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Sir Nigel Gresley at Work - Around the Regions

by John Wickham

Part Three ~ London Midland Region

The 1st April 1967 saw a good crowd of enthusiasts gathered at Crewe station for a ride behind the newly restored A4 Sir Nigel Gresley. It was a special train to Carlisle, in fact, it ran direct to Kingmoor shed, the outward leg was via Shap, with the return via the "Settle and Carlisle", Blackburn and Farington Jn. It was called "The Inaugural Run of Class A4 Pacific". A second tour, seven months later, started from Nottingham. With No. 4498 north of Crewe, this trip basically followed the same route, and was organised by the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society (RCTS) and called the "Border Limited". I had seen Sir Nigel in Crewe Works still in its primer undercoat, just 6 weeks before the inaugural train, so, being "ex-works" was wondering how it would be handled on a trip of around 300 miles, including a non-stop run from Crewe to Carlisle. I can't resist quoting from the itinerary - "No. 4498 is, in fact, a preserved locomotive, a museum exhibit, in working order and will be treated as such, with carefully restricted running" It would have been interesting to know what would have happened if that had been printed over the top of the driver's roster for that day, or, indeed for the driver that was to take her over Shap some seven months later!

Whoever wrote those comments obviously didn't understand exactly which loco he was describing, as the 1st April train, in true Sir Nigel tradition, had been on the move for just 13 minutes and we were travelling at over 80mph, and 20 minutes after the start had crossed the 90mph mark! I thought that was something quite exceptional, but on the 28th October, we set off (once more) like a rocket, and I was convinced we were going to achieve 100mph at Hartford, but had to be content with just 95mph! We were "inside even time" in just under 12mins! (11.85 miles covered in 11min 40sec start to pass) I have tabulated the two runs from Crewe to Warrington Bank Quay, and in spite of high speeds achieved on the 1st April, Sir Nigel on its 28th October dash was over 1½ minutes ahead by Weaver Jn. (16.3 miles covered a shade under 15 mins start to pass). On the 28th October a stop was made at Warrington, and No. 4498 brought its train to a rest 22½ minutes after leaving Crewe, a distance of 24.15 miles.(Average speed - 64.2mph).

It is interesting to look at the scheduled times for both runs, the "Inaugural" was given just 17 minutes from a "cold" start at Crewe to cover the first 16.3 miles to Weaver Junction, and surprisingly the second train (albeit slightly lighter) was only allowed 18 minutes for the same stretch. 4498 treated such details as tight schedules with ease, and in spite of leaving Crewe 3 mins late (Inaugural) and 1 minute late (28th Oct) presented her gleaming blue paintwork on time at Warrington in both cases. (Indeed on 28th October, we arrived there 2½min early!). Full credit to LMS drivers, who, in spite of 90mph dashes were, in general, driving according to their schedules, it must also be remembered that the Crewe - Weaver Jn section was electrified, and carried all the associated enhancements. While mention is made of LMS drivers, one wonders if they took an immediate liking to LNER locos, as we shall see more in their exploits with Sir Nigel in Scotland.

4498 blasts up Shap
4498 blasts up Shap on 1st April 1967 - heading towards Scout Green Box.               (Photo: David Benson)

I shall now turn my attention to the famous climb to Shap, and see how both trains ran between Carnforth and Carlisle. Once again, the second of the pair was given the easiest schedule. In view of a similar load, the same loco, and only 7 months between the runs, the difference is puzzling. A glance at the accompanying Table will show that the same time was given for them to Oxenholme, then amazingly train number 2 was given 6 minutes more to Tebay, and another 2 mins to Shap Summit, they are 11 mins apart at Carlisle (assuming two minutes from No.13 Box to Citadel Station). Perhaps it was purely at the whim of the clerical staff at Crewe. How the drivers react is anybody's guess, personally I'm of the opinion that if schedules differ so much, they just "go when the signals are green". This surely is proved by the fact that the slower scheduled of the two, ran the fastest. They both passed Carnforth at virtually the same speed, the 1st April train was 4min late, and on the 28th October we passed there 8min late. In spite of a signal check at Oxenholme, the April tour (with the faster schedule) had a steady climb to Shap, to pass the summit 1 minute early. The October train fairly romped away, had gained 4 min by Oxenholme, tore up Shap, to pass the Summit 11 minutes early! It suffered a temp speed restriction at Shap Station, drifted to Penrith's perm restriction, then again, dashed up to 88mph, before stopping at Carlisle's No, 13 box over 16 minutes early! The 1st April train again suffered checks on its descent, but No. 4498 came triumphantly to a stand in Carlisle Station 1 minute early.

In a recent edition of Steam World magazine (No. 315) a table was produced showing the fastest climbs to Shap Summit. Working on the assumption that the times quoted are for steam locos in the "preservation" era, I decided to have a close look at the 28th October run. Those detailed in the article are (quite correctly) timed from milepost 13, the foot of the climb (Just South of Milnthorpe) to milepost 37¼ (the actual summit, rather than Shap Summit Signal box). However, back in 1967 I (and I'm sure many others) timed trains assisted by data given in the little "British Express Trains" series of books written by none other than Cecil J. Allen, and published by Ian Allan in 1960 to the ABC format. The mileages used by "CJ" are given in one-tenths of a mile, those in Steam Railway are (surprisingly) in miles and chains. Many performance logs were published in the railway press at the time of our runs, and using mileposts 13, or 37¼ were (as far as I know) never used to actually time a train, the speeds in dips, or at summits usually being shown as "max" or "min" in logs. So, after much head scratching, I've calculated the time Sir Nigel took to between mileposts 13 and 37¼. At the risk of arms being thrown up amongst the modern stop-watch fraternity, I am going to claim another place for Sir Nigel in the table. I have calculated a time of 23mins and 24 seconds for the "measured" stretch, which puts No. 4498 in third place behind a loco that carries the number 60007. I must emphasise that my figures are open to debate, and, in fact I will welcome any comments. I would like to thank the editor of "Steam Railway" magazine, and Mr. M Notley for their permission to quote details of the climbs to Shap.

Locomotive: 4498 Sir Nigel Gresley Saturday 1st April, 1967
Load: 12/424/445
Train: "Inaugral Run of 4498"
Saturday 28th October, 1967
Load: 11/351/380
Train: RCTS "Border Limited"
Driver: B. Stewart, Fireman: N. Cadman/L. Jackson
Dist   Sched
m  s
MPH Sched
m  s
0.00 CREWE 0 00.00 - 0 00.00 -
2.85 Coppenhall Junction 06.06 53   05.28 63
4.90 Minshull Vernon   07.51 60   06.58 76
7.50 Winsford 10 10.07 69 11 8.52 86½
11.85 Hartford   13.24 81/79   11.40 95/93
14.50 Acton Bridge   15.17 86½   13.27 95/82½
16.30 Weaver Junction 17 16.38 89/85½ 18 14.58 75;
22.15 Acton Grange Junction 23 20.28 91/82 25 19.54 62/74/64
24.15 WARRINGTON 25 22.03 *66 28 22.31 -
    pass   pass      
0.00 CARNFORTH 0 00.00 72 0 0.00 69
3.25 Milepsost 9   02.45 77½/67   03.06 59½
4.50 Burton and Holme   04.35 77½   05.03 65/74½
6.75 Milepost 13   05.34 76   06.01 77
7.30 Milnthorpe   06.00 70   06.25 77½
9.20 Hincaster Junction   07.43 65   07.59 71
12.85 Oxenholme 15 13.34 Sigs 26/45 15 11014 62½
18.05 Lambrigg Crossing   20.23 46   16.25 55½
19.90 Grayrigg   23.08 41/44   18.40 52½/54½
21.65 Low Gill Junction   25.24 51   20.29 61/57
25.85 Tebay 31 29.11 72½/70 37 24.08 73/72½
28.85 Scout Green   32.09 51½   26.56 54½
30.75 Milepost 37   34.55 33   29.05 47½
31.00 Milepost 37¼   35.34 29   29.25 46½ min
31.30 Shap Summit Box 41 36.15 30 49 29.57 br
33.45 Shap   38.42 67   33.26 c18½/15
36.65 Thirmby Grange   41.45 68/br60   39.44 62
40.75 Clifton & Lowther   45.45 br 57/60   44.01 63/55
41.70 Eden Valley Junction   46.45 c50   45.02 63
45.00 Penrith 54 50.56 57/c38 63 48.37 49/*52
49.90 Plumpton 58 50.56 57/c38 63 48.37 49/*52
55.55 Southwaite   62.13 77/c10   57.02 88/82½
58.05 Wreay   65.53 56   58.49 68
61.45 Carlisle Nº13   69.31 69/*23 87 62.22 73 max/-
62.85 CARLISLE 78 73.16     stop  
br - brakes applied
c - temporary speed restriction
* - permanent speed restriction
details shown in italics are calculated

Researched and written by John Wickham.
First published in Chime 141, Autumn 2006
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