Locomotive Performance

Main Line Steam through Banbury

When Steam was re-admitted to the British Rail network in 1971, the route between Didcot and Tyseley was a frontrunner. With the Didcot Railway Centre at the southern end, and Tyseley Railway Museum at the northern end, and both having main line certified engines, the route saw a fair amount of steam. Then in 1985, British Rail opened up Marylebone station to steam, and began running "Sunday Luncheon" trains to Stratford-on-Avon. These were a huge success, and for several years Marylebone station saw steam on an almost weekly basis. So here we shall deal with both the Didcot to Tyseley, and the Marylebone to Stratford routes, together with the Stratford to Tyseley line. 

The journeys below are classified on a Loco by Loco basis, in Regional order. Western  locos first, next Southern, then London Midland, then Eastern, and finally the B R Standards.

The hardest work for the locomotives would be on the climbs to Saunderton,  Ardley, and Hatton going north, and to Southam Road and Princes Risborough going south.  It follows that usually the highest speeds reached would be on the same stretches in the downhill direction.  

All the journeys I made on Main Line Steam on these routes were during the "60 mph for Steam" speed restrictions. So you may be surprised to find several "80 plus" speeds. To the best of my knowledge, there were no instances of 90 mph. You had to go a little further south for that. But the loco that some train timers say reached 93 mph, is one that you will find featured here (hint..scroll down the page). And in the final years of steam on BR, there was a reputed 90 mph with a 9F 2-10-0 on the East Coast main line. Well, I cannot match that, but how will 81 mph do?  My own highest "60 mph limit" speed was 86 mph, and it will be found within the runs described on this page. 
 5051 EARL BATHURST:   14th September 1980: DIDCOT TO DORRIDGE & RETURN: This was the "John Mynors Memorial train", which continued from Dorridge diesel hauled to the Severn Valley Railway for a Bewdley to Bridgnorth return trip on 2-8-0 no 2857. Being a Sunday there were trackwork delays, including single line working before Oxford. We were thus 27 late by Dorridge. The return trip in the evening was excellent. The loco climbed Fosse Road bank in fine style. We reached 69 mph at Budbrook and 68 mph at Kidlington, and finished off the day with a rousing run from Oxford to Didcot. [view log of 5051]  

3rd October 1981: DIDCOT TO DORRIDGE: On the "Anniversary Venturer", the running was modest. With 3 p.w slowings in addition to the usual bridge slacks, we were 8 late by Dorridge. The load was 11 for 394/425 tons, and we never exceeded 58 mph. One best forgotten. [view log of 5051]

9th October 1982: DIDCOT-STRATFORD-BIRMINGHAM-DIDCOT: The "Devonian" was a return trip from Didcot to Birmingham Moor Street, which travelled via Stratford in the northbound direction. Considering the light load of 8 coaches, the amount of noise made by 5051 was disproportional to the work done. Northbound we reached 67 mph at Fosse Road, and southbound 68 mph at Bletchington.  [view log of 5051]

This Didcot based locomotive sometimes ran with its pre 1937 name "Drysllwyn Castle". 

    7029 CLUN CASTLE:   22nd May 1982: DORRIDGE-DIDCOT: On the "Salopian" railtour, 7029 ran very respectably with a modest 8 coach load. After the Tyseley stop, we reached 71 mph before Warwick and made a good climb up to Southam Road. With an easy schedule, we were 17 mins early into Didcot. [view log of 7029]

19th June 1982: DIDCOT-DORRIDGE: On another "Salopian" railtour, 7029 had a more substantial 350/375 ton load. A fast run to Oxford was a prelude to good work thereafter, particularly on Hatton bank. Excellent.  [view log of 7029]

9th June 1985: STRATFORD-TYSELEY: Birmingham Railway Museum ran a series of Tyseley to Stratford "Shakespeare Express" shuttles over the 8th/9th June, and this was the Sunday 5.05pm from Stratford, the final train of the weekend. With 9 coaches, 7029 climbed both Wilmcote bank and the long climb to Earlswood in style. [view log of 7029] 

8th June 1986: STRATFORD-TYSELEY: The "Shakespeare Express" was repeated in 1986, using two locomotives and a 12 coach train. Again on the final train of the weekend, the 8.05pm from Stratford, 7029, with it's 439/450 ton train, went splendidly up the 1 in 75 to Wilmcote (29 mph at the summit), and climbed well to Earlswood.   [view log of 7029]

 35028 CLAN LINE:   27th April 1985: MARYLEBONE TO STRATFORD & RETURN: 35028 was a regular performer on the Stratford workings and put in a competent performance with a 11 coach, 398/425 ton load. On the outward run, the best work was up to Saunderton (59 mph at milepost 23), and the climb to Ardley tunnel (65 mph). Top speed was 70 mph at Haddenham. On the return from Stratford, we were doing 73 mph at Haddenham, and climbed past Princes Risborough at 58 mph.  [view log of 35028]
 34092 CITY OF WELLS:   2nd November 1985: MARYLEBONE TO STRATFORD & RETURN: The unrebuilt Bullied light pacific was a popular engine on the Marylebone route, and on this run, after a slippery start from Marylebone, ran well. With a 431/440 ton load, the climb to Saunderton summit (54 mph at milepost 22) was splendid, as was the climb from Bicester to Ardley. Our top speed was 72mph at Ilmer and again at Fosse Road. On the return journey, it was more of the same. Superb uphill work, 30 mph at Wilmcote, and 53 mph at Fosse Road, plus 74 mph at Blackthorne and 73 mph at Haddenham, made this a day to remember. One of my best ever Bullied runs.  [view log of 34092]

16th November 1985: MARYLEBONE TO TYSELEY: 34092 returned north on the "South Yorkshireman". Here we deal with the journey from Marylebone as far as Tyseley. With a heavy load of 431/45 tons, the running was respectable throughout, with a top speed of 73 mph near Fenny Compton. [view log of 34092]

 777 SIR LAMIEL:  12th April 1986: STRATFORD TO MARYLEBONE: 777 ran the southbound leg of the "Shakespeare Express", and with a modest 9 coach load ran from Stratford to Marylebone competently. A good climb up to Wilmcote, and again on Fosse Road bank, was followed with 72 mph below Ardley, 70 mph near High Wycombe, and 72 mph at Denham. A  run well within the locomotive's capability.  [view log of 777]

11th May 1986: STRATFORD TO MARYLEBONE: A few weeks later, I joined the "Sunday Luncheon" train on it's return leg from Stratford. This time the load was 12 for 453/475 tons. With stops at Warwick, Banbury, and High Wycombe, steady running with nothing higher than 67 mph, brought us into Marylebone 8 mins early.  [view log of 777]

 46229 DUCHESS OF HAMILTON:   4th May 1985: TYSELEY TO MARYLEBONE: With a 12 coach, 435/460 ton load, restarting from Tyseley yard 66 mins late, we were up to 70 mph by Dorridge and at Rowington were doing 86!. Saltley box were following our progress and decided enough was enough, so brought us to a stand at Hatton north. So we had to be content with 75 mph through Warwick.  Later it was 83 mph at Haddenham, and 79 mph at West Ruislip. Exciting stuff!   [view log of 46229]

25th May 1985: MARYLEBONE TO STRATFORD & RETURN: With a relatively modest 11 coach load, the climb up to Saunderton was lethargic. A mere  35 mph at the summit. But what followed was 85 mph at Haddenham. Thereafter the running was average. The return from Stratford was unexciting. Nothing higher than 71 mph.  [view log of 46229]

29th June 1985: MARYLEBONE TO STRATFORD & RETURN: This time the Duchess had a heavier load. 12 for 446/475 tons. It was after the High Wycombe slowing (23 mph) that the fireworks began. 56 mph through West Wycombe. 64 mph through Saunderton station, and 65 mph at milepost 22. After Princes Risborough a 77 mph, but no more. The return journey from Stratford was lethargic until the Bicester stop. Therafter we reached 76 mph at Haddenham, climbed well up to Princes Risborough (63 mph), and reached 76 mph again at Denham. We ended 25 mph early into Marylebone.  [view log of 46229]

 5593 KOLHAPUR:   8th June 1986: STRATFORD TO TYSELEY: The 1986 "Shakespeare Express" weekend and 5593 was on her last working, the Sunday 5.01pm from Stratford. With a heavy 439/460 ton load, the loco made a faultless start from Stratford, and climbed the 1 in 75 to Wilmcote splendidly. We then ran hard and loud past Henley, but the loco was eased after Wood End, and fell to 36 mph.   [view log of 5593]
 43106 (Ivatt 4MT 2-6-0):   11th April 1981: DORRIDGE TO DIDCOT & RETURN: On the appropriately named "Flying Pig" railtour, the best running southbound was up Fosse Road bank, 46 mph, and past Fenny Compton, 50 mph. Maximum speed was 67 mph at Cropredy. On the return north, the best was after the Banbury water stop. 66 mph past Fenny Compton and 68 mph down past Fosse Road. Unfortunately we had left Banbury early, and after Leamington we paid the price. We were on the heels of a "stopper". But the crew were determined to have their fling and we ran hard and noisily up to Hatton. A fitting end to a good day on the 43106, the Flying Pig.  [view log of 43106]
 4498 SIR NIGEL GRESLEY:  12th January 1985: SALTLEY to STRATFORD and MARYLEBONE: The blue A4 had the distinction of working the first steam back into Marylebone since the 1960's, and this was it. From Tyseley we ran to Stratford, then later, continued south. The running from beginning to end, was dreadful. The only explanation that I have heard was "poor coal"  [view log of 4498]

26th January 1985: BANBURY TO STRATFORD & RETURN: This was my only other run on the A4 to Stratford, and it started and finished at Banbury. With a 12 coach load, the running in both directions was average. Top speed was 68 mph at Fenny Compton on the outward journey, and 64 mph at Budbrook on the return.  [view log of 4498]

 92220 EVENING STAR:    15th November 1980: SALTLEY TO OXFORD: I have related elsewhere that the 9F gave variable performances. Sometimes excellent, but mostly poor. On the Zenith railtour, 92220 came on at Saltley. With our 12 coach load of 427/460 tons, we called at Tyseley , then we were away non stop to Banbury. We crossed over from relief to main line at Tyseley South, and then the loco was let loose. To say that the next 10 minutes were explosive would be an understatement. 51 mph by Olton, 59 mph at Solihull, then on the level section, 68 mph through Widney Manor, and 73 mph through Dorridge. By now we were on the downhill section. 80 mph at Lapworth, and 81 mph at Rowington. We slowed for Hatton, then it was 76 mph at Budbrook before we suffered a p.w. slack. After passing Leamington we made a good climb up to Southam Road, but the fun was now over. In fact the later stages of the journey were lethargic, and showed distinct signs of a lack of that vital commodity, steam.  [view log of 92220]

22nd May 1982: DIDCOT TO DORRIDGE: The 9F worked the "Salopian" railtour north with a light load of 8 coaches. Respectable running was the order of the day, though the start from Oxford was explosive. The top speed was 64 mph at Fosse Road and again at Leamington.   [view log of 92220]

 75069 (BR 4MT 4-6-0):    22nd March 1986: SALTLEY to MARYLEBONE: The "Standard 4" worked up to Marylebone from Saltley on the "South Yorkshireman", an 8 coach load of 289/310 tons tare. The 8 coach limit had been set by a certain BR official who was of the opinion that 75069 "could not pull the skin of a rice pudding". The loco proved him wrong. On this trip we went up Fosse Road bank at 55 mph (did any Kings or Castles ever go up Fosse Road that quickly?). And we topped the rise past Princes Risborough at 50 mph (same comments apply). With a 74 mph at Saunderton and 72 mph at Denham, we were 13 mins early into Marylebone.  [view log of 75069]

12th April 1986: MARYLEBONE to STRATFORD: 75069 returned north on a "Thames Avon Express" and was again limited to load 8. With a 48 mph at Saunderton summit, followed by 75 mph at Ilmer and 73 mph at Brill, the Standard 4 was on top of the job. After Banbury we suffered signal delays, but still managed 72 mph down Fosse Road  [view log of 75069]

In the 1980's, the routes through Banbury had a great deal to offer the train timer. Uphill sections that required hard work from the locos, and downhill sections where high speeds were possible.  Some drivers often suffered severe memory loss , particularly concerning speed limits. The variation in driving methods also added interest. Never better illustrated than at Saunderton. Some drivers would go blazing up to the summit, then drift down the grades to Haddenham. Others would run gently up to the summit, then allow their engines to reach speeds in the 80's downhill.
But the routes did suffer a number of drawbacks. A number of speed restrictions were in force that applied solely to steam locomotives. One was just north of Heyford (Overbridge clearance) and another north of Cropredy (Underbridge). On the Marylebone line there were speed restrictions at Gerrards Cross and Beaconsfield which resulted from the slewing of the main lines into the location of the former platform lines. This ruined what was once a fast downhill section, and spoiled the climb going north. Then there was the southbound procedure at Banbury, where the trains ran through the station to Banbury south, then reversed over a crossover firstly on to the down main, and then into the down loop platform. 

It also seemed to me that throughout the 1980's the line between Oxford and Leamington  Spa had more than it's fair share of permanent way slowings (My diesel logs are also littered with p.w.slowings). Then there is also the longstanding embankment problem just north of Fenny Compton, which has had speed restrictions for as long as I can remember.

Note: The picture towards the top of this page, together with the picture of the Castle class locomotive on the Home Page, is copyright G A Cryer and is reproduced with the consent of "Geoff's Rail Pages".