Fringe Box



Chasing A Steam Train

Published on: 27 Feb, 2012
Updated on: 27 Feb, 2012

by David Rose

It’s 44 years since steam trains were withdrawn from regular service in the Surrey area, then the Southern Region of British Railways.

I can’t believe it’s that long. And who would have thought back in 1967 that in 2011 we would still see, on a fairly regular basis, those wonderful giants of another age hauling trains on the main line. Still loved by so many, a living, breathing beast, hissing steam and belching out smoke, smelling sweetly of coal and oil.

Merchant Navy Class locomotive 35028, ‘Clan Line’, seen hauling the VSOE Luncheon Special between Guildford’s two tunnels at St Catherine’s on Friday, July 8, 2011. Picture by Mike Bennett.

Most train buffs back in the sad days of the ‘end of steam’ would have nervously clung to the hope that the then fledgling preserved railways (now known as heritage railways) would emerge in some form or other to offer the chance to see and ride behind their beloved steam engines. That has happily happened, but seeing steam locos out on special excursions on the main line may have been beyond their wildest dreams.

It took many years before our railway authorities allowed steam-hauled trains out on our main lines in any number. Although some parts of the UK saw these services back in the 1970s and 80s, it was only in more recent years that we saw them again in these parts.

And now there are a number each year, one service being the VSOE Luncheon Special that runs from London Victoria via Guildford and Redhill and back to the capital – usually on a Friday.
It passed through Guildford once again on Friday, July 8, and I, along with Martin Giles and Mike Bennett went to see it and do a bit of ‘chasing trains’.

Close up view of ‘Clan Line’s’ piston rods at Shalford station. Picture by Martin Giles.

This particular activity was common in the final years of steam trains. Passionate train buffs would seek out special locations that were good for photo opportunities and, by car, literally chased a train in the attempt of photographing it at several different locations as it make its journey through the countryside. I guess that fewer vehicles on the roads in those days, and while probably ignoring speed limits, may have made the train buffs’ task easier.

However, it’s possible to snatch several shots of the VSOE Luncheon Special as it passes through the Guildford area without breaking the speed limit!

It’s also now possible to obtain a steam train’s movements from the web. The details give approximate arrival and departure times at stations along its route. For instance, the train we ‘chased’ departed from Guildford at about 2.15pm. So Mike stood on the footbridge at Ferry Lane in St Catherine’s and snapped it as it passed. Meanwhile Martin and I stood near St Catherine’s Lock and photographed it as it passed there.

Hot work on the footplate. Picture by Martin Giles.

Ariving at Shalford, the train always stops there for 20 minutes to take on water. Martin and I dashed back to the Portsmouth Road where Mike was waiting in his car. We drove to Shalford in plenty of time to see it at the station. But we had to be quick as we then drove the few miles on to Shere to get into position on a road bridge that overlooks a deep cutting, getting ready for it as it makes its way on towards Redhill and then back to London Victoria.

If the train had departed early from Shalford we would have been out of luck. Mike parked his car a couple of hundred yards from the bridge that takes a road up to Peaslake. We than ran to get into position.

The VSOE Luncheon Special storms through a cutting between Albury and Shere. Picture by Mike Bennett.

We’d only been there a minute or two when we heard ‘her’ whistle and soon ‘she’ appeared in the distance with a plume of white smoke being blown by the wind across the nearby fields.
We’d got her! Four times (between the three of us) in less than an hour!

Steam train photography is an art in itself, with weather conditions, the trick of the light and wind direction all either making or spoiling a photo. This time around our results may not have been perfect, but we’d achieved our basic objective. We hope you enjoy them.

Perhaps you have local steam train photos, stories or memories to share? If so please use the ‘Leave a Reply’ feature below.

On her way back to London Victoria via Redhill. Picture by Mike Bennett.

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