The last weeks of Southern steam


No other main line in Britain went from steam to modern traction overnight. Don Benn recounts the incredible locomotive performances recorded on the Waterloo – Bournemouth line in the days leading up to the sudden end of Southern steam.

Monday, June 12, 1967 was the first day of the final timetable for steam and I kept a record of every steam locomotive that I saw from then to the end of steam. With help from others I built up what I believe to be the most comprehensive record of which diagram was worked by which
engine over that period.

Merchant Navy No. 35023 Holland-Afrika Line at Weymouth with the 8.30am from Waterloo July 8, 1967. JOHN TILEY

Of course, some other non-diagrammed workings, such as cover for diesel failures and boat trains to Southampton Docks, were also worked by steam from time to time.

Wednesday, June 14 proved to be a good day to be out timing steam. The 6.38pm from Salisbury to Waterloo was hauled by unconverted No. 34102 Lapford and, with 235 tons, this managed just over 60mph on Porton bank, reaching Andover in less than 20 minutes. The driver was Porter, of Basingstoke. At Basingstoke Nine Elms driver John (Boy) Gaffney and fireman Bob Lee took over and I joined the train having gone down on the 6.09pm with VEP electric units.

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Then followed the only known 100mph speed with an unconverted light Pacific, fully supported by the milepost times. My notebook is littered with comments such as “utterly thrashed to hell” and “sounds like it might be priming” plus “engine in terrible condition but steaming well”. Later, after talking to ‘Gaff’, I wrote, “Engine priming badly at the start with the lever slipping. After milepost 45 Gaff put the lever into 40% and the engine roared along throwing out fire and making a fantastic noise. Engine in terrible mechanical condition.”

The average speed between mileposts 39 and 35 was 97.33mph and 98.18mph from milepost 38 to 35. Speed variations followed the gradient profile almost exactly. This effort would have required about 1100 EDBH or 2400 IHP. Net time was under 19 minutes, despite the relatively slow start. Stormy Lapford indeed.

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