P2 for the crossover into the West End Dock. Our drivers redefined 'efficiency' by quickly reversing, then via P1 and into the HST siding (yes it has been awhile!). The foliage at the end was akin to a rainforest and a fair few metres were missed for fear that Bear Grylls may have had to come and rescue us. The fun was not over; at Newport East Jn we crossed to appreciate Tees Yard in all its murky industrious glory on Up Goods No2.

Left: The sign confronting our 185 railtour participants, (23 years worth of passengers all in one go!) who duly remained on the platform, at the rather rural Teesside Airport station (for 'Durham Tees Valley International Airport', 15 minutes walk away). It would be interesting to speculate how a passenger might use the bridge without standing on it - the view below shows the nature of the problem. Investment can hardly be justified with eight passengers a year not all of whom would even need to use the bridge! [Both © Patrick Chandler 2015]

Now well and truly dark, the Tyne & Tees Tracker having lived up to its name was some 30 minutes down. Nevertheless, surprises kept coming and at Low Gates LC where one would expect to turn off up the hill to Northallerton station, the train continued straight on via the Up Longlands Loop; at least somebody on the Public Address advised passengers of this. A few weaves were made on the Up to York with some crossovers freshly scratched by those on board. Whilst the weather on the East Side of the Pennines was subdued, this was not the case everywhere on the TPE network with all manner of events kicking off to the West. The 17.40 York to Scarborough train had no unit and our 17.28 booked arrival was a potential solution to this. In order to arrive on time, it was agreed that Strensall would be left for another day. The BLS stewarding team were immense at turning a unit that had been 'well used' for the last eight hours into a gleaming one, ready for ordinary passenger service whilst enjoying York Maintenance Siding (to a Class 150 length short of the buffers) meanwhile; full credit to them. A final reversal at Scarborough Bridge Jn (actually just outside York station!) saw us terminate in York P2 just 8 late, everyone having scratched a lot of track in the mere eight hours the tour operated.

The Tyne & Tees Tracker back in York P2; York Maintenance siding is right; the tour had just traversed this to the far end of 150139.
Happy participants are left on the platform.
[© Simon Mortimer 2015]

Let us not of course forget the total amount this train raised for charity. Katie Mason from The Railway Children charity was there to receive a cheque for £11,915.01, raised through tickets, raffles, the silent auction, takings from the trolley and even sales from a spare BLS 60th Birthday fruit cake (with a Class 185 on of course). Through UK Aid, this was match funded by the government up to £23,830.02 for this brilliant cause.

"Everyone really is a winner on such a day out. My thanks to all of you for the generosity that you continue to show; it really does go above and beyond expectations. I can only hope that in return you feel that FTPE meet, or even exceed, expectations for your Tracker tours. Tim Brawn (partner in crime/dodgy loops), and myself look forward to working with the BLS on another exciting TPE Tracker next year." [Luke Gardner, Diagramming & Schedule Production Manager, FTPE].

For some of our Official Photographer, Geoff Plumb's superb pictures of the day (many from the cab) see