UK Railtours' visits rare Somerset lines on charter train from London.
UK Railtours' Angel of Bedlam railtour on February 11 took a passenger train over three normally freight-only lines in Somerset. Starting from Paddington and travelling out via the main line to Westbury, the tour visited Whatley and Merehead quarries as well as running on to the East Somerset Railway at Cranmore.
The two quarries are in the Mendips, and essentially extract limestone from opposite sides of Beacon Hill. Each is served by a dedicated rail line about four miles long that normally only see stone train traffic.
These are typically hauled by the small fleet of Class 59 locomotives, with millions of tonnes of crushed rock leaving the two facilities every year for use in construction projects.
The railtour was powered by Class 59/2 No. 59204 'Vale of Glamorgan'. A second loco, doyen of the Class No. 59001 'Yeoman Endeavour', helped out top-and-tail on the section between Whatley and Merehead.
The 'filling in the sandwich' between the two quarries was a visit to the nearby East Somerset Railway (ESR), which is normally closed in February but opened up specially for the day. The railtour ran into the station at Cranmore, then reversed out so the single platform could be used by GWR tank loco No. 5637 for two round trips to the end of the line at Mendip Vale.
One other interesting aspect of the tour was that it was used to transport a buffet car coach to the ESR for overhaul. The coach was at Eastleigh, where the tour passenger carriage stock is also based, so was added to the rear of the train and removed at Cranmore by the ESR's former Mersey Docks & Harbour Board shunter No. 45. The fortuitous running of the tour from Eastleigh to Cranmore thus saved a tricky and expensive trip by road.