Back in February, I looked at the problems suffered by West Coast Railway Company (WCRC) in reviving the popular “Cotton Mill Express” charter trains. Then, after the second attempt to run the tour had ended in the second failure of WCRC’s pride and joy Scots Guardsman, the locomotive was repaired and recently had even travelled south to work a charter from Weymouth to London.
So, despite yesterday morning bringing typical cotton mill weather to the North West, hopes were high that it would be third time lucky. And first signs were good: Scots Guardsman drew into Manchester’s Victoria station (unfortunately now submerged beneath the mass of the recently built Arena) on time, and then took the climb to Miles Platting – wet rail and all – in its stride. It sounded well – at that point.
Forward to early afternoon, and those waiting at the former mill town of Darwen were looking forward not just to seeing the tour passing through, but enjoying the sound of a steam locomotive restarting its train on a tricky uphill gradient, as the “Cotton Mill Express” was scheduled to pass a service train on this now single track route. But the loco of the approaching train did not sound well.
The train drew up at the red signal, and presently the service train cleared the section. Then, as Scots Guardsman restarted the charter, it was clear that there was steam coming from where it should not have been. The exhaust was literally missing a beat. Even so, the tour kept time and even took some enthusiasts by surprise as it passed through Salford early.
But, once back in Manchester, the sensible decision was taken to cancel the remainder of the tour and fail the locomotive. Had the tour continued, there could have been a far worse failure out on the road, which would have been costly for all concerned. Better news was that, later in the day, Scots Guardsman made its own way back to WCRC’s Carnforth base with its train.
Could this latest problem have been foreseen? It may be that February’s failure – the catastrophic collapse of the middle big end – damaged the middle cylinder, but that the damage went undetected. In any case, there will be another repair at non-trivial cost, and another test run under the watchful eye of the folks at Network Rail.
And it won’t be the only rectification work at WCRC: their “other” steam charter yesterday also ended in a locomotive failure, making it a weekend they will want to forget.