Three very special days in February, when scheduled main line steam-hauled passenger services were organised to run on the historic Settle to Carlisle Railway line. A ‘Plandampf’ service.
Apparently it’s 50 years since a steam loco hauled timetabled regular train services in Britain. You have to take your hat off to the teams who worked together to make it happen: all evidence suggests it was an absolute triumph! The driving force was an alliance between Northern, Network Rail, DB Cargo, Friends of the Settle & Carlisle, and the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, with support from RAIL and Steam Railway magazines.
Steam loco No. 60163 ‘Tornado‘ is owned by the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust. It is a new locomotive built entirely from scratch between 1990 and 2008. An incredible feat in itself.
I do understand the buzz of steam train travel.
Immense weighty machines gliding on rails. Huge components moving in hypnotic sync powering the engine along. Engineering as art. Dirt. Sound. Smell. Hurl coal into the belly of the engine. A furnace. Fire boils water. Water boils to steam. Elemental forces and people providing power.
Tornado’s trips were scheduled between Skipton and Appleby, encouraging people to look again to the Settle to Carlisle Railway, a line which was under pressure in 2016, when a major landslip beneath the tracks caused part of the northern route to close. Buses have been providing link services at the northern end of the route for more than year. Network Rail are now on schedule to finish the monumental repair works on the landslipped area, and the Plandampf services were the big hurrah! to draw people back.
It was a tremendous success.
By the time I was born, Beeching had closed the local railway line near my childhood home. My parents told me how they would go down to the line to watch and feel the engines thunder by when they were kids. There was a rural level crossing there, and my mum would hang on the gate and thrill at the sound and the rush and the billowing steam.
This was my first time taking a steam train trip.
I took the trip on the Wednesday, but with it being such a rare occasion I decided to head out to the Settle-Carlisle line and see it on all three days: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
I have never seen crowds like it!
Skipton station was abuzz. Deciding to make the most of the sunny day I went on to Ribblehead on the Tuesday to watch what is always a wonderful sight – a steam locomotive driving hard over Ribblehead Viaduct.
People were dotted all across the fells of Batty Moss beside the viaduct, and cars were parked all along the roads. For a regular Tuesday morning it was surreal to see steady troops of enthusiastic folk scrambling up the fells every which way, trying to find the best position to see Tornado pass.
After lying in the moss for a short time tension began to rise, and hearing a distant whistle toot, everyone was primed, knowing the engine was on its way. Aerial drones went up to film the engine’s approach, children started shouting, and sure enough out of the haze came the sound of a chuffing engine, and a steaming Tornado came into view. Amazing.
BBC coverage for the whole three days was fantastic. There’s brilliant aerial footage of Tornado travelling over Ribblehead Viaduct in this report below. I was standing behind the film crew capturing these scenes using their drones, along with hundreds of others… all enjoying the spectacle from the fell.
I’ll depict the experience in glimpses.
It’s ironic that I took so few photos from the train when I made the journey. That’s because my fellow passengers were interesting folks and much of the trip was spent chatting and admiring the views! As well as the chap who explained the ‘trainspotting’ phenomena to us, I met a lovely couple who enjoy exploring the Lakeland fells, and another couple who – like myself – are keen naturalists and who guide visitors at Malham Cove’s nesting peregrines RSPB project during the summer. Very cool.
- it’s true what they say. Even in closed carriages the smell of the locomotive strikes you. A hot engine and the tang of coal, the metallic machine heat in the air.
- enthusiasm for the loco. After a two hour journey being hauled behind it the fervour for people to actually see Tornado proper as soon as they got off was quite something. The bustle of the crowds as everyone, like me, rushed to the far end of the platform to look at the engine up close.
- the beauty of the parts that form the pistons, shafts and wheels beneath the engine – each piece finely engineered, with years of craft and learning behind it.
- the boiler a furnace, casting an orange glow inside the driver’s cab.
- co-operation and good vibes. How British Transport Police, Network Rail, and Northern staff worked together to manage the huge crowds at stations, and make the event such a success. Throughout a real feeling of camaraderie and friendliness on the railway.
- young and old alike coming out to watch. Not only did the trips start on Valentine’s Day, they also ran in half-term week. Perfect timing. I met lots of people who talked fondly of the steam trains of their youth, and in addition to them were the young families, and families out with their grandparents. Many grandmas and grandads buzzing with their grandchildren about the trains.
- people in the landscape in the remotest spots. Places which you usually see deserted on a regular Settle-Carlisle train. Being a man who yearns to live in the countryside I felt quite jealous of the local folks for whom a glimpse of the train was but a short walk across their local field close to the track side.
- steam in trees. My abiding memory will be of track side trees wreathed in billowing steam. It drifted through the bare winter branches, as if the trees were holding it up. We were quick to pass and in seconds they were drawing away. Inspiration for photographs I wasn’t in a position to make.
- being so caught up in the thrill of seeing the train pass by one more time, I decide to go and sit at Ribblehead for its final late evening run and photograph it from there. Conditions were, I have to say, very Ribblehead! Visibility worsened as darkness fell, low cloud loomed, and torrential rain and a biting wind picked up! Make what you will of the few images I managed to take!
Take a look at images I made during the event in my gallery here: – Tornado –
To mark the occasion I am making a large commemorative print available. You can order it now in my online shop.