There is a widespread opinion that the GCR is flat. They prefer to say that it is “flat-ish”, and while anyone can see that it is a well-surveyed route with all the benefits of railway-engineering experience, it is anything but level. You have to put that into context. The early railway routes were surveyed on the principles of canal-building, as the nearest thing that had gone before. Thus many lines generally tried to follow contours, and when major changes of height were unavoidable, did so with inclines mimicking the flights of locks on canals. As the power and capabilities of locomotives became apparent, later routes added gradients whilst still tending to use twisty alignments which avoided excessive earth-moving. By the time of the GCR, the recognition that curves restricted speeds more than gentle gradients was understood so the route is a straight as possible with long gradual climbs.
Gradual yes, and 1 in 176 may not be much for a Deltic but a Teddy Bear, especially a 'Bear with an engine whose horsepower is a trifle, shall we say, restricted, certainly notices it. And the first thing you face, having left Loughborough heading south, is a long straight 1 in such all the way to just outside Quorn - but let's get back to the story.
First thing on Saturday I was introduced to to pilotman (John Pepper) and secondman (“Panda”) for the day and after doing all the usual checks, were ready to face the operation. Already things had gone slightly awry as the brand new GBRf 66 which had been roaded in the previous day was late off due to issues with “translating” the brake systems from air to vac, but in due course we took our place at the front of 5 carriages and set off for Leicester.
As I said, having crossed over to the up line and passed under the second bridge, a slight left turn puts you on a 1 in 176 and a straight line for Quorn, and 901 plodded up this at about 17-18mph with the engine running full whack. Towards the top the grade eases to 1 in 330 and sure enough the speed rose but hardly the opportunity to appreciate it before it was time to shut off for a stop at Quorn. I think I incurred the displeasure of Mr Pepper by being a little too cautious on this first expedition, but I had been told to enter the platform at about 10mph and knowing 901 as I do, try to slow down naturally rather than using brakes too much or too early.
At Quorn Steph collected the official passes from me, as she and Andrew, and our grandson had travelled separately. There was also “Team Scunthorpe” and Rob Sanders from Peak Rail (indeed, there's a picture on Flickr of 901 at Quorn, with on the platform Andrew with Jake on his shoulders and Rob nearby) so it was quite a group to get together.
One of my lasting impressions of the GCR is the number of signals. When I leave Matlock, there is a small cluster around Riverside but they're not currently commissioned, then the first you encounter is a fixed distant for Darley. In contrast, the GCR seems to have signals all over the place, colour light, dollies, upper quadrants, lower quadrants, auxiliaries, you name it, they seem to have installed it. Fortunately, the GCR men all seem to know where they are, as a few are discretely hiding behind bridge parapets and the like, and I could rely on constant advice from both John and Panda as to what was coming up.
By Swithland, I had the speed up to around 22-23 against the line speed of 25 and then you swing into a downhill in the middle of which is Rothley, and I was tactfully warned to expect the train to shove and thus not to brake too late. Beyond Rothley the line is single to Leicester, and perhaps because the lineside vegetation has moved closer so that you would not believe that it was once double track, it feels as though the standards slipped and the engineers who laid out this section reverted to 'tradition' with sharper curves and gradients. But in due course you drop down into Leicester North station and run round for the journey back.
On my second run I was happier than with the first, as I got the hang of where things were and when to slow. We were running round at Loughborough ready to do the third solo turn when 901 suddenly shutdown, right in the middle of the station throat.
By the nature of the stop, I assumed at first that the PLC had intervened for low oil pressure or something, but checking all the inputs over, the wiring on the oil pressure switch, and so on, suggested nothing was wrong, Cranking it over had no effect, and we had to declare it a failure: it was towed back in by the class 10 and put on the up loop.
Having proved it wasn't a software matter, the next most likely cause was fuel, so after Toby brought me a 10mm spanner from the van, I whipped off the cover of the fuel header tank but found it full, although a whisper as I broke the cover seal suggested there was either pressure or vacuum there. Andrew donned his overalls and tried to bleed the pump, then cracked the injector lines. Eventually we got the pump to deliver and the engine fired back up, although its hunting, which had been getting worse during the day, was still present. We concluded that a slug of air had got into the fuel system though from where remained a mystery.
Naturally we had by now missed our booked turn, and the Duty Manager being rightly cautious, we found ourselves as station pilot bringing the dining train back into platform 2 and waiting on it until the kettle was ready. Arriving diners asked if they were to be diesel-hauled tonight, and we reassured them that was not the case. One enthusiast came over and asked me the inevitable question -
“What was its real number?”
That isn't quite as strong as a red flag to a bull but you won't get a straight answer on it from me. I replied with something along the lines of -
“What do you mean its real number – for that matter, what is an un-real number?”
He carefully re-phrased his question -
“What number did it have when BR built it?”
That was better.
We were originally booked to run the two Beerex trains solo to Leicester Saturday night, and wisely the GCR decided to top-n-tail using the 47 at the south end, so should the problem recur they had power to get the ensemble back. This was the reason we had been aligning the headlamps during the week as the last return to Loughborough would be well after dark. John Pepper handed over to Dave Wright as Pilotman for the evening. It was also agreed, after discussion, that the 47 would bank us out of Leicester and again through Rothley until we had attained line speed, which worked very well and made up for lost time.
My amended software on the light control also proved useful, as the reverse gear sensor lights dropped out during the second run, came back on after a couple of miles, and dropped out again before Loughborough, but the external lights remained steady and correct to travel. We put 901 back on shed and headed home.
First thing Sunday I was back at Loughborough. Before anyone else got aboard I lifted out the floorboards, squeezed into the gap around the propshafts, and checked the sensors were secure, then opened the terminating box and tightened every connection. They all took a bit of a turn on the clamp screws so hopefully it was all just a loose connection. GCR had decided (and I was a bit relieved, to be truthful) to keep 901 top and tailing on the “local” (3 coach) set which meant only going as far as Rothley, but with swapping around ends/locos gave us breaks and variety. Again things had not started too well with the 66 throwing some sort of problem, but we brought the 3-coach set into the platform and waited for a Peak to come on the back for the first run. At this point 14 901 decided it wasn't going to change direction.
This problem can manifest itself in two ways – usually the gears slide over so far but refuse to engage in the opposite direction and can be encouraged by engaging the Voith briefly to turn the teeth. But occasionally the gears refuse to disengage, and usually the first thing to do is to get the brakes off to remove the load on the teeth. So once the Peak was attached I brought the vac up, eased off my loco brake and hoped it would ease things. It didn't. Finally I broke out my emergency handle and was about to climb out to force it, asking my secondman of the day, Peter, to hold the button depressed. As I opened the cab door, the gears finally moved!
3 coaches and a 120ton Peak is not that much of a load, but the Peak is a stiff old lump and the climb to Quorn dragged me down to a mere 14mph, just below changeover from first to second. But if the driver was fretting at the prolonged full chat and whether by merely achieving freight train speeds we might be losing time and incurring the wrath of the Duty Manager, the enthusiasts, for which it is all staged, enjoyed the sound of the DV8 and if it took a little longer than other locos, it gave them more time to savour it. At Quorn we were joined by Terry, who was my support crew as Andrew had arranged to be elsewhere. We completed our first run, returned to Loughborough, and did another with the 47. The lighter weight of the 47, and much freer rolling loco than the Peak, was very apparent as we maintained 16-17 mph up the hill to Quorn.
After having a break we were out again, this time as the tail end, and I am ashamed to admit that with the level of good conversation in the cab between Peter, Pilotman Anthony and Terry, and me being sat at the platform side and the Pilotman on the off side, it had fallen to me to watch out for the Guard's “Ready?” signal at Loughborough and Quorn and I wasn't paying proper attention! After reversing beyond Rothley, I had the climb north out up to Swithland, but the comparative ease of cruising down the hills either side of Quorn with the throttle closed, 3rd gear running in engine braking and the speedo around the 25mph mark.
After this we had another break and then came out leading for a third time – forget what was on the back - and then a fourth run with a 31. Everything had been working fine, and dropping down towards Rothley when, again, 14 901 suddenly shut down.
The tools from yesterday had been left on the cab floor, so Terry swung into action and attempted to bleed the pump, but no fuel came out. After a couple of minutes he had the inlet pipe to the pump also proven dry. This time, like it or not the header tank was empty and there was nothing for us to do but clear the line. The 31 took us forward to Rothley, we neutralled the Hunslet box, isolated the brakes and headed back in disgrace to Loughborough. Terry took the last train to Quorn to get his car, and once back at Loughborough we got our overalls on and started investigating. First port of call was the Zwicky primary filter – which Andrew had cleaned thoroughly in April and whose element is about the size of a beer glass and made of a single layer of perforated sheet. It's only real purpose is to stop debris the size of small peas from getting any further, yet as Terry pulled it out hardly a drop came through from the inside, and the sludge had the familiar texture and colour of algae-poo. Just before this blog started, we had a similar sight when we managed to acquire some microbes around the time of the gala at Butterley. We had already had the tanks drained and cleaned (there'd been a fair amount of muck in them) and the microbe action not only stopped the loco but got into the fuel pump, forcing us to have it overhauled again less than 12 months after first getting it done.
So we found someone still at work in the loco shed and cleaned out the filter so fuel would pass through, but when we put it back and opened the fed valve still nothing flowed in. I went under and cracked the hose that feeds the bottom tank (for readers familiar with 14's, the two side tanks feed a third underslung tank via a cross-over pipe at the front. '901's had lost its, so I designed and made a new tank connected with flex hoses) where it joins an isolating cock. With the hose off, the 3/4” line dribbled a steady few drips, so I probed it with a piece of wire that Terry passed under and dislodged something. Fortunately I was not directly under the pipe, as fuel came gushing out, hopefully expelling whatever was blocking. We reconnected it up, and at about quarter past seven, 14 901 came back to life.
Aside from these unfortunate incidents (which leave us wondering where the contamination has come from – the algae requires the right conditions of moisture and temperature but once those are present, it reproduces quickly) – we enjoyed the gala and met a friendly bunch who all seemed to be pulling together for the good of the GCR. 14 901 returns tomorrow (Tuesday) we understand, and we must act quickly to treat the infestation if 901 is not to let us down during the forthcoming week when D8 is away And about all of that, you'll have to come back and find out.