West Somerset PCV Testing
47733 and PCV 94315 are seen at Blue Anchor heading for Bishops Lydeard from Minehead on the 15th August 1996 (Photo: Colin J Marsden)
During a four week period during August 1996 English Welsh and Scottish Railways carried out extensive testing on Southern Section of the West Somerset Railway using a Class 47 Diesel Locomotive and their recently converted 'Propelling Control Vehicles' (PCV's) for use with mail trains. EWS had recently bought Rail Express Systems bringing postal and charter trains under their operation. At the time EWS was also making further bids for the other three mainline freight companies operating in the UK.(Loadhaul, Transrail and Mainline Freight)
Wednesday 7th August 1996 saw 47733 ‘Eastern Star' arrive onto the West Somerset Railway to begin crew training using the newly converted PCV vehicles. The loco arrived with several other mail vans which would also be used as part of the trials. The consist was as follows: 47733 94193 94195 94218 and PCV 94315. The majority of the testing took place between Bishops Lydeard and Norton Fitzwarren however Saturday the 24th August posed a slight problem, due to the arrival of a visiting HST tour to Bishops Lydeard there would be a shortage of siding space. As a result 47733 worked through to Minehead to stable, thus becoming the first Class 47 to reach the seaside resort.
During periods when the Class 47 and postal trailers were not used, the locomotive was stabled on the Bishops Lydeard - Norton Fitzwarren section. Here 47733 is pictured just South of Bishops Lydeard station (Photo: Jeff Treece)
The expanding mail by rail network and the increasing use of postal hubs bought a change in the way trains would deliver their post around the UK network.
PCV coaches are a British design and were converted at Hunslet Berkley in Kilmarnoch from Class 307 driving trailers. A total of 43 were converted numbered 94302-94345. 94300 & 301 were the prototype vehicles and were of a non standard design, they were only really used for testing before being used on high speed mail services from Walsall – Inverness having had their ‘push pull' equipment removed. The coaches were designed to work with the Res/EWS Push Pull Class 47/7's which had recently undergone an extensive refurbishment program for use on long distance mail services in the UK .
The PCV (Tops Code NAA) allowed mail trains to be reversed from the rear coach at slow speed at postal hubs and yards giving the driver a clear view, and making shunting of trains much easier. The trials on the West Somerset Railway and on the mainline network were successful and the coaches provided a further 8 years of front line service for EWS. In 2004 the company sensationally lost the entire mail by rail contract. In 2007 none of the coaches are now in service, seven have been scrapped and the rest remain in storage pending sending to the scrap yard.
PCV 94315 departs from Blue Anchor with 47733 pushing towards Minehead from Bishops Lydeard on the 15th August 1996 (Photo: Colin J Marsden)
West Somerset GM Training
The Yeoman Class 59's based at Merehead Quarry work some of the heaviest trains on the UK network, hauling large quantities of limestone from the Mendips to distribution centres around the South of England. To see one of the Class on the West Somerset Railway in 1997 was more than rare!
On February 26th and 27th 1997 the West Somerset Railway played host to 59004 'Paul A Hammond' and 5 empty Yeoman owned JHA wagons. The working occurred not as part of a stone contract on the WSR, but as part of a Driver Training Education Program. During 1996 Foster Yeoman had made the decision to expand their network of operation, and identified that one of the their 5 Class 59/0's was effectively surpless to requirements in the Uk. 59003 'Yeoman Highlander' was chosen to move to Germany. A deal was struck with Deutsche Bahn (DB) which would allow the UK owned locomotive to operate in Germany. While large amounts of technical work had to be carried out on 59003, 59004 was chosen to provide two days of driver training on the WSR for the German Drivers/ Traction inspectors who would be using 59003 in their own country.
The training was a real joint effort, with Foster Yeoman contracting the West Somerset Railway to provide them with somewhere to train drivers, National Power to provide the driver training program, and Mendip Rail to provide staff and movements between Merehead and the West Somerset Railway. The first day of training saw trips made between Bishops Lydeard and Blue Anchor while the second day saw more shunting based training at Williton.
Top: 59004 is seen departing from Williton heading for Bishops Lydeard (Photo: Colin J Marsden)
Middle: Yeoman 59004 arrives into Crowcombe Heathfield running wrong line from Williton heading for Bishops Lydeard (Photo: Colin J Marsden)
Bottom: 59004 passes through Cogload Junction returning to Merehead Quarry after two days of training on the WSR (Photo: Colin J Marsden)