The Branch Line Society


Y Triongl Gogledd Cymru
Saturday 22nd April 2017

Report by Simon Mortimer (the truth, the Hole truth, and nothing but the truth)

Modern railtours generally require a start to be made the previous day or by 02.30 at the latest so rising at 05.00 seemed positively decadent as did actually catching trains all the way to the departure station; again outrageous, as this by implication, meant one could get home by train too! Thus began the positively sauntering tour that was the Y Triongl Gogledd Cymru, nothing to do with Googling in Wales but with the different Welsh syntax, translates as The North Wales Triangle.


The name was actually a reference to, and one of the many nick names of, Type 4 member Phil Grint who died last year at the age of 50. [For the record some stewards reported to Carnforth at 02.30 and finished there at 21.45.] Seeing a Cockney Sparrow Silver Jubilee flag liveried Class 47 roll into Stafford transported your reporter's mind back about 30 years, or more, (gulp!) to when a Class 47 would be common, even boring! But all you need to convert anything that was base and banal into that which is noble and uncommon is time. And so, decades on, the sight of a Brush on a rake of Mk1s gliding to a halt definitely stimulated the memory banks and hit the nostalgia button. For some this tour was all about travelling behind a preferably well thrashed 'Duff/s' but for most the currency of a tour's success and value is rare track so we set off for pastures new and perhaps at least in recent decades unknown.

The prelude: During shunting manoeuvres at Carnforth West Coast Railway Company (WCRC) Depot to make up the tour train, it was
discovered that the headlight on the leading end of 47270 'Swift' was not working and so repairs were attempted, unfortunately without
initial success. At 04.30, qualified ground staff are seen from the train in the sidings trying to remove the working headlight from the
rear end of the loco to swap with that on the front. A Bardic lamp was used instead until the wayward headlamp decided to work!
[© Geoff Plumb 2017]

Carnforth P2 before sunrise; 47270 'Swift' leading (the bardic lamp replacing a headlight) and
47580 'County of Essex' at the rear. The tour is about to set sail for Holyhead at 05.40.
[© Geoff Plumb 2017]

One of the two very smart First Class West Coast coaches awaits passengers.
[© Geoff Plumb 2017]

Your correspondent joined at Stafford P3, and the tour traversed the new Down Slow at Norton Bridge, so transformed as to be almost unrecognisable from the familiar flat junction layout of yesteryear. Then it was the Up & Down Loop behind P11 (the middle line between P11 and P12) at Crewe before gaining the Down Chester and heading ultimately for North Wales.

Unusually, during the day the tour passed through Crewe (the organiser's home) four times, each on different non-platform routes! Passing the Electric Depot numerous machines in middle age could be seen dumped and rotting in the open air; considering there are operational electric locos in Switzerland twice their age only emphasises the waste. Soon the wires were behind us and we easily covered the flat Cheshire plain. At Chester itself we loitered (early) outside the station area while West Coast made sure we followed the agreed route before gaining the convoluted route across the lines from Manchester to the Down & Up Goods before traversing the Chester North Jn Down Goods Loop, a pleasing collection of metalwork to gain so quickly. Our reversal point was the Hooton Long Siding via the non-electrified Hooton platform with no number*. There was a song about the 'street with no name' but has a pop song ever been composed to 'the station platform without a number'? This now sadly rusted appendix was part of the former fast lines once carrying GWR Birkenhead to Paddington expresses. This trip had a Unique Selling Point of traversing the left hand loco run-round loop and not the traditional adjacent siding, so for many a bit of ink expenditure there! [For those wondering the Long Siding was used by Stanlow Oil Refinery trains (things of the past) to run-round and reverse.] *There is some evidence it's known as 'Platform 0' and also the 'Excursion Platform'.

Heading south again we veered right around the tight squealing single jointed track Chester North to South curve and then diving onto the Down Slow (Goods Loop) awaited the passing of a Voyager on the Down Fast (four trains were here including ours). The tour emerged to pass Saltney Jn recently reinstated with double track towards, but of course not reaching, Wrexham. The next frisson of excitement was Holywell Down Goods Loop with the former passenger platforms (CP 14 Feb 1966).

The (northwest) end of Hooton Long Siding headshunt reached via the run round side.
The Merseyrail lines are behind the train, the sunshine was typical of the day.
[© WCRC via Kev Adlam 2017]

Slowing, the tour received a clear board for the loop almost nestling below and left of the Main Home and we duly trundled over it previously with connections to other sidings now all rusted solid in the grass. Once the steeply graded Holywell Town branch CP/CA Sep 1954 was reached by reversal. These loops have a terminal prognosis and will be replaced by a new Up side reversible loop at Mostyn with connections from/to the Down Main. This recently laid new track awaits signalling and commissioning.

Entering Holywell Down Goods Loop - note the siding on the left is OOU.
[© Simon Mortimer 2017]

In the morning the tour heading ever west (away from the camera) passing the former Holywell Junction station Down platform on the left, through Holywell Down Goods Loop. The doomed signal box is between the Down Main and Up Main. The elusive Up Loop is further right with an Engineer's siding far right. (A low resolution picture taken by our local member Roly High who comments that it has been many years since he has seen a passenger train at the platform here!).
[© Roly High 2017]

Next up was Rhyl Down Main... except it wasn't.... we had the position 1 feather and trundled through P2 like every other passenger train here. A steward's enquiry revealed the points at the west end had been damaged recently and (with resignalling) are not likely to be repaired.... At Abergele & Pensarn we sampled at speed (blink and you'll miss it) the new ultra wide Bicester North type Down platform which sits over the old platform loop. It has simply been extended out to the Down Main recently, so that's one less thing to worry about. Llandudno Junction might have appeared quite regulation but actually arriving into P4 is relatively unusual, most trains are concentrated on the island platforms and P4 only sees a few trains a day when a coincidence of services forces the DMU from Blaenau Ffestiniog to stay over and precludes the typical looping. But, where was Rodney? No, not the gypsy rover (only four TOCs left to do) driver sat adjacent but the wooden locomotive and coach of that name which had sat on P4 for years... gradually decomposing... (again no parallels with anyone adjacent)... it was gone!

'Rodney' as previously on the platform at Llandudno Junction.
[© Simon Mortimer]

An enquiry revealed it was condemned as a trip hazard and removed... I really do wonder (pause for a moment of incredulity) if anyone EVER did trip over it!!?? Another remarkable coincidence here was the presence of TWO railtours (like buses but reassuringly much more expensive) with a UK Railtour reversing to visit Blaenau Ffestiniog. A remarkable chance for a group of railtour participants to photograph another group of railtour participants as 66149 drew away up towards the junction. One wonders if in 2047 this loco will itself be preserved, hauling a nostalgia rake of Mk3 coaches?

Llandudno P3 at 11.54; note that to left of the train (on the west side of station) the former P4 & 5 are now part of the expanded station car park.
[© Geoff Plumb]

So it was finally the 'Merrymaker' section of the tour as we took the short hop to Llandudno itself and this throbbing Victorian resort with no less than three take away food outlets directly opposite the station, all closed! Obviously the mass catering arm of this jewel of North Wales' tourism (which at least differentiates itself by having a greater ratio of brick built infrastructure over caravans than elsewhere on the glorious Gogledd Cymru Riviera) had not yet built itself up to full seasonal frenzy of activity, (availability). So a wider sortie in search of sustenance was in order. In fact a selection of eateries was available a few streets away and a fish cooked to order with chips was whisked back to the train now approaching departure. Back to 'The Junction' (as the local call it) alongside the gorgeous Conwy estuary glistening in the sunshine with Conwy Castle across the waters it was... a tourist boat from Beaumaris bobbed about no doubt laden with punters photographing our train and yearning to be off their aquabash and back on the steelwork behind the vintage traction.

Critically on return we entered Llandudno Junction P1, not because this is in the slightest bit unusual but because of what it then dictates... we reversed and after gaining the Up Main took the rare trailing crossover to the Down Main which despite having some booked services never sees them!

A great picture. After reversal in Llandudno Junction P1 and heading west over the very rare trailing crossover near mile post 223¾. Top left is Conwy Castle with some Welsh mountains (i.e. over 2,000 ft) behind. Left is the facing access to the disused 'Quay Siding' ahead; off to the left middle was part of the Glan Conwy Freight Depot, including a yard with seven through roads built as late as 1981 partly to replace Colywn Bay Goods, a site required for the new A55 road.
[© Simon Mortimer]

So onwards ever deeper into the true heartland of the Principality, threading the walls of Conwy Castle (one of a job lot built by Edward I around 1280) and thundering through Bangor on the Down Main, a sight the station now rarely sees (compare with the 15mph turnout for P2, the Down Passenger loop!) and across Stephenson's masterpiece onto Anglesey. Ynys Mon, as the natives refer to it, is a mystical place and still has a full time Druidic Community (with a website). Even the Roman legions were terrified during their local conquests by the female warriors arrayed in the front line of battle clad in animal skins and whaling incantations of terror and doom (backed up by those druids!). Scenes that echo down the ages and can still be experienced even today in Llangefni every Saturday night.

We rolled into Holyhead P3,[Above: © Geoff Plumb 2017]a rarely used outer east side face notable for the departure of the Assembly Special whose Class 67 rumbles out every weekday morning around 05.30 with a full catering crew cooking breakfast. After stopping at the stop board protecting the trailing run round loop points, we drew forward to the buffers and for those moulded against the bulkhead of the leading coach (and there were a few!) we made it over the point at the end of the run-round loop.

Those of a traction bent then bailed out leaving the track cognoscenti to sample some esoteric morsels around the station area beginning with a reversal over the trailing crossover nearest the station and down the carriage washer road, threading the silent brushes of the wash plant and tottering along the rusty metals until the ATW pilot man decided we had gone as far as prudent. The train stopped well past the station beyond the large stainless steel footbridge overhead. Although short of the buffers the tracks looked very rarely used and it could only be described as sensible.[Below: © Simon Mortimer 2017]

With the train stationary in Holyhead Carriage Wash Road it was noted the crew were busy removing the plate covering the speedo probe near one of the axles and it transpired this had failed. At this time this did not matter as this 47 was now trailing but would ultimately necessitate a run round much later.

Left: trying to sort out the faulty speedometer. Those with good eyesight will see the buffer stops in front of the loco.
[© Simon Mortimer]

Retracing our tracks the carriage washer (which is quite new) burst into life and gave the train a vigorous clean, this prompted a swift closure of the windows before each coach arrived in the shed but it was notable even then a few trickles of water forced their way through. We should have used the trailing crossover further out to shunt here but took the same crossover going back to P1; however the missing one was requested on the departure but did not happen. [Answer: Ground signals only!]

Railway lions guarding the Britannia Bridge : above and below. [both © Geoff Plumb]

Crossing the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Strait returning from Holyhead with the mountains in the background. The original bridge, designed by Robert Stephenson, opened in 1850 and had two wrought-iron rectangular tubular spans with a track inside each tube. These were damaged beyond repair due to the tar-soaked wooden linings catching fire after boys playing inside the bridge dropped a lit paper torch, temporarily closing the line here from May 1970. A new arched span was built which reopened at the end of Jan 1972 with a single railway track. The road bridge above was added in July 1980. The original bridge was guarded by two lions on either side of the tracks on both the mainland side and the Ynys Mon (Anglesey) side; these were designed by John Thomas and remain to this day, though now difficult to see (but captured magnificently in Geoff Plumb's photos). The lions were immortalised in a Welsh rhyme by the bard John Evans (1826 - 1888), born in nearby Porthaethwy:

Pedwar llew tew
Heb ddim blew
Dau 'ochr yma
A dau 'ochr drew
Four fat lions
Without any hair
Two on this side
And two over there

How it used to be. Demolition of the damaged tubes in July 1970.
[taken from a slide © Geoff Plumb]

Thrashing back across the island we repeated our non-stop run through Bangor this time on the now rare Up Main (middle line) and must have made an impressive sight bursting out of one tunnel and plunging into the other beyond the platforms. After a spirited run along the North Wales Coast the train stopped expectantly at Holywell Jn Up Home awaiting the signal for the Up Loop, only to see the board come off for the Main...the 47 threw some clag into the blue sky and we pondered the loop as we passed. Then the message that the MOM who had come to effect this move was very apologetic but a crucial special key was missing for the signalbox, ground frame or some other mission critical piece of kit.... This was a great disappointment for the organiser too in view of the amount of time and effort put into the move by many - both Holywell Jn Loops had even been re-fettled specially.

Approaching Chester we went inside on the Up slow as an NR extra but we were early and also had to allow an Up passenger working past. Then the Up Fast and to P3B via a little used crossover where a few passengers actually got off! We jinked left over another crossover (rare in this direction) onto the Down & Up Main then sped onwards to Crewe for the interesting Up Chester Independent and Up Through Siding to ultimately reach Stafford P6 (and a facing crossover missed by the morning platform change from 6 to 3). Here the leading loco ran around to avoid the speedo issue and provided the rather retro and impressive sight of double headed 47s; if only they could have worked in multiple!

About to depart north for the second time from Stafford (this time P6).
[© Simon Mortimer]

So 10 hours after leaving the same station we actually headed off to do the tour's addition and by far the greatest piece of track on the day...... The Hole.....but first a non-stop run through Crewe Down Fast and the crossover* to the Down Slow before running Down Fast in glorious evening sunshine then veering right at Acton Grange Jn. [*158m 48ch and normally very rusty indeed; a Virgin West Coast driver had only done it once in 15 years when the Down Fast was blocked by a failed locomotive.]

For most however the main event started at Arpley Grid Iron Jn South when our tour veered left into Walton Old Yard No1 Road and headed for the Down Through Siding known as 'The Hole', passing beneath both the Helsby Lines and then under the WCML itself before turning sharp right and climbing back up to the Warrington Down Slow where we stopped adjacent to Warrington Bank Quay station, having scored a 'Hole in One' (watch the Birdie). This section of line was probably new for 90%+ of those on the trip as only one recent tour pioneered the manoeuvre (14 Jan 2017 when we had been on our SWT railtour). It required the line to be cleared of any stock (DB wagons) with seven point clips deployed. So many BLS members needing such a significant line today would be a rarity and certainly many including your reporter had more or less written it off as never likely to be available to a tour.

ABOVE: What all the fuss is about…The Warrington 'Hole' (it certainly fits the bill) on 9 September 1980 in BR days. The Class 08 is at Arpley on the east side of the layout. The nearer overbridge carries the electrified West Coast Main Line; Crewe to the right and Wigan NW left. The second bridge carries the Up and Down Helsby lines. The line on the right (now OOU) went to Warrington Transporter Bridge, J Crosfield & Sons soap and chemical works and the delightfully named 'New Found Out Siding'! (Actually a foundry perhaps?) Our tour used the left hand line turning sharply and climbing behind the photographer to join the Down Slow, the line west of Warrington BQ Down Passenger Loop (P4). Note the check rail and sand spilt from wagons out of Arpley Yard running to Warrington Bank Quay Sand Sidings to the west of the station and at a lower level [BELOW taken 13 May 1981] on the right with wagons alongside the station at the higher level left.
[both © Angus McDougall]

Warrington, Crosfields transporter bridge was once accessed by rail via 'The Hole'. It is a Grade II listed 'at risk' scheduled ancient monument. The bridge was constructed to connect the two parts of the large chemical and soap works of Joseph Crosfield & Sons. Originally designed to carry rail vehicles up to 18 tonnes in weight, it was converted for road vehicles in 1940. In 1953 it was further modified to carry loads of up to 30 tonnes.
[© Angus McDougall, 4 March 2001]

For most it was then a hop to Wigan NW and bail, including me... just a moment to watch the tour recede into the twilight and stand chatting to other participants as we awaited various trains home. A big thank you to all the organisers, facilitators, itinerary compilers, ticket formatters, raffle ticket vendors, caterers, beer sellers, the bloke who put out all those point clips at Warrington. Finally a big shout out to the stewards; ours in coach E were outstanding and I think can be confidently cited as the most expert and diligent anywhere between coaches D and F on the train.

Miles - with thanks to Jim Sellens

Route - with thanks to Martyn Brailsford

Postscript 1: Those who had joined at Carnforth for 05.25 also experienced an unusual Up departure from bidirectional P2 to the WCML Up Main, the facing crossover at Lancaster North Jn to P3 and back to the Up Main, Oxheys Up Goods Loop (but then P4 rather than the booked P7 at Preston as there were insufficient staff available at 06.25 on a Saturday to cover it as well as the other platforms in use) and a very interesting run via the Crewe independent lines (see BLN 1281 for the full tour routing).

Postscript 2: The report above refers to a train pulling out of Holyhead every weekday morning around 05.30 with a full catering crew cooking breakfast. However, this is not quite correct. The Cardiff-based chef joins at Rhyl following an overnight stay in a hotel. He/she leaves the train there the previous evening to have a long enough statutory break. Sunday evenings, this involves travelling from Cardiff on a passenger train. On Fridays the chef leaves the train at Chester returning passenger to Cardiff. The other catering staff are based in North Wales and tend to leave and join the train nearest to where they live. However, there should always be at least one on duty throughout. Despite what the system shows, the evening arrival at Holyhead is generally in P3. Holyhead platform numbers are unreliable on Realtime Trains etc and in fact Virgin Trains usually tend to use P1 for example.

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