37308 and 37057 are seen at St Blazey during November 2002. The find out how they got here and their connection to Taunton, read the story below (Photo: Nathan Stockman)

The 25th November 2002 may not be a date which sticks in peoples minds as a significant railway event for Taunton. However this day sparked a sequence of movements in the Taunton area which will never be repeated again. A one off phenomenon which caused a tidal wave of excitement in the South West at the time.

In a climactic turn of events it was announced on South West Rail Gen that the region was about to be visited by one of the largest and heaviest trains on the UK Railway Network, the HOBC (High Output Ballast Train). The Huge Yellow monster was to be hauled by Class 37's. At the time the humble Class 37 was a dyeing breed, a class of locomotive which had been earmarked by EWS for withdrawal and scrap.

The 25th November saw two trains allocated to head South from Crewe Basford Hall to Exeter in Devon, working via the Welsh Marches Route to Newport before continuing through the Severn Tunnel and South to Exeter.

37057 and 37308 were allox to work the 6Z50 16:15 Crewe Basford Hall - Exeter

37203 was allox to work the 6Z52 17:13 Crewe Basford Hall - Exeter

Both trains departed from Crewe exceptionally late. 37057 and 308 on 6Z50 finally left 168 minutes late at 19:03, while 37203 (Blue Mainline Livery) followed on 6Z52 at 16:55 140 minutes late. 37057 'Viking' (EW&S Livery) and 37308 (BR Blue) had the heavier train of 1260 tonnes, which provided plenty of wheel slip while working the grades over the Marches. They traveled overnight in terrible weather conditions, both trains where over 200 minutes late on reaching Dr Days Jn (Bristol). As a result of their late running both trains where routed via Westbury to Taunton/ Exeter. During this diversion it can only be assumed that 6Z50 was held at Westbury (Possibly for a change of crew) which allowed 37203 working the lighter loaded 6Z52 to pass by.

Confirmed timings on passing Taunton were as follows:

37203 6Z52 17:13 (25th) Crewe Basford Hall - Exeter. Taunton Pass 06:02 (390 Late, 26th)

37057+37308 6Z50 16:15 (25th) Crewe Basford Hall - Exeter. Taunton Pass 08:49 (599 Late, 26th)

The exact load hauled by 37203 has never been confirmed, but it's though that the loco may of hauled the outer control vehicles which propel the HOBC (High Output Ballast Cleaner) during ballast drops. The loco and it's consist managed to pass Taunton at 06:02 on the 26th and was a total of 390 minutes late, and 422 late upon arrival at Exeter Riverside. 37057+308 followed (slowly!) passing Taunton at 08:49 a total of 599 minutes late, arrival at Exeter Riverside was at 09:30, 592 minutes behind schedule.

On arrival at Exeter Riverside 37203 was immediately attached to an adjacent rake of Railtrack JJA Autoballaster Wagons before taking them to Westbury. This train was confirmed as passing Taunton at 10:43 heading North before taking the Berks and Hants route East.

The remaining Class 37's recessed in Exeter Riverside during the day. As the evening of the 26th approached 37057+37308 were both allocated to work the 6W15 Exeter Riverside - Bridgwater with the HOBC for a large ballast drop in the area. 66110 was sent up light engine from St Blazey to assist with the operation as the train would be operating in top and tail formation. The 6W15 departed Exeter Riverside some 60 minutes late, which was partly caused by the late arrival of 66110 from St Blazey, but also because the train was so heavy it took 3 attempts to get it moving. There were confirmed reports of sparks flying from the wheels of the locomotives as they tried to move their 2230 tonne payload. The tractive effort wasn't helped by 37057's history of wheel slip protection equipment not working! The huge train passed Taunton at 00:34 (27th) heading North with the Class 37's leading the train. After dropping ballast overnight the HOBC headed South again at 04:15 heading back to Exeter with 66110 then leading South.

Once again the train would recess in Exeter Riverside yard during the 27th November. There were some STP paths entered to facilitate a move to Meldon Quarry to replenish the train load of ballast. However these were not utilized, as the train was only reported a quarter empty after the first nights ballast drop.

The evening of Wednesday the 27th November saw a much better operation, the 6W15 22:30 Exeter Riverside - Bridgwater was much more of a success. The mild evening conditions and starlit sky saw the HOBC rocket through Taunton Station at 22:30. The formation remained the same as the previous nights with the Class 37's leading on the Northbound trips. After a successful ballast drop overnight the train was again confirmed as passing Taunton at 03:25 (28th) running 125minutes early as the 6W16 05:30 Cogload Jn - Exeter Riverside. As the previous day, the train recessed in Exeter Riverside, however at some point during the day the locomotives switched ends.

The evening of the 28th saw 66110 leading the HOBC train North with 37057 and 37308 providing power from the rear. The reason for this switch has never been confirmed. At 00:46 (29th) 66110 rolled into Taunton Station and stopped on the up main. The train was so long that the 37's were out of sight under 40 Steps bridge.

66110 is seen paused at Taunton. This is the only night time image obtained of this HOBC during it's visit to the South West. The huge train mainly operated under the cover of darkness. The early hours of Friday the 29th November was the only night the train stopped at Taunton. (Photo: Brian Garrett)

On departing from Taunton Station with 66110 leading the train it only reached Cogload Jn before it was sent back. The ballast drop had been cancelled. The train was piloted by 37308 and 37057 into Fairwater Yard
(located to the South of Taunton Station), and was confirmed as passing through the station at 01:35.

During the night, and under complete cover of darkness further locomotive movements took place. 66024 which had earlier worked the 6B99 Tavistock Jn - Exeter Riverside was sent North to Fairwater Yard as the 0W17 02:10 Exeter Riverside - Fairwater Yard. The loco arrived at 02:40. 37057 and 37308 then made a made dash for freedom by way of the 0W17 Fairwater Yard - Exeter Riverside light engine move, leaving their heavy payload behind them. Once in Exeter the pair headed further South forming the 0C24 Exeter Riverside - Tavistock Jn light engine move, before then picking up a rake of CDA Clay wagons and working the 6C24 Tavistock Jn - Fowey. This amazing move saw the pair of Class 37's work into the heart of Cornwall, however they didn't quite make Fowey! On arrival at Lostwithiel it was found one of the locomotives had a coolant leak, the decision was taken to take the pair of veteran machines to St Blazey for a service, while 66117 took the CDA empties to Fowey from the Lostwithiel reception sidings.

Meanwhile back in Taunton, 66207 had joined the party in Fairwater Yard and had also arrived light engine as the 0G81 Westbury - Taunton. Both 66207 and 66110 were reported parked up next to one another at the North end of Fairwater Yard at 07:00. There were three booked diagrams for the HOBC to return North, with the train being split into manageable portions:

6G81 Fairwater Yard - Didcot Yard (via Westbury)

6Z40 07:10 Fairwater Yard - Crewe Basford Hall

6Z42 07:51 Fairwater Yard - Crewe Basford Hall

Confirmed workings for the splitting and sequence of these trains were as follows:

66110 departed first with the 6G81 at 09:55, this conveyed around half of the HOBC and was worked direct to Didcot. Once at Didcot 66110 returned to Westbury light engine.

66207 was next with 6Z42 passing Taunton Station at 10:10 with the outermost control units, the train was routed North towards Bristol but took a diversion via Weston Super Mare. At Weston the driver was asked to examine the train to ensure the vehicles were in full working order. The decision was taken to continue forward to Bristol East Depot where the 6Z42 would be cancelled, but would join with the following 6Z40 and work North to Crewe from there.

66024 was the third train of the day to exit Taunton with the 6Z40 this also took the route North to Bristol. Here it was routed to Bristol East Depot where it joined forces with 66207. The pair then worked the remaining parts of the HOBC North to Crewe.

Taunton was now empty, but there was just one final surprise in store. Having been serviced at St Blazey 37308 an 37057 were allocated to work the 6M72 16:55 St Blazey - Bescot DS with a dead EWS/Res Class 47 in tow. The train was considerably lighter than the pair had been hauling most of the week at just 793 tonnes. 47741 added to the weight, and gave a total train length of just 733ft. The train passed Taunton at 20:34 heading North running 69 minutes early. Although unconfirmed it's also thought the pair of English Electric beasts also helped bank a train up the lickey incline to the North of Cheltenham before returning to their own train and arriving into Bescot just 6 minutes late!

It's stories and events like these that people take for granted, just how much longer the EWS Class 37's will survive is anyone's guess. On the 17th August 2006, there are just 4 working examples left working for EWS!

Did you see any of the above, or do you have photos which could be of use? Why not Email Taunton Trains and let us know!