Preserved ‘86’ back at home on the WCML
By: Web Editor
E3137/86259 Les Ross hauls a series of charter trains out of Euston. David Russell samples ‘The Cumbrian Mountain Express’ with vintage electric and steam traction.
RAILWAY Touring Company ran a series of charters from Euston to Carlisle featuring steam haulage over both Shap and the Settle & Carlisle line during February. Although the steam power was the primary interest for many, an added attraction for followers of modern traction was the use of preserved Class 86 No. E3137/86259 Les Ross on the non-steam legs out of Euston to and from Preston/Carnforth. With RTC being a predominantly steam operator, the tours rarely feature in detail in these columns, so it seemed an ideal opportunity to review one of the trains.
The preserved Class 86 was, until last year, based at Tyseley and had been used on occasions by Vintage Trains since its return to the main line in 2008. It moved to Willesden last year and has just undergone a repaint at Washwood Heath, returning south on February 2, just two days before the first of the ‘Cumbrian Mountain Express’ trains, on which your reviewer travelled. I boarded the train at Crewe, and the ‘86’ had clearly put in a good performance on the first leg of its run north from Euston as it arrived a few minutes early, despite expectations that it would run late owing to slow line working in the Bletchley area following the derailment of 90046 the previous day.
A good run was had to Preston, 86259 Les Ross being very much at home on a route which it regularly operated on for over 35 years. The loco’s 100mph capability and faster acceleration from stations makes it ideal for WCML work, enabling better paths to be obtained on the busy line. I felt sorry for those passengers located in the coach directly behind the ‘86’ (Green Train TSO 5216), as it seemed to lack any form of heating as far as Preston. Fortunately, although the ETH appeared not to be working in the vehicle, the steam heat was, so once ‘Black 5’ 45305 Alderman A E Draper backed onto the stock, things warmed up. The train reversed at Preston, with the steam loco heading south before diverging towards Blackburn, Clitheroe and the Settle & Carlisle line.
A water stop was undertaken at Hellifield, prior to tackling the gradients of the S&C. The ‘Black 5’ put in a noisy performance as it tackled the climb to Blea Moor. Unlike much of the country which suffered heavy downfalls that day, the route boasted only a light dusting of snow. After a brief leg stretch at Appleby, arrival at Carlisle would have been on time had it not been for a signal stop outside the station for over 15 minutes due to ‘station congestion’ caused by other late running services.
Consequently, the tour arrived some 20 minutes late, and this would result in further delays being encountered on the return journey.
‘RST’ is reached
A break of around 80 minutes was planned for Carlisle, which was just sufficient time to water and turn the loco in readiness for its return south. Owing to the late arrival, the tour was unable to leave on time, and it left 18 minutes behind schedule.
The train was booked to run non-stop all the way to Carnforth where the ‘Black 5’ would be replaced by 86259. Unfortunately, the delayed departure meant that, despite an impressive assault of Shap, the tour had to be looped at Grayrigg to enable a Virgin service, the 15.40 Glasgow-Euston, to pass. This train, and the following services which also overtook the tour at Grayrigg, would have passed the tour at Carnforth if it had not been running late.
Further delays were encountered at Carnforth, where, following the replacement of 45305 by the AC electric, the train had to wait for several timetabled services to pass before it could cross over back onto the southbound WCML. The train was over 60 minutes late when it finally left Carnforth – Railtour Standard Time had, unfortunately, been achieved!
There had been an obvious deterioration in the weather on the journey south from Carlisle, several inches of snow being visible in some areas, and raindrops actually freezing on the outside of the windows of the stock, such were the low temperatures. The weather, however, presented no problems for the Class 86 as it took the tour from Carnforth back to Euston, although conflicting movements saw the train further delayed, charters appearing to be at the bottom of the pile on many occasions when it comes to signalling. Although I alighted at Crewe, I understand that a further delay was encountered later on, the tour being held for around 15 minutes outside Euston at around 23.15. Hopefully, this didn’t cause anybody to miss their last train/tube home that evening.
As the train departed Crewe, Les Ross himself was spotted in the rear cab, no doubt a happy and proud man. The popularity of the four trips on Saturdays in February has resulted in a further two identical trips being added to RTC’s programme in March and April, so hopefully this will augur well for future outings with the loco on the non-steam legs of tours out of Euston.
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