Meeting Reports

Tuesday 15th December

Branch AGM and Festive Quiz

The first part of the December meeting was another new experience, the branch AGM using the
Zoom system. Due process was carried out with the current committee being re-elected en bloc to
serve another twelve months.
For the second half of the meeting the attendees had to put their thinking caps on. The chairman,
Phil Darlaston hosted a “for fun” quiz. It is fair to say that some thought it was for fun,
whilst others wished there were a prize to be had. All in all a great way to round off 2020 and we
can only hope for 2021 to be better for everyone with normal service being resumed as soon as

Tuesday 17th November

Double Header

A Winter Weekend in Crewe

Andy Vernon

Presenting first was branch member Andy Vernon. Travelling by car from the Thames Valley on a Thursday afternoon in late January 2020, Crewe station beckoned late in the evening to see the northbound sleeper service at 23.45, hauled by a Cl 92. 

Friday, the use of a Cheshire Day Ranger took Andy to Chester, Wirral, Liverpool Lime Street, Wallasey, Birkenhead, Manchester Victoria and returning to Crewe via Manchester Airport.  Saturday another Ranger ticket was used, this time a Lancashire Day Ranger.  The stations visited included Manchester Piccadilly), Lancaster, Preston, Wigan North Western, Liverpool, Kirkdale, Sandhills, Liverpool, Manchester Piccadilly and back to Crewe.

Observed during the weekend were 10 working loco’s, 6 different classes of which 3 were electrics.  Also seen were 9 different classes of DMU’s or EMU’s.

The Chairman gave a big thank you to Andy for an excellent presentation and aided by some great photos taken in not the most brilliant of conditions.  The new photos were interspersed with some from Andy’s own archives.

A view from the new Network Rail Central Route Director

Dave Penney

The second half of the meeting the branch welcomed back an old friend and RCTS member, Dave Penney who since last December was appointed to the position of Network Rail, Central Route Director based in Birmingham.  When Dave last presented to the branch, he was MD Chiltern Railways.  The views expressed during the evening were Dave Penney’s personal views and not necessarily those of Network Rail.

He began with outlining his area of responsibility, the rail network across Birmingham and the West Midlands and the rail link into London Marylebone.  It also covers the railway between Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton, onto Stafford as well as the key Birmingham New Street station rail hub.  Then he described Birmingham New Street station, the fifth busiest in the UK, which he proudly told the meeting was busy than London Euston.  Interestingly New Street comes under the same regulations/legislations an underground station.  Next up was Birmingham Snow Hill and Moor street including what may happen with HS2.  The Central area serves West Midland Railways, Chiltern Railways, Avanti, and Transport for Wales, overall, approximately some 3000 train movements per day plus freight movements of 400 to 500 per day. Birmingham New Street station pre Covid-19 had about 47m passengers per year but obviously greatly reduced due to the pandemic.

Responsibilities covered by the role includes all aspects of safety and security.  Also included is the West Midlands Signaling Centre, Litchfield Trent Valley Junction lever box, Walsall Signalling Training Centre and Mobile Operations Managers.  Day to day operation incident managers can include any or all of the following:- fallen trees, overhead line damage, embankment stability, drainage from land run off (development of adjacent land) causing track flooding often linked to heavy rainfall, embankment fires, bridge strikes and derailments.

Renewals and enhancements.  Dave gave as examples, drainage replacement in Old Hill tunnel, Stourbridge line, The embankment slippage at Harbury, between Banbury and Leamington some, 5 years ago.

What of the future brought Dave’s talk to a conclusion.  The introduction of the Cl 196, Tyseley extensions and HS2 – Curzon Street and Moor Street.

Dave’s talk was very well supported with lots of photographs to illustrate the points he was making.

Overall a wonderful evening with the Thames Valley giving both our speakers a huge vote of thanks.

Tuesday 13th October and 20th October 2020

A Holiday of a Lifetime – Swindon to Saigon

John Sreeves

The branch welcomed back John Sreeves, albeit this time via ZOOM for two evenings in October 
to give a talk, postponed from March earlier this year.
One aim of this holiday, which was an adventure, was to see how far he and his wife could travel by
train from Swindon, with additional trips to New Zealand, South America and Antarctica. The trip
took in 20 countries, 15 capital cities, 15 currencies, 13 languages and 6 continents.
Detailed planning took at least a year to complete with booking tickets for the Trans-Siberian
Railway needed a year in advance, including all the necessary visas for Russia, China and Mongolia.
Carrying minimal luggage (a small rucksack airline size), staying in hostels (self-catering) near to
stations, not using taxis and using google maps.
The journey started on 1st August 2018 boarding the 08.05 Swindon to London Paddington. The
route took John through Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia then into Russia a distance
travelled 4685 km. St Petersburg and Moscow and the Trans-Siberian on this occasion took John to
Irkutsk, a journey of 3375 km in 49 hours. The trip continued to Ulaanbaatar, a further 1113 km.
The second evening the trip resumed, Mongolia to Beijing, 1356km and 31 hours, an interesting
point the border crossing took 7 hours 10 minutes to complete including a change of bogies due to
different track gauges. From Beijing the route to Hong Kong was via Shanghai, Xian and Chengdu.
Time in China included a 3-day river trip to see the Three Gorges with large locks and dams. After
Hong Kong finally Vietnam, four trains to travel from Hanoi to Saigon which included to first late
train of the trip (Da Nang to Nha Trang). Saigon was reached on 17th October, 78 days after leaving
Swindon, having travelled 21277 km and only one rail replacement bus, some 15 km.
The adventure continued by bus across Cambodia to Thailand and of course the infamous “Death
Railway” had to be on the itinery. Next it was to New Zealand and then onto South America which
included Peru, Bolivia, Chile (Rio Turbio to Rio Gallegos, 410 km in 9 hours) and Argentina, Ushuaia
noted as the most southerly railway station in the world. Finally, a 10-day excursion to Antarctica.
Arriving back at Swindon at 19.00 hours on 31st January 2019.
The branch was thoroughly entertained by John’s travelogue with some 300 photographs, maps etc.
over the two evenings.

Tuesday 22nd September 2020

Southampton Railways Part 3

Gordon Adams

Due to Covid-19 our first meeting of the new season was not in the Didcot Civic Hall, but virtually by ZOOM, probably the first of four monthly meetings this year.  However, this was not our first Zoom meeting as the branch committee held a committee meeting in July and a trial meeting to a limited audience during August with Phil Deaves presenting “From Platform Bench to Viaduct Maintenance”.  The results of both sessions gave the branch committee confidence that regular “virtual” meetings via Zoom could be held.

The September meeting was Southampton Railways Part 3 and again presented by Gordon Adams.  Gordon started by a quick resume of Parts 1 and 2, talks he gave to the branch over the last two or three years.

Part 3 concentrated on the railways, north of Southampton Central Station, Millbrook Freightliner Terminal, Boat Trains and the Docks.  The talk was superbly illustrated with photographs mostly taken by Gordon himself with quite a number from locations where it would not be possible to take photographs today, because of accessibility, whether legally or practicable or now nonexistent. You should know that Gordon was Southampton born and bred and some of his photographs reflected his early trainspotting days.  His father was an Eastleigh works man for many years.

One section on the docks and the industrial locomotives employed there was a picture of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” (a 0-4-0T built by Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn in 1949) which was transferred from Hamworthy, Poole where it was used in the main to shunt coal wagons.  It is thought to have been transferred via the mainline to Southampton under its own power.  It is also thought not to have been used in earnest before it was sold into preservation.  It now resides at the Didcot Railway Centre for all to see.

Several of Gordons photos reflected the scene pre re-signalling of the South West mainline with semaphore signals very much in evidence.  It was also interesting to see the development of the Freightliner Terminal at Millbrook from its early days around the 60’s and 70’s and similarly, the area around Siemens Northam Depot, now and pre Seimens days.

Another great presentation by Gordon, full of detail that both fascinated and informed the audience in equal measures.  I should think that Gordon has much more information and knowledge to impart to the branch and I am personally looking forward to Southampton Railways Part 4.

Wednesday 4th March
Quiz versus Reading Transport Group

The RCTS team of Phil Darlaston, John Temple,Nigel Farebrother, Stuart Hicks and Murray Lewis girded their loins to do battle in the annual quiz match away to our friends of the Reading Transport Group. Under the nose of RTG’s inquisitor Gordon Adams, RTG went into a strong lead but despite a fight back from RCTS the result was a win RTG 19 points to 15. This meant that RTG were able to win back the Trophy for another year. We look forward to winning the Trophy back next year when we are on home territory.

As is usual the away team provided the speaker for the second half and John Temple gave a presentation on GWR 150 covering many of the Special Trains which ran in connection with the event mostly away from the Thames Valley.

Monday 17th February

The End of Steam around Bristol

Mike Beale

For our February meeting our venue was converted into a Tardis as Mike Beale transported us back for a 1950’s and 1960’s look at steam in and around the Bristol area. Being born in Bath and moving to Bristol as a boy, and following his father’s appointment as a driver, it is not surprising that he began to take great interest in the steam activity locally. Using both his own and acquired photos we were transported back then to see the evolution of train workings from that time forward. The 1960s of course brought gradual dieselisation of services and March 1966 saw closure of the steam operated Somerset & Dorset and with it steam’s extinction. Or so everybody thought, Great Western 150 brought steam hauled specials back into the area and eventually evolved into the regular programme of excursions seen today. Many thanks to Mike for an enjoyable and informative evening of steam. and of course for the time travel!

Monday 20th January

The Metropolitan Railway

Colin Brading

For the first meeting of 2020, we welcomed back Colin
Brading, with his talk on the Metropolitan Railway. As is widely known,
this was the world’s first underground railway born out of need to relieve
(mainly pedestrian) traffic in London by connecting Paddington to the City of
London. It used steam trains for many years, causing fumes in the
tunnels, despite the use of condensing apparatus fitted to the
locomotives. As a result of the fumes, locomotive crews were allowed to
do the unusual thing od growing beards and moustaches, instead of the usual
practice of being clean-shaven. The reasoning for this is that the
railway believed that a luxuriant growth of facial hair acted as an air
filter! The railway expanded to Hammersmith, Kensington and Moorgate,
acquiring on the way a small branch line to Stanmore. The railway was always
ambitious and soon spotted that this small branch could be the start of larger
things. This proved to be, with the railway expanding out finally to its
most remote at the village of Brill. This was not the end of their
ambitions, for they mooted (unsuccessfully) plans to expand this rural
backwater even further to Oxford. Apart from the company’s ambition, it
was also very good at marketing, selling the idea of Metroland, where the
company would not only provide a service to London, but using spare land to
sell houses to provide housing for the, hopefully, captive passengers.
Its enforced absorption into the London Passenger Transport Board did not go
down too well with the company. After that, the railway settled down to
what it is today, over 160 years after its opening, an important transport link
to and from London. Many thanks are due to Colin for his most
entertaining talk on this often-overlooked aspect of railway transport.


Monday 16th December

‘Branch AGM followed by member’s slides and images’

The December meeting was the usual one consisting of the
branch AGM and member’s presentations with seasonal refreshments. The
formal part consisted of a review of the year, which turned out to be one that
ticked over nicely. This was followed by the election of the committee, which
remained unchanged. Murray Lewis kicked off the entertainment with a look
at the freight traffic on the S&C. He was followed by Andy Vernon,
who went back to the 1980’s showing the variety of locomotives to be seen at
the time. John Temple was next with his review of main line steam in the
year. This time. the year was 1994. with scenes from three large events
that happened at that time. John Hubbard followed with English
narrow gauge from 2007. David Evans-Roberts raided the archive that of
Colour-Rail for scenes of steam from the GWR stable from the 1950’s and
60’s. The last to show was Phil Darlaston with scenes from the 1980’s
which. to use his words. “You can’t see now”. Our thanks are
due to the various members who produced between them something for all
tastes. A special word of thanks is also given to Nicola, who was in
charge of the catering.

Monday 18th November

’24 years of Great Eastern Electrification’

John Day

The presentation covered the period just before electrification to the present day to cover the last 25 years of Great Eastern electrification. Although parts of the Great Eastern were electrified years before, John concentrated on the 1980’s extensions to cover the routes to Norwich and later Kings Lynn. Using photographs from his archive, he took us through the changes seen up to the current time, some shots being taken only a few days prior to the meeting. We saw all the various liveries of all the various operators, from BR Inter-City up to the current Greater Anglia, including various temporary liveries applied. Ironically, one of the liveries shown was that of the Dutch railways (NS), who are now part owners of the GA franchise! The freight side was not ignored, with all the various operators being chronicled. Many thanks are due to John for his insight into a set of services in an area of Britain geographically opposite geographically to the branch’s Great Western.

Monday 21st October 2019

‘All Aboard the Pines Express – Part 1’

Chris Youett

The October meeting had as its speaker a long-term friend in Chris Youett who took us on the first part of a ride on the Pines Express. The most iconic part of the train’s journey was of course the Somerset and Dorset line from Bath to Bournemouth, so that was where we went. Starting at Bath Green Park, this part of the journey took us to Evercreech Junction. Apart from the normal services, summer Saturdays were extra busy with expresses to and from the Midlands and the North to South Coast and Devon holiday resorts. We followed the route south seeing, not just the Pines Express of the title but also other summer Saturday expresses and the normal traffic all going in the same direction as us. In addition, we did see the remnants of the freight use of the line with its connections to the Somerset coal fields. Chris is to be thanked for an evening of nostalgia, especially for the elder members, on a long-gone unforgettable and much-loved line.

Monday 16th September 2019

4 Branch Members – 4 Different Photo Presentations

The first person to present was Murray Lewis, who showed the railways of Ukraine. He went at a time before the troubles of recent years, so was able to photograph even in the current contested area. The railways still remained their Russian legacy, which made for a rather exotic (to English eyes) appearance. He was followed by John Temple, who took as his topic main line steam in the last two years. By concentrating on the Thames Valley, John was able to invoke memories from the audience. The next to show was Phil Darlaston, who followed the main line over the last years showing freight and passenger modern traction. After concentrating on the Thames Valley, Phil reverted to his West Midlands roots by showing trains on the Ironbridge and Horsehay branches. The last presenter was Gordon Adams, who took us to France and the Baie de la Somme system. This system, not far south of Calais, is partly multi-gauge (standard and metre) predominantly operated by steam. He went on one of their gala weekends, with visiting locos from as far away as the Harz Mountains. Many thanks are due to the four presenters, who combined to produce an enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

Friday 30th August 2019

Outdoor Meeting Eastleigh Station

Friday 30th August saw four members from Thames Valley branch enjoy an afternoon of observation at our third new venue of the summer after our visits to Westbury and Clapham Junction earlier. Despite industrial action being taken that day by South West Railway staff, it was overheard that the revised timetable was indeed operating better than the normal one.As expected, a selection of Cross Country trains, cl 444 and 450’s on passenger services. With regards to freight traffic several were seen during the afternoon, these included 59002, 70003 and 70807 and several cl 66’s. A good afternoon was had by those attending and the general view that it was worthwhile and should be on our calendar for next year.

Tuesday 20th August 2019

Outdoor Meeting Didcot Station

This year’s Didcot observation evening at was notable for two
missing icons. The HST’s, for so long a staple of Didcot workings
finished earlier this year, being replaced by the 800series Hitachi
units. The other missing icon was the last of the Didcot Power Station
cooling towers, which were demolished two days previously. As always, the
freight scene was dominated by Class 66, and in one case a Class 70, on intermodal
trains. There were other freight trains seen. These were the regular
Morris Cowley to Purfleet cars and the Scunthorpe to Eastleigh infrastructure
train now hauled by a GBRF class 66 carrying rails. There was one
surprise when 50008 in its new livery passed through light engine.

Thursday 4th July 2019

Clapham Junction Outdoor Meeting

Thursday 4th July saw five members from Thames Valley branch enjoying a sunny warm afternoon observing plenty of trains at Clapham Junction station. This was a new venue for the branch. Initially the group congregated on the London end of platform 11 but after a short while moved to platform 10 as it provided both shade and seating. During the afternoon various classes were observed from four train operating companies. Southern class 377 units, Southwest Railway classes 444 (express units), 450 and 458 (outer suburban) and 707 (suburban units) were in abundance, along with occasional class 158/8 and 159 sets. Two class 442 units were also seen (working a service to Poole later in the day). In addition, there were many rakes of Class 455 and 456 units. Gatwick Express class 387s were also seen including the white liveried set. London Overground’s class 378 sets slipped into and out of platforms 1 and 2. Also seen were some class 66s on freight duties, including a triple header of light engines from different companies. Clapham Junction certainly lived up to its reputation as a major railway hub.

Thursday 20th June 2019

Reading Station Outdoor Meeting

On a cloudy, dull evening a group of six branch members met at the London end of platform 8 on Reading station for the traditional June outdoor meet to coincide with Ladies Day at Royal Ascot.

This was the first year that that seemingly eternal staple of Great Western main line the HST did not appear and so the evening was spent largely observing the relatively quiet GWR fleet of electric trains i.e. Classes 387, 800 and, 802s. During the evening the Northern Belle appeared on a returning Ascot to Manchester race day special topped and tailed by a pair of West Coast Railway Cl 57’s (57314 and 57316). Only two freights were seen, an Eastbound Freightliner and a Car export Train both hauled by Class 66s. Also operating out of platforms 4-6 were South West Railway trains with an enhanced quarter- hourly service to serve Ascot races, despite being in the middle of a five day strike. Later on, the sleeper empties were seen heading towards Paddington.

Thursday 6th June 2019

Westbury Station Outdoor Meeting

A new venue and time for the Thames Valley branch observation of the year. The location was Westbury station commencing in the afternoon, a first for many years, if not indeed the first ever.

Some freight was seen, mostly Class 59s on stone trains; also noted was a Class. 60 and a few Class 66s and Class 70s. Passenger traffic included Class 158’s, 159’s, 165’s, 166s and IEP Classes 800s and 802 were in evidence following the recent withdrawal of the HSTs. A bonus for the members during the afternoon was the appearance of the “Flying Banana”, the National Measurement Train, the power cars being 43014 “The Railway Observer” and 43062 “John Armitt”.

Monday 20th May 2019

”Southampton Railways Part 2′

Gordon Adams

For the last indoor meeting of the season, Gordon Adams took us on a trip to the coast for Part 2 of his talk on the railways of Southampton. Southampton is, of course, famous for its docks and shipping; so that is where we went.

The first railway to Southampton was built by the London and Southampton Railway company. Soon after, the company was investigating a second line to Portsmouth. Given the rivalry between the two towns, it was decided to be tactful and change the company to the London and South Western Railway.

A local company was set up to develop the docks, but a shortage of money, and a large loan from the LSWR, eventually resulted in the latter taking over the docks. Over many years of development the docks evolved into what we know today, much of it during the period of railway ownership.

Gordon with his wide collection of archive photographs, took us through this evolution, concentrating on the railway aspects. One little factor in this development was a short-lived train ferry which ran during WW1. Few images exist of this ferry, so further information will be gratefully received by Gordon. The railway content finished with a look at the bombing of the then new Southampton Central Station and the subsequent rebuilding in post war period.

Thanks are due to Gordon for his entertaining evening by the South Coast, giving the audience thoughts of the approaching summer.

Monday 15th April 2019

Industrial Railways – Summer 1969

John Hubbard

Due to the unavailability of the booked speaker, John Hubbard, (the
joint branch president) stepped in with a talk on Industrial Steam in

In 1969 the opportunities for steam photography in
Britain were limited to a nascent heritage sector or industrial steam, which
was still reasonably plentiful. John talked about the trips he made in
the summer of this year to sites from Fife to West Glamorgan.

He explained that access to the various sites was simple, with a simple
request to the chief engineer. This permission was given in over 90% of
cases, with visitors receiving a Health & Safety briefing, consisting of
the phrase “Watch how you go”. Industrial steam was on the
decline, caused by the closure of sites and dieselisation.

Gaining overnight accommodation was easy too, with a multitude of
cheap boarding houses available. The accommodation was more basic than
one would expect nowadays, with en-suite meaning a chamber pot under the
bed. In one place, the pot turned out to be a bucket, so its use at night
would create a noise that woke up other sleepers in earshot.

Many thanks are due to John for stepping in and creating an evening of
nostalgia for those of a certain age and also showing younger enthusiasts the
industrial heritage of steam engines on preserved railways now

Monday 18th March

‘Heritage Railway Infrastructure – Part 2’

John Sreeves

John Sreeves from Halcrow presented the second part of his “Railway Heritage Infrastructure” talk.

John’s area of expertise is bridges, so these were what he concentrated on. The first half of the evening concentrated on the bridge works required for last year’s Broadway extension to the Gloucester Warwickshire Steam Railway, explaining all the problems and cures required, right the way up to almost a full rebuild in some cases. No wonder the extension took 6 years and over half a million pounds to complete!

After the break, he talked about other heritage railways he was involved with, including the Swindon and Cricklade and the Somerset and Dorset at Midsomer Norton.

He finished his talk with the Rother Valley Railway and its ambition of linking the main line from Robertsbridge to the Kent & East Sussex Railway at Bodiam. He described the work done to restore the bridges on the extension to Robertsbridge. The railway’s ambitions have come to a standstill at the moment, because of the problem of crossing the A21. The preferred option of a level crossing has been ruled out by the Highways Agency, who prefer a bridge of some sort. This option is not feasible because of the gradients required, so the negotiation is ongoing.

After John’s talk, there followed a question-and-answer session.

John is to be thanked for his insight into the hard and expensive work required to produce the railway press headline “XXXX Railway announces an extension to their line”.