Locomotive Performance

Diesels on the Cambrian

  My last steam journey on the Cambrian had been in 1966, and there was an 18 year gap before I ventured west of Shrewsbury, by rail, again.  In June 1984 I decided to have a Saturday trip on a pair of 25's to Aberystwyth. And I enjoyed it so much, that thereafter, particularly when the coast line re-opened to locomotive haulage in 1986, I became a regular. And the "Cambrian Day Rover", at 6, certainly helped. Class 37's, both singly and in pairs, were the usual motive power, but class 31's took over in 1991. Sadly it came to an end in the early summer of 1992, when I arrived at Porthmadog station to have a class 31 trip down the coast, and a class 150 dmu turned up instead. And that was that.  

Many of my journeys were "out and back" from the Midlands, and many others commenced at Porthmadog with a trip down the coast to Machynlleth. There I would change from a "single 37", to a "double 37" on the following service from Aberystwyth. At Shrewsbury I would return west on a another "double 37" on a Euston to Aberystwyth, returning to Machynlleth on the return working, before heading back up the coast on a d.m.u.
  The journeys and logs are not in strict date order. Westbound journeys to Aberystwyth are dealt with first, then the Coast line services. Interestingly a train travelling up the coast is a "down" train. In the Eastbound, ie up, direction, Coast line services are shown first. 
   Westbound to Aberystwth or Pwllheli: 
  30th June 1984: I joined the 7.35am Euston to Aberystwyth at Wolverhampton, where class 25's numbers 25287 and 25268  took over the 11 coach load from the AC Electric. On the first stage to Shrewsbury we reached 80 mph below Cosford, and 78 mph at Upton Magna. But we were held at Shrewsbury and were 14 late away. We ran hard, with 75 mph below Briedden, but suffered two p.w slacks before Newtown. Aberystwyth was reached 10 late. Good work.  [view log of 25287 & 25268]
  18th June 1988: On the 9.40pm Euston to Aberystwyth, 37428 & 37429, a regular pairing, suffered a 15 minute delay at Sutton Bridge waiting for an up train to come off the single line. With a 10 coach load, we reached 73 mph beyond Hanwood and 72mph below Briedden. After Welshpool, 72 mph at Llanbrynmair, and 70mph before Machynlleth. But crossing delays made us 28 mins late into Aberystwyth. [view log of 37428 & 37429]
  24th September 1988: At Shrewsbury 37174 & 37015 took over the 7.40am Euston to Pwllheli, and with the usual 11 coach load, there was some fast running to Welshpool, 75mph beyond Hanwood, and 79 mph below Briedden. Later 67mph at Montgomery, 72 mph at Llanbrynmair. Around the coast, short platforms with an 11 coach train were the usual problem. We reached 65 mph at Talsarnau.  [view log of 37174 & 37015]
  9th June 1990: 37426, named Vale of Rheidol, took over at Wolverhampton and  ran excellently throughout on the 9.03am Euston to Pwllheli. By 1990, the load had been reduced to 9, enabling the train to be worked by a single 37. An even time run to Telford (max 79 mph) was a good start. After Shrewsbury we were checked at Sutton Bridge, then reached  73 mph below Briedden and 70 mph at Llanbrynmair. On the coast line, the top speeds were  63 mph before Criccieth and 65 mph before Afonwen. But again crossing and station delays meant we were 25 late by Pwllheli.  [view log of 37426]
  26th June 1987: In 1987, the "Cambrian Coast Express" service, from Euston, which on Mondays to Thursdays ran to Aberystwyth, ran on Fridays to Pwllheli instead. The purpose of this was to provide a loco and stock for an early Saturday morning service from Pwllheli to Birmingham and London. But the class 37, with 6 coaches, was expected to keep the Sprinter timings. With a 14 min late departure from Machynlleth, 37427's driver decided to "go for it". 70 mph before Dovey Junction, 67 mph before Towyn, 65 mph at Talsarnau, 62 mph before Talybont, and a 64 mph before Talsarnau, he pulled back 7 minutes. Exciting! [view log of 37427]
  27th June 1992: By 1992, class 31's were in charge, and the Summer Saturday Pwllheli trains ran from Birmingham only, though there were two services. Loads were now 6 coaches, a simple job for two class 31's. But on this occasion it was single 31, no 31147. I joined the train at Fairbourne for the run to Pwlhelli, then returned on the up working, the 3.30pm from Pwlhelli. Northbound, we reached 63 mph before Criccieth, and 62 mph before Afonwen. On the return journey, we reached 60 mph after Criccieth, but thereafter, with the train running to time, the driver kept to the 55 mph linespeed. The following log is a combination of the northbound and southbound runs. [view log of 31147]  
  8th August 1992: On this date, I hadn't intended to travel, but happened to be close to Porthmadog station when the 9.25am service from Birmingham came in. And as I hadn't had a Cambrian run on a pair of 31's, it was a case "See you later dear, I am off to Pwllheli". But she was used to this sort of thing, and I got away with it. With 2 locos on a 6 coach load, it was easy work. 66 mph before Criccieth, 67 mph after (we were a little late). On the return, with the train on time, there was no need to hurry. Again the log is a combination of the northbound and southbound runs. [view log of 31146 & 31166]
   Eastbound to Shrewsbury: 
  28th June 1986: On the 3.30pm from Pwlheli, I returned to Shrewsbury on 37504 and 37426. In 1986, there was a long booked stop at Porthmadog, in order to take up the 5.08pm "path". With an 11 coach, 406/430 ton load, 60 mph was the highest speed down the coast, but then the pair made a fine climb from Machynlleth to Talerddig in 17 min 42 secs, with the speed 33 mph at the point of shutting off. Thereafter we reached 71 mph near Scafell and 79 mph below Yockleton. [view log of 37504 & 37426]
  18th June 1988: I joined the 8.00am Pwllheli to Euston at Porthmadog. With a 6 coach, 198/205 ton train, 37428 was away time. Down to Barmouth, the running was normal, though we did reach 65 mph at Llanaber. But further down the coast, we went through Tonfanau at 77 mph, the highest I have known on the coast line. Exciting, but reckless. At Machynlleth, I alighted and caught the following service to Shrewsbury, the 10.10am Aberystwyth to Euston, booked for two Railfreight 37's. [view log of 37428]
  30th June 1984: 25268 & 25287 Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury: On the 2.00pm Aberystwyth to Crewe, the two 25's had an 11 coach, 399/415 ton load and were away on time. But we had a long stop at Dovey Junction and by Machynlleth we were 11 late. We climbed to Talerddig without dropping below 25 mph in 22 min 49 secs, start to pass. A p.w slowing near Montgomery made us 13 late by Welshpool. Then with a 75 mph below Yockleton, we were checked into Shrewsbury, arriving 10 late. [view log of 25268 & 25287]
  4th June 1988: This was the first of two journeys I made from Machynlleth to Shrewsbury on the 10.10am Aberystwyth to Euston. Railfreight 37's 37678 & 37684 were in charge, with load 10, 365/390 tons. Talerddig was reached in 17 min 39 secs, the speed being 42 mph on the 1 in 52 grade before shutting off. Later there was a 70 mph at Scafell, and a 74 mph at Yockleton. The usual crossing and station delays, and the customary check into Shrewsbury, made us 22 mins late in. [view log of 37678 & 37684]
  9th June 1990: I travelled throughout on 37426 from Pwllheli to Wolverhampton, but the log  commences at Machynlleth.  We ran first stop Caersws, passing Talerddig in 19 min 36 secs, 27 mph before slowing for the loop, then reached 70 mph at Scafell, and 72 mph at Yockleton. After reversing at Shrewsbury, there was a 74 mph near Walcot, and, after the Telford stop, 76 mph below Shifnall. 37426 performed excellently, but with all the usual delays, was 28 late into Wolverhampton. This locomotive was, at this time, probably the finest sounding 37 that I had come across. [view log of 37426]
  So am I able to draw any conclusions from my 1984 to 1992 Loco hauled trips on the Cambrian?. Well, the immediate conclusion is that it was all hugely enjoyable. The second conclusion is, of course, that the Cambrian lines will never see anything like it again. The Saturday trains never ran to time, and the late running, particularly of the 7.35am Euston to Pwllheli service, was often up to an hour. It seemed to me that this train was always seriously delayed at Shrewsbury "awaiting connections". And once a train was out of it's booked path, there was was no way back. The other problem with this service was, of course, "downloading" passengers and luggage from an 11 coach train at short platforms which were barely long enough for a 3 or 4 car d.m.u.

Pictures: Both the picture above, of 37430 at Aberystwyth, and the homepage picture of a train double headed by two class 37's at Dovey Junction, are copyright Tim Rogers, and are reproduced with his permission. To view full size versions of each picture, click below:

2 class 37's approaching Dovey Junction

37430 at Aberystwyth