Wednesday, 30 December 2015

'Santa Specials' at The Battlefield Line - Christmas 2015

The Battlefield Line now operates two 'Santa' trains, alternately, on its line from Shackerstone to Shenton. One, with vestibule stock, is dubbed the 'Classic' train. In this train, Santa's Helpers take groups of passengers, in turn, to see Santa Claus in his Grotto, where the children receive an early Christmas present. The second train has corridor compartment stock and forms the 'De Luxe' train. On the De Luxe service, families or groups can book a private compartment provided with refreshments and Christmas Crackers and Santa makes a 'house call' at each compartment, distributing presents.

In December 2015, visiting locomotive 3205 (the 'Collett Goods') worked the 5-coach 'Classic' train and another visitor, 'Cumbria' (Hunslet 3794 'Austerity Tank'), hauled the 4-coach 'De Luxe' train. I'd first seen both engines at the The Battlefield Line Steam Gala in October 2015.

3205 Collett Goods at the Battlefield Line Steam Gala, October 2015

Hunslet 3794 'Cumbria' at the Battlefield Line Steam Gala, October 2015

Events of Saturday 19th December 2015

I had been rostered to drive 'Cumbria'. For whatever reason, there was no fireman for 'Cumbria' although our trainee, James, was well-on with steam raising, under the watchful eye of Dave H. who was actually booked as Fireman on the 'Collett Goods'. The day was only saved by Dave agreeing to be fireman on both locomotives, since there was also a trainee fireman on the 'Collett Goods' to assist. Whilst trainee firemen can carry out most of the tasks, and are allowed to work under the supervision of the driver in 'station limits', once a locomotive leaves Shackerstone, there must be a registered fireman on the footplate.

The 'Collett Goods' was booked to make three trips to Shenton (leaving Shackerstone at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.) whilst 'Cumbria' was diagrammed to take two trips (at half past eleven and half past two). All trains were 'Sold Out'.

We came off shed with 'Cumbria' in good time to allow us to steam heat the 'De Luxe' train standing in platform 1. The day was overcast with intermittent rain. The 'Collett Goods' moved across to the head of the 'Classic' train in platform 2 shortly before departure time at 10:00. The 'Classic' train coaches have Electric Train Heating so can be warmed from an electric 'Shore Supply' before the locomotive arrives although, once coupled, the 'Collett Goods' provided conventional steam heating. The 10 o'clock departure left about ten minutes late, waiting for tardy passengers. We continued to warm our train whilst the other train travelled to Shenton and back and all the young people on that train had had a chance to meet Santa.

I think our first departure was about ten minutes late and we made very leisurely progress down the line to Market Bosworth. With a full train, Santa has his work cut out to see everybody so we stood for a while before carrying on to Shenton.

Jan relaxes on the footplate as 'Cumbria' pauses at Market Bosworth en route to Shenton with the 11:30 from Shackerstone.

We made similarly pedestrian progress to Shenton. Then we had a flurry of activity as we uncoupled, ran round and "hooked on" again for the return, this time chimney leading. When we finally arrived back in platform 1 at Shackerstone, the one o'clock 'Classic' service was able to leave, but there was, once again, a slight delay as late-arriving passengers were rounded up. Once that train had left, we were able to run round our train, pausing at the water column at the south end of platform 2 to replenish our saddle tank. Once re-coupled, it was back to keeping the train warm ready for the 2.30 p.m. train.

Our second trip down the line was similarly uneventful (and slow). The day had remained overcast and, only three days before the Winter Equinox, we lit our paraffin headlamp before returning from Shenton. Of course, in the days of steam, the headlamp was principally a means of indicating to signalmen the type of train approaching. It's only modern high-intensity lights, now mandatory on Network Rail lines, that offer the driver any improved visibility ahead and that effect is limited.

'Cumbria' (with headlamp lit) ready to return from Shenton.

We stood for some time at Market Bosworth, giving me a chance to take a picture of James on the footplate of 'Cumbria'. I also managed a shot of Santa himself making his way from compartment to compartment.

James smiles for the camera at Market Bosworth on our second return trip to Shackerstone.

View from the platform at Market Bosworth as Santa visits each compartment of the 'De Luxe' train in turn.

Eventually, we arrived back at Shackerstone, with a lot of happy passengers. A little later, the 'Collett Goods' left with the 4.00 p.m. departure - the last train of the day. My initial hopes that we might then put our engine to bed were dashed. With our 4-coach train blocking platform 1, there was no 'release road' to allow the 'Collett Goods' onto shed on his return and, in the absence of a suitable diesel shunting locomotive, and so we ran round our train and re-coupled. We remained there until the last train returned to platform 2. Our Guard also agreed to stay, to act as Shunter riding in the end of the stock. Once the last train had arrived, Leon, the signalman, "gave us the road", including permission to pass the Starting Signal (nowadays usually called the 'Section Signal') at danger sufficiently to get our 4-coach clear of the crossover and the two-disc ground signal which protects the crossover. The top disc 12 reads to platform 1, bottom disc 3 reads to platform 2. Signals by handlamp from both the Guard and Signalman let us know when we were 'clear'. The 'Collett Goods' wasted no time in uncoupling and, as soon as we'd drawn our train clear of platform 1, shunting into the shed.

The crossover road was reversed again and disc 12 cleared. The Guard, keeping lookout from what was now the leading vehicle, continuously gave lamp signals and I cautiously propelled the train back into platform 1. The Guard applied his handbrake, I 'squeezed up' to make sure the coupling was slack then James uncoupled. We followed the 'Collett Goods' into the shed and completed disposal of our engine.


I was back at the Battlefield Line on 'Santa' trains on Wednesday 23rd December 2015, driving '3205', as described here.

You can find all my posts on 'Santa Special' trains at the Battlefield Line and Peak Rail here.

My pictures

Battlefield Line 'Santa' Trains 2015

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

'Santa Specials' at Peak Rail - Christmas 2015 (part 2)

In an earlier post here, I described the service on 6th December 2015. I was there again on Sunday, 20th December 2015, this time with Phil M. as fireman. Having prepared 'Lord Phil', we moved across to Rowsley platform road and coupled onto the south end of the 7-coach train, giving us over an hour to perform 'carriage warming'.

Steam heating the stock prior to the first departure from Rowsley.

This time, the 'Class 31' had been left in the shed overnight but it came across and coupled up to the north end of the train to 'top and tail' in time for the first departure, which was a little delayed waiting for missing passengers.

We were still enjoying mild weather for December and the sun shone for most of the day but there was a wind which rather chilled the driver's side of the cab.

All tickets on the 'Santas' are pre-booked and we were told that all four trains were 'Sold Out'. In addition, Sunday Lunch was being served in the Palatine Set and, again, all seats were booked.

Of course, Santa Claus was there to welcome his young visitors, together with a reindeer, a cow and Peppa Pig.

Santa greets a young visitor.

Once again a choir from Matlock Musical Theatre sang Christmas Carols on the platform at Rowsley as passengers boarded the train. Initially, there were six singers but other members strengthened the group later.

Carol Singers from Matlock Musical Theatre.

Phil drove the first trip while I fired. I seem to be loosing strength in my arms so that even firing the small grate on an 'Austerity' is getting harder. On the right-hand drive 'Austerity', the fireman should work from the left of the footplate, preferably using his right arm to push the shovel blade, leaving the left hand to support the shaft of the shovel. Unfortunately, I'm naturally left handed but on the small footplate of an 'Austerity' there's not enough room to fire from the 'wrong' side. Originally, most locomotives were right hand drive. The Great Western Railway remained right hand drive to the end, as did many countries which adopted right-hand running on double track. But in Britain, we've always used left-hand running on double track so the sighting of signals is easier if the driver is on the left and more modern locomotives tended to be left-hand drive. Since both left-hand and right-hand locomotives were in use (even within the same class sometimes), it was advantageous for fireman to be able to fire from either side - indeed, some driver's insisted that fireman stayed on their own side of the cab.

A few years ago the consummate railway professional Dick Hardy wrote to me about a day he'd spent firing 'Port Line' on a main line steam special, saying he found the firebox about a foot longer than he remembered from when he was younger. I know exactly what he meant.

I drove the three remaining trips and we worked through the day without incident which, of course, you always aim to do.

Rowsley Station.

I don't think any of our departures from Rowsley were on time and the various speed restrictions don't give much scope for making up time 'on the road' but we made sure we didn't lose further minutes. There's a short video clip showing our final approach to Matlock Town, passing the Sainsbury's car park here. After watching the clip, the Back Button will return you to this blog.

On the final return from Matlock Town, Phil made sure our red tail lamp was lit. When we stopped at Darley Dale, the illuminated Christmas decorations showed up well.

The last Down train at Darley Dale, showing the illuminated decorations.

To be able to check the gauges in the gathering gloom, Phil had donned his head-mounted 'miner's lamp'.

Flash photography shows Phil (with 'miner's lamp' ) checking the gauges.

On arrival at Rowsley, we received the single line token from the station staff so that we could uncouple from the train and make our way, via the South End ground frame, to the loop and third line. At the North end, we then passed the token back to the diesel crew, allowing them to release the North End ground frame so that the 'Class 31' could make its way to the shed. We took 'Lord Phil' to the siding outside the shed, so that Chris could coal our bunker using the Bucket Loader. We then made our way to No. 1 road where we disposed and left 'Lord Phil' over the outside pit.

My pictures

Peak Rail 'Santa' Trains - 2015.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

'Santa Specials' at Peak Rail - Christmas 2015

Bookings for Peak Rail's 'Santa Trains' in December 2015 have been very satisfactory.

Sunday, 6th December 2015

On the second day of the Santa service I was booked to drive, with Mike S. as fireman. Having prepared 'Lord Phil' and topped-up the bunker with coal, we coupled onto the south end of the 7-coach train ready to 'top and tail' with the 'Class 31' diesel-electric which had been left coupled at the north end overnight. We were nice and early so, before the first departure at 10:45, we had over an hour to perform 'carriage warming', supplying steam at 30 p.s.i. via the Reducing Valve to the heating system on each of the coaches. The weather was fairly mild for December and, although we had intermittent rain during the day, it was reasonably pleasant.

Rowsley Station had been decorated for Christmas and looked quite inviting. All tickets on the 'Santas' are pre-booked and volunteer helpers are always in demand to deal with the large number of passengers. Santa had a number of Elves and other helpers in attendance to assist in distributing presents to the children whilst the grown-ups enjoy mulled wine and a mince pie during the journey to Matlock Town and back.

As the passengers arrived, there was quite a pleasant atmosphere of anticipation, particularly when Santa patrolled the platform greeting the boys and girls together with professional entertainers who juggled, did magic and clowned. There was also a reindeer and a bear.

Santa poses for the camera before resuming greeting the visitors. The reindeer and bear are in the background.

In addition, a choir sang Christmas Carols on the platform at Rowsley as passengers boarded the train.

The choir perform in front of the decorated station buildings at Rowsley.

The two coaches marshalled next to the steam locomotive at the south end form the 'Palatine Set' comprising one full restaurant car and a restaurant/bar/kitchen car. The 'Palatine Set' was thronged with staff preparing to serve Christmas Lunch to the diners on the second departure from Rowsley at 12:18.

Santa trains are often a little late departing because of booked passengers arriving late but, as far as possible, the timetable is adhered to. With the number of speed restrictions on the route, it's difficult to make up time.

'Lord Phil' on arrival at Matlock Town, with 'Christmas Pudding' smokebox decoration and 'Santa's Special' headboard. It is displaying a tail lamp, ready for the return journey.

The 'Class 31' hauled the train back to Rowsley where Mike and I replenished the saddle tank. The water consumption is increased, of course, when supplying steam to heat the train. With the diners and booked passengers aboard, we set off on our second round trip. This was completed without incident, with Mike using the classic "little and often" method of firing. We didn't need to top-up with water this time.

Mike using the classic "little and often" method of firing.

The train was very busy on the two round trips in the afternoon during which parties of adults arrived by, I think, at least four large motor coaches. After the third round trip, we filled the saddle tank, this time with me perched on top of the engine, allowing me to take a couple of pictures from my elevated position.

A view of Rowsley whilst taking water. On the far left, the maroon exhibition coach is visible, stabled on the turntable siding.

On the last trip to Matlock, it was starting to grow dark so we lit the locomotive paraffin lamps, displaying a white near the chimney on the way there, changing to a red tail lamp on the buffer beam for the journey back. There's a little piece about lamps here.

'Lord Phil' at Matlock Town, displaying a lit tail lamp.

The 'Class 31' took us back to Rowsley for the last time, pausing briefly in the Down platform at Darley Dale. Now it was properly dark, the illuminated Christmas decorations on both platforms showed up well, encouraging a number of passengers to take photographs of the displays.

On arrival, we were given the single line token, allowing us to uncouple from the train and make our way, via the loop and third line, to the North end where we surrendered the token to the diesel crew, so that they could stable their locomotive in the shed on No. 1 road. Meanwhile, we took 'Lord Phil' to the siding outside the shed, so that Chris could coal our bunker using the Bucket Loader. We then made our way back to the North end and attached the exhibition coach from the turntable siding. With Jacob acting as guard, we propelled the coach over the third line back onto the loop. We then drew the coach along the loop, stopping where instructed adjacent to the main train. With the coach 'tied down' and uncoupled, it was now our turn to make our way to No. 1 road where we carried out the disposal procedures and stabled 'Lord Phil' over the outside pit.

Go to 'Santa Specials' at Peak Rail - Christmas 2015 (part 2)

My pictures

Peak Rail 'Santa' Trains - 2015.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Bagan Medical Clinic

This report is based on information from Doctor Hla Tun, who also supplied the photographs.

The previous report showing monthly statistics covered the period up to the end of October 2014, when the total number of treatments since the Clinic opened on August 6, 2011 was 118,801.

Treatment Summary

The table below summarises the number of treatments per month from November 2014 to October 2015 and the total number of treatments since the clinic opened on August 6, 2011 (missing figures will be added later).

In summary, at the end of October 2014 the Bagan Medical Clinic has been operating for 4 years and 3 months, carrying out a total of 159,680 treatments.

Month Treatments in month Total treatments
November 2014 5,377 124,178
December 2014 n/a n/a
January 2015 n/a n/a
February 2015 n/a n/a
March 2015 n/a 139,502
April 2015 1,320 140,822
May 2015 2,484 143,306
June 2015 3,070 146,376
July 2015 4,706 151,082
August 2015 2,863 153,945
September 2015 2,935 156,880
October 2015 2,800 159,680

General Notes

Water Festival/New Year

During April 2015, the Clinic closed for only one week during the important Water Festival and New Year.


A lady opthalmologist who works in Chauk Hospital (about 20 miles from the Bagan Clinic) has started to treat patients in the Bagan Clinic every other Saturday.

The Opthalmologist at work.

New Clinic Building

In October 2015, construction started on a further new clinic building in the Bagan Monastery compound. This will provide an Eye Care Centre and X-ray facilities.

The new building under construction.

A Young Patient

A young boy had mistaken pills for chocolate (because of their colour) with unfortunate results.

A young patient.

Ethnic Groups in Burma

Burma comprises a number of distinct ethnic groups. Chin State, in the north west of Myanmar, is hilly and cooler. There is a tradition of eating dog meat as a protection against the cold. One Chin lady patient displayed facial tattoos. This tradition originated hundreds of years ago when a King wished to marry a beautiful Chin girl. Unwilling to be married to the King, the girl had tattoos to destroy her looks. The patient complained of difficulty eating because of inflammation resulting from the tattooing.

Chin lady patient with facial tattoos.

An Elderly Brother and Sister

In October, an elderly brother and sister attending the clinic were given priority, because of their age. The lady was 90 and the man 92, survivors of a family of five brothers and sisters.

An elderly brother and sister.

Donation of Reading Glasses

On 14th November 2014, around 100 patients received reading glasses in the Bagan Medical Clinic.

Selection of reading glasses.

Concert at Bagan Medical Clinic

Also on the 14th November 2014, 12 students gave a concert at the Bagan Medical Centre. 10 students danced, while a boy and girl performed a traditional comedy dance.

Ten students dancing.

A boy and girl perform a traditional comedy dance.

Donation of Walking Stick

A 91 year old lady with walking difficulty was given a walking stick by the clinic.

Donation of walking stick.

Free Lunches

With the continuing co-operation of the Abbot of Bagan Monastery and the 'Road to Mandalay' ship, lunch is served to patients and their companions on the clinic days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday).

Free Lunch being served to waiting patients, under the watchful eye of the Abbot.

Other reports on medical support in Myanmar

There are a number of posts in this Blog describing medical support in Myanmar provided by the RTM Social Contribution with help from donors around the world. You can find them all here.


There's a collection of pictures showing the Bagan Clinic from its inception here.

Doctor Hla Tun's photographs showing the work of the Bagan Clinic in 2014 are here and those taken in 2015 are here.