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Train journey revives memories of winter trips to Wales

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On Saturday Pathfinder Railtours ran a charter train, starting at Burton-On-Trent, picking up through the west Midlands and Gloucestershire down through the Severn Tunnel to visit various freight lines, spurs and loops plus what will probably be the last passenger train to visit the line from Ystrad Mynach to Cwmbargoed – remote and some 1,200 feet above sea level, writes Ian Thomas.

The coal pit there has closed, and this brings all large-scale coal production in South Wales to an end. The train is formed of British Rail built air-conditioned MK 2 coaches built in the 1970s and now used for private charter work. The train is top and tailed with Class 66 freight locomotives either end and today they are 66-050 and 66-070.

CWM GLO passing Coaley Junction.66 050 tailing.09 03 24 | Train journey revives memories of winter trips to Wales
CWM & GLO passing Coaley Junction. Pic: Ian Thomas.

As I type, the train is running nearly one hour late for various reasons. I have also included pictures of two railtours from 45 years ago, one in the autumn of 1978 The Welsh Wonder to Blaenavon, run by RPPR railtours and one in January 1979 with Fielding & Watts (now Pathfinder), the ill-fated tour to East Anglian which ran so late that it was terminated at Stowmarket because of adverse weather conditions. By that I mean snow and freezing fog in what was the longest, snowiest and coldest winter since 1962-63.

20 022 112.Blaenavon.02 12 78 | Train journey revives memories of winter trips to Wales
Blaenavon 1978. Pic: Ian Thomas.

The tour was pictured at Stroud some three hours late, the Class 40 diesel locomotive No 40-052 could not, for whatever reason, provide steam heating, and so a Class 46 No 46-023 was tucked in for heating purposes in the freezing conditions. 

40052 46023 Stroud E Anglian Rlt 27 1 79 | Train journey revives memories of winter trips to Wales
The East Anglian in Stroud, January 1979. Pic: Ian Thomas.

The Welsh Wonder tour of November 25th, 1978 made visits to Blaenavon, then still intact and now part of the Blaenavon Heritage Railway. So popular was this tour that a relief tour was run the following week on Saturday December 2nd, 1978.

Note that in those far off days you could open the doors of the MK 1 coaches and leap out and drop four feet to the rail level. No ‘elf and safety’ intervention then. Also note the falling snow on November 25th and snow lying three inches deep at that level on December 2nd, the start of a notable winter indeed.

The tour also visited Uskmouth all with freight locos and NO HEAT! We got on with it back then. Pictures here were taken by yours truly back then at Blaenavon and Stroud and again today at Cam and Dursley.

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