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
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
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!
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.
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
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
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.
& 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
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.
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
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
This recording was made on 9th September 1995 of Hunslet 2-4-0STT 'Linda'
departing with an 8 coach train.
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
'Blue Peter' departing from Durham. 1st October 1994