Published at 08:59 on Wednesday 20th December 2017
Tags: Saphos Trains, Jeremy Hoskins, Locomotive Services Limited, Main Line Steam, Charters

A sight that could be seen again next year. BR Pacific 70000 Britannia heads south through Wrexham on 27th July 1991 with the 'Britannia Phoenix' railtour, as it passes the site of the former Croes Newydd Depot (6C) on the left. Donald Taggart

Jeremy Hoskings' newest rail organisation, Saphos Trains, has announced its 2018 tour programme, exclusively with Railway Herald.

The company is only the second in the history of open-access rail operations in the UK to have the ability to not only promote its own trains, but to operate them as well. Part of the 'Locomotive Services' group, Saphos Trains will primarily base its operations in the North West as expected, but the tour programme brings a few surprises.

All 12 trains in the 2018 line-up are to be steam operated by either SR 'West Country' Pacific No. 34046 Braunton, LMS 'Royal Scot' 4-6-0 No. 46100 Royal Scot or BR Standard 7MT Pacific No. 70000 Britannia, and on each occasion the locomotive will be paired with a freshly overhauled and restored rake of crimson and cream liveried coaches. Bookings for the tours open online on 22nd December, and through the company's reservations office on 0800 038 5320 from 3rd January. Tickets are likely to sell fast given the attractive pricing. While the company says that its trains will normally be priced competitively with the rest of the industry, with Standard Class seats around £95, First Class around £145 and Premier Dining around £250, for the 2018 season, all fares have been significantly reduced with around a 50% reduction for Standard and First Class, and an attractive discount for Premier Dining. The result is that the trains will likely be the cheapest main line steam tickets in 2018, with the likes of its North Wales Coast and Welsh Border Explorer trips being just £45 per person for a Standard Class seat.

The programme starts with a trip along the North Wales Coast to Holyhead on 14th April, originating at Crewe, with an additional pick-up at Chester. The same itinerary features on 2nd June. Following this, are two Welsh Border Explorer trains on 29th April and 10th June, again from Crewe, taking in the Chester, Wrexham and Shrewsbury circle. On 12th May, Cardiff is the destination with the first of two 'Welsh Marches Express' workings, the second follows on 16th June, both originating, again from Crewe, and heading over the Marches through Shrewsbury and Hereford.

With the company having previously been expected to stay close to its Crewe base, the first of the surprises comes on 24th June and 1st July when the 'English Riviera Express' takes to the South West, working from Bristol Temple Meads to Kingswear. The first trip is routed via Bath Spa, Bradford-on-Avon and Westbury, while the second takes the more direct route via Yatton and Weston-super-Mare. Both trains also include Taunton as a final pick-up. Saphos heads out of its local area again in mid-Summer with 'The William Shakespeare' charter from Preston on 21st July. The train will pick-up at Wigan North Western, Warrington Bank Quay, Hartford, Crewe and Stafford en route to Stratford upon Avon. The same destination features a fortnight later on 4th August, but this time originating from Bangor, with pick-ups along the North Wales Coast to Crewe and Stafford.

A break in operations then ensues until December, when the 'Welsh Borders Christmas Explorer' heads out from Crewe on 2nd December. Like the previous Welsh Border trips, the journey takes the charter through Chester, Wrexham and Shrewsbury, and onwards through Telford and via the Oxley Chord to join the West Coast Main Line at Stafford for a fast-run back to Crewe.

While the programme offers variety both in terms of destinations and pick-up points, the following weekend is likely to be highlight for many people. Departing from Crewe on 8th December, with pick-ups at Hartford and Warrington Bank Quay, the 'Pennine Moors Christmas Explorer' will cross Chat Moss to tackle the climb out of Manchester Victoria to Miles Platting, then onwards to Rochdale and curving northwards to tackle Copy Pit. From Blackburn the train rejoins the WCML at Farrington Curve Junction and returns along the direct route to Crewe.

In all cases, the proposed timings for the trains are superb with attractive start times, and providing a day-out that does not involve a very late evening return. Those involved should be satisified that the operator will appear on to the scene with an interesting and varied programme and very attractive pricing, and we wish them all the best. Bookings can be made via the website,, which will go live on 22nd December.

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