The following article describing an "interesting" return journey to the edge of the Far North of Scotland made earlier this year by Mr Alan Wild, the Vice-Chairman of the Bournemouth Railway Club in the faraway South of England, is reproduced by courtesy of the Editor of that Club's newsletter, BRC News.
On the Road to Beauly and Back via Beaulieu Road
Sun. 8th July - A potential replacement for the Hasselblad camera equipment stolen in Praha having been located near Beauly, I set off on the 18:50 from Bournemouth to Waterloo. The pair of South West Trains Class 444 electric units departed dead on time but suffered a severe signal slowing after Christchurch, almost stopping at Burton. This seemed strange as the 18:40 Arriva Cross-Country Class 220 to Manchester had left punctually. As a result we left New Milton 2¾ minutes late. The Sunday schedule permitted a one-minute recovery to Brockenhurst [and under the road to the other Beaulieu] and we left Southampton Central 'right time'. The rest of the run was punctual, taking 1hr 59m overall.
The 23:27 Caledonian Sleeper to Glasgow and Edinburgh departed four minutes late from Euston's Platform 15. The ten Mk 3 sleepers and four Mk 2 seating coaches totalled 659.5 tonnes tare and all of 700 tonnes gross, hauled by DB Schenker's 90020. The two portions each contained five sleepers and two seating coaches. The start was very gentle and the approach to the Watford Junction stop very sedate; the restart was 4½ minutes late. As always in a Sleeper, I slept fitfully and seemed to wake up whenever speed dropped markedly: I don't think we actually stopped before the booked call at Carlisle but at times progress seemed very slow.
Mon. 9th July - I was sufficiently wide awake to record the arrival at Carstairs, where it was raining steadily, at 06:06 - 14 minutes early by the public timetable. After about 15 minutes the passage of a southbound light engine was heard and a few minutes later a clunk announced the attachment of another class 90 to the rear of the train. I was not aware of the departure of the Glasgow portion, so perhaps the Edinburgh train was first away, at 06:33. After a pedestrian trundle (quite welcome as I tucked into an excellent continental breakfast sitting on my bunk) we rolled gently through Waverley station to stop punctually at 07:16 with almost the whole train beyond the east end of the canopy. And it was still raining! [Editor's note: It seems a rule at Edinburgh Waverley that trains calling as part of a through journey pull right up to the platform Starting signal, regardless of their length. Passengers transferring to a local train comprising a two-car Class 158 unit and starting from Platform 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 19 or 20 should be prepared to add at least two minutes to their anticipated exchange time simply for walking the length of those platforms.]
The next train to Inverness was not due until 08:34 and, as Waverley currently resembles a building site, I decided to go to Haymarket in the hope of photographing a few trains. It was pleasing to see a fair number of electric units still in the attractive Strathclyde livery amongst the plethora of clean but depressingly dark First Group and 'Saltire' liveries. [The latter has gained the appropriately descriptive nickname of "dotty Scottie" - at least amongst Scotland-domiciled English enthusiasts. - Ed.] It was still very dull and now raining harder and the appearance of a 158 on the 07:40 to Perth seemed an attractive proposition.
It was my first visit to the Queensferry Passage since the repainting of the Forth Bridge was completed and the protective sheeting removed. It was a little disconcerting to see some scaffolding erected on one of the struts so soon after the 'end of endless painting'. The rain eased north of the Firth and the river was a flat calm around Burntisland and Kirkcaldy. Although the rain had now stopped, on the single-track section from Ladybank to Hilton Junction the lineside vegetation was almost continuous and, doubtless weighed down by the rainwater, brushed against both sides of the train simultaneously. There was a signal check approaching Hilton Junction and speed remained low through Moncrieffe Tunnel, culminating in a four-minute stand outside Perth station. Eventually we were allowed into bay Platform 7*, on the west side of the island platform buildings, at 08:53½, half a minute late. There seemed to be no reason for the external stop as the platform had not been occupied. Although Perth station itself has seen very little rationalisation and seems far too grand for the traffic on offer, the goods lines and yards and the loco shed and wagon works sites are now redeveloped or given over to the growing of 'biomass'. [* Platform 7 is the westernmost through platform; although its track is called the Down Fast line, it actually reversibly signalled. The bays let into the south end of the island platform are Platforms 5 and 6. - Ed.]
Apart from the West Coast Royal Highlander sleeping-car train, hauled by a class 67 in these parts, and East Coast Highland Chieftain HST, all passenger trains through Perth are d.m.us, either classes 158 or 170 or a mixture of both. The two- and three-car units look lost in platforms designed for 18-coach trains. There is an (almost) daily freight train to add a little spice - the Stobart intermodal service to Inverness, worked by Direct Rail Services' class 66 locos.
The 08:34 from Edinburgh rolled in punctually. It was a 158 + 170 combination, so needed two refreshment trolleys to satisfy the requirements of the patrons. I gather the five-car formation is a Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays-only diagram; on other days a 3-car 170 suffices. Today the five cars were quite well filled and most passengers had plenty of luggage to fill every nook and cranny. The two units sailed up the hills at speeds which were unknown in the days of Sulzer Type 2s (even with a pair on a six-coach train) and ran very smoothly through the numerous curves. The train stopped only at Pitlochry, Kingussie and Aviemore and almost as many passengers boarded at each station as alighted. We stood nearly six minutes at Pitlochry to cross the 08:43 Inverness to Glasgow but still departed punctually. The long downhill runs from Druimuachdar to Kingussie and Slochd to Inverness were very smooth, at speeds around the permitted 80mph for long stretches. With no checks at all, we rolled into Inverness at midday, three minutes early.
A connecting service to Dingwall was available at 12:16, which calls at the re-opened Beauly, but Dave Wardale was on hand to provide a taxi service. Just as well, seeing as my destination was actually a mile and a half from Beauly station!
Tues. 10th July - The southbound Highland Chieftain was a nine-car HST with power cars 43208 and 43228. It occupied the easternmost platform, which is entirely outside the roofed area of Inverness station, and it was, of course, raining. The doors were not released until less than 10 minutes before the 07:55 departure, partly due to an absence of seat reservation labels. The guard announced just before we started that the label printing machine had broken down - "but not to worry as the train was unlikely to be very busy". Soon after the punctual departure the 'catering crew leader' apologised for the non-availability of hot food - "due to a refrigeration failure during the night". Presumably the bacon and sausages had gone off! Breakfast was juice, porridge (hot!) and as much toast as one could manage. We were promised that hot food would be loaded at Edinburgh. Even on leaving Aviemore there were 18 passengers in the second First Class coach and almost as many in the front one.
A class 67 on the northbound Royal Highlander was passed in the loop at Tomatin and a 66 on the Stobart train in Kincraig loop. The ride in the Mk 3 carriage was superb and when stopped the silence was uncanny - no engine noise, no humming inverters and no air conditioning noise - just what train travel should be like. Good time was kept to Perth but we spent nearly two minutes overtime there. We also sat in Stirling for 4½ minutes, leaving six late. Lateness had reduced to two minutes at Haymarket and we ran into Waverley nearly three minutes late after a long crawl, coming to rest at the extreme east end of Platform 2. The restart was booked for 11:30 but at 11:32 the guard announced: "This train was now cancelled due to a technical fault with some safety equipment." Passengers were invited to join the 12:00 to King's Cross at Platform 11: that was almost as far from where we stopped as it is possible to get and some 350 souls - all with luggage - had to negotiate the intervening building site. Needless to say, with two loads of passengers, the rake of Mk 4 coaches was full on departure. I did not venture to the rear to ascertain the identity of the class 91 which would propel us to London. This train made more intermediate stops than the Inverness service and booked arrival time was 52 minutes later than I had planned for.
We started punctually with a very gentle trundle through Calton Tunnel and it seemed to be quite a while before speed reached the level needed for good timekeeping. Berwick-upon- Tweed was reached punctually but station overtime, probably due to the difficulty of joining passengers finding space on board, resulted in a two-minute late departure. We arrived at Newcastle only half a minute late but took nearly twice the allowance and set off again almost three late. No time was recouped to Durham and departure was 3¼ minutes in arrears. There was a very sedate approach to Darlington, and on leaving lateness had increased to 5¼ minutes. Although the start was of necessity slow, speed across the Plain of York was more like normal class 91 performance and the City was reached in 26m 37s, arriving only three minutes late. The train was routed into Platform 5, presumably to facilitate connections to Trans-Pennine and West of England destinations: only the Hull passengers faced a bit of a hike. Once more station overtime put us back another 1½ minutes.
A severe signal slowing outside Doncaster prevented any recovery and again station work added to the delay, the restart being five minutes late. A curious feature of the public timetable is that at stations like Doncaster the arrival and departure times are identical whilst a full minute is allowed at Newark. That proved to be irrelevant, however, as we came to a dead stand just after crossing the old Midland line to Lincoln and reached the platform 15¼ late. This was later reported to be reaction to an earlier trespass incident. At least we had the pleasure of sweeping through Grantham at a goodly rate and rolled into Peterborough 14¼ late. The twominute allowance here was expanded to three and the 'crew leader' announced that we should expect to arrive at King's Cross at 17:00 (14 minutes late). The 57-minute allowance obviously includes a lot of 'pathing and performance' (recovery) time and, even with almost stopping at Belle Isle, termination was just under seven minutes late at 16:53.
The most noticeable features of the run were the loss of a cooked breakfast (I suspect that was loaded on to the HST which we abandoned in Edinburgh) and the background noise in the Mk 4 coach: very marked after the bliss of the Mk 3.
The 17:35 from Waterloo started half a minute late and was stopped at signals before the back of the train had left the platform! We were effectively 5 minutes late getting away. Woking was passed in 24m 1s from the signal stop but another signal stop occurred after Newnham and we passed Basingstoke in 50m 21s from Waterloo's platform. Winchester arrival was 13¾ minutes late and a signal slowing at Allbrook made the restart from Southampton Airport 14 minutes late. Smart work dividing the 444s at Southampton Central recouped three minutes but a signal slowing at Totton caused us to take 13 minutes to pass Brockenhurst. If the Christchurch permanent way slowing was still in force it was ignored and a grandstand finish saw arrival in Bournemouth only 7¾: minutes late.