Part One ~ Southern Region
So, I will "set the scene" for the first run. The date is Saturday 3rd June, 1967 and Sir Nigel Gresley, carrying the number 4498, had only just been released from Crewe Works having made its inaugural run just two months previously. The operation of privately-owned steam locos was very different in those days, and the footplate would have been manned by a regular steam driver, fireman, loco inspector, and I suspect a representative of the owners (I wonder who that was?) The Southern was running steam locos (just) and the electrification of the Bournemouth route was due to commence on 9th July. So with that in mind, it was expected that our train would be slowed for permanent way work once we cleared Basingstoke. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find only two speed restrictions, one of which was a reasonable 40mph.
In view of the imminent demise of steam, Sir Nigel was visiting the Southern for a weekend of railtours organised by the then A4 Locomotive Society on the 3rd and 4th of June. Its route on the Saturday covered Waterloo to Bournemouth, and Salisbury to Waterloo. Light Pacific Nº34023 Blackmore Vale, then the final 'unrebuilt' Bulleid pacific in traffic, and now enjoying retirement on the Bluebell Railway, hauled us between Southampton Central and Salisbury. On the Sunday, 4498 went from Waterloo to Weymouth and return. As would be expected, that run was marred by engineering works, but, as if in sheer determination, we ran the final 31 miles to Waterloo in just over 31 mins, exceeding 80mph continuously from the approaches to Woking, to Hersham, with a top speed of 88mph at Byfleet.
To return to the Saturday train, which I have tabulated from Salisbury to Waterloo, in view of the circumstances, it was excellent of BR to give us an 85 minute timing for the 83.7miles to Waterloo. The legendary Atlantic Coast Express (ACE) was allowed 80 minutes in its heyday, but it had been just under three years since those halcyon days. For interest, I have quoted the ACE schedule alongside our own, but of course, it must be remembered that the 'Merchant Navy' 'pacifics' hauled heavier trains than ours.
We actually departed from Salisbury 1½ minutes early (!) and, surprisingly we had a slightly faster schedule than the ACE to Worting Junction, I can only assume this was to give us as much time as possible from Basingstoke to allow for the previously mentioned engineering work. This is a good example of what can be done by the 'planners', and this controversial subject has recently been mentioned in the railway press. Sir Nigel's driver had no intention of 'winding' his loco at the start of the journey, so speed stayed in the mid to low 40s up the long climb to MP73¼ (just west of Grately), followed by a maximum of 76mph after Andover Junction, and 75 beyond Oakley, where we were eased for a 60mph slack near Worting Junction (passed 3 minutes late). Now on the famous racing stretch to Woking, speed rapidly accelerated to 78mph before Hook, and stayed around that level until a second temporary speed restriction at Milepost 31 brought us down to 37mph. We had an unusually clear passage through Woking, and swept through there at 71mph (3¾ mins late), and with a maximum of 83 mph in the dip at Byfleet we were able to pass Hampton Court Junction just ¼min late, and with a completely clear road, roll into Waterloo 1½ minutes early. It is of interest that, despite a similarly unchecked run, and a higher sustained speed in the Byfleet area, the Sunday train took ¾ minute longer from Milepost 31 than our train, this was due to the former's slower approach to the terminus from Hampton Court Junction.
I have estimated that the speed restrictions cost Sir Nigel 2½ minutes, thus giving us a net time of 81 minutes from Salisbury, a fine end to an excellent day.
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