The Northern Weekly Salvo

From Th’Edge O’Leet, Ard Dorch and Tref-y-Clawdd

Incorporating  Slaithwaite Review of Books, BikkiRail, Weekly Notices, Tunnel Gazers’ Gazette. Descendant of Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly. Contains no Isinglass

No. 243  August 28th 2017    Bank Holiday Relief

Salveson’s nakedly political digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, often not; but definitely Northern and maybe a bit Welsh too. Read by normal Hawaiians, the highest officers of state, Whitmanites, steam punks, yes women, no men, gay Swedenborgians, cat-spotters, discerning sybarites, bi-guys, pie-eaters, tripe dressers, self-managing VIMTO drinkers, truculent Northerners, grumpy Norwegians, absurd Marxists, members of the clergy and the toiling masses. All views expressed are my own and usually nobody else’s. Official journal of the Station Cat Improvement Network, Pacer Dining Club and Station Buffet Society. Full of creative ambiguity.

“we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” – Jo Cox, maiden speech in House of Commons, June 3rd 2015

General Gossips

The last Salvo was remarkably popular, with at least two positive emails dropping into our inbox. As for the 248 complaints, we’re all entitled to our opinion. I suppose. This issue returns to more of a mix, some steam reminiscence therapy but also the modern day railway, politics and culture (where? – ed). Many Salvo readers will be considering retreating to the hills to prepare for guerrilla warfare against this increasingly anti-North Government we’ve got in Westminster. Whilst of course The Salvo has no truck with violence and denies any links with the Free North Army, one can sympathise with people’s disgust over the abandonment of electrification and other infrastructure projects.  Meanwhile, Labour seems to be getting its act together a bit more on Europe. Keir Starmer’s comments this weekend (Observer August 27th) that Labour will effectively opt for a ‘soft Brexit’ is a big improvement on the ‘creative ambiguity’ of its approach so far. It was certainly ambiguous, though whether it was creative is anyone’s guess. Corbyn and Starmer would do well to ignore the siren voices of some right-wing Labour MPs who claim that the policy will lose votes among ‘the northern (sic) working class’.

typical Northern white working class man (Mark E Smith of The Fall)

How do they know? A lot of people up ‘ere, including some who voted ‘leave’, are scared to death of the real consequences of Brexit and if anything Labour will strengthen its support. To have carried on with a policy indistinguishable from the Tories would have led to disaster. Remember the Scottish Referendum?

The view of The Salvo remains that any final deal reached with the EU should be subject to a referendum. Meanwhile the great and the good of Oop North assembled recently to bemoan our lot, as good Northerners like to do. Over 80,000 of us are having a good moan about lack of investment in transport infrastructure compared to those buggers in London. The IPPR North is doing a great job in pushing this issue but we are saddled with a lack of political muscle. The suggested ‘Council of the North’ will have no teeth and be a collection of self-important be-suited chaps who are accountable to nobody. The North needs what Scotland and Wales have already got – a directly-elected (by PR) Parliament with fully devolved powers over transport (and most other things for that matter).

Are you bi-modal?

You can’t say that some folk in the Department for Transport are devoid of a sense of humour. The ‘greenwash’ joke in the announcement about cancelling electrification of the Windermere branch –  that overhead wires will ruin the natural beauty of the Lakes – didn’t go down too well with many Cumbrians. Sure, the wires through the Lune Gorge on the West Coast Main Line ruin the nice view of the M6 motorway.

Plans for new bi-mode (horse/man) rolling stock for the North unveiled by the Government – eco friendly and low cost

But all those railway dinosaurs who have thought that electrification was the thing to do are being put in their place. Forget electrifying the Midland Main Line, Cardiff-Swansea  or Trans-Pennine, nice new ‘bi-modal’ trains that can switch effortlessly from electric to diesel (and maybe even steam?) are the answer. Far more knowledgeable people than I (like Roger Ford in Modern Railways for example) have pointed out that the nice new bi-modal IEPs currently being built will be slower than the 38-years old trains they are replacing, have poor energy efficiency and cost a fortune. But Roger is another one of those ‘dinosaurs’ we’ve been warned about,  so put thy faith in DfT press releases.

It should be said that The Salvo is not implacably opposed to bi-modal trains on principal, or even in principle. We have an open-minded policy on ‘bi’s’. They can be a very good thing in the right circumstances, allowing a longish journey under the wires to switch to diesel (or battery/fuel cell) for the final stretch. This could work in parts of the North-West (actually, including Windermere) where high speed and rapid acceleration is less important. The modification of some of Northern’s class 319 electric trains to run under diesel is a sensible solution. The greater Merseyside rail network is another case in point. In the 1970s several routes were chopped back at the PTE boundaries with the remaining non-electrified sections effectively being allowed to wither. Liverpool – Ormskirk – Preston and Liverpool – Kirby – Wigan are two of the most obvious cases but Liverpool – Bidston – Wrexham is another. Passengers don’t like having to change for relatively short local journeys, particularly at such delightful places as Kirkby and Bidston (at least Ormskirk has a shop!). Using the proposed new bi-modal Merseyrail trains to run through to Wigan, Wrexham and Preston (with some diverging at Burscough to Southport) makes lots of sense. Building, or even retrofitting trains,  as bi-modal works where there is a sufficiently large regional network with a mix of electrified and non-electrified lines. It is not a solution to inter-city routes (for which I include Trans-Pennine, as well as Cardiff-Swansea and Midand Main Line).  But even then, it may be a close call as to what makes most sense – extend electrification (3rd rail in the case of Merseyside) or invest in more expensive bi-modal trains. It isn’t a panacea, but could be a pancake, or – more likely – a panic, not a picnic (shut up – ed)

Do we really need HS3 (or 2 for that matter)?

The Salvo has consistently argued against HS2, suggesting that it may actually disadvantage the North rather than make it the land of milk, honey and tripe that the Government and HS2 supporters tell us. If we had a referendum on HS2 – with the alternative offered of investing in the existing network – my guess is that about 90% of us plain Northern folk would reject HS2. What do I base that on? Yes, sheer prejudice and hearsay, pretty much what most supporters of HS2 base their case on. But there is a middle way, with some people saying HS2 No thanks, HS3 yes please. And there is more sense to this, building a new (or at least new in part) railway from the Mersey to the Humber. This is a scheme particularly liked by politicians in a hurry, like Mr Burnham. If the south can have Crossrail and all that investment, we’ll have our own high-speed trains, the argument goes. And the comparative times of getting say from London to Reading compared with Slawit to Croston get trotted out (15 minutes compared with four days). Yet the more I think about, the less I’m convinced that a new Trans-Pennine route is either needed or desirable (does that mean the same thing?).  The existing Trans-Pennine routes (and there are three, Standedge, Hope Valley and Calder Valley) undoubtedly suffer from congestion, coughs and sniffles, aches and pains generally. Yet a typical Trans-Pennine (TPE) train on the Standedge route via Huddersfield will be formed of three coaches. Three! It almost doesn’t qualify as a real train down south, where 12 coach formations are increasingly the norm.  New trains are on order for TPE which will provide additional capacity and improved quality, but you don’t need more frequent trains. Four trains an hour between Manchester and Leeds ought to be enough, with suitable capacity extending to 12 coach formations in the fullness of time. Oh, but the trains are so slow. Well, try driving from Manchester to Leeds on the M62, pretty much any time of the day. The train beats the pants off driving and you could with some intelligent civil engineering get the Manchester – Leeds running time down a bit more, even keeping a stop at Huddersfield.

We’re told that ‘HS3’ (or ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ ) will kick-start the North’s economy, allowing all these high-flying business executives get from Liverpool to Hull in quicksticks. Oh really? There’s certainly a strong business flow between Manchester and Leeds but a journey of say 45 minutes on the conventional route in a comfortable new train should do more than meet the demand that’s undoubtedly there. But the really big problem with HS3 is that it will further boost the cities that are doing OK (Manchester, Leeds, York) but do very little if anything for the towns and cities which are on their knees. Think Bradford, Wigan, Bolton, Dewsbury and so many more. Have you been to Accrington recently? Sadly it’s becoming typical of a huge swathe of Northern towns, and no wonder they voted ‘leave’ in droves. Not as a protest against the EU but more as an expression of sheer frustration with the establishment.

And the reality is that the huge sums which would need to be spent on HS3 will come out of money which would otherwise go into the ‘conventional’ network. It seems quite clear that recent Government decisions to go ahead with HS2 and CrossRail 2 while abandoning electrification in Wales, the Midlands and North were not unrelated.

So, Mr Clever Clogs, if we don’t get HS3, what is the alternative? Well it’s here:

A Conventional response to High-Speed Rail up North

The North suffered from some disastrous decisions in the 1970s which included some line closures but also dis-investment in surviving routes, as many lines were singled or truncated with passengers forced to change (the ‘Ormskirk Phenomenon’). Some important projects have helped redress those mistakes, including new infrastructure (Windsor Link and now the Ordsall Curve in Manchester/Salford). However, capacity remains a big problem on many parts of the network and the Ordsall Curve will, on its own, contribute to more congestion between Deansgate and Piccadilly, especially as the Government is reviewing plans for additional tracks on that corridor. At the same time, the Standedge route between Stalybridge, Huddersfield and Leeds is pretty much at capacity. The Calder Valley route is similarly busy, but while Standedge trains are mostly three cars, Calder Valley services are often formed of just two. So an obvious win is to get more trains – far more than what is already on order. And build them in the UK.

But the infrastructure does need addressing, not least to allow more freight as well as local, stopping services to share routes via Stanedge and Hope Valley. Back in the 1890s the London and North Western Railway realised that its’ Standedge route was getting hopelessly congested and did several things – effectively quadrupling the line from Stalybridge to Leeds, with the Friezland Loop east of Stalybridge to Diggle, where a new tunnel was needed, with four tracks continuing to Huddersfield and down to Mirfield. The ‘Leeds New Line’ opened in 1900 to provide a sinuous but reasonably fast route into Leeds avoiding Dewsbury. All of this capacity was stripped out by BR in the 1960s and 70s. Something needs to be put back – using some of what’s there and perhaps some new formation. But not an entirely new route. At the same time, capacity on the Calder Valley Line – and the absurdly slow Copy Pit route to Burnley – needs addressing. Electrification is essential – more capacity, faster speeds, better acceleration. We need a New Leeds New Line.

The Woodhead Route is a huge sleeping prince/ess waiting for a good fairy/handsome prince to come along and bring it back to life. It has huge potential for both freight and passenger and if you really wanted a new and quite fast route from Manchester to Leeds you could get it by heading east out of Manchester and then a new formation north near Dunford Bridge.

But the really big prize, which would transform the rail network of West and North Yorkshire, is connecting Bradford’s two railways, which terminate within half a mile of each other on the edges of the city centre. This relatively short link would allow trains from Manchester and Halifax to call at a central station in Bradford then head out to Leeds via Shipley without the slow and capacity-hungry fiasco of reversing. Some Skipton and Carlisle trains from Leeds could run via New Pudsey and Bradford then on to Shipley (north curve) and off to Keighley and beyond. More intercity services which currently terminate at Leeds could run out to Bradford on a loop.

Whilst in that neck of the woods, re-opening Skipton – Colne is a much-needed project which would help in the economic revival of North east Lancashire. Nobody could say it doesn’t need it. It’s 10 miles of railway which would have a far bigger impact than purely local traffic, enabling journeys from Yorkshire towns such as Skipton, Keighley and Bingley to reach east Lancashire, Preston and Blackpool. For North-east Lancashire it would afford direct access to Leeds complementing the existing service via Copy Pit. And forget all the crap about electrification being old hat: it should form part of the successful Aire Valley electric network, running through to Blackpool. Further east, York – Beverley/Hull is a route that should never have closed and needs rebuilding.

For the North-West, the region managed to get in before the shutters came down on electrification so Liverpool/ Manchester – Blackpool is either done or nearly. Yet there is so much more that needs doing. Again, major infrastructure projects are needed to provide extra capacity. Back in the 1950s BR was going to provide a flyover at Euxton Junction but it never happened. There are several pinch points that need this solution, including Euxton, Piccadilly ‘throat’, Slade Lane and Heaton Norris (between Piccadilly and Stockport) and probably Edgeley Junction just south of Stockport. The planned quadrupling between Piccadilly and Deansgate (now ‘under review’) is a key project which must go ahead.

Extending the Merseyrail network to its obvious destination points (Preston, Wigan – and possibly to Manchester) and Wrexham have already been mentioned.  Several routes that were singled need full double-tracking. These include Blackburn – Bolton, Kirkby – Wigan, Ormskirk – Preston, Kirkham – Blackpool South and Rose Grove – Colne (and on to Skipton). The Cumbrian Coast Line also needs a full re-appraisal to cater for expansion at Sellafield and more tourism.

A nice wish-list you might say but wouldn’t cost more than the various HS3 options and would bring far wider benefit to the North than just Leeds and Manchester. And it could all be delivered incrementally and relatively fast compared with HS3. Readers comments welcome.

Last train from Horwich

Several readers expressed an interest in more steamy reminiscences following the self-indulgent issue no. 242. So this piece may be of interest and is about the last train from Horwich and will appear in the next issue of Horwich Heritage magazine.

The branch line to Horwich was one of the very many ‘Beeching’ closures of the 1960s. Like so many other lines it was decreed as being ‘uneconomic’ and had to go. The station would close on Monday September 27th 1965, though the last train was actually on the previous Saturday – the 12.05 from Horwich to Bolton.

A group of young railway enthusiasts who ‘hung out’ at Bolton’s Crescent Road loco shed decided we should at least mark the occasion with something a bit special.

Young cranks united….Salvo gives a wave from caba of 42626 at Horwich while Keith Pendelebury (left) and Vernon Sidlow (next to me) look on. Driver looks a bit young. Thanks to Stuart Whittle/Bolton Evening News for pic

I had a word in the ear of the shed authorities and asked if Bolton’s ‘pet’ engine 42626 (‘Two Half Dollars’) could be rostered for the last train. And an offer was made to clean the engine up so that the last train would at least look nicely spic and span. So the loco was taken out of service for a few days and parked out of the way inside the shed.

We set to and quickly found the paintwork – obscured by years of grime – was in excellent condition. The lined-out black livery came up a treat with a bit of elbow grease and oily rags.

The last day arrived and our group headed for Horwich. Alan Castle of Preston had made a headboard and Harvey Scowcroft had procured a wreath to go on the smokebox door. Before the ceremonies began we staged an impromptu and very militant demonstration through the streets of Horwich. No arrests were made. The loco propelled the two coaches into the platform at about mid-day to a very large waiting crowd. As was the norm with ‘last trains’ it was a pity that those sort of numbers hadn’t used the service on a regular basis.

Several of us jumped onto the footplate so we could say we had ‘cabbed’ the last loco to leave Horwich. The driver – Bolton’s Bob Croston – was obliging if a bit non-plussed at the general excitement. At 12.05 the whistle blew and he turned to us saying “Are you getting off or staying on then?” We all stayed – not sure quite how many were in that cab but at least eight of us in addition to the driver and fireman, Sam Ashworth.

We left Horwich to the sound of exploding detonators, stopping at Lostock Junction before reaching Bolton. That was it then. Or was it? We’d enjoyed cleaning 42626 and we decided to continue with our calling as volunteer loco cleaners. Others followed, including Black 5 45318. The shed staff took a remarkably tolerant view towards us and basically let us get on with it, as long as we didn’t do anything daft.

How it all started..specially-prepared 42626 at Horwich with the last train…

By the time the shed closed in June 1968, we had cleaned dozens of locos including two green BR ‘Standard 5s’ – 73014 and 73026. Perhaps the favourite was 45110, now preserved on the Severn Valley Railway and used on the last BR steam special on August 11th 1968 – the ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’.

That little group of enthusiasts has kept in touch. Most of us were involved in the unsuccessful attempt to re-open the branch in 1996 – Vernon Sidlow, Steve Leyland, Harvey Scowcroft, Keith Pendlebury, myself and some others. In the end, Horwich did get a station – on the main line between Blackrod and Lostock. ‘Horwich Parkway’ has proved a great success but it would have been nice to have got back into the town itself.

Happy Sunday on the Ormskirk Line

Bank Holiday Sunday saw trains on the Pretson – Ormskirk line – and very well they were doing. The service was provided to link with the Ormskirk Motorfest but many of the Sunday travellers seemed to be less petrol-heads and more people off for a day’s shopping or whatever. Friends of Croston Station and OPSTA, the line user group, were out doing surveys and the results will be interesting. Is Preston – Ormskirk the last remaining Northern route with no Sunday trains?

Britain’s Growing Railway

Over the years, RailFuture has produced several publications charting the story of rail re-openings. It’s obviously a good sign that they decided it was time for a new, completely re-vamped 6th edition. Britain’s Growing Railway – sub-titled an A-Z Guide to more than 400 new and re-opened stations – makes for fascinating reading. Editors Jerry Alderson and Ian McDonald have done a superb job building on Alan Bevan’s original work. The latest re-openings were (for 2016)the Norton Bridge Chord (north of Stafford) and Oxford Parkway to Oxford. Both projects have been incredibly useful for different reasons. The Norton Bridge Chord has shaved several minutes off running times from Stafford to Stoke and removed a serious bottleneck on the West Coast Main Line. The extension of Chiltern’s services into Oxford has opened up an enormous new market for travel to and from Oxford.The most recent entry, the only one for 2017 so far, is the Wareham to Swanage link, operated by Swanage Railway but using Network Rail into Wareham.

This book is indispensable not just to rail campaigners but transport professionals, local authority politicians – and those chap/esses in Government. It costs £9.95for copies go to www.railfuture.org.uk

I look forward to reviewing the 7th edition in five years time, with lots of re-openings up North (see above) as well as Tweedbank – Carlisle, Lewes- Uckfield, March – Wisbech, Bere Alston – Tavistock, and quite a few more.

Bretherton Open Gardens

The third and last ‘open gardens’ day in Bretherton was blessed with sunshine. The Moorhey Light Railway was operating (flawlessly, of course) and attracted some 40 visitors. Donations totalled £40 and a cheque (for a bit more) will be sent to The Railway Children Charity. Thanks to all came, especially those who used the special Sunday train service and took advantage of the nearly-completed footpath alongside the road.

Crank Quiz

Will be back in the next issue…

Readers’ Rants..On Salvo 242….

From Allan Dare: Yes, we forget just how slow, infrequent and unreliable trains could be back in the ’60s – although early in 1967 I did clock 95mph behind 34095 Brentor. a miracle given the state it was in. However, chasing steam was not only fun – it was educational. Growing up in leafy London suburbia, the industrial midlands and north might as well have been on a different planet (I suspect many people in Barnet still think that!), but steam shed bashes meant that at least we members of the school railway club saw a bit of the real world, warts (or rather, colliery spoil tips..) and all. Happy memories include riding a half-cab MR 0-6-0t at Staveley Ironworks; a black 5 raising the roof as it struggled to pull a long train round the sharp curve into Garston (Liverpool) yard; and 9Fs laying down a thick pall of smoke one evening at Birkenhead shed. That was the day before my English Lit. O level, which I consequently failed; however I suspect that seeing both the 2-10-0s and Merseyside was far more useful for my eventual career than Shakespeare and George Elliot!

And Simon Norton on Skye (not literally): Regarding Skye, let’s not forget the Skye Bridge saga. People like George Monbiot have described how the terms of the PFI deal gave massive profits to the builder at the expense of the Scottish taxpayer which would be partly recouped when motorists using the bridge paid a toll equivalent to what the ferry used to cost. However the resentment at this seems to have evaporated when the tolls were abolished, even though this presumably screwed taxpayers even more. Public transport users have therefore lost out in multiple ways:

  • If they are Scottish taxpayers they were screwed twice.
  • Instead of getting a free ferry ride at any time, they now have to take a bus which runs according to the timetable (and to judge by Paul’s article it’s not easy to find a timetable).
  • Their buses in Skye have been undercut because motorists who might have chosen to leave their cars on the mainland now drive all the way.
  • Far better would have been to keep the tolls and dedicate the revenue to improving facilities on Skye including the bus service.

Martin Arthur enthuses: Great reminiscences of that summer of 1967. I had just started work with Lancashire County Council at their East Cliff offices, which commanded a grandstand view of the approaches to Preston, both on the WCML and the East Lancs line. There were always steam trans crossing the Ribble on the ELL – just for a glance from my office window! That summer I visited Lostock Hall and took a number of colour slides which I have just thrown out… but not before getting them put on a memory stick! Also I found my slide of Walton Summit canal basin before it was bulldozed for instruction of M61 – put on the same stick.

And so does Dave Koring: Lovely stuff Paul. Memories of my own exploits in the 66/67 period. Notebooks all long gone now, so no details, but memories of nicking off school in ‘arrigut on Fridays (double games!) to go to the Manchester area for steam – always back on the 1747 FO Exchange to York, with some memorable runs behind semi-decrepit steam locos on their last legs. Caprotti black 5’s, Standard 5’s, B1’s, anything. Best memory is standing in a field by the canal near the Padiham power station line tape recording an 8F coming up the hill to Rose Grove with a train of empties. The recording (also long deteriorated to nothing) started with birdsong, then the gentle but unmistakable beat of steam at about 20mph, getting louder and louder, passing close then the immediate rumble of empty 16t mins drowning out the exhaust, then slowly fading back to birdsong. Half an hour of magic. Ah well . . . . . Dave K NB from  Midnight Trace, Middlewich (at the mo)

Stuart Parkes adds to the nostalgia… I have to put in a word for my native city of Bradford. In addition to normal workings (e.g. Bradford portions of Kings X expresses hauled mainly by 2-6-4 tanks) summer Saturdays in 1967 meant steam-hauled trains to the coast (mainly hauled by Black 5s), the highlight being the simultaneous departure at 0820 of trains to Bridlington (on ex L & Y lines) and Cleethorpes (on ex GNR lines). Photographers enjoyed the spectacle of them running parallel for the first mile or so up the bank. After the fun at Exchange, I once dashed across to the Shipley area to watch the Jubilees referred to in the Salvo. These had passed through Bradford territory as it was then (the closed Apperley Bridge station and Thackley Tunnel. Sadly, steam workings to Braford Forster Square ended in early 1967.

And finally Malcolm Bulpitt on ‘the glory days of steam’: Pleased that you enjoyed your ‘educational’ jolly down to the old LSWR to get the last days of steam on the Southern. Great for grocers, but for those of us who had to use the service up from Southampton to London it was not always so much fun. I was studying at Soton in the early/mid 60s and you almost needed a calendar to time some trips on the line as the clapped-out old locos struggled to cope. I remember one cold January day when going back after the Christmas break it took three locos and almost 6 hours to do the run from Waterloo. Our first loco failed at Basingstoke, the second took over an hour to get to Micheldever, where the crew must have thrown in the towel and clanked off leaving a parked ‘express’ with no steam heating for some two hours before a relief loco appeared and eventually coupled-up to take us (slowly) on south. It too had no steam to spare for heating so it was not the most pleasant of trips! Even less fraught ‘one-engine’ trips could take upwards of three hours. While the last days of steam may have been fun for some people (generally at the trackside) for us regulars electrification could not come fast enough. In truth this era of elderly engines and poor service probably put off many of my generation from train travel for life. A good friend who suffered a few years earlier than me on disastrous London-Nottingham trips to/from Uni. still refuses to use anything other than his own car to do most long distance trips. Memories are long, and not always good.

Thanks to you all – and for the many more nice comments on the website.

Special Traffic Notices

Saturday September 9th: Wigan Diggers’ Festival: great event. You might see Wigan RMT

Saturday September 9th: Knighton Poetry festival!

Sunday September 10th: Heritage open day at Rivington Unitarian church

Wednesday September 27th ‘Different Trains’ at Metal, Edge Hill. This promises to be one of the most outstanding events in the railway musical calendar! The theme is Indian Partition in 1947. Don’t miss it, you’ll be sorry if you do..https://www.metalculture.com/projects/different-trains-1947/

Thursday October 5th: National Community Rail Awards in Derby. The shortlist is now out for all to see on www.acorp.uk.com. Book your place now, it should be a good ‘un.