For variety of passenger and freight traction, there can be few places in the South of England to match Westbury, a small and unremarkable Wiltshire town best known for its White Horse, carved into the chalk hillside overlooking the town.
Westbury stands 109 miles from London Paddington and is a major junction on the Berks & Hants route via Newbury to the South West, being the point where it crosses the busy Bristol to Portsmouth line, while other services run from here to Swindon via Melksham.
Add the regular stone traffic originating at the nearby Merehead and Whatley quarries, and you are in for pretty much non-stop action on an average weekday, with the three hours I spent there on Friday (17 August) producing no less than five different classes of passenger unit and three different classes of freight loco.
The large station lay-out comprises two island platforms, with three platform faces still in use, after track through the original platform 1 – the down Salisbury line – was removed in 1985. All three platforms are now bi-directional and there are also up and down freight loops either side of the station.
GWR main line services seem to be still formed of HSTs, with no evidence yet of the new Hitachi trains Class 800 series units, apart from a notice to drivers at the southern end of platform 1 regarding use of selective door opening.
Local services seem increasingly handled by Class 165/6 units, recently displaced following electrification from the Thames Valley, with appearances also by Class 150, 153 and 158/9 units, the latter being operated by both GWR and SWR.
Freight services also see some variety and a welcome break from the endless diet of Class 66 units that seem to operate pretty much every freight train I encounter around the country. At Westbury this variety comes from the earlier General Motors Class 59 locos, as well as the elusive Class 70s, with three Colas-liveried members of this class in evidence on Friday.
Pictured here on 17 August is pioneer 59001 Yeoman Endeavour leaving the up freight loop with a working from Merehead Quarry to Wootton Bassett.
158955 approaches Westbury North Junction with a Great Malvern – Brighton service as 153333/325 stand in the siding behind before returning to the station.
While the locos and freight trains are stabled in yards on both sides of the line to the south of the station, the best vantage point for seeing action here is from a road bridge to the north of the station.This gives you a panoramic view of the station in one direction and a view of North Junction in the opposite direction, where the route to Trowbridge diverges left from the main route to Newbury and Paddington.
66147 is diverted through platform 1 while the down relief line is blocked, working empty stone hoppers from Oxford Banbury Road Sidings to Whatley Quarry as 166206 approaches platform 2 with a service from Gloucester to Frome.
What you are missing from this spot is any fast trains using the 1933-built avoiding line, which is taken by many services to and from the South West, and occasional freight trains using the East Loop, a curve from the Newbury direction towards Trowbridge that can be seen in the distance.
Pictured below 165119 waits to depart platform 3 with the 12.20 to Swindon as 59001 Yeoman Endeavour waits in the up relief line, while 153325 and 153333 stand in the sidings awaiting their next turn of duty.