The Edinburgh Flyer

18 October 1997

"Lord Roberts" NR 5710 of 1902In his usual way, Steve mentioned a couple of forthcoming events...

"There’s an open day at Shotton Steelworks in October, with 92203, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the last steam-hauled ore train. Oh, and there’s a railtour to Edinburgh and the Bo’ness railway the following week. Do you fancy either of them?"

The Shotton event was a non-event. 92203 and owner David Shepherd were there, to shuffle along 400 yards of track. We had hoped for a string of wagons and a bit of action. There was some talk of a derailment the previous day....

As is often the case at such events, conversation fills the gaps in the action. "We’re going to Edinburgh next Saturday" "Oh really? Do you know the West Coast Main Line is closed between Preston and Carlisle after 2pm next Saturday?"

The railtour was organised by the Merseyside branch of the Festiniog Railway. Starting from Hooton, it would pick up at Chester and Crewe, before heading north. That was the original plan - in the event we drove to Warrington to join the train, to avoid a minibus trip from Warrington to Crewe in the early hours of the morning.

We were due to leave Bank Quay at 8.58. As seems to be de rigeur for these events, the train was late, eventually departing at 9.17 behind RES liveried 86 417. We would enjoy that locomotive’s company for many miles - in fact, all the way to York.

Our train was formed mostly from Mk I stock - apart from our Regional Railways liveried Mk II, that was. The bulk of the stock was chocolate (EC permitting...) and cream, though three coaches in the middle carried Premier livery, Pullman style. One of these, the coach next to ours, was the buffet car, complete with real ale (causing Steve’s face to light up).

First point of interest on leaving Warrington is the large new rail-connected mail depot just to the north. Further on, as the train slowed for its last pick up at Wigan, we passed several derelict locomotives at the now-closed Springs Branch depot - classes 31, 37, 47 and 08 being represented. Steve thought there was a 56 among them too.

After passing the new station at Euxton, we ran straight through Preston station. 86 212 "Preston Guild" had run light though Warrington as we awaited the train - appropriately, here it was again.

Lancaster followed shortly - various items of Civil Engineer’s paraphernalia suggested that this would be the site of the work which would close the line later today. I spent a couple of happy days here in the early 60s, having travelled from Uncle Bert’s at Hellifield on a Morecambe train. Changing at Lancaster Green Ayre, the short journey to Castle was accomplished by means of the ancient electric service, remnant of the Midland Railway’s experiments with that form of traction. The main line was steam then - I saw my only BR "semis" here, and 46225 comes to mind, in maroon livery, wasting its time on a few parcels vans in the down bay platforms.

There wasn’t a lot to see at Carnforth - a rake of maroon MkIs and a number of wagons. Soon we start to climb, though 86 417s load was hardly excessive, and before long we entered the Lune Gorge at Low Gill, hurrying towards the remnants of Tebay. I have fond memories of the station and steam shed here, and the sight of a "Black 5" picking up water on Dillicar troughs.

Making nonsense of the 1 in 75, we soon passed the limeworks, where a large modern industrial diesel was playing with a few wagons.

The drama of Shap is over once past the summit, and as the landscape starts to look more northern we hurried on towards Carlisle, arriving there for a crew change at 10:56. 55012 stood in the sidings beside Citadel station (what an attractive station it still is) - the motive power in question being Loadhaul’s route learning "bubble car", not the Deltic! English Electric traction was in evidence though - 37 042 resplendent in EWS livery.

Kingmoor depot is closed now, and looked it, though the yards held a surprisingly large number of wagons. How much was in use, and how much in storage there, was not readily apparent.

The Scottish border follows soon, as we cross the River Sark near Gretna, leaving the G&SWR route to peel away to the west. To this point on our journey, the weather had been fine and sunny, but gradually the clouds were building now, and were to accompany us for most of the afternoon. The gloom and drizzle would put a damper on photography, with certain other effects which will be mentioned in due course...

The electrified route from Carlisle to Carstairs has only one intermediate station, at Lockerbie. Beattock (for Moffat) once had a station too - I thought I could detect the remains of the platform as we hurried through. A timber train stood in the sidings here - I wondered if it would be heading for Chirk before long.

Last time I travelled this way, there were no wires to Edinburgh and the train on which I travelled changed locomotive and reversed at Carstairs. Today, electrically hauled trains can run direct to the Scottish capital by east and west coast routes. Ours was not an exception, and we did not need to stop before swinging across the junction and away up the bank to Carnwath. I remembered now an excursion (do you remember those?) to Edinburgh from Wellington, about twenty years ago. We had a Deltic for the last leg on that occasion.

It did not seem many minutes now before we were in the Edinburgh suburbs. Departmental Ruston 97654 stood at Slateford plant depot, in the triangle between our route and the suburban line. "Wasn’t that at Hookagate, once upon a time?" asked Steve. Readers might know the answer - I didn’t then, and still don’t!

So we joined the other lines from the west, slid through Haymarket station, then through the tunnels and Princes Street gardens, and into Waverley, still about 15 minutes late.

In order to get to the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway we had road transport laid on, courtesy of Lothian transport. Steve and I joined the coach which pulled up on Waverley Bridge; a double decker followed.

We were informed that our route out of, and back into the Scottish capital might be delayed by road closures. These we the result of CHOGM - several yellow road signs indicated the fact. CHOGM was in the news a few days later - John Humphrys on the Today programme suggested it stood for Codgers Holidays on Government Money - I’m not sure whether the Commonwealth heads of government would have approved of that.

Our train was more or less ready to depart when we arrived at Bo’ness - five MkIs headed by a large blue industrial 0-6-0 side tank, bearing the name "Lord Roberts". I have a sneaking suspicion that on some occasions a different name might be carried....

At home again the following day, I looked up Lord Roberts in the Industrial Railway Society’s current handbook - to find that he was built by Neilson Reid, no. 5710 of 1902. "Where from" was my next thought, and checked back through various sources. My oldest reference showed that it was in the hands of the SRPS in 1969. Next thought was to try "the Web" and the B&K site thereon - and I am thus very grateful to Peter Marr and Angus Rex of the SRPS for filling in the rest.

No. 1, originally named "Lord Roberts", was built at Springburn in 1902. After remaining in stock for some time, she was sold to the Coltness Iron Company, for use around their collieries and iron works at Newmains, Lanarkshire. When the ironworks closed in 1955, she was sold to the NCB, who employed her at Bedlay Colliery, Annathill, not far from 13’s former home at Twechar. In 1968, shortly after a major overhaul, she was withdrawn from service with a broken crosshead. The NCB then kindly donated the engine to the SRPS.

Lord Roberts made a stately departure from the attractive station at Bo’ness, and steamed in an unfussed manner out past the site of Kinneil Colliery. The line climbs steeply away from the Forth now, and the sounds from the chimney became much more impressive as speed increased at first. However, the occasional drizzle and the autumn leaves soon took their toll, and frequent slips led to steam being applied ever more gently until, near the top we were travelling at less than walking pace in the dank woods. It was at this point where the fireman descended the steps with a bucket, and began hand-sanding the rails in a successful attempt to keep the train moving!

So we topped the bank and ran gently down to the pretty little station at Birkhill. Here one can visit the clay mine - I did just that a few years ago with the family - a fascinating underground trip conducted by former miners. Today we just watched the run-round before rejoining the train for the uneventful run back to Bo’ness.

Back at Bo’ness there was time to film the next departure, then a quick look around the museum and shops before rejoining the coaches - this time the double decker for the panoramic views!

At Waverley station once more, there was time to film one or two arrivals and departures, the most interesting of which was a Hertfordshire Railtours excursion from London to Kyle of Lochalsh - not a day trip! This arrived behind Transrail 37s 404 "Loch Long" and 406 "The Saltire Society", and consisted of ten RCS mk1s, resplendent in LNWR-style livery. Most impressive, even if the locos didn’t quite go with the stock!

Soon it was time to leave, and before long 86 417 hauled our train in, presumably from Craigentinny. The seemingly endemic slack station work meant that, by the time it was on the right end, we were 11 minutes late, leaving at 17:36. We had a good run down the east coast main line behind this rather unusual haulage for a passenger train, and soon passed the cement works at Oxwellmains where a couple of industrial diesels were in evidence. The locomotives based here, eight in number, are all products of Shrewsbury, being either Sentinels (there can’t be many still in use) or Rolls Royce.

The views seawards were spectacular as we neared the English border, though we were definitely roaming in the gloaming now. By the time we passed Berwick-upon-Tweed, the lights of the town made for dramatic views from the Royal Border Bridge. Heading southwards through Northumberland, it was the winking Longstone Light on the Farne Islands which set our horizon, and it was soon fully dark.

Edinburgh looks every bit the capital city it is; Newcastle-upon-Tyne could well take that accolade for the North of England, with the lights over and beside the river presenting a wonderful sight. Durham City could be a close second, the floodlit castle and cathedral catching the eye to the east from the viaduct. At York, in all respects the capital of Yorkshire, we stopped to change engines. We finally said goodbye to 86 417 as 47 785 ("Celebrity loco" exclaimed Mr Price) "Fiona Castle" coupled up smartly. Sadly, we now sat and waited for several minutes, and were 24 late when we left at 20:36.

We ran slowly through Leeds, without stopping. I reflected upon the other northern cities we had passed though, but could not come to any positive conclusions this time.

Another 10 minutes were lost just outside the western portal of Standedge Tunnel, at Diggle, before we headed on to a stop at Manchester. My first visit since the rebuilding, I must say Victoria was a shock to me. We left 37 minutes late, two minutes after we should have arrived at Warrington. When we arrived at the latter, I was glad there were no connections needing to be made.

And so we walked back to the car. From Newcastle southwards the mist had been developing; from Warrington southwards it was pretty thick - not a pleasant drive back to Shrewsbury. We reflected on our day out as we groped our way through the gloom - it had been an excellent trip despite the delayed return, and the east coast run had been an added bonus. The trip on the B&K had been great fun, and we had had a decent leg stretch too. All in all a great day - we’ll be watching for more Festiniog trips.

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