The Mersey Ratcatcher
September 28th 1986

25249 & 25313, 25904 & 25910

Photograph courtesy Paul Bettany

25249 (& 25313 out of sight) stand at Birmingham New Street awaiting the right away with the last Class 25 railtour, September 28th 1986. Engineering work at New Street prevented the Type 2's from running around their train here, hence they had been removed at Birmingham International with 86237 working the short hop to New Street, with the 25's following and regaining the train here.

At the beginning of 1981 Derby Works outshopped the last Class 25 to recieve a classified repair. The hourglass had now been turned over for the last time and the rundown of the Class 25 fleet, already happening, now had crossed another milestone. Derby would still provide repairs to the Class 25's, but of an unclassified or casual nature. It amazingly provided substantial cab repairs to a number of Class 25's and no doubt provided the depots with a continuing supply of vital components to keep the dwindling fleet running.

By the beginning of 1986 the number of operable Class 25's was dwindling fast and despite the best efforts of certain LMR depots to keep them running their reliability was most certainly suffering. It came as no surprise then that despite their popularity on railtours the operating authorities placed a restriction on their future railtour use with September 28th's Hertford Railtours 'Mersey Ratcatcher' being their last railtour. They would however continue to show up on regular passenger workings almost to the very end, usually assisting a failure a short distance to the next location where more appropriate power was available to continue the service.

Aside from this tour this weekend had proved to be a delight for Class 25 bashers as on September 27th 25303 & 25323 had worked a relief 14.25 York - Taunton as far as Bristol - 37176 & 37236 took over from here. On the same day as the Mersey Ratcatcher this same pair worked a North Walsham - Aberystwyth charter forward from Shrewsbury Abbey Foregate Jct to the coast. It had been anticipated that the working over the Cambrian lines would be by Class 37's, so the use of the 25's was most interesting. But back to our main story....

The route selected for the final tour was entirely within the boundaries of the LMR, perhaps to the relief of the other regions controllers. Starting at Euston, for a long time home to many Class 24's and then following their move north, to many Class 25's the tour went straight up the WCML to Birmingham New Street. A slight deviation was required when it was learned that engineering work at New Street on the weekend of the railtour had closed the west end of the station thus not allowing runrounds to take place. Accomodation was made to provide an electric (86237) to take the train from Birmingham International to New Street - here the Class 25's would rejoin their train and head east to Leicester, more territory of which they were very familiar. Then it was north up the Midland mainline to Derby, past one of their birthplaces (25249 was Derby built, 25313 was from Beyer Peacock, Gorton).

Photographs courtesy Ian Hammond.
Two views of the events at Birmingham International, with the first view showing the arrival of the railtour and the second view showing the 25's taking a break as electric traction was substituted as far as Birmingham New Street.

North from Derby, partially over the route that many new Class 24/25's were tested (at least to Ambergate) the tour headed up through Chesterfield, no doubt the run up to Bradway Tunnel provided the two locomotives the chance to maximise that well known Sulzer beat. A left turn was made at Dore, heading through Totley tunnel for a run up the Hope Valley, many new class 25's broke ground here working the Chinley - Sheffield locals. At Chinley the train was covering part of the route covered by the famous ICI stone trains, for many years hauled by a variety of Class 25's. The route was selected through Hazel Grove and on to Stockport, back under the wires for the run to Manchester Piccadilly, an early home for Longsight's Class 24's on ecs and other duties.

The route west towards Liverpool included a small dog leg over the WCML between Lowton Jct & Bamfurlong Jct, the earliest of the Class 24 deliveries covered the Manchester - Liverpool route as part of the long gone Nottingham - Liverpool Central service, out in the morning & back in the afternoon. At Liverpool 25904 & 25910 backed on to take the train over more familiar routes through Runcorn and Helsby in to Chester and then making the short hop to Crewe. Here the first pair backed on the train for the final leg, a last fling over the WCML via the Trent Valley line to Euston.

Arrival at Euston was accompanied by many fond farewells and numerous flashes of light accompanied by the sound of clicking shutters - a last glimpse of something that would be no more - revenue earning Class 25's on railtour duty, the last 490 miles had been run.

Photograph courtesy Mark Bennett

The engines are silent, the crowds are almost gone, Euston returns to its nightly slumbers, of echos from the passenger concourse, of muffled fractured station announcements, of Euston's resident electrics simmering away with their muted sounds the only clue that they are operational..... a fond farewell.

Well we had to have a view at Derby and here it is with 25249 leading. Photograph courtesy Ian Hammond.
25904 & 25910 wait time at Chester before starting on their last leg to Crewe. Judging by the rolled up shirt sleeves and T-shirts it appears to have been a warm day. Photograph courtesy Ian Hammond.
Its time for an engine change as 25904 & 25910 await detaching from the train prior to the original pair taking the train back to Euston. Photograph courtesy Ian Hammond.
From the publicity about the final railtour, a map of the route.

Thanks to Mark Bennett for this fine piece of memorabilia.

And what of the four Class 25's on the tour?
All four of the railtour participants survived into 1987.

25249 was the first of the four to be withdrawn. On the evening of January 27th 1987, almost four months to the day after the railtour 25249 was at Derby Etches Park scheduled for the 1M38 to Crewe. After arrival at Crewe Depot investigation was made into a reported 'low power' problem. However repairs were not forthcoming with the locomotive taken out of service the next day!

25249 reached Vic Berry's early in June 1987, becoming one of the infamous stack. The locomotive was still in the stack in March 1989, but by April 1989 had been broken up.

25313 spent its final days in the Manchester area, even assisting a defective 47532 on March 13th's 07.07 Newcastle - Liverpool. It reached Crewe on March 18th 1987 and was taken out of service that evening. It moved to Berry's during July 1987, remaining here almost a year prior to reaching preservation.

25904 survived until March 23rd 1987, arriving at Crewe in the early morning hours and was immediately taken out of service. Its final duties had been in the Chester area, though on March 16th it had worked the 17.12 Sellafield - Bridgwater BNF train as far as Gloucester. It reached Berry's Yard by July 1987, remaining here until January 1988 when it moved on to preservation at the Severn Valley Railway.

25910 ended its days at Crewe on the afternoon of March 18th 1987 after local workings and trips into Scotland at the beginning of the month. On January 4th it had been stopped at Chester for inspection/repair following a fatality. During the middle of July 1987 it reached Berry's Yard, it remained intact until early September 1987, but by month end it was no more.

The following report of the railtour comes from the keyboard of Nick Ross:

Hertfordshire Railtours -Merseyside Ratcatcher Tour 29/9/86
Complete with cabside "handle with care" stickers specially cleaned 25313 and 25249 stood at an otherwise deserted Euston. Front coach seats and loud Sulzer thrash up Camden Bank generated a sound atmosphere which was to remain on this sell out 500 mile rodent jaunt all day. The usual Sunday surprises saw on the day changes to the route. At Bir Int'l we were routed into Platform 1 where some unspecified traction was to haul us Int'l-New St. We hoped the kick out would be some big 47 on our vacuum braked stock. Alas, 86237 was provided!

The rats rejoined us at New St on a rateable route to Leicester, Derby, Hope Valley, Manchester Pic and Liverpool taking in many of their old haunts. Lime St saw many scratch men swelling our already full consist with Petroleum Sub sector 25904/25910 making a rare passenger outing to Runcorn, Frodsham and Chester. We were then turned on the Chester triangle to the jubilation of the front coach crowds. A people power photo stop at Chester then onwards to Crewe where 25249/313 took over for the last WCML passenger run. A classic steady Sulzer storm taking in Bescot, Stechford, Weedon and Bletchley where all the power box crew watched us pass. A late evening return to Euston, then a dash for a train home, a hugely enjoyable tour was over.

In the leading "comic" a few months later, had very rare positive write up on the "rats" epic last tour performance which astounded many of us. The east coast eh brigade finally realising that small sulzers were gutsy, "hell fire" locos that deserved respect!

Page added June 11th 2004.

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