After a welcome sighting of Network Rail’s New Measurement Train (NMT) on a recent trip to Dawlish, I was inspired to take day trips to a couple of my favourite photo-spots in the hope of seeing the “flying banana” once again as it visited Yeovil and Moreton-in-Marsh, on its everlasting tour of our national rail network.
But things did not quite go according to plan, and on a dismal and foggy day (25 January 2023) the NMT failed to make its scheduled mid-afternoon appearance at Yeovil Pen Mill, when its circuit from Derby to Bristol via Weymouth was seemingly curtailed, while the following day produced a rather different NR test train at Moreton-in-Marsh.
What I had been expecting was the NMT “flying banana” comprising two HST power cars and five yellow-painted MkIII coaches that have been converted into a mobile laboratory. Through the use of high-tech measurement systems, track scanners and a high-resolution camera, it measures the condition of track and can locate any faults.
In place of the converted HST, which I had seen at Dawlish on 13 January in the hands of 43274/290, the lunch-time working of the test train though Moreton-in-Marsh on Thursday, 26 January 2023 produced the rare and welcome sight of a four-coach test train that was being top-and-tailed by Harry Needle-owned 37610/612 and running from Bristol to Derby, by way of Newport, Didcot, Worcester and Leicester.
Class 37 locos were never a regular feature of workings on the Oxford-Worcester Cotswold Line, which over the decades I have been travelling the line featured Class 47s and 50s, before loco haulage gave way to a mixture of HSTs and Sprinter/Class 16x type units, until the new era arrived in 2017 in the form of Hitachi Class 80x units.
Today the route enjoys what is probably the best service in its 170-year history (it opened in 1853), with hourly services from London Paddington to Worcester, many of which continue to Great Malvern or Hereford. Most day-time services are formed of a single 5-car Class 800 unit, although there are some appearances by 9-car sets.
For those unfamiliar with this delightful Cotswold town, Moreton-in-Marsh has one of three surviving signal boxes along the Cotswold Line. Unlike Evesham and Ascott-under-Wychwood, it did not lose its semaphore signals as part of a £67m re-doubling project, which was completed in 2011 and saw double-track restored over four miles between Charlbury and Ascott-under-Wychwood and the 16 miles from Moreton to Evesham.
That has left the 1883-vintage Great Western Railway signal box controlling a total of seven semaphore arms from its 40-lever frame. In the up direction these are starter MM37 and advanced starter MM36, while a down trio comprises outer home MM2, home MM3 and starter MM5.
In addition to this five, there is also a starter signal MM27 that was only installed as part of the re-doubling project and allows an up train to depart from down platform 1 before crossing onto the up line, and MM10 controlling exit from a long refuge siding on the west side of the line to the south of the station
Photographing trains and signals at Moreton is very easy, with great vantage points from London Road over-bridge to the south of the station and Shipston Road over-bridge to the north. But for a different perspective and a chance to see trains passing MM36 and MM2 it is well worth walking down to a foot crossing of the line half a mile south of the station and close to mile-post 91¼.
Having been at Moreton-in-Marsh on 18 May 2019 to witness the final day of GWR mainline HST workings, and returning a fortnight later for another poignant moment on 1 June to see the HST farewell special pass by, it was a great pleasure to be back once again and have the rare chance to witness heritage traction on the Cotswold Line.
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