On the fringe of the rail industry is the charter train market: this, unlike many scheduled passenger services, has to pay its way. And there is no better meeting of nostalgic and enthusiast than steam haulage: witness not just the numbers willing to spend many hours on these trains (steam is allowed a maximum of 75mph and needs regular water stops), but the gallery of sightseers and photographers adorning the line of route.
Routinely popular in the North West recently has been the Cotton Mill Express, which winds its way through Manchester, Huddersfield, the Calder Valley, Blackburn and Bolton. Unfortunately, the previous organiser of these tours went bust last year, leaving debts serious enough that locomotive owner Ian Riley, who had provided the traction for the trains, was forced to sell one of his fleet as a result.
Undeterred, the Railway Touring Company stepped into the breech, and the charters started up again last month, with West Coast Railway Company (WCRC) at Carnforth providing both coaches and traction. Unfortunately, the first tour was delayed by an hour and a half following a derailment in WCRC’s yard, then to put the lid on the enterprise, recently restored “Royal Scot” loco Scots Guardsman was declared a failure at Preston with a brake fault.
But WCRC are nothing if not determined, so a further Cotton Mill Express was arranged for 13th February. This time, departure was on time and all was well – until the train set out across Chat Moss on its way into Manchester. It is believed that Scots Guardsman suffered some kind of damage to one of its three cylinders, with the result that the train limped along slowly enough to delay a number of other services, before a very sick sounding locomotive came to a halt in the loop at Eccles, where it was once again declared a failure.
A number of concerned figures looked on, but there was little they could do. One of the observers was from Network Rail (NR), where questions may well be asked about the lack of a test run by Scots Guardsman, to show it was fit for duty, after the first failure. NR will certainly be wanting one before they allow WCRC’s pride and joy out on the main line again.