Steam Special

photos  by

Tony Bartlett

The latest 2021 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.

updated 03.10.2021

Tuesday 28th September 2021Mayflower 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.