Chris Morley describes the Saturday....
A day out to the Mid Norfolk Railway? With an example of class 20, 31 (required) and 50 on the line it has always interested me, but the early loss of 20206 to DRS and the lengthy journey involved meant it was never a priority. My mind was finally made up by the prospect of scratching Freightliner 47309, the last 47/3 in service, during the March 23rd/24th gala. The MNR had advertised this engine many weeks before, unlike the ELR which had quoted the wrong engine the night before their gala.
In the hope that the MNR would secure 309, three of us decided to drive to Dereham on the Saturday morning for the 11am departure. We reached the outskirts with plenty of time only to be held up by roadworks. Luckily the station was well signposted and we made it with 8 minutes to spare. Armed with 3 rovers and 3 coffees we were on the platform with a minute to spare. 31235 in scabby 'dutch' livery was on the Northern end of a rake of 5 early mk2s. I spotted new arrival 31438 on it's own spur line. 47309 was indeed there, backing down onto the stock with a silent 20069 as a barrier loco (due to the vacuum braking of the stock). Both looked superb in their respective liveries. A few minutes late we departed, easing out of the station at barely 5 mph due to a speed restriction over the two level crossings just south of the station. Even with a 350 ton trailing load the 47 had no difficulty reaching the 25mph line speed afterwards, thrashing along nicely. It certainly didn't sound ( or look ) like an engine ready for the scrapyard.
Some 35 minutes later we arrived at Wymondham Abbey,
a 4 coach long temporary platform without a run-round loop. Situated some 60
chains from the junction with the Ely-Norwich main line, it provided a very
pleasant location for taking pictures from the level crossing. Positioned in the
(now) leading coach, I had a good earful of 31 thrash on the return
journey. With 360 tons to pull, the engine had to work hard as the line
generally rises towards Dereham. It was very reminiscent of a 1980s Birmingham -
Norwich service climbing away from Whitaker Jcn. The line is a little short of
11 miles long, but the journey only lasts 35-40 minutes because the intermediate
stations are in private ownership so there is no stopping. With 30 minutes in
Dereham before the 1300 there was plenty of time for lunch and looking through
a large collection of second hand books
The 1300 was taken out by 50019 Ramillies, looking a treat in early 1980s BR blue. As usual on preserved railways, I doubt the 50 was ever worked beyond notch 5 so the run wasn't a highlight . The 31 was to remain at the North end all day and it took us back, happily thrashing away. The 1500 was a repeat of the 1100 run. By this time there were a lot of people complaining about 20069 being dead (including my friends). It seems like it wasn't rostered to work. I don't think the MNR staff understood why so many bashers wanted the 20 to work, but to their credit they listened and chopper was started. The 47 and 20 in tandem took the final ( 1700 ) departure to Wymondham, As soon as we cleared the crossings there was an explosion of noise from the 20, which must be the loudest I've ever heard. Great stuff, repeated four or five times! Strictly speaking, the 20/47 combo is authentic as I had it several times on the overnight Euston - Stranraer from Ayr in the mid 80s. All in all we had 86 miles of decent thrash for £12. Good value in my book, especially when one of the engines is possibly the last 47 I'll ever scratch.
The MNR is already a good railway with great potential. There's loads of space at Dereham and the prospect of the Northwards extension to County School will make it a very long and scenic preserved line. The P.W. team demonstrated their abilities to us during the day, laying several track panels in the yard. All they need now is a mobile water vapourisation unit to appeal to Joe Public. I have a feeling this railway will be a major player in the future, but in the meantime someone needs to work on the exposed metal showing on the 31. A bit of rustproofing now will save a lot of welding in the future.