By Phil Marsh

Special train from London to the south coast supporting the Royal British Legion on 12 November

Published: 11th October 2016

Lower Darwen Fireman Dennis Robinson re-united with his steam locomotive 50 years on

The long-established charter train promoter, UK Railtours has for the last few years in November, sponsored a special charter train using Southeastern’s 140mph ‘Javelin’ trains. These have run within a few days of Remembrance Sunday with all profits given to the Royal British Legion.

This year’s excursion will be using two of the Hitachi lass 395 ‘Javelins’ to places they do not normally operate to. Remembrance Sunday has become established as the date for a charity special in aid of the Royal British Legion. This year’s trip will be a very special one indeed, taking a pair of Southeastern High Speed Javelin trains to resorts on the Sussex Coast.

The train runs from St Pancras and is routed via High Speed 1 running via Ebbsfleet, Gravesend, Strood and along the scenic Medway Valley Line to Paddock Wood and Tonbridge and through the South Downs to Redhill. ‘The Regency Javelin’ as the train is called, then travels via Gatwick Airport and on to the coast at Littlehampton.

There will be a twenty minute break before heading through Hove to Preston Park where the train will again reverse and make the short journey to Brighton.

After a short break, the train heads east along the Sussex-Coast line through Lewes and Polegate to Eastbourne past the huge signalbox there and after another reversal, on to Hastings where another short break is planned. Then its back to St Pancras via Battle, Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks, Bat and Ball, Swanley, Chislehurst, the Lee Spur, Dartford, Gravesend, Rochester (reverse), Gravesend, Ebbsfleet and High Speed 1.

And remember, all profits will be given to the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.

Last train to Fawley?

The huge Fawley oil refiners on the south coast near Southampton has brought much oil tanker rail traffic to the rail network. The last remaining regular flow to Alton ended on 25 August and so the future of the 10 mile freight only line is now in the balance.

It may well be secure for the first couple of miles from Totton, where the line leaves the main line as far as the junction for Marchwood, the military depot which is also rail-served. UK Railtours is running a FINAL special to Fawley on 5 November which may be the very last passenger train to use this line.

This train also goes into Southampton Docks and the MOD depot at Ludgershall near Andover and has a break at Salisbury. The train starts at London Waterloo and also stops at Woking.

New charter train promised

The A1 Steam Trust (A1ST) who built and now operate ‘A1’ No. 60163 Tornado. Have announced that they will be converting a set of 1970s built Mark 111 coaches into a charter train for use in three years time.

The carriages will be released from the Anglia franchise as new trains are introduced and the A1ST will be taking over one train of these and include two kitchen cars enabling full dining for up to 250 passengers on each train. It was not made clear who was funding the purchase and conversion into a bespoke charter train set though.

The train will be air conditioned, have central door locking, controlled emission toilets, power at seat and persons with restricted mobility facilities. Carriages will all be fitted with opening windows to enable the sound and smell of the engine to be experienced – if so desired! It is not yet sure if wi-fi will be provided.

For the crews, there will be a new support coach plus a service vehicle with generator and staff accommodation. The train will also water for the engine extending its range to around 200 miles thus avoiding ever increasingly difficult to plan water stops. The next stage will be to officially increase the engine’s speed to 90mph to be able to find a path for it on the ever busier network. Test runs will take place next April with DB Cargo as the train operator.

Last active main line Lower Darwen steam man reunited with his former engine – 50 years on!

Railway preservation keeps throwing up coincidences and the restoration and return to main line service of the 1957 Horwich-built BR Standard 4 No. 76084 has brought another chance meeting with one of the engine’s former fireman.

Dennis Robinson’s first railway job was at Lower Darwen engine-shed (24D) on 27 December 1961 as a 15 year old engine cleaner. This job was always the first step on the ladder to becoming a train driver and this is just what Dennis did until retiring 50 years later driving 125mph Cross-Country trains driving out of Longsight depot in Manchester.

His retirement only lasted a couple of weeks as he was invited to join charter train company West Coast Railways as a diesel driver and has been with them for the last five years. The company has had some well reported safety issues but is now literally back on-track after two suspensions. The revised operational arrangements include having a second driver on all steam services and this gave Dennis the chance to once again ride on No. 76084 on its run to Carnforth on 19 September from Sheringham in Norfolk with a Support Coach in preparation for its test run the next day.

The crew from Chesterfield to Carnforth were former BR steam colleagues Mick Kelly and Dennis Robinson and they had worked together as firemen until the end of steam at Blackburn in 1968.

Dennis Robinson was also rostered to be the second driver on the engine between Hellifield and Carnforth via Preston which meant he was on the engine as it climbed the steep Whalley Bank and viaduct where he used to be the fireman on the engine where it was regularly used on banking duties.

They said:

Dennis told that while he was based at Blackburn shed there was a lot of heavy steam work because at this time, the West Coast Main line electrification was underway and all freight trains were diverted away from this line and rerouted on weekdays over the Settle & Carlisle route. His weekend work was on similarly diverted passenger services as the WCML was closed for two days a week at this time.

Dennis Robinson also worked on one of the last steam hauled heavy freight trains in England. These were the coal trains serving Padiham power station near Rose Grove. This involved firing these heavy coal trains up very steep lines.

But his final main line firing stint was just days before the end of steam in August 1968. He was rostered to be fireman on No. 45596 Bahamas which is now preserved and under overhaul, but as this was not available he was allocated a ‘Black 5’ No. 45156 Ayrshire Yeomanry from Blackburn to Carnforth and return.

He was also the fireman in the early 1980s on LNER ‘A3’ No. 4472 Flying Scotsman he recalls Blackburn and Manchester on a Post Office anniversary special. Coincidently, he was also rostered on Flying Scotsman on 28 September between Crewe and Bury on the East Lancs Railway after being on 76084.

In his railway career, he witnessed at first hand the change from steam to diesel and to electric trains and today is the last Lower Darwen man still working on the railways.

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