Sunday, 19 September 2010

Liverpool & Manchester Railway 180th anniversary

It was an early start for me this morning; I was rostered as Planet's fireman at the Museum of Science & Industry (MoSI) in Manchester, with a sign-on time of 7:00am! Crewing Planet (the Museum's replica 1830 Stephenson steam locomotive) is a regular volunteer duty for me, but normal sign-on time is 08:30 in order to have the engine ready for service by mid day. But 15th September was the 180th anniversary of the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester railway, the World's first passenger railway. The MoSI site includes the original Liverpool Road terminus of that railway, the world's oldest railway station, so this weekend (and last) MoSI is holding a special event to celebrate that anniversary.

The National Railway Museum replica 'Rocket' locomotive and train are on site, to run alternately throughout the day with our resident 'Planet' and train to recreate Liverpool Road station as it would have looked in 1830. This meant 'Planet' had to be ready for service by 10:00, hence the early start.

It was still dark as I drove into Manchester this morning, and it was raining quite hard. David, our Operations Manager for the day, arrived, as did Ray my driver, and Rocket's driver and fireman. We prepared our locomotives and I soon had a good fire going in Planet's firebox, with 'first pressure' registering by 09:10, and full pressure well before 10:00. So I wandered up the track in the gloom and rain to take a look at Rocket, where I was invited up onto the footplate.

The view from Rocket's tiny footplate; regulator on the left, gauge glass lower centre, cross-head water feed pump on the right

Rocket's fire pierces the rainy Manchester gloom. Note the engineman's trick of drying out soaking wet gloves on the hot firebox

I got a lift back into the station on Rocket, where she was parked over the pit so her driver could go underneath to rake the ashes out of the loco's ash pan.

Rocket's driver under the loco raking out the ash pan

I walked back to Planet to see how Ray had been looking after my fire, and soon it was time for the first train of the day. Rocket and Planet took turns to run the service, doing an hour (three or four journeys) before changing over. Rocket went first, and we had a grandstand view from Planet's footplate.

Rocket with her first class and open coaches on the 'Pineapple Line', in front of the mural on the side of the Granada TV building, as seen from Planet

The line at MoSI is 'Y' shaped; the train starts from the station by the museum entrance, runs through the historic Liverpool Road station with the 1830 warehouse on the right, over Water Street bridge and the Irwell bridge into Salford (so we are an Inter-City railway!) right up to the gates beyond which the line joins the main line from Deansgate station. Here the fireman gets out and unlocks the point behind the train, changes it, and locks it again, so the train can reverse down the 'Pineapple Line', locomotive propelling, alongside the premises of Granada TV (the line gets its name from the long demolished Pineapple pub on Water Street). On reaching the end of the Pineapple line, the train once again reverses and retraces its route back to the station by the entrance.

Rocket backs towards us to pass to the right of Planet, propelling its train from the Salford end of the site, heading back to the station. The original Liverpool Road terminus is on the left, the 1830 warehouse on the right

I took the opportunity to have ride on Rocket's footplate for the length of the line; not something you often get the chance to do!

While waiting on our spur line for our turn of duty, I cooked a 'brunch' of fried Spam sandwiches. First I cleaned Planet's shovel in a blast of hot steam from the injector, then heated it in the firebox. A lump of lard was plopped onto it which melted almost immediately, and the slices of Spam placed on the shovel, which was inserted into the firebox for about half a minute, the Spam turned over, and done for another half minute before putting between the pre-buttered bread. Just the thing on a cold wet footplate!

Rocket's driver and fireman squint into the Manchester rain as they reverse past Planet into the station

After Rocket had done three trips up and down the line it was parked in the loop line with its train, and we came off our spur line and backed down into the station to do our three runs before Rocket took over again. Our relief crew for the afternoon shift had arrived by now, but Ray and I decided to do the first return run of Planet's second set of journeys before booking off duty at about 14:00.

As I arrived home, the rain stopped! We'd got soaked through (Planet has no cab, only an open footplate), so I was certainly ready for a long, hot bath.

So, leaving home on a Sunday morning in the dark at 06:30, getting filthy and soaked wet through, but having great fun on two replica Stephenson steam locomotives. Was it worth it? Oh, I think so!

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