The Great Britain is the pinnacle of the rail tour season within the UK. Its land cruise style itinerary sees the train survey the far stretches of the rail network, as day by day it traverses the various lines and stations around the country. In the past, the tour has suffered from various issues, like engines being replaced and found out of gauge causing replacements, or with steam bans and operators certificates being revoked forcing diesel haulage. Thankfully, this year, there was little of that.
Indeed, for sticking to plan the 10th Great Britain tour went largely according to plan. Starting in London the train was hauled to York by none other than 60103 Flying Scotsman and the plan was to hand over to A4 Union of South Africa, but with some teething trouble left from the repairs and test runs it was not to be. As the WCRC class 47 brought the train north, the outpost of Fort William had another Riley machine raise steam to come to the rescue. Here 45212, was dispatched to Edinburgh ready to meet the train for Day 2. It was first seen crossing the Forth Rail Bridge, a sight that looked stunning and marvellous. Both displaying precision in engineering, both looking resplendent in 2017. From here, the train was then seen again crossing the Tay and then meeting with NELPGs K1 in Perth. The drive across the Highland mainline saw both engines working on a line unique with character.
A highlight was for the third day and the K1 to take the train to Kyle. The scenery here was looking great – open moorland with occasional rivers, in and amongst lochs and mountains. The engines performance matched such an occasion, its power rating which I think is underrated making look as if the duty required was easily undertaken. Often the K1 would be seen and pictured looking natural in these surroundings, a nod perhaps to the work done on the Jacobite or North Yorkshire Moors, but in fact this was pioneering territory for 62005 – a first visit for this class to Kyle.
Day 4 saw the return down the Highland Mainline, crossing the Culloden viaduct and seeing the train dwarfed again by engineering structures. While the two black mixed traffic machines thundered southwards, opportunities were found to see them en-route, including Slochd summit, before then pressing on to see them in Gleneagles, the station providing a find backdrop for the tour to pass through.
My final day chasing saw K1 haul the train to Fort William, seen south of Faslane before then around Crainlarich, and onwards towards its destination. The weather was superb and lit the scenery around the engine superbly even though it was heading north and seen often facing into the sunlight. At Fort William, the tour would return to Glasgow behind the 47, while the K1 and Black 5 crews could appreciate their duties here were concluded.
In fact, the work performed of both in Scotland was a marathon in terms of work done and duties performed. Crewing for days solid often saw late serving and early starts while those chasing and those on the train were still waking, visiting or resting. The performance of the engines showed much of their professionalism and dedication; enthusiasm combined with a tremendous effort. Each displayed the best traditions of a railway workforce, that quite proud and consistently high standard to perform the duty required of them, and get their passengers to their destinations. Each had different reasons to be satisfied – NELPG with working and rostered for 4 days solid on the tour and positioning moves beforehand while the Black 5 came having been found wanted and duly arrived to perform seeking no fanfare, just respect and gratitude that was offered freely.
Indeed for those doubting previous performances, West Coasts operation also went well, coping with the often fast paced and change to events that could have caused massive disruption. Their performance much improved and with safeguards like diesel traction giving assistance a hint to both the dry conditions as well as their increased appreciation of procedural operation over reliable tradition.
In many ways the trip was memorable, the engines the scenery, the crews, the performance the sights. Events like a K1 in Kyle and a Black 5 on the Forth Rail bridge. Chatting and making new friends in the chasing pack that followed the tour, to seeing one of railways and preservations biggest ambassadors in the background gratified a girl lead by her dad to see and admire a Black 5 on the blocks in Inverness. It’s those special moments when you witness something remarkable and were there at the time with a camera and a black hat to record it for others. Truly this part of the tour was Great, but then I’d expect nothing else chasing the Great Britain X.