Published 03rd April 2013
It is not every day that an established heritage railway adds a 1.75 mile branch to its line. That is what the Nene Valley Railway (NVR) did in February, with the opportunity to ride over the ‘new’ passenger route being eagerly snapped up during the NVR’s February 23-24 steam gala.
The branch is the link between Fletton Junction (on the East Coast Main Line south of Peterborough) and the NVR at Longueville Junction (near Orton Mere). It has been used as a locomotive and stock connection between the national network and heritage line since 1977 and been leased by the NVR since 2007. The NVR secured a Transport & Works Act Order last year covering the branch, which cleared the way to complete its transfer from BRB (Residuary) Limited to NVR.
With the Fletton branch in the ownership of the Nene Valley, the opportunity to offer the first preservation era passenger trains over these metals was quickly taken and steam-worked brake van rides over the link were added as a late additional attraction to the winter gala.
The trains were worked by on-hire Hunslet 0-6-0ST ‘Austerity’ No. 22 (HE3844/1956) which traversed 1.5 miles of the link which commences with a section parallel to the NVR running line to Peterborough (NVR) station out of Orton Mere station, then swings away through areas once the location of sugar factory operations, now largely covered by housing, up to just short of the catch point within sight of the gates to the junction with the East Coast Main Line south of Peterborough.
The gala branch trains ran amid seriously cold conditions (especially for the determined souls who opted to ride on the brake van veranda!) under heavy cloud enlivened by periodic light snow showers – well, it was a winter gala! An official opening of the ‘new’ branch for invited guests (carried in a coach) followed on March 1.
While the branch line rides went as planned, sadly the gala itself suffered no little disruption as a result of its visiting star, Class 7P No. 70000 Britannia, derailing at Yarwell in mid-afternoon on the Saturday. The leading bogie came off while No. 70000 was running round, with the cause not being immediately obvious. The loco’s on-board electronics (required for main line running) confirmed the speed at the moment of the incident was just 2m.p.h.
The NVR’s Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0T (1800/1947) Thomas broke off from its gala task shunting wagons at Wansford to take available coaches to Yarwell to return passengers to Wansford, but the 7P was not finally re-railed and towed back to Wansford until the Sunday afternoon. Immediately placed over the newly built pit it was closely inspected, fortunately revealing no damage, and Britannia left on the Monday by rail back onto the national network (via the Fletton branch) and resumed its booked main line tour programme.
However, the incident did prevent operations over the Wansford – Yarwell section for much of the weekend with consequent adjustment of the timetable. Trains between Wansford and Peterborough NVR (passenger and periodic freight) were handled by 4F No. 44422 (currently on hire to the NVR) and the other gala visitor, the Epping Ongar Railway’s Prairie No. 4141.