Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Peak Rail in Winter

'Sapper' in the frost: Up train approaching Darley Dale. Click above for complete image.(Photo: Sheila Rayson)

Peak Rail tries to operate a passenger service all the year round but in winter it's restricted to Sundays. I was rostered as Driver on Sunday 15th January 2012, with Dave as Fireman. As I walked across the yard at Rowsley to the outside pit at the shed, I noticed that our train had been reduced to 5 coaches (we'd run with 7 on the Santa Specials). This wasn't surprising - the Santa trains usually run at peak loading (no pun intended) but the shorter train should be adequate to meet the demand on a cold January Sunday. As far as I knew, we were top-and-tail to Matlock (Town), as all the services have been since we re-opened Matlock Station, apart from the Santa Specials. I also wasn't surprised that there was no big diesel attached to the north end of the stock yet - the first passenger departure was not until 11:15. But I was surprised that the tank wagon parked opposite the south end of the stock used to replenish the locomotive water had been removed as this would make watering during the day harder.

Dave had signed on at 04:00 to 'light-up' so, by the time I arrived a little before 07:00, matters were well in hand and Austerity tank locomotive 'Sapper' was radiating warmth (although there were still four-inch icicles hanging from the underframe). It was still dark and the thermometer was down to minus five Celsius as I started oiling round. I'd no time to feel sorry for myself as we were due 'off shed' at 08:15, light engine to Darley Dale to pick up our candidate for a two-hour driving experience course. I've described the preparation of this class of engine here.

We were ready on time and, in possession of the single line staff for the Rowsley-Church Lane section, attempted to move away. Something was frozen but, after a slight pause, things freed themselves and we moved off. The hand points we had to change were stiff with frost and the ground frame which let us onto the running line was heavy to operate. We gently ran down to Church Lane Crossing where Rob let us through the gates and we surrendered the staff. I commented to Rob about the missing water tank to be told there was no diesel that day. "So we're on our own?" I exclaimed as the consequences sank in. If we were on our own, it would be like the 'old days' when we ran round the train each end and did all the work ourselves. Our destination would be Matlock (Riverside), where there are run-round facilities, rather than Matlock (Town). But, at least, we'd be able to water at the grey tank wagon at Rowsley as we ran round (provided it wasn't frozen!). Dave and I looked at one another - normally we'd both relish the extra work, but we'd turned up expecting a fairly easy shift and that had now changed. Oh well, "Embrace the Unexpected" is one of my sayings.

We continued to Darley Dale Up Platform and met up with our trainee driver, just as the Station Staff were arriving. By this time, Rob had driven by road from Church Lane to Darley Dale so that he could let us through the Darley Dale Level Crossing. Once introductions were made and our trainee was on board, Rob let us over the Crossing and gave us the single line staff for the Darley Dale-Matlock section. Our trainee was a good driver, although he'd never driven a steam locomotive before, so we had a pleasant but rather cold couple of hours pottering between Darley Dale and Matlock Riverside. I've described the format of the Peak Rail driving experience courses here.

With the current timetable, driver training is 08:45 to 10:45 then we're booked light engine back to Rowsley, ready for the first passenger train at 11:15. We said goodbye to our trainee in the Down platform at Darley Dale and Jackie called across that we'd be taking a film crew from Darley Dale on our first Up train. We hadn't time to find out more as we needed to water at Rowsley before 'tie-ing on' to our train. With the passenger coaches stabled in the platform at Rowsley, we had to go around the loop to get to the grey water tank (which, to our relief, was not frozen), take water and then return via the loop to get to the south end of our train. By the time we'd done this, we'd only a few minutes to start steam heating the coaches before the first passengers boarded - not long enough. I've talked about 'hooking on' to a train and steam heating in On the Footplate Part 2. Because of the heavy frost, I also wanted to be sure I'd done a 'functional' brake test on the vacuum brakes, checking that brakes could be applied along the train by the driver. If brake cylinders become frozen in the released position, the driver may discover he has a lot less braking effort than he expected! There's more about the vacuum brake in Section 4 of the article Brakes. A proper test involves a lot of walking up and down alongside the train, first checking that the brakes can be applied and then checking that they can be released.

I didn't make a note of our departure time by the time the station staff were ready to send us out. We were late and, I knew, destined to become later when we picked up the film crew. We had a gentle run down to Church Lane where we were checked by the signal whilst the signalman manually pushed the gates across. During the day, we were checked or even stopped each time we passed Church Lane. On one Up train, we were called on by a yellow flag so we approached the facing motor points very cautiously, to ensure they were correctly fitting-up, before we moved across them.

We arrived at Darley Dale and were introduced to James Lewis, an auctioneer and valuer well-known for his appearances on various television antiques programmes. He was already dressed in a boiler suit and was to travel with us on the footplate to Matlock and back with his cameraman. James proved to be good company and he was very enthusiastic about accompanying us. The footplate on an 'Austerity' tank is not that large so, with Driver, Fireman, Cameraman (porting a large, professional camera) and James aboard, I remember at one point saying "One of us is going to have to go on a diet!". Eventually, they had recorded the shots they wanted (and the third member of the film crew, the Director, had taken a footplate ride) so we said goodbye to our visitors.

James Lewis saying goodbye after his footplate experience. (Photo: Sheila Rayson)

Now about twenty minutes late, we carried on with the timetable. With the various temporary speed restrictions, there's not much scope for catching up lost time 'on the road'. It has to be done by smart running round or watering, leaving little opportunity for getting food or drink. At about 13:30, Dave was relieved by Phil as fireman. As the heading picture shows, the scenery looked very attractive with the heavy frost but, boy, was it cold. We normally try to avoid black smoke but, on an afternoon Up departure from Darley Dale, Sheila asked for a bit of an effort and you can judge the result (below) for yourself. In warm weather, of course, steam can remain invisible but cold air condenses steam to water vapour, giving quite impressive results.

'Sapper' takes an Up train out of Darly Dale. (Photo: Sheila Rayson)

For the last round trip from Rowsley, we lit the locomotive lamps. There's an article on lamps here. By the time we arrived back, it was quite dark but we were on time. We 'hooked off' and made our way back to the shed's outside pit, about nine hours after I left it that morning. The method of disposal currently in use at Peak Rail is a little different from that described in the article Disposal, but the principles and the hazards are the same. I partially filled the boiler but left '100 pounds' (100 pounds per square inch) on the 'clock' so as to be able to make the final movement into the shed with an effective steam brake. By closing right up to the diesel shunter in the shed, we were 'inside, clear' and Phil was able to close the roller shutter door whilst I finished filling the boiler. As Phil and I had a wash (it's difficult to keep clean on a steam locomotive but I have worked with people who manage it) we agreed that we were both fairly exhausted but had had a good time.

There are detail pictures of 'Sapper' here.

A number of articles about working on locomotives are linked above. You can find all of them here.