10th August 2003
Spa Valley Railway P.L.E.G. D3489 Charter and Gala

Here are some photos taken on the day.

Andrew Wilson describes.....

I reached the Spa Valley around 8.15 having done a very dodgy move to get there. The Chingfinder tour on Saturday, 50 minutes at home to derancify and restock supplies, then overnight bus to Leicester Forest East services (unadvertised stop) for a pre-arranged lift forward to the Spa Valley.

There were quite a lot of cranks already there, waiting for the 9.00AM D3489 charter which was organised by PLEG because D3489 wasn't included in the gala line-up due to it being a 'non-Southern' engine thus it was a perfect opportunity to clear the railway of diesels in one visit.


9.00AM came and went and evidently there were problems with D3489 as 09004 moved off the shed and coupled up to D3489, which was already on the train. I walked up to the driver/owner of D3489 and asked him what the farce was. He said D3489 was suffering from fuel starvation and low amps and 09004 had been added to provide assistance if necessary and also as insurance against complete failure of D3489, in the middle of nowhere, if it went forward on it's own. This alternative was obviously better than just failing D3489 and either cancelling the train or substituting another engine as would happen on other preserved railways so full marks awarded to the Spa Valley. I was at the back of the train so I didn't see how much work D3489 did on the outward journey but I was told it did quite a lot of the work. On the return trip it worked constantly with some assistance provided by 09004 when we reached a gradient and eventually we arrived back about 20 minutes late. PLEG had brought 43 of it's members to the railway for the charter and it was disappointing to see only around 20 other people waiting for the first official gala train at 10.00AM.

The 10.00AM train was hauled by 33063, which looked absolutely stunning in newly painted BR blue complete with original SR snowploughs and left about 15 minutes late due to the late running of the charter, which used the same stock. When we reached Groombridge, the terminus of the line, we were offered the option of baling off or staying on the train whilst it pulled into the loop for the engine to run round. I stayed on to escape the 38 degree burning heat and oppressive humidity (no, this wasn't Bombay, we were still in England). I found out later that Gravesend had been reported as having the highest temperature ever recorded (38.1C) and we were not far from there!

As we pulled into Tunbridge Wells West station it was pleasing to see many more people waiting for the 11.00 departure, quite a few normals were there along with a motley crew of very dodgy characters and the usual desperadoes complete with notebooks but the booked anoraks however had been stored serviceable for the day. The late arrival of said dodgy characters was due to an engineering over-run and busstitution by Connex I was told. 73140 was booked to haul this train and it looked quite shabby in it's old Inter-City livery but I couldn't really care less if it had been in shocking pink as long as it worked and I got it in the book.

The 12.00 departure (33063) was flagged for a required air conditioning move of standing in one of the aisles in Sainsbury's for 10 minutes and then visiting the café, quite a few others had done the same move and after sustenance everyone made their way back for the 13.00 departure hauled by 09004.

The 13.00 departure was hauled by 33063 and 73140 and the train was full for this turn with the buffet doing a roaring trade. Cream teas were being offered and delivered to your seat by butler Bert in a sort of butler's outfit complete with silver tray and tea towel over the arm. Perhaps Chingfinder would consider offering a similar sort of service!

The 15.00 departure was what everyone was waiting for 15224 and 09004 paired. 15224 is very rare on passenger as it has no train brakes and it had to be leading on the trip and 09004 would provide train brakes. Many of us baled at Groombridge on the outward journey to enable phots to be shot as it pulled back into the station. On arrival back at Tunbridge many of the cranks, myself included, decided to call it a day and head back home.

Verdict :
A superb day out with no problems with the timetable or booked engines. The railway staff were exceptional, they took time to answer questions and chat and nothing was too much trouble for them in the stifling heat.

Andrew Wilson

...and this from Stuart Chapman....

A sudden change of my wife's plans  - left me with a free Sunday with the kids on August 11th. As I live in Essex a quick decision was made to visit the Spa Valley Railway's Southern Diesel Gala, the railway only being about an hours drive away from home. The great thing about the SVR, especially is you have children is that all of it's three current stations have something to visit or see. Tunbridge Wells West is the lines main station complete with ex Southern Region engine shed and is in easy walking distance of the Pantiles (historic street with quaint shops), while at the other end of the line Groombridge Place and the Enchanted Forest is a fantastic day out for the kids with lots to do, and the railway even offers a joint ticket. However the destination for todays trip was going to by the mid station 'High Rocks' a scenic beauty spot, with of course lots of loco haulage thrown in.

After a slightly late start from home we arrived at Groombridge at 10:20. With the first train due to depart for Tunbridge Wells at 10:30 I was surprised to see a photographer on the road bridge above the station looking east (away from the station). It soon became clear that despite this being the first booked train (a charter had run earlier) things were already late. A winner for me though as it gave the chance to photograph 33063 from the East Kent Railway coming into the station. While the train pulled up into the loop beyond the station to run round I purchased tickets and discovered that the first train didn't stop at High Rocks so we would have to run to Tunbridge Wells first. 33063 soon drew back into the station looking absolutely resplendent in what I understand is a new coat of paint. We seated ourselves in the line's award winning and very comfortable bar car Kate and were soon departing for Tunbridge about 15 minutes down. Despite still being before 11 there was already a queue for the bar (not surprising on the hottest day ever) and we decided to wait until we got to High Rocks before getting drinks. The 33 made an easy job of our journey and we were soon pulling into Tunbridge Wells West. We then went to the end of the platform to watch proceedings.

73140 recently arrived from the Lavender Line, and if I'm honest badly in need of a lick of paint (although I hear it's getting one soon and this was to be the last runs in the current Inter City livery) reversed off shed. There seemed to be some confusion between the signalman, the second man and the driver about who was collecting the token but eventually the ED drew back onto our train. While waiting for departure it was good to see that the railway was catering for all the family with a little miniature railway offering rides up and down the yard. However it wasn't too long before 73140 sounded it's horn and made it's way out of the station. After the glory of the 33 earlier, I have to say that a 73 running on diesel only doesn't really reach the same heights sounding closer to a clapped out Bedford van than a mainline diesel. No real complaining though as we were soon back at High Rocks, off the train, through the station gate and off to the adjacent pub for a well earned drink. As I understand it the pub actually requested that the railway open a halt here when the line re-opened and hopefully our visit proved the benefits of the two working together. Certainly it was nice to sit out in the pub garden with a glass of cool bear and watch the 73 come back through.

A good couple of hours was spent exploring the rocks (there are a network of paths, bridges and even a cave like ravine) and having a picnic before it was time to walk back to the station. Expecting the train still to be about 10 or 15 minutes down we were all surprised (including the SVR station attendant) to see our train coming round the corner right time, being hauled by the booked 09004 also an ex resident of the Lavender line. This was my first sample of 09 haulage and I have to say I was really impressed. Having expected a slow and jolting ride I was impressed at how smoothly the 09 handled the run - certainly much better than the 0-6-0 tanks that haul the lines normal services.

Soon though we were back at Groombridge and a pleasant surprise was to see the booking office selling ice-creams - which were readily purchased and consumed.

We were soon however on our way back home after a thoroughly enjoyable (the kids loved the trains and the rocks) day out. This was the lines first attempt at a Diesel Gala and with 2 recent arrivals another loco on loan and a good combination of haulage to a set theme, I think they really did well. Certainly all the train travelled on were well filled and I therefore hope the line makes this a regular event.

Stuart Chapman

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