10th September 2005
|Locos Used||47712 & steam : 5029 'Nunney Castle'|
1Z96 : Victoria to Cranmore
1Z97 : Cranmore to Victoria
|5029 (1)||London Victoria - (?Battersea Park?) - Latchmere Jn - Kensington Olympia - Mitre Bridge Jn - Willesden NW Sidings - Acton Wells Jn - Acton Main Line - Slough - Reading - Southcote Jn - Newbury - Westbury - East Somerset Jn - Cranmore|
|47712||Cranmore - East Somerset Jn - Westbury|
|5029 (2)||Westbury - (reverse of outward route) (3) - London Victoria|
(1) 47712 on rear.
(2) plus 47712 dead-in-tow.
(3) Was booked via Westbury avoider but went via the station.
Sources : Terry Jackson (joined/left the train at Reading)
& Janet Cottrell
(from Terry Jackson)
We all have a bit of track that we haven't done with steam (or whatever) although everyone else and their dog have done it many times. My current such bit is the Westbury avoiding line. So when one of my friends phoned me to say that the timings for this tour on the Steam Dreams website showed the return to London as doing it, I didn't have much option but to try again.
I checked that tickets would be available on the day and duly turned up at Reading in plenty of time only to find that FGW in the shape of Reading station were once again trying to deny the existence of a charter service by totally ignoring it. There was no mention of it on the departure boards and no loudspeaker announcements regarding which platform it would leave from until at least two minutes after the scheduled arrival time. There must be a clause in the contract that FGW signed to operate Reading station that they MUST provide an equal quality of service to users of ALL services calling at Reading which they should be made to adhere to and, if there isn't such a clause, there damn well should be.
Anyway 5029 was stopped on the down local outside the station several minutes before it was due to arrive to allow late running FGW services to sort themselves out before the tour was eventually allowed into Platform 4. Having been delayed by this nonsense, 5029 left down the Berks and Hants with 47712 dead in tow on the back. The 47 was apparently supposed to follow us down LE and couple up again at Westbury but it was obviously decided to give 5029 some extra weight to deal with. However this meant that the running was rather inhibited and, together with a stop for water at Newbury Racecourse, we reached Westbury only just behind time, thanks entirely to a large chunk of recovery time between Heywood Road Junc. and Westbury
As we didn't have to attach our diesel as allowed for in the timings, we could have hoped to make a speedy departure and pick up a bit of time. Instead we sat for 15 minutes before it was announced that the FM Rail staff who now operate Steam Dreams tours had been waiting for the Cranmore branch token to be given to them before they realised that they had to collect it from Westbury box (Cock-up No.1). A runner was despatched to collect the token and we finally managed to get away for Cranmore over 20 late.
The timings for Cranmore were fairly liberal and we arrived at a stand in Cranmore station about 10 down which, all thing considered, wasn't too bad. Those passengers going off on trips got on their buses and the rest of us wondered where they were going to turn Nunney Castle. Almost immediately we heard that FM Rail's cunning plan was to turn the loco on the triangle at Merehead quarry but there was only one snag, the quarry was closed. The rumour mill which was now working overtime said that FM Rail had realised on the Friday that they had forgotten to contact the quarry and ask permission to use the triangle (Cock-up No.2). They asked the ESR to contact the quarry for them and make the necessary arrangements but this request was politely refused.
Therefore Plan B was to be implemented which required the Castle to be serviced at Cranmore and then run down to Westbury to turn. The 47 would bring the train from Cranmore to Westbury where the Castle would be re-attached. In the event this plan was scotched when it was found that the driver on the 47 didn't know the road to Westbury and was not allowed by Network Rail to proceed to Westbury. This meant that the only option available was for the Castle to turn at Westbury and return to Cranmore to pick up the train but by the time this was implemented it became obvious that a very late departure was inevitable. This was aggravated by the need for the engine to take water again on it's return to Cranmore.
Now the return arrival at Victoria was scheduled for 22.56 and when we actually left Cranmore 72 late on our return (with 47712 tucked in behind the Castle) there were many passengers wondering whether or not they would spend the night sleeping on Victoria station. Again the liberal schedule on the branch meant that we reached East Somerset Junc. only 57 late and hopes were raised that if we got a clear road we could pick up more time with a good run back to Reading and London. However there was yet another twist when we reached Fairwood Junc. and turned left into Westbury. At this point I exercised my vocabulary in those words one does not usually use in company at having again wasted my money on another tour which didn't do what it was supposed to do. The reason given for the stop was that we had to drop off the token for the branch at Westbury box but we also changed crews, something FM Rail must have known about when the timings were published. What a shambles.
With the time lost calling at Westbury and a slow run up the main line, we reached Woodborough loop about 90 late and despite picking up a few minutes on the water stop further time was lost running up to Theale loop where we were again booked to take water during a 35 minute stop. It may well have been that the length of this stop was also to allow something to pass but our late running meant that we were able to get away early and our arrival at Reading was 61 late. I gratefully bailed out to catch my train home and many other passengers also left the tour at this point to catch the following HST up to Paddington in the hope of being able to get home that evening. I hope that they were reimbursed by FM Rail for any extra expense which they incurred.
In conclusion I'm sure that I was not alone in hoping that, when Merlin first started operating tours instead of EWS, things must improve. They certainly could not have got any worse and for a while it did seem to improve, especially when the tour just involved running on main lines. However after this lash-up, it really does seem that we are back where we started and if that is the case perhaps EWS might be the better bet after all (God help us) mainly because they have a larger and more reliable backup loco fleet to call upon.
Timings (Booked & Actual)
(from Janet Cottrell)
|Kensington Olympia||09.49a ~ 10.03d||09.46 ~ 10.03||22.37a ~ 22.39d||23.35 ~ 23.38|
|North Pole Jn||10/08||10/07||22/33||23/34|
|Mitre Bridge Jn||10/09||10/08||22/31½||23/30|
|Willesden SW Sidings||?||?||22.05a ~ 22.28d||23.13 ~ 23.23|
|Acton Wells Jn||10/15½||10/13||22/02||23/10|
|Acton Main Line||10/21||?||21/59||?|
|Acton West Jn||10/23||10/21||21/57||23/06|
|Ealing Broadway||?||10.22a ~ 10.23d||?||23.04a ~ 23.04d|
|Slough||10.41½a ~ 10.43d||10.47 ~ 10.50||21.39a ~ 21.40½d||22.39 ~ 22.42|
|Reading||11.11a ~ 11.15d||11.16 ~ 11.21||21.11a ~ 21.15d||22.09 ~ 22.14|
|Newbury Racecourse||11.40a ~ 11.57d||?||?||?|
|Woodborough||12/27||12/40||19.10a ~ 19.32d||20.34 ~ 20.51|
|Heywood Road Jn||12/41||12/53||18/51||20/10|
|Westbury||12.53a ~ 13.15d||12.56 ~ 13.37||?||?|
|Clink Road Jn||13/23½||13/45||18/44||19/39|
|East Somerset Jn||13/33||13/52||18/34||19/30|
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