Grand Day Out

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Young and old

Lord Nelson’ at Ropley station

The wonderfully named Watercress Line (although the Bluebell Line is even more wonderfully named) runs from Alresford to Alton in Hampshire. The first weekend in March brought the Spring Steam Gala: three days of steamy pleasure for all railway nuts.

The icing on the cake and the irresistible draw was the presence of the recently built A1 Pacific Class ‘Tornado’ amongst many other locomotives steamed up and pulling the passengers.

(below) A1 Class ‘Tornado’ approaching Ropley station

A1 Class 'Tornado'

An ambitious timetable of a train every half hour proved too ambitious on the Friday when I was there. A signal problem first and then an event that was unexpected and almost unbelievable. The west-bound 12:51 from Alton, pulled by Gresley A4 Pacific ‘Bitten’ completely ran out of pulling power on the steep gradient up to the summit of the ‘Hampshire Alps’. Plenty of power from the loco but wheelslip slowed the train down to a complete standstill. Repeated attempts to get rolling again only succeeded in rolling backwards as gravity proved to be applying more force than ‘Bittern’.

(below) ‘Bittern’ is hidden in the steam as it tries in vain to haul the train up the incline


Bittern struggles to get up the hill

A long wait for some rescuing motive power ensued. And, as the stalled train was unfortunately blocking a stretch of single-track line, the whole day’s timetable was thrown by well over an hour. Southern Railway 4-6-0 ‘Lord Nelson’ saved the day and partnered ‘Bittern’ up and beyond the summit point before rejoining its own train at Medstead.

Nobody grumbled. People looked bemused rather than annoyed. If it had happened on a South West Trains service tantrums would have been thrown. It certainly didn’t spoil a grand day out.

More photographs from the same day on Flickr.


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