The reliefs continued I think into the mid-80s before Sectorisation and the drive for efficiency deemed that we couldn’t maintain spare stock making only occasional journeys. In those days you could pick up a free Bank Holiday supplement from your local ticket office or by post, some running to hundreds of pages of closely-typed toilet paper, and spend many happy hours plotting the weekend changes. Going back to work after a BH in Cornwall, I’d always choose the relief for initially its musty Mk 1s and Cl 47 and later Mk 2s and Cl 50 instead of the heaving HST. The reliefs usually ran a few minutes ahead of the HST which caught out those not in the know, and had less stops so the loco could stay ahead of the HST. Consequently I could often find a compartment to myself, and as I was alighting from the relief at Paddington it was not uncommon the see the HST pulling into an adjacent platform, an example of timetabling efficiency. A luxury refinement was that some reliefs started at Truro and on 29th August 1977 it’s highly likely that I was on the 16.41 in David’s example. The demise of reliefs was in part countered by the strengthening of HSTs from 2+7 to 2+8, removal of catering and tables to cram in more seats, and downgrading of first class. The extra coach increased journey time through slower acceleration, and had to be conveyed full of fresh air during quieter times. The HSTs heralded shorter stops at Plymouth and catering into Cornwall, but the IETs have reversed this. Which is more efficient: to split and join at Plymouth or save 10 minutes with a fixed-formation? (Then again, in the mid-80s the new InterCity Sector pinched several WR HSTs to open up the Midland Mainline, and some WR services had to return to loco-haulage.)
The mention of excursions reminds me of the efficient use of spare stock at weekends. In the 80s I was living in Croydon and the East Grinstead peak service had a couple of 8-sets including some pre-production Mk 2s with Mk 1 interiors. The gricers in the Central Division traffic office took great delight in using these at weekends to interesting destinations while bashing as much track as possible - and all for £1.50. The staff and their families would set up a makeshift buffet in the Brake End, and sell railway books and out-of-date timetables, thus getting a free trip, the South-London public were happy to be taken to interesting places they’d probably never go by service train, while the rest of us logged signal-boxes with unfamiliar names and stock we’d seen only in our ABCs. From East Croydon we could get to Scarborough via the Erewash Valley and Sheffield Avoiding Lines, West Wales via Gloucester and the Swansea District, or a circular tour over the Central Wales. Other popular destinations were Paignton, Blackpool, Skegness and Wroxham for the Broads. Some of these had no passenger service, and even those that did would not have been possible in a day by service trains. My pre-HST speed record was coming back from Llandudno; down the Trent Valley at 90mph behind an AL6 we were alarmed by the bucking of our Mk 1, but at 100 she settled down and speed continued to climb until we clocked 109mph! These trains were originally marketed as Awaydays (ADEX), later rebranded to Merrymakers with the term Awayday being applied to offpeak day-returns, although Merrymakers could involve an overnight stay or even a boat trip to northern France. For some reason, the SR called theirs Pleasure Seekers and the LM had Round Robins, while first class package holidays were called Golden Rail, or for the over-50s SAGA. Sadly there wasn’t much scope for excursions from the far southwest as those of us who recall how long it took from Redruth to Sheffield Park in 1972 will testify! Together with parcels, perishables and postals they illustrate how much the railway has lost in its relentless drive towards profitability.
Another interesting diversion was the use of Hastings Units on the Brighton - Exeter. At busy times this could be a 6L+6B which meant the train pulling up at short platforms and was a pain as I always sat at the front. I recall having to jump out at Gillingham, wait for the train to pull up and then join the queue for the buffet which meant I couldn’t regain my seat until Sherborne. Later, the East Grinstead stock was used with a Cl 33 from Norwood Loco working it down to Brighton on Saturday mornings. (A few years earlier when I started at Fratton Depot we had Hymeks coming in for running maintenance off the Cardiff - Portsmouths. These were replaced by Cross-Country DMUs and then by Cromptons.) I was occasionally in the right place at the right time; when I moved to London the WR introduced an 18.27FO to Truro facilitating weekends at home. And when I worked in Southampton the Brighton - Exeter was extended to Penzance, returning to Waterloo on Sunday afternoon, some extensions continuing with Cl 159s until they were deemed more useful east of Exeter.
BR understood the leisure market, and engineering work was cleared on the four BH weekends and there was competition among my colleagues to see who could rack up the most overtime on the remaining 48 weekends of the year! (The Mayday BH from 1978 was not a major leisure time, nor was there sufficient slack in the engineering timetable to clear a fifth weekend.) There were however complex Rules of the Route which ensured that major cities were always accessible even if by some convoluted route. Eg we were not allowed to close the ECML and WCML at the same time, while west of Exeter there was extensive single-line working. Blockades were rare and the first one I remember was Cannon Street Station which was little used outside the peaks. This enabled us to close it for the summer and rebuild the river bridge in weeks which would have taken years between trains. This policy was reversed under Railtrack in the incessant drive for efficiency and now blockades and double-line blocks are rife, at a time when there are less accessible buses available to bypass them.
I see you have snow in Cornwall, but this has been a bit of a ramble as it’s pushing 40C here in Angkor Wat, and we’re waiting for the sun to go down so we can venture out. Some snow would be heaven! Best wishes from John & Thu.
(1) Bringing up the rear of the 1V50 06.06 Edinburgh - Plymouth at Coryton Tunnel Dawlish on the 10th January.
(2) 1V44 06.11 Leeds - Plymouth passing Laira on the 23rd January . 43303 is on the rear.
(3) On the rear of the 1S51 12.27 Plymouth - Edinburgh at Plympton taken from Cot Hill Bridge on the 23rd January.
(4) 1V50 06.06 Edinburgh - Plymouth at Rattery on the 24th January.
(5) 1V44 06.11 Leeds - Plymouth leaving Newton Abbot on the 25th January.
Phil 'Shattered' Smith