Tours end back at Central Station
455 at Adelaide
February 16th 2012 saw me attend a meeting in Carlisle. An inauspicious start saw me board the 08:52 333 working from Saltaire to Keighley, where I met my colleague/friend from Todmorden and we drove north together. We had completed our business by mid-afternoon, so parked near the station for the next event. Parking was £1/hour, but free after 18:00, so we waited until the exact second that the clock on the machine clicked onto 15:00 before dropping in the last of the three £1 coins, and then walked briskly to the station for the 15:12 Cumbrian Coast DMU.
We boarded the 153 part of this 153+156 combo and settled in for the ride. Ordinarily I would sit in the 156 because
(i) they are easily my favourite second generation DMU, and
(ii) they are not common in West Yorkshire, but my mate is a Leyland man to the core so there was absolutely no question of this on this occasion. Listening vaguely to him burbling on about riveted panels and other Leylandesque stuff I gazed out of the window as Carlisle gave way to pleasant rolling countryside, which in turn gave way to unrelenting post-industrial grimness then a splendid coastal run with the mountains in the background. After what seemed like ages the decapitated concrete tower of Calder Hall came into view and we bailed out at Sellafield into a large crowd of people. Interestingly Sellafield commuters look and dress exactly like cranks, so you could only tell cranks from normals by where they stood on the platform. 37423 could be seen with the penultimate 16:48 Sellafield > Carlisle Glo-Ex in the siding to the south and after the DMU had left, it pulled into the same platform. About 40 cranks took their seats in the front TSO and a magnificent symphony of thrash commenced. Another West Yorkshire based crank of my acquaintance was on the train and he joined us for the ride.
The noise was fantastic, especially through the tunnel between Corkickle and Whitehaven. The driver seemed thoroughly wound up and was a real crowd pleaser. What surprised me (and also surprised me on our previous jaunt on 23rd January) was the fact that we had the vestibules to ourselves. With such a loud locomotive and opening windows (albeit with bars on), I had expected to have to fight through ranks of vestibule veg to get near them, but au contraire, most of the cranks seemed content to remain in the saloon. This is a truly tremendous service train, and I’m very glad not only that I managed to do it twice in the six week trial, but also managed to miss the shameful duff episode of a couple of weeks ago. Let’s hope it’s brought back ASAP and with 37 haulage as a permanent feature.
All too soon we were back to Carlisle, where we retrieved the car and drove back to West Yorkshire, my mate giving me a lift all the way home this time rather than just to Keighley.
The following morning we had a meeting in Northern Ireland. We caught a flight from MAN and were picked up by our colleague over there at BHD. We went to a hotel in South Belfast intending to work in the foyer, but my mate decided he was hungry and bought tickets for a dinner being run by some organisation to do with church organs or something. We effectively gatecrashed this and sat in their gathering eating [very nice] grub, perusing laptops and talking about the parcels industry. Following the conclusion of this slightly strange experience our colleague drove us into Belfast and dropped us at the Youth Hostel in the Donegall Road. We had gen that CAF unit no. 3009 had jacked, and that 450 class DEMU no. 458 was out on an all day diagram. There are now sufficient CAF sets not to require any DEMUs to operate, and if one does go out it is usually on a peak time only diagram, so the fact that one was out all day was a real treat. We went for a quick pint at Lavery’s in Bradbury Place before taking new CAF set 4001 from Botanic to Belfast Central on the 17:30 express to Larne Town. After a short wait at Central, 458 pulled into platform 4 to work the 17:43 stopper to Larne Town and we joined the cranks in the power car for one last go on a DEMU worked service train. Our friend from the Glo-Ex was there, and a normal friend of mine also joined us; courageously braving all the crank chat for a couple of hours. He has lived most of his life within earshot of the Larne line in North Belfast and the 4SRKT racket is part of the backdrop to his existence, so he was happy to pay his last respects.
There were about 15 cranks in all, and we had a fantastic time savouring the noise and vibrations of this venerable machine. We had the obligatory seminar, and good crack/craic was enjoyed by all. At Larne we stayed on for the 18:45 back to Central, knowing there was a good chance that this could be the last DEMU worked service train ever, with those of us over from GB, certain that it was our last opportunity to do this. At 60+ on the jointed track between Magheramorne and Ballycarry the thrash of the hard working engine was added to by the noise of the track, and the occasional loud crash and lurch as we rode into a particularly rough bit of track. Magnificent! Back at Central we appreciatively watched 458 thrash and clag her way back to the depot, and turned our minds to the next matter in hand; drink.
We used a rare bit of integrated transport in the UK by using our rail tickets to take a service bus from outside Central to the City Hall, then walked around to the Crown. After a while we managed to get a booth, but six of us trying to squeeze into an area designed for four was cosy to say the least, the more so as a couple of us could do with shedding a few pounds it’s fair to say. After several pints we headed back to the Youth Hostel via a [very expensive: why can’t everywhere be more like Bradford?] curry house, and enjoyed a big kip.
The following morning the mingled aromas of semi-digested curry and Guinness had to be smelled to be believed. It was with some relief that we left the place and went for [very expensive: why can’t everywhere be more like Bradford?] bacon sandwiches at a café near Botanic station. On the platform at Botanic was everybody’s favourite ginger haired youthful railtour operator, wearing a very fetching pair of yellow trousers. We all rode round to Central in pioneer C3K CAF no 3001, and crossed to platform 2 where 455 was waiting to form the Modern Railway Society of Ireland’s ‘Rivers and Castles: the End is Nigh’ tour. This was to be an affectionate farewell after 46 years of continuous DEMU operation in Northern Ireland, from the Ulster Transport Authority’s introduction of the 70 class units in 1966, to the final phasing out of their reincarnations the 450 class this year.
The four of us in the West Yorkshire party had managed to secure seats in the luggage compartment directly behind the engine compartment of the power car, pretty much the closest experience one can get to riding in a locomotive TBH. This compartment is normally used by the guard, but unfortunately nobody had told the guard that seats had been sold in it today, and he wanted us to leave. When we wouldn’t and the MRSI chaps explained the situation he started going on about Health & Safety and ‘getting the union in on this’. Anyway, having cast a bit of a cloud over the start of the day he relented and nine minutes down we set off for Dundalk. Not much thrash in evidence until after the first pick up at Lisburn, from where the next stops were Portadown (pick up), Poyntzpass (photo stop), Newry (pick up) and Dundalk (pick up with connection afforded out of the 09:35 northbound Enterprise for tour participants from Dublin and Drogheda). After a few minutes around Dundalk’s fine station we stormed north, my first time in a DEMU north on this section since the good old 80 class worked 20:10 Dundalk > Bangor service train in 1991 (a lovely way to spend a summer’s evening this used to be; riding through the mountains into the setting sun in the power car with all windows open). Another photo stop at Scarva, where Irish Rail GM no. 230 stormed through at the rear of the 10:35 Belfast Central > Dublin Connolly, followed by more photo stops at Moira and Adelaide.
At Adelaide one of my oldest friends boarded for part of the run. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to do more for family reasons, but it was great to catch up for a couple of hours as we reminisced about old times, some but not all of which involved DEMUs. He had been privileged enough to travel to school on 70 class units in their last year of service. This chap has an O gauge railway in his garden, and as such probably the only operational railway in County Fermanagh. From Adelaide the train ran back through Central and took the Cross-Harbour Link towards Yorkgate. A few miles out 455 began the climb towards Mossley Bank and the summit at Kingsbog near the former Ballyclare Junction. I’d never been up this bank (ruling gradient 1 in 76) in a DEMU before so this was something of a treat. When I lived in Northern Ireland all Derry line trains went via Lisburn and Crumlin, and the only trains to use the former NCC main line were stock transfers and the Portrush Flyer, which ran from Belfast’s York Road terminus. Therefore I’d been on this section many times, but always in CAFs or behind steam, so it was nice to get this covered today, ensuring I’d done all of NIR’s network on DEMUs at some time or other.
At Antrim we stopped for lunch, which we found in the town at a [very expensive: why can’t everywhere be more like Bradford?] fish and chip shop. Heading back to the station we reboarded 455 and the tour took the aforementioned and now mothballed line to Lisburn via Crumlin. This was pretty nostalgic, and we had photostops at the disused and dilapidated stations at Crumlin and Ballinderry. The track was in better nick than I’d expected it to be. Last time I’d been on it it had been bull head rail in chairs mounted on concrete sleepers, but it must have been relaid some time in the 1990s. It took the best part of an hour to traverse the 18¾ miles to Lisburn, where we paused to let the inspector off, then proceeded to Great Victoria Street. My friend left us here, but we went out again towards Bangor, and for the second time that day the driver cut off power half way through the short tunnel at Botanic, which was a disappointment. On to Bangor via a ferocious gradient and two more photo stops at Holywood and Helen’s Bay, arriving at the terminus on time.
Somewhere en route to Bangor someone had joined us in our luggage compartment and had sat down on the floor looking a bit unwell. He began using my bag containing my work laptop as a pillow, which was a bit of a worry. By the time we got to Bangor it was clear that all was far from well and an ambulance was called, which took absolutely ages to arrive. The tour was booked to depart at 15:45, which gave us plenty of time to get a train back to Sydenham for our flight at 18:10. However with no ambulance in sight I resolved that if we still hadn’t left by the time the 16:27 service train was due to leave we would have to catch that and bail at Sydenham. This was a far from enticing prospect but suddenly an ambulance arrived and the unfortunate chap was taken off in a wheelchair. With some relief I retrieved my bag and laptop (those of you unfamiliar with my employer’s HR department can be forgiven for underestimating my fear: I have form for losing work laptops having been burgled at home two weeks before Christmas), and 455 set off following the 15:57 service train. This meant a slow run in behind the all shacks CAF, with no thrash to speak of.
We were nearly 30 down arriving at Central, but no matter. This was now all over for good. A great day and an emotional end to a lifetime’s enjoyment of these trains, capping off three days of solid English Electric enjoyment. It has been great popping over to Northern Ireland to ride these units, and to misquote Rupert Brooke it has been reassuring to know that there is a corner of a foreign field that is forever English Electric. But not any more. I feel privileged to have been there at the end, especially riding in *Executive Crank Class* AKA ‘the luggage compartment’, but it could hardly have been otherwise. I am not boasting or exaggerating to say that I am something of a Top Man on these trains, and my association with Northern Ireland, already weakened by the death of my Grandmother and last remaining relative there two years ago, has now been made very tenuous indeed.
The mood was not improved by a ride in CAF no. 3021 on the short run on the 16:45 to Sydenham for the flight. Feeling deflated we boarded the flight, which was five early at MAN allowing us to scrape the 19:20 through TPE to Leeds rather than have to change at Piccadilly into the 20:11.
Anyway, nothing could take away from the day, and indeed all three days. Many thanks to my companions, the MRSI, NIR and of course the UTA for having made the highly unlikely yet inspired decision to copy the Southern Region and have 4SRKTs and electric transmission in their new trains in 1966. R.I.P.