9th December 2000

Pathfinder Tours
The Chester Charger

Locos Used 47780, 6024 "King Edward I"

Route :

Loco(s) Route (1) (2)
47780 Swindon - Oxford - Banbury
6024 Banbury - Birmingham International (3)
47780 Birmingham International - Crewe - Chester
47780 Chester - Crewe - Swindon

Notes :
(1) route & loco confirmation required.
(2) Original schedule was for diesel(s) to work Swindon to Banbury then Crewe home, with 6024 from Banbury to Chester and Crewe.
(3) 6024 removed at
Birmingham International due to AWS operating difficulties.

Source : Rich Savage
(joined/left train at Oxford)

Tour Review
(by Rich Savage)

“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” – Johnny Rotten, San Francisco, 1978

To be honest I had not planned to write a review of this tour, but having witnessed the events, I felt that I needed to share them with everyone else. The plan was for diesel haulage to Banbury where 6024 ‘King Edward I’ would take over for a run to Chester and back to Crewe, whereupon the diesel would return the train back to the South- at least that was the plan!

Having arrived at Oxford, I soon learnt that it was 25 late leaving Swindon due to the late arrival of the stock at Bristol. Nice to get the day off to a good start! And it just got better – when 47780 rolled into Oxford the stock was the wrong way round with standard class at the back. Judging by the black head code panel, I would assume that the 47 was an ex-Stratford machine. As we headed towards Banbury, I soon realised what they meant by flooding. Often the only time I knew the difference between a river and a field was the presence of a bridge indicating the river beneath. Arrival at Banbury was 25 late but we had plenty of recovery time. Now the fun (?) really began. The King had been sent out without the air braking system working properly and therefore the train would have to go forward on the vacuum. The problem was the generator van at the back of the train was air – brake only. Now is it only me that would think that if you supply stock for a steam rail tour it would be nice to have it dual – braked & dual - heated in case of any problems or is that just too obvious?

Therefore the solution was to dump the generator van at Banbury, with the train going forward without any heat. Fair enough – I can live with that. After an eternity shunting about and coupling up all the vacuum pipes we finally left about 45 late.

The various speed restrictions did not help, but I soon got the feeling that all was not well with the King. A recent article in Steam Railway claimed it was better than ever – wonder if this article appeared in the Daily Sport? The first water stop was made at Birmingham International, but just as we seemed ready for the off, word filtered down the train that 6024 was being removed. Why? Apparently the AWS does not work on it in vacuum mode! Maybe I am being naïve, but did no one of the 6024 society think to check this and maybe sort it out. It is bad enough sending out an engine that is not working properly, without it being a safety risk as well. There were a few moaners who claimed that there were enough people on the footplate not to need AWS but that is to miss the point entirely. What if something had happened or if the press had found out – can you imagine the headlines? Besides everyone knows the rules and if the 6024 society cannot play by them, then maybe it is time to send 6024 to a museum or preserved railway.  Railtrack were quite right to insist that 6024 be removed from the train and be sent engine & support coach to Bescot at 25 mph where it would be impounded. 47780 and the generator van appeared from the North (presumably from Bescot) and after shunting the generator van on the back, the 47 was on the front and we left Birmingham International some 95 late.

The failure of steam was very disappointing especially considering that a number of charter companies are having difficulty at the moment. The ordinary public, who they rely on to fill the trains are not going to book again if the steam engine can not deliver. I expect the normal 6024 apologists to come up with another excuse – ‘aliens nicked our engine and replaced it with a dud’ – we’re back to the Sport! I decided that having paid for a ticket to Chester, I was going to make the most of it and go the Chester. At Crewe, I noticed Deltic 19 lurking in the Riviera Trains shed, whilst 33018 was sitting in the Heritage centre with 2 Virgin 86’s. 33018 had recently been repainted and I never remembered it looking that good when it was out on the Southern. Arrival at Chester was about an hour late although not needing a loco change at Crewe on the way back the departure time was 45 minutes later than originally planned. I had planned to avoid the Christmas shoppers by walking along the canal but that was impossible as the water was over the towpath so it was a walk around the walls with the odd stop for food and beer. As I was over by the Water Tower on the western side of Chester where it passes over the railway, I heard a noise in the distance. My immediate reaction was 37 – but hadn’t they all gone from this route. The noise grew louder – it was definitely English Electric and soon a 37

Thundered under the bridge in the distance by the racecourse and headed into Chester with 4 coaches. I have got no idea what the 37 was as I was too busy videoing it (someone later informed me it was 37421 – I’ll show my age and remember that it was of one Inverness’s allocation.).

47780 was still on the stock at the station – pity – 47705 was sitting the bay platform.

On the way back the King was in the Riviera trains shed at Crewe – why? Perhaps there was a suitable scrap yard nearby! The return journey went without any fuss although mark 1’s are not good riding at high speed and sooner or later they are going to be banned from the main line so is it asking too much for the charter industry to start making up rakes of Mark 2 stock? The only rakes I know of are at the Mid-Hants and a few vehicles on the Vintage Trains set at Tyseley. The 47 provided enough clag to do a passable imitation of a steam engine so I still managed to get reasonably dirty – you cannot do a tour and not end up dirty!

The Verdict – there is no one else to blame except the King and the 6024 society. They ruined a good day out and I for one will never again book a rail tour that is rostered for this engine and I know a lot of people feel the same. I feel great pity towards other locomotive owners who will bear the brunt of lost work as a result of this. In recent years 6024 has had a worse record than most of the current Top 40 and it is now time for Railtrack to take a stand and declare no more. They must indefinitely suspend its mainline certification until such time as both locomotive and society can prove that they are competent enough to be allowed back on the main line.

Rich Savage

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