As the evening draws in upon the city the night workers take on their duties at the freight depot. Goods of all types and sizes are moved to and loaded into vans in preparation for an overnight journey to the other side of the country. The Scarabs work overtime rushing late deliveries in under the awning, wheels slipping on the damp cobbles. Beyond the hive of activity, outside in the drizzle, a Black 5 stands quietly simmering. Its Fireman carefully tops up the coals in the grate while the Driver confirms the duty and load with the inspector. The desperate activity in the Goods shed reaches a climax as the Locomotive backs carefully onto the train – 5 minutes to departure time and there can be no delay for the train must leave on time. These Fully Fitted Freight trains are timetabled to travel at express passenger speeds – the timings are thus very tight and will require the utmost from the crew of the 4-6-0 Locomotive.

The whistles blow insistantly but there are no passengers to join – it’s a reminder to the staff in the shed to stand clear. The signal lifts its weary arm allowing the bright green lamp to show and the driver opens the regulator to admit steam to the cylinders. The freight moves off on its cross country trip…

For me there is little so inspiring as a train (and preferably a Steam one) moving off in the artificial lighting of a station or yard on a night journey with an untold destination for the bemused observer. Even when I knew where the train was going it was still a magical experience. Back in the mid 1970’s I and my friends used to catch the first train after midnight from Kings Cross to Newcastle on a Saturday Morning as we started an all-line railrover. The train usually left from platform 8 at 00:10 and we’d board along with all the very late, homeward bound, City workers (many of whom were drunk). But on Platform 9 there would usually be a Class 40 standing on a parcels / newspaper train.

Our train (usually hauled by a Class 47) was booked to stop at Huntingdon and then Peterborough where it waited for mail to be loaded. It was also waiting for that parcels train to overtake… We’d be leaning out of the windows watching for that class 40 to come around the curve and over the bridge across the River Nene before bearing down on us at full speed with the throttle wide open. Sadly, I suspect that many of you have never heard a 40 at full chat, nor idling either. Such a schizophrenic beast – from a peaceful ululating whistle at rest to a burbling ear-splitting roar with the throttle wide! And always an elegant mover – a thing of beauty and a joy forever 🙂

D200, Doyen of the Class 40 type stands alongside a High Speed Train in Kings Cross. In the later years of service she was painted in BR green livery with red buffer beams. She is now preserved by the National Railway Museum.

… But I have digressed – in 1957, British Transport Films made a film called Fully Fitted Freight. It is now available along with many other works by BTF on DVD – this specific film is on the ‘Running a Railway’ collection. I strongly recommend their DVD’s for those with an interest in Railway history in the UK but also with an interest in Social History – so much has changed even since the last films were made in the 1980’s!

ps – I guess Forty counts as an ‘F’ too 😉

pps – for those who have never heard a Class 40 I thought I’d belatedly add this video from YouTube…