A last-minute change of plan means a special excursion train from Bedford on Saturday will be hauled part of the way by an 80-year-old steam locomotive that looks just like “James the Red Engine” in the “Thomas the Tank Engine” stories.
The crimson-painted Jubilee class loco called “Galatea” – once used on passenger expresses on British Rail’s London Midland region – will be coupled up to the 11 carriages in west London for the second part of the journey to Bath and Bristol.
Organisers had planned to use Black 5 locomotive number 45407 “The Lancashire Fusilier” to pull “The Cathedrals Express” but announced this week it was “unavailable” and that the engines had been switched for operational reasons.
The train will set out from Kettering at 6.58am behind a vintage Class 47 Co-Co diesel, ironically one of the 500 heavy-duty monsters built to take over as British Rail scrapped steam locos like Galatea.
Nearly 100 passengers have booked to board at Bedford at 7.30am, before further stops at St Albans and Mill Hill. The train is scheduled to reach Bath at 12.42 and then Bristol at 13.06.
But there are still a few tickets left, ranging in price from £119 in Premier Standard class through to £265 in Pullman Style Dining. For details visit www.CathedralsExpress.co.uk or call 01483 209888.
Marcus Robertson, chairman of operators Steam Dreams, said: “We are looking forward to returning to Bedford and hope many locals will join us on what promises to be a fabulous steam trip.
“Passengers can just sit back and relax in our beautifully restored vintage carriages while those in dining will enjoy a delicious champagne breakfast on the outward journey and a four or five-course meal on the return.”
Galatea, built at Crewe in 1936, was named after the warship HMS Galatea, which in turn had been called after the Goddess of Calm Seas. The loco hit the headlines in 1953 when a passenger train it was hauling derailed at Wilnecote, near Tamworth, Staffs.
Fortunately only two people were slightly injured and Galatea, despite ending up on its side, was hardly damaged and soon returned to service.
For anybody who misses Saturday’s train, Steam Dreams will be running another special excursion from Milton Keynes over the picturesque Settle to Carlisle line on Saturday, September 9
Meanwhile rival operators West Coast Railways have scheduled a special “North East Explorer” excursion from Bedford to Durham, Newcastle and Berwick-on-Tweed next Wednesday, as well as the “Scenic Carlisle Express”, which will be steam-hauled over the Settle-Carlisle line, on September 6, and then Festive Special trains to Manchester during December.
Further details from West Coast Railways on www.westcoastrailways.co.uk or call 0844 8503137.