Farewell Wrexham & Shropshire
(April 2008-January 2010)
A brief history of Wrexham & Shropshire
Wrexham & Shropshire (W&S), the trading name of Wrexham, Shropshire & Marylebone Railway Company, commenced operation on 28th April 2008 restoring direct services between Wrexham and Shrewsbury and London. It quickly found a loyal following with its excellent customer service and comfortable loco-hauled Mk.3 carriages, initially hired from Cargo-D and ‘topped and tailed’ by dedicated Class 67s hired from EWS (later DB Schenker). Latterly the stock was refurbished and repainted in W&S’ smart silver/grey livery with the dedicated Class 67s and DVTs similarly treated.
The company was established as a joint venture between Laing Rail and Renaissance Trains. Laing Rail was acquired by DB Regio, a subsidiary of German state railways Deutsche Bahn (DB), in January 2008 acquiring Laing Rail's interest in W&S. DB Regio had also acquired Chiltern Railways.
The service pattern at the launch in April 2008 was five return journeys per day between Wrexham General and London Marylebone Monday to Fridays, four return journeys on Saturdays and three on Sundays. Initially services were formed of 3 Mk.3 coaches and top and tailed by EWS (later DB Schenker) Class 67 locomotives, four of these being dedicated to Wrexham & Shropshire. The first service, the 05.42 from Wrexham General on 28th April 2008 ran into trouble at Wellington with the leading loco 67025 Western Star suffering brake problems. This required 67026 which was on the rear to run round and haul the train to London Marylebone.
From the start, the operation was hampered by uncompetitive journey times and restricted calling patterns which meant that Wrexham & Shropshire was unable to call at Coventry or Birmingham New Street and could only serve Wolverhampton to pick up (northbound) or set down (southbound). Unrestricted calls at Banbury and Leamington Spa were made from the timetable change on 13 December 2009.
After cutting back its initial service from 5 trains per day to 4 per day in March 2009, a further cut to 3 trains each way per day came with the start of the December 2010 timetable. There was also the threat of Arriva Trains Wales providing a direct through service from Aberystwyth to London, which at the time lead W&S’ owner DB Regio to threaten to withdraw its financial support, which would have seen the Wrexham & Shropshire operation cease.
The end came abruptly with staff told on the evening of Tuesday 25th January 2011 that Wrexham & Shropshire was to cease operating, initially with services to end that evening. An announcement was made to the public and media on the morning of 26th January with the final departure to be 1J84, 18.30 London Marylebone to Wrexham General on Friday 29th January. The irony was that the announcement came on the same day that the National Passenger Survey was published showing Wrexham & Shropshire at the top with a 96% customer satisfaction rating.
The Wrexham & Shropshire fleet consisted of four dedicated Class 67s, five Driving Van Trailers (DVTs) and a fleet of sixteen Mk.3 coaches. At the start of service in April 2008, all trains were operated top and tailed with a pair of Class 67s working 3 Mk.3 coaches. Each rake was later expanded to 4 coaches and the refurbished DVTs replaced one of the Class 67s. The original coaching stock was hired from Cargo-D and was painted in Intercity blue/grey livery whilst the Class 67s were all in EWS' gold and red livery.
The four dedicated Class 67s would receive the Wrexham & Shropshire silver/grey livery as would the DVTs and some of the coaching stock as it was refurbished. The first refurbished set arrived at London Marylebone on 30th September 2009 with 67015 David J. Lloyd and 82305.
The Final Service
The scene at London Marylebone on the evening of 29th January was one of a mix of sadness and pride with as many of the 55 staff from the company that were able and wanted to be, travelling on the 18.30 to Wrexham General. The staff along with the comfortable rolling stock are what have earned W&S a loyal following and won them the highest ratings in the National Passenger Survey. The staff on this final train demonstrated outstanding customer service, offering a friendly smile and helping hand to customers, on what was an extremely busy service and doing it all with the utmost professionalism.
DVT 82301 leading and 67013 Dyfrbont Pontcysyllte/ Pontcysyllte Aqueduct providing power at the rear formed the last departure consisting of Mk.3A RFM 10236 and Mk.3A TSOs 12072, 12131, 12169 and 12175. A small headboard was affixed to the right hand buffer of 82301 which simply stated ‘84L WSMR.’ Due to the extra length of the train, departure was from Platform 3 at London Marylebone, normally Platforms 4 or 5 would be used.
Although a right time start from London Marylebone was achieved, time was soon lost due to signal checks following a late running Chiltern service. With no opportunities to overtake, it wasn’t until past High Wycombe that speed was picked up and sustained but arrival at Banbury was still 16 down on schedule.
The run forward from Banbury was via the normal route, with this being the last regular booked passenger service over the line from Stechford to Aston. Arrival at Wrexham General was at 22.50, 14 down on the booked time.
The demise of Wrexham & Shropshire was widely covered by both the local and national media with press photographers at Marylebone and a film crew onboard the train. The train was full and standing on departure, not just with enthusiasts but very many regular travellers who have made use of the Wrexham & Shropshire service since it started. The atmosphere on board was good humoured and there were many touching moments as regular customers said goodbye to the staff that had become familiar faces over the years.
The future for the stock used by Wrexham & Shropshire was assured with Chiltern Railways announcing that they were to increase the number of loco hauled diagrams from the May 2011 timetable to five return journeys, Mondays to Fridays. Thus the class 67 locomotives, DVTs and coaching stock have continued to find regular service between Birmingham Moor Street/Banbury and London Marylebone. With the full Chiltern Mainline service due to be launched from 4th September 2011, there is likely to be an increased use of the loco hauled sets.
An edited version of this article appeared in the February 2011 edition of Tracks magazine. ICRS Members can download a copy in the Members' Area
A special Wrexham & Shropshire gallery can be found on our Flickr site