In his latest column, Don Benn shares his experiences of main line steam tours behind No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell in 2012 – as well as a memorable trip in 1972 behind No. 45596 Bahamas and No. 6000 King George V.

This time I am going to describe a fabulous run from 2012 with National Collection-owned BR Standard Class 7 Pacific No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell, which has now been withdrawn from the main line and will be taken out of service from the Great Central Railway at the end of the year for overhaul. This is followed by a 1972 run behind 5XP 4-6-0 No. 45596 Bahamas which is about to return to the main line after overhaul.

I have a very high regard for the Britannia Pacifics, having had a number of high quality runs behind them, both in the real days of steam and since. In my view, they were nearly the equals of Bulleid’s light Pacifics and more robust than the Southern locomotives in original condition. Only the steam qualities of the Bulleid’s boiler and the free running qualities of the original engines gave the Southern light Pacifics the edge.

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Two consecutive even time runs
On Sunday, August 5, 2012, I joined the Railway Touring Company’s ‘Royal Duchy’ at Bristol Temple Meads for its 8.48am departure to Par, on which I travelled as far as Plymouth. Our load was the usual nine coaches for 318 tons tare and 345 tons full.

I was allocated a seat in the last coach and the helpful steward kindly found me one on the milepost side right at the very end of the train. The day was cool with blustery showers and our engine crew was Andy Taylor and Charlie Barber. Andy had previously given me a very good run with Oliver Cromwell on the Great Eastern Main Line so I was expecting some good running.

As the rain falls, No. 71000 Duke of Gloucester runs majestically past Exeter St David’s with ‘The Torbay Express’ on August 5, 2012. DON BENN

My expectations were far exceeded, as on this day I was to time my first even time runs with steam over consecutive sections since the 6.44am from Kiel to Hamburg on April 24, 1971 behind oil-fired No. 012.001 and my first in GB since No. 34095 Brentor on the last Saturday morning of Southern steam on July 8, 1967.

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No. 70013 made a good start and after a signal check at Bedminster, topped the climb at Flax Bourton at 50mph, before running easily down to the Yatton stop reached early in two minutes less than the 21 minute schedule.

Then we were away for the dash across the Somerset levels to Taunton, 32.83 miles timed in 37 minutes. Andy’s intent was obvious from the start and even from nine coaches back I could hear the wonderful Brit thrash as the locomotive simply stormed into speed, reaching 70mph after just 4¼ miles.

Speed continued to rise and the average over the 22 miles between milepost 136 and 158 was 76.5mph. We were inside even time by just after Brent Knoll. From Highbridge to Cogload, the rain was heavy but the only concession to this was an easing after Bridgwater and again at Cogload, where we were now running some six minutes early.

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The safety valves lifted here, showing that the locomotive was steaming well, despite the hard running. Table One shows the detail of this section, which was completed in 30 minutes 20 seconds at an average of just a fraction short of 65mph.

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