by Phil Marsh

Fireman’s strike cancels main line steam trains

Published: 12th July 2014

School holiday seaside steam services roundup

The Fire Brigade Union has called out its members for another couple of one-day strikes and this has brought the cancellation of two main line steam charter trains.

Both, promoted by the Railway Touring Company (RTC), were due to run on Wednesday July 16 from London Victoria to Weymouth as one of the series of ‘Dorset Coast Expresses’ and the other was the one-off train on Sunday July 20 from Bristol and Newport to the Ebbw Vale and Rhymney Valley Lines in South Wales. This is the second time main line steam services have been hit by the fire brigade strikes in recent months.

So why does a firemans’ strike cause a steam train cancellation? Because it has been very dry recently, the risk of a lineside fire caused by ash or sparks from the steam locomotive is deemed to be high. This is especially the case through the New Forest between Brockenhurst and Bournemouth where steam-hauled trains have to have a diesel attached at the rear to minimise the work the steam engine has to do.

So the non-availability of the fire-fighting services for an avoidable situation has meant that these trains are low on the priority list and therefore have been cancelled by Network Rail.

Regular summer steam service roundup

The school holidays offer a feast of main line steam with several regular trains running. The services are like the last few years with five or six trains a day being operated by West Coast Railways on behalf of several charter train promoters across the UK.

To Scarborough by steam

West Coast Railways (WCR) operates over 90% of the UK main line steam services and they are running ‘The Scarborough Spa Express’ on Tues/Weds/Thurs from July 15 to the end of August. This starts at York and runs west to Wakefield Kirkgate and Westgate stations and on to Castleford before again calling at York and on to Scarborough.

Complimenting this service is the RTC’s ‘The Scarborough Flyer’ which runs on Fridays between July 25 and September 5 inclusive. This starts at Crewe and travels via Stockport and Huddersfield to York.

York, UK summer steam centre?

The RTC also promotes between July 20 to September 7 inclusive, their ‘Waverley’ service. Starting at York, it travels via Leeds and Skipton and runs via the Settle & Carlisle line to Appleby and Carlisle.

The Settle & Carlisle route is also used every Wednesday by Statesman Rail and their ‘Fellsman’ service. This starts at Lancaster and travels via Preston and Blackburn to Carlisle and back running to the end of August. These trains are usually fully booked so early booking is essential.

There are also many ‘Cumbrian Mountain Express’ services using the Settle & Carlisle line on offer this summer holiday. Some start from London Euston electric locomotive hauled calling at stations to Preston, Liverpool or York. These are some more RTC sponsored trains and steam haulage is over the famous Ribblehead viaduct.

Midlands Steam Sonnet

Tyslely based Vintage Trains promote two Sunday ‘Shakespeare Express’ steam services from Birmingham Moor Street and Snow Hill to Stratford on Avon and back between July 20 and September 7 inclusive. There is a morning and afternoon departure and the trip takes about one hour each way.

North Wales Coast Expresses

The North Wales Coast line between Chester and Holyhead is a scenic route offering sea and mountain views and the RTC is promoting eight steam services along this section of line. These run from Liverpool and Manchester respectively to Holyhead on various dates this and next month.

There are also three steam excursions to Blaenau Ffestiniog running from Preston and stations to Chester. These take in the long branchline from Llandudno Junction to Ffestiniog running through high mountain passes and fabulous scenery as well as along the coast and rivers.

Scottish Magic steam

The West Coast Railway Company has operated ‘The Jacobite’ between Fort William and Mallaig for the last 15 years. This time of the year, there is a morning and afternoon service on weekdays with just the morning departure at weekends. The weekday services provide the rare spectacle of main line steam trains passing each other at Glenfinnan, where many scenes from the Harry Potter films were filmed.

South-west summer seaside steam services

The only steam service operated by DB Schenker is ‘The Torbay Express’ which runs on eight Sundays until September 21 between Bristol Temple Meads, Weston Super Mare and Taunton to Paignton and Kingswear.

The RTC’s ‘Royal Duchy’ series of trains also runs from Bristol Temple Meads on Sundays 7 to 28 inclusive in September but goes further west to Plymouth and Par in Cornwall.

Check before you travel or view from the lineside

Full details are listed on the rail.co.uk charter train section but remember, these services can be altered at very short notice for reasons outside the train promoters’ control, such as the firemans’ strikes and fire risk.

Check each promoters website for up to the minute information and if not intending to travel, do not call the train companies as they will not give out train times. Why? Because this takes up valuable resources at their busiest time of the year when they need to be available for their customers.

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