Our friend and regular contributor Craig Munday made an appearance on last nights BBC Spotlight news program in connection with the Network Rail re-signalling program which is taking place in Cornwall currently.
You can read an online article on the BBC website by clicking here (External website : BBC News)
Or, you can watch the excellent news item on the BBC iPlayer website by clicking here and forwarding the video to around 21:30 (an iPlayer account is required - free for TV License holders).
Many thanks to Craig for letting us know, I am sure all of our readers will find the article and the behind-the-scenes views of Truro signal box very interesting.
Fifty Years 1974-2024
Jon Hird & Roger Winnen
Didcot Railway Centre
First steam day of 2024
2999 was the only steam engine operating on the main demonstration line, while the rest of the steam locos were inside the running shed.
The two diesel shunters were stabled on the side of the running shed.
DRC had decided that 2999 was the only engine they would use. The branch line demonstration line was open to allow members of the publicto get closer to the artefacts.
New Years Day Walk
Bridge 153 - Little Petherick Creek
Sadly the air was absolutely roaring through the wind braces and in a direction which would have meant no chance of recovering my device if it got swept away in the breeze, so I played it safe and took a few lower-level shots of the bridge instead.
With its 'new' (actually now about 20 years old) tarmac/concrete deck, it's hard to imagine a Bulleid Pacific rumbling over it, but at least its future is secure as part of the immensly popular Camel Trail cycle path.
New Years Day 2024
Michael L Roach
The Last Trip on the Launceston Branch
(continued from Part 63)
The evening trip had been planned for the 6.20pm off Plymouth returning on the 8.35pm SO off Launceston due Plymouth at 10.10pm, but the weather gods had other ideas. When the Launceston and South Devon Railway opened officially on the 1 June 1865 the opening ceremony and festivities were dogged by continuous rain all day to the extent, allegedly, that such a day became known as “railway weather” in Launceston. It was not rain that dogged the last day of passenger services to Launceston via Tavistock, it was wind and snow. The wind and snow increased from lunchtime onwards until by mid-afternoon it was snowing heavily and blowing with gale force winds up to 90mph in other places in the West Country; i.e a full-scale blizzard. This continued well into the evening of 29 December 1962 but then declined as quickly as it had started as we shall see later. The last Saturday of December 2023 was in some ways similar to that of 1962 in some parts of Britain; particularly in Northern England and Scotland where there was snow, high winds and travel disruption. Here in Cornwall there were high winds peaking at 55mph mid-afternoon. There was also precipitation in Cornwall starting as light drizzle soon after 12.00 noon and turning heavy mid-afternoon and continuing through the evening
I had spent much of the daylight hours of Saturday 29 December 1962 at Yelverton Station watching the trains pass through the snow-bound station. Because the trains were getting later and later I had travelled home from Yelverton to Plymouth by bus for my tea and to warm up. Then it was a 15 minute trudge through the deep snow to Plymouth Station arriving in good time to buy my cheap day return to Launceston for 7/9d (39p). At the time trains terminating and starting at Plymouth had their coaches cleaned inside and out and the tanks replenished with water at Millbay, the former terminus of the South Devon Railway on the west side of the City Centre and a former passenger station up until 1941 when it was closed after being bombed. It was just three quarters of a mile from Millbay to Plymouth North Road and there was a steep gradient between the two which would tax the small prairies when they had 10 or 12 bogies in tow as they did at times. The 6.20pm was scheduled to leave Millbay at 6.05pm and take 5 mins to North Road. If required the train would also convey vehicles on the rear for the 3.40pm Penzance to Paddington perishable train due at Plymouth 7.32 to 7.50pm.
That evening there were problems with operating points in many places with snow and ice collecting between the switch blade and the stock rail and preventing the full movement. The offending snow and ice had to brushed out manually byn the railwaymen working in the appalling conditions. They deserved a medal for their dedication to duty. There were such problems at the west end of Plymouth Station, Tavistock Junction, Marsh Mills and Bickleigh. The 6.20pm took 70 ? minutes to make that short journey from Millbay to North Road, eventually arriving in the station some 65 minutes late. As the train stopped in platform 6 (itself unusual) I noted that it was 5568 with four corridor coaches, and I made my way to my favoured position in the cross corridor at the front of the first coach immediately behind the loco's bunker. I was not alone as there were other enthusiasts with the same idea. We took turns at the window which remained firmly up much of the time because of the cold, the wind and the snow blowing in. At times it was kept down a short way for the enthusiast with the tape recorder. Occasionally the window went down for a few seconds and the news was conveyed to the rest of us as to what was happening outside as the stalwart railwaymen battled to get us past the next obstacle which was mostly to do with the frozen pointwork. The train departed Plymouth Station at 7.32pm (72L) and took it very easy with stops at Laira Junction home (4 mins); Laira Junction starter (15 mins); Tavistock Junction outer home (57 mins); and Tavistock Junction middle home (68 mins); finally arriving at Marsh Mills Station at 10.14 pm (228L). Here we saw the returning Launceston goods abandoned in the up platform. The 5.40pm from Launceston had travelled through the wrong platform with the attendant delays of altering the points at both ends of the loop which led to our long wait at Tavistock Junction. It eventually cleared the area and arrived at Plymouth Station 170L. Our train left Marsh Mills 231L and we proceeded gently up the Plym Valley because the driver simply did not know what was lying in wait for the train in the cuttings which could have been full of snow.
A quarter mile north of Cann Viaduct we came to a halt because the brakes had come on; but after an eleven minute delay the problem was solved and we were on our way again. It was hard to believe that just 30 hours earlier I had been in almost the same spot taking photos in the then dusting of snow, but now it would be dangerous to be out in such conditions and although we did not realise it yet the wind and snow were finally starting to abate. That did not help the railwayman at Bickleigh Station battling to change the points for our train. The 7.10pm from Tavistock, consisting of 6400 with three auto coaches had been here for well over three hours waiting for the section to Marsh Mills to be cleared by the previous train and the engine was now frozen to the rails and immoveable. Our train spent 23 minutes at the home signal before it lowered and we travelled the few yards into the platform. Six minutes were spent here at Bickleigh before leaving at 11.26pm 290 minutes late. Travel was now a bit more normal with no more major delays but the driver taking it easy because of possible snow drifts. 5568 took water at Horrabridge for which it must have been very grateful and we left the water crane by milepost 9 at 12.12am no less than 312 L. After a brief stop at Whitchurch Down we finally arrived at Tavistock South Station at 12.23.26 Note all my times were recorded to the second but have been rounded for the purposes of this article. I have only once since witnessed a train running more than 320L when I was at Truro Station about 30 years later and the orange display box told passengers that the last down Cross Country train of the previous day from Glasgow/Edinburgh to Penzance was about to appear more than 700 minutes late. The train had been the scene of a murder somewhere on the WCML in the Cumbrian Fells and had been impounded by police until all passengers had been interviewed when it was allowed to proceed on its way.
No photographs were taken on this trip because at that time I did not take flash photographs and had left my camera at home. The train was terminated at Tavistock South and the news was conveyed to the passengers on the train about ten minutes after arrival. As well as passengers making a return trip from the Plymouth end there were also enthusiasts on the train from Lifton and Launceston returning home, some of whom would no doubt have also travelled on the 8.35pm as far as Tavistock South where they would have crossed platforms to catch the 8.40pm SO Plymouth to Launceston; thereby catching the very last train in both directions. It did not work out like that.
We remained on the train in Tavistock South station until the word came through that the train was being terminated because there was no communication between Tavistock and Lydford signal boxes. I am sure that no-one was at all surprised. Today's risk-averse management would have cancelled the train before it set out from Millbay in the prevailing circumstances that day. I believe that the passengers split into three groups. Some opted to stay on the train and sleep on the cushions while others stayed in the waiting room of Tavistock South Station. My group applied some lateral thinking that the 7.00pm from Waterloo could just be running a bit late and might take us back to Plymouth from Tavistock North that night. So we made our way across Bedford Square and up the hill to Tavistock's other station. That walk was magical. The snow had stopped and the wind had miraculously dropped almost to nothing. The scene reminded me of the words appearing in two different well-known Christmas Carols: “snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow” and “deep and crisp and even”
There had been so much snow; and it had been so long since there had been any traffic, either motorised or pedestrian, that there was nothing to mar the surface of the snow. It was clinging to one side of all lamp columns, and to every branch of every tree. It was a truly magical scene and all it needed was a stagecoach to round the corner from the Okehampton direction into Bedford Square to complete a real live Christmas card scene. We could not stop to admire the scene as we hurried up the hill to Tavistock North Station. We arrived to discover that the 7.00pm from Waterloo had not passed through and would not be calling as it too had also been terminated because the line was blocked by snowdrifts north of Lydford. The line was closed for several days and reopened on the followoing Wednesday. In a later snowfall the line was blocked for a week.
There was nothing for it but to pass the night in the waiting room at Tavistock North Station as best we could. Come morning the station staff told us that a rescue train was going to be sent out from Plymouth to convey us back to Plymouth via Bere Alston. However they could give no indication of timing. The rescue train would be no help to the contingent from the Launceston area so they set out to walk the 13 miles home, but some got friends and family to drive out to pick them up part way. I had spent the previous evening on the train with MB an enthusiast from Falmouth. He and I together decided that we were not going to wait for the rescue train and also decided to walk to Plymouth, which was 14 miles for me and 15 for MB. Breakfast was provided by British Railways in a cafe on the east side of Duke Street, Tavistock which is still there trading under a different name. We set out for Plymouth on foot along the A386. It was a beautiful day with no clouds or wind just continuous sunshine which enhanced the walk considerably. After some two hours and 6 miles we reached Roborough Down south of Yelverton Village and the highest pont on the route. From here there were long distance views to the east to Burrator Dam and the tors of Dartmoor. That view was quite magical in the cool, silent and still air. The silence was then broken by the noise of an approaching motor vehichle – the first we had seen on the move that morning. It was a Land Rover and the driver stopped to see if he could offer us a lift which he did for about 5 miles to a point alongside Plymouth Airport from where I walked the remaining 3 miles home.
The series titled The End of 1962 covered that period in 22 parts and is still available on this website. The series covered the travelling of a Plymouth railway enthusiast during the most inhospitable weather of his lifetime. The Launceston Branch may have closed but life went on in 1963 and so did the cold spell. I resumed travelling on Saturday 5 January 1963 with my friend Charles Fennamore on a day trip from Plymouth to Hemyock via Okehampton, Exeter and Tiverton Junction. Where Charles spent 29 December is not known but he was due to meet me on the train for the last trip out to Launceston on the 6.20pm off Plymouth. That last summer we had made a couple of similar return trips on a Saturday evening but parking our cars at Marsh Mills Station for a change, and that is what Charles did on the 29 December. At the time Charles lived in the village of Brixton five miles south-east of Plymouth Station and Marsh Mills Station was a little closer to his home. At Marsh Mills he would have witnessed the freight train abandoned in the up platform and the struggles to get the 5.40pm from Launceston past the obstruction and then to change the points for my train which arrived in the station at 10.14pm. After a couple of hours enduring the blizzard Charles gave up and drove home while it was still possible – a very wise decision in the circumstances
MLR / 31 December 2023
A tale of a Fowler
With reference to the website photo of the 0-4-0DM Diesel Shunter 'Peter' at St.Blazey. This was previously based at Bodmin General and sat in the Barracks Siding there for quite some time. Attached is a photograph taken in mid-2023. I assume its been sold.
Take Care and a Happy New Year to everybody,
Semi-retired S&T Engineer
When green is not what it seems!
Driver Alan Peters
The two locos and wagons were being brought back to Cornwall ready to resume work on the China Clay circuit after the festive period shut down.
They're pictured here, the bright red locomotives adding a splash of colour to an otherwise dull Respryn at 10:40, en route to St. Blazey.
A few pictures taken today (30.12.2023) to show the progress at the new Ponsandane Sidings. They are taking shape but the buffer stops are still to be put in place,
'Peter' & The CDA
I called in to the St Blazey turntable area to find that 'Peter' had been turned and parked up on the depot side. The nameplates appear to be made of wood with brass letters. This locomotive, Fowler Works No. 22928, dates back to 1940 and had previously worked for the North Devon Clay Company at Meeth. Interestingly in February 1934 the Great Western Railway took delivery of an almost identical locomotive, numbered it '1' and painted it in full 'Great Western' lined green livery with a copper-capped 'chimney' - trust the GWR to go overboard on such a diminutive machine! Despite this lavish attention it was withdrawn in 1940 (the same year 'Peter' was constructed) and taken on by the Ministry of Supply.
There was no sign of the vent van or 'Brian', they are possibly inside the shed beyond 'Peter'. This R&H 48DS locomotive - Works No. 443642, built 1960 - was previously named 'LEC' and worked for LEC Refrigeration at Bognor Regis.
Nearly three years ago vegetation clearance in the turntable area revealed a long-lost loop line which rejoins the other track near the A3082 level crossing - since then nothing appears to have used these rusty rails, which nature is now attempting to reclaim, but CDA 375102 has now been shunted onto it - I wonder what the last wheels to run on these rails belonged to......?
Having examined 'Peter' I nipped down the road to check out the year-end situation regarding the CDA scrapping at the far end of St Blazey Yard. Ten wagons remain intact, with no sign of recent activity. By my reckoning 58 wagons have each been carted away in three large pieces this year, requiring further processing so perhaps there is currently no space for these final ten in the destination scrapyard.
I must take this opportunity to join others in acknowledging your daily dedication to keeping the CRS website so up-to-date and informative - I check in every morning!
Happy New Year!
Some uptodate images of Wareham taken 05-12-2023.
I have a lot of images of Wool that were taken on the same day that I will sort out next.
Happy New Year to you and all your family's.
Wishing you and the family
A prosperous 2024
NINETEEN SIXTY TWO
Michael L. Roach
The Blizzard of December 1962 (Continued)
The last photograph shown yesterday was 5564 on the 12.40pm SO Launceston to Plymouth and was taken at 2.12pm with the train running 24 minutes late. It had started to snow at Yelverton around 12.00 noon on 29 December 1962, light at first but gradually increasing in intensity. and the snow was now starting to cover the rails in places. As I was writing this on the evening of 19 December 2022 I was also watching Winter Walks on BBC 4 through the Yorkshire Dales and the presenter stopped to recite a very famous poem titled “Leisure” by the Welsh Poet W.H. Davies (1871 – 1940) which made me think. The poem starts like this - “What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”
I had plenty of time to stand and stare on the afternoon of 29 December 1962. Ignoring the train that had brought me to Yelverton I saw 9 trains pass through the station in 277 minutes equalling one every half hour. Between trains I had plenty of time to strand and stare at the infrastructure of the station. The track was disappearing under the blanket of snow and only one track was in use. The Princetown track had long gone so there were two disused platforms. All the buildings remained although only the small downside booking office was in use for part of the day. The distinguishing feature of Yelverton Station was the octagonal station building on the island platfom which was made of timber and dated from 1885. It was closed when the loop was taken out of use but remained intact. It contained a large central booking hall; a booking office at the north (small) end with toilets at the other end for ladies and gentlemen. The building had an awning on the longest sides and luckily for me on a day of such extreme weather the footbridge also had a roof. There were plenty of places for me to shelter while waiting for the next train.
With no signals to guide me and the trains getting later and later I had to select my next spot to take a photo and shelter close by and soak up the last views of a functioning station before going out into the snow at the last minute.
The wind was not too bad when I arrived at Yelverton at 11.23am but was now increasing rapidly and by 3.00pm I was able to record that a full-scale easterly blizzard was raging. Hearing the train approaching I went out into the snow to stand on the steps of the signal box to record the 2.10pm Plymouth to Tavistock arriving at Yelverton at 3.04pm, some 21L. Although I was wearing a duffle coat with a hood the cold was so intense and the wind so strong it felt as though the icy blast was cutting straight through me; and I was glad to return to the shelter of the station awnings again. The station was now unstaffed as the porter had ended his single shift at 2.00pm, it is believed. By a strange coincidence the booking office at my local station a 5 minute walk away is, 60 years later, staffed on a single shift from 6.45am to 2.00pm.
The resulting photograph of 6430 entering the station shows the snow blowing from only just above the horizontal. I am looking almost due south and the wind is coming from the east, all the way from Siberia according to some experts at the time. It certainly felt like it.
I now had more than 65 minutes to stand, stare and shiver until the next train which was the 3.05pm Plymouth to Launceston which eventually appeared 31L. I stood on the footbridge to watch 4591 run in with four coaches, and then walked along beside the loop to photograph 4591 stopped and moving off in a cloud of steam.
I had planned to travel home on the 4.30pm from Tavistock to Plymouth due off Yelverton at 4.46pm, but soon after seeing 4591 pass very late I realised that if the 4.30pm train was late I would not be getting home in time for any tea before returning to the station to catch the 6.20pm to Launceston. There was nothing for it but to drag myself up the long steep station access road to the village in the hope that the buses were still running in the blizzard conditions. They were and I did not have to wait long for a red Plymouth Corporation Leyland double-decker to appear on its return journey from Dousland, which up until 1956 was also served by a railway station on the Princetown branch.
The bus driver somehow managed to keep the bus on the road in the newly fallen snow, and with a much shorter walk from the bus stop than the railway station, I could have a good tea before heading off to Plymouth Station for a last return trip over the branch.
(to be continued)
To read more of Michaels tales, please click here to visit his section of the website.
Thank you very much for the images, Alan.