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My BR involvement in early GCR operations


Graham Oliver’s article (Saving a Main Line Railway) about the early years of today’s Great Central Railway brought back memories, as I was one of those from British Rail charged with supervising operations. 

At the time I was a divisional inspector at Nottingham, and my involvement started with preparation for the 75th anniversary in March 1974.

A couple of days beforehand, I was instructed to walk and inspect the route from Loughborough to Quorn with a permanent way inspector.

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Special instructions were prepared to govern operations on the day (a copy is still in my possession). 

When the Main Line Steam Trust subsequently gained permission to run a weekend passenger service, it fell to me as the BR inspector to supervise operations on the first day.

While I hesitate to disagree with Graham, my records tell me this was Saturday, June 23, 1974. The Ruston diesel was used for the inspection run, while Norwegian 2-6-0 No. 377 King Haakon 7 worked the passenger services. 

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Trains ran under ‘one train working’ arrangements, with the BR supervisor expected to ride on the engine of each train wearing a red ‘pilotman’ armband as the driver’s movement authority (that is what I’m doing in the attached photo).  

Having joined British Rail on September 4, 1968, a month to the day after ‘regular’ main line steam finished, this unexpected interlude with preserved steam was valuable experience. 

More recently, I have had the pleasure of being shown around the modern, flourishing Great Central Railway by the late Bill Ford. 

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By then I was general manager of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, finishing my career with the steam I had missed at the start – but that is another story!

Philip Benham,

Read more Letters, Reviews, Opinion, News and Views in the March 2019 issue of The RM –on sale now!

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