The Branch Line Society


The Vallum Hadriani Tracker
Sunday 7th May 2017

Report by Geoff Treby

All photos © by our BLS Photographer Geoff Plumb unless specified

My first thought when asked to do a tour report was oh no, why me! It was late Bank Holiday Monday, I was relaxing watching the snooker final on TV, meanwhile the BLS organisers were still at it for our benefit. It was not the most difficult decision for me to make. I was asked to do a report before 'The Mountfield Pioneer' in 1997, so once every twenty years it must be my turn again.


Fast forward to Sun 7 May and when I arrived at Manchester Piccadilly, TPE unit 185108 was already in P12. The organisers and stewards had been busy, setting up the train for participants, distributing tour brochures and goody bags to each seat etc. I board the train and settle back, have a bit of breakfast and wait for departure. Incredibly this was our sixth tour with TPE and, having been on all the others, I was expecting another good day and lots of new moves.

Manchester Piccadilly, P12 on Sunday 7th May before the Vallum Hadrani Tracker and Kev Adlam is (almost) on his knees already!

All aboard? Doors closed and a welcoming message from Kev. Departure is on time and we slowly weave all the way across to the Down Fast and speed up along the drab city line to Guide Bridge and Stalybridge. First unusual move of the day was via Stalybridge P3 and the rare crossover at the east end of station. So far so good; out into the countryside and the bright sunshine enhances the occasion. Next success is at Diggle where the train is due to be routed via the Down

The rear view towards Stalybridge in Diggle Down Passenger Loop, approaching Standedge Tunnels.
Diggle Junction Signal Box is in the distance and right is the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.

The end of Diggle Loop can just be seen on the right beyond the overbridge. Diggle station (CP 7 Oct 1968) was between the loop and the 1894 'new' double track 3m 66ch rail tunnel seen here. The station once had four platforms for the four tracks. The original 1849 single track Standedge Tunnel was closed in 1966 and the 1871, also single track tunnel, closed in 1970 - both left of the picture. The 1811 canal tunnel (which took nearly 16 years to build) is right and at a slightly lower level. It closed and fell into disrepair in the 1940s and was reopened in May 2001.

Into Standedge tunnel in which it is all change, from 'London Midland' to 'Eastern Region', red to yellow TRACKmaps and Red to White Rose County. Onto Huddersfield for the second scheduled pick up of the day including two VIPs with the beer. Another and last (?) [not quite, see later….] pick up is at Leeds with unusual routing via P16. Much amusement as usual, watching the bewildered faces waiting for the 09.10 to Liverpool, we stop briefly at the east end and the stewards stop any 'normals' from boarding. Next the first on the day bonus, Marsh Jn Down Goods Loop and back to the Main by Neville Hill depot. Shortly after Tim and Paul appear selling raffle tickets with their usual persuasive chatter.

Rear view of the 'new' 1894 Standedge Tunnel. The older disused twin bores are left and the River Colne unusually flows across the bridge over both rail and canal (right behind the wall and lower) then down the cascade between the track beds. The point is the end of Marsden Up Passenger Loop.

We weave at Church Fenton North Jn to the Down Normanton and at Colton South Ladder back to Down Leeds. After a stop at York for a crew change the tour takes the remarkably rare Loco Line, and then on to Skelton Bridge Jn. Here it is the connection from the Fast to the Slow, I thought I was the only one on the train that needed it, but it seems a required move by most around where I was sat. Now on the Down Slow to the north, coach 'B' seems quiet; a few passengers are catching up on sleep, only for the silence to be shattered by the shout of 'Tickets please!' (or as they say in Yorkshire: 'Eeetickets please!') from Kev. Talking of tickets, did you spot the inadvertent mistake?

The 08.03 Grand Central King's Cross to Sunderland HST passes 'NORTON ON TEES' (sic) Box and crossing on 31 Mar2017. These HSTs are to be replaced with GWR Class 180 Adelantes, sometimes running as double 10-car sets. The station (CP 7 Mar 1960) was the other side (south) of the crossing.

At Longlands Jn, we take the Northallerton station avoider and head for Eaglescliffe and the coast. At Eaglescliffe the tour covers the Down Goods loop, and then passes the cleared (sadly now trackless) site of Thompson's Scrapyard at Stockton where a new housing estate is being built. The next non-passenger bit is after Seaton Carew - the Down Cliff House Goods loop. On the other side of the line can be seen the (very) disused Up Cliff House Loop - completely beyond hope, despite resignalling in 2010 - very tantalising at over 1½ miles long. A pacer unit is noted in Hartlepool bay (not on the beach but at the station), the only regular use is on Sundays.

The harbour has a few tall ships and what seemed to be a paddle steamer as well. On the left is Victoria Park, home of Hartlepool United, the newest non-League football club having been relegated from the Football League the previous day. The North Sea seems choppy with white waves in evidence and a few spots of rain in the air. Seems like perfect timing, as the next item that is on offer to the punters are TPE umbrellas.

Class 376758 heads south along the Durham coast between Seaham and Hartlepool, to Horden or Blackhall Colliery. Easington Colliery is to the north in the background. Thur 30 Sep 1971.

Not the BLS tour train! A two-car DMU heads south along the coast near Easington Colliery with a train from Sunderland to Middlesbrough on the glorious sunny afternoon of Thur 30 Sep 1971. In the distance is an overhead bucket-line carrying colliery waste to be dumped straight into the North Sea! This area was the location for the final scenes of the film 'Get Carter', starring Michael Caine. Note the telegraph poles, a common part of the railway scene then (and the copper wires were stolen too).

The raffle numbers are announced by Paul, no luck for me, the Victoria line driving simulator would have been my choice of a prize. Into the gloom of Sunderland station, where our tour is routed in the rare direction through bidirectional P1/2 and back over the first crossover in the tunnel north of the station, another use of my red pen. On the left is the Stadium of Light, home to another recently relegated football club (Sunderland AFC). Another claw back is achieved when the DMU takes the Down Pelaw goods loop; we couldn't travel this route on our 'Tale of Two Ports' tour in August 2016 because of state of several sleepers. We all know what can happen to railtours over rotten sleepers…! Now about 20 minutes late and an announcement was made that due to an oversight in the usual meticulous planning, we cannot go into Newcastle station via the planned route, over St James' Bridge Jn crossover - because it had been recently removed! It was also very important to arrive close to time at Ouston or the main line reversal there might be cancelled. We stay on the south side of the river, take the Up & Down Slow past Tyne Yard and are at Ouston on time but not on-Tyne!

I required the move to reverse on the Up to the Down and to my surprise this is what was achieved, in a matter of moments. Unusual for the BLS, almost four hours into the tour until the first reversal. Soon after Kev comes on the PA, pleased with the outcome of the move and with his usual wit, quotes 'Ouston, we have no problem!' Back along the Up and Down Slow at Tyne Yard and the curve left to Norwood Jn for a brief leg stretch on the island platform at Dunston (ROP 1 Oct 1984). Also, an extra pick up for Dave Monger, who missed the start of the tour. Kev then makes a personal welcoming announcement for Dave much to everyone's amusement, informing him on the facilities on board.

On Dunston island platform - and just what is the collective noun for a group of BLS stewards? A high-viz of stewards? A litter pick of stewards?

By way of contrast, our TPE tour passed the site of the large Derwenthaugh coke works (closed 1986 and one of the largest) south of the River Tyne, just past the MetroCentre on the left heading to Carlisle but it doesn't look like this! It is now Derwenthaugh Country Park. NCB 0-4-0ST (OC) No.78 (RSH No.7538 of 1949?) is busy shunting at the Coke Works on a very cold and dull day in March 1969 - most of the smoke and steam is actually coming from the plant itself (out of view left).

Taking full advantage of his TPE tour cab pass, but working hard for it as always, our Society photographer now found himself in the front cab following the reversal at Ouston. This was a highlight, the very rare 'Hexham Middle Road' beneath the C1896 Grade II listed elevated NER box. Off left were the former freight sidings and right are the Engineer's sidings with the station beyond.

Another Grade II listed signal box this time at Haltwhistle where, until May 1976, it was possible to catch a connection to Alston, from P3 on the left (the line trailed in behind the signal box). This delightful 13 mile branch is nearly all walkable and after 25 July is due to be open from Alston to Slaggyford (4½ miles) with the South Tynesale Railway's latest extension. But one day……

Along the very pleasant Tyne Valley we go, a route I have not travelled for some years. At Hexham, the tour takes take the exceedingly rare 'Middle Road', in fact the most southerly of the through lines. I am led to believe that there were more through tracks in years gone by, they just haven't changed its name. At Baron House Level Crossing is a glimpse of the site of one of the forts that is part of Hadrian's Wall, the name of today's tour. A fair few visitors can be seen wandering around the area.

Next, a photo stop with a difference and not for the benefit of those on board. We pause just before Wetheral station to wave to Sam Dixon, his wife Zoë and their two children Archie and Woody. Sam is a DRS controller and a fund raiser for Railway Children. He had been instrumental in arranging the DRS conductors for today's tour. Sam, we very much appreciate the excellent work you have done for our members and the Railway Children Charity including the 15 Jun 'Cat & Dock' tour; long may it continue.

Onwards to Carlisle arriving into P6, the doors are opened for some more fresh Cumbrian air. During the break, arriving on a through road is 68025 'Superb' on a Belmond Pullman ECS working. Now for a combination of incredible, almost unbelievable, moves (under 'local arrangements') and a break in P1. Alas nothing goes to plan with the BLS and a complicated magical mystery tour begins. With thanks, I'm hijacking Ian Delgado's summary (edited) to save you all from reading more waffle from me:

No time now for a break in P1, but no complaints from me. Thank you very much Carlisle PSB and train crew for all the extras, especially the connection into P6 and the slow run past Kingmoor depot for the spotters. Another 'short leg stretch' (!) and it is time to head south and for me a beer. Almost at once on departure another extra move, via the Up Through Siding from Upperby Jn to Upperby Bridge Jn.

A case of you can't always get what you want. But, we do: Plumpton Up Goods Loop, Eden Valley Up Goods Loop, Shap Up Goods Loop, Grayrigg Up Goods Loop, Oxenholme Up Goods Loop (extended), Carnforth Up Passenger Loop, Oubeck Up Goods Loop, and finally Oxheys Goods Loop. The first set down at Preston is in P7 (the Up & Down Goods Loop) and I believe near enough on time. This is another claw back as it was missed on our Y Triongl Gogledd Cymru tour two weeks earlier.

*Road overbridge. Miles with thanks to Jim Sellens.

During the journey south, the organisers and stewards are still busy. Whether it is litter picks, cleaning toilets, trying to sell mugs, giving out unused tickets, free carrier bags, or distributing the Junior Explorer's Fun Pack. They just keep on going. Leaving Preston and across at Ribble Jn to the Up Goods Loop, Kev is giving an update on future tours and his message is interrupted, news breaking that there is a lineside fire on the WCML, that may hinder our journey home. Another set down at Wigan North Western P6, then it was over to the Up Goods via the crossover at 5m 28ch. A stop/start journey to Bamfurlong Jn, slow line to Golborne Jn and onwards to Parkside Jn. Once on to the Chat Moss it is back up to speed and into Manchester Piccadilly about twenty minutes down due to the fire delays.

Well done to all the organisers, stewards and helpers for another splendid railtour that well exceeded expectations. A whopping £10,252.07 was raised for Railway Children and the Valium was not needed! Here is to the next TPE tour, maybe with one of the shiny new units due to come into service? You probably won't hear from me until 2037 and the HS3 tour of crossovers and loops.

Some more pictures with thanks to our photographer Geoff Plumb.

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