HDL East Anglian Explorer railtour

Saturday 11 May 2019

This article was opened on 26 May 2019,
and last modified on 1 June 2019

[PHOTO: Train in wooded countryside: 163kB]

Above: Our East Anglian Explorer railtour is seen passing Brundall Gardens, between Norwich and Lowestoft. We traversed the Norfolk Broads in style! Photo by Nick and Billy Palmer.

Hastings Diesels Limited’s 77th public railtour was to the seaside, at Britain’s most easterly point: Lowestoft, in Suffolk.

This railtour was sold out weeks in advance. It began at Hastings, served the usual stations to Bromley South and Kensington (Olympia), and ran along parts of the West London and North London Lines to reach Stratford, our final pick-up point. From there we traversed nearly the entire 114-mile length of the East Anglia Main Line via Colchester in Essex, and Ipswich in Suffolk. A reversal at Norwich (Norfolk) brought us onto the final 23-mile leg to Lowestoft.

On the latter section towards Lowestoft, the Signaller stopped our train and instructed our driver to proceed at caution, because of a report of swans on the track. Indeed we encountered a family of swans and cygnets struggling to cross the track which delayed us to the point that we were 36 minutes late arriving at our final destination of Lowestoft.

As a result, our Empty Coaching Stock runs to and from Norwich, which were planned purely to allow our water-tanks to be refilled, had to be cancelled as any further delay would have jeopardised our return working.

On the return leg we were due for a 5-minute reversal at Norwich, at which we arrived 4 minutes late! Nevertheless, we were able to partially fill some of our toilet-flushing tanks with the short hoses available; our departure was delayed such that we followed a Greater Anglia express which was scheduled to follow us to Ipswich, but we regained our booked timings by then being run straight through Ipswich rather than stopping there to await other train movements. The trip then ran to time and without incident.

Our train ran faultlessly and made good time wherever signals permitted. Unusually we were routed as planned via the Chatham Main Line (via Penge East) rather than the Catford Loop, in both directions; also unusually, on the return we ran as booked via St Mary Cray and Otford, a slower route between Bromley South and Sevenoaks which no doubt kept us out of the way of faster traffic.

Historical data

The train was formed thus: 60118-60501-69337-70262-60529-60116, with motor coach 60116 Mountfield leading upon departure from Hastings; the train returned to Hastings in the same orientation.

The publicity leaflet and timings remain available, as does the geographic sketch map of our route which was produced for this outing. The actual running times have also been saved.

To illustrate the route we expected to take, annotated extracts from Network Rail’s Sectional Appendix were produced for the outward and return legs of this outing (updated 24 April 2019). We are aware that our precise actual route (i.e. which track we traversed on certain complex areas of layout) may be at variance with the pre-guessed route shown here in a few places; these will be corrected in due course as the cab video footage is prepared.

Cab video footage

We mounted unattended unmonitored forward-facing cameras in both cabs of the train, and recorded the forward view from Kensington (Olympia) to Lowestoft and back.

For much of the journey there was more than one member of staff in the cab (a route-conductor) making the leading-cab soundtrack unusable for our purposes, so we have also recorded audio from the rear cab which will be precisely synchronised and combined with the video footage where necessary.

We haven’t prepared the footage yet (see our YouTube channel for other such footage); we will get to it in due course, once the backlog of previous material has been worked through. It will then be linked from this page as well as freely searchable via our YouTube channel.


Various photographers have taken video-footage depicting this railtour and have uploaded it to YouTube; the following are links to some starting-points but do not represent a definitive collection:


Photos on this page were taken by Richard Griffin unless otherwise stated.

[PHOTO: Train approaching station: 69kB]

Above: The railtour approaches Kensington (Olympia) on the outward leg of the journey.

[PHOTO: Train in station: 50kB]

Above: We waited for some 16 minutes at Stratford station for our scheduled path down the Great Eastern Main Line; we are seen here “under the wires” in platform 10A, with a Central line train visible in the background.

[PHOTO: Train on curved track: 155kB]

Above: Ian McDonald waited for us on an overbridge at Reedham, between Norwich and Lowestoft. Behind the leading pair of vehicles can just be made out the remains of a third side of a triangular junction at this point, with the line via Berney Arms to Great Yarmouth (temporarily closed for signalling work at the time of our visit) which diverged to our left a few chains further back.

[PHOTO: Train crossing bridge over river: 154kB]

Above: We cross the River Yare at Reedham Swing Bridge, and would cross the River Waveney about 4 miles down the line on a similar bridge at Somerleyton. Below: our train proceeding towards Haddiscoe and Somerleyton across the Norton Marshes. Photos by Ian McDonald.

[PHOTO: Side-on view of train on marshland: 32kB]

[PHOTO: Swans on railway line: 105kB]

Above: After Haddiscoe we were delayed by this family of swans & cygnets that was attempting to cross the line (from left to right as we see it). When we first arrived, our cab-camera footage shows how the smallest of the cygnets was barely able to scramble over the running-rail—had we proceeded at this point we would have killed the whole family except for the father.

[PHOTO: Swans on track: 94kB]

Above: 11 minutes later, as we carefully eased past the family, Young Cygnet has clambered out of the Down Four-Foot and is now struggling to scramble across the Field Rail into the Up Four-Foot; Daddy Swan waits impatiently in the Cess while Mummy watches anxiously with the rest of her bevy.

[PHOTO: Train in station: 44kB]

Above: Shortly after arrival at Lowestoft, with Club Class motor coach 60118 Tunbridge Wells nearest the camera.

[PHOTO: Station exterior: 45kB]

Above: Lowestoft station has an olde-worlde charm about it, particularly on this day as the new doors leading directly from this aspect onto the concourse had been opened for the first time in 30 years—thanks to the ongoing works of a Community Station Regeneration project.

[PHOTO: Metal marker-plate: 54kB]

Above: As well as the seaside itself, Lowestoft boasts Britain’s most easterly point… as well as the most easterly point ever reached by a Hastings DEMU, attained both in preservation and in BR days!

[PHOTO: Trains in station: 40kB]

Above & below: While some of us were away seeing the sights, others including Ian McDonald were capturing scenes of great interest to English Electric enthusiasts—one of the local services from Norwich was being formed of two coaches topped and tailed by a pair of Class 37 locos provided by Direct Rail Services (DRS); 37716 is at the Norwich end of its short rake.

[PHOTO: Trains in station: 48kB]

[PHOTO: Trains in station: 34kB]

Above & below: 37423 was at the arrival end alongside our train, as Ian McDonald’s photos show.

[PHOTO: Trains in station: 44kB]

[PHOTO: Train at station: 57kB]

Above: Marcus Betts captured this angle, not available to members of the public, from the apron alongside the sidings at Lowestoft station; it shows our motor coach 60116 Mountfield to advantage.

[PHOTO: Train and station: 40kB]

Above: Much has changed over the years at Lowestoft, including the removal of the platform awnings and an overall roof which used to cover the concourse area beyond the buffers as seen here.

[PHOTO: Train approaching station with semaphore signals: 54kB]

Above & below: Ian McDonald was again on hand to witness our passage, this time at Oulton Broad North near the start of our return journey. Oulton Broad North is still controlled by semaphore signals from this signal-box by the level crossing; it is also the junction with the start of the East Suffolk Line which runs to Ipswich via Beccles.

[PHOTO: Train, signal-box and level crossing: 51kB]

[PHOTO: Train crossing bridge: 107kB]

Above: Crossing Reedham Swing Bridge on the return leg of the trip. Photo by Nick and Billy Palmer.

[PHOTO: Train in station: 59kB]

Above: Upon arrival at Norwich, Marcus Betts photographed our train in platform 1. Our late arrival and the need to take on water for our toilet-tanks (which had not been possible earlier because of the swans’ delay) meant that we departed after the Greater Anglia express visible opposite on platform 2.

[PHOTO: Train on embankment against blue sky: 38kB]

Above: As we rushed homeward on the Great Eastern Main Line, and as our Club Class customers were served their evening meal, we passed Hatfield Peverel between between Witham and Chelmsford… and the camera of John Hooson.