The Cumbria Coast railway line from Carlisle to Barrow-in-Furness via Whitehaven is a bit of a hidden gem. Between Workington & Whitehaven, the railway hugs the coastline (in some places the railway forms the coastal defences and has had to be repaired many times). The railway is a mix of double track and single track and has some semaphore signalling south of Workington.
The railway has probably partly survived through its national strategic importance in serving the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site. Not only does the railway allow nuclear material to be transported to and from the site but the passenger train service allows many of its workforce to travel to and from the site by train, particularly from the south as the A595 road between Barrow and Sellafield is slow and unreliable.
Due to the need to attend a meeting in Barrow, I had the choice of driving for 3 hours each way or getting the train for 4 hours each way. While somewhat of a Hobson’s Choice, I decided that the train was a better prospect and allowed me to get some work done. There was the choice of travelling via Carlisle and the coast or via Lancaster via the West Coast Main Line – there’s not much in it time-wise. I chose the coastal route as being more reliable and because I had never travelled along it south of Sellafield. In addition, Northern are currently running a locomotive hauled train along the route following a trial supported by Sellafield Ltd, which I had some involvement in preparing for during 2011/12.
The Sellafield trial service itself followed an innovative rail service that was quickly implemented by Northern after floods in Workington in 2009 washed away the main road bridge and the railway became a temporary lifeline.
I therefore managed to convince myself that travelling this route was as much work as pleasure. The service is operated by Direct Rail Services on behalf of Northern as a means of freeing up rolling stock for other services. The locomotives are 50 years old and the coaches not much younger. The service is operated as a push-pull service with a locomotive on one end and a driving coach at the other; the locomotive is operated remotely from this driving coach. The DBSO driving coach was initially converted for use on services in Scotland, primarily between Edinburgh & Glasgow and has since been employed in East Anglia on services between London Liverpool Street & Norwich.
Today I am being propelled southwards by 37401, which is named Mary Queen of Scots. That name, and the Scottish terrier symbol on the side of the locomotive shows its Scottish heritage – the terrier was the mascot of the Glasgow depot where the locomotive was based in the 1980s.