There is a long-standing midwinter tradition of a double-headed circular steam bash from Manchester Victoria, often but not always involving the Black Rileys. This was to have been replaced this year by the inaugural main line excursion of Flying Scotsman, but in the end it was not to be. The long and painstaking overhaul at Rileys just needed a little more fettling, but in the end the paperwork was finished just too late to allow the necessary main line tests before Scotsman could run.
So it was that the midwinter tradition was upheld, and No 44871 was summoned back from the NYMR so that Ian's immaculate pair of Stanier Black Five 4-6-0s could head the Winter Cumbrian Mountain Express. They pulled into Victoria with a Mark 2 POB, 11 Mark 1s and 57313 to provide electric heat.
Leaving 24 minutes late because the locos had arrived late on NR metals from the ELR, we were held again at Ordsall Lane Junction, but after that we blasted our way westwards on the 186 year old line towards Liverpool. We accelerated alongside the M602 to 51 at Eccles, 55 at Patricroft and 57 at the M60, maintaining this near-maximum speed across Chat Moss until turning north on the West Coast main line at Parkside Junction and Golborne Junction. We made our first 60 of the day along near level track at Bamfurlong, but we were still 24 down at the Wigan stop.
Both locos then powered away, reaching 44 at the top of the 1 in 104 at Boars Head. Still accelerating up the easier grades to 61 before Coppull, we managed 64 on the run down to Balshaw Lane but then had to mosey against signals until turning right at Farington Junction, now 27 late. A sharp climb through Bamber Bridge took us up to 37 at the summit at Hoghton and we had pulled a few minutes back by the Blackburn stop.
Once past Daisyfield Junction we had another sharp climb up to Ramsgreave and Wilpshire, accelerating all the way and reaching the station at 34 mph. Downhill towards Whalley we touched 47 through Langho but there were no more fireworks along the freight only line.
We reached Hellifield only ten minutes down but filling two tenders from a single headed standpipe was never going to be quick. I was intrigued to note that one hose led from the standpipe to the rear engine (45407) then another from 45407 to 44871 on the front. Pumping or even siphoning I wondered? By the time this was done we were 45 late and we were told we were being held to let the service train past. But two minutes later with no train having passed, the signal rose and the Riley Fives were off like a pair of rockets.
The bark from the two locomotives echoed across Upper Ribblesdale as their speed rose quickly to 42 at Long Preston and right up to 60 at The Riddings, well before Settle Junction, reached in six minutes at 56, saving a minute on the schedule already. Onto the 1 in 100 of the S & C proper, we passed Settle at 51, Stainforth at 45 and entered Taitlands Tunnel at 43. At Helwith Bridge we reattained 43, then briefly up to 45 on the level stretch then back to 43 at Horton in Ribblesdale, by which time we had gained eight minutes on the schedule. We maintained this sort of speed until the Ribblehead slowing, then barked up to Blea Moor and the Tunnel in the 20s.
We skimmed blithely along the mostly level tops through Dent and Garsdale in the 50s and went over Ais Gill at 54 in 41 minutes from Hellifield. We then rattled down all the way to Appleby at a consistent 60 mph, the maximum both for the line and these locomotives.
More speedy and consistent running towards Carlisle saw 59 at Kirkby Thore, 62 at Culgaith, 60 at Long Meg, and 61 at Scotby, a sound end to a thrilling outbound run.
Carlisle station was in emergency mode following the bridge collapse at Lamington on the main Caledonian route to Glasgow. Pendolinos from down south were all terminating, Super Voyagers were shuttling to Glasgow via the GWS route, and TPE electric units were running only to Lockerbie. So the platforms and central roads were very busy, and our stock was towed out very soon after our arrival. When it came back in shortly before departure, it was clear that all shunting movements had been dispensed with: the whole train had been turned on the triangle. So I was lucky enough to be in the second coach all day, continuing to get the great sound effects.
Our Black Fives pulled us briskly out of Carlisle on the WCML southwards. We passed Wreay at 43, Southwaite at 53 and Plumpton at 56. We slowed for Penrith to pass on time at 46 and were then looped at Eden Valley for other traffic to pass. Climbing away, we passed Harrisons Sidings at 46 and Shap station at 50, but went more slowly over Shap Summit at 42. We ran freely down past Scout Green at 57 then after slowing to 49 at Tebay we were in the fifties all the way through to Carnforth where we stopped on time for water.
Once more we got away sharply and were up to 55 at Morecambe South Junction before giving the punters at Lancaster a storming display at 58 mph. All along the level stretch to Preston we were within one or two mph of our 60 limit, covering the approx 21 miles from passing Lancaster to stopping at Preston in 24 mins 37 seconds.
Southwards from Preston we dawdled, awaiting paths through the various junctions. But after Coppull the Fives were given their head again, reaching 63 at Standish and still doing 61 past Boars Head before arriving at Wigan six minutes early. More dawdling until we left the congested WCML at Golborne. As this morning, we fairly sprinted across Chat Moss and were still doing 61 at Eccles before a four minute early arrival at Manchester Piccadilly at the end of an excellent day.
© Peter Hewitt's Transport Pictures