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