Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of 16 trips to Sainsbury's

22nd September 2013

As I have said before, there are weeks when I am doing too much unpaid for the “collection”. This week has been one such. On Tuesday, although D8 Penyghent, was rostered according to Peak Rail's website, in practice we had been asked to provide and man 14 901 as D8s regular driver had a hospital appointment. I had been hoping that, by now, we would have had drivers trained up and ready to enjoy this experience, but although I am 'keeping up the momentum' on training (as per my instructions), we have no-one yet who has had experience of driving in passenger service and with all these person-carrying things in tow. So it was down to me to drive the loco, supported by one of my trainees to act as Secondman, and, as he to was not signed to act as a pilot, Rob S to perform that role. And I was under strict orders that I must do all the driving.

Now, strange as it might seem, I don't actually enjoy this driving lark all that much. A nice bit of relaxing shunting, yes. But a steady slog with continuous power and the responsibility of interrupting the service if things go wrong weighs heavily. And then having been involved in all the work on the loco, I know all there is to know about what is happening where, and any unusual noise, rattle, thump, crash or bang is magnified in my mind to some impending catastrophe that might be about to happen. Thus I would much rather wave it fondly on its way in someone else's charge and pat it on the back when (hopefully) it returns in one piece, and I really wasn't looking forward all that much to Tuesday, when I would be hauling 7 carriages and the Austerity back up the hill from Matlock, not once but 5 times. To give you an idea of what it is like let me take you on a run....

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Before we first leave Rowsley, I am informed, in traditional railway style by a member of the station staff, that today this 7 coach rake weighs 250tons. Now, so far as I know, it weighed 250tons yesterday and should, corrosion aside, weigh 250 tomorrow, but I thank him sagely for his information so as not to offend him. Peak Rail operation into Matlock requires top and tail working, and we are the tail on the southbound run which means we have little to do. Once coupled, I set the light switches to display the correct lights at our rear, and the deadmans switch to “towed” which means that, provided I don't try “driving” the loco, I can sit back and watch the scenery go by. 14 901's chance to “star” commences when we get to Matlock.

So for this leg I can relax, practice my “royal wave” as we roll out of each station and wave at, well, anyone who chooses to wave back. (As I rolled over Church Lane crossing there were two young ladies sat in a car by the gates. The one in the passenger seat started waving. I waved back. Immediately the other lady in the driving seat, turned, grabbed her by the arms and I could see her mouth “Stop doing that!”).

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Once the train arrives at Matlock you have plenty of time to reverse 14 901's gearbox, select the Deadmans switch back to normal and hold the train on the loco brake while the vacuum is brought back up to 21”. Then your secondman confirms we have the right-away from the Guard. So it's press the Voith In button, foot on the deadmans pedal, sound the horn, loco brake off and bring the power up. This is not a violent pull of the handle. A reasonably rapid rise on the rpm is all that is required, holding at about 1100 as 14 901 starts to move the train, which is on a slight uphill and curve just to make it a little harder. As the loco comes on the straight a downhill begins towards the new overbridge and on to Riverside – soon I can bring the power back down and let '901 amble down the slope, after all there's speed limits at the bottom so no point in rushing. As we near Riverside I might even give a touch of brake, just to keep the speed about at the limit and we amble past the Riverside box and platform at about 5mph.

At the north end the speed limit rises to 10mph over the bridge, but the climb begins too, so a bit of power back on to maintain the momentum as we come around and see that the first crossing (favoured by every dog-walker in Matlock, it seems), is clear. The line ahead is dead straight, and after sounding the horn I can bring the rpm up to 1300 or so, as the speed gradually rises. Sometimes I'll glance back and see that “Lord Phil”'s crew have decided that they'll bank me rather than sit and watch the scenery. Every now and again, I remember to take my foot off the deadmans pedal and re-apply – the control box bleeps and the lights change momentarily, but I know that the vigilance timer has re-set. If I let it time-out it will bleep and flash for four seconds, but if 901 is working hard and I have my head out of the window, I might miss it completely and a full scale emergency stop is not what the passengers have paid for.

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Farther up and there's a series of bends, the top one is known as Redhouse and marks where the gradient ends, so with a final blast on the horns for the adjacent crossing, I ease the throttle back and feel the train propelling me on as we swing into a left hand bend and the overbridge at the south end of Darley. Coming into view, we hope to see the gates already open, but sometimes the signalman may still be opening them and we must be ready to stop before the Home signal. Either way we approach with the engine idling, for we must drop the Matlock-Darley staff with the Signalman and it doesn't pay to knock him over with it. So we cross the road and I drop the Voith out altogether, and it's now a guessing game. With 7 coaches and an Austerity behind I must stop beyond the end of the platform, ideally with the cab of '901 between a ballast pile and a small tree, which means that Lord Phil is clear of the crossing and track circuit. But this also means that the lead carriage has only its last door in the platform, so overshooting might be awkward for any passenger disposed to detrain. While we wait at Darley, it's back on the loco brake and put the vac brake back to release. If we are in a rush, then I speed up the engine to suck the train pipe out, but usually we end up watching the vac pipe needle going up and down about 15-17” for no apparent reason, before slowly climbing back up to 21”. The starter signal at Darley is controlled from Church Lane Crossing, but better not to get excited as there is a further Home in the distance and the latter is not pulled off until the gates are open.

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So as we get the green once again it is loco brake off, Voith “in”, hoot the horn and open up to 1100rpm. The line at Darley is virtually straight and level, so 901 starts moving earlier but there's no rush and I ease back as we get under way, maybe 900-1000 towards the end of the loop. 901 moves over the turnout and hopefully by now the board is down, but still not time to speed up as the Church Lane to Rowsley staff must be collected on the way by. Once your secondman swings back in to the cab with it over his arm, it's time to throttle up and the train begins to accelerate. I hold the throttle fairly wide all the way up, the climb is easier than before and the speed rises, not that anything we are doing is Inter-City: this is a transport of delight not a commuter chug.

From Dom Beglin, who was about Darley Dale on Tuesday, comes these two vids of 14 901 passing Church Lane box.

As we near Rowsley we trip a limit switch that sounds a bell in the station to announce our approach, but just in case we sound the horn anyway and as we cross the crossover at the near end, I take the Voith out, throttle back and put my hand on the train brake lever ready for a second go at the guessing game. For at Rowsley we must stop the train so that Lord Phil is within reach of the water hose, and that (with 7 on) means being just a bit farther than the tank wagon at the end of the platform. I am taunted that the steam crew can stop consistently within a couple of foot every time when they're the train loco, yet the diesel crews cannot. My honour is at stake, even if my experience as to how these seven carriages respond is limited to what I've gathered today. Somewhere along the platform I put the train brake to first application position and the train brake needle drops. Nothing seems to happen, and it is a game of chicken – should I give it more or is the train just teasing me? In the end I give it a touch more, and immediately I know it is too much as the train starts to slow and I push the handle back towards release. They say you should stop the train on a rising vacuum, and with 901 that is difficult but not impossible, as although the vac will rise with the engine idling, it is slow and you haven't the hands and co-ordination to be pulling the throttle as well. But you hope for the best and somehow the train comes to rest a few feet from the end of the tank wagon. Wipe your brow, reverse the gearbox, put the deadmans back to towed and relax, it's Lord Phil's turn to take you back again.

On our last turn of the day our station clerk appears and I assure him that we've returned with all 250 tons that he entrusted us with this morning as well as give him the staff so that Lord Phil can be released from the far end. Our secondman uncouples, I reset the lights and we dash up the headshunt and back down the loop to see which loco can get to the turnout first. We win, and leave the turnout ready for Lord Phil to follow us back towards the shed and disposal.

So there you have it, and five times on Tuesday 901 arrived outside Sainsbury's. On Thursday I was back at Rowsley again, having more training to carry on (somewhat to Peak Rail's consternation as apparently none was scheduled, but I have too many next Thursday for comfort so juggled things around). On Friday I did a round-robin. Off to Rochdale to drop the first of the brake units in to Mattersons for repair, then Halifax to collect the windows for Ashdown, then back over to Batley for profiles and oils. On Friday too Andrew's rescheduled mainline move took place, or rather overnight Friday to Saturday, leaving me yet again to look after 14 901 in the “Mixed Traffic” gala. We had previously suggested deploying the Drewry (WD 72229) with Ashdown for some real variety, but this had been met with a “but you'll be driving the 14!” so we had dropped the idea.

For the Gala though, the 7 carriage rake had been split into two 4's, and before you question my sanity or my maths, our last act in the training session on Thursday had been to add the BG to the end of the 7 sat in the platform. During our runs on Tuesday, Rob had remarked that drivers should be dressed as drivers, i.e. a blue shirt and tie, so for Saturday I dragged out the outfit from the Warring 40s, added a shirt and an Irish Rail tie, and presented myself for the smartest driver competition. I arrived at Rowsley at about 9.15 ready to prep the loco, but had to delay this as 901 was parked on top of Ashdown, and Rob and Chris were wanting to use the latter to position the 4F on the turntable for the day. So Ashdown set off with 901 in front and the 4F behind, and a photographer whose results you can find on Flickr, and who has pontificated on “pretend” liveries, “imaginary” numbers and WIPAC lights (the first comment we've had in the 3 or 4 years since they were fitted), was so knowledgeable that he couldn't tell which was actually powering.

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For the Saturday 901 had been paired with the class 31 on a diagram of 5 trips, starting with the 11.15 ex Rowsley. In theory, both trains were timed to stand side-by side at Darley so that passengers could transfer if they wanted to, but that meant opening the crossing gates twice and for some reason the signalman didn't do it this way, holding the northbound train at the Home until the southbound was ready to depart, resulting in the northbound rolling in to the platform at or after its departure time. This could be recovered in the Rowsley turnround, but was a bit frustrating when the southbound train wasn't even in sight as we stood at the Home.

You get some interesting questions in the layovers – one gentleman was convinced that because the cab was in the middle the loco must have 2 engines, so I opened up the casing doors to show him the Rolls-Royce in front and the Voith in the rear. I had equipped myself with a number of A6 sized “fliers” listing this site and Andrew's to hand out to all those who showed interest or where complicated questions might have resulted in late departures. (Yep, Hi to you!)  Others seemed convinced that the loco had never operated here before. The inevitable questions about the number, the nickname, and so on come too.

Andrew meanwhile, having arrived back in Chesterfield at 9.45 am, decided to stay awake for the day and welded up the base of Cheedale's compressor, painted it, and for interest, stripped the head of the compressor to asses the valve state. He also did a bit on Libby, mounting a code light, but fatigue was getting the better of him.

If Saturday had gone smoothly, Sunday was rather different. 901 was teamed up with Lord Phil, with 6 turns to Sainsbury's starting at 10.40. I was joined by Peak Rail joint MD Roger Hallat, and on our first run we got as far as Darley when panic ensued at the kettle end as some of the eccentric bolts had worked slack. After judicious use of spanners we continued on, but on our return to Darley were delayed as the second train did not appear. Eventually we found that D8 wouldn't start and the second set was still in the loop. So we came on north, very late.

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Lord Phil dropped off the train to get over a pit, and after an inexcusably long delay the 31 came from the other end of the second set and on to our front and we set off on run no.2. Andrew meanwhile had made it down and had joined the workers on D8. Basically one battery cell had “died” yesterday, and as they are all a bit tired, despite its morning top-up charge they were unable to make it go. After judiciously charging one “side” of the batteries (they're in two banks) it was able to start and join in. Lord Phil was also ready as we rolled back in to Rowsley and with truncated turnrounds we started to get back to time. I learned later that there had been another crisis on the kettle: leaving Rowsley the crew had had a difference of opinion as to how much coal to add, with the result that the fire had become rather er- small. Being largely downhill they had managed to keep going on reduced pressure while the fire recovered, and unknown to me, the fact that 901's exhauster was maintaining vac for them had saved the day as they had been able to turn the ejectors off to save steam.

And a final observation on the insect life of Derbyshire. Quite apart from the running battle we are engaged in with spiders who are producing cobwebs all over 14 901 and the wasps nest we had to deal with on “James”, I was today treated to a sight which I daresay I will never see again. While '901 was plodding back up the hill from Matlock, a large wasp touched down on the side of the cab door just ahead of me, sh***ed on it, and took off again. The things you see going to Sainsbury's.

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