Behind the scenes at the East Lancashire Railway – By Phil Harrison

I help as a guide in running members’ tours around the East Lancashire Railway, a large heritage railway based in Bury, near Manchester. These monthly tours are well attended. On the last tour this year I was able to take the Leica M6 and 7Artisans 35mm f2 lens along with me in an attempt to get some black & white pictures on T-Max 400, whilst also keeping an eye on the tour members, who have a tendency to wander ‘off piste’.

A few quick facts about the ELR. It has a single track 12 miles in length with seven stations. The track runs on the original track bed of part of the Manchester to Bacup line down the Irwell valley, and part of the Rochdale to Bolton line. The head office for the ELR was and still is Bury. They hold over 30 special events every year including the most popular Steam, Diesel and DMU galas. The dining trains are very busy, often booked months in advance, and can be personally recommended with first class dining coaches and food.

The ELR Preservation Society has over 800 working volunteers who run all aspects of the railway. Every month we give behind the scenes tours to encourage members to become working members. We visit many parts of the railway, most of which are off limits to the general public, including the ticket office, museum, carriage shed, diesel and steamsheds, storage yards as well as an original signal box and the signal and telecom yard. Tours take four and a half hours; it’s a grand day out … and it’s free.

The tour starts with a look at the ticket office, museum and diesel shed, then taking a train from Bury to Ramsbottom to visit Ramsbottom signal box. This box is original and has wooden crossing gates hand wound across the main road with a huge wheel; the signalling department has four boxes.

The signaller is handing a token to the fireman of a BR Standard 4 2-6-4T loco, allowing the train to enter this section of line. The loco is at the head of a service to Rawtenstall and was restored at Bury over 30 years. I rather like this photo, apart from a few minor details this photo could have been taken in the 50’s. The slight edge softness of the lens at f4 helping the effect.
Inside the signal box showing the lever frame and track diagram for Ramsbottom station.

Travelling back to Bury our next stop is the signal and telecom department. The S&T maintains and builds new signalling and telecom systems to the BR standard.

Looking across the very full S&T yard towards the tour group. They have an enormous number of spare parts bought from BR when they modernised years ago, because you can’t buy new!
Inside the carriage and wagon shed.

In this shed BR Mk1 coaching stock and wagons are restored from rusting hulks to better than new. A freshly painted restaurant car is being restored for the new cream tea train. Maintenance of the huge amount of rolling stock is a full time job in the carriage shed. There are paid members of staff in the carriage and steam shed for this work.
Buckley Wells steam shed at Bury is one of the oldest nearly continuously operating sheds in the UK, built in 1865. Amongst many loco restorations made in the shed, the Flying Scotsman is the most famous. The Flying Scotsman comes back regularly for servicing and was in the shed that day, keeping away from prying eyes and having a spit and polish.

This is also in the steam shed, but the class 40 diesel needed to be lifted off its bogies and the lifts are in the steam shed. On the left of the Class 40 is one of only a few 75 tonne diesel cranes in the UK.
No 52322, a Lancashire & Yorkshire Class A 0-6-0, and the loco on the left should be familiar.
L&YR Class 21 Pug 51241 and a Class 15 diesel.

The steam shed can handle most work on a loco except building boilers and it is not unusual to see locos in many parts spread over the workshops. There is a saying in the shed that if you are going to tighten a nut you need to take three spanners – an AF, a Whitworth and a Metric, as you’re never sure which you’ll need. The sheds are quite dark so I was resting the camera on locos, wooden benches, doors, anywhere I could get a solid base for a long exposure. It wasn’t practical to take a tripod; we tour around the railway quite quickly, so no time to set up photos.

I hope you train buffs enjoyed the photos. I don’t have a great knowledge of British heritage railways and their history, but enjoy being a very small cog in the works. I was a also a professional train guard for 14 years before retiring.

Thanks for reading

You can find more of my content on 35mmc here

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10 thoughts on “Behind the scenes at the East Lancashire Railway – By Phil Harrison”

  1. Christopher John Smith

    Excellent article! I am puzzled by the dining experiences – it does not seem like the trip would be long enough to have dinner? How does it work?

    1. Thank you. Diner trains take around 3 hours. Evening meals start at Bury and travel to Rawtenstall with stops on the way to allow enough time for 4 courses. Some lunch trains do the whole line trip from Bury-Heywood-Rawtenstall and back to Bury.

  2. I like seeing such series, where someone combines photography with another one of their passions. I must say the lens seems to have great tonal separation, and whatever scanning method you used seems to produce great results. At first glance I mistook them for medium format images. I particularly like the highlight detail in the smoke in the second photo. Of course the exposure needs to be just right too…

  3. Great stuff! This also shows how good the 7Artisans 35mm f2 lens is, and what a bargain it is too!

    I think Hamish sells it,,,,


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