The Whistle Test Railtour – 25th February 1995
33063 + 33065
The following write-up was penned by SELG member, D.Robinson, to whom I am greatful for dusting it off and giving it an airing once again. It originally appeared in a 1995 issue of the Class 33 Loco Club quarterly newsletter and is best read with that in mind. The point now is, of course, that both of the locomotive are now in the care of the S.E.L.G. and it was to be their last passenger working.
Following the success of ‘The Sugar Loafer’ last November (1994) and the distinct over riding sentiment of ‘lets do that again’, when Hertfordshire Rail Tours announced their next Crompton off region adventure; ‘The Whistle Test’ taking 2×33 from Waterloo over a most nostalgic voyage to Chester and Crewe via their former scenic stomping grounds of the Avon Valley and the Welsh Marches, The Class 33 Locomotive Club wasted no time in organising their next railtour block booking.
After various early morning journeys to the capital, many bleary eyed friends and familiar faces (and people carrying large boxes of mugs!) began to gather at Waterloo Station concourse from 07.00hrs onwards to await the arrival of the railtour stock. As a RES liveried 47 475 arrived with the 9 x Mk 1 stock, you suddenly realised just what a rare sight a loco-hauled train in Waterloo is these days (I remember the time………). More importantly however, a walk along the platform revealed 33 065 ‘Sealion’ and 33 063 sitting at the head of the train, ticking away very smoothly ready for their all too infrequent chance to show their mainline strengths to the full. Originally booked for 1 x 33/1 and 1 x 33/0 (the former to also provide the ETH), the recent initiative to reinstate the ETH on 33 008/021 and 33 063 for Ocean Liner duties had given Hertfordshire Railtours the opportunity of utilising 2 x 33/0 (well at least for part of the journey but more of that later). The pair had been sent on test from Stewarts Lane the day prior and had performed well. 33 065 would make a strange sight leading the train with centre ploughs only, surely a case of “you’d better stop fitting those snowploughs now!, we need that locomotive now.” At 08.00, five minutes later than scheduled, a shrill from the Cromptons’ horns and 1Z90 glided out of London passing the International Station to the right with an ever present Eurostar in residence. Spirits were high and the carriage noticeably warm as we sped through familiar territory of the South Western Mainline passing the recent snowplough fitted 33 207 and examples of the increasingly familiar Class 37’s at Woking to our first and only pick up at Basingstoke. By the time we had departed from Basingstoke somewhere in the region of 30 members and friends were on the train most in coach B, one coach down from the locomotives giving all a fine aural display of the sounds of a 33 hard at work. It was evident at this early stage that the timings based on the 60mph capabilities of 33 065 were going to be easily surpassed due to the locomotive performing at speeds very much higher than this although Barry’s claim that this was entirely due to 47 475 still being attached to the rear of the train have to be disputed.
A dreary morning soon began to transform into a fine sunny winters day as the country began to wake up to the sound of two sulzer engines pounding through Hampshire, To all on the tour it was simply an enjoyable task ahead of sitting back and listening to the action whilst watching the sun tinted scenery roll back. Mug sales began early largely due to one S.Moore’s extremely enthusiastic sales techniques. A high speed over 60mph run enabled a five minute early arrival at what will always be known as Crompton Capital, Eastleigh and a stretch of the legs and photo opportunity for tour participants. Amongst the many Class 37’s and Class 60’s were Class 33’s, 33 025 ‘Sultan’ and 33 109 ‘Captain Bill Smith RNR’ star of ‘The Sugar Loafer’ noted on the stabling point returned from overnight British Telecommunication duties.
Eastleigh will always be the home of the Class 33 and as we rolled out of the station passing increasing numbers of photographers on the famous works bridge and a forlorn 33 114 still residing in the airport sidings awaiting collection by its new owner, much nostalgic and Class 33 preservation talk began filing the carriage aisles. Passing through Southampton real nostalgia set in as we retraced the many famous journeys of the Portsmouth – Cardiff services, turning right at Redbridge through the delightful settings of Romsey and Deal.. As we slowed at Salisbury Tunnel Junction, the aluminium can collecting had started at the Secretary’s table in earnest with the aforementioned Mr Llewellyn happily delegating on train refuse collection to the nearest person. Salisbury was passed, a mere shadow of its former self with the halcyon days of 4 33’s an hour gone forever and we proceeded with haste across the bleak Salisbury Plain. Passing numerous stone trains in the dwindling yards at Westbury we came to a rest where once more, early running offered the opportunity of a further sun drenched photostop as we waited for a pathway through the Avon Valley. Unlike the earlier stages of the tour, the terrific run through the beautiful Avon Valley remains unchanged from the glory days of headcode ’89’ seven years ago. The scenery, tight curves and steep gradients providing a tremendous setting for the Cromptons to show their strength (the glorious sunshine being an added bonus). A brief stop at Bath Spa to change crew at which most of the platform tried to join the train on the delusion that it was a stopping service to Bristol, and soon we were winding out of the impressive city ready to do battle with the HST’s and the cars on the nearby A4 Bath – Bristol road. Making a terrific sound as 33 065/063 emerged into Bristol through the deep sandstone cutting, the brakes came on for the painfully tight curve right at Dr Days junction, avoiding Bristol Temple Meads to join the Bristol – Cardiff mainline. Amid much axle squealing and camera clicking from the overhead urban dual carriageway bridge, the two Cromptons from a slow start began a brave ascent of Ashley Down Bank with a huge roar of intent.. At this stage 33 063 seemed to be providing the lions share of the power, but as we were to find out shortly, 33 065 would more than demonstrate her worth a little later. Ashley Down Bank was toppled at speed and soon we were approaching Severn Tunnel with the road bridge looming into view causing great interest in the Chris Smith camp across the aisle. After passing yet another famous landmark at Llanwern Steelworks, we veered right around another tight curve and headed up the Marches towards Abergavenny and Hereford. Arriving at Hereford in yet more beautiful sunshine, 10 minutes early providing further photographic opportunities and most flocked to the end of the train to record these probable historic moments (except the Secretary who got someone else to take his photo for him – well he is recovering).
Below, 33065 leading 33063, pictured in Hereford sunshine. From the album of P.Llewellyn.
An on time departure from Hereford past the former Bulmers Cider Sidings gave many their inspiration to head off in the direction of the buffet to obtain the real thing. As we skirted the Welsh/English Border, the carriage lost amongst much conversation, it almost passed without notice that just north of Leominster, large quantities of smoke began to cloud the rolling green fields and the smell in the carriage would lead many to assume they were actually on a Black Five Steam Special. “It’s because they’re weekenders, all clogged up” someone amidst the steam and smoke was heard to say, “It’ll pass in a minute”.
However as we progressed towards Ludlow matters got worse until there was no denying that something was definitely not right with at least one of the Cromptons.
As we plunged into Ludlow tunnel someone in the first coach had clearly had enough and the emergency cord was pulled bringing us to a convenient standstill alongside the platform at Ludlow Station. Those that flocked onto the platform witnessed a shutdown 33 063, steam issuing from her air vents, and 33 065 thankfully ticking over in fine fettle. A brief inspection of 33 063 revealed that the locomotive had suffered a major failure in the engine room and would play no further part in the days proceedings. After a brief wait, 33 065 with a blast of the horn, set forward to continue our northbound journey in the hands of a single Crompton. As 33 063 had been providing train heat and air conditioning, on board temperatures began to plummet, no problems on such a mild sunny day for most with the exception of Paul, who following his jumper fashion show on the previous railtour, had ventured away from Uckfield with merely a short sleeved shirt on top! As 33 065, now with an extra 72 tonnes of dead-weight in tow, picked up speed, thoughts turned to the probable vast expenditure required to repair 33 063 and with the recent policy governing strict limits on Class 33 expenditure, was this to be 33 063’s swansong. Paul had other ideas and that evenings National Lottery results would seem to have some bearing on the fate of 33 063.
Arriving at Shrewsbury, we passed the crowds queuing to get into Shrewsbury FC’s, Gay Meadow ground (the things some people do on a Saturday afternoon). Departing, we left former common ground and headed up the relatively rarely 33 travelled Shrewsbury-Wrexham-Chester line (the line last saw regular 33 activity in July 1985 when Crewe was closed for remodelling and the Bangor-Cardiff ran round at Chester and continued to Wales via Wrexham). After a short stop at Wrexham, in no time we were joining the North Wales Coast mainline and scaling Chester racecourse, passing the city walls and canal before plunging into the tunnel that signified arrival at Chester. The Cromptons looked magnificent as they curved right and through the centre road, arriving early at Chester for the next crew change. A high speed run through the glorious Cheshire plain followed, passing Beeston Castle, several marinas and other fine examples of rural life before Crewe Works on the left hailed the arrival of Crewe. On the right, Crewe International Electric Depot provided an example of every AC electric locomotive class with several of the new Class 92’s on view and most of Pete Waterman’s ever growing collection…speaking of which, as we curved right into Crewe Station, The Heritage Centre on the left housed Pete’s ground breaking Class 46, ‘Ixion’. Emulating the Bangor-Cardiff’s of old, we arrived at Crewe into platform 11 where the sulzer sound of 33 065 reverberated against the station walls and canopy as we paused for a half hour break. The break allowed more photo opportunities as well as the chance to seek refreshment, stretch the legs and for me the chance to catch up with my parents. We departed south at 16.52 with 33 065 and its rescue performance preparing to do battle with the crack West Coast expresses on the run down to Stafford, passing the Diesel Depot full with RES engines. 33 065 soon reached impressive speeds as the last rays of sunshine filtered through the North West skies. At this point S.Moore had the dubious honour of being the first to succumb to sleep.
Passing through Birmingham New Street without delay, the on train raffle livened up proceedings especially with one Mr Johnson attempting to win top prize with that tried and tested technique of folding over any surplus number on the raffle ticket!
With 33 065 still going strong and beating the timings, following a stop at Coventry where an Eastleigh driver took over for the final leg, we plunged through the darkness on the well tested railtour home straight of Banbury-Oxford-Reading (question; Has anyone ever passed through Oxford in daylight?). After setting down at Reading we were soon passing Acton Mainline where the train slowed and we veered left ready for the assault on Acton Bank which 33 065 ascended with ease. At the top of Acton bank we took the North London line passed Willesden and Mitre Bridge Junction and were soon passing through the heart of the West End on the West London Extension through Kensington Olympia and Chelsea Harbour. After tentatively crossing Chelsea Bridge, we slowed in preparation to negotiate the new Channel tunnel Shepcote Lane curve, built to enable through trains and EPS empty stock movements from North Pole, to access Waterloo, and soon we veered left for the gradual climb onto the main running lines into the Capital. We passed the new sole Crompton home of Stewarts Lane, now filled to capacity with around a dozen stored Class 33’s, and all too soon the brakes were applied for Waterloo and the adventures of two weekend 33’s were drawn to a close, marking the finale of a spectacular performance from 33 065. Another thoroughly enjoyable day out at the hands of 33’s and with so many Class 33 Locomotive Club members and friends, with a railtour that perhaps provides the true meaning of the phrase, “weekenders” i.e. what weekends are all about! It is pleasing to see many similar tours in the pipeline and if this is the final year of the 33 in full revenue earning service, these tours are providing an excellent tribute to a reliable, capable and well followed locomotive and all should ensure they sample for at least one more time what a Crompton on a mainline can achieve. As we all made our journeys home across London leaving the sulzer sound of 33 065 filling the cavernous surrounds of Waterloo taking more great memories of the sight and sound of the classic sulzer type 3, many thanks are due once more to Paul for his hard work and organisation in booking the tickets (another sleepless night prior to the tour in case he overslept!), long may the Class 33 and the Class 33 Locomotive Club continue!