Rail Rants 1. Viz Vests

In an occassional series of not so much rants perhaps, tales would be more accurate but in the rail fraternity any story worth re-telling can end up being termed a rant. Ok with that behind me …

Vintage Trains were running “The Coronation Express”, hauled by both 4965 Rood Ashton Hall and 5043 Earl of Mount Edgcumbe. Due Cheltenham 09:43 I was in position on the road bridge at Churchdown a good 20 minutes before due time with my trusty Canon EOS 30D and Mr. Treachers kindly loaned Canon 70-200 IS Pro lens. This is a brilliant lens for crappy lighting conditions as it goes down to F2.8, really squeezing every last photon out of the day.

The observant amongst you may say, hey Mike, that’s cutting it a bit close timewise but I had spoken with Rogesy and the train was reported on-time at Ashchurch, so there!

Fast forward to just 5 minutes before arrival and a large Network Rail van trundled under the bridge on the dirt track on the up-side and parked at the entrance to the gated access. Still no cause for concern. Two guys got out in full orange viz-suits, completely according to the trackside rules posted clearly alongside their parked van.

Now this is where it gets a bit sticky, they wandered off along the track northwards towards Cheltenham while I was taking test shots to measure exposure. At 09:40ish they crossed both running lines and stopped in the four-foot on the down-side, all nice and vizzy. It was at this point several things happened. Firstly I noticed the plume of steam rising in the distance and secondly I realised that the viz-suits had stopped and got cameras out!

Not calm under pressure I let out a stream of consciousness (that’s swear words to the uninitiated) and managed to annoy the guy stood next to me who reminded me quite sternly that “He was videoing!” and wave the camera around wildly, losing my framing. By the time I regained composure and took the shots the vests disappeared behind the train as it passed, which meant their being there wouldn’t have been a problem anyway. Doh! Predictably, after the train had passed they crossed back, got into their van and vanished.

Steam is not easy to stage-manage. They should say “Never work with children or animals or steam!” There’s either none which means you’ve probably not chosen your spot too wisely or you’re fotting Tornado or loads, which usually results in the train itself being obliterated by the clag as the wind sweeps it back over/in front of the damn train. Today it was the latter. Even the pro lens couldn’t save this shot, so it was a good job the train was booked to take on water in Gloucester Yard for 30 minutes offering me the chance to get round it. I chose the parapet to the old bridge just south of what had been Haresfield station for my second attempt.

The steam passed through at some speed leaving the smell of sulphur and steam in the air as it headed towards the yard. So fast in fact that I purposely drove round via the inner ring road to confirm the train was watering in the yard. I drove past where I expected to see the consist but couldn’t see it. Should I check it was there or risk heading on to my second location in case it’d gone straight through. Again, at this point those of you who know the slightest thing about steam (which should include me) will know that these locos don’t get very far without water, indeed these days the watering stops are too fequent but that’s just the price you pay for operating steam charters on our railway network today. I bottled and double-backed into the industrial estate and confirmed it was there.

Great, now to Haresfield. Usual route and with about 20 minutes to get there before they left the yard. Brilliant. Arrived at the entrance road to Haresfield to find a “Road closed, follow diversion” sign, turning rapidly into the entrance a driver coming out motioned to me. After winding down the window I still couldn’t make out wether he was letting me know it was in fact passable (see on) or remonstrating with me. Now with only about 10-15 minutes left I passed the dreaded sign only to drive 100 yards and find another in the middle of the raod. Spinning the Focus I stormed back out onto the main road and towards the opposite end of the village. 10 minutes left.

Down the lane and turn right to access the bridge I’d chosen for this shot and there was another vizzed-up, although this one sporting yellow, workman turning traffic away from the bridge. Definitely less than 10 minutes to go now. I wound down the window again and asked if I could access the bridge on foot. I’m not sure what language he thought I spoke, he wasn’t exactly bursting with O-Levels but I ascertained that I could. Parked up and walked towards him, avoiding further conversation by pointing towards the Llamas in the field behing him (I kid you not). No one else had been this persistent and I had the bridge to myself. Which was lucky as it passed south 5 minutes early and this was a far better shot.

Motto: Nil carborundum when it comes to Viz Vests!

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