Published 20th November 2014
Its that time of year when thoughts turn to what to do for Christmas and as the days get shorter, the urgency gets greater to find a solution to the age old question of what to get someone for Christmas!
Most preserved railways operate Santa Specials which are attractive for those with time or financial pressures but for those who have the cash and the time, then a main line Christmas charter train is a great option. Their destinations are often linked in with festive activities’ such as Christmas markets or carol services and can include full silver service dining to make a great day out.
This year is no different and there are a variety of charter trains running across England using steam and diesel traction and this year, the season starts on November 22 with several trains to choose from.
On that date, the Railway Touring Company (RTC) has planned a steam hauled service, ‘The Christmas Cheshireman’ which starts at Bristol and calls at stations to Abergavenny going to Chester. The other choice that day is a UK Railtours (UKR) high speed train running to the East Lancs Railway and the Manchester Christmas Market from St Pancras and stations via Luton and Bedford to Manchester and Bury.
Worcester, Ludlow and Portsmouth all host Christmas markets served by charter trains on November 29. The RTC runs a steam service from Paddington, Slough and Reading to Worcester while Steam Dreams (SD) has booked a train from Paddington to the Ludlow Medieval Fayre running via Bristol using a mixture of steam and diesel. UKR is running an excursion to the Portsmouth Victorian Christmas market from Waterloo and Woking with an option to visit the Isle of Wight steam railway at Havenstreet.
The UK’s biggest Christmas market is at Lincoln where hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to each year over the first weekend in December. This year there is a choice of steam and diesel hauled services from around the UK to the market. There are a pair of diesel hauled trains on December 5, one from Edinburgh and stations to Newcastle and Durham promoted by the Scottish Railway Preservation Society while the Belmond British Pullman runs from London Victoria that day as well.
On December 6, the RTC ‘A4’ steam hauled service the ‘Lindum Fayre’ leaves from Kings Cross and stations to Peterborough while Tyseley (Birmingham) based Vintage Trains (VT) run another steam service from the west midlands to Lincoln via Nuneaton and Leicester.
The Bath Christmas Market competes with Lincoln on December 6 and is served by a RTC steam service running from Three Bridges, Haywards Heath and stations to Worthing. Three days later a Christmas Lunch steam service is run by the RTC from Victoria to Eastbourne and Hastings.
More trains serve the Bath Christmas market on December 13 when West Coast Railways (WCR) run a diesel train from Skegness and stations to Sleaford. SD take a steam service to Bath on December 6 from Rainham and stations to Bromley South, Kensington Olympia, Slough and Reading.
Statesman Rail operate at the higher end of the market using Pullman carriages and they are running several ‘Edinburgh Christmas Statesman’ services. These operate on December 6 from Wolverhampton and stations via Shrewsbury, Crewe and Lancaster to Edinburgh and a week later on December 13 from Leicester and stations to and Sheffield. Their final train is on December 20 from Hull and stations to Leeds and Skipton via Ribblehead Viaduct to Edinburgh.
LNER ‘A4’ No. 60019 visits the York ‘St Nicholas Fayre’ on December 4 promoted by SD and starts at Kings Cross calling at Hertford North and stations to Peterborough. December 13th there is another York Christmas Market, and this is visited by a VT steam service from the Birmingham area, Tamworth and Burton using GWR ‘Castle’ No 5043 on their ‘Christmas White Rose’. Another train carries the same name on the same day to York run by RTC but from Kings Cross and stations to Peterborough using ‘A4’ No. 60009.
There are many steam hauled charter trains to Carol Services with SD running three trains, all booked for a pair of LMS ‘Black 5s’as hauage. First off is on December 6 to Norwich running from Southend, Upminster and Cambridge. On December 9 it’s a service to Ely Cathedral from Horsham, Dorking and West Brompton while on December 11, its off to Oxford for a service running from Peterborough via Cambridge and Harlow Town. This train will be diesel hauled between London and Peterborough though.
VT has arranged a steam hauled train to a private Carol service in Chester Cathedral on December 19 running from their station at Tyseley Warwick Road which also calls at Wolverhampton and Stafford.
Belmond is operating around 25 Christmas trains around the UK, mainly offering a luxury dining experience. SD has arranged a Christmas Circular tour from Victoria calling at East Croydon and various stations to Ashford taking in the White Cliffs of Dover on December 23 using two LMS ‘Black 5s’.
UKR is promoting ‘The Yorkshire Coast Christmas Dinner Express’ on December 13, a diesel hauled train from King's Cross calling at stations to Doncaster and heads off to Scarborough.
Other one-off Christmas trains are on December 6 when WCR runs a diesel service. ‘The Canterbury Christmas Special’ from Doncaster and stations to St Neots to Canterbury and return. On December 20, UKR has chartered a diesel train running from Basingstoke, Woking, St Albans and Bedford to Shrewsbury.
Pathfinder tours is running a diesel hauled special on December 6 called ‘The Yuletide Yorkshire Explorer’ from Newport, Bristol Parkway and stations to Birmingham New St. and Crewe to Keighley-Skipton and return.
First Great Western is operating a High Speed Train on December 6 from Bristol at 1320hrs to the ‘Dunster by Candlelight’ event and then on to Minehead returning from the West Somerset Railway terminus at 1945hrs. There are many more services running on the main line – especially on Community Rail routes.
Many of these trains will be decorated and feature a visit from Santa and his assistants. Wherever you live, it is likely there will be a special train from near you. For full details, check out rail.co.uk charter train listings and booking contact details.