I’ve been busy writing a book but nevertheless found time to drift up to Aylesbury in good time (so I thought) to enjoy the rattling and fuming experience of a trip to Princes Risborough and back. The last time I did this (in July last) the train was virtually empty and I had hoped that by going along the week prior to the ancient diesel being withdrawn it would be equally quiet. Not so.
Anyway, on Friday 13th May I arrived at Princes Risborough on a modern Aylesbury-London train to find the platform heaving with people who had all come along to see the train while it was ‘quiet’.
These self-propelled single car trains were introduced from 1960, though only 16 were built, all intended for use on the Western Regions lightly-used branches. They had a maximum speed of 70 mph, are fitted with vacuum brakes and eventually became the 121 class when the present classification system was introduced. Chiltern purchased vehicle 020 in 2003 and introduced it on the Princes Risborough service as a ‘heritage’ train, though it released a standard class 165 train for more useful deployment. A second car, 034, joined it in 2011, spreading the work. The cars have the old slam doors, though central locking is fitted. Owing to the mounting maintenance challenge they are being withdrawn on 19th May and replaced by a class 165. This is painful for those who enjoy riding on a traditional diesel train and possibly painful for Chiltern which does not have much spare rolling stock these days.
The train has a rated seating capacity of 65 and having arrived the large gaggle of photographers and other well-wishers boarded rapidly, and I suspect from those standing the load was about 80.
The ‘well-loaded’ train eventually departed and it was fun enjoying the long gear change which is a characteristic of this all-mechanical drive system. More fun was the mile or so of jointed track on the way to Monks Risborough, which we clattered over to the delight of occupants (the wheels going over the joints are barely noticeable on the 165s but these old cars rather enter into the spirit of things). There was then the delicious ‘sucking’ noise as the vacuum brakes applied at Monks Risborough and elsewhere. Not sure of our top speed but I’d guess at 50 mph. Incredibly, at Little Kimble, a station where I’ve never even seen a sign of a passenger, a well-dressed couple fought their way in and in due course asked if the train was usually this crowded; this generated a very complete answer.
At Aylesbury more photographers waited. At this point I noticed that between my two visits the car had been turned round. I’d be interested to know how and why this was achieved.
Eventually, after a great deal of shutter clicking, the train was ready to go. It is perhaps revealing that one of three late-running passengers tearing over the bridge and only just catching the train was heard to exclaim ‘Oh no not that thing’!
As the train made ready to pull away it occurred to me that this usually lightly-loaded service would be a jolly good place to test the Vivarail ‘D’ train. It is inconceivable the good Mr Shooter (who is rather familiar with this branch) hasn’t already thought of it, so there must be a good reason why a demonstrator within easy reach of London is not felt a good idea. I’d certainly want to travel on it!
After the 121 departed (again quite full) the station became very quiet. Most of the action takes place on Platform 3, the old Up Main platform, but in the evening that is only really busy as commuters come home. Having time to spare I had a quick clump around Aylesbury town centre taking in the surviving architecture before returning to an efficient but uninteresting 165 for the 1-hour journey to London.
A civilized run back in a Met Pullman would have been nice.