Cotswold Festival of Steam: 2018

“Give my regards to Broadway” was the theme chosen by the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway for their Cotswold Festival of Steam this year.
It might sound a rather odd choice of theme if you’ve not been following the GWSR’s major project to reopen the line from Toddington to Broadway, a project that has involved extensive repair work to the bridges between the two stations and the total reconstruction of the station at Broadway, British Railways having totally demolished the original after the line closed.



The reopening of the extension at Easter this year was the culmination of many years hard work by a dedicated band of volunteers. So it was only natural that the 2018 Festival of Steam celebrated the achievement.

For the event the railway lined up an impressive cast of guest performers:

GWR King class no.6023 King Edward II
BR M7 class no.70013 Oliver Cromwell
GWR 64xx class no.6430
USATC S160 class no.5197
Along with resident performers:
GWR 28xx class no.2807
GWR Modified Hall class no.7903 Foremarke Hall
GWR Manor class no.7820 Dinmore Manor
SR Merchant Navy class no.35006 Peninsular and Oriental S.N. Co.

Without doubt the star of the show had to be the King resplendent in its early British Railways blue express passenger livery. Which was the co-star would be a matter of some debate as each of the locos would have their admirers, but for many the choice would be the S160.



S160’s are a bit like Marmite, you either like them or you don’t, these large American no-nonsense Second World War austerity designs were built to haul heavy freight trains not to win beauty contests. The majority of them were shipped to Europe and beyond but some 800 of them worked on railways in Britain. Like them or not, the S160’s are impressive locomotives and provide an interesting contrast to British locos.



Unusually for an English Bank Holiday weekend the weather was quite decent, if you ignore the very misty start of the day and a short shower of rain on Saturday morning, but by mid-afternoon the temperature had increased to give us a pleasantly warm afternoon.



The first gala featuring Broadway station was clearly a big draw as nearly every train on Saturday, and quite a few on Monday, was full and standing even though there were two eight coach rakes and one 7 coach rake in use. The railway appeared to have every serviceable coach they had in use even to the extent of using their three car DMU, with its drive disconnected, as an additional train which was in the charge of GWR pannier no.6430.



The timetable worked well on the two days I was there with no serious delays or late running. During a gap in the timetable at Winchcombe the GWR 28xx no.2807 kept everyone entertained by shunting up and down the station with a couple of wagons.



The North Gloucestershire Narrow Gauge Railway was also operating, but there was so much happening on the main line that I didn’t get the opportunity to ride on that this year. At Toddington there were several traction and showman’s engines on display, both full size and miniature, there was also an impressive fairground organ.



A lot of planning and organising clearly went into the gala and all those involved in the planning and operation should be congratulated for putting on such an enjoyable event.




Some more of my photographs of the gala can be found on my website here.

Bluebell Railway Branch Line Gala 2018.

While it’s always good to go to a steam gala and see the big impressive main line locos strut their stuff we shouldn’t loose sight of the little engines. The tank engines that hauled passenger and freight trains on Britain’s myriad of branch lines, the unsung heroes, if you will, of our railway network.



It was these little engines that the Bluebell Railway choose to feature at their Branch Line Gala, better yet, it wasn’t the well known locomotives of the Big Four that were action, no, it was Locomotives from the pre-grouping companies resplendent in their original liveries that were in action.



The locomotives taking part were:

SER O1 class no.65
SR Q class no.30541
SECR H class no.263
SECR P class no.323
and special visitor GWR no.813. (Originally Port Talbot Railway & Docks Company no.26)



In keeping with the branch line theme the Bluebell Railway marshalled several short rakes of beautifully restored vintage carriages, some dating back to the 1900’s along with some slightly more modern stock. Riding in a four wheel coach with only basic suspension you felt almost every rail joint, but it was all part of the authentic branch line experience, rail travel as it was at the start of the last century.



I went on the Friday and Saturday, on the Friday there were three locos in action running a standard timetable with each train running the whole length of the line. On Saturday the timetable was very different with most trains terminating at Horsted Keynes and then returning to where they’d come from which created a busy branch line junction atmosphere at the station with loco changes and coach rakes being combined and split.



On two occasions trains terminated at Kingscote which led to the interesting spectacle of three trains being at the station at the same time. This meant a bit of shunting with the loco on the terminated service having to run round its train and then shunt it into a siding to make way for the two through services to pass each other.

Congratulations and thanks to all the staff and volunteers at the Bluebell Railway for the time and effort they all put in to make this such an excellent and enjoyable gala.



Here’s my video of the gala, it looks best in full screen mode (click the little X at the right of the player bar) and don’t forget to turn your computer’s speakers on.



You can see more of my photos of the gala on my website  here.

West Somerset Railway Spring Steam Gala 2018

This year the WSR’s spring steam gala was held from the 22nd to the 25th March, the theme for the gala was “Great Western Routes and Branches”.

Those of you who know me, or have visited this blog before, will know that I am a GWR enthusiast so this was an especially interesting gala for me. There were six Great Western locomotives in action; 6960 ‘Raveningham Hall’, 6990 ‘Witherslack Hall’, 7822 ‘Foxcote Manor’, 94xx class pannier tank no.9466, 57xx pannier tank no.7714 and 14xx class no.1450 which was running with GWR autocoach no.178.

There was one other locomotive in action that was not Great Western, or even British, this was the United States Army Transportation Corps S160 class no.6046. This large and impressive 2-8-0 was in charge of the gala’s special attraction, a military goods train which included several flat wagons loaded with small military vehicles accompanied by a squad of British army ‘soldiers’ riding in the brake van to guard the train.  The inclusion of this American loco is not quite as out of place as you might imagine, at one time during World War 2 there were 174 of them working on the GWR.


The S&DJR 7F no.53808 was on station pilot duty at Minehead while Pecket no.1788 ‘Kilmersdon’ and Andrew Barclay no.1219 ‘Caledonia Works’ on display at Washford completed the line-up of locomotives.

The timetable for this gala was slightly unusual in that it was the same for all four days, the only thing that changed was the loco allocations for each train, except for the military goods which was always hauled by the S160. As has become a feature of galas some of the trains were extended to the end of the line at Norton Fitzwarren rather than terminating at Bishops Lydeard. 1450 and the autocoach ran regular shuttle services between Norton and Williton.


For those wanting to travel in luxury the WSR Association’s Hawksworth designed GWR inspection saloon was attached to one of the coach sets. Another of the sets included the WSRA’s Quantock Belle dining cars where passengers could enjoy either a cooked breakfast, lunch or cream tea depending on the time of day.

One unusual attraction was the 1931 Sentinel steam omibus ‘Elizabeth’ which is the only working steam omnibus still in public service today. Part of the Crossville heritage fleet it was running between Minehead and Dunster.


West Somerset Resorations and the Diesel and Electric Group’s workshops were open at Williton as were the museums at Bishops Lydeard, Washford and Blue Anchor. The Taunton Model Railway Club’s clubhouse at Bishops Lydeard where visitors could see the club’s layouts in operation.

Altogether it was another excellent and enjoyable gala and a credit to all the railway’s staff and volunteers who worked so hard to organise it and make it happen. Special thanks must go to the loco engineers who worked through the night to repair the S160 so it would be back in action for the following day.



Here’s my video of the gala.

There are lots more photographs of the gala on my website here.

Are railways ‘cool’ again?

Years ago if you admitted to being a railway enthusiast you would be just asking to be regarded as some sort of strange weirdo, the stereotyped nerd in an anorak standing at the end of a station platform with a notebook and pencil.
But in 2016 hundreds of thousands of people packed into stations and stood by the lineside to watch a steam locomotive go past, that locomotive was the world famous A3 class LNER pacific no.60103, also known as 4472, Flying Scotsman. The occasion was its return to steam after a long, and expensive, repair and restoration.



Similar scenes were witnessed in 2009 when the then newly built LNER A1 class no.60163 Tornado made its first run on the main line.



Over the past few months there have been almost more programmes on television about railways than you could shake a fireman’s shovel at. There have been several programmes chronicling the history and restoration of Flying Scotsman, programmes featuring the Canadian Rocky Mountain Railroad, Australian Railroads, a series documenting the incredible feats of engineering that were required to build railway lines across inhospitable landscapes and the lengths they went to to cross mountains, rivers and canyons, a series exploring the coastal railways of Britain, even one about a group of enthusiasts who built a railway to take a miniature live steam model locomotive through the forests in the highlands of Scotland. We should also not forget Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys, a programme while mostly concerned with visiting places of interest by train does, on occasion, feature a visit to one of our heritage steam railways.



When considering famous locomotives like Flying Scotsman we should not forget that other locomotive that’s well known around the world, a small blue 0-6-0 tank engine called Thomas. Personally, I wouldn’t go anywhere near a Thomas the Tank Engine event. But don’t get me wrong about Thomas, he’s a great ambassador for railways and a great way to introduce young children to railways. Like many children I grew up with Rev. Awdry’s engines, although in my day the main character was Edward supported by his friends Gordon and Henry.



The return to steam of Flying Scotsman and, to a lesser extent the arrival of Tornado, would appear to have ignited a renewed interest in railways. I certainly find that people are keen to tell me that they’ve seen a steam locomotive on the main line or about their visit to one of the heritage railways so it seems to me that being a railway enthusiast is now OK and ‘cool’.



So what do you think?

Mid-Hants Railway Spring Gala 2018

For me the Mid-Hants Pre-Spring Steam Gala marks the start of the steam railway gala season.

This year’s Gala was not without its problems. One of the originally intended guest locomotives was unable to take part because it was needed on its home railway, and a replacement was found in the form of GWR 0-6-0 pannier tank no.1501. For me this was a highly acceptable substitute as I regard any GWR locos taking part in a gala as a definite bonus. The other problem the Mid-Hants had was that both of the Black 5s that were to take part failed and it was a great credit to the hard work of the engineers at the railway’s works at Ropley and the locos owners that both locomotives were repaired in time to take part in the gala.

South Western Railway had its own problems on Friday and my train arrived at Alton 20 minutes late, fortunately I had allowed plenty of time for the journey so I still arrived with time to spare before the first train of the gala.

Sadly the weather was not all that kind. I went on the Friday and Saturday, Friday was very cold and there was even a brief flurry of snowflakes at one point thankfully the snowfall didn’t last very long and the snow didn’t settle on the ground. Saturday was a slightly better day temperature-wise but there was a light rain throughout the day which rather put a damper on things. The order of the day was take up your position, take your photos then either board the train or retreat to somewhere under cover to wipe the rain off your cameras. I found that the small plastic bag that had contained my lunch made a very handy protective cover for my video camera on the tripod, my DSLR took up its usual place under my coat.

Weather aside I thought it was an excellent gala the theme of the gala was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of steam on British Railways. The locomotives taking part were:

LMS Black 5 no.45379
LMS Black 5 no.45231 ‘The Sherwood Forester’
LMS Ivatt class 2MT no.41312
BR Standard class 4MT no.76017
SR Schools class 925 ‘Cheltenham’
GWR/BR 15xx class no.1501

One of the interesting points of the gala were the regular freight train workings between Alresford and Ropley, there were two different freight trains running and between them they did four round trips during the day. As well as providing some variety for the photographers they were a perfect opportunity for the railway to show off its excellent collection of restored goods wagons.
The railway’s famous Real Ale Train, the RAT, was running as part of one of the passenger sets.

One of the ‘set pieces’ of the gala was the recreation of the 15 guinea special, the last steam train on British Rail complete with a replica of its 1T57 reporting number which was hauled by the two Black 5s, as was the original (although they weren’t the same Black 5s that worked the original train). I found it a bit disappointing that the railway choose to run this special as the first train out of Alresford which meant that those who travelled to the gala by train and started from Alton didn’t get to see it or have the opportunity to travel on it, the return working from Alton was the second to last departure meaning that there was no way of returning to Alton for anyone who travelled on it. I suspect I was not the only person who had hoped that it would run mid-morning & mid-afternoon so that I could have the opportunity to travel on it and video & photograph it passing through Ropley.
This disappointment, and the bad weather, aside I had an enjoyable time at the gala and was able to take some nice photographs and am looking forward to returning in October for the Autumn Gala.

Here is my video of the gala.

Some more of my photographs of the gala can be found on my website

Photographing trains: Heritage lines

Photographing trains on heritage railways is in many ways a lot easier than photographing on the main line, to start with the locomotives are not going anywhere near as fast and you usually get more than one opportunity to photograph each loco, especially during a gala.
Indeed, during a gala there could be anything between six and ten locomotives taking part and for a gala the railway will usually have a fairly intense timetable so there’s not much waiting time between trains. Continue reading “Photographing trains: Heritage lines”

Photographing Trains: Mainline.

Photographing trains on the mainline has its own special problems. When you consider that a train on the mainline is probably approaching you at 60+ miles per hour you’ve probably got just 30 or 40 seconds to get your photo before train is past and gone.

If you’re at a station and you stand on the opposite platform to the one the train is due on you can get a good shot of the loco as it passes, although there is always the risk that a service train will arrive at the crucial moment and totally block your view! Continue reading “Photographing Trains: Mainline.”

Photographing Trains: Tornado

Over the past few months Didcot Railway Centre, home of the Great Western Society and all things Great Western, has been invaded by visitors from the London North Eastern Railway.

In August the centre was host to the famous A3 class no.60103 Flying Scotsman and A4 class no.60009 Union of South Africa, then towards the end of October it was announced that A1 class no.60163 Tornado would take possession of the centre’s main demonstration line. Continue reading “Photographing Trains: Tornado”

Photographing trains: Flying Scotsman

During the August Bank Holiday what is generally referred to as the World’s Most Famous Locomotive, LNER A3 no.60103 Flying Scotsman, visited Didcot Railway Centre, then two weeks later the locomotive visited the West Somerset Railway for a few days and the railway organised a programme of special trains.
Continue reading “Photographing trains: Flying Scotsman”

Docklands Light Railway

The Docklands Light Railway was opened in 1987 to serve the old London docklands area that was being redeveloped. Originally the DLR had two routes, Tower Gateway station on the edge of the City of London to Stratford and Island Gardens. With the continued development of docklands as one of London’s major financial centres the DLR’s popularity grew to the point where the limited routes were no longer able to provide the transport requirements of the area. Continue reading “Docklands Light Railway”