When I first visited Peak Rail, operations were based on the old 'Midland' side of Buxton station. A 4-coupled tank was giving rides along the length of the platform. But, just beyond the platform, the bridge taking the railway over the road had been taken away, preventing further expansion. Reinstating bridges involves serious money so, eventually, the painful decision was taken to abandon the Buxton site, retaining land ownership for ultimate re-instatement of the tracks in the future.
Construction was re-started at Darley Dale and, by the time I became a working member, a passenger service had been re-established between Darley Dale and a new station, Matlock Riverside, about ten minutes walk from the town. At Matlock Riverside there was an end-on connection with sidings forming part of the National Railway Network extending from the original Matlock station.
This connection with the National Network was rarely used and was eventually severed to make way for an improved A6 aligned over this connection. Sainsbury's were also developing a new supermarket on part of the old Cawdor Quarry. These changes involved complicated land swops and agreements. As a result, the sidings extending from Matlock town were reinstated, but on a new alignment (because of the new A6 position). The new sidings now terminated alongside Peak Rail's tracks and no longer offered an end-on through route. The challenge then was to reach an agreement with the National Railway regarding linking-up again and constructing a new Peak Rail terminus near the town.
In the meantime, the Peak Rail intfrastructure has been extended from Darley Dale north to a large site encompassing the former Rowsley locomotive depot. The space available here has allowed a station with adequate parking to be developed, together with substantial sidings and a 4-road locomotive shed. The original turntable pit has been cleared and rebuilt and the 60-foot vacuum-operated turntable from Mold junction installed and commissioned (see article here).
The protracted negotiations were not assisted by the demise of British Rail, the rise and ultimate fall of Railtrack and the advent of Network Rail. Persistence has paid off and, at the beginning of July 2011, we saw Peak Rail trains passing the Sainsbury's Supermarket to stop at the original station. The original station at Matlock had been a through station with two platforms, Up and Down. The remaining diesel multiple unit service from Derby (and beyond) now runs on a single line from Ambergate and terminates in the Up platform at Matlock. The abandoned, overgrown Down platform has been cleared and new track laid for Peak Rail trains from Matlock Riverside to Matlock.
To celebrate these major achievements, a Matlock Station Festival Re-opening was held on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th July 2011. The first trains, reserved for invited guests and Peak Rail shareholders, ran on Friday 1st July. So the first revenue trains were on Saturday 2nd July, when I was booked to drive 68013.
The shared station layout at Matlock introduces some operational problems and trains are currently Top-and-Tailed. 68013 was at the Matlock end of the 7-coach train and new-arrival 'Lord Phil' was at the Rowsley end. There was quite an air of excitement at Rowsley, as you can imagine, as we waited for the guard's 'Rightaway' for the first train. We took the established route to Matlock Riverside, where the ground frame has been altered so that the facing points are now locked towards what was the run-round loop and is now the new running line. At the Matlock end of the loop, the new turnout with facing point lock is now secured towards the extended line to Matlock via a 5-chain radius curve This extended line is now part of the Darley Dale - Matlock single line section. I'd never driven the new line, so the Traction and Train Crew Manager was on the footplate for the first trip as a 'Conductor'. However, I'd taken the precaution of walking the new route earlier in the day so as to avoid any surprises. I'd also been warned that the crews on the previous day had found that a fair amount of steam was needed to drag the train from Matlock Riverside to Matlock so I made sure that I didn't let the speed drop too much (the speed limit on this section is 10 m.p.h.).
With 7-coaches and the extra load of 'Lord Phil' on the back, 68013 was working fairly hard (almost full first valve with the reverser 'pulled up' two notches). After a straight section past Sainsbury's car park, there's an 8-chain radius right-hand curve into our new platform, which is also on the curve. There were quite a few people in Sainsbury's car park (hardly surprising on a Saturday morning), all watching this novel event. As we carried on, I could see the public car park on the Up side. People were crammed against the railings, obviously watching our approach. Continuing round the curve, the Network Rail platform came into view. This, too, was crowded with people waiting for us to appear. Finally, I could see our platform, absolutely thronged with people waving and cheering, with Peak Rail platform staff trying to keep people back from the platform edge. We continued along the platform and stopped opposite the appointed 'mark'. The platform was so crowded that I didn't see much of the official station opening ceremony, though I caught a glimpse of a number of civic chains of office.
Eventually, we set off with the first revenue train from Matlock to Rowsley. This time, 'Lord Phil' did all the work. The second round trip was performed in a similar fashion, then we watered 68013 at Rowsley before swopping engines with the other crew so that crews would get experience both arriving at and departing from Matlock. After two round trips on 'Lord Phil', we watered and swopped back to 68013 for the last two round trips.
A very special day and a landmark in the history of Peak Rail! When I returned home, I looked up the old British Railways gradient diagrams for the line.
Although our extension is on a new alignment, two reference points remain - the Derwent Bridge just outside Matlock Riverside and Matlock Station platforms. As you can see from the diagram above, the grade is 1 in 170 from the Derwent bridge (by the short level section) to the station.