Monday 16th August 2020
Heritage Railways have had it tough these last few months. No ‘Emergency Measures Agreements’ for them, nor any help for charter train companies either.
So it was a surprise a few weeks ago when I saw news a new charter train service would be starting up from Monday 20th July running a daily service during the summer on the Settle and Carlisle line. It sounded too good to be true; but it was both good and true.
The new company, Rail Charter Services Ltd is running a timetabled three journeys a day service aimed at tourists and rail enthusiasts on this, one of Britain’s most iconic scenic rail lines. The journeys have been added so they run around Northern Rail’s timetabled diesel trains between Leeds, Settle and Carlisle as well as various freight trains which regularly use the line.
The charter trains are hauled by Class 37 and 47 locomotives (one at each end) with four ex Greater Anglia Mark 3 first-class coaches and one Mark 2 compartment brake vehicle for the guard and cycles.
I understand the service is backed by Jeremy Hosking, who owns Locomotive Services (TOC) Ltd which is operating the trains with the service promoted by Rail Charter Services Ltd working in cooperation with the Settle Carlisle Railway Development Co Ltd.
Fares are not cheap, especially if you’re travelling as a single passenger. The minimum number of seats that can be purchased is two due to social distancing restrictions. A single journey costs £39 (for two people) or £59 (for a family of four including a minimum of one child aged under 16). Tickets are only being sold in multiples of two.
The three journeys leave Skipton at 08:35, 12:18 and 16:12 and just call at Settle then straight on to Appleby. Return times from Appleby are 10:35, 14:38 and 17:58. Journey time from Skipton to Appleby is around 75 minutes and if you come back on the next journey after the train has paused and had a good clean then you get about an hour in Appleby on the middle journey or half an hour on the other two.
You can take the risk of turning up on the day to book but it’s not recommended.
I booked a return journey last week on the middle trip for today (12:18 Skipton to Appleby and 14:38 return) and I noticed there were still seats available to book yesterday evening.
I arrived at Skipton in good time to see the train return from its first rounder at 12:03 it was noticeable only a few passengers alighted from that but there was a good crowd gathering for the 12:18 departure.
Boarding the train felt like being reunited with an old friend as although I like the new Stadler Class 745 trains on the Liverpool Street and Norwich service, you can’t beat a good old Mark 3 with its low height comfy seats all lined up with windows.
They’re absolutely ideal for this service on such a scenic line with spectacular views for Dales lovers ….
… and train lovers alike.
It turned out my two allocated seats in coach C were the inner facing pair on a foursome with the window seats already taken by another couple.
I spotted the rear section of coach C was empty as was the entire coach D so checked with the staff member on the platform and sat at the back of coach C in splendid isolation.
The company have installed plastic screens on the seat backs to aid social distancing and the curtains have been removed from the windows but otherwise the coaches are as they were in service with Greater Anglia including power sockets although the Wi-fi has been disconnected.
We set off from Skipton spot on time at 12:38 and made good progress until Settle Junction signal box where we came to an abrupt halt as it turned out Network Rail staff were examining the track ahead following a bridge strike which caused us about a half hour delay.
But nobody seemed to mind and an announcement explaining the delay was made over the PA. We didn’t pick many more passengers up in Settle and had a good run through to Appleby including spotting many waving walkers as we passed over Ribblehead Viaduct. The scenery was as splendid as it always is.
At Appleby passengers split into those heading off to explore the town and surrounding area and those choosing to hang around the station to watch the train continue into the sidings where it’s given a full interior clean during the layover.
To delight those camera wielding loco watchers a Class 20 (so I’m told) loco also arrived from the Settle direction and did a couple of shunting manoeuvres into the siding too.
I understand it acted as a rescue loco when the Class 37 recently failed and hadn’t returned to its home in Crewe so presumably continues to act as a stand-by.
I had a good look around the station during the layover and was pleased to see the splendid retro ticket office is manned …
…. and well promoted on the ticket machine especially as it’s one of those awfully complicated Northern ones to use where your specific journey has to be entered before being able to buy a ticket.
There is also a handy telephone for contacting the signalman about any delays (imagine that on the Brighton Main Line) …
… even though there are electronic signs showing departures on the platforms – although they seemed to be playing up at various stations along the line today, with non sensical information at Skipton …
…. and nothing at all at Garsdale.
Appleby also has a souvenir shop selling books and other literature about the line and other railway titles and it was good to see lots of promotion for this charter train.
The train arrived back into Appleby’s southbound platform just before the departure time of 14:38 but we left about ten minutes late and then had an unscheduled stop at Garsdale station for about ten minutes (loco getting ‘a little bit warm’ according to the PA) which meant a delayed arrival back into Skipton at 16:19 instead of 15:54.
The train then had to immediately head back north again on its next departure, the third rounder of the day, scheduled for 16:12.
After that’s complete the train heads north again out of service (ECS) to Appleby where it camps out overnight in the sidings returning empty to Skipton for the first journey in the morning. Once a week it returns overnight to its home depot in Crewe.
This service really is a great idea and although this odd of all odd summers is a strange time to be launching a venture of this kind it’s a way of testing the concept out and as Northern Rail have reduced the number of journeys they run on the line, they must be pleased for this service helping to spread the tourist load in these socially distanced travel times.
Hopefully it will be regarded as a success and return next year even if Northern are back to a normal timetable by then. This charter service with its higher fares and more luxurious travel offer appeals to a different market and should grow the overall business on the line rather like the Jacobite service has done between Fort William and Mallaig.
And if it is a success why not run something similar on other scenic lines with a minimal standard train offering – eg the Heart of Wales line (although I’m sure they’ll be restrictions due to track suitability).
The service continues daily until Saturday 12th September so if you fancy a ride on a sumptuous Mark 3 coach behind a Class 37 or 47 loco on one of the best rail lines in the country, it’s definitely worth a ride.