Railway expert Professor Paul Salveson looks at the special train that brought East Lancashire its news

IT was the fastest train on the line but you weren’t allowed on. The Colne Papers, as it was known, left Manchester Victoria at the unearthly time of 3.45am, taking newspapers to Bolton, Darwen and the East Lancashire towns through to Nelson and Colne.

It was also the fastest train worked by Bolton footplatemen. The ‘job’ was split in two. A driver and fireman would sign on the previous evening at Crescent Road sheds and work a parcels train to Stockport, then go to the Red Bank carriage sidings to collect the vans. At about 3.30 the train would drop down to Platform 11 for loading.

The men would work the train as far as Bolton and get relieved by another Bolton crew to take the train on to Colne.

Lancashire Telegraph:

Victoria, in the middle of the night, was another world. A succession of trains took newspapers from the Manchester presses to Scotland, Yorkshire and most Lancashire towns.

Vans displaying the famous national titles –the Daily Mirror, Express, Telegraph and many more - would screech down to the station from Withy Grove (‘The Other Fleet Street’) and drive at a furious pace along the platform to be sure of getting the papers loaded in time.

The Colne Papers was one of a handful of newspaper trains that had staff on board, sorting out the bundles of papers for each town. The men had to work fast to get the papers ready for collection at each station.

Lancashire Telegraph:

Once the signal for the 3.45 cleared, the guard gave the ‘right away’ and they were off. The timing from Manchester to Bolton was 17 minutes, quicker than any other train on the line.

The driver had to run fast after negotiating the complex track work coming out of Salford.

It was usual for the newspaper men to offer ‘free samples’ to the railwaymen on arrival at Bolton and copies were taken back to the shed.

On one occasion the ‘perk’ was refused. Tommy Sammon was booked on the first part of the job and he was determined to get to Bolton in record time. According to his fireman, he set off ‘like a bat out of hell’.

On arrival at Bolton Tommy went to the van to see the newspaper staff and asked for his free copies.

He was met by a burly red-headed Scotsman who told him in no uncertain terms that as long as he drove the train like that, he’d be getting no papers. So that week, Bolton loco shed messroom was devoid of its newspaper supply.

Lancashire Telegraph:

From Bolton, the train would then head into East Lancashire.

The train faced a long climb up to the summit of the line at Walton’s Sidings, near Whittlestone Head. It was just under 10 miles of hard, unrelenting effort by the fireman.

One driver, known as ‘Colonel Cut-off’ saw it as his mission to storm up in less than 10 minutes, making a sound which could be heard for miles across the still moorlands and as far back as Bolton loco shed.

On at least one occasion progress was halted by the signalman falling asleep.

They were a breed apart up in those hills, and one signalman, whose ‘permanent residence’ was in Collyhurst (Manchester), used to camp out on the moors during the summer months.

In the early 1970s ‘The Colne Papers’ was cut back to Blackburn. All newspaper traffic on British Rail ceased on July 10, 1988; and ‘The Other Fleet Street’ is no more.