THERE CAN hardly be a more infamous incline in british railway folklore. It’s the one quoted for steam records both past and present, the one feared by fireman, and made famous by Norman Wilkinson’s superb publicity poster of the down Coronation Scot climbing past Salterwath, and the photography of many fine lensmen including the legendary Bishop Eric Treacy and Ivo Peters.
Yet in numbers terms it really is nothing special. The three south Devon Banks are considerably steeper, Beattock is almost as steep and far longer, and that’s before you even start to compare to Lickey or go further afield to Scotland, Wales, Dartmoor where such a climb would hardly be noticed. Even preserved lines can rival it or beat it, such as the 2 ½ miles of 1 in 49 to Goathland. Even the 3 ½ mile climb from Bury to Heywood at 1 in 80 on the East Lancs is in the same ballpark (and I have the shovel marks to prove it!).
The magic is, however, undeniable, though today somewhat dented by the M6’s constant noisy presence over Shap Fell and as a terrible scar in the otherwise stunning Lune Gorge.
Yet one of the most surprising thing about Shap is that it were ever built. The rival proposition was a line from Carnforth through to Kendal, then up the narrow deep valley of Longsleddale past Kentmere on light grades. A 2 mile tunnel under the heart of the Lake District fells at High Street and Gatesgarth would bring the railway out in Mardale (now Haweswater reservoir) and through the Lowther valley to Penrith.
As we have seen with Stainmore, the lower capital cost of a route avoiding a tunnel was taken, at the considerable additional operational expense of slower running, steep gradients, and more than a century of banking engines at both Oxenholme and Tebay. Until electrification, double heading of diesel expresses was regular practice.
The climb to Shap takes 2 parts – the climb from Milnthorpe to Grayrigg, an underestimated twisty, slippery climb of 1 in 100 for over 10 miles, and the 4 miles of 1 in 75 from Tebay to Shap summit. The 4 mile flat section through the Lune gorge offered a brief respite to build the fire back up, and take water at Dillicar.
Almost all freight, and a good portion of passenger trains took a banker at Tebay – sounding a double crow whistle at Tebay no.1 Box and stopping clear of the Lune at the down advanced starter signal. The banker would buffer up but not couple, and after and exchange of crows they would set off, reportedly firing constantly to the summit, where the banker would drop off, cross over and roll back down the grade.
Some cine footage can be seen HERE, bout 7 minutes in, with a ride on the engine.
The loco fleet in LMS days were the Fowler 2-6-4 tanks, fitted with cab windows to protect the crews from the weather. These in turn were replaced by Fairburn's equivalents, 42110 and 42210 observed by Maurice Burns in November 1964 (see his excellent article “Last of the Shap Bankers in HR's “Steam: the Grand Finale” for further reading). In turn, these were replaced by displaced Standard 4 75XXX 4-6-0 tender locos (note the 4-6-0s were the tender equivalent of the tanks, the moguls having smaller driving wheels), Burns observing nos 19, 24, 26 (green, and with double chimney) 27, 30, 32 lasting to the end of duties on 31 December 1967.
There is mention in some sources of the use of Clayton (Class 17) diesels for subsequent banking at Tebay using Carnforth allocted locos, but this seems to have evaded photographers – answers on a postcard please!
2 of the Fairburns survive at Haverthwaite, 75027 survives at the Bluebell with another 5 classmates elsewhere. The Patriot group have announced a Fowler tank as their next project.
The last scheduled steam working over Shap was Kingmoor's pet, 70013 Oliver Cromwell, working on boxing day 1967 taking Carlisle supporters to Blackpool and return. On the return journey, she stopped for a banker, but none was available so made the ascent unassisted, Burns reported the astonishing sound from Scout Green in the crisp night air.
Banking on Shap has only been repeated on one occasion, with 45407 (masquerading as 45157) banked by Standard 4 mogul 76079 - highly appropriate for such a duty! - on 6 October 2001. It is thought very unlikely that this will ever occur again. The footage for this unique moment in preservation, possibly the very last steam banking over Shap Summit, can be seen HERE.
More Soon. . . . . . .