5 April 2011
Summer Outing to Nene Valley Railway
On 15th May 2010, ten members of the South of England Group assembled at the Nene Valley Railway for our Summer Outing. Part of the Group arrived at Wansford for the first train of the day – diesel hauled, up to Peterborough. Here we awaited the remainder of the party, most of whom had arrived by rail from London. Our own Martin Sixsmith, who is also a volunteer on the railway and guides groups of visitors, such as us, joined to take us round the sights.
A trip on the train down the line to the main base at Wansford allowed us to sample the delights of this remarkably rural line, bearing in mind that it commences close by the centre of Peterborough and is only 7½ miles long. As we approached Wansford, Martin pointed out one of the lineside mail-bag pick-up/set-down points. This one being on the main line to Peterborough sees less use, other than at gala days. The one we would experience was further along towards Yarwell Junction.
off at Wansford, we had about half an hour to wait before
the Rail-Mail train departed, so Martin took us to explore
the inside of the signal box.
This is situated on the north side of the railway, sandwiched in a narrow site between the old Great North Road crossing and the bank of the River Nene – indeed it slightly extends over the river. The box boasts a fine selection of levers, only a little foreshortened from the original installation due to the removal of the junction to Stamford, which was closed in 1929. The old formation of the branch is still visible from the 'box as a line of trees heading off into the distance. Where it used to join the NVR there are currently rolling stock sidings. Martin explained that there used to be a separate station on the Stamford line, accessible by a footbridge across the River Nene and a raised causeway across the flood-plain. Parts of the foundations of the footbridge and causeway are still extant. The 'box controls all movements around the vicinity of Wansford and Yarwell Junction, using electric repeaters for the more remote locations.
a good tour round the 'box it was time to get out of the
way while the signalman made arrangements for the arrival
of the down service train, hauled by Standard Class 5 No
73050 “City of Peterborough”, a permanent resident
of the line.
we moved off, the public address called out that the mail
train would be departing from the opposite platform in
about 15 minutes. We made our way in that direction and
were met by Brian White, our March speaker, who was
leading the demonstration.
train comprised 5 ex-Royal Mail carriages, including the
all-important sorting/despatch carriage.
was into this that we boarded, in the company of some
public passengers, and headed off to Yarwell, hauled by
the railway's Brush Type 2 No 31108.
Yarwell the members of the public de-trained while we
remained on board to experience the demonstration from the
business-end. Brian thoroughly explained the process so we
could understand what was going to happen in the very
hectic few seconds of the exchange. We then reversed back
toward the tunnel under the A1, and past the exchange
apparatus, with the waiting audience. A blast of the horn,
accompanied by the bellowing engine and we were on our
way, picking up speed rapidly to the demonstration level
of around 15 mph. Then in a flash, following Brian's call
of “mark”, the bags were swung out, the net lowered and
three dull thuds followed. A successful exchange was
apparent as two bags bounced neatly on the nets and
dropped onto the carriage floor.
During the subsequent two repeat exchanges, Brian and the team explained more about the detail of the equipment and operation. Replacement pouches, for example, are made by a local saddler in the traditional way using buffalo skins. Each costs around £1200, so they tend to be well looked after. The exchanges happen at much lower speeds than the 55 mph which were more typical in normal service operations when the GPO were doing upwards of 2000 exchanges throughout the network each day.
too soon it was time to welcome our other passengers back
on board at Yarwell Junction and head off back to
Wansford. Here we made a bee-line for the café to order
our meals before the rush arrived. This is housed in the
“new” station buildings which were built by the society to
replace the original ones on the up side, currently in
private hands. The original buildings, which date from the
opening of the line in 1845, are now looking decidedly
dilapidated. The society is trying to raise the funds
needed to buy and preserve them before they fall down.
While the new station is a commendable architectural replica of the original style of building used by the London and Birmingham Railway Company, nothing can substitute for preserving the real past – we wish them well in their efforts.
refreshed we then moved back to the mail train platform to
await the arrival of the service train from Peterborough.
Once this was safely in the platform, the No
73050 detached from the front and the Class 31 attached at
the rear and, following the brake checks, headed off with
the passenger train to Peterborough. Meanwhile, the
Standard 5 coupled up to the mail train and we got
on-board in anticipation of the spectacle which was
awaiting us. Back to Yarwell Junction, but this time we
got off along with the other passengers and headed along
the track to the observation point near the exchange
enough the entire train reversed back past our position
and disappeared round the curve.
the track team had loaded up the arm with two mail
pouches, a wave of a yellow flag was acknowledged by a
some staccato bursts of steam exhaust, rapidly increasing
in loudness and frequency, was the prelude to the passing
of the train. In the blink of an eye, the bags were
exchanged and the train disappeared around the corner back
to Yarwell Junction. Two further repeats allowed us to
track the operation and see the bits we missed earlier.
After all the excitement, we then headed back to the halt
as City of Peterborough reversed in the loop and
coupled to the train to take us back to Wansford.
tour of the sheds then followed under Martin's guidance,
where we saw the work which is taking place on the
railway's steam crane and diesel and steam locomotive
fleet. The railway has developed a well appointed workshop
with extensive yards so it is rather less cluttered than
some other preserved railways.
We were left to our own devices for half an hour or so, to wander around the well-stocked railway's shop and the second-hand books, the latter housed in the static Rail-Mail carriages housed in the bay platform. These raises funds to help preserve and demonstrate the mail train, so is for a very good cause and a number of our party left with some purchases.
arrival of the service train, we boarded and headed back
up the line to Peterborough. Here we bade our farewells to
Martin and the other members of the Group, after an
enjoyable day out - and it didn't rain once!