Tuesday, 27 November 2012

North Wales Coast

57314 hauls Pendolino 390045 towards Conwy on a dismal 24th November 2012
The line from Chester along the North Wales Coast to Holyhead certainly ranks among my favorite railways. For long stretches it runs right alongside the Atlantic ocean offering wonderful sea views. Looking south the peaks of Snowdonia can be seen on a clear day. It also witnesses a string of historical sights from bridges to Castles. 

37605 is returning the North Wales RHTT to Crewe at
Penmaenmawr on 14th November 2008.
From a photography perspective there are many great locations from where the trains can be seen within the landscape with stunning backdrops of either the coasts, mountains or indeed passing the famous Conwy Castle.

A full Virgin set, 57304 hauls the afternoon train
back from Holyhead, 14th November 2008
The passenger service on the line is approximately hourly west of Llandudno Junction (with more frequent trains east of this point which serve Llandudno and/or Blaenau Ffestiniog. Local trains are formed of diesel units primarily from classes 158 and 175, calling at most stations on the route, including several request stops. In addition there are also intercity services provided by Virgin Trains. These are in the hands of class 221 'Super Voyager' units with the exception of one train each week where a class 57 hauls a 'Pendolino' along the coast. The Welsh Assembley Government train also runs one return trip each weekday from Holyhead to Cardiff.
A class 175 unit skirts Conwy Castle on 24th November 2012.

 Freight action on the North Wales Coast is very minimal.
Occasional stone traffic can originate from the quarry at Penmaenmawr (though this has ceased in recent years), there is also an approximately weekly nuclear flask train from Valley containing spent fuel rods from the power station at Wylfa.
Seasonally there a Rail Head Treatment train runs in the autumn- in recent years formed of class 37 locomotives, and more recently Network Rails fleet of 'class 97's used due to inter-working with the Cambrian line which requires their ERTMS system.
57314 in Arriva colours stands at Llandudno Junction with
the 14:38 Holyhead - Euston. 24th November 2012
 While the class 57's on the 'Pendolino drags' used to see exclusively Virgin liveried stock more recently Arriva liveried locos (sub leased by Virgin to work the Welsh Assembley train) have also turned up.
Sadly with the December 2012 timetable change this train is expected to cease to run loco hauled- bringing the end to another interesting working along the coast.

*Update*- Since writing this post it turns out that the photographed Pendolino drag on 24th November was actually the final working. Class 221 Voyagers are now booked on these services along with all other Virgin trains on the route.

97303 and 97304 have just past Conwy Castle and emerged from Stephenson's Tubular Bridge as they take the Welsh RHTT towards Crewe on 24th November 2012.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Shanghai to London Part 13 (the final chapter!)

Berlin- London

We say goodbye to Berlin on one of these stylish ICE trains.
The final leg of our epic journey from Shanghai to London starts from where we left the last train- the upper level of Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Gone are the loco hauled trains we have been using since China, in their place for the trip to Cologne is a pair of sleek modern German ICE trains. We are on the rear portion of the train which will split en-route with the front half travelling to Dusseldorf.

The ICE is vastly more comfortable than any of the other trains we have used so far. It has large padded seats which recline slightly in an open saloon complete with power points and window blinds, the First Class facilities are even more exuberant. The train features a Board Restaurant selling meals and snacks- it looks a lot more modern than the Russian dining cars!

The interior of the ICE is comfortable and modern-
 and quite unlike the Russian style sleepers!
We are lucky that our reserved seats on the train are around a table with good views through the window, although the other seats in this bay of four are reserved we do not gain any company until well into the journey. The journey on the ICE is smooth and quiet with quite the best ride quality we have yet experienced- my handwriting is looking dramatically neater and we joke that there would be no trouble getting to sleep on this train.

Admiring the German landscape before the weather finally descends!
Having traveled a large part of the length of Germany and with the landscape and weather (which was finally changing for the worst) having altered considerably we arrive into Cologne. We have around half an hour here to complete our change onto the next ICE to Brussels. Cologne Hauptbahnhof is a large and busy station with an impressive overall roof (which is itself dwarfed by the magnificent Cathedral next to it) with many services departing on all of local, regional, intercity and international routes.

We change trains at Köln (Cologne) leaving the
conventional ICE behind, and joining a more
modern Siemens ICE 3 multiple unit.
Our train to Brussels is an ICE 3, as used on all of the international services. Interestingly the train design is almost identical to the Siemens product produced for China’s railways which we traveled on from Shanghai. The Deutsche Bahn variety is however much better appointed internally with 2+2 seating, a Board Bistro and even at seat audio entertainment. For all its qualities however the ride is a retrograde step from the conventional ICE we have just left.

There is a good level of English on the ICE trains with most staff having some language skills and most signage appearing in several languages. This does now however evade me from the (modern) age old problem: how do you lock the automatic door in the disabled toilet? There is a sign in English which tells me I should lock it, but no translation on a lock button of any instructions on how to achieve this objective. I eventually decide not to risk it and elect to walk through the train to find a toilet with a handle.

The impressive Köln (Cologne) Hbf with a DB class 101
 'Traxx' loco beneath it's roof. On the nearby track is
an ICE 3, similar to that which we will leave the country on.
At Aachen we make our final stop in Germany and the train demonstrates its multi-voltage capabilities by switching to the Belgian supply. Shortly after we are speeding through an extremely murky landscape as we finally take a dedicated high speed line- for the first time since China. We arrive into a very wet Brussels Midi on time and quickly conclude that it is not worth leaving the station to find food in light of both the weather and that we only have 45 minutes until the advised Eurostar check in time.

The Eurostar check in procedure is very simple and painless, even though we cannot use the electronic check in gates as our ticket was issued by DB (and a bargain at that being a super discounted ‘euro special’ for just €49). While I feel the Eurostar is beginning to look a little tired, something that will be addressed soon by a fleet refurbishment, it is most certainly the quickest and most comfortable way to cross the channel.

The weather has very much turned for the worst by the
time we board our Eurostar in Brussels. 
France is not seen at its best in the gloom but before long, and with a brief wait for a ‘Shuttle’ to go in front of us we dive into the channel tunnel and leave continental Europe behind us. 20 minutes later we emerge in England where the weather is, unsurprisingly, no better! As familiar landmarks such as the QEII bridge over the Thames appear to whiz past us on our high speed line there is time to contemplate just how far this journey has taken us and that we are, save for the tube and a local train, almost at the end of our journey.

Since its construction W H Barlow’s magnificent trainshed at St Pancras has welcomed many a weary passenger after their journey by rail. One wonders if he could ever have imagined that his station, refurbished fit for the 21st century could be the ending of a journey quite as remarkable as this.
Two continents, nine countries, eight nights on trains, somewhere around ten thousand miles and many many memorable experiences later  we have arrived back in London by Eurostar. The end of quite a phenomenal trip.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Shanghai to London Part 12

Warsaw- Berlin

ET22-960 is seen crossing the Vestula River with a
Przewozy Regionalne train heading for Warsawza Centralna.
It seems a long time since we have been on a conventional western train, or even say in day seats. The process is all a lot simpler than the sleepers we have come used to where you are checked into the train by an attendant. We therefore don’t leave quite as much time between arriving at Warsawza Centralna and boarding our train- EC42 the ‘Berlin- Warsaw Express’. This decision almost proves costly as a large number of people have accumulated outside the left luggage facility who were not there earlier!

The Zakopane train departs from Warsaw Centralna- Not one
of the worlds prettiest stations with all it's lines underground.
Thankfully all is well and we make it to the platform (complete with luggage) with a couple of minutes to spare. Our train has not yet arrived (the previous departure to Zakopane still occupies the platform) and it is several minutes behind schedule when the ‘Taurus’ Locomotive, or EU43 to give its Polish designation pulls in with our EuroCity to Berlin. We board and find our reserved seats (compulsory on this train) in the open coach at the front- though there are also coaches with compartments and a restaurant car.

In preparation for the approaching Euro 2012 football tournament PKP intercity has re-liveried a locomotive into the colours of each competing country as well as a set of locos depicting Polish stadiums. Our locomotive, EU43 001 is appropriately the loco representing Poland and carries the colours of the Polish flag with silhouettes of football fans on it. Shortly after  departing Warsaw we pass another ‘Taurus’ loco, this time depicting the colours of the co-hosts- Ukraine.

Out Polish liveried locomotive (for the Euro 2012 competition)
pauses at Konin with the Warsaw-Berlin Express
The scenery through Poland is nothing if not flat, plain and green but the trains progress is rapid. It seems as if we have reached Poznan, the largest intermediate city on the route in no time- or maybe 3 hours seems short now compared to the more lengthy journeys which are now behind us. Before too long we find ourselves crossing the river Oder and entering Germany. 

The approach to Berlin from this direction is most pleasing as the train passes along the elevated track which runs through the city criss-crossing the river several times and affording views of many of the most famous sights in the city including the TV tower in Alexanderplatz and the dome of the cities Cathedral. Berlin's new Hauptbahnhof is quite a structure as well in its own right. Our train arrives at the higher level, but there are more platforms many floors below at the bottom of the giant steel and glass atrium. We disembark the train and it leaves shortly after to be serviced while we make our way into the city.
EU43-001 stands on the high level platforms at Berlin Hauptbahnhof after arrival from Warsaw.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Picture of the week- 6th November

Over the weekend Network Rail's 57312 'Peter Henderson' made a rare appearance on a NR test train. To make it even better, it was on my local line, not on a work day, sunny... and I had woken up!
I believe this may well be the first class 57 to have worked a test train!
57312 approaches Hersham with the 1Q13 train from Eastleigh to Eastleigh
via Havant and Waterloo. GBRf's 73204 was on the rear and lead the return trip.