Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Picture of the week 27th May 2015

On a beautiful spring day, 18th April 2015 SWT class 159019 is seen approaching an engineering train headed by Colas rail's 70807 to the east of the beautiful city of Bath. With the coming of the Great Western electrification scenes like this will be difficult to repeat in just a short time.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Where to find Freight in Tokyo?

A JNR EF64-1000 heads north through Omiya with an intermodal train. The weather was far from ideal but the interesting narrow-gauge Bo-Bo-Bo locomotive more than made up for it.

Japan is famous for its railways. As soon as one thinks of railways in Japan attention almost immediately turns to the famous Shinkansen or 'Bullet Trains'- maybe that explains why after my trip to the country in 2013 I wrote an article about these quite soon after my return (you can read it here if you missed it). But there is so much more to Japan's railways than this ultra-modern high speed system. The country boasts almost 14,000 miles of railway, much of it built to 1067mm narrow gauge (or 'cape gauge'). As well as seven national JR operators there are many totally private railways running across the country- together they carry well in excess of 20 billion people each year.

With the exception of the last half-handful of 'Blue [sleeper] trains' and some excursions there is a dearth of locomotives on passenger trains. If you want to see some of the fascinating locomotives in Japan you really need to focus your attention on it's freight services. These however are not always easy to find among the busy and frequent commuter train services. While planning my trip I also discovered precious little information on the internet. I hope therefore that if you are planning a trip to Japan and want to spend a little time indulging in its railways (as plenty of Japanese do) you might find this guide useful.

Kawasaki built EF64 1016 heads north through Urawa. Many stations are full
of so much clutter that good photographs are almost impossible! Many
commuter lines also pass through providing entertainment between freights.
Six tracks pass through this station which is in the North of Tokyo on the Tohoku line out of Ueno station. I had high hopes of seeing some freight here in the pleasant evening light- in reality in the space of 90 minutes I only saw two trains- and only one of them while I was in position. Freight appears to use the outer lines for which the sun is on the 'wrong' side for northbound trains. The situation is further complicated by Japan's tendency for very untidy overhead wires with a huge number of poles and obstructions to get in the way! Either I achieved a photograph I am pleased with of a container train with a Bo-Bo-Bo class EF64 on a container train. Of course between the freights there are commuter EMU's ever few minutes as well as a good selection of somewhat more interesting 'Limited Express' units to be seen at this location.

There is a clear view looking north from Nishi-Kokubunji.
This train with a pair of EF65's and the first production class
 EH200 received plenty of local attention.
Tokyo's main freight artery is the looping Musashino Line- unfortunately for the photographer much of it's route is underground and other large sections do not have a passenger service making it difficult to access. To the West of Tokyo the line crosses the Chuo Main Line at the station of Nishi-Kokubunji, usefully this is a section of the Musashino line with both a passenger service and an above ground station with reasonable views in both directions. I initially started on the lower level platforms of the Chuo Main Line (which I also believe to see freight at this location) but after nothing but units quickly moved up to the high level platforms of the Musashino line. This was much more successful with three freights (all heading northbound) photographed in the next hour. Clearly something was significant about the first (which was triple headed) as many photographers were on the platform only to disappear after its passage. There was variety in the locomotives here and also a lot less clutter in the form of poles than other stations. Definitely worth a try.
Looking the other way from Nishi-Kokobunji with Kawasaki built EF66-120 hauling a short tank train. There is a good clear view without too many poles!

Twin unit Toshiba built EH500-15 heads north through Omiya.
The final location I visited was back on the Tohoku line further north than Urawa, where it is fair to say I was a little disappointed with freight volumes. Omiya however is a large bustling junction station- and perhaps importantly, north of the point where the Musashino, and several other lines join. Initially I had my doubts about the location- very busy with commuters and with the main building over the railway tracks. However at each end of the station there are reasonable areas of good daylight. The next question of course in such a large sprawling station was where best to stand- it was obvious that there were at least several lines where freight could run but it soon became apparent that the most used (at least on my visit) was the 'through' line between platforms 9 and 11. I positioned myself here and a variety of freights rolled past- finally I had found somewhere that really was 'busy'- unfortunately the weather had other ideas and after seven freight trains in the space of just 35 minutes I had to accept defeat to the weather.
Another freight through Omiya- this time hauled by a modern
Kawasaki built EF210-150

These three locations are by no means the only places where freight is visible in Tokyo- nor do I claim that they are necessarily the best locations to visit- however they are at worst reasonable and do all definitely see some freight action. On a network which is so busy, and to a foreigner often confusing they certainly offer somewhere to start. If you are of to Japan- I hope you find this useful!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Picture of the week 13th May 2015

Colas Rail's 56105 and 56078 pass Slough with 6V62 the thrice weekly Tilbury to Llanwern empty steel train on 13th May 2015. The shot was especially pleasing as this was far from my first attempt to photograph the train in the sunshine at this locations- usually thwarted by all manor things from traffic to the one cloud that appears in the sky at the last minute. Even on this occasion a London bound HST tried its best to ruin the view! Seeing pairs of 56's still hard at work in 2015 is a fine sight, though recently Colas rail's refurbished class 60's have also been sharing the work on this train. The scene here will change significantly in the near future as electrification work on the Great Western Mainline continues rendering locations such as this unusable for photography. Already a good proportion of overhead masts have been erected between Reading and Didcot.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The 'Portrush Thumper' Railtour

Power car 83 is on the rear of the 'Portrush Thumper' tour as it waits at Drogheda to be passed by an 'Enterprise' to Belfast

Power car 89 awaits the departure from Dublin Connolly

With the final run of the much-loved class 205 and 207 'Thumper' DEMU's on British tracks in 2004 it was the end of mainline running on the UK mainland. However it was not the end of Thumpers' running in the UK- Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) was still using two classes of 'Thumper', the Mk2 based '80 class' dating from 1974 and the much more modern '450 class' of 'Castles' as they were commonly known, based on the BR Mk3 bodyshell and dating from 1985.
Those lamenting the sound of the 4-SRKT in southern England still could experience their sound, and for many an '80 class' railtour organised by the Irish Traction Group (ITG) and promoted on the mainland UK by Pathfinder tours was the perfect opportunity to head across the Irish Sea to meet these strange Mk2 based 'Thumpers'.

The date was 8th April 2006 and following an overnight ferry crossing from Holyhead to Dublin I made my way to Connolly station to be greeted by the welcoming sound of a 'Thumper'. The sight however certainly took some adjusting to. The Mk2 based '80 class' are very different in aesthetics to the SR DEMU's I was used to both inside and out.

A four car '80 class' set is passed at Coleraine with sets 82 and
98. This train was the day's regular power on the branch line to
Portrush- one of the final booked '80 class' duties.
The railtour itself had originated with the stock from Belfast, but now the majority of tour participants were on board the train with sets 089 and 083 was ready to depart from the Irish capital to take us back to the UK city of Belfast. This full journey is usually only possible on the 'Intercity Enterprise' service offered as a joint venture between Irish Railways (IE) and NIR. Indeed a lengthy passing stop was necessary at Drogheda to allow one of these loco hauled trains to overtake us.

This was my first trip 'abroad' to see trains and they were certainly different to what I was used to. The IE locos by General Motors were certainly 'foreign' compared to anything I had seen back home, and of course the idea of a Mk2 or Mk3 DEMU was something I had never seen before- however there were still many similarities (and the difference in gauge so negligible that one could easily forget it entirely!). Here, despite the garish black and orange livery of IE were trains formed of Mk2 and Mk3 rolling stock- something I would definitely like to see more of.

This trip was supposed to be something of a farewell for the '80 class', their use by this time having diminished greatly following the delivery of new '3000 class' DMU's from CAF in Spain. The class did retain some limited workings, including the short branch from Coleraine to Portrush. The 'Castle' class were still in full squadron service.

Power car 89 stands in a patch of sun at Portrush the days
weather had been somewhat changeable since leaving Dublin.
With such a small network in Northern Ireland the train covered it almost in its entirety, even including the technically closed Lisburn route. The only omission from the schedule was the route from Coleraine to Londonderry.

Amazingly this 'farewell' railtour proved to be somewhat premature for the '80 class' continued in passenger service with NIR until 2011, several units being overhauled and refurbished in the UK to extend their working lives. For me personally this railtour was something of a new adventure, and my first foray into railways overseas (further than the Isle of Wight at least). It was certainly not to be my last- I would return to Ireland the following year for my first full 'rail holiday' abroad.

The sound of the 4-SRKT engines isn't hard to imagine from this view thundering along the Dublin to Belfast main line!