Tame and Thame
17 October 1987
The "Tame and Thame" railtour was listed in the "Others Doings" section of "Branch Line News" in late July 1987. Organised by the RCTS, it was to run later that year. The fare of £15 for non-members seemed reasonable for the route offered, and so it was that your illustrious chairman and the author arrived at Birmingham New Street Station on Saturday 17 October, in good time for the advertised 0858 departure.
I had checked earlier with BR that the tour would run, for the previous day the south of England had been devastated by hurricane force winds, and many trains would not be running. The problems were in fact mainly further south and east, and the tour was to run as advertised.
Our train arrived in the shape of a two-car class 114 DMU, formed of motor brake second No 53002, and trailer composite No 54047 (de-classified). It was in the latter that we staked our claim, being a much better prospect for a comfortable journey.
We duly departed at 0901, after waiting for a delayed connection, out through the tunnel towards Wolverhampton, before turning right at Soho South Junction to head for Bescot and the line for Walsall. We soon passed Bescot Yard, with its lines of dumped class 25s, and many locomotives in service. Representatives of classes 08, 20, 31 (including No 97 203 in departmental service and livery), 37, 47, 50 (002 "Superb"), 56 and 58 were present.
We headed through the non-electrified platforms at Walsall, before turning right onto the freight only line through Sutton Park. This route remains double-track almost throughout, before splitting into two single tracks at Park Lane Junction. Here we took the west to south line, joining the Derby - Birmingham main line at Castle Bromwich.
We soon passed the well-filled sidings at Washwood Heath, and the Metro - Cammell works, where a selection of (presumed) new tube stock was evident. Saltley followed soon after, with a fair complement of 47's, 37's, 20's and a class 50 or two. Here we stayed on the direct route for the south-west, passing under the main Euston line, over the GWR main line, and heading out along the Camp Hill line, the original route of the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway.
This line joins the usual Birmingham - Gloucester route at Lifford Junction, immediately before Kings Norton. We took the centre fast lines on the quadrupled section and quickly ran out through the Birmingham suberbs, past Longbridge and Barnt Green, to descend the Lickey to Bromsgrove.
Bankers are no longer stabled here, though 37 901 "Mirrlees Pioneer" stood in the sidings, possibly having worked in with the oil tanks standing nearby.
At Stoke Works we took the junction for the single track line to Droitwich, where we passed 47 625 and a rake of Network South East Mk1s, apparently on an Exeter - Blackpool (Illuminations) special. Next stop Worcester Shrub Hill, passing en route brand new 155 305, one of the 2-car 23m "Super Sprinters". 155 303 stood on Worcester depot, and 155 301 entered Shrub Hill just as we were leaving.
We left Worcester on the Oxford line, passing quickly through Pershore and Evesham, before stopping at Honeybourne, closed in May 1969 and re-opened, a shadow of its former self, in May 1981. The four platforms remain, only one in use on the single track line. Two of the other three still have track, leading to the sidings on the west side of the station. I guessed that one of the latter would have seen use two weeks previously on the Honeybourne - MOD Long Marston workings, in connection with the open day there.
It was to the latter that our train now headed, along the single track remnant of the GWR route from Stratford to Cheltenham. We ran into the MOD exchange sidings through the gated entry, and paused for photographs, before retracing our steps to Honeybourne. We had to wait several minutes - we were running early - to allow an I-C 125 to pass and clear the section, before we could regain the main line.
A pleasant run now followed to Oxford. We paused briefly at Moreton-in-Marsh to give up the single line token, then ran quickly along the double track stretch to Ashcott-under-Wychwood, where we were held for 15 minutes to allow a late running DMU to clear the single line to Oxford. As a result our arrival in Oxford was some 12 minutes late - in fact 7 minutes adrift of our advertised departure time.
Here I made a quick and somewhat panic-stricken sprint(!) to the station buffet. We had wrongly assumed that drinks would be available on the train, or that time would be allowed somewhere en route. I made it back to the train with a couple of cans and a minute to spare!
We now headed north-east towards Bletchley, formerly a double track route, now singled. The first stretch carries a sparse passenger service to Bicester Town, closed as Bicester London Road when the Oxford - Bletchley service ended in 1967. The new service was introduced in May this year, but for some reason does not appear in the public timetable.
We did not in fact travel as far as Bletchley, stopping instead at Claydon LNE Junction, to take the wartime spur up to the former GCR main line, still in use as a single track freight line from Claydon to Aylesbury.
En route to Aylesbury we passed Quainton Road, home of the Buckingham Railway Centre. Our driver slowed the train to walking pace to allow a good look at the various items of preserved stock. Visible on this occasion were many industrials, both steam and diesel, main line stock including GWR panniers of 57xx and 94xx types, and the three car Sentinel steam railcar, recently repatriated from Egypt.
We arrived at Aylesbury 37 minutes early! Clearly a very slack schedule had been prepared for the freight-only routes we had just covered. This gave time for a good look around the attractive station buildings. Aylesbury is the terminus for the DMU worked commuter services from Marylebone, running either directly up the GCR line, or via High Wycombe and Princes Risborough. It was the latter route we were to take at the appointed hour, after a false start, the driver deciding at the end of the platform that the cooling water needed topping up!
We paused briefly at Princes Risborough before heading south for High Wycombe. We were in fact to head up the Thame branch from Risborough, but an unlockable facing point apparently meant we had to run to High Wycombe to gain the down line.
The route south from Risborough, the former GWR main line to Birmingham, is rather curious, being in effect two single tracks some distance apart, to the extent that the up line passes through a short tunnel, the down line merely a cutting! This dates from the doubling of the original Wycombe Railway when the new main line was built.
We accomplished our reversal at High Wycombe without delay, and ran back up the main line to Princes Risborough and through the disused down side platforms onto the single track Thame branch.
We passed the junction for Chinnor, on the former Watlington branch, shortly after Risborough, then not far past Bledlow, where the station buildings are intact and inhabited, came an unexpected stop. A small tree had been blown across the tracks by the previous mornings gales. As the driver and guard proceeded to saw up and remove the obstruction, the author was heard to remark, much to his shame, that it was after all a branch line!
The train ran to within a foot or two of the buffer stops at the extreme end of the branch, the headshunt for the oil terminal which gives the line its raison d'etre. We had a brief pause for photos here, and at the former station half a mile or so back along the branch, of which only the platforms remain, before returning to Princes Risborough.
We were by now half an hour late, though as we would have had over three-quarters of an hour to wait for our path north here, this was no great problem. Crossing over to the former up platform, the only through platform in use, presented no problem this time. We did not remain here however, having to move out smartly, and reverse into the bay to allow service trains to pass.
As a result of these manoeuvres, we were five minutes late leaving the bay, and had to reverse back into the through platform to gain the former main line to Snow Hill. Some quick work by signalling and train staff meant that we only lost another 2 minutes before departing up the single track towards Banbury.
We now ran quickly to Bicester North, where we were held for nearly 15 minutes waiting for a southbound train to clear the single track section. Once this was clear we began to move quickly again, joining the main Birmingham - Reading line at Aynho, and pausing briefly at Banbury. We were however still 28 minutes late at Leamington, and Steve and I began to worry about missed connections in Birmingham. We needn't have worried, however. The only signal check was outside Tyseley, apart from which we had an excellent run straight into the new Snow Hill station, where we arrived only 10 minutes down on schedule, a fitting end to an excellent day out.
Our thanks must of course go to the RCTS for organising the tour at reasonable cost. The last time I had been on an RCTS trip was in January 1969, over the Waverley route on its last day. Perhaps less than 18 years will elapse before I next go on one!