Nene Valley Railway Class 31 60th Anniversary Gala October 13th to 15th 2017
The first Class 31, D5500 (31018) entered service with British Rail (BR) in October 1957 and was put through its paces on test, before working its first main line revenue earing service on 13th November 1957; the 1036 London Liverpool Street – Clacton-on-Sea. This very machine now takes the main stage at the National Railway Museum in York. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be released to take place in the gala and the last time it worked in anger was in 1998 at the East Lancashire Railway, where it spent 2 years as a visitor. It had previously spent time based at the West Coast Railway’s site at Carnforth and was put through its paces there a couple of times as well.
Alas, 60 years after D5500 had been built, no less than 8 examples of the Brush Type 2 were secured for the Brush Type 2 60th Anniversary Diesel Gala at the Nene Valley Railway (NVR). This would be the first time since probably the late 1980’s, or maybe the very early 1990’s at a push, where it was possible to sample 8 different Class 31s in the same day and there were some fine examples thrown into the mix.
31108 – Railfreight Livery
31162 – BR Blue Livery
31271 – Railfreight 2-tone Grey Construction Livery
Both 31108 & 31162 had been transferred to the gala from the Midland Railway Butterley (MRB) by 31452. 31271 is the current A1A Locomotives resident at the NVR but both 31108 & 31162 have had stints at the NVR as well.
A1A Locomotives also own 31414 & 31418, which are both currently under restoration; 31414 at HNRC’s facility at the Barrow Hill Roundhouse and 31418 in the A1A Shed at the MRB.
Dean Forest Diesel Association
31466 – EWS Red & Gold Livery
31466 had spent the previous 2 years of its life on loan to the East Lancashire Railway as its ETH capabilities were useful there. It had only returned to the Dean Forest Railway (DFR) earlier this year and was transferred to the gala at the NVR by 31452.
The DFRA also own 31210 which is nearing the end of a lengthy restoration, which has seen the loco completely gutted and overhauled to a very high standard. While it’s been painted into railfreight livery and everything internal is complete, the locos bogies are still to be overhauled.
Devon & Cornwall Railway (DCR)
31452 – DCR Corporate Green Livery
31452 is the only remaining operational example of the DCR Class 31 fleet and is currently the only Class 31 working on the main line. It was used to transfer all the locos in to the NVR for the gala, collecting 31108/31162 from the MRB, 31466 from the DFR, 31285 from Barrow Hill, 31465 from the Weardale Railway and 31459 from the Wensleydale Railway; over the course of the week leading up to the gala.
DCR also own 31190, 31454 & 31601 with 31190 being stored at the Weardale Railway and 31454 & 31601 being stored at DCR’s Washwood Heath site.
Harry Needle Railroad Co. (HNRC)
31285 – Network Rail Yellow Livery
31459 – BR Blue Livery (painted for the gala)
31465 – Network Rail Yellow Livery
HNRC are relatively new in the Class 31 market and such is Harry’s way, nobody really knows what he’s thinking or what plans he may have for the examples he now owns; but at least they’re not in a scrap yard about to be made into razor blades!
HNRC owns 31235, 31255, 31285, 31459, 31465 and has been linked to the possible purchase of 31119 & 31435 as well; which could of course be nothing more than rumor. 31235 is a bit of a basket case at the moment, with a broken crank shaft, and is stored at the Mid Norfolk Railway. 31255 was randomly being started up at the Colne Valley Railway on the Sunday of this gala and is potentially moving on to another preservation group. 31285 & 31465 are both ex the Network Rail main line test train fleet and were both stopped for wheelset issues and sold when surplus to NR’s requirements. 31459 had been stored at the RVEL Derby RTC facility for many years but was kept well and even used as yard shunt loco on occasion, before being sold on to HNRC.
The Best Diesel Gala EVER!
What a date to start a 3-day diesel gala on, if you’re superstitious that is. There was only one set of stock in use on Friday 13th October 2017 and the service would only operate between Wansford & Peterborough NVR, with nothing running to Yarwell to make operating easier. It wasn’t a long day and starting at 08:50 and finishing at 17:24 it would be sociable. It takes 8 round trips between Wansford & Peterborough to accumulate exactly 100 miles of 31 haulage in a day and only having done that once at the NVR, the 8 round trips on this day would be welcome and with 4 of those trips being pairs of 31s it would turn out to be the highest mileage day for 31 running in the history of 31s being in preservation; which would be beaten the following day!
What better way to start the day than with 31271, which is nothing but an absolute machine; and probably the best sounding class 31 ever to grace my ears with its sound! What a trip it was and none of the driving let any of the engines down during the day and with some of the best class 31s in preservation, coupled with some of the best drivers as well, it was a fantastic day of non-stop thrash excitement.
Of course, some 31s are better than others, as is the case with anything there is more than one of, but with only 7 of the 8 working on Friday we couldn’t fully assess which would end up at the bottom of the pile noise wise. By Saturday morning, once 31452 had put in its first appearance, it was simple enough to put the locos in a pecking order and below is my list, with the best one being first:
31271 – nothing short of perfection, loud, crisp, excellent field diverts and pretty much the epitome of what a class 31 should sound like.
31162 – for many years I’d rated ‘162 over ‘271 but eventually I had to agree that ‘271 outshines it; just! For a loco that hasn’t been through any form of overhaul for 30 years though, it really does sound well.
31108 – not necessarily 3rd in line but as I have a soft spot for ‘162 anyway, ‘108 slips into 3rd spot.
31466 – another loud, crisp one which only gets the slot above ‘459 as its field diverts are very good.
31459 – not as loud as those above it, ‘459 loads up quicker than any other 31 in existence and is on full power very quickly, because of that its field diverts are very efficient and to the untrained ear not very distinguishable; so, while 459 is probably the “best” from a driver’s point of view, it’s not from a noise point of view.
31452 – this is a strange one as ‘452 is a bit of a nail when it comes to doing its job but for something that’s not very good at doing what it should, it actually sounds quite good. Unlike ‘459, which loads up quickly, ‘452 loads up slowly when going through the notches and above half way it then kicks in from a burble to full power and sound well in doing so. While ‘452 does have half decent field diverts, all 3 seem to come in at once so the loco becomes low on power after that.
31285 – due to its lack of use ‘285 sound a bit wishy washy, yet it was one of the best sounding main line registered 31s when working the NR test trains; at least it still has field diverts though, unlike its long-time test train compadre at the bottom of the pile.
31465 – unfortunately time hasn’t been good to ‘465 and since its jaunt at the Weardale Railway in February 2017 its developed a fault that prevents it having field diverts at all and it didn’t sound very good, even when on fully power.
Saturday 14th October 2017, day 2 of the gala, saw something that hadn’t been done at NVR Galas in the past, with loco changes taking place at Peterborough and Wansford. This possibly aided shunt moves at Peterborough with pairs of locos, especially those that were air braked only that needed a vacuum braked example between them and the stock to act as translator. Air only 31s at the event were 31285, 31459 & 31465.
On the Saturday morning, the only hick-up at the event occurred, when after 31466/31162 were attached to the rear of the Mark 1 set, there was an issue with the vacuum brake on the set, which resulted in a brake not being able to be created on the train. It seemed that it was a combination of 31452, leading the set, having a leaking vacuum pipe and 31466, the one attached to the set at the rear, not being able to blow the vacuum off completely. This was resolved when 31162’s vacuum pipes were connected to 31466 but the 0940 Wansford – Peterborough NVR via Yarwell had already been curtailed to start at Wansford at 1002 and run direct to Peterborough by this point; missing out the Yarwell trip. So, while the train could have run in the end, the late start would have resulted in the next few trains running late, so the correct decision was made. By the end of the day though, nobody cared as it had been another excellent day of thrash-tastic class 31 haulage; and even the sun had shone down on the railway for most of the day so there were plenty of cracking photos to be had along the line as well.
Sunday 15th October 2017 was a strange one, one of those morning after the night before situations; especially for the class 31 aficionados that had been reliving their youth on the dance floor of the Brewery Tap in Peterborough into the small hours, or those that couldn’t remember getting home on Saturday at all! At least in later life we all had beds to go to and not a rancid waiting room or a compartment on a train somewhere, if only though…….
For those not quite feeling themselves, 31271 broke the Sunday morning mist in two as it shattered the peace on the first trip of the day; there is never a dull moment when this monster works a train, unless your initials are IR or WC and you’ve managed to break it and plunge it into silence for the rest of said day! It was a simpler affair on Sunday with only 2 pairs of 31’s involved and they stayed in the same pair for the two trips they each worked; 31162/31271 & 31459/31465. This gave the others chance to show their worthwhile working singularly.
None of the 8 class 31s put a foot wrong on the final day of the best diesel gala ever, and the day ended with 31459/31465 arriving back into Wansford with the last train of the gala 5 minutes early. Shunt moves were already afoot on shed to get the locos prepared for their journeys back to whence they’d come from; with 31452 heading out the following morning with 31459, 31162 & 31108 in tow. It would return later in the week for 31285, 31465 & 31466.
There are not enough words of praise I can give to those that organized this gala and they could not have done a better job. For me, being a 31 basher of course, this was the best diesel gala ever. The organization was cracking and the timetable was operated exactly as advertised but for the issue with the vacuum on Saturday morning which saw a Wansford – Yarwell trip cancelled. The drivers, who gave up their time to entertain us all, were brilliant and I don’t care if you don’t personally rate class 31s, these guys showed what the locos can do, provided the best entertainment they could and all the locos stood the test of the weekend; without a single fault resulting from them pretty much being given a right punishing!
Class 31’s, all be it not the ones at the gala (31108 was the oldest, released to BR on 16/04/1959), are celebrating 60 years in service as a class in 2017 and for the locos to have stood the test of time this far is no mean feat. Nobody would have thought that there’d be examples of the class remaining in main line revenue earning service at this stage in their life but 31452 is still flying the flag; let’s hope that HNRC manage to get work for at least a couple of their fleet and get some more back on the main line in the future.
As for the preserved fleet, these will be around for many years to keep us entertained and fly the flag for the era gone by, where 31’s were in their heyday. It’s a testament to the robustness of the class that there are so many excellent examples remaining in preservation nowadays and examples like 31162, released to BR on 14/01/1960 and withdrawn on 18/05/1992 after 32 years of service, was then bought by A1A Locomotives in 1993 and has now spent 24 years of its life in preservation, will soon be coming up to the point where it will have spent more years in preservation than in main line service; which is a testament to the owning group if nothing else.
Well done to everyone involved at the NVR for the organization of this diesel gala. Give yourselves a pat on the back; you bloody deserve it. Only 5 years to the 65th anniversary………
My photographic efforts for the day are below:
Friday 13th October 2017 – Day 1 of the Gala
Saturday 14th October 2017 – Day 2 of the Gala
Sunday 15th October 2017 – Day 3 of the Gala
Class 31 60th Anniversary Diesel Gala Timetables