by Phil Marsh

Unique West Coast Main Line steam Gala in East Anglia

Published: 17th May 2014

West Coast Railways takes over the Mid-Norfolk Railway for three days

The West Coast Railway Company (WCRC) is the UK’s largest charter train operator having around 70% of all business. But in the steam operations market sector, it operates over 500 steam trains or over 90% of all services every year.

The company has its own fleet of main line approved steam locomotives (as well as a large diesel fleet) based at Carnforth in Lancashire. It is usually well-nigh impossible to ride behind the steam locomotives away from main line operations which with a few exceptions, costs between £50 and £200 a seat for Pullman class travel.

The Mid Norfolk Railway (MNR) is a relative newcomer to preservation and operates mainly diesel trains between Wymondham and Dereham but with limited steam services every summer. The main locomotive has been Dennis Howells’ Pannier tank No. 9466 but this cannot operate at the MNR this year as it is being overhauled as required by stringent regulations.

In the last two years though, GWR ‘King’ No. 6023 King Edward 1and LMS ‘Duchess’ No. 46233 Duchess of Sutherland have starred on the line.

The WCRC steam fleet is usually busy on the main line working right across the UK and so never operates on preserved railways on a pre-arranged basis. So the news that the MNR and the WCRC quickly reached agreement to join forces to create a three-day event without precedent, its big news. The event is sponsored by Mortons Media who publish the three leading railway magazines.

So what clinched the deal?

Well, both organisations’ paid staff are supported by volunteers and the latter rarely get a chance to drive or fire the main line engines as there are strict criteria about professional qualifications, training and operations on the main line. Whilst stringent, the same standards are not quite so onerous on preserved railways as they have a top speed of 25mph, rather than 75mph on the national network.

So the deal is that the WCRC locomotives will have a MNR operational representative on the footplate while the WCRC volunteers get the chance to drive and fire. So the MNR gets a huge unique gala while the people behind the scenes get a chance to hone their skills which is always a good thing.

They said:

The Mid Norfolk Railway said it was pleased and honoured to announce this extra, one off event for 2014, the West Coast Railways gala, in partnership with West Coast Railways. Mid-Norfolk director James Steward said: “This will be a unique opportunity. If people miss this, they really will miss out as these engines simply don’t do this type of event.

“It will be the only time one gets a chance to ride behind Galatea and Scots Guardsman on a preserved line.” “This isn’t just some other event with the well-travelled fleet of steam locomotives that process around preserved railways. This truly is a one-off event that will allow you to get much closer than normal.”

A WCRC spokesman said that it was a great chance for both organisations to benefit from the event.

Where and when?

The event runs from Friday 30th May until Sunday 1st June, a bank holiday weekend. And this is one key reason it can take place because there are so many lines blocked by Network Rail for engineering works, there are very few charter trains running so the engines are available.

They will travel from Carnforth with extra carriages in tow on May 29th and return immediately after the event to resume normal 75mph duties. It is expected that the engines will be LMS ‘Royal Scot’ No. 46115 Scots Guardsman, LMS ‘Jubilee’ No. 45699 Galatea and either a LMS Stanier ‘8F’ No. 48151 or LMS ‘Black 5’ No. 44932.

The railway says that none of these steam locomotives would have worked in Norfolk as they usually operated in the Midlands and Northern parts of Great Britain. The two named engines have never run on a preserved line before adding to the attraction of the event. No. 46115 operated the only main line steam train to carry the Olympic torch two years ago.

The timetable

The MNR will be operating a special timetable for this event using all three engines plus a diesel service. There will be trains every half hour from Dereham and Wymondham Abbey which is 15 minute walk from the main line station at Wymondham. The station is served by many services running between Norwich, Cambridge and Peterborough.

There will be a vintage bus running between Wymondham’s main line station and the heritage railway’s Wymondham Abbey southern terminus.

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