Updated: Friday, 22nd May 2020 @ 2:15pm

Train enthusiasts flock to ‘Deltic Gathering’ as iconic locomotives brought back to historic Bury rail route

Train enthusiasts flock to ‘Deltic Gathering’ as iconic locomotives brought back to historic Bury rail route

By Rob Lowson

Train enthusiasts flocked to Bury and the East Lancashire Railway (ELR) over the weekend to remember the days when the iconic ‘Deltic’ diesel locomotives ruled the British Rail network.

Thousands attended the ‘Deltic Gathering’, held in homage to a classic form of traction that played a significant part in revolutionising high-speed express services in the 1960s and 70s.

Five of the much-loved Class 55 series were on hand all weekend to pull specially timetabled passenger trains, delighting crowds who had travelled from all over the north of the UK and beyond.

The now-preserved locomotives, named Deltics after the Napier Deltic engines used in their prototype design, are scarcely found on Britain’s lines these days and it is a real rarity for them to be seen together as a group, as ELR Chairman Peter Duncan explained.

He said: “There are only a limited number of occasions when five working Deltics will be operating together on any railway, and the ELR is an ideal venue with its infrastructure to support such an event.”

There was certainly an air of nostalgia present as enthusiasts soaked up the noise and atmosphere that engulfed Bury’s Bolton Street Station platforms.

One enthusiast, Michael Robinson from Grimsby, said: “I remember them from my childhood. I often used to travel to Doncaster to spend full Saturdays watching the Deltics.”

Another rail buff, and regular visitor to the ELR, Peter Marsh, praised the railway for bringing the celebrated locomotives together, citing the notable coup of being able to host five Deltics as the main lure for diesel aficionados.

He explained: “This is only the second time it has ever happened, so that is what has attracted people here.”

In their heyday, the Deltic locomotives were used to provide high speed and comfort for passengers, which in a slightly ironic twist, is something that certain groups remain committed to bringing back to the ELR via the introduction of commuter trains onto the heritage line, linking towns such as Rawtenstall and Ramsbottom to Bury, and then onwards to Manchester city centre.

However the proposals, backed by various north-west MP’s and even pop music mogul and avid train fanatic Pete Waterman, look set to remain in the sidings for the foreseeable future.

Results from a feasibility study conducted by Transport for Greater Manchester in July this year found that the operating costs associated with the project were significantly high.

TfGM spokeswoman Joanne Sheppard confirmed that the cost to benefit ratio wouldn’t meet the minimum criteria set by the Department for Transport to qualify for central government funding.

This would leave local authorities having to foot the bill for the scheme, but despite the negative connotations of the TfGM report, councillors remain upbeat, as Rossendale Council leader Alyson Barnes told the Rossendale Free Press at the time.

She said: “The report should have looked at the wider economic and regenerative benefits of such a development. It won’t really make a difference to the work we are trying to do around this.”

While it seems that for now commuters from Bury and its surrounds will still have to battle through the gridlock that is the M66 to Manchester each morning, named by TomTom as one of the most congested roads in the country, another ELR initiative is in development that could provide a direct link with commercial Network Rail services via an extension of the existing line to Castleton.

Via this expansion, the ELR hope to provide an interchange with the Calder Valley route, opening up the heritage line to new visitors from further afield.

Although a long-term goal, assembly of the required land is well underway and discussions with Network Rail regarding cross-platform access are said to be ‘imminent’.

And those longing for an eventual commuter rail service should not give up hope just yet, as the proposal does offer the possibility of more regular passenger services being added in the future, as ELR Chairman Mr Duncan explained.

He said: “Our extension will provide a direct route to the national network and could allow a lower key and entirely ELR based service to be developed over time, connecting with existing services at Castleton.”

For now though, the main priority for the ELR remains striving to maintain their status as the North West’s premier heritage railway, a reputation greatly enhanced by high-profile events such as the ‘Deltic Gathering’.

And fans don’t have to wait too long for their next trip down memory lane, with the railway hosting their annual Autumn Diesel Gala on October 13 and 14.

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