The Chiltern Chariot Railtour, Sat January 17th 1987

The attraction of a passenger train on the Dunstable branch for the first time in 20 years saw this tour quickly sell out. It was a relief to get the tickets and see a slight easing in the severe weather hammering much of the country as Saturday 17th approached. At the time I worked in offices adjoining the line in Dunstable so it was reassuring to see 25059 ploughing the line a few days before the tour. An earlyish start saw 310 beast 076 joined at Leighton for that classic 310 ride of bumps, draughts, intense heat, screaming motors and rattling window frames to Euston.

A walk from Baker Street to Marylebone, where I joined my first ever DMU tour,  loco hauled tours being my main interest. On meeting the “Axeman” we joined a TSO on the Bletchley based Marylebone class 115 set in 8 car formation. The instant impression as we departed was a very subdued “track basher” atmosphere, no bellowing today then!   

170187chilcharcoverr.jpg a larger version of the tour itinerary map available here

A West Ruislip reversal saw us take in Greenford and a section of the NLL before joining the WCML and reversing in Wembley Central’s Bay or neck platform, from the sudden enthusiasm in much of our coach this was obviously quite a rare reversal point. We reversed again at Bowes Park, the South Crossover presumably being rare track.

170187bowesparkr.jpg Thanks to David Percy for this Bowes Park view

170187dmukennyor.jpg The final London reversal saw us all leap out to stretch our legs at Kensington Olympia

After Kensington it was onto the Midland, via Clapham Jn, Kew and Cricklewood and our unit began to purr along nicely, after staggering around half of London. On crossing the still heavily snow covered Chilterns some of the track crowd began to worry if we would be allowed down the branch due the snow. Our local knowledge and mentioning of 25059 didn’t seem to reassure them! We reversed at Luton Station Down Fast platform and onto the “new chord” connecting the formerly separate Midland and “LNER” Dunstable branch. We then reversed again and climbed up to pass Bute Street , Kenilworth Road, Kingsway and then the more open Chaul End country. The track bed was very smooth, not surprising since the heavy oil and cement trains that used it back then. A journey that is often a 30 minute stagger by bus or car was over all to quickly, we passed our work “hovel” and coasted to a halt at Dog Kennel Bridge about a third of a mile short of the end of the branch. A landslip risk enforced this stopping point and the relief tour a few weeks later stopped in exactly the same place.

170187dunstabler.jpg   Dunstable crowd scenes in this Dog Kennel bridge view, the limit of passenger working on 170187

As above we all clambered out to soak in the Dunstable atmosphere and snow, a few curious locals joined us on the bridge too. Around 1415, 20 minutes after we arrived, we returned to Luton, the atmosphere aboard a bit more lively now. On rejoining the main line at Luton a few bashers leapt to rake in exotic 33/47/56/73 snow pilot unit drags on the South Eastern but me and “MA” stayed aboard, content with our lot. More Midland fast running to Bedford where the last reversal of the day followed, the Ouse on crossing near St Johns, appeared very frozen up. Millbrook, Bletchley Flyover then darkness. After the usual “Swanbourne  stagger” I bailed at Aylesbury.

Tour over, it was a VR on the 65 thrashing along the snow banked back roads to Wing and Leighton to end an enjoyable day out… Typing up these notes many years later it seems with hindsight I’m glad I did this tour as by 1988 the Dunstable branch was in terminal decline, the last train came in 1991 and the final joke saw the track bed ripped up, bridges replaced etc as guided busway developments for the branch continue… 

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