Why was a group of members assembled at Manchester Airport at 18.00 on a Saturday evening? Were we going to somewhere warm and exotic? Would we need passports or vaccinations? Would we cross any time zones? Erm.... No! It was for a four-hour railtour of Greater Manchester, venturing no further than Warrington and (almost) Stalybridge!
This was the first of our two tours to say farewell to the Class 170 DMUs with Trans-Pennine Express (TPE). The Saturday evening train was formed of 2 x 2-cars going off lease the following Friday (8 July). Departure from P4 was on time. Proceeding via Heald Green to Slade Lane Jn the tour joined the main line from Stockport. Our first highlight was Longsight Down Goods Loop; most participants scored the southern end. Then it was back on to the Down Slow for a short while and into Mayfield Goods Loop. This is mainly used for reversing and stabling services terminating at Piccadilly from the West. It had been hoped to run through Piccadilly P13, covering crossovers at either end, but this could not be fitted into the schedule, as the section from Piccadilly to Castlefield Jn has very intensive use. Therefore, it was through Piccadilly P14, to Oxford Road P1 to pick up the final passengers.
A fast run on the former CLC took the DMUs to Glazebrook and through the Down Passenger Loop. Back onto the main line picking up speed again, the tour was soon in Warrington Central. It cleverly took the facing crossover into P1, and then reversed to No1 Stabling Siding about a carriage length from the buffer stops on rusty track that was once a through goods line. Leaving the siding, the trailing crossover was taken to P2. As usual, 'normal!' passengers on the platforms were a little perplexed to see us shuttling up and down. One witness, a local member who is a Northern conductor, had been in the sidings many times but never that far! This was to be the furthest point west on our journey.
A fast run along the ex-CLC racetrack soon brought us back to Oxford Road and to the end of bay P5 (further than service trains reach and closing soon so a good choice Kev!). It is more convenient for the toilets and buffet and was extra track for most. Many braved the Manchester rain to use the facilities. The next highlight was Trafford Park reversing siding, unsurprisingly for a reversal. This successfully covered, it was back to Oxford Road and another reversal (in P1) via the Deansgate facing crossover.
Setting off again via Castlefield Jn, work on the new Ordsall Lane Chord, which will allow direct running between Piccadilly and Victoria, was viewed. In particular, the landscape had changed with the recent demolition of part of Middlewood viaduct. Passing Ordsall Lane Jn, the tour stopped just short of Eccles. This was not to allow participants to buy cakes! The train had been mis-routed and with the signals reset, there was a delay with 'time-out' locking the signalling for a few minutes. This safety system ensures any train has come to a halt before an alternative (conflicting) route can be set up so that the actual position of the train is known (in case it had overrun). 'Time out' also allows 'thinking time' for the signaller. While this was going on, some Up trains passed. Then the tour proceeded through the facing crossover to reverse in the electrified Eccles Up Goods Loop. The Weaste branch was pleasingly shiny; inward cement traffic from Northfleet had restarted two days earlier. The Turbo Prop Tracker was now running late, so ways of reducing the delay were considered. It ran as booked back through Ordsall Lane Jn to Deal Street, but instead of crossing to the fast line, remained on the realigned slow and ran through Victoria P4. The tour ascended Miles Platting Bank and curved sharply right at the former Miles Platting Jn. All traces of the station here have gone. It was a right turn again at Phillips Park West Jn for the connecting line to Ashburys (noting the impressive new Manchester ROC on the left), to join the former 1,500v DC overhead electrified Woodhead line. At Guide Bridge, once a major railway centre, the tour diverged left towards Stalybridge. But...... did not reach that far. The timings showed a reversal in Stalybridge P1, but the tour map had omitted Stalybridge. Instead there was a reversal on the trailing Avenue crossover (0m 23ch), once part of the former Guide Bridge North Jn, a rare move indeed! Was this to regain time, or something our Fixtures Secretary had up his sleeve?! Whichever, it was much appreciated. This was the furthest east reached and it was now back to Manchester. There was more interesting track to cover at Gorton, once the site of two major railway works where the DMUs diverged over the facing crossover east of the station onto the Down Goods, behind Ashburys Up platform. Next was the reversible 'Arrival & Departures' road to join the Up East line at Ardwick East Jn. This reversible line was taken in the unusual direction to Ardwick Jn. The tour arrived at Piccadilly P4 via the Up Fast, rather than the more direct Up East and appreciated by most on board. After all, which members go anywhere via the direct route?!
Darkness had descended. Some participants left at Piccadilly, but the DMU returned to Airport P4 (to stable the night) via the Up Fast, briefly crossing to the Down East, then the Up & Down Goods to just short of Longsight Staff Halt. From the Styal line the Airport was reached via Longsight South Jn and Slade Lane Jn. Thanks to all who made this very successful tour possible. The vast amount of work and enthusiasm shown by the TPE, NR and our very own indefatigable Kev Adlam are commendable.