Saturday, 31 December 2011

Picture of the week- 31st December 2011

Another year has passed by in a flash- In railway terms I have had quite a year, with my trips abroad to Poland, New York and to France. My travels in the UK however seem to have diminished somewhat- the perils of work and an active life making time to get out on the railways much more difficult to find these days!

There are many plans in motion for 2012 which I look forward to writing about, but for now, it is time for the final 'Picture of the week' from 2011- This picture is from a similarly dull week of weather between Christmas and New Year in 2010 and features a First Great Western HST set at Waterloo. For several days over the holiday period trains were being diverted to avoid Reading which was shut for major renewal works. Trains to South Wales were routed via Didcot, Banbury and the Chiltern line into Paddington, while West of England services left their normal route at Westbury to travel by way of Salisbury, Basingstoke, Woking, Staines and into Waterloo.
Pictured is the 10:26(?) departure from Waterloo to Penzance on 30th December 2010. Power car 43034 'TravelWatch SouthWest' will lead 43040 'Bristol St Phillip's Marsh' to Westbury before the set reverses to continue to Penzance.

May I extend a very Happy New Year to you all,

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Picture of the week- 20th December

Back in the peak of the summer steam season Gresley A4 locomotive 60019 'Bittern' (masquaradeing as long scrapped sister 4492 'Dominion of New Zealand') is seen passing over the River Mole on the South West Main Line with a returning 'Dorset Coast Express'. It was amid much surprise that the locomotive came back from winter maintainance at the start of 2011 sporting full side valences and painted into pristine LNER blue. The A4's lost their original side valences during WWII for ease of maintainance and were never reinstated.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Picture of the week- 16th December 2011

With a potential forecast for snowy weather over parts of the UK over the next few hours it would be silly not to take a look back at the snowy weather experienced around this time last year.
The first snow in the south east came even before November 2010 was out giving a rather odd image of snow on the trees of which many had not lost their leaves!
Further periods of snow continued virtually up until Christmas before a mild new year quashed any hopes of snow in early 2011.
The photograph above shows Black 5 45379 paused at a festive Ropley on the Mid Hants Railway with a Santa Special. Due to the snow both trains out that day were top and tailed by diesel locomotives- 33053 can just be made out at the back. The date is 19th December 2010.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Picture of the week- 8th December 2011

The curtain is now coming down on another year's RHTT season. As usual this period of the year provides some interesting opportunities for the railway enthusiast. Special trains (many of them loco hauled) descend onto many parts of the network, including those which usually see nothing out of the ordinary.
While the majority of routes this year have had 'normal' traction on their trains in the form of class 66 and 67 locomotives from DB Schenker, there have been exceptions. The circuit covering the North Wales coast and Cumbrian line has been covered by Network Rail class 97's (as ERTMS is required) while lines in the Anglia region have once again seen Heritage traction in the form of DRS class 37's. The most interesting circuits however must have been those operating in Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire where weight restrictions caused DB Schenker to hire in six Class 20 locomotives. The locos have come from private operators and preservation groups and with their varied liveries have provided a splash of colour to the Autumn scene.
The images above shows 20227 leading a train (with 20142 on the rear) from Hull to Hatfield and Stainforth via Selby and Knottingly at Gilberdyke. The date is 26th November and the weather could scarcely be better!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Picture of the week- 2nd December 2011

Photographing trains can require an awful lot of patience at times. This was one of those times. On my first trip to Poland during February 2011 we found ourselves at a small crossing beyond the station at Koslow (we had originally been on an overbridge- but the wind and rain had forced us to the relative shelter of ground level).
The reason we were standing in this location some two hours from our base at Krakow in the cold, wet and rain of February- The LHS broad gauge line. This is to my knowledge the most westerly penetration of Russian broad gauge into Europe running some 400km from the Ukranian border to a location close to Katowice in Poland. Traffic levels are low- on average no more than 10 trains a day, but when they do come they are a sight to behold. Having waited almost 3 hours we had all but given up on the LHS line (and the standard gauge mainline which had also produced little traffic) when our ears began to home into a distant rumbling. In a state of disbelieve that the train was *actually* coming, the mamouth train emerged in the distance some minutes later with three distinctive yellow and green ST-44 locomotives.
Known better by their Hungarian class designation- M62, these locomotives are common throughout the former Soviet states- more than seven thousand single locomotive units having been constructed since the mid-60's.
More than a thousand locomotives found use in Poland, designated as class ST-44. 68 of these were gauged to 1,524mm for use on the LHS line. Today the numbers in operation are vastly reduced, though the broad gauge line retains a good number of the locomotives alongside a batch of VERY heavily rebuilt machines now designated ST-40.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Picture of the week- 22 Nov 2011

Finding the time to write on this blog seems to be a struggle. It is not that I don't have things to write about, but somehow the time always seems to disappear. Anyway, in a bid to breath some life into the blog I shall endeavour to post a 'Picture of the week'... weekly, in theory. The photos may be from any time or place and will be captioned- hopefully they will be of interest!
This weeks photograph is from September 2004 and goes back to my railway roots depicting South West Trains 4-VEP 3411 arriving into my local station, Hersham with a morning counter-peak service to Guildford.
Back in 2004 the South West Mainline was still full of the old 'slammers' despite there being less than a year to their final demise. Workings such as these strengthened morning peak services away from London are also now a thing of the past following the major re-write of the SWT timetable in December 2004.
Having grown up with the 'Slammers' and spent many pleasant hours travelling on them when I was new to the hobby they are certainly a sight and sound that I sorely miss.

Monday, 14 November 2011

New York to Niagara

If you fancy taking a few days out of a trip to New York for a rail trip that actually goes somewhere then the 8-9 hour journey to Niagara is definitely a good bet. There are four daily departures from New York's Pennsylvania Station to Niagara- Three 'Empire Services' to Niagara (NY) and the 'Maple Leaf' service to Toronto calling at both the American station at Niagara and that across the Niagara gorge in Ontario, Canada.

Penn Station today, while busy, is certainly not the glamorous terminal it once was, being located beneath the office blocks of Madison Square Gardens. My journey involved travel on the 'Maple Leaf', and after checking in with the Canadian authorities (there was no warning of this process) we boarded the train formed of five of the distinctive Budd company 'Amfleet' coaches with a P42AC-DM locomotive(No 704).

The small P42AC-DM sub-fleet of Amtrak's fleet operate purely on the Empire corridor from New York towards Albany and Buffalo. They have additional electric pick up shoes necessitated by a diesel ban at the sub-terrainian New York stations.
After a two hour scenic trip hugging the Hudson River we reach Albany-Rensselaer where we are politely informed by the conductor that there will be a break for a locomotive change. Here the electric capable locomotive is removed and a 'normal' Genesis P42DC loco is attached. With No 183 now at the helm of the train we can continue north towards Canada.

So far progress has been at a reasonable pace, but after Schenectady the train makes slow progress following delays caused by track gangs and various other railway movements. Passenger traffic is not key here, the few Amtrak trains having to fit between numerous lengthy freight trains, mostly in the hands of CSX railroad who own the track on this route. One can at least pass the time in the train's rear vestibule (though this is not recommended) looking out at the track behind.
By the time we reach Buffalo we are running almost 2 hours late (on a journey which will already take 9 hours). A fellow passenger warns me that the customs process to enter Canada is not a quick affair either, so as we finally cross over the Niagara river into Ontario I am holding my breath that we can make it through customs in less than the two hours scheduled before the train leaves.

Once we come to a halt new crew join the  train- Amtrak staff giving way to those from Via Rail now that we have reached Canada. An announcement goes out and all passengers disembark the train and head into a bright station building to embark on the customs process to gain entry to Canada. This is fortunately quick, and in the last of the days light we are able to walk freely onto Canadian soil, and across to the spectacular falls- still partly frozen in April.

The return journey is much like the outbound, however without the addition of customs as I joined the train this time on the American side. Engine No 183 again suffered delays heading back to New York, but on arrival at Albany much time had been made up. Finally we set off, with DC equipped loco 713 arriving back into Penn just 20 minutes late.
Overall an enjoyable trip, with friendly staff, a well appointed train, and quite a destination! While our trip included just an overnight stay at Niagara one could of course break their journey as long as desired, or indeed continue to Toronto. This trip is also long enough to give a good taste of how US railways work, quite a different system to what we are used to in the UK. One passenger with a lot of luggage on the train managed to cause an issue as having arrived at her station, she took so long to gather her things that she had still not disembarked the train around ten minutes later when it began to move again. Still without really panicking the lady asked the conductor to have the train stopped- and he did try! Sadly however it was too late and the passenger had to extend her journey to Buffalo (over an hour away) and hope to connect onto a returning train!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Snowdon Ranger- PTG Tours

On 3rd and 4th September PTG tours, know for their foreign rail holidays, ran their first UK trip.
For me the itinerary was simply irresistible- A pair of class 50's on day 1 from London to North Wales, followed by a trip on both the Welsh Highland Railway. Day 2 saw a trip on the Ffestiniog before re-joining the class 50's at Bleanau for the run back to London.
The trip, naturally did not all go exactly to plan. When first announced it was 50026 which should have been the highlight of the trip, but it soon became apparent that this loco was never going to be ready in time. As time progressed it was looking less and less likely that ANY 50's would be ready to haul the train. Eventually just 50044 'Exeter' was available as despite a heroic effort, paperwork was not complete on 50049 in time. Routing was not so simple either- the
intention to use Mk3 stock prevented the train reaching Bleanau Ffestiniog- the train instead began from North Llanwrst with a bus transfer from Bleanau.
Despite these setbacks all was set. We had a superb looking 'Fifty' restored to original condition BR Blue and a comfortable train in the Virgin Pretendolino.
Arrival in North Wales was greeted by quite horrible weather, during which some of the party boarded a service train on the Welsh Highland hauled by Bayer-Garrat loco 87.
At Dinas we disembarked and awaited the next train, the special chartered by PTG hauled by double fairlie No. 12 'David Lloyd George' 'Fairlie's Patent' and 'Blanche'. Despite only being able to see 'where Snowdon is' rather than the actual mountain the Welsh Highland was spectacular. Arrival in a wet Porthmadog late afternoon left us plenty of time to find an evening meal and a pub!
Sunday morning dawned somewhat brighter, and after a leisurely breakfast the party made their way back to Porthmadog station to board our special hauled by 'Blanche' to Bleanau. In the sunshine the Ffestiniog was no less spectacular than the Welsh Highland, and it was with some regret that we bid farewell to 'Blanche' and entered coaches at Blaenau Ffestiniog for the journey to North Llanwerst.
Good time allowed us to arrive before the train, which after reversal was lead by 57304 'Gordon Tracey' to Llandudno Junction.
Following a reversal we headed back along the North Wales Coast to Chester, where the train was again reversed to leave the 'Exeter' to take us home via Wrexham, Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton.
Overall a valiant first effort from PTG in the UK and a very enjoyable weekend. PTG are planning more trips in the UK with both diesel and steam traction- certainly something for the 50 followers to watch out for...

Saturday, 24 September 2011

CC 72100 - Ride Europes most powerful diesel-electrics while you can!

Commissioned from 1967 - 1974 the CC 72100 locomotives for the SNCF were the most powerful diesel electric locomotives in Europe. A total of 92 machines were built to haul fast Intercity trains across the non-electrified portions of the French network as well as being capable of moving heavy freight trains.
The class could be seen throughout France for many years, but with the increase of the TGV network, and the replacement of many loco-hauled trains with units their work has declined. By the mid 2000's many locomotives had been withdrawn, but there was still one line with a medium term requirement for the machines, the old Line 4, from Paris Gare de l'Est to Mulhouse and on to Basel in Switzerland.
Known for their noise and pollution, residents in Paris had long campaigned against these locomotives, and so it was that between 2002 and 2004, 30 examples of the class were rebuilt with new engines and silencing to become the CC 72100's. These locomotives soon replaced all of the original 72000's on the route, and by 2010 were the last of the class working regular passenger trains, Just a handfull- (2 at the time of writing) of original CC 72000's remaining in traffic on freight and special duties.
All now carrying the latest 'En Voyage' livery in place of the classic blue and white colour scheme the 72100's working out of Paris Est are still impressive machines offering good diesel runs on what is now France's last all diesel trunk route. While the service was hit with the opening of the TGV Est in 2007- direct services to Basel being withdrawn, and many other services truncated and no longer reaching Mulhouse, this line is still worth riding.
You will, however have to be quick. The death nail for Line 4 is fast approaching with the TGV Rhin-Rhône route to Belfort and Mulhouse due to open early 2012. While it is unclear exactly what fate will befall the loco hauled trains, it is clear that the service will be severely hit, and likely that the remaining trains on the classic Line 4 will be worked by DMU's. Whether the 72100's will be re-deployed elsewhere remains to be seen. In the meantime it certainly does feel that winter of 2011 may be the final swansong of the classic CC 72100 diesels on the SNCF.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Travelling by Eurostar? A ticket to 'London International' is your friend!

Undoubtedly the best way to get to Paris, Brussels and indeed many locations in western Europe is by Eurostar through the channel tunnel. Thousands make the trip every day, however it seems very few of them are aware of tickets to 'London International (CIV)'.

For anyone not starting their journey in London (and that is a large number of us) these tickets are a great option for making your way to St Pancras. The tickets offer travel to, and from, St Pancras in connection with a Eurostar ticket.

There are several advantages over a usual fare
- firstly these tickets tend to be cheaper
- the tickets carry far less (if any) peak travel restrictions
- finally, and possibly most importantly- the tickets are subject to the international conditions of carriage- this means that if your train in the UK is delayed, Eurostar are obliged to put you on their next available train without any additional charge. Similarly if your Eurostar is late and you have a 'timed' ticket to get back home in the UK the ticket will be honoured on a later train.
Amazingly these fares seem not to be advertised at all, and if it were not for the excellent Seat 61 website I would not have known about their existance either!
To book simply ask for a ticket to 'London International' at your local ticket office, bringing your Eurostar tickets with you. You can also get a further 1/3rd off these tickets with a railcard. My local station had no problems issuing the tickets- but politely insist that the tickets do exist should you have any trouble.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Eridge- All change for the Spa Valley Railway!

On the weekend of 5th - 7th August 2011 the Spa Valley Railway held their first diesel gala with running through to their new terminus at Eridge.

Ever since I first discovered Eridge Station, back in the days when the Oxted-Uckfield line was worked by the vintage class 205 and 207 'Thumper' units, I have eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Spa Valley to this quiet Sussex station. When, or even if it would arrive I did not know. There were hurdles to overcome- not least the operation of a preserved railway alongside an active Network Rail line. The situation however was quite unique, and until the railway arrived the second island platform at Eridge lay dormant, slowly decaying, but fully accessible to travellers.

This page presents some 'then and now' photographs of Eridge as it was in 2004 and following the Spa Valley Railways arrival in 2011.

What a difference a lick of paint makes!
Of course a huge amount more work has been undertaken to get platforms 2 and 3 back into use than just pain. The closest building- the gents toilets has been completely refurbished as well as a waiting room and booking office being set up in the former station building.
In the seven years between these pictures platform 1 has also received some paint with 'Southern' colours now present instead of the former 'Connex' scheme.

From the station footbridge it is actually the Network Rail area of the station roof which appears far cleaner! Also noticeable is the reduction of vegetation at the far end of platform 3 where there is now pointwork. The most obvious difference of course- is that platform 3 is now occupied by a Spa Valley train from Tunbrige Wells West.
The glazing at the London end of the platform 2/3 station canopy has been renewed which really brightens up this area of the station. The window shown in the 2004 photograph is now the ticket office for the Spa Valley Railway. The track in platform 3 has been cleared of vegetation and is now able to be used to stable locomotives. Access across this track to the car park currently stops the platform being used as a true island, and also prevents a run-round loop from existing here.
Looking back along platform 2 the platform surface has seen some attention, including the less than attractive (but probably necessary) tactile paving strip. The track has been cleared of weeds and the platform once again accomodates a train.

An overall view of the station. Since 2004 the 'Thumpers' have sadly gone and heritage traction now departs from the opposite track of the station. Originally Eridge boasted four platforms. This reduced to just one before the re-establishment of the link to Tunbridge Wells by the Spa Valley Railway. It is incredibly fortuitous that the generous station buildings and canopy at Eridge have survived so long and avoided rationalisation in the intervening years.

Where once the disused island platform carried 'Alight other side' signs, the platform, now very much back in use welcomes visitors to the Spa Valley Railway. What seemed an unenviable task has been achieved and the Spa Valley Railway should be congratulated on their achievement.

Spa Valley trains (both steam and diesel) are now running regularly to Eridge.
For more information visit the railways official website at

Saturday, 23 July 2011

'Dusty' on the sleepers

There are few locations today where it is possible to see scheduled locomotive hauled passenger trains. Even where these trains do exist they mostly run in push-pull formation with a locomotive and one end and a driving trailer vehicle at the other. The two main exceptions are the remaining sleeper trains from London to Cornwall and Scotland. These trains still run in a conventional loco-hauled manner bringing the practise of shunt releasing stock into London termini. While the Caledonian sleeper to Scotland usually uses electric traction for these duties at Euston (Class 90's are booked), the Night Riviera Sleeper to Cornwall uses First Great Western's fleet of four class 57's. Occasionally other traction can substitute, particularly on the run from Old Oak Common depot to Paddington. While in the past class 47's were commonly hired in for this duty it is now more common to find shunter 08483 'DUSTY Driver David Miller' on the blocks at Paddington during times of poor class 57 availability. This was the case on 17th July presenting a very unusual scene at Paddington- there are not many places in the country, let alone in central London where you can see a class 08 on the mainline!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Blue King

After many, many years of restoration success has finally come for the team restoring GWR King 6023 'King Edward II' from scrap condition to a fully functioning locomotive in original condition with single chimney.
Withdrawn by BR in 1962 the King was steamed in preservation for the first time in 2011 and hauled it's first trains on the Mid Norfolk Railway carrying the attractive BR blue livery.
Following it's stay in Norfolk the locomotive will return to the workshops for final work to enable it to once more take charge of the mainline.
The stay of 6023 on the normally diesel hauled Mid-Norfolk railway has also presented the opportunity for the line to host it's first ever steam gala over the weekend of 16/17th July, with GWR pannier 9466 also visiting the line.
All photographs taken on 10th July 2011 at the Mid Norfolk Railway.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Beautiful Bath

There are a few locations in the country that one simply must visit at some point for the purposes of railway photography. The historic city of Bath in Somerset has to be one of them.
The city now just has one main station after the closure of Bath Green Park following the Beeching axe leaving just Bath Spa on the Great Western route. Traffic through the station is plentiful and consists of a regular supply of HST's heading from London to Bristol as well as local diesel units heading to various locations from South Wales to the South Coast. Weekdays also see a handfull of freight trains. The city is popular with charters also, and on my visit two were passing through the city- 5043 'Earl of Mount Edgcumbe' with a Vintage Trains trip to Bristol, and the Northern Bell luxury train on a run from Gobowen also to Bristol.
The most famous location in Bath is undoubtedly Sydney Gardens, where trains have run at speed right next to the park for over a century. Despite plans progressing to erect a new fence here you can currently still get up really close to the trains, making this location quite unique.
Another popular spot is just west of Bath where there is a stunning view of trains emerging from the castleated Twerton Tunnel.
There are numerous other locations one can explore in Bath, as time permits heading in either direction out of the station. My final pictures are of the returning charters to the east of the city having followed the footpath of the pleasant Kennet & Avon Canal (and yes, I have photoshopped a wire out of the final picture!).

Saturday, 4 June 2011

'Railfanning' New York- It's not as difficult as you think!

If you are anything like myself, chances are that when you go abroad you want to find some trains. Chances are also that you struggle to find the time to do this, and especially in a city like New York, a great urban metropolis, you also struggle to find good locations. However it IS possible to find some really very good locations to photograph trains in the Big Apple- and you barely need to leave Manhattan! I shall explain some of the locations which I found useful on my recent trip to photograph passenger trains.

The first of these articles shall focus on the 'Genesis' P32AC-DM locomotives operated by both Amtrak and Metro-North Railroad.

Metro-North use the locomotives on their longer distance services from Grand Central Terminal, the routes of which divide at 125th St Harlem. The locomotives are positioned on the north end of push-pull trains. Meanwhile Amtrak use the locomotives on just one route- the Empire Corridor from Penn Station towards Albany and Buffalo. On Amtrak services the locomotive hauls conventional (usually Amfleet) coaches, and is located at the front of the train.

Immediately after leaving Penn Station the Amtrak trains take the 'Empire Connection' and then head along the west side of Manhattan. By the time the railway has passed under the George Washington Bridge, the line begins to open up a little. Continue further still to the tip of Manhattan and you reach Dykeman fields, a park right at the north western tip of Manhattan Island. The best way to reach the park is by subway taking the A train to 190th St and walking towards the Hudson river (I personally took the train to 181st St and went for a long walk beside the Hudson expressway!) Around half way down the park is a footbridge which offers good views of the line in both directions. The top photograph is taken from this location looking back towards Manhattan and shows 707 on an Empire service, typically with 5 Amfleet coaches. Walking right to the tip of the park allows a view across the swing bridge which takes the railway across the Harlem river from Manhattan into The Bronx. By aiming a camera through the fence the second photograph, showing 706, can be achieved of southbound trains. This location also has an added bonus that you can see the trains snaking alongside the Hudson River for some time as they approach, allowing photographs such as the third one on this page. Note that beyond the bridge the in The Bronx the Amtrak trains now travel on Metro-North rails, and their trains can also be seen.

Crossing back over the footbridge and following the footpath around the tip of Manhattan Island opens up views of the Metro North line and Spuyten Duyvil station. The service on this line consists (in each direction) of an hourly EMU from Grand Central to Croton-Harman, and an hourly loco hauled service to Porkeepsie. There are several vantage points in this area which give a view across the Harlem river of the Metro-North line as shown in the fourth photograph. It is worth noting, as illustrated in the photograph, that the loco hauled Metro-North trains tend to pass at, or very close to this location resulting in a sudden burst of activity just once an hour!

The final photograph at the bottom of the page is the only one in this series not taken in Manhattan. It is in fact taken from Spuyten Duyvil station just across the river in The Bronx. From the station platform there is a splendid view of the single track swing bridge which connects the Amtrak line into Penn Station. With an abundance of water and the vegetated cliffs of New Jersey in the background, one could scarcely believe that the bustle of downtown New York was just a few miles away!

Should time permit there are many more locations which could be explored further north along the banks of the Hudson between here and Porkeepsie. If riding the trains is more your thing you should take a Metro-North service one stop on from Spuyten Duyvil to Yonkers, where both Amtrak and Metro-North P32AC-DM hauled services make their last scheduled pick up stop on the way into New York.