Sunday 24 July 2016

Thumpers, Tractors and Test Trains

While the good and the great of the railway enthusiast world, or should that be grailway enthusiast world after Trainspotting Live, were making a beeline for the Open Day at DRS in Crewe, I had something far more pressing to go and see. Growing up in Kent on the 3rd rail network there wasn't too much variety. No Deltics, 45's, Westerns etc for us. We had a diet of EMU's, 33's and 73's. However there was one train that whenever I saw it had me staring in wonder, wishing it was on my line, and just loving the sound it made. When I was a teenager at college in Tonbridge I would sit for hours on Tonbridge station watching and listening to the Hastings Diesels. I'd sometimes buy a single to Tunbridge Wells purely to sit near one of the engines as it clagged up the hill to High Brooms. If it was a double unit even better as you had two engines back to back. Their unique shape due to the restricted Wadhurst Tunnel made them even more evocative, and it was a truly sad day when the Hastings line was electrified and those awesome trains were retired.

However one survives, 1001, lovingly preserved by Hastings Diesels Ltd and yesterday it was on one of its tours which involved travelling up the Great Eastern Mainline to Norwich, then up to Sheringham to venture on the North Norfolk Railway to Holt. This was not to be missed, and so the legend who is Tim Miller came to pick me up and off we went to find the train that holds so many personal memories for me.

I wanted to hear those engines working hard, so having studied the route decided that the stretch of line just after Whittingham Junction would be the best place. Sure enough we found a footbridge that crossed the line in the perfect place and waited, using the extremely useful live diagrams to follow the Thumper's progress. Then the moment I had been waiting for. Plug your headphones in, turn the volume up to 11 and enjoy.

The next aim was to catch the Thumper crossing the road at Sheringham making the transition from Network Rail controlled line to the North Norfolk Railway. Despite all the holiday traffic we made it just in time and discovered we were not the only ones with the idea - Sheringham was packed and the crossing point especially so. However that meant I had to adopt an unusual camera angle (hold as high above my head as possible and hope for the best) and the resulting pics show a train looking as though it is part of a carnival parade - so pleased with these!

1001 crosses the road at Sheringham in triumph!
And enters North Norfolk Railway territory
We had lunch while 1001 trundled off to Holt and back, but were in situ to catch its return, where it passed one of NNR's steam locos, 92 203, a BR Standard Class 9F that was amazingly built 2 years AFTER the Thumper in 1959. Black Prince holds the record for the heaviest train hauled by steam (2,178 tonnes) set in 1982.

Thumper meets Black Prince at Sheringham NNRprince
It was quite something to get up close and personal to 1001 again - a train I was lucky enough to guard in service when she was hired by Connex in the very early 2000's. What a train, what a sound and what memories.

Before we rendezvoused with the Thumper though, there was an opportunity to go tractor hunting in the form of the Anglian Short Set, which on Saturdays operates fast services between Norwich and Great Yarmouth. So Tim and I set ourselves up at the picturesque Brundall station. Sadly no clag, but 37's at speed have a presence in my opinion that can't be matched, and that made it worth it alone. 37405 is leading with 37422 on the rear.

That hadn't been the only DRS 37 action in the previous day or two. Thursday saw a Network Rail test train come to the area, and it spent the afternoon and evening trundling up and down the lines from Norwich to Yarmouth and Lowestoft, before making a trip down the East Suffolk Line and back. Cameron Robinson sent me this picture he took from a bus on the Acle Straight near Yarmouth.

37605 with the Network Rail test train
At Yarmouth Grahame Bessey was in place to capture it there. Here is 37602 soaking up the sun

37602 atYarmouth
In fact it seems that the pair of 37's enjoyed the Suffolk sun so much they wanted a bit more. After arriving back at Lowestoft from their tour of the East Suffolk Line early Friday morning one of them decided that was it and promptly failed. The rest of Friday was spent in the sun before finally ending their brief holiday at 2330. Cameron was once again on hand to take this pic of a very relaxed looking 37605.

Nice 'ere innit! 37605 takes a day off in Lowestoft.
So plenty of DRS action without having to go to Crewe! Thanks to Grahame and Cameron for the pics and special thanks to Tim for what was a truly outstanding day.


  1. Great post Steve - especially the Thumper video

  2. How come the 68 short set is booked to work up until about 11am then it spends a few hours just doing nothing? Surely it would be useful having it out in service.

    1. It has been doing a couple of extra trips to Lowestoft during the day, but the main problem is it is crewed by DRS drivers not GA drivers. Obviously with a limit on the hours they can drive and their limited availability they can't just bung the set out as and when they want to.