After our loaded test run round the Surrey Hills on Friday 7th May, we had a lot to do to prepare Clan Line for this journey to Bath and Bristol with the British Pullmans for Belmond. It would have been too hot to do much on the day after that run, so we were only left with one weekend available. Because of the Covid-19 restrictions in force at the time, we were also limited on the number of people who could work on the engine. We still managed to get a lot done, though. The work included cleaning out the firebox and the smokebox, giving the loco and support coach a thorough checking over, and making a start on the cleaning.
Some of the support crew for Wednesday’s trip arrived on Monday to light the fire. We always do this well in advance so that we can warm the boiler up gently. The less thermal stress that we put it under, the better.
The rest of the support crew reported for duty early on Tuesday morning. There was still a lot of cleaning to be done. We also had to prepare for the usual Fitness To Run examination carried out by a DB Cargo representative. As well as all that, there was the tender to be filled with water, coal to be loaded, and the lubrication to be carried out.
We usually have quite a few extra helpers on the preparation day, but Covid-19 cut that number down.
The day of the trip starts early for the support crew. The logistics at Bristol mean that we have to have our support coach on the back of the train for the journey down, rather than the front. The schedule has the support coach and crew being picked up at six o’clock in the morning, so everything has to be done by then.
There was some light rain about, but some of the passengers still braved the weather to come and see Clan Line before we departed from Victoria on time.
Because we can’t climb up onto the tender whilst we are under the wires, we had a booked stop at Bracknell to pull coal forward. This is something that we usually do, but the fact that the support coach was at the back of the train, and the restriction on the number of people on the footplate imposed by Covid-19, meant that the DB Cargo footplate crew had to do this themselves. We then had a good run along the Great Western Main Line from Reading to our water stop at Brook Lane bridge.
When we take water from a tanker like this, it saves us a lot of time if the hoses are already out, and even more if we don’t have to wait to roll them up afterwards. This is even more the case with the support crew at the back of the train. If we are doing this at a railway station platform, the tanker driver usually does all this for us. However, if we have to stop at somewhere on or near a running line, away from a platform, it need someone with a Personal Track Safety qualification. Therefore, one of our working members with a PTS was with the tanker driver to sort this out for us.
After leaving the water stop, we were held at Challow for a late-running service train. We also had to stop at Swindon for a change of footplate crew. We than had some more good running before we were brought to a stop at Thingley East Junction. We were two minutes late on our arrival at Bath Spa, and seven late on departure. We caught up a bit of time, and were five and a half minutes late at North Somerset Junction.
Some work is being done to the canopy of Bristol Temple Meads station, and they had to ensure that the workers were safe before we could pass beneath. This meant that we were held for about fourteen minutes before being allowed into the platform.
Servicing was carried out at Barton Hill depot. There was no diesel with us, so we had to do all the shunting ourselves. After propelling the stock into the depot, it has to be split in two, with both halves put on parallel roads. Then we have to turn the loco on the triangle ready for the journey home. The servicing involves cleaning the fire, emptying the ashpans and disposing of the ash in a skip, loading coal and water, and attending to the lubrication.
Because of the earlier delays, and more during the turn, we only had about forty minutes to do the servicing – about half of what was scheduled. Not surprisingly, we weren’t able to finish in time, and everything that we had to do was too important to skimp on. Therefore, we were finally able to leave Bristol Meads for our return to London twenty three minutes late. As we were now out of our path, we were held up more by service trains.
We stopped at Bath Spa to pick up the rest of the passengers, and a new footplate crew. We were about thirty minutes late leaving. We were still late after the water stop at Milton Junction, but some good running meant that we caught up on some of the deficit. However, after Reading, we were following a service train, so we weren’t able to claw any more time back on this part of the journey.
There was a large pathing allowance between Staines and North Pole Junction, and that meant that we were a couple of minutes early by the time that we passes Kensington Olympia, and three minutes early at Victoria.
We were finally able to get back into the shed at about eleven o’clock, seventeen hours after we left. It was a very long day for the support crew.