40 Years of steamsounds


I recall that this was a pretty good year and while I didn't travel behind steam on the main line as much as I might have done in previous years, what I did do was generally entertaining. There was a run on the West of England main line to Par with 6024, a run behind Taw Valley out of Victoria, 75014 single handed over Shap and a particularly memorable run, though not for the right reasons, with 80079 to Bleanau Ffestiniog; it was memorable because we didn't make it.
However, mention of Bleanau Ffestiniog brings me to the recording I've chosen for this year.
I'd been a fan of the narrow gauge railways in North Wales for many years, particularly the Ffestiniog Railway so that's where this recordings is from. A recording of a favourite loco on that line too...


In this recording the Alco 2-6-2T is first heard arriving at Tan-y-Bwlch. After a short wait 'Earl of Merioneth' arrives from Blaenau Ffestiniog then, with the road set and the Right Away, 'Mountaineer' departs and blasts away through the trees up towards Garnedd tunnel as 'Earl of Merioneth' leaves for Porthmadog.

'Mountaineer' arriving at and departing from Tan-y-Bwlch. - 31st August 1998
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Back in 1990 Carnforth MPD or Steamtown as it had become was sold By Sir William McAlpine to David Smith and remained open to the public until 1998 when the West Coast Railway Co. gained a license to become a train operator. Since then the former MPD has become West Coast Railway's operational base and is home to the companies own locos including the one in the recording I've chosen which in more recent times has become something of a star...

On 18th December 1999 Twenty First Century 5972Trains and the West Coast Railway Co. ran another in the series of special trains from Hellifield to Carlisle and back and, on this occasion, motive power was provided by GWR Hall 4-6-0 5972 'Oulton Hall'.
This is how the loco sounded passing Selside with 9 coaches behind the tender.
This train had originally been due back into Hellifield in the early evening but due to pathing and other problems ended up returning via Shap and Carnforth so it was almost the early hours rather than early evening when the train got back to Hellifield. Not the sort of thing to encourage Joe Public to travel again.

5972 passing Selside. - 18th December 1999
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Perhaps the most notable event in this year was Railtrack running a steam hauled freight train over the Settle - Carlisle line. I can almost hear the gasps of disbelief but it really did happen.
However, since the steam hauled freight recording is available elsewhere in these pages, the recording I'm including here is from my one and only main line steam ride for the year. By this time, travelling behind steam on the main line really had taken a back seat for me...

9600 7760Sunday 1st October 2000 was the date of my first, and only, main line steam trip this year.
This was a train operated by the Birmingham Railway Museum using both of their main line GWR 0-6-0PTs 9600 and 7760.
The route was an interesting one taking in such places as Nuneaton, Coventry, Leamington, Stratford and Stourbridge.
After reversing at Stourbridge Junction the return journey to Tyseley included the ascent of Old Hill Bank.
In this recording 7760 and 9600 are just passing Lye, beginning the ascent of the bank, in parts as steep as 1 in 51, and reaching Old Hill Tunnel.

7760 & 9600 climbing Old Hill Bank. - 1st October 2000
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This year was a bad one for anyone in the UK who wanted to get out and about in the countryside, perhaps to the lineside for some sound recording for example as in 2001 the UK suffered the first major Foot & Mouth Disease outbreak since 1967.
Opportunities to get lineside recordings were few and far between but during a visit to the Ffestiniog Railway I did find a few spots that didn't present any risk of spreading the disease...

BlancheWith railway sound recordings I feel that it is always worth the effort of trying to find a location where it is possible to paint a picture with sound. That must sound decidedly pretentious but I'm sure that you know what I mean.
One of the most difficult places to do this is Dduallt on the Ffestiniog Railway and I still haven't decided where the best place is to hear trains passing around the spiral. This attempt was made on the 28th July 2001.
This particular day was most unusual in that neither of the two steam locos in service was a Double Fairlie, Hunslet 2-4-0STTs 'Linda' and 'Blanche' being employed.
In this recording 'Blanche' is heard from a point to the east of the station just off the original trackbed leading to the old Moelwyn Tunnel.
Initially the sound approaches from a point almost head on before passing to the left.
Then, as the train continues round the spiral over the bridge at the west end of the station, the sound moves over to the right and the train passes by once again at a higher level heading for Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Try this one on headphones with your eyes closed, I'm sure that you will get the picture.

'Blanche' at Dduallt. - 28th July 2001
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By this year, the Steamsounds web site, which had been through various changes for about 5 years was beginning to become established and an event on the Ffestiniog Railway in May of that year was directly responsible for the first audio CD to go on sale. This was Ffestiniog Interactive which took place over the early May Bank Holliday weekend featuring various options for members of the public to have a go.
When I realised that my recordings from the event just filled an audio CD I thought I'd see if I could sell a few and the rest, as they say, is history.
The recording I've chosen isn't from that event but is a lineside recording that I'd been waiting years to make...

48151Ever since steam returned to the West Coast Main Line north of Preston I have wanted to see a steam hauled train climb Shap from the line side. In recent years various opportunities have presented themselves but things never quite worked out.
Things finally worked out on 30th November 2002 when 8F 48151 worked a private charter (for the Morecambe & Heysham Soroptimists) from Carnforth to Carlisle and back.
The weather on this particular day left a lot to be desired being quite windy and dull with plenty of rain about but, at the appropriate time the rain stopped and I was able to get this recording of the 8F with 8 coaches full of Soroptimists behind the tender about a ½ mile from the top of the bank not far from Shap Wells.
As the loco is heard approaching, having just passed Scout Green, a Voyager unit rattles down the bank and later, after the 8F has reached the summit, yet another is heard travelling south.

48151 at Shap Wells. - 30th November 2002
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The previous year had seen the return of the Scarborough Spa Express though only running between York and Scarborough operated by WCRC with locos and stock being based in Scarborough meaning that there was what was essentially an ECS run to York each morning. Although that first year didn't really live up to expectations the trains returned for another summer season. While it would have been good to see a return of 'proper' SSEs, it was good to see something running. Proper SSEs had to wait a few more years.
This recording though is about as far removed as you could get from an SSE and although I've had steam at higher altitudes in more recent times, in 2003 this was my highest altitude for steam...

Its a strange thing but although it was only three or four years since I last walked up it I'm sure that they had made the path up Snowdon from Pen-y-Pass steeper. They may have increased the height of the mountain too because I found the walk somewhat harder than last time. Or could there be some other reason?
SnowdonAnyway, on 4th September 2003 I did make it (and hope to continue doing so for a few years yet) and was rewarded by getting a recording at the highest altitude that I have recorded at so far.
Lasting almost 17 minutes it is hardly surprising that my recording was disturbed by a few aircraft. To be more precise, 3 helicopters, 1 light aircraft and two RAF jets. Two of the helicopters were on mountain rescue duties, the light aircraft was probably on a pleasure flight from the airfield near Caernarfon and in North Wales it is almost impossible to avoid the sound of RAF jets at any time. Fortunately the RAF arrived over the summit at the same time as the steam loco passed my microphone and, as the loco was making plenty of noise they can only just be heard.
The other problem with recording at this height is wind, usually strong to gale at this altitude but on this day there was no more than a light breeze.
This recording, made at about the 3000 foot contour above Clogwyn Station on the Snowdon Mountain Railway begins as diesel No. 10 'Yeti' passes descending from the Summit.
As the descending train arrives at Clogwyn Station and stops in the passing loop there the sound of a steam powered train climbing from Halfway Station can be heard.
In due course the up train powered by the eponymous No. 4 'Snowdon' reaches the easier gradient through the passing loop at Clogwyn and, as a second Mountain Rescue Helicopter arrives on the scene, pauses briefly in the station before continuing the climb to the Summit.
Soon on a gradient of 1 in 5.5, the steepest on the mountain, the locomotive makes a fine sound pushing its well filled single coach up the mountain.
Despite the aerial interruptions a most satisfactory reward for the effort of climbing the mountain.

4 above Clogwyn. - 4th September 2003
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In 2004 SSEs ran again with everyone's favourite loco, Flying Scotsman, doing the honours; except when it broke which wasn't a rare occurrence. It tended to run with a diesel attached much of the time, just in case.
For me though, this was a good year for getting out and about for lineside recordings of steam on the main line though the recording I've chosen isn't a lineside one and isn't even standard gauge...

On the 26th August 2004 a rather interesting opportunity came my way when I was asked to make some recordings on the Welsh Highland Railway intended to be used with a route being built for Microsoft Train Simulator. Although this would also mean recording some diesels I was only too happy to agree.
I have tried over the years since the railway re-opened to get recordings of the Garratts but aside from one lineside recording, generally without success, particularly with on-train recordings so I was most interested to see if the two NGG16 Garratt 2-6-2+2-6-2T locos could be persuaded to make some noise.
WHR 138After spending the morning at Dinas making recordings of various diesels moving about the yard and some static recordings of the Garratts on shed the main attempt to record was to be on the last two trains from Caernarfon up to Dinas, these being the quietest trains (from the passenger numbers point of view).
On the first of these with No. 143 on 6 bogies plus the bike waggon, after having a word with the crew to explain what was required, I settled back in the first coach not really knowing what to expect but, soon after departure it became apparent that Garratts could make some noise when worked hard.
For the last train up from Caernarfon as I had already got a satisfactory on train recording and as they had gone to the trouble of providing a footplate pass for the day I felt it would have been churlish not to take advantage of it.
This recording is of the complete run from Caernarfon to Dinas, again with a specially arranged stop at Bontnewydd, on the footplate of No. 138 and a very interesting experience it was. The driver and fireman were I believe both full time staff drafted in for the day from the Ffestiniog Railway, and who to my eyes looked very young. However, despite their apparent youth they were both real professionals in the way that they worked the engine. It was a pleasure to watch them at work.
The driver did his best to produce plenty of noise from the engine for me with the regulator well open and 140 - 160 lbs indicated in the steam chests. Unfortunately we had a light shower just before starting from Caernarfon and the front engine showed a marked tendency to slip with anything more than 120 lbs in the steam chests. Bear in mind that normal running conditions generally require no more than 80lbs in the steam chests and usually much less.
Some of the best sounds occurred after the stop at Bontnewydd on the final rising gradient to Dinas where we ran straight into the yard as there were no 'ordinary' passengers on the train.
An unexpected and very interesting experience.

No. 138 from Caernarfon to Dinas on the footplate. - 26th August 2004
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This was the year when the North Yorkshire Moors Railway began running regular trains to Whitby though, at that time they were unable to run through from Pickering, it was a step in the right direction to running what has proved very popular with the public.
For me, this was another year of lineside recordings both on preserved and main lines. One thing with lineside recordings, aside from noise from the loco, that always makes the difference between an Ok recording and something a bit special is a bit of something extra to provide some atmosphere...

On 5th November 2005 the ex LNER B1 4-6-0 61264 worked a train to Blackpool and back running over Copy Pit in each direction.
61264The weather forecast for Bonfire Night was for a wet morning with a drier afternoon and evening. In view of the forecast we decided to give the outward run a miss and go out in the evening for a recording in the dark of the B1 climbing the gradient with the addition of the sound of fireworks to add to the atmosphere.
As usual the forecasters got it wrong and we had a dry, occasionally sunny morning and a wet and windy afternoon and evening.
As this recording begins a Blackpool bound DMU can be heard descending the 1 in 68 gradient not far from the sites of Cliviger signal box and Holme station.
The sound of the DMU fades away and a distant whistle can be heard soon followed by the sound of the B1 working hard with 8 well filled coaches behind the tender.
Having passed the loco is eased for the restriction through Holme Tunnel but can then be heard continuing all the way to the summit at Copy Pit.
Well worth getting wet for.

61264 passing Holme on the climb to Copy Pit. - 5th November 200
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Having spent much of my life living part way between Leeds and Bradford and having witnessed the last steam hauled trains on the lines out of Bradford Exchange one of the highlights of the year for me was getting a recording of a steam hauled train climbing out of Bradford. It was just a shame that Bradford Interchange doesn't quite have the same atmosphere that Exchange did.
2006 was a very good year for lineside recordings but if I had to pick one lineside recording not just from that year but from my complete collection, this one would have to be at the top of the list but although it was more than satisfactory in that respect, it wasn't just the noise that made this memorable, it was the whole experience. You had to be there I suppose...

On 18th February 2006 the LMS Princess Royal Pacific 6201 'Princess Elizabeth' was booked to work a train from Deby to Bristol and back. At least, that was the original plan.
A few days before the train was due to run, Network Rail discovered that there was a possible problem with clearances on the down line at Yate. This meant that, for the outward run, steam haulage was curtailed with the loco being detached at Gloucester while the train continued to Bristol diesel hauled. 6201 reached Bristol via Severn Tunnel Jc. The return from Bristol was steam hauled throughout.
A further problem on the day was caused by the late running of the empty stock to its first pick up point apparently caused by frozen points. Well, it was a bit cold.
Of course, the recording of 6201 that I really wanted was of it climbing the Lickey on its way back from Bristol.
Once again I went to a spot about half way up the bank between Pikes Pool Lane Bridge and Vigo. Recording conditions were almost perfect and I was able to find an eminently suitable position right at the top of the hill south east of the line, about 200 yards back. There was virtually no wind and only a little road noise to be heard. So far, so good.
With a 12 coach train there was no way that the loco was going to be permitted to climb the bank unassisted and a Class 66 diesel had been attached to the rear of the train at Gloucester.
I was fortunate in having a friend travelling (and recording) on board so I was able to get regular updates on progress by mobile 'phone - this modern technology can be very useful at times.
The departure from Gloucester had been about 20 minutes late and I got a further text message passing Cheltenham which suggested that we shouldn't expect the train to reach Bromsgrove until about 6.30 PM, 15 minutes late.
Since I changed from recording on tape to using mini-disk I have gotten into the habit of trying to start recording well before I expect the train to arrive and, at just after 10 minutes past six I was thinking that I could give it another 10 minutes before starting the recorder when I thought, 'What the heck, there's about 70 minutes left on the disk!', so I started the recorder checked that everything was Ok and walked away to the top of the hill to watch the light fading in the sky over the Malvern Hills away in the west and await events.
6201No sooner had I reached my vantage point than I head the sound of a train approaching from beyond Bromsgrove. As the sound grew in volume I suddenly realised that the roar was coming from Lizzie running just about on time with a driver who was determined to at least start the climb with as much speed as possible.
And what a sound. I can honestly say I have never heard anything like it!
Once through Bromsgrove and onto the 1 in 37¾ gradient speed begins to fall quickly and the horn of a DMU can be heard sounding a warning to lineside observers some of whom had set up floodlights near the track at Vigo.
As 6201 passes speed is still falling, though not as rapidly and by the time the train reaches Blackwell I am told that the speed was around 30 mph.
Obviously, to produce a performance like that, the Class 66 diesel must have been doing its fair share of the work but, fortunately, is hardly audible in the recording and, aside from its horn, neither is the descending Class 170 DMU.
Those on the train felt that the diesel only started to work really hard on the last third of the climb while a lineside observer just above Pikes Pool Lane Bridge thought that it was going flat out when it passed him.
But who cares. Whatever the diesel was doing, it in no way detracts from this recording.
'Princess Elizabeth' was already one of my favourite locos having given me some impressive sound recordings, particularly on Shap in 2004, but the sound of it climbing the Lickey has to be the most impressive experience I have had at the lineside in over 25 years of sound recording.

6201 climbing the Lickey. - 18th February 2006
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They say everything comes to him who waits and after a few years of Scarborough Spa Expresses just running between York and Scarborough, in 2007 the Railway Touring Company stepped in with a programme of 19 SSEs which were booked to do the complete route including the morning and evening circles through Harrogate and Leeds. The first of these ran in late July and I might add that, during the layover in Scarborough I bought the house I currently live in. It was quite amusing, when back on the train in the evening, I was asked what I'd done in Scarborough, my answer caused some surprise.
Generally performance and noise were pretty good though some of the locos had serious restrictions due to clearances here and there but I didn't travel on every train and did get out for a few lineside recordings such as this one towards the end of the season...

28th August 2007 saw me out again for more Scarborough Spa Express lineside recordings, this time with a friend though after the previous days attempts, I wasn't confident of getting anything really worthwhile from 45231.
45231Our first recording of the day was made near Knaresborough about half way up the climb to Starbeck and, as the recording begins, 45231 can just be heard starting from the station.
As you can hear, unlike the previous day, it sounds like we have a driver prepared to go a little harder and, while I still have to say that the loco really doesn't sound right, it certainly sounds a lot better than it did at Micklefield the previous evening.
After getting a further recording near Cross Gates it was our intention after this to try to get to Haxby east of York for another recording but heavy traffic on the A64 foiled us so, our next recording should have been on the climb from Church Fenton and we found what should have been a suitable spot about half way to Micklefield. Note the 'should have been'.
At about 20 minutes after we had expected the train to arrive steam appeared down at Church Fenton but it soon became obvious that the source was stationary. For a while we were able to pretend to ourselves that the Black 5 was being held to allow other trains to overtake but as time went by it became obvious that all was not well.
We eventually discovered that the Black 5 had failed having seriously damaged the right hand cylinder, apparently the cylinder end had been pushed off and that was the end of that.

45231 between Knaresborough and Starbeck. - 28th August 2007
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