The latest 2022 sightings will appear at the top of this page
Please click on Photo Gallery (top right of this page) as all 2020 trains are featured there.
Friday 1st December 2023 **Sighting** –
Steam Dreams’ the Bath Christmas Market with Bulleid Pacific 34046 Braunton
Steam Dreams are back in action on our line with an excursion train which starts out diesel-hauled from East Anglia before Braunton takes over at the usual point in West London, near to the WCR steam depot at Southall, for the trip to Bath Spa. This is currently scheduled to use the Berks & Hants route through Hungerford outbound, although the evening return is routed along the GW main line through Swindon and Didcot. There are ominous sounds coming out of weather forecasters about winter weather at the end of the week, which could provide some interesting steam effects and snowy landscape views but in extremis could lead to the cancelling of the excursion. So best keep a look out for progress on Realtime Trains, the entries for which are already available showing a Newbury water-stop from 11:42 to 12:05 and return showing a Milton Jcn water-stop from 18:01 to 18:26 (in the cold and dark).
On the day: the forecasts were largely correct after a second night of sub-zero temperatures, although it has remained dry in this area with none of the snowfall affecting other parts of the country. Over breakfast RTT indicates the trip has got under way and progress is to plan. The temperature has not risen above freezing by mid-morning and I opt for a short walk to the station rather venturing out into the countryside roundabouts. As I set out the special has arrived at Newbury Racecourse and a protracted stay indicates that water is being taken there rather than at the main station as planned.
Passing through Newbury more or less on time, it’s not long before 1Z46 is on the radar crossing the Common and set for a speedy passage through the station. The anticipated clash with an up train having been avoided, I position on the up platform with a wider view across to the opposite track:
The cold air has produced the expected steam effects from the speeding train, although I’m slightly perturbed by a secondary exhaust flow which is leaking fresh clean steam along the top of the boiler, masking the classic lines of the loco. Perhaps this is a peculiarity of the type of blast pipe employed in the Bulleid design (which typically produces a softer, more efficient, exhaust beat), but I’ve not noticed it so much before. The wreath of white and yellow roses on the smokebox does not particularly indicate the Christmas nature of the trip and perhaps has a more specific intention.
The train is accompanied by one of the Loco Services green Class 47s at the rear, probably adding to progress on the uphill section to Savernake – clearly there was more than adequate power available between the two as the train was 6 minutes early into bath Spa.
Wednesday 27th September 2023 **Sighting** – Steam Dreams excursion to Bath via the Surrey Hills
On the day: I was somewhat vexed to try to find somewhere local (weather unpredictable) where I could be sure that the strong south wind (as storm Agnes was starting to build) would blow any smoke and steam exhaust away from my field of view. After rejecting the tight views on the down platform at Hungerford I opted to explore the Common near the Downgate, only to find that the growth at the lineside has closed off most of the shots that I’ve been taking in recent years. The best I could manage, with the train now moving away from its Newbury stopover and accelerating quickly, was a side on shot panned to help the loco stand out against a blurred background. The train duly passed by and I hoped that a sequence of shots would give me one with a reasonably clear view of the loco. A check on the camera back was most disappointing and I feared to have failed on this one (happens very seldom because I’ve usually done my homework beforehand).
However I managed to achieve something of a rescue when editing on the computer with Photoshop, enough to feel able to include it in my report:
After this experience I vowed to make a better job of the evening return and elected to go to a more dependable position on the Marsh side of town which I was confident still has a clear view. Watching the progress of the morning run I noted that the train seemed to be able to gain on some of the point to point timings, so I planned to arrive early – just as well as the train gained 10 minutes on schedule for the run across the Vale of Pewsey and up over Savernake, most of which it still had as it approached me by the curve on to the Marsh:
Although the weather was gloomy throughout, it was still mild for Autumn with no steam exhaust on view in either case – just a little smoke from clean-burning coal. I noted during the morning run-past that there was a diesel tailing the ensemble, and there was more than a suggestion of Sulzer action at the rear of the evening train as it passed close by me, probably explaining the smart running throughout:
The two-tone Class 47 D1935 with the ‘blood and custard stock is a winning combination for me!
Saturday 16th September 2023 **Sighting**
– the final West Somerset Steam Express of the season
As Autumn swiftly descends on the railscene, the final run for 2023 of the RTC excursion to the West Somerset Rly takes place this coming weekend. Details are similar to the previous WSSEs this year with no. 45596 again in charge to and from the preserved railway.
Timings from Realtime trains are outbound – Hungerford passing at about 08:55 and return – Hungerford passing at about 19:00
On the day: the run of fine weather continues (but not for much longer) and it looks as though the sun will be a problem so I opt for a position on the Marsh with good cover from the bright sunshine. However just before setting off I notice on OpenTime Trains that the special which was due to have a protracted stop at Newbury for water is already signalled to leave the platform. Quick change of plans and I go straight to Dun Mill overbridge, instead of getting caught walking across the Marsh when the train passes. On arriving I see that someone has pointed out to the signaller that there is a westbound IET barrelling towards Newbury and he’d better give that priority. A case of too much information causing me to change my plans unnecessarily!
The sun is now a problem as indicated by a test shot of the aforesaid IET. However the sun is gradually hazing over and by the time the characteristic exhaust beat of Bahamas drifts on the breeze the situation is manageable. Acceleration has been somewhat measured by modern standards but the steamer is well into its stride by the time it appears from behind the bush cover which is starting to fill in the open spaces for photography left after the Network Rail blitz a few years ago:Given the rapidly declining day length at this time of the year a few days from the equinox I was not optimistic about seeing the train on its return journey, especially as full cloud cover had developed during the still rather humid day. At best I may be able to shoot off a video clip to catch the essence of the train passing through at speed on the downhill run into the Kennet valley. A few spots of rain threatened but didn’t compromise the video capabilities of my modern Nikon Z5 camera:
As usual HD video frames are much less refined than stills developed from raw data but serve the purpose adequately for the action sequence, which can be viewed here – just see the way the loco bucks when it hits the level crossing!
Also operating on the day is a UK Railtours excursion, the Skipping Devonian which is planned to take our Berks & Hants line on its way to Paignton. This was inexplicably routed via Didcot and Swindon to Westbury so we didn’t get to see what rolling stock was laid on for this trip.
Saturday 12th August 2023 **Sighting**
– the second West Somerset Steam Express of the season
Working to the same formula as the first run last month, the train will be steam hauled throughout with no. 45596 Bahamas again expected to handle the out and return segments on the national network. Timings are already available on Realtime Trains – they indicate: Hungerford: 08:55ish outbound and 19:00ish return. At the moment the forecast is for better weather than the first WSSE in July – let’s hope!
On the day: the sudden return of summer-like weather towards the end of this week has just as quickly demised and we now face a day of occasional sunshine and intermittent, possibly electric, storms! Today’s choice dictated by the weather is my closest access to the trackside at Hungerford station. In spite of the relatively early timing there are several observers including some family groups waiting at the appointed time. Everything seems to be running normally and the characteristic sound of the three-cylinder engine working hard is soon heard drifting on the stiff breeze from the direction of the Common. There was little prospect of steam effects at this time of the year, but the opportune loading of a few shovelfuls of coal into the firebox as the train rounded the curve into the station gave us something to think about:
The Class 6P Jubilee really does make an impressive sight (and sound) when doing serious work – without the assistance of a diesel loco behind. This was also the case when the train returned later in the day, again more or less to time with possibly a faster run through the station but with the gradient in its favour this time.
I have recently been experimenting with the unused video facilities on my Nikons and records of the two runs through Hungerford can be found at Tony’s Rail Videos. Neither had satisfactory lighting, the effects of which can be reversed on still shots but not easily with movie files. Also the morning video suffered from a lack of sharp focus which I was able to correct for the evening. For convenience I’ve reduced the HD video to SD (720 lines) – if they do not play in situ they can be downloaded. The MPG files should play on any device. In spite of the technical problems the videos should give people a sense of the excitement of the occasion, even if not having been able to be there in person.
22nd July 2023 **Sighting** – LMS Jubilee Class 4-6-0 no. 45596
Bahamas on a West Somerset Steam Express to Minehead
The Railway Touring Co are starting up their popular summertime WSSEs this coming weekend. LMS Jubilee Class Bahamas has been scheduled for the complete journey from Paddington over the direct Berks & Hants route to Bishops Lydeard where it will hand over to one of the preserved West Somerset Railway’s own locos for the trip onwards to the seaside.
The timings for the outbound journey indicate that the first water-stop is scheduled for Newbury main station at 08:20-50, suggesting passing through Hungerford at about 09:00. The return trip has an unusual water-stop at Frome (rather than Woodborough loop) passing through Hungerford at about 19:00 – still light enough for evening viewing and photography on a decent day, although the sun low in the west may provide the usual challenges.
On the day: unfortunately I was unable to get down to the railway to record the outbound run of the train, which I was at least able to track the progress of at home on Realtime Trains. It was very disappointing to find that the first WSSE was greeted with some of the worst weather we’ve had for some time. I expect that most of the passengers would have enjoyed the day, especially those being ‘catered for’ on the train – but I was fearful for them not getting the best out of their visit to the seaside and/or the preserved railway experience at Minehead station.
I would like to thank well-travelled and expert railway photographer Murray Lewis for the use of his image of the train taken at Bridge 99 on the canal – clearly showing the loco making a spirited climb up the gradient towards Savernake without any diesel assistance:
You will note how Murray has managed to capture Bahamas in a traditional ‘rods down’ pose i.e. with the rods connecting the driving wheels at the bottom of their rotation, allowing clear inspection of the transmission and valve gear. I find this very difficult to achieve but do strike lucky on occasions!
The RTT log of the run suggests that the journey passed off without significant delays, at least until reaching the West Somerset Railway. Likewise departure from Bishops Lydeard at the end of the visit was very prompt, but by the time the trained reached us again in the evening the weather had deteriorated from plain gloomy to steady rain. Nevertheless I was there to take up the photographic challenge, not of dealing with low sun as anticipated earlier in the week but of low light and driving rain:I’d expected to be the only observer in such unpromising conditions, but discovered that the very little shelter offered by the minimal station facilities was already occupied. However I was able to juggle camera and umbrella adequately to capture the WSSE storming through the station in most impressive style. Let’s hope that travellers on the next excursion to Minehead are more fortunate with the weather!
21st June 2023 **Sighting** –
Flying Scotsman on a circular trip to Salisbury
The Railway Touring Co have taken over the appearance of FS in our area this year with a varied route for an excursion which passes through Hungerford on its outbound sector to Salisbury via Westbury and the Wylye Valley. Local passengers are having to commute to Reading which is the start point of the circular itinerary, although the journey starts and finishes at Paddington.
In the usual way of things, the timing points have appeared late on Realtime Trains. The plan is for the train to be steam-hauled throughout, with a lengthy water-stop at Newbury Racecourse. Intriguingly the schedule starts with the customary 60mph speed limit for steam, but from Newbury onwards this is raised to 75mph, so we may expect to see some lively running along the Kennet Valley and up over Savernake (and a max through the curves at Hungerford??). Faster running in some cases has been allowed recently to avoid delaying normal passenger services.
On the day: Departure from Paddington was on time and the run appeared uneventful until approaching Newbury. I’d chosen a new location the other side of Bedwyn and discovered on arriving that FS had been watered and was waiting in the down platform to be overtaken by a Paddington – Plymouth GWR express. This IET was standing at a red signal outside Newbury with no obvious reason for a delay, suggesting some issue with the signalling. Before too long the route cleared for the IET and the special got the road directly afterwards, making an 8 minute late getaway. Progress along the curves in the Kennet Valley was cautious, losing another couple of minutes, but the Salisbury Express was well up to speed when it appeared under the distant overbridge at Bedwyn station. The patchy cloud had been causing concerns but good light prevailed just at the right time:
Several locals had turned out to see the star performer, but there were actually fewer photographers than for the British Pullman recently. Perhaps some of the negative associations with Flying Scotsman’s mainline trips are putting enthusiasts off. The 75mph schedule enabled the train to stay ahead of a following IET taking festival-goers to Glastonbury, and the deficit had been recovered approaching the Salisbury stop.
Saturday 3rd June 2023 **Sighting**
– the English Riviera Express to Torbay and Kingswear
Saphos Train are operating another of the excursion trains which are stopping to pick up at Hungerford – travelling in the opposite direction this time, westwards to Torbay with onward travel over the preserved railway from Paignton to Kingswear for Dartmouth. As earlier in the year the first section of the journey, from Slough to Taunton, will be diesel hauled denying the steam experience to observers in this area, but of little consequence to people boarding the train here! Recently restored Gresley A4 Pacific no. 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley is due to be taking over the steam sections which should provide a memorable experience for the steam buffs on board.
On the day: we are in the middle of a run of fine weather so the prospects are good as I set out for the station to find out how well the train is supported and what locomotives are being deployed, usually a top-and-tailed duo of Type 4 diesels. This is a Loco Services operation so we can expect something a little more sparkling than the drab WCR Class 47s.
On arriving at the station the sun has yet to make much of an appearance, which is helpful for the photography in this case. There is a healthy number of folk assembled awaiting the train with a rough count of about 50, accounting for several thousand pounds of revenue. The train started from Slough and was also due to be picking up at Maidenhead, Reading, Newbury, Pewsey and Westbury. There is already a party atmosphere but excitement mounts as the departure time approaches and the sound of a fast moving train is heard from beyond the Common. “Let’s hope they remember to stop here – it will be a long wait until the next one!” I hear – it’s another strike day today with no GWR passenger services, but all is well as the train slows round the curve into the station:
The lead loco is a plain rail-blue Class 47 no.47614, looking very much like it would have done in its later years of BR service. Very prominent in the yellow front end warning scheme are the rail-level snowploughs fitted during its period of service in the Tayside Region of Scotland:
The coaching stock is mostly ‘blood and custard’ carriages adapted by Saphos Rail for their leisure travel products, but I noted one car LOCHNAGAR in Pullman livery at the back of the train:
The Scottish influence is even further reinforced by the inclusion of ScotRail-liveried Class 47 no. 47712 Lady Diana Spencer at the rear of the train. This unusual locomotive carried on at Taunton when the steamer joined but when returning later in the day it was again at the rear of the train, which gave no opportunity to capture it in the lead – a prerequisite for serious publishing. The twelve coach train is too long to fit into the platform at Hungerford so the sequence of photos was taken over the few minutes covering arrival, pick-up and departure:
To continue the story, here is a shot of the train, now steam-hauled passing Silverton just north of Exeter taken by fellow Railway Herald contributor Keith Turley. For more of Keith’s work please look for free on the Railway Herald web-site at https://www.railwayherald.com/imagingcentre/photographer/789. By now the train has a headboard provided by the Sir Nigel Gresley Locomotive Trust. Followers of these reports will note that the locomotive has now received the lined British Rail express blue livery for steam locomotives since its previous appearance here just before Christmas last year, when in dreary light it failed to sparkle in plain war-time black:
Saturday 15th April 2023 **Sightings** –
The Great Britain XV and a Great Western Envoy
Good news first that the Saphos Trains’ Envoy is being routed via the Berks & Hants line on its outbound run from Hanwell next Saturday on its way to Bath and Bristol. This was on my list as a possible and for once has delivered! The link for the itinerary on RTT is 1Z40 0620 Rugby to Bristol Temple Meads indicating approx. 10:55 at Hungerford after a water stop at Newbury RC. The return journey is via the GW main line giving another opportunity to see steam in the Vale of White Horse – see 1Z47 1704 Bristol Temple Meads to Rugby which suggests passing Steventon at 18:47 before a water top at Milton Jcn. I’m assuming that Mayflower will again be scheduled by SLS for the third weekend running but more info may be available nearer the day.
We are also expecting to see the prestigious Great Britain passing through Hungerford. Day 1 of the tour takes the usual GW route to Plymouth, returning only to Bristol ready for a next day journey through Wales. Haulage is due to be one of the powerful Merchant Navy Pacifics no. 35018 British India Line – a new one to me, but of the same class as the familiar Clan Line(which is currently out of action requiring boiler repairs and re-certification). The special is yet to appear on Realtime Trains but this link Newbury all day on 15/04/2023 – STP entries should list the train (probably another 1Zxx code) when it has been scheduled. Currently it is only showing the entry for 1Z40 above.
On the day: Pleased to report that the weather has improved from the wet conditions in the run up to this busy day, although there is much standing water in the country lanes as I ride up the valley to record today’s double. Cloud is quite heavy but not threatening, and a stiff northerly breeze suggests that a wrong-side view will avoid any problems with steam masking the trains. A chill in the air indicates that there should be a display of exhaust as the trains work up the gradient to Savernake.
The plan for the Great Britain XV has been posted on RTT yesterday morning, so I’m in position at Little Bedwyn by 9:30 – the train had a lengthy (breakfast?) stop at Newbury Racecourse loop while I was on the road, and had no chance of leaving early as a service train in the down platform was blocking the exit. So more or less on time the sound of the approaching express is being carried along on the wind – not the expected three-cylinder beat of a Merchant Navy Pacific as originally planned but the regular rhythm of a 2 cylinder loco – Black Five no. 44932 was substituting. The bright intervals which had punctuated the cloudy conditions on my way out were predictably not in play as the train burst out under the iconic concrete footbridge:
The ‘mixed traffic’ loco looks smart enough with its special headboard featuring the England, Wales and Scotland flags and is giving a good account of itself, but is not one of the glamourous types which you would normally expect to work a premier express in ‘steam days’. On the other hand you would hardly expect the operators to schedule a ‘hard act to follow’ loco on their opening day of the tour. Performance was maintained throughout the trip down to Plymouth with an early arrival. Reportedly the rear end WCR Class 47 diesel was not assisting on the way up to Savernake but would certainly have contributed on the steep gradients of the South Devon banks.
Having got one of the locos wrong, form was maintained when my tentative suggestion thatMayflower would operate the Saphos train to Bristol was also proved to be incorrect. West Country Pacific no. 34046 Braunton had been seen in steam at Southall yesterday and duly appeared on the RTT plan for today’s trip. (So if you stayed out to see both trains you still got a 4-6-0 and a 4-6-2!). An early start at 06:20 was required from Rugby but the changeover to steam at Hanwell was handled better this week and the train was on time approaching Bedwyn nearly 5 hours later. I had time after the GBXV passed to carry on up the line to Crofton checking out the state of viewpoints (for vegetation and other photographers obscuring the view) and decided that the view from the platform was the safest option for a clear shot. The Pacific is also attacking the climb to Savernake with gusto, again clearly heard from way down the valley before blasting through the station.
In this case I’m sitting on the platform and shooting upwards to enhance the powerful look of the loco hard at work. The graduated filter has helped to rein in the effect of the bright sky which can cause problems when your main subject is rather dark. Once over Savernake the train has an easy run down through Pewsey Vale and the Avon valley, with only a slightly delayed arrival at Bristol having had to wait to re-join the busy GW main line outside Bath.
8th April 2023 **Sighting** –
61306 Mayflower on the diverted Cotswolds Explorer
Saphos Trains are active again in our area this week with a Cotswolds Explorer excursion from Norwich, another long distance journey stopping at Hanwell to pick-up steam haulage. The trip was originally planned to be a circular run returning directly from Worcester but the outward sector via Oxford is impacted by the line closure north from Didcot due to problems with the Nuneham viaduct over the Thames flood plain near Abingdon. The spinal north-south route is out of action until at least 23rdApril while engineers stabilise the structure, and so the route is now an out-and-back via Swindon.
On the day: a good weather forecast has tempted me to make another cycle visit to the Vale of White Horse to see the steam special. In spite of an early start from East Anglia the train is not due there until lunchtime, making for a leisurely start and plenty of time to get in position. In fact even more time because the handover to steam has incurred a 30 minutes late start from West London and the train has missed its path on the busy high speed route to Swindon, with further delays while waiting to get out of Challow loop after the water stop.
Nowadays I despair of trying to get a reasonably unobstructed view of trains in the VoWH after the electrification, but I make use of the extra time available to prospect for a more satisfactory viewpoint. I’ve kitted out with the lightweight 50mm prime lens – good for getting through the gaps in paling fences – and I find a new position on the overbridge at Shrivenham and optimise it with test shots of IETs thundering past, eventually ending up with a setting of 1/2000th second to freeze the trains passing at 125mph a few feet away from me. Although the steamer will only be travelling at best half as fast, I stick with this setting as there is ample bright sunshine (hoorah) to achieve a satisfactory exposure.
Eventually the special moves up to the end of the loop and gets the green light after a run of three down IETs, and before long I hear the distinctive sound of a (2 cylinder) steam loco hard at work. I had not been able to establish which loco had been rostered for the job today but it sounds like it will be the same loco as last weekend’s trip to Kent.
Now to test the success or otherwise of my previous experimental shots. The main unknown to contend with is what sort of exhaust to expect from the steam loco. It’s a cold clear day so I need to be prepared to capture any aerial aspects of the steam image. As it turned out I had limited opportunity to do much about this due to the physical constraints placed on me by the location, but luckily is all seemed to turn out well:
I’ve chosen the last of a short sequence for use here, just before losing the front of the loco – to give maximum prominence to the very attractive LNER 4-6-0. The image needed little editing for exposure with the sun ideally located over my right shoulder but I did spend some time removing an intrusive cable running in front of the top of the loco, tender and first carriage! I’m sure it serves a valuable service but it gives the impression of being a spoiler aimed at defeating my best photographic endeavours.
1st April 2023 **Sighting**
– the Golden Arrow excursion to Canterbury
A new offering this year is the Golden Arrow from Saphos Trains (ST) on 1st April stopping to pick up at Hungerford before taking a circular tour of Kent – the traditional area for the Golden Arrow Pullman train from London to the continent. Starting from Bristol it is not surprising to find that the first section of the journey to West London will be diesel-hauled before picking up steam haulage. The brochure indicates that they expect to field a Pacific loco or a similarly powerful 4-6-0.
On the day: it has been raining for 24 hours more or less non-stop and I arrive at the station at 7:30 to find the party of local people huddled under cover in the waiting shelter provided by GWR here. Sadly gone are the days of awnings along the length of the platform! The situation is not helped by the train running 20 minutes late after an on-time departure from Temple Meads – occasioned by the threat of flooding which closed some lines in the Bristol area later in the day.
In due course the special appeared round the curve into the platform to the relief of those waiting. The leading loco, a large livery Class 47 from Loco Services:
was obliged to run right through to the Common to make the rear coaches accessible from the platform. The coaching stock looked smart and well occupied and the rear Pullman car looked particularly welcoming with staff serving breakfast:
A second SLS Class 47 was attached to the rear of the train although at this stage not contributing to the haulage, in fact representing another three carriages or so dead weight to the train load. However it was destined to become more involved later in the day when the steam loco took over from the lead Class 47. Having positioned at the station I was unable to record 47593 laying a black cloud of diesel clag across the Common as the special moved off carefully on its way, leaving me to wonder what sort of day its passengers would experience. Surely there must be some respite from the rain!
I’d already discovered from Realtime Trains that the popular 4-6-0 Mayflower had been scheduled for the steam-hauled section of the journey – not quite the equivalent of a Britannia or a West Country Pacific – and I was able to track down a shot of it on the Railway Herald website (credit: Brian Creasey) at speed escaping from the south London suburbs at Shortlands:
This and other images taken on that day (all around the country) are available free to view at Railway Herald Imaging Centre – 1st April 2023
I was pleased to find that by lunchtime the weather had improved somewhat, giving passengers a better view of countryside with which they would probably have been less familiar. I understand the crossing of the Thames at Chelsea basin was a particular highlight on the mainly freight line through Kensington Olympia. As far as I could tell the rest of the day went as planned with on-time arrivals at Canterbury and back to Hungerford according to the RTT log. However I have since been in touch with one of the local residents to get the customer view of proceedings.
It seems that the overall experience was very enjoyable in spite of the difficult conditions, with the friendliness and enthusiasm of the staff making up for some challenges in delivering the tour as advertised in the brochure. This was a Pullman Dining view where patrons are likely to be more demanding of the service on offer – for the full English Breakfast, afternoon champagne and canapes, and five course dinner. Apparently the company at the 4-seat table was very sociable and the sense of occasion was heightened by the many people who had come out to see the steam special and to wave to the lucky people on board. The circular itinerary with varied country-side and coastal views of the Garden of England provided much interest during the long day out.
Saturday 4th February 2023 **Sighting** –
The Bath & Gloucester Steam Express starting from London Paddington
The steam programme gets under way early this year with a Railway Touring Company steam special from London to Gloucester routed by the Berks & Hants line through Hungerford. The train stops to pick up at Newbury and was not sold out when last viewed on the operator’s web site. As yet there is no information about which steam loco is involved, just that it is one from the northern (Carnforth) pool of West Coast Railways steam locos. It is planned that the steam loco will be in charge throughout the journey with no cost-saving diesel sectors.
The motive power for today’s run travelled down from the North West on Wednesday and my spies told me that the LMS Jubilee 4-6-0 Galatea had been selected for the job. In fact the steamer brought the support coach and a Class 47 down the West Coast main line to Southall rather than the diesel hauling the Jubilee in light steam. Galatea is usually numbered 45699 but is currently running with smokebox number 45627, matching nameplate SIERRA LEONE and 45562 (from Alberta) on the cabside (such is the desire of people to recreate past locos long since demised).
On the day: the weather is dry but gloomy with no directional considerations i.e. uniformly dull. I choose a local spot to view the train but have to travel to the far side of the Common as the usual view from the Dun Mill bridge is blighted by the eyesore that is the Thames Water works. The train is well on time through its journey to Newbury for watering and picking up passengers. A couple of test shots on passenger trains running again suggest that I may get a more even exposure for the steam train using a graduated filter to rebalance the light in the sky and the dark side of the train. So all set up when a steam plume appears from the direction of Kintbury, to be followed shortly by the express bursting on the scene.
Departure from Newbury had been leisurely, losing 5 minutes to schedule but the train is running here at good speed and maintained time to its destination at Gloucester arriving 1 minute early.
The Bath Christmas Market steam-hauled by A4 Pacific Sir Nigel Gresley
Steam Dreams have an excursion from London to Bath which unexpectedly is being routed via the Berks & Hants line through Hungerford on its outbound journey. After a water stop at Newbury Racecourse it is expected through Hungerford just after 12:00
The return journey, after dark, takes the more usual route nowadays across the Vale of White Horse – expected at Steventon at 18:00 and Didcot PW at about 18:44 after a water fill at Milton Jcn.
We have not seen much of the A4s around here after Number 9 (60009 Union of South Africa) retired from the main line before Covid, so it will be an experience to see Sir Nigel Gresley in operation again, although its planned maximum speed of 60mph is rather less than half the record set by its stablemate Mallard in the 1930s! Let’s hope for good weather – cold and clear, as was the case when I photographed it at my old haunt of High Wycombe in the mid-1980s:
In those days it carried an LNER express blue livery but I believe the loco is currently in just plain black after heavy overhaul. At least it’s not in the dark green adopted by BR which gets lost in the countryside around here!
On the day – a check on Realtime Trains reveals that the train is already under way from Victoria, and the operator Loco Services have very helpfully released the haulage details indicating 98898 + 47805 will be in charge. After a moment’s hesitation I realise that TOPS numbering applies and that system has all steam locos as a fictitious Class 98. A check with an internet search reveals that 98898 is the TOPS identity of 4498, aka. 60007!
A further check revels the possibility of ‘up’ trains interfering with a view of the ‘’down’ express across the tracks, so I need to get somewhere on the east side of the line, preferably on the climb to Savernake – which should promote a picturesque amount of steam exhaust on a cold day. The forecast indicates no chance of decent light so right-side / wrong-side considerations do not apply. Bridge 99 over the canal beyond Bedwyn seems to be the best choice and has not featured much in my photography this year.
A stiff north-easterly breeze ensures my prompt arrival at the chosen site, but does not augur well for the possibility of errant exhaust which might upset the composition of the photograph. There are already 8 photographers in situ when I arrive – to be greeted with the news that the train is running late out of the Newbury water-stop, after arriving early at Reading on the line from Early! I take my usual wide viewing position, not much favoured by the others, to be sure of getting a side view of the steam loco. Zoom lens setting will have to be decided when I get a view of the height of the approaching steam plume.
Surprisingly the train loses a few more minutes on the easy run through Hungerford but is in fine fettle when 4498’s Gresley chime whistle sounds passing through Bedwyn. The hoped for burst of sunshine which had appeared occasionally on my ride out to B99 failed to materialise when it was really needed, but the Nikon Z5 managed to record enough detail for me to be able to make it look slightly less dreary than it actually was at the time:
The (temporary) plain black livery looks rather undistinguished for such a prestigious class of loco, but as anticipated it was great to see an A4 in action again on the main line. I notice that the number and LNER markings are not the shiny metallic ones on its previous livery but perhaps they will be restored later as well. I’ve just about got away with the steam exhaust which has not lifted very high and has started to drift across the view further down the train. Perhaps the loco is not working as hard it could be with its Class 47 partner at the rear end:
Difficult to tell with the steam exhaust drifting past, but the presence of a driver in the cab suggests that the diesel is probably taking some of the strain off the A4 at the front. I was surprised to see the two-tone green loco, until I remembered that this is a Loco Services operation rather than West Coast Railways who used to be used by Steam Dreams. D1935 seems to be an earlier identity of 47805.
Wednesday 18th May 2022 – Clan Line and the British Pullman to Bath Spa
I was contacted by my friends at the Merchant Nay Loco Preservation Society (MNLPS) earlier in the week about this Belmond Hotels luxury dining excursion train, which they regretted to say was not coming my way! These are often not well advertised to rail enthusiasts as Belmond’s target market is aimed rather higher than this, but I had noticed it appearing late on the Railway Herald Railtours listing, and had established the bad news about the routing already from Realtime Trains. However while in contact with MNLPS I took the opportunity to enquire after ‘my jigsaw’ – which at my suggestion they had turned into a saleable item of merchandise. Apparently the first production batch sold out before it could reach the Belmond catalogue, and post-Covid there is no immediate prospect of it becoming available again due to Wentworth not undertaking trade-commissions at this time. So if you snapped up one of these there is a prospect of it increasing in value as it may turn out to have ‘limited edition’ status.
I was unenthusiastic about the prospect of trying to photograph Clan Line and the Pullman ‘under the wires’ anywhere between Reading and Wootton Bassett junction but on the day, bright and breezy, decided to give it a go again in conjunction with a tentative cycle ride over the downs to the Vale of White Horse. A helpful tail wind meant that I arrived at an overbridge at Bourton near Swindon with a half hour to spare and the train still in the loop at Challow.
I had chosen the location, on a rather uncomfortable ‘rat run’ bridge with no footpath, as there is a short section of one-sided OLE gantries (ground conditions unsuitable?) which at least give a view clear of upright obstructions, although the rest of the overhead wires and associated hardware are difficult to ignore. The major down side of this choice was that I would potentially be on the wrong side considering the direction of the sun and the wind – the latter likely to obscure my view blowing the exhaust smoke and steam towards me.
In the event I need not have had any concerns – the only cloud in the sky obscured the sun as the train approached, and the exhaust was minimal and well-behaved:
Without the sun, the colours are rather more muted than I would have preferred, but this was never going to be a classic shot even if the lighting had been perfect (which is usually a requirement to get images published). So I don’t have a problem with ‘wrong side’ shadows down the length of the train. The contrast between the dull surroundings and the sunshine lighting up the ridgeway hills in the distance is very marked. Uffington Castle, the iron-age hill fort can just be picked out on the skyline, although the White Horse is not visible from this angle.
The light exhaust while accelerating the 12 coach train away from its Challow stop with the next IET rapidly approaching was surprising and unlike the vigorous working of Mayflower when it came through here recently. The reason was adequately explained when stepping (carefully) across the road for a going away shot:
…. to find one of the Royal Class 67s providing substantial rear-end assistance. 67005 Queen’s Messenger was an appropriate choice in this time of Jubilee euphoria. This image reminds me how sensible it was to get as many pics as I could in the Vale before the views were trashed by what must be the ugliest line electrification anywhere in the world!
MNLPS had no information about any future runs of Clan Line on the Berks & Hants line but I have noticed, again through Railway Herald Railtours, two runs on 2nd and 9th July on the line through Andover recreating the last days of steam on the Southern in the 1960s, which were memorably recorded at the time for Argo Records by Peter Handford.
Tuesday 5th April 2022 –
Steam Dreams excursion from London to Bath with LNER 4-6-0 61306 Mayflower
Good news is that Steam Dreams have been running steam specials already this year and they are advertising a trip to Bath next week which is due to be using the Berks & Hants route via Newbury and Westbury. They have had a couple of days out with Flying Scotsman which no doubt attracted the usual amount of attention, but the trip to Bath is more for the connoisseurs with the smaller 4-6-0 looking more like an ex-LNER steam loco in its apple-green livery (rather than the duller BR green of FS with its incongruous German-style smoke deflectors).
Detailed timings appeared towards the end of the week prior to the run giving people a good chance to see steam on the B&H line for the first time for many months
On the day – the usual problem of where to take my photos of the train, especially as Mayflower has appeared many times here in recent years and I’m anxious not to repeat myself. I’ve had some success recently with the canal-side location at Little Bedwyn which provides an intimate view of the haulage without necessarily encompassing the whole train. It has the further advantage of being right-side for the sun (if only) and free from interruption by trains passing in the other direction. I arrive well in time with no companions in view although a small crowd gradually builds on the road bridge behind me. No one fancies the location I have chosen – which may be a mistake, or good planning on my part!
The run has proceeded to plan and the train makes a prompt departure from the water stop at Newbury Racecourse. However progress seems a little sluggish along the Kennet Valley resulting in a few minutes dropped before the start of the climb to Savernake. Before long the staccato beat of the B1’s exhaust can be heard just as a heavy stone train passes in the other direction – probably to the relief of the people on the bridge who may otherwise have been blind-sided. The view from my vantage point did not disappoint, having chosen an appropriate framing after a test shot with a previous stone train proved unsatisfactory:
Any concerns about the ability of the train to keep to time were eased by the reassuring sight of a WCR Type 4 diesel out of the way at the rear of the train, and in fact an on-time arrival at Bath Spa was achieved.
For the evening return of the train, the issue of where to observe was even more contentious with the sun being behind the eastbound train for most of the immediate locations. I decided to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and equip with the long telephoto lens for my walk across the Common. This has a large ‘flower pot’ hood so that I can shoot very close to the sun without the image being fogged. By now the wind has increased uncomfortably – not appreciated when the late decision appears to have been made to stop for water at Woodborough rather than Theale, 20 minutes out of the schedule which would have been taken after it passed me! Even so, patience was rewarded with a lively run past in manageable lighting conditions which actually added a little drama to the image without detracting too much from the need to capture detail:
It has been good to see main line steam here again and it is to be hoped that the event was a commercial success as well as rewarding for those people who chose to participate.
Tuesday 28th September 2021 – Mayflower to Cornwall
and further down the Return Journey
Following the disappointment of cancelling the Flying Scotsman trips last weekend, Steam Dreams still expect to be running their 3 nights holiday excursion departing on Tuesday and returning the following Friday. This should be a memorable spectacle with double heading planned – the ever-popular LNER B1 4-6-0 no. 61306 Mayflower plus one other unspecified but similarly powerful express loco. The initial steam leg of the journey starts from London Victoria but takes the classic GWR route to the South West via Newbury to Exeter St Davids. The schedule on RTT for the journey indicates that it will pass through Hungerford at about 11:55.
On the day: heavy overnight rain has made for a squelchy march over the Common, and I’m out earlier than planned to catch the WCR diesel support for the excursion, which is due to take over from steam haulage at Plymouth for the final leg to Penzance. Unexpectedly the sun shows up for the occasion and with just one other photographer we are delighted to see what WCR have laid on for the occasion:
Instead of one of the workman-like Class 47 or 57 express engines, we have the more characterful looks of an English Electric Class 37 Co-Co no. 37706 and the almost as powerful Sulzer–engined Class 33 Bo-Bo no. 33207. The duo were obliged to slow for an adverse signal by the Dun Mill bridge, but the 37 is making its characteristic growl as it accelerates away again.
The diesels set off from the WCR Southall depot at much the same time as the excursion train left London Victoria, but it’s now a wait of an hour or more for the latter to turn up after spending time at Newbury Racecourse loop while the steam locos are watered. It’s ‘touch and go’ whether the sun will be similarly out for the main train to pass through the Common, especially with signs of heavy showers to the east over Newbury. GW expresses and local DMUs provide some distraction and we are even treated to the rare sight of an IET on a local stopping service (it’s been mostly DMU replacements while the IETs have been side-lined with cracks) being looped to allow a long-distance IET to overtake it!
Patience is eventually rewarded with the sight of a healthy steam plume appearing above the trees to the east:
… and the express train appears just as the sun takes a few seconds AWOL! However the lighting is still reasonably even although the colours shine less so than above. My money was on Mayflower heading the train in honour of the title of the excursion. For whatever reason LMS Jubilee no. 45596 Bahamas led the way and sounded its Stanier hooter approaching the small gallery of photographers and spectators (and the orange suits working on the Dun Mill bridge).
Friday 1st October 2021 – the return of Steam Dreams’ excursion ‘Mayflower to Cornwall’
The double-headed steam train is due to be working back through here again this coming Friday afternoon shortly after 16:15 – the journey back to London Victoria is due to be via the same Southern route to London Victoria from Reading as used on the outbound trip . In case you missed them earlier in the week and are interested in 60 year old diesel locomotives, the pair of WCR locos which worked this holiday trip in Cornwall are due to be following shortly behind the steam train on their way back to a stopover at Theale.
It remains to be seen whether Mayflower comes out from being in the shadow of Bahamas for the return trip.
On the day: the return journeys started well enough but the stop at Taunton for staffing purposes cost 20mins delay, much of which was recovered on the section to Westbury. As I arrived at my viewing point in Little Bedwyn, I noted that the steam train and its diesel companions were waiting at Heywood Rd Jcn just out of Westbury – far longer than they should have but delayed by GW expresses coming up from the West Country. Once under way again (thank goodness as the afternoon was turning chilly), progress was again halted with another stop at Woodborough loop and again as planned (for water?) standing for 20mins on the main line at Pewsey (that’s why they had to wait for the ‘up’ expresses to clear).
My initial plan to shoot in the tree-lined space at Little Bedwyn was defeated by the nearly 90min late arrival of the special, during which time dark shadows had encroached on the track. Even up on the road bridge there was a danger that the by now low sun would stretch shadows into areas which would cause me problems. It was always going to be a tricky shot if the sun shone:
…. but it has a realistic ‘end of summer’ feel to it as the season for steam specials winds down, after its late start this year. The steam locos seem to be in fine fettle, and when given the road they seem to be well able to keep to schedule.
Not forgetting the diesels which were dutifully following the special at this time, I plan a zoomed-in shot for the portrait of the two vehicles:
The steam locos had been turned for the return journey but still not with Mayflower able get much of a look in. However the diesels now had the Class 33 in the lead. 33207 is named Jim Martin but is more popularly know as ‘Slim Jim’ in reference to the 33/2s narrower bodywork, needed when there were width restrictions on the SR Hastings line, and apparent here in comparison with the normal-width Class 37 behind it.
So that was that for the day, and having warmed up after an equally chilly ride back home I note that the steam train was still 77mins late at Reading, after which it disappeared from its schedule on RTT. I eventually found it travelling round the back of Acton Mainline having taken the quicker GW route into London, but having to cross over the Thames at Chelsea to get back to Southern approach to London Victoria. What an eventful journey!
Sunday 18th July 2021 – LMS Jubilee Class 4-6-0 45596 Bahamas
on a Steam Dreams excursion to Salisbury
The programme of steam-hauled specials has slowly started to recover with the easing of Covid restrictions and the first train through Hungerford is due to operate this coming Sunday. Steam Dreams have had to postpone some of their early restarts but hopefully this trip to Salisbury and the separate circular working from there will go ahead. Motive power is expected to be this LMS express 4-6-0 which is undertaking a series of workings in the south before returning to its home on the Keighley and Worth Valley Rly. At the time of writing the schedules indicate that the train is expected to pass through Hungerford at about 10:50 in the morning and 19:20 for the evening return.
A historical note – the LMS Jubilee class of locos was introduced at the time of the Silver Jubilee of King George V who was also honoured with his own name on the pioneer King Class loco no. 6000 by the GWR in 1927. A number of the locos in the Jubilee class were named after colonies of the British Empire (as it was then). At the time the Crown issued postage stamps for use by the smaller colonies and the Silver Jubilee was marked with its own special issue. A thought occurred to me to check if I had one for the Bahamas in my stamp collection ….. et voilà:
It was customary for young people to be interested in postage stamps when I was growing up – even meriting its own section in my Meccano magazines.
At the time of the Jubilee Mrs. B (senior) was working at the Ipswich stamp dealer Whitfield King (long since defunct) and sent New Issues like this to customers all over the world.
All of this speaks of a different age!
On the day: the heat wave of the past few days continues and everything seems to be in order as a group of a dozen photographers wait at Bridge 99 on the K&A canal. The down express comes through Newbury station while Bahamas is being watered and the unequal race starts as the special joins the main line again when the IET has cleared the way. So some minutes to wait after a practice shot of the IET before the three-cylinder beat can be heard approaching from Bedwyn. The double chimney on the Jubilee (unique for the class) is being put to good use as the loco powers its ten coach train up the gradient to Savernake, although the warm temperatures already in the high 20s preclude any sight of steam exhaust – just a light haze from the coal which is no doubt being piled in to the firebox at this stage:
A camera malfunction this morning in the extreme heat meant that I only got the first of what was meant to be a short series of alternative angles – so I had to crop the image rather more than normally. I resolved to get closer to the train for the evening shot and used a more modern FF Nikon to get dependably a sequence of images.
It was still 30 Celsius when I arrived early at Little Bedwyn for one of my currently favourite evening locations. The train was on time into Westbury, where after it was delayed by IET services up from the West Country, themselves probably delayed by speed restrictions over sections of track affected by the extreme heat. In spite of a shorter stop than planned at Woodborough the special was still several minutes behind schedule and I was beginning to worry about the shadows creeping across the frame I’d set up for the shot. All my previous visits had been in gloomy weather and dappled shade had not been an issue. This time it provided welcome relief from the burning sun but also took a bit of selective editing to produce a reasonable result:
Checking back to this morning I see that the train has gained a headboard, always a welcome addition making it feel more like an occasion and in this case rather more imposing than the understated Bahamas nameplate mounted over the front driving wheel splasher. In both of my pictures the ex-LMS loco would have stood out better in the LMS express maroon livery than its camouflage BR green.
The First since the First Lockdown !!!
Hi all – not been much to report lately as people are more able to see interesting railway workings for themselves, since lockdown restrictions have eased considerably. However I thought you may be interesting in a noteworthy event on my line today – the first excursion train here since the leisure travel ban was brought in. Statesman Rail have apparently invested in getting their coaching stock virus-safe and are back in the game sooner than many of the other tour operators. Their Peterborough – Paignton train today is just one of a number diesel-hauled specials which are beginning to start up again – no info about steam haulage here yet. It is due to return this way later today at about 19:00 if you want to see a heritage Class 47 and the Statesman Pullman car train.
My shot (below) of the train returning this evening. Fortunately the sun was not shining (don’t often say that)
making the lighting conditions more even, although less luminous**
Thursday 12th March 2020 ***Sighting*** –
LMS Black Five 4-6-0 no. 45212 on a Steam Dreams excursion to Bath
This train from Clapham Jcn to Bath via the Surrey Hills south of London on paper seemed likely to give our area a wide berth, judged by recent precedents – so was not included in the Local Schedule. However my contact at Steam Dreams advises that it will be travelling out from Reading via the Berks & Hants route and we will thus get a much earlier than expected opportunity to see steam in action on the main line. There is already a plan for the outbound journey on Realtime Trains from which we can expect to see the train passing through Hungerford at about 11:25 after a water stop at Newbury Racecourse from 11:01-16. The return journey is via the GW main line to Reading – with for example a water stop at Milton Jcn at 18:01-39
On the day: two steam specials were called off yesterday but a check on Realtime Trains this morning revealed that this one was taking place, albeit over 30 mins late getting underway. Due observance for water stops confirmed that steam haulage was involved, but the train was having difficulty not losing further time running out of its planned path. Certainly being allowed to precede a late-running West Country IET service out of Reading helped in this cause! (Thoughts of a car driver having to mark time behind a cyclist on a narrow country lane come to mind). To avoid further such situations the special made a lively start from its water stop at the Racecourse, and was still putting up an impressive show as it came into sight rounding the curve off the Common and blasting through the station:
I had taken a challenging position on the opposite platform, keeping a careful eye on two stone trains which were threatening to block my view. An opportune shovelful of coal on the fire has added to the already well delineated back-lit steam exhaust, and there is enough reflected light to bring out the detail in the shadows. The train required such vigorous running to maintain the schedule up the valley and over Savernake summit – by way of contingency in the latter part of the run it was able to reach Bath just about on time. No doubt passengers at the front of the train near the loco had an exciting experience of steam hard at work.