Mark Honey describes...
Weekend diversions and dragging have always been common over many years, but it’s true to say that the variety and the spontaneity has long since disappeared into the past. The plethora of different classes now literally doesn’t exist to provide the variation and dragging has long been the preserve of ETH fitted Class 47’s.
Sunday 29th August provided a chance to do some diversions as the WCML was chopped basically into closed sections – if you wanted to travel south of Stafford or Birmingham to London Euston – forget it! So Virgin decided to operate Stafford-Liverpool Lime St shuttles using loco hauled sets, using Freightliner Heavy Haul 47/8s. The drag part of it was the diversion via Warrington Bank Quay and Earlestown to Liverpool.
Off the back of a weekend doing ‘The Northern Lights’ railtour, a couple of us thought it would be a bit of a giggle to cover these services for the sheer hell of it. There would be no ‘winners’ (not by a long shot) but as there were also Birmingham-Holyhead trains hauled by 47/8’s, it would be a chance to ride on a good few loco hauled trains and make a day of it.
Passing through Crewe on Saturday evening, 47812/829/30/43/51 were lined up in the south bay on the far side of the station. So we knew what would be out the following day.
I left home about 8.00 to drive over to Northampton to collect a colleague and we headed up the M6 via the toll road to Stafford. We got there about 10.30 and as the first northbound move wasn’t until 11.53, we had time to look at what was doing what. The formula was that there was a train northbound 10 minutes(ish) before the hour and off Liverpool 15 minutes past the hour. All the duffs lined up apart from 47830 (brakes) and 47851 (flat batteries) turned out and 47810/841 were on the Holyhead trains. To fill in the gaps, 57307/312 appeared.
For me, the ‘challenge’ was to try and get as many in for the day as possible. I have to admit, it was quite a nostalgic laugh trying to work out moves to get them in before we ran out of time – and locos! There were stops at Crewe and Warrington for all the services and as the leaps at these stations were in single minutes, it added to the nostalgia. Who remembers leaping for next-to-no-minute connections off one drag to another at Birmingham New St in days gone by?
So, at 11.53, 47829 pulled out with 87014 and a rake of very scruffy MkIII’s in tow and powered north to Crewe. We intended to bale here for 47843 back, but as we pulled in and it pulled out, that was that! Further scrutiny of the moves revealed 47812 was the next southbound machine, so we enjoyed a superb run behind 47829 to Warrington and adjourned to the local Wetherspoon’s for a pint and some lunch.
We had a +45 for 47812 (towing 87013) so it was a quick turnaround and back for a quick phot and a sluggish run to Crewe. This put us in a good +10 position for 47843 back to Liverpool this time, with 87010 in transit. It has to be said – why drag 87’s round all day – they weren’t used! I’m sure there’s a reason I haven’t thought of.
47843 took us to Liverpool where we had a comfortable 45 minutes for the 16.15 back to Stafford. It was then we found out that there may be an issue with 47843 and a run light to Arpley may be on the cards. As it was due to do the 17.15 to Stafford, this would of course leave the train short of power. Anyway, the 16.15 was ying-ing with 57307 on the front, but it ran well (and was pretty noisy!) and we took this to Crewe. We then pondered what to do – pulling in from the other direction was the 16.45 Stafford - Liverpool with 57312. Would it be worth doing this to Warrington for whatever the 16.15 was (there was a +10 on this) or just fester for well over an hour for the 16.10 Holyhead – Birmingham with 47810? To hell with it; we jumped on 57312 and took it to Warrington. On the way, gen filtered through that 47843 was on the 16.15, so the move was back on. Sure enough, 47843 with 87030 rounded the corner into Warrington and we took this to Crewe for the last loco of the day to Stafford, the aforementioned 47810. We arrived at Stafford to see 47829 ready to work the now 15 late 18.57 to Liverpool. We however, packed up for the day and drove back to Northampton.
All in all, everything worked well; all the trains ran to time, there were no real problems. It would have been nice to see 47830 and 47851 out (Webmasters footnote: Geoff Cooper-Smith confirms that 47851 did indeed work, the 18.15 Liverpool LS-Stafford and 20.55 return) – it would have made it a real ‘duff-fest’ but to travel on half a dozen locos on service trains in these plastic times on one day was novel to say the least.
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