Friday 14 January 2022

Whisky Chasers on the East Lancs Railway

Whisky Chasers on the East Lancs Railway 
by Stuart Jones

There are still a surprising number of preserved railways that I have yet to experience and, though I didn’t make any New Year resolutions, I did start 2022 as I mean to go on with an overdue visit to the East Lancs Railway. 
Though I did hear a few fireworks go off I was fast asleep well before midnight on New Year’s Eve and out of Bury Travelodge in plenty of time to park in the car park and catch the first train of the day leaving Bury’s Bolton Street station at 10.20. 
The enclosed station footbridge was still fully decked with Christmas decorations and I almost expected to see Santa at the end of it, but as I descended the steps the stock was waiting and there was still a little time to take it all in.

In the distance a small black saddle tank came into view and, after checking with one of the platform staff that I had time to do so, I walked along the platform in time to photograph 51456, a gleaming former Lancashire and Yorkshire Class 23, built by Beyer Peacock in 1881 and rebuilt in 1896, pass through on the opposite track. 

A taste of things to come, the ex L&YR 23 class saddle tank runs light through Bury
station before the departure of the first train. Originally built by Beyer Peacock in 1881,
 it was rebuilt as a saddle tank in 1896.

I would get to travel behind it, but not yet. The 10.20 was pulled by former Southern Railway West Country Class ‘City of Wells’ carrying British Rail number 34092 and their green colours rather than the Southern’s malachite green. 

34092 City of Wells running around its train at Rawtenstall.

I had encountered this some year’s ago on the Keighley & Worth Valley but the ELR purchased it in 2017 and it makes a fine sight, albeit a long way from its original haunts.

Chain driven and powered by a four-cylinder Dorman engine, this diesel-mechanical Simplex carries War Department green and was sitting in Bury station.

It's a scenic line in many parts, crossing rivers, passing fields, and often flanked by the stone buildings of England’s industrial heyday. 
After Bury, you pass through a tunnel and past the Transport Museum with the first stop being Burrs Caravan Park where multiple photographers were encamped for the first two steam departures of the day. 

34092 City of Wells ran tender first from Rawtenstall to Heywood.

Beyond here the route goes through Summerseat with its distinctive bird boxes to Ramsbottom, then through Irwell Vale to the terminal in Rawtenstall. 
On the return run you can continue beyond Bury to Heywood passing over the Metrolink tram line on the way. At Heywood, as at Rawtenstall, the locomotive runs round.

another photo of City of Wells running round at Heywood. 
One day passengers may be able to ride beyond this point.

I was told that Lloyd’s Bank filmed the advert featuring the black horse and the Flying Scotsman on part of it, but I couldn’t work out where. 
For sports fans you got a good view of the game at Ramsbottom’s football ground, which attracted a considerable and vocal crowd.

New Year’s Day timetable at Bury, complete with platform numbers 
and obligatory hand sanitiser.

The railway website advertised ‘Whisky Chasers’ from the train buffet for the day, with the enticing offer of a free tot of whisky when you bought a hot drink. I had several cups of tea during the day, but only the one chaser, and that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The star turn of the day saw the bringing together of two former L&YR locomotives designed by Aspinall on one double-headed train. 51456 was joined by L&YR Class 27 0-6-0 tender engine 52322 with black sheet protecting its otherwise open cab. 

 It is shortly before 13.00 and the West Country heads back towards the shed while
L&YR duo take up position. A combined age of 267 years – we are in 2022 now!

A brass plaque on the loco revealed it had been built at Horwich in 1896, giving a combined age for the pair of 267 years! It’s not often you get to ride behind one standard gauge Victorian engine so the chance to be pulled by two of them was too good to miss.

A chance to pose the Class 27 (left) alongside the Class 23 while 
running round at Rawtenstall.

Running round at Rawtenstall was a complicated business with the 23 going first followed by the 27, presumably to avoid the latter having to run tender first, which might have been very draughty on the footplate. 51456 is now on the Spa Valley Railway until February 2022.

Planning ahead I realised that if I was going to travel on everything running on the day, I would have to forego the section from Bury to Heywood and back, enabling me to catch the heritage DMU service departing Bury at 14.55. 

The ELR spent two decades restoring this Cravens 105 unit and made an award winning
job of it. She’s a joy to travel in.

I confess I wouldn’t normally forsake steam to travel on a DMU but I had noticed the two Cravens-built Class 105 units earlier in the day and decided I had to have a go. 
I wasn’t disappointed as E56121 and Sc51485 felt newly built. 

Sat in first class comfort staring out of the end windows at the route ahead brought a new perspective to the line. Modern trains just don’t offer the same level of comfort. 

The ELR has an impressive collection of heritage DMUs, number some 20 individual units, in addition to its diesel and steam locomotive studs.

The Scottish half of the 105 unit at Rawtenstall. 
There’s no messing around running round with DMUs.

Once again I bailed out early on the return journey, at Ramsbottom this time, where both our train and the last train of the day to Rawtenstall and back to Bury were timed to leave at 16.07. I was assured I should be OK to make the connection if I didn’t hang about getting across the footbridge.

 It must be 16.07 because the Cravens unit sits at Ramsbottom as the West Country
appears in the distance with the last train of the day.

In the event I needn’t have worried because the West Country didn’t appear until I was on the opposite platform; I even had time for a picture of the DMU on the way.

No, I didn’t go for another whisky chaser, but I did get a sandwich to munch as we passed through the countryside in the dark, missing out the stops at Irwell Vale and Burrs Caravan Park, and arriving back in Bury for 17.12.

The controls of the West Country.

I can’t recommend the East Lancs Railway highly enough. Friendly, atmospheric and lots to see, even if Bury Transport Museum wasn’t open on the day, not that I would have had time to fit a visit in. It’s a good reason to go back, and I will.

East Lancs Railway home page here