We'd thought our chance had gone, but First North Western restored it to loco-hauled for two weeks in December, Mondays to Fridays only. Rowan college term ended at midday on Friday 17th so I booked the afternoon off work and the appropriate train tickets. This photo shows 37 408 Loch Rannoch at Bangor with the previous day's eastbound service.
There's always a slight nagging worry when taking these trips that a unit will be substituted, so we were relieved when 37 426 arrived, 12 minutes late. On board was evidence of a quick turn-round at Holyhead as the train hadn't been cleaned. This train is a real flyer, stopping only at Llandudno Junction and Chester before Warrington. At the Junction two lads who hadn't been paying attention to the platform announcements made a hasty exit on hearing the guard's announcement as they made their way to their seats. 37 429 was the spare loco at Chester. Recently-withdrawn 37 154 and 37 242 were languishing in Arpley yard, the latter having made a trip down the coast only the previous week. A dozen or so cameras were trained on us as we entered Warrington Bank Quay.
We travel this way regularly and it was a real novelty to do it behind a locomotive - Rowan was very young when we last achieved it, in the days of Peak and 47-hauled Holyhead-Newcastle and Bangor-Scarborough services which died with the advent of sprinterisation. A lady standing on the opposite platform seemed very surprised at the sight of our train. Otherwise the regular passengers seemed unaware that they were witnessing local industrial history in the making as a Newton le Willows engine took a scheduled passenger train on one of its last trips past its birthplace. North Wales Coast Webmaster Charlie Hulme, source of all my information about this train, was waiting to record our arrival at Manchester Piccadilly.
Shortly after our train had left for Longsight, where the engine runs round ready to take it back to Holyhead, 47 847 arrived with the 12:30 Glasgow Central to Poole. Charlie had to return to work, so after a chat Rowan and I toured the station.
Railtrack are making a very good job of refurbishing Piccadilly. Here's 87 001 Royal Scot
86 242 James Kennedy GC
Soon it was time to return over the bridge for the return journey. A man sitting opposite remarked to his companion that the train was usually a two-car unit and bursting at the seams. This I could believe as our five-coach rake carried a respectable loading. The return service, in contrast to the outward trip, stops at almost every station, but at Chester we suffered an extended wait. Eventually the guard announced that the delay was due to "a failure at Shotton" and we would soon be on our way. It was to be another 20 minutes before we restarted. We passed a long dmu on the way to Shotton - possibly it was a failed unit being dragged, but in any event the lines through the station were clear. Arrival at Bangor was 45 minutes late after a most enjoyable trip - the three Mark 2 coaches were bookended by Mark 1s so we could travel both ways in the latter and still be in the front coach.
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