Bringing up the rear on the freight trains
TRAIN crews in Derby were responsible for a marvellous variety of work in those days – both passenger and freight.
Some of the top-link InterCity drivers would have concise road knowledge between Bristol and Newcastle but, for me, just starting out as a trainman (D) at 4 Shed in 1990, I didn't have to concern myself with becoming an "all England" passenger man just yet, as my duties were predominantly on freight.
This work suited me and I had to agree with the oft-used phrase among train crew when weighing up the pros and cons of passenger and freight work: "A lump of coal won't turn round and argue with you!"
Derby men worked coal, petroleum, metals, chemicals, construction, research, engineering and postal trains and a trainman could act as either secondman or freight guard on these jobs.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
This work was also interspersed with shed/spare duties and local shunt/trip work, with ballast train marshalling at Chaddesden Sidings being a daily operation.
A typical petroleum job could involve backing tanks into St Andrew's or taking aviation fuel to Sinfin Central for use on Rolls-Royce test beds.
Unfortunately, I missed out on operating stone traffic from Wirksworth but was consoled by the fact that I could still get to play with the Denby-Willington coal trains. This was a job I always considered to be proper, traditional railway work, primarily because the guard was still required to ride in a brakevan.
Some of the old guards used to refer to this type of work as "14 times round the stove pipe and back in time for tea", particularly if they had a rough driver up front.
Other jobs that required the use of a brakevan were the occasional movements of London Underground stock to and from Litchurch Lane and preserved locomotives to and from Peak Rail, Matlock, and Midland Railway Centre, Butterley.
The conveyance of toxic gas also required a brakevan and, on these particular jobs, the guard was sometimes referred to as the canary because, if there was a leak, he'd be the first to stop whistling and fall off his perch. That's if he wasn't already asleep – it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference.
The shed duties usually involved a novice trainman who would first (unofficially) get to drive a locomotive on his own, although only within shed limits.
However, I did once end up out on the main line, as the driver I'd been paired with had a habit of disappearing at crucial moments.
Such was the case when, part-way through our shift, an urgent order had come through to get a loco off shed, couple up to some coaching stock in Etches Park and get it into the station as soon as possible.
In full expectation of his return, I decided to prep the loco and collect the stock, so at least the job would be ready to depart when he did finally reappear. However, as soon as the stock had been coupled, the signal was cleared out on to the main line.
As far as the Etches Park staff were concerned, I'd already passed the point of no return by coupling up to the stock in the first place. So, not wishing to delay proceedings any further, I set off… with heart pounding and eyeballs stuck to the windscreen.
To add to my predicament, this particular move involved going on to some stock that was already occupying the platform. It also didn't help that I had to crouch down as I rounded the curve past 4 Shed because, unlike my mate, the shed foreman had an uncanny knack of appearing at moments such as this.
Nevertheless, I was now on course for the station and checked my approach, not wanting to hit the stationary coaches too hard.
Although I'd yet to receive formal training, I smiled to myself as I recalled an old hand driver's advice: "Don't worry, son, that's what they've got buffers for."
In the event, everything turned out fine, thus ending my first solo main line experience. It had been both thrilling and terrifying – exactly as it should be.
Another driver once upset a group of trainspotters who regularly used to congregate at the south end of Platform 6. They'd been desperately trying to identify a particular loco tucked away on shed and this driver had been tasked to move it down to the north end of the station.
As he rolled off the shed towards the spotters, he leaned out of the cab window and cover the loco number with his newspaper, thus denying them their prize.
With much shouting and shaking of fists, they set off down the platform in pursuit, with the driver hoping all the signals were in his favour and he could keep going.
As the loco cleared the station one of the platform staff shouted: "Oi, what's all the commotion?"
"The spotters are revolting!" came the driver's fading reply. Well, I suppose there was no argument with that.
For more of Tim's recollections of life as a Derby trainman, his book of the same name is available at the Railway Bookshop, Macklin Street, Derby, priced £5.