2017 The Passchendaele Javelin

This year’s annual charity railtour, run by UK Railtours, Southeastern Railway, and various industry partners, to raise funds for the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal, coincided with Armistice Day itself.  With 2017 being the 100th anniversary of the battle at Passchendaele, Class 395 Javelin 395017 unit was named Passchendaele Javelin and will remain so for a year.  395016 “Somme 100”, last year’s Javelin railtour unit, was retired from this guise at the end of the day.

This particular Javelin railtour differed from previous tours in having far fewer comfort and photo stops, in fact only a lunchtime stop at Victoria was advertised, but packing in more rare and new track than previous tours.

The railtour tour departed St. Pancras International platform 13 and made its way on HS1 to the Westernhanger Crossovers (tantalisingly close to, but unfortunately not into, the Dollands Moor complex) via the Singlewell Down Loop and Ashford Viaduct (by-passing Ashford International Station).  It then reversed, took Ashford East Junction onto the classic lines and into Ashford International platform 2 for an un-advertised comfort break in time created by the planned shuttle in and out of platform 5 being omitted.  The train then went into Ashford East Berthing Sidings before heading unadvertised up the line to Maidstone East and reversing in Beechbrook Farm loop instead of reversing in platform 1.  The tour went via platform 5, by now already its fifth time since St. Pancras International past or stopping at Ashford International, before taking the line to Canterbury West and the Down Passenger loop there (traversed in a Javelin railtour last year).  There was a difficulty with it reversing just north of Canterbury West so the tour headed up for an un-planned reversal at Minster, so losing about 20 minutes on the schedule.  The train then headed back south into Ashford Down Sidings.  En route it was 11am and the Last Post was played by a bugler on board, followed by a period of silence and then memorial words were read over the PA.  When in the sidings the train only went as far as the door of the shed, maintenance in the facility preventing any other planned shunt moves in the yard but re-gaining right time.

Through Ashford International for the sixth time, this time on the Up Loop, the classic Boat Train 1 route was then taken back towards London, traversing the Up Goods Loop at Headcorn, the Up Loop at Tonbridge and wrong direction moves through platform 2 at Sevenoaks and platform 3 at Orpington.  The tour recessed in platform 1 at Kent House to allow a train to pass before heading into Platform 1 at Victoria for a break of what transpired only to be for 32 minutes.

Departure from Victoria, for an unexplained reason, was nine minutes earlier than advertised, via Cambria Junction, Lewisham and Lee to a new destination for a Javelin – Sidcup Berthing Siding.  There was then a remarkable non-stop run from Sidcup Siding via Lee Spur and St Mary Cray Junctions through Swanley and down the legendary Sole Street Bank, through the Down Loop at the new Rochester Station, via Faversham and Canterbury East, passing by close to our 4 Cor unit 3142 at Shepherdswell, through Dover Priory and Folkestone Central into platform 5 at Ashford International, the seventh time there.  Phew!  Then back Up HS1, being recessed in Singlewell Up Loop for an Up Eurostar service to pass.  The railtour was slightly early and the Eurostar slightly late, hence the extended duration.  Then back to St Pancras International platform 12 with a slow transit past Ebbsfleet Interational low level.  Pointedly, but we believe co-incidentally, 395016 “Somme 100” was in Platform 11 permitting a picture of both the retiring and new railtour units.

About a six minute turn round allowing those who wanted to bale out early to do so, the tour headed back east as far as Stratford International for a trip advertised as “as far as permitted” along the reception road at Eurostar’s Temple Mills depot.  This was of particular attraction to me as for countless years my train journey to and from work was not infrequently diverted past Temple Mills both before and after Eurostar being there.  Unfortunately the train only made up it the gradient above the domestic platforms at Stratford International – not even around the bend towards the depot, never out of sight of the station and the service area of the Westfield complex – before it was halted and sent back to St Pancras.  Whilst it is completely understood that operational matters must take priority over a railtour this was a slight disappointment to what should have been a highlight of this tour.  Arrival back at St Pancras International platform 12 was on time.

This was another thoroughly enjoyable Javelin Railtour, albeit one with fewer comfort breaks and opportunities for photographs, and it is therefore pleasing to be informed that it raised, by way of operating and merchandising profits, silent auction and raffle proceeds, approximately £20,000 for the Poppy Appeal.  Remarkable for only a six car railtour.

Report and photographs by Colin Duff