D400 - Network Navigator!

25 January 1992

The "Settle and Carlisle Circular" at ApplebyOn the 30th of September, 1967, I travelled, with a school-friend, to Leeds City station. The trip was a spotting excursion, with the chance of seeing some of the BR steam still around the area.

As it turned out, that particular occasion was the last day of steam working on passenger services between Leeds and Bradford, and I still remember how fine no. 45428 looked. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make it gleam like an ex-works loco, not one due for withdrawal in a day or two.

Holbeck, Normanton and Low Moor sheds lost their steam allocation on 2nd October, and it was thought that the event marked the extinction of the Stanier and Fairburn 2-6-4Ts, the Jubilee (remember Alberta?) and Bl 4-6-0s (61306). The austerity 2-8-0s went too. Common as muck they were, or so we used to think. It was virtually the end of ex-LNER steam - only 62005 survived on BR's books for a little while, being withdrawn at the end of November.

62005 shares a home today with 45428 on the North York Moors railway - it was retained initially as a source of a possible new boiler for "The Great Marquess" - while 61306 lives on too.

The reader who has survived thus far may wonder what this is all about. The answer is simple; a generation has passed, and the clock has turned full circle. While on the station that day, I bought the October issue of Railway World. In fact I bought every issue of that magazine from January 1967 to September 1991, when it changed to a rather different format. Coming to the point at last....

In that October issue, a caption accompanied a photograph of a locomotive in works livery. "The first of the new English Electric 2,700 h.p. type 4 Co-Co diesel locomotives has recently been completed; they are a development of the EE prototype No. DP2...when deliveries are complete are expected to allow the withdrawal of the last BR steam locomotives."

And so the inevitable happened. I recorded a few numbers in the D400 - 49 bracket over the next few months, until that black 11th August 1968 when I watched, and listened to Oliver Cromwell, 70013, making a spirited departure from Hellifield with the 15 Guinea Special. There were to be no more real locomotives. I never "spotted" another number.

I could never get too excited about diesels. I have taken many photographs of them in recent years, partly because I suspect that, one day, Iíll be glad I did. The one exception in my mind was the Deltic. When I stood beside the east coast main line, hoping for a "Streak", the next best thing to a steamer was a Deltic, even though I'd seen them all. They were the only diesels you could recognise before you even knew a train was coming - the "howl" really carried across the plain of York! DP2 was a problem though - a Deltic that sounded odd!

Full circle.

DP2's successors were always, to me, the locomotives that brought the end of steam; now they too are almost gone. On Saturday 25th January, I accompanied Mr Price on the "Network Navigator" - originating from Manchester, the train would head for some interesting destinations along the south coast, and looked like a good day out. It was to be hauled from New Street by two of the last three, class 50s as they are now, with their own dedicated band of supporters.

The train was electrically hauled from the north, arriving at Wolverhampton behind a red class 90, "Colonel Bill Cockburn". The route to New Street was to be via Bescot and Aston. As we waited to enter New Street, the 50s chugged past from Saltley - 50 030 "Repulse" in extremely tatty NSE livery ("Shouldn't that be "Repulsive", Steve?"), and D400 - the locomotive in the photograph in Railway World, October 1967! It was some time later that I realised I hadn't taken in the renumbering of the latter. I think I still imagine them as D400s. (Glancing at a spotter's book a few years ago, I looked for the "Peak"s as the first entry. Well, they always used to be listed first - Dl to D193...)

We left Birmingham via the west end, heading for Stourbridge. From Worcester we gained the main line south to Cheltenham, then took the Stroud line at Standish junction, to travel via Swindon to Reading. Onto the Southern now - Wokingham, then Guildford, where we joined the Portsmouth line and followed it to its logical conclusion (after a pause at Fratton, where the 50s were detached and a 37 put on. The 50s were then re-attached, at the rear, at Portsmouth Harbour.)

Next port of call was Littlehampton - a most interesting spot with some super semaphores. A brief visitor during our sojourn there was unit 930 009 - former 4-SUB power cars, operating as a de-icing train.

Off now to Worthing, where we had to de-train - reversal there involved facing points which would not be locked. Off again - this time to Bognor, where we had nearly half-an-hour. Mr Price made himself useful at last by finding a chip vendor in the station car park, though we (he) only made it back to the train with seconds to spare.

The last reversal was at Barnham, the junction for Bognor, where the class 37 was detached. We were to take the direct route via Botley, to Eastleigh, where a party who had visited the works rejoined the train. They had left it at Portsmouth, missing out on the fun and games along the coast.

The last real bit of interest en route now followed, as we headed along the freight link to Romsey, on the Southampton to Salisbury line. After a pause for crew change at the latter, we headed for home, via Westbury and Bristol, returning directly to New Street up the Lickey Bank. Many specials on which I have travelled have shown a marked tendency to run late, but this one was to be the exception. We had run more or less to schedule throughout the day, and left Bristol Parkway on time at 1856. We then proceeded to fly!

It had been particularly noticeable on the south coast, that in one direction we had just the 1750 bhp of the class 37, while in the opposite direction the potential output was 5400 bhp. Without the 37 to pull around, the acceleration of the 9-coach train was exceptional. Thus we were 4 minutes early at Gloucester Yard Junction. Here we stood for 6 minutes, having caught up a service train - a 125 unit! So we were 6 late on leaving Cheltenham. We were still 5 late when we hit the bottom of the Lickey bank at Bromsgrove. By the time we reached Barnt Green, we were 4 minutes early!

It should be mentioned that there were 7 minutes recovery time allowed over this stretch; nevertheless, we had taken well under four minutes for the 3.5 miles - pretty good considering the climb of 2 miles at 1 in 38. Arrival at New Street was 10 minutes early, at 2032. A smart reversal, with another red electric loco, this time of class 86, meant we were still 8 minutes early at Wolverhampton - amazing! I'm sure things like that only happen when you haven't got to make a tight connection.

Many of the participants in the tour left the train at New Street, a large number hurrying to the front for a last look at the 50s. I took the opportunity to stand in the vestibule, leaning out of the window on the opposite side to the platform, to get a breath of fresh air. Ahead, in the gloom, the two celebrities were being snapped by a myriad of flashguns, while almost un-noticed, the 86 crept up behind. Watching the flashing, I could not help thinking of the sort of scenes witnessed in August 1968, before most of those photographers were born, when an altogether more sublime form of motive power left the stage.

Full Circle.       

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