Behind The Great Britain 4 UK Railtour

Behind the scenes of the Great Britain 4 UK Railtour - April 2011

The Railway Touring Company

The Railway Touring Company (RTC) is the largest steam railtour promoter in the UK and in April ran a nine day railtour called the Great Britain 4. This, despite the title, was their fifth grand tour of Britain largely using steam traction and was operated by West Coast Railway Company (WCRC).

The public and passengers only see the glamorous side of the train, in this year’s case the launch of Jeremy Hosking’s ex LNER A4 No. 60019 Bittern as LNER No. 4494 Dominion of New Zealand replete in original 1937 guise at Kings Cross. This was rededicated by the New Zealand High Commissioner Derek Leaske on Saturday April 16 at platform 7 in Kings Cross. The train departed at 0854hrs and was routed via Edinburgh, Thurso and returned to London Paddington via Penzance behind GWR ’Castle’ No. 5029 Nunney Castle on Sunday April 24.

The West Coast Railway Company and the Gravy Train catering company briefed on the operational background to the 2275 mile, nine day luxury touring holiday. The operation was a genuine partnership between Network Rail, WCRC, the RTC and the locomotive owners.

The actual train operation commenced at WCRC’s depot at Carnforth on the morning of April 15, when the coaching stock was diesel hauled to Southall, its southern depot. On arrival, final work was being carried out there completing the metamorphosis of No. 60019 Bittern into LNER A4 No. 4492 Dominion of New Zealand.

So far as the passengers were concerned, their train ran for nine days, the visible part the operation. Behind the scenes was another story. There were another 37 or so trains running including light engine movements. The total mileage covered has not been calculated but will probably equal 4500 miles, or roughly twice the loaded mileage.

What of the catering arrangements?

With the introduction of the summer 2011 timetable on May 22, it is no longer possible for any passenger, except first class ticket holders to buy a full meal on a train. Silver Service catering is now only available on special charter trains, and for this 9 day marathon full silver service catering was provided by Richard Evans and Cliff Davenport’s imaginatively named Gravy Train company.

They employ many highly experienced on-board train staff and half a dozen of these travelled from Carnforth with the empty stock laying up tables and generally stowing away food and other items required for the tour of the UK.

Gravy Train served an estimated 3400 meals to the 220 passengers on the GB4 using a team of 22 staff. These included father and son duos and married couples all working together as part of the team, some with over 40 years experience. Many of the catering team work for franchised train operating companies in buffets and the old restaurant cars when they were still in use.

A 1984 BR built kitchen car was used on the GB4 which was originally designed for the then new Manchester Pullman train. Several Gravy Train staff had worked on it when new so were used to the layout and facilities offered! They used their collective experience to source, prepare and serve the food with a menu that reflected the train’s geographical location as the meals were served. The train had to be resupplied with consumables as it travelled around the UK.

Premier class passengers had the choice of tables for two and four on the GB4 and the amount of work required to keep tables stocked and clean is considerable. Each meal sitting at a table for four required 38 items to be placed on the table and 26 on a table for two. These include cutlery, crockery and condiments and each of the 35 tables had to be prepared 25 times on the journey, but not the plates meals were served on.

First class passengers were served tea or coffee and pastries and were also attended to by Gravy Train staff. Therefore, the on-board staff used an estimated 67424 items plus meal plates, over the nine days. Don’t forget they had to clear the tables, wash and dry up in addition to cooking, serving and keeping a drinks tab up to date!

This is why the RTC’s Nigel Dobbing acknowledged the efforts of everybody involved in operating the GB4 on the back cover of the heavy detailed souvenir guide given to each passenger. Over 50 have booked a year in advance for the 2012 tour so the GB4 team must have made it a successful week.

April 15

The GB4 stock was moved from Carnforth to Southall using a class 47 diesel.

April 16

The second move of the day was LNER A4 No. 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley from Grosmont at 0754hrs to Tyne Yard.

The third planned move was the class 47 running light engine at 0903hrs from Kings Cross to Edinburgh via York fuelling point.

The forth ancillary planned move was at 1700hrs from Tyne Yard to York National Railway Museum by A4 No. 4492.

This was followed at 2027hrs from Edinburgh to Craigentinny Depot empty stock working. The train split at Niddrie West Junction where Sir Nigel Gresley was detached and made its own way to the Bo’ness Railway.

While this was going on along the East Coast, back at Carnforth with LMS ‘Royal Scot’ No. 46115 Scots Guardsman departed Carnforth at 0627hrs for Joppa in Edinburgh. The engine remained there for six hours until it was able to access Craigentinny Depot running this last section as yet another train with its own reporting number.

The day started earliest for the crews on the 0333hrs departure from Castleton onto the national network off the East Lancs Railway. These manned a pair of LMS ‘Black 5s, Nos. 44871 and 45407 destined for Inverness, a 16 hour journey including a two hour layover at Perth.

April 17

The main train departed Craigentinny Depot at 0905hrs for Edinburgh Waverley from where it departed at 0944hrs for Inverness via Aberdeen.

This was followed by the class 47 running light engine and arriving at Inverness an hour before the steam service after being scheduled to overtake it at Laurencekirk!

At 1143hrs, ex LNER class K4 No. 61994 The Great Marquess departed its base at Thornton for Inverness with a 40 minute layover at Perth where water was also taken.

The pair of Black 5s carried on their journey from Inverness at 1250hrs heading north to Georgemas Junction ready to work the train southbound to Inverness.

The day ended with an empty stock move to Inverness depot where the train was serviced in one hour before departing to Georgemas Junction at 2145hrs .

April 18

The day started at 0925hrs when the train left Georgemas Junction for Wick which the loaded train departed at 1032hrs. The class 47 was detached at Helmsdale and ran light engine to Inverness.

April 19

The GB4 left Inverness for a round trip on the Kyle of Lochalsh branch pulled by No. 61994. The day started and ended with the short empty move between Inverness depot and the station.

April 20

Nos. 46115 and 61994 travelled from Inverness to Cadder Yard and Thornton respectively.

The GB4 travelled from Inverness to Glasgow behind the two Black 5s after the empty stock move from the depot into the station. The train was followed by the class 47 running light engine to Glasgow Central. This assisted with the shunting the empty stock from Glasgow to Cadder Yard.

April 21

The empty GB4 stock moved from Cadder Yard to Glasgow Central just after 0803hrs arriving an hour and a half later. The train departed for Preston behind No. 46115 requiring three water stops. The class 47 followed the train from Glasgow running light engine and was attached to it at Preston from where it took everything back to Carnforth for servicing.

April 22

The first GWR engine to be used on the GB4 was ‘Castle’ class No. 5029 Nunney Castle. This ran from Preston to Bristol and also brought the empty stock from Carnforth to Preston.

After arrival at Bristol, there were two shunting moves to be carried out, each given unique train reporting numbers therefore counting as two trains!

Meanwhile, engines Britannia No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell and LMS ‘Black 5 No. 45305 Alderman E Draper departed Southall for Bristol for the trip to Penzance the following day.

April 23

The day began with two shunting moves at Bristol, again given unique reporting numbers before the main event of going to Penzance on the GB4. The class 47 diesel followed the GB4 to Penzance and pulled the empty train to the sidings.

Passengers had under an hour at Penzance before the class 47 pulled the GB4 back to Bristol. While this was heading east, the two steam engines were off to St. Blazey to be serviced and to turn. When the GB4 arrived in Bristol, there was one shunt move.

April 24

The final day began with No. 5029 coming off shed at 0950hrs to be attached onto the train at Temple Meads for the trip to Paddington followed by the class 47 diesel. This was attached at Theale loop to take the empty stock from Paddington back to Southall.

No. 5029 travelled from Southall to Tyseley after a couple of hours being serviced and the stock returned to Carnforth.

The two Black 5s went from Cadder Yard to Grosmont departing at 0944hrs with just under 12 hours booked for the journey routed via Beattock, Carlisle and Thornaby.


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