29th April 2006
Heart of Wales Explorer
|Locos Used||47714 & 47818|
1Z63 : Preston to Cardiff
1Z64 : Cardiff to Preston
|47714 (1)||Preston - Chorley - Bolton - Manchester Victoria - Baguley Fold Jn - Denton - Stockport - Northenden Jn - Altrincham - Northwich - Chester - Wrexham General - Shrewsbury - Craven Arms - Knighton - Llandovery - Pantyffynnon - Hendy Jn - Felin Fran - Briton Ferry Flying Loop Jn - Port Talbot - Bridgend - Cardiff Central|
|47818 (2)||Cardiff Central - Newport - Abergavenny - Hereford - Craven Arms - (reverse of outward route) - Preston|
(1) 47818 dead-in-tow.
(2) 47714 dead-in-tow.
Sources : Andrew Martin (joined/left the train at
(by Andrew Martin)
Maybe not the sort of tour your usual loco or track bashers would normally consider, but a needing of the Heart of Wales line and having decided that I wanted loco-hauled rather than a tin-can Class 153 [mainly because Arriva Trains Wales 153s are fitted with the knackered seats Wales + West took out of their Class 158s and I find them very uncomfortable...], my search ended after surfing the Net and finding the Compass Tours site. Pathfinder are doing a steam-hauled Central Wales in early May, but leaving from my own station [Bolton] with the prospect of a 3 and a half hour break in Cardiff made this one a must, so a cheque for £65 for a first class seat was duly dispatched to confirm the phone booking....
With the website not being updated, but knowing the engineering works on the Stockport to Crewe line were now going to last until June, my guess that I'd also get Chester to Shrewsbury turned out to be right. The penalty was an 06.35 departure instead of 7am. So with the land at the old parcels platform at Bolton now turned over to car parking, I drove there from home and got there at 06.25. No train to Cardiff on the display monitor, but plenty of the kind of mainly middle aged and elderly people who go on bus and non-bashing train tours for pleasurable days out already on the platform, we waited for announcements...Sure enough, shortly before 06.35 we are told the train is running 15 late, although it appears on the departure monitors showing only 9 minutes late. I later find out this is due a lack of organisation at Preston shunting the train from sidings into the platform in adequate time.
At 06.50, double-headed 47s and Mark 3s pull in - wow! Is the first time Mark 3s have been over Central Wales? Surely likely for this ex-West Coast Cotswold rake including GW fag packet liveried sleeping car and DVT! My coach is 11065 and cold - no heating, no a/c and neither toilet working - what a good start, but at least I've got my requested forward facing seat! Station dwell time seems ages but we set off for Manchester and to be the first southbound train from Denton for many a year [well that's what Compass say!]. Cotswold rail fitter replete with large spanner and screwdriver is seen frequently going up and down, trying to fix things - presumably he's kipped in the sleeper coach as the set came from Oxley to Preston the evening before. I think these Mark 3s with much more electrics than a Mark 1 don't take kindly to long periods doing nothing... After another long dwell at Manchester Victoria, we get to Denton to pick up a healthy number of patrons. Stockport is reached eventually but because we have to wait to cross behind the path of a London bound Pendolino, we are now about 25 late. This is maintained through pick-ups at Altrincham and Knutsford. We find out that the boiler in the restaurant car isn't working either so hot drinks are being provided from a trolley kept plugged in on the second class side of the serving area. Compass set up a water carriage system to convey water from the sleeper to the trolley. An irate customer has to be placated by Compass reps who are generally well annoyed with Cotswold's rake, although the fitter gets one of the toilets in my coach working.
We arrive at Chester on the Down & Up main, between platforms 3 and 4, about 10 minutes before the service train that would have been timed to follow us onto the single track to Wrexham. Who goes first? We do and it won't be the last service train we hold up today...A pleasant ride takes us to Shrewsbury where we pause for a minute or so, probably for a crew change. We set off for Craven Arms where we await a northbound 158 and then proceed slowly (20mph limit) onto the Heart of Wales line. Still running 20 or so late, we pause at Knighton to exchange tokens, far too long for the platform. A further delay getting into Llandrindod as the trainman operates the level crossing barriers causes us to delay the northbound service train and effectively cancels the intended 30 minute leg-stretching break here. Progress is steady and who wants to rush the delightful scenery, especially when it's just the train, farms, countryside and no roads in sight? However, time consuming token exchanges mean we are about 25 late at Llanwrytd. This time, we have to wait on the service train out of whose way we should have been at Hendy junction. My bonus is it's my penultimate 153. We're now over an hour late as we drop the final token at Pantyffynnon and the track sleepers can be heard creaking beneath us as we take the relatively rare curve to Grovesend Colliery Loop Jct (formerly Morlais E.). Some spectacular estuaries are crossed on the Swansea District line and we re-join the GW main line at Briton Ferry Flying Loop Jct. We start to travel a little faster, passing the steelworks at Port Talbot, belching steam and smoke and that characteristic steelworks smell that you'll not find in many other places in Britain now.
Arrival in Cardiff as about 1 hour 25 late and kibosh's my intended trip along the Vale of Glamorgan. However, 2 hours on the platform at Cardiff Central is OK, especially as 2 empty steel trains, come through, heading for Port Talbot. Both are double headed - one with 60s, the other 66s. Another pair of 60s has followed us light from Port Talbot and I nip to the Burger King outside the station on Central Square for tea soon after a 66 passes with westbound coal empties.
Departure is 18.04, prompt! A sunny evening as we take the Marches line at Newport and progress is fairly swift but with just one stop in "the middle of nowhere", I don't think we catch the service train that left at 17.55 despite its stops. Not only are kitchen boiler and the a/c now working [that characteristic although not especially loud whooshing sound of the inside of a Mark 3], but announcements are being made and the promised trolley is going up and down at regular intervals! As dusk arrives, it becomes apparent that not all the table top lights nor those that shine down from the luggage racks are working in the coach. More lack of attention to detail from Cotswold, or just penny-pinching?
Again we return via Wrexham and Chester and timing seems good as we arrive at the single track section at Wrexham just as a 158 is coming off it. A short crew change at Chester where kettle 45407 and stock is seen on siding to the north of the station and we start setting down again. Stops seem quite long and I think we are losing time again. Just before Stockport, an announcement is made that Denton passengers must alight there for a special bus as there will be no setting down there in the dark due to the rough platform surface and lack of lighting. We reach the outskirts of Manchester Victoria and stop for a while. An announcement says we are awaiting a platform - at 11.10pm?! We use platform 3 and wait some more. The p.a. comes on again: there's a broken down train between here and Bolton. Feeling tired, that's all we need! No chance of pushing units out of the way anymore! However, we set off again just before 11.35pm and I de-train at Bolton at 11.50pm with no further problems.
All in all a pleasant ride-out but I feel sorry for Compass who may well have lost customers from future tours due to circumstances beyond their control.
Timings (Booked Only)
|Location||Booked (out)||Booked (rtn)|
|Chorley||06.18a ~ 06.20d||00.02a ~ 00.05d|
|Bolton||06.33a ~ 06.35d||23.41a ~ 23.44d|
|Manchester Victoria||06.53a ~ 06.56d||23.11a ~ 23.14d|
|Baguley Fold Jn||07/01||-|
|Denton||07.12a ~ 07.13d||22.50a ~ 22.52d|
|Stockport||07.22a ~ 07.24d||22.37a ~ 22.42d|
|Altrincham||07.40a ~ 07.42d||22.18a ~ 22.20d|
|Knutsford||07.53a ~ 07.55d||22.06a ~ 22.08d|
|Wrexham General||09.02 ~ 09.23||20.34 ~ 20.46|
|Shrewsbury||09c58 ~ 10c08||20/08|
|Sutton Bridge Jn||10/11||-|
|Craven Arms||10.35 ~ 10.36||19/42|
|Knighton||10t56 ~ 10t57|
|Llandrindod||11t32 ~ 11t42|
|Llanwrtyd||12t08 ~ 12t10|
|Llandovery||12t35 ~ 12t37|
|Llandeilo||12t56 ~ 12t58|
|Pantyffynnon||13t16 ~ 13t18|
|Briton Ferry Flying Loop Jn||13/58|
|Port Talbot Parkway||14/03|
|Cardiff Central||14.36a ~ 18.04d|
|Maindee North Jn||18/20|
Timings continued in first table.
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