Trains in Trouble


Throughout more than 25 years of travelling behind steam locos on the main line I've had my fair share of runs when things went wrong.
Sometimes problems have been due to outside influences, other trains failing etc., but occasionally the problems have been caused by the steam loco hauling the train.

GWR Castle 4-6-0 5029 'Nunney Castle' after a successful, if not record breaking run northbound over the S&C returned south from Carlisle with a Cumbrian Mountain Express on 12th March 1994.
Despite a reasonably vigorous start from Appleby it soon became apparent that all was not well. On the initial climb to Grisburn speed fell with alarming rapidity and it was obvious that the engine was not steaming as well as it might and being nursed.
A little speed was regained on the easier gradients through Crosby Garrett but once back on the 1 in 100 gradient we were soon to realise that the end was nigh!
This recording was made about half a mile short of Kirkby Stephen.
Unlike the northbound run we had the generator coach, which can be heard humming gently, to provide power for the electric train heating so there was no diesel at the rear of our train.
So, with the train down to walking pace and the brakes beginning to drag it was just a matter of getting as near as possible to the next lineside telephone to call for diesel assistance!
Apparently fire resistant(!) coal was the cause of the steaming problems.

photo: Brian Basterfield
Click to play - right click to save 5029 near Kirkby Stephen. 12th March 1994

Experience seems to suggest that Great Western engines and the Settle - Carlisle line do not mix.
After a successful but not particularly good northbound run and a rather less successful run southbound 6024 'King Edward I' made a second northbound attempt on 28th March 1998.
We went to Selside and got to our usual spot in plenty of time. Having set up our recorders we stood in the adjacent field talking, worrying a few sheep and keeping an eye open for signs of smoke in the direction of Horton-in-Ribblesdale. After some considerable time a cloud of black smoke appeared over the hill beyond Horton and we went back to our recorders to get ready. We eventually realised that the smoke wasn't moving so we returned to the field to worry the sheep again! Of more concern was the fact that along with the train a helicopter had appeared and was circling the still stationary smoke.
Fortunately the King took so long to regain boiler pressure that the occupants of the helicopter got fed up or maybe they ran out of fuel but whatever the reason the important thing is that they went away!
Eventually the train got under way and after an inordinate amount of time crawled past us with speed falling and we succeeded in getting a recording (of sorts!).
After the train had passed we strolled back to the car which was pointing towards Ribblehead. In view of this we decided to follow the train, thinking that we might just get to Ribblehead in time to see it going over the Viaduct. Approaching Ribblehead we could see more clouds of black smoke and found that the King had once again stopped short of steam about a mile from the station. So it was out of the car and into another field for a recording of the 4-6-0 getting away.
As 6024 gets the train under way you can clearly hear the air brake pump working. Without air braking I think that the King would have had many more stops. With air brakes the King was able to keep on the move with very little pressure in the boiler which would have been insufficient to keep vacuum brakes off!
Once again, bad coal was to blame for the poor steaming as the quantity of dense black smoke (I have rarely seen blacker) bore witness!

Click to play - right click to save 6024 restarting at Ribblehead. 28th March 1998

Now I really wouldn't like anyone to get the idea that I'm trying to have a GW bashing session here but the products of Swindon do seem to have had more than their fair share of problems over the years.
The problems in the previous two tracks were due to bad steaming caused it has to be said, not by the loco, not by miss-management by the crew but simply by bad coal.
Our next recording illustrates a problem which some might say was due to bad design. Over the years I've had a fair number of runs that have been cancelled, curtailed or affected in some way by axle boxes running hot and many of them have been on GW engines. This problem does appear to be something that they are prone to suffer from.
On Easter Sunday 7th April 1985 we had already lost one loco through a hot tender axle box, 6000 at Taunton, but had been able to continue, albeit with some diesel assistance, with 7819 'Hinton Manor'.
Approaching Exeter we were stopped by signals at Cowley Bridge Jc. Having got the road 7819 soon has the train under way but as we moved off we were all too aware what the high pitched whistle clearly audible in this recording indicated. You guessed it, another overheated axelbox. What was even more remarkable was that the offending axelbox was the right hand leading one on the Manor's tender the same one that had affected the King. And that was the end of steam haulage for the day.

Click to play - right click to save 7819 at Cowley Bridge Jc. 7th April 1985

The above recording was made on a westbound run from Bristol to Plymouth in connection with GW150, a celebration which seemed continuously beset with problems of one sort or another.
The next attempt at a westbound run also ended in failure and you can read (and hear) all about it at some length in Edition 10 in the steamsounds archive.
During this run we failed to make it due mainly to poor steaming, this time because one of our two locos, 4930 'Hagley Hall' had leaking boiler tubes and, as the day progressed, a badly clinkered fire. Not surprisingly the other loco, 5051 'Drysllywn Castle' was unable to keep this heavy train on the move on the first of the South Devon Banks with virtually no assistance forthcoming from the Hall and we slipped to a stand near Stoneycombe.
Attempts to restart resulted in just a few yards gained each time and plenty more slipping despite the crew having hand sanded the track. As we come to a stand for the final time, you can hear a message received by walkie-talkie requesting someone to walk to the rear of the train to provide protection ready for an assisting diesel engine be attached at the rear.

Click to play - right click to save 5051 & 4930 near Stoneycombe. 7th July 1985

Time for a change from GW locos in trouble.
One of the problems with running steam hauled trains over the Settle and Carlisle line in the autumn is that of falling leaves leading to bad rail conditions. On 8th October 1983 this problem was compounded by appalling weather conditions of rain and a very strong wind.
These conditions had brought 4472 'Flying Scotsman', working a southbound Thames Eden Pullman to a stand not far short of Griseburn at the top of the first section of 1 in 100.
Hand sanding had to be resorted to since, although the sanders on the loco were working, the strong wind was blowing it off the rail before it could do any good. In this recording the loco is heard passing Griseburn. Wind and rain roar around the train as the loco struggles to reach easier gradients beyond.

Click to play - right click to save 4472 near Grisburn. 8th October 1983

Even with a dry rail a brief slip on starting is quite common. Usually this causes no problem but sometimes things can get out of control and it can prove very difficult to get the regulator closed against the pressure of steam passing through the valve. The danger here is that, if the loco 'goes hydraulic' with water being carried over into the cylinders much damage can be done.
On 28th May 1983 we had 46229 'Duchess of Hamilton' hauling a 14 coach train over the S&C.
After stopping at Dent for photographs the Duchess produced an alarming slip in attempting to start.
It proved impossible to get the regulator closed until the reverser had been wound back almost into mid gear.
After a short pause to count the wheels and make sure that nothing had dropped off we were able to depart, no damage had been done to the loco.
The track, on the other hand had been damaged. Three quite noticeable depressions had been burnt into the rails exactly matching the locos driving wheels! The rail was replaced a few weeks later but not before we had a few chances to see and feel the damage as we passed through Dent on other railtours.

Click to play - right click to save 46229 slipping at Dent. 28th May 1983

Some locations are more prone to slipping than others. Take Tan-y-Bwlch on the Ffestiniog Railway for instance. An up train departing not only has a rising gradient to cope with but has it's train strung out round a sharp curve in the station. Under these circumstances the wheels on the coaches bind and starting a train can be difficult.
This situation is not helped by the fact that the use of sanders is frowned upon here until well clear of the points at the top of the loop as sand does not assist in the smooth working of the carefully oiled point mechanism!
This recording was made on 9th September 1995 of Hunslet 2-4-0STT 'Linda' departing with an 8 coach train.

Click to play - right click to save 'Linda' departing from Tan-y-Bwlch. 9th September 1995

On 1st October 1994 the LNER A2 Pacific 60532 'Blue Peter' was booked to work a train steam hauled all the way from Edinburgh to York down the East Coast Main Line.
After a fine run down the East Coast Main Line we reached Durham where we stopped in the platform to set down passengers.
As you will hear in this recording, aside from the fact that someone on the footplate had found the other whistle which would find more suitable employment as a factory siren, the departure from Durham was unexceptional until, with the train clear of the platform the driver extends the engine a little ready for the rising gradient to Relly Mill. At this point the locomotive loses it's feet and soon is slipping uncontrollably.
In the next 40 seconds or so that it took the driver to wind the reverser back towards mid gear and get the regulator closed the locomotive's motion and valve gear was very badly damaged.
Obviously we were going no further and a diesel was summoned to assist us but before the train and the crippled engine could be moved it was necessary to remove the bent and broken coupling rods. Eventually this was done and the train was drawn back into the station from where we returned to York by service train.
Much has been written about how the slip was caused and whether it was simply the speed of revolution of the wheels or water being carried over into the cylinders (which, from the sounds in the recording appears to be the case) that caused the extensive damage to the loco.
Whatever actually happened I hope never to record sounds like these again.

Click to play - right click to save 60532 'Blue Peter' departing from Durham. 1st October 1994