40 Years of steamsounds


This year was the 50th Anniversary of the record highest speed for a steam hauled train being set so this was 'Mallard's year with the loco producing the sort of media and public interest that another East Coast Pacific has had more recently.
However, this is also another year when I have no problem in choosing a recording and while it's not of 'Mallard', it is a high speed one...

34092During July Area Manager Gerald Daniels arranged for three weekends of steam operation based on Salisbury, the intention being to celebrate the 21st Anniversary of the end of steam on the Southern Region. Although it hasn't proved to be the case, it was also thought at the time that these trains could well be the last steam hauled trains between Salisbury and Yeovil since, due to restructuring, the Salisbury area management was being disbanded ending Gerald Daniels work there, a pity as he had done much to promote rail travel in his area, and not just through running steam hauled trains.
The locomotives for these trains were to be 777 and 34092. As on previous similar events 777 wasn't ready in time and due the broken piston rings sustained whilst working out of Marylebone and 34092 missed the first weekend although it did make it to Salisbury in time to take part in working the Anniversary Pullman on 10th July.
Substituting for 777 was LMS 8F 2-8-0 48151, hardly a locomotive typical of the area in steam days, but typical or not, in the hands of the very enthusiastic Salisbury drivers who believed that they were having their last fling with steam we were treated to some remarkably fine running with this locomotive.
I didn't manage to get down to Salisbury until the final weekend and, in view of what transpired, I'm certainly glad that I did.
On the Saturday afternoon, the day before the recording featured here, Gerald Daniels had arranged for an inspection saloon hauled by a Class 33 diesel to proceed the afternoon train to Templecombe and by virtue of the fact that from Templecombe to Yeovil the line was double track and signalled for reversible running this saloon, filled with video and film cameramen, was going run down the up line to Yeovil and pace our train. As you can guess, this turned into something of a race though the Class 33 diesel on just one coach had no difficulty in keeping ahead on the rising gradient. However, beyond Milborne Port where the gradient begins to fall towards Sherborne the driver of the diesel was instructed to slow down and allow us to overtake then, having allowed the entire train to pass the driver on the Class 33 found that it was no easy matter to catch up again. He had to use full power on the falling gradient and it was only after we had passed through Sherborne station travelling at only a little less than 80 mph that he was able to get ahead and proceed us into Yeovil Jc.; don't forget that, at the time the maximum permitted speed for steam on the main line was still 60.
The Southern Region Training Centre Film Unit produced a video of this run and if you can get hold of a copy after all these years it makes most entertaining viewing. Fear not, I do not appear in it.
On the following day, after a run to Yeovil and back with the 8F which reached speeds somewhat higher than its 50MPH limit we had another run to Yeovil with 34092.
Our driver for the run to Yeovil Jc. was Don Macey who also wasn't prepared to let what could have been his last chance for a run with steam pass without making it special and right from the start he soon demonstrated that he intended to give us as good a run as possible with 'City of Wells'.
Once over the summit at Semley it soon became apparent that we were in for some more high speed running when we reached 80 on the descent.
Passing through the loop at Gillingham was quite exciting at 65 mph and once I had regained my balance I recall thinking that, perhaps I should record this next bit. I'm glad I did for, while it is far from technically perfect, it proved to be one of those recordings that I thought I would never make.
Once clear of the loop Mr. Macey worked 34092 up to 70 mph before the line began to rise at 1 in 100 to Buckhorn Weston Tunnel. Speed only falls by 5 mph before we enter the tunnel where the gradient changes to 1 in 100 down.
Through the tunnel and on the subsequent 2 miles of falling gradient Mr. Macey kept steam on and speed rose rapidly before the regulator was closed and the brakes applied for the stop at Templecombe.
Throughout all this, obviously other than knowing that we were travelling extremely quickly, I had no idea of the actual speed achieved as I had been concentrating on getting as good a recording as possible in quite difficult circumstances but I do recall that once the regulator had closed, I turned my recorder off, microphone hand shaking slightly and turned to a support crew member who had been calmly packing away sales items in the brake behind me while all this was going on. He said something to the effect that; “We seemed to be going quite fast just then!” Fast indeed, the maximum speed recorded was no less than 91 mph.

34092 from Gillingham to beyond Buckhorn Weston Tunnel. - 24th July 1988
Click to play


This was the year when the Settle - Carlisle line was finally saved from closure but not before much of the main line steam activity for the early part of the year had been concentrated on the route.
Here's another recording that was easy to pick as, while most people would say that the locos are the stars when it comes to main line running, where would we be without the drivers...

Skipton driver Edwin Altham has often been mentioned in my notes and he, as well as being a fine engineman and a driver who could always be counted upon to do his best to give us an entertaining run, was also a really nice man and a railwayman through and through. This southbound run on 2oth May with 48151 over the Settle - Carlisle line was to be his last before he retired from the railway. Indeed, it was his last day at work.
At Appleby the train was shunted into the North Eastern sidings while a following service train overtook. With this out of the way, the train returned to the platform and 48151 took water before performing a couple of runs past then with everyone back on board we were off for the main event, the climb to Ais Gill.
Sadly, having been under threat of closure for so long, a number of temporary speed restrictions had appeared on the climb and the record runs of days gone by were no longer possible. Nevertheless we could be sure that, as in the past, Edwin would do his best for us.
From the start at Appleby on the falling gradients we reached 54 mph at Ormside before the first part of the climb begins.
Speed only fell to 33 mph at the top of this section of 1 in 100 before rising again to 42 mph before being eased for the 20 mph temporary speed restriction after Crosby Garrett.
Edwin AlthamBeyond Crosby Garrett the 1 in 100 gradient resumes but just as speed was beginning to rise the Kirkby Stephen's distant signal was seen to be on. The preceding service train which had overtaken us at Appleby still hadn't cleared Blea Moor.
This took me back to a previous run with Edwin when exactly the same thing happened. That was in April 1983 with 'Duchess of Hamilton' and, after being brought down to 2 mph before the home signal cleared Edwin treated us to a climb to remember and we passed Ais Gill at no less than 54½ mph.
On this occasion we were down to 25 mph before the home signal next to Kirkby Stephen signal box was sighted in the off position.
With a 25 mph speed restriction at Mallerstang no heroics are possible now but Edwin was still doing his best.
Before the gradient eases beyond Birkett Tunnel our speed was back in the low 30's and notice how Edwin eases the engine approaching the tunnel to avoid the risk of a slip.
Finally, having negotiated the Mallerstang speed restriction Edwin was able to work the loco up to 34 mph passing the summit just over 32 minutes after leaving Appleby. Under the circumstances a most creditable performance.
Beyond the summit we reached a maximum of 54 mph on the falling gradient before stopping in the platform at Garsdale in a little over 37 minutes.
At Garsdale, while the loco took water, Edwin was presented with a framed picture of the 8F and had time to speak to the many people who wanted to wish him well in his retirement. The most common question being; 'Aren't you going to miss doing this?'. I suspect that we know the answer to that one.

48151 from Kirkby Stephen to Birkett Tunnel. - 20th May 1989
Click to play


By 1990 the main line scene was changing. Prices were rising and there seemed to be fewer enthusiasts around prepared to support trains. For those of us who did continue to ride and wanted to make recordings, we now had the problem of diners. With three or four coaches for diners at one end of the train, at best we'd only be able to record one way and, if a train didn't reverse, we wouldn't be able to record at all.
Although I did travel on plenty of trains on the main line that year, I was a bit more choosy in what I spent my money on and, when there was nothing on the main line that I wanted to do, I spent more time at preserved lines. One such was the North Yorkshire Moors Railway...

One of the locos working on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway on 19th August 1990 was WD 2-10-0 3672 which carries the name 'Dame Vera Lynn'.
Although of locos of this type did run in this country 3672 was originally shipped to Egypt in 1944 for use by the British Army. The loco was never actually used in Egypt but was eventually sold to the Hellenic State Railways in Greece and ran there until withdrawal in 1979.
First used on the NYMR in 1989 it soon proved itself a very capable performer being easily able to cope with up to 10 coaches on the steep gradients.
With most locos, the climb from Grosmont to Goathland would occupy around 15 minutes, often longer, occasionally much longer but as you'll hear in this recording with 8 coaches behind the tender on the 1 in 49 gradient 3672 takes just 9 minutes to complete the climb and makes some fine sounds in the process.

3672 departing from Grosmont to arriving at Goathland. - 19th August 1990
Click to play


Steam had returned to the Cambrian Coast line back in 1987 when BR had sponsored a series of trains through the summer between Machynlleth and Barmouth.
Unfortunately these trains were not well supported and plans for future seasons were soon abandoned. This was a shame as we had hoped that sending locos and stock to and from Machynlleth for these services would give us the opportunity to have a steam hauled run over Talerddig. As things turned out we only had to wait four years...


Having had 7819 from Shrewsbury to Barmouth earlier that day, for the return journey we had the BR Standard Class 4 4-6-0 75069.
The first steep climb comes soon after leaving Barmouth when the line climbs at 1 in 55 to Friog.
After a brief stop at Fairbourne 75069 is heard departing. Initially the gradient is 1 in 75 but soon steepens.
On the steeper gradient 75069 makes a fine sound hauling 7 coaches to the summit passing through the shelter built to protect the line from rocks falling from the cliffs above.

75069 departing from Fairbourne to Friog. - 16th June 1991
Click to play


This year saw the return to the main line of the LNER A2 'Blue Peter' which gave us some excellent performances and more steam hauled trains on the Cambrian main line but the recording I'm including here is one that has a connection for me with the end of steam (or so we thought) in 1968. Little did I think when on 4th August 1968 I watched an 8F on one of the final 'End of steam' specials that over 20 years later I'd be riding behind that same 8F on the main line...

The Stanier 8F Locomotive Society, custodians of LMS 8F 2-8- 8233 must, at times have regretted their decision to try to run their loco on the main line. The loco had its first main line run in September 1991 on the Welsh Marches route. This was supposed to have been followed by a programme of trains including runs over the S&C. For various reasons, the programme came to nothing.
The loco's next outing on the main line had to wait until 1992. This was from Shrewsbury to Blackburn via Chester and Manchester Victoria on 1st February 1992 and we were surprised and disappointed to see it advertised as the loco's final main line run, the Society having decided, presumably, that running on the main line was more trouble than it was worth.
48773Fortunately, the loco has seen further use on the main line since but, at the time, this appeared to be a very unfortunate outcome for what proved to be a fine addition to the list of main line approved locos.
After a water stop at Manchester Victoria we reached Bolton beyond which was the section of the journey that we were most looking forward to; the steep climb to Sough. For most of the climb the gradient is 1 in 72 and with 12 coaches weighing over 450 tons behind the tender 8233, which was carrying its BR number, 48773 was confidently expected to make plenty of noise for us!
On the first part of the climb, aside from a couple of slips, all was going well and 48773 was well able to keep the heavy train on the move at a little less than 20 mph before speed had to be reduced passing through Bromley Cross station where the line becomes single.
Speed recovered a little beyond this point but, approaching Turton, where there is a severe speed restriction over a crossing (you can hear the crossing warning bell in the recording), the 8F began to slip badly.
With speed down to walking pace it seemed that we were doomed to stall on the gradient but we had reckoned without the skill of driver Ken Royal who had taken over at Manchester. Thanks to some excellent enginmanship we got past the worst part of the climb and were soon back to a speed of around 20 mph which, despite a few more slips, was maintained to the summit of the climb beyond Entwhistle.

48773 passing Turton. - 1st February 1992
Click to play


In this year, steam returned to the Central Wales line but that wasn't the only route to see steam return...

On 6th November 1993 the SRPS ran a railtour to take ex LMS Black5 4-6-0 44871 from Stirling to Inverness.
Although steam hauled trains had run on the Highland Main Line in the past this was the first passenger train to be steam hauled beyond Aviemore since steam haulage finished in Scotland in the 1960's.
44871The Autumn main line steam programme had up to this point been far from trouble free with problems encountered with bad rail conditions amongst other things and running a train on this route it seemed unlikely that we would be free of problems.
After 35 miles of undulating track we eventually reached Blair Atholl.
Here the main climb began with over 17 miles, much of it at a gradient of 1 in 70, to the summit at Druimuachdar at an altitude of 1484 feet and soon after departure 44871 began to have problems with bad rail conditions not made any easier by the damp weather and suffice it to say that the climb took far longer than scheduled so, when we departed from the water stop at Kingussie we were well behind time. Some fast running from there did reduce the delay though there was still the climb to Slochd ahead of us..
After a further stop at Aviemore we now had the 12 mile climb to the summit at Slochd which, although steeper in places than the climb from Blair Atholl, there are some easier stretches.
On the first part of the climb which steepens to 1 in 75 our minimum speed was a little under 30 mph before rising on falling gradients before Carr Bridge to just over 50.
After Carr Bridge the main climb begins, initially at 1 in 60. For most of the climb our speed remained at around 20 mph until almost 25 minutes after departing from Aviemore we reached the summit.
Amazingly, further fast running on the descent to Inverness saw us arrive almost on time!

44871 departing from Aviemore. - 6th November 1993
Click to play


The recording I've chosen to include for this year wasn't an easy one to pick even though it is most definitely memorable, albeit for all the wrong reasons. I still think it's worth publishing if for no other reason than to stand as a warning and a reminder that, when things go wrong, sometimes they go wrong in a really big way...

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.
Our first problem was getting a suitable spot on the train from which to record as our seats were too far back to give satisfactory results.
Rejoining the train at Edinburgh Waverley we decided to occupy the front vestibule of the second coach, the first vehicle being the locomotive support coach. This proved to be a bad choice as lots of other people wanted to find spots in there too. As it was a corridor coach and first class at that, having so many people blocking the corridor was not a satisfactory situation and stewards were soon on the scene to inform us that, if we didn't have a seat in that coach we should move elsewhere.
Thinking that this was rather unfair as we had purposely gone in the vestibule to be out of everyone's way and avoid causing problems I pointed this out to the steward. Amazingly he agreed with my argument and let us stay.
The other reason why this coach proved to be a bad choice became audibly apparent as soon as we were on the move; wheel flats.
Performance from Edinburgh to Newcastle was generally very good with some high speed, but not noisy running particularly after Berwick.
At Newcastle we stopped for water and a crew change.
On to Durham, where we stopped in the platform to set down passengers, the running was satisfactory.
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 on the rising gradient to Relly Mill.
At this point the locomotive loses its feet and soon is slipping uncontrollably with water being carried from the boiler through the regulator valve making it impossible to close.
In the next 40 seconds or so that it took the driver to wind the reverser back into mid gear the locomotive's motion and valve gear was virtually wrecked.
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.
I hope never to record sounds like these again.

60532 departing from Durham. - 1st October 1994
Click to play


For this year I have to mention Mel Chamberlain.
For about a year Mel had been threatening to start running a programme of steam hauled railtours and, to the surprise of many people, early in 1994, trading under the name Days Out he had actually run a few tours.
One of the side effects of the privatisation of British Rail was the introduction of an open access policy which meant that, in theory at least, anyone could run trains anywhere. This meant that, again in theory, routes which had been effectively closed to steam were now available and it was Mel's intention to make the most of this situation.
In view of what later transpired it would be easy to criticise Mel for the way he conducted his business but, whatever else he achieved, he certainly changed the face of the steam railtour market. Whether this has proved to be a good thing or not is another matter.
During the course of the year, travelling with Days Out we had steam into and out of St. Pancras and Kings Cross, the latter with a train running all the way down the East Coast main Line from Newcastle along with a few other routes that we had never expected to cover steam hauled.
However, the highlight for me in the Days Out programme of trains came in the Autumn...

During the Summer Mel Chamberlain's Days Out programme of steam hauled trains suffered considerably from the fire risk ban and, in the case of trains that could have run, lack of bookings.
One series of trains that we had been looking forward to was three trains run from Crewe and reaching Carlisle via Shap. These, originally booked for August, were cancelled due to fire risk but new dates in the Autumn appeared in due course. These were advertised as the Shap Time Trials with the three engines booked to work one train each over Shap to Carlisle on three days.
The locos were LNER A4 60007 'Sir Nigel Gresley' which worked the train on 30th September 1995, BR Standard Pacific 71000 'Duke of Gloucester' on 2nd October and LMS Pacific 46229 'Duchess of Hamilton' on the 3rd October each loco having 11 coaches behind the tender weighing in at a little over 430 tons.
While it would have been nice to have travelled on all three I decided to do just one, the last one with 46229 and despite the eventual result of the 'trials' it is a decision that I have never regretted.
The sections of the route chosen for the 'time trials' for each locomotive were Grayrigg, Shap and later in the day the climb to Ais Gill. The idea was that each loco would pass a certain point at the foot of each climb at 60 mph before attempting to put in the best performance that the loco was capable of.
46229Early in the climb to Grayrigg 46229 began priming and the loco had to be eased until that stopped.
On the previous day 'Duke of Gloucester' had put in an excellent performance on this section and as we proceeded up the climb we were gradually gaining on the Duke. Despite the much slower start we got to within 6 seconds of that loco's running time by the time we were just above Hay Fell.
However, on the engine the crew were having problems. Firstly, the priming referred to above had caused a considerable loss of water level in the boiler and it was proving difficult to restore this as the exhaust steam injector was playing up. In addition to this when the safety valves lifted one of the two valves refused to seat until the boiler pressure had dropped to 180 psi.
Falling water level meant that the driver had no option but to ease the loco on the upper part of the bank where speed quickly fell from around 60 mph to the mid 40's at the top of the climb.
During the course of the climb the weather deteriorated with rain coming down like stair rods at one point. I had some difficulty recording at times. With a south westerly wind blowing the right hand side of the train was the place to be but towards Grayrigg the line swings right to take an almost easterly course and this caused the side I was on to be exposed to the wind and torrential rain which was clearly audible in my recording.
Through the Lune Gorge speed was allowed to fall to 20 mph on the easier gradients to allow the water level in the boiler to recover before reaching Tebay.
In charge of 46229 on that day was Crewe driver Frank Santrian who was without a doubt as keen as we were to get the best out of the loco on the climb to Shap Summit. Aided by fireman Bob Morrison, in the short distance between Low Gill and Tebay they managed to get a satisfactory amount of water back into the boiler but, because of this were unable to do much to raise the boiler pressure. All this meant that, instead of starting the climb at 60 mph as was intended we were only doing 54 mph.
As this recording starts we are approaching Tebay and as the sound of steam blowing through indicates, the fireman's side injector is still playing up.
Once on to the 1 in 146 through Tebay Frank soon has the regulator open and speed rises to 57 mph before the 4 miles of 1 in 75 commence.
As we proceed Frank opens the loco up more and more until he has the loco working in full forward gear with the regulator fully opened on to the second valve.
With a slower start and the boiler pressure being maintained at around 175 psi rather than the 250 psi it should have been there was no way that we were going to beat the Duke which on the previous day was able to pass Shap Summit maintaining 51 mph. However, just listen to the noise. I can honestly say that it is the finest sound I have ever heard from a steam locomotive.
In the report published in the December issue of Railway Magazine detailing the performance of the three engines involved, the caption to a photograph of the Duchess passing Greenholme reads; 'The assault on Shap by Stanier's 'Duchess of Hamilton' in the pouring rain had to be heard to be believed.' I'll second that. The Duke might have put in a sparkling performance but I know what I'd rather listen to!

46229 from Tebay to Shap Summit. - 3rd October 1995
Click to play


By this year my annual main line mileage was continuing to reduce but I made up for that by visiting more preserved lines including one that I'd been returning to for a number of years not just for the noise but for the scenery and general atmosphere. This was the West Somerset Railway and this lineside recording comes from a favourite spot on the line and is of a loco that I have always had a soft spot for as back in my train spotting days it was the first GWR loco that I ever saw...



The West Somerset Railway had a Steam Gala over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend and among the locos working on the railway was GWR Manor 4-6-0 7828 'Odney Manor' which is heard on the climb from Bishops Lydeard to Crowcombe passing Nethercott.

7828 at Nethercott. - 6th May 1996
Click to play


In view of the recording I picked for 1994 I think it's only fair to include this one to show the loco in much happier circumstances putting in the kind of performance that we came to expect from it...

60532By 22nd March 1997 the ex LNER A2 Pacific 60532 'Blue Peter' had been straightened out and headed north from Carlisle on a railtour to Ayr.
In the past, trains with Ayr as their destination had gone by way of the Glasgow & South Western Railway route through Dumfries but our route this time was via Beattock.
As this was my first steam hauled trip up Beattock I had decided that I would be more than happy if we reached the summit of this formidable climb at somewhere near 30 mph, anything better would be a real bonus.
We passed Wamphrey at a little over 70 mph. Speed fell slightly on the gentle rise to Beattock station which was passed at 65 mph. Then, on the rising gradients beyond, the engine was gradually opened out until, at a reported 50% cut off and full regulator the summit is passed at a remarkable 44 MPH. A tremendous performance with over 400 tons behind the tender.

60532 passing Beattock Summit. 22nd March 1997
Click to play

Next section: 1998 to 2007