As the era of Class 37 haulage on the Wherry Lines in Norfolk draws to a close, it is very heartening to see these 1960s machines make a welcome reappearance on a South Wales route where they have not worked since December 2005.
While the current single weekday return from Rhymney to Cardiff Central is not as easy to photograph as the regular Norwich-Great Yarmouth/Lowestoft services, it is possible for a visitor to the area to get two different and decent shots of the evening service.
The Monday to Friday service formed of a Class 37 and four Mk2 coaches is the 07.43 Rhymney to Cardiff Central and a return service at 17.01. Coaching stock was delivered on the day of my visit (9 July) for the planned second service, which will be 07.24 ex-Rhymney and 17.46 from Cardiff Central, so it should begin running very shortly.
A trio of Class 37 locos has been hired by Transport for Wales (TfW) from Colas Rail for the new services. These are 37025 Inverness TMD and 37418, both in BR large logo blue livery, and 37421 in the striking orange Colas livery.
Use of the loco-hauled sets began last month (June) and is expected to last until the end of the year, to cover for Class 150 and 158 units that operator TfW needs to refurbish and equip for use after the 1 January 2020 deadline for improved rolling stock accessibility.
Paying a visit to the area on Tuesday, 9 July, I began by catching a train to Barry Island, which gave me the opportunity to photograph 37418 and its four coach set on the depot at Canton, awaiting its 17.01 return to Rhymney (pictured above).
Returning 45 minutes later and 66100 Armistice 100 1918-2018 had arrived, delivering coaches for the second train and waiting to take away the set of first class coaches that have been used on training runs, but will not be carrying Rhymney Line commuters.
Visiting the area for the day by train, my challenge was to find a decent vantage point to see the evening train in operation. Having originally considered a road over-bridge at Llanishen, I instead opted for the south end of Lisvane & Thornhill, station, where the line takes a right hand curve in an attractive rural setting.
Coal traffic was a mainstay of the Valley Lines, but has now all but disappeared from the national network. Here 66024 passes Llanbradach at 15.00 on 9 July, with one remaining flow, from the Cwmbargoed Open Cast Colliery to Margam
The beauty of picking this spot this was that I was then able to hop onto the heavily over-crowded train and alight six minutes later at Caerphilly, along with scores of other passengers, and get a shot of the train in the station (below).
It is possible to take a trip on this service – and equally on the 17.46 when it goes over to Class 37 haulage – and return from Rhymney by train. However this involves a long wait on desolate Rhymney station for the 20.00 return service, and its 21.06 arrival in Cardiff Central is too late for anyone visiting the area from some distance away.
Given the huge following which Class 37 use built up on Cumbrian Coast and Wherry Line passenger duties, it seems a shame that there appear to be no plans for more use to be made of these sets during their time in South Wales.
They would be ideally suited to weekend use for the benefit of both tourists and enthusiasts, particularly when events are taking place at the Millennium Stadium, or how about a regular Cardiff-Fishguard working, as happened some years ago?