Back in the 1970’s before Virgin Trains, Cross Country, London Midland and all the other multitude of train operating companies (TOCs) we had an organisation called British Rail. This organisation ran the trains, maintained the track and signalling and all the employees belongs to one organisation, had road learned all the routes around the area they were based in etc.
Sundays was always known as disruption day as passengers knew that journey times would be extended due to diversions caused by “Engineering work”. To the passengers it was a nuisance but to rail enthusiasts it was a day of delight and going over railway routes not normally traversed. In the 1970’s when British Rail had the Midland “Railtourer Ticket” i also “rail bashed”. By having the ticket for the week it covered me to places Like Crewe, Derby (but not via Uttoxeter), Nottingham, Gloucester, Hereford and Shrewsbury. I lived in Birmingham then and made several “diverted due to engineering work” trips in the region. One was from Birmingham to Crewe via Soho Junction , Perry Barr, Walsall, through what we know has the Chase line which was freight only and onwards up to Rugeley Trent Valley. Then Onwards via Colwich Junction, Stone, Stoke and onwards to Crewe. A long journey as you can see but both Wolverhampton and Stafford were undergoing Engineering work. Other Journeys have been involved Birmingham to Rugby being diesel hauled via Water Orton to Nuneaton. Now some diversions mean the trains Go up to Stafford to come back down the Trent Valley Line what a difference.
Engineering work on a Sunday, traditionally the quietest day on our railways, is nothing new as this picture from 1957 shows
Why am I mentioned all this about engineering work you might ask? Well when I noticed that their was Engineering work Scheduled on Sunday 18th November resulting in a Rail Replacement Bus Service between Rugeley, Walsall and Tame Bridge and that some preparation work had been done between Pleck Junction, Walsall and the former Dudley arm of the South Staffs Rail line towards the M6 Bridge and Bescot curve I put two and two together. Network Rail staff and contractors had full possession of the line in this area.
Only rail enthusiasts will understand this when I say I got a bit excited thinking that there just might be work being done on this section of the mothballed line. Readers from the www.southstaffsrail.co.uk website will know that Freightliner Heavy Haul are bringing back this section between Pleck Junction and Bescot Curve as a turn back siding for their coal trains to avoid going onto the mainline at Bescot.
I duly arrived at Wallows Lane which was the best vantage point for my first visit of the day and I wasn't disappointed and neither was my fellow SSR member Rob Taylor who I informed straight away.Positioned on the line was an engineering train top and tailed by a 66 Locomotive (don't ask numbers I don't spot) with wagons full of ballast and also track infrastructure. Staff were cleaning and replacing ballast at one end and at the Pleck Junction end rails were being positioned.
It was a cold and frosty morning as this picture depicts but when you see even an engineering train on the line which last had a train on in 1993 you can understand the feeling of a new birth of a railway even though a very limiting one.
I returned later in the day and took more pictures which you can see at our South Staffs Rail website
More engineering work is scheduled on that line but not sure when but it is all in conjunction with the Re-signalling work in the area which culminates next August Bank Holiday (2013) when the line will be shut whilst that transfer everything to the West Midlands Signalling Centre at Saltley. When that happens many signal boxes along the Chase line together with Walsall Power Signal Box will close. The re-signalling work has taken into account the possible re-opening of the South Staffs Rail line between Ryecroft Junction, Walsall through Brownhills and onwards to Lichfield City for freight and possible passenger services in the future as well as a chord between the Chase and Sutton Lines
The work on this stretch of line will still allow for the extension of the Midland Metro should the plans on running it over the Dudley Area of the South Staffs line to Walsall not be pushed back even further. The current working making this a turn back siding will cause less disruption to traffic movement through the lines at Bescot but also enable quicker turnaround of coal trains between the Sutton and Chasse lines.
These views expressed here are my own as I see things and not those of the South Staffs Rail Group in general Dave Cresswell