Wednesday, 26 August 2015

What is the worst station in Europe?

Railway stations were the cathedrals of the industrial era. Rising high above platforms across the world massive station canopies constructed of steel and glass shone a light into the smokey station beneath. Many of the Victorian era stations are still masterpieces today- however concrete constructions of the 1960's and 70's have fared less well against the test of time. Birmingham New Street in the UK is famous for being dark, dingy and uninviting (a situation soon to change, at least at concourse level following a massive refurbishment) while Penn Station in New York is also often criticised for being an uninviting underground labyrinth.
Despite their floors these large stations are largely well looked after and well used. To meet my candidates for the title of 'worst large station in Europe' we have to travel south east from the UK-

Third Place-
Budapest Deli Palyaudvar, Hungary
Completed in 1969 this station must once have been an imposing sight- the only post war modern station in Budapest. Today it is, at best, dilapidated. Train, tram, metro and bus services seem poorly integrated and the station appears to have suffered from a long term lack of maintainance. The stairs from street level to the higher concourse and platforms are in a particularly bad state with decrepid shops and stalls hardly adding to the aesthetic.

Second Place-
Skopje, Macedonia
The original Skopje station was badly damaged in the devastating earthquake of 1963, resulting in a new modernist concrete structure being completed in 1969. While impressive at it's opening the station has suffered from many years of under-use and under-investment (compounded by the unrest in Yugoslavia during the 1990's). Today just a few platforms are in use and much of the station building is used as the cities bus station- and is in much better condition than the section still used for trains. The station boasts extensive graffiti inside and out, crumbling masonry and sets of escalators gathering dust which have clearly not worked for years. Some platforms do not even have tracks!
Fortunately major upgrade work began in 2014 and will see the station completely modernised - hopefully the results will be worth the wait and, together with new trains due to arrive in late 2015, could begin an upsurge in the popularity of Macedonia's railways.

First Place-
Sofia, Bulgaria
Another communist masterpiece of its time, Sofia station opened in 1974 and with its construction mostly of marble must have been an impressive sight at the time. Once again the the building in this fairly poor country has suffered from years of poor maintenance. Escalators which once moved passengers now stand dormant, beyond repair. The screens and clocks which once gave passenger information have long since stopped working, making the task of finding ones train quite challenging. While the station has a general air of dereliction the interior of the main concourse is still light and airy however the platforms are in a poor state. The addition of a burnt out car on one platform secures Sofia as my personal 'worst station in Europe'. Fortunately, like Skojpe, a major re-building program is now underway to upgrade the station to modern standards by early 2016.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

GB Railfreight on the Caledonian Sleeper

Currently the only class 92 in the GBRf corporate colour scheme, 92032 worked the London - Glasgow sleeper on the night of
15th July 2015. This loco is not one of the dedicated 'sleeper' fleet and is more usually seen on freight workings.
Undoubtedly one of the finest looking locos on the mainline- 47847 departs
Glasgow Central with the empty stock working to Polmadie of
the previous nights sleeper from London- 09/07/2015
Continued unreliability of GBRf's dedicated fleet of class 92's for the Caledonian sleeper contract has led to a wide range of traction appearing on the trains. Class 90's continue to be hired in from DBS and locomotives from Freightliner have also now made appearances on the trains. The GB 'Heritage' fleet also continues to see action on front line sleeper services in addition to ECS duties with 86101 and 87002 working Anglo-Scottish sleeper services.
As well as electric locos being hired in Serco continues to hire class 67's from DBS to work the highland portions of the sleeper train until GBRf's rebuilt class 73's become available. On occasions class 47's from GBRf have also worked portions of the train, particularly from Castairs to Edinburgh, and empty stock between Glasgow Central and Polmadie depot.
The interesting selection of traction seems set to continue for some months yet as the dedicated class 92's receive modifications and maintenance to help them settle in to their new role on the sleeper. The teething troubles are hardly surprising considering the under-utilisation of the fleet for so many years. With some TLC the class 92's will almost certainly be able to provide many years of reliable service hauling the overnight trains from London to Scotland- ironically hauling sleeper trains (all be it to Europe) was one of the original purposes for which the class 92's were built back in the early 90's!

Monday, 10 August 2015

PKP (mostly) 29th July - 5th August 2015

A trip to Poland for the Wolsztyn Experience and some general cranking.

29th July-
Flew to Berlin Schonefeld with Easy Jet from Gatwick. A slight panic on the way there when my friend forgot to set his alarm (of course he had the boarding passes)...
A fine train, but definitely not my favourite livery! 370 010 arrives into Berlin having worked the Berlin Warsaw Express from Poland.

Your author enjoying a polish meal onboard the
EuroCity train. Very tasty though perhaps a bit over
generous with the gherkins!
Despite a delay waiting to reach the runway at Gatwick we arrived into Berlin on time. Taxing across the completely new but out of use runway for the still unopened Brandenburg airport was quite a strange experience! Understanding that all the trains to the airport had gone over to 'Talent' units since my last visit I was very pleased to emerge from the subway to find myself standing next to a DOSTO driving trailer. On the other end was 143 193 with the RE14 service which was taken to Hauptbahnhof.
370 007 in a ghastly pink T-Mobile advertising livery arrived with the 13:37 to Warsaw.
Having failed spectacularly to procure a bratwerst at Hauptbahnhof we decided to go for a meal in the dining car- this proved to be an excellent decision with proper food on proper plates, and not too expensive either. Well recommended.
Transfer to Wolszytn was from Zbasyznek by a very nasty SA108 unit.

30th July-
ST43 382 pauses at Wolsztyn. The coaches were being removed for works attention.
First day with the Wolsztyn experience (which I will write about in more detail separately) .
ET22 1160 near Zbaszyn.
OL49-69 is the loco currently in use (OL49-59 is expected to return later in the summer after overhaul at Leszno).
Without regular scheduled steam services this year the operation is instead working 4 day schedules covering some regular trains instead of railcars.
Today the steam worked two round trips from Wolsztyn to Zbaszynek.
The day had a few surprises- firstly at ST43-382 at Wolsztyn in the morning with a freight, also including two of the 4 wheel 'heritage' vehicles based here being taken away for attention. With so few ST43's now in traffic it was good to see one in revenue service.
Lotos 181 092 heading towards Germany at Zbazyn.
Zbasyznek proved to be busy for freight and in our brief layovers the following was observed:
DB Schenker 170 046
ET22 845 + SM42 842 (LE)
Lotos 181 092
Lotos EU07 199
ET22 1160
Rail Polska M62M 015
DB Schenker 170 039 (LE)
Freightliner E189 211

These usually do their best to avoid me so I was pleased when Rail Polska M62M 015 caught a patch of light at Zbaszynek.

31st July-
Ol49-69 passes Blotnica with an afternoon return from Leszno. The sun fortunately started to shine on the day it mattered!
Short steam trips to Nowavies Mochy, Rakoniewice and Stefanowo. Plenty of time to wander around the town of Wolsztyn and enjoy cocktails and dinner at the excellent Powozownia restaurant/bar

1st August-
ST43-382 pulls out of Leszno roundhouse.
Classmates ST43-208 and ST43-406 are viewed from the cab.

Two return steam trips to Leszno.
SU42 504 parked up in the station at Leszno.
Various locos parked up in and around the depot including a pair of ST44's and an SM31 in the roundhouse.
ET43-382 was around again and being shunted around to take a coal train forward to, I believe, Glogow. I managed to blag our way into the cab of the diesel which wasn't difficult and then my friend ended up driving the thing- cheeky so and so!
Spend the afternoon linesiding the steam with the help of a car and a fast driver.

M62 1186 stabled at Miedzrzecz.
2nd August-
A longer steam trip to Miedzychod by way of Zbasyznek and Miedzrzecz (where Pol Miedz Trans M62 1186 was stabled). A reasonably extensive evening in the bar followed before saying an extended goodbye to the cocktails in the Powozownia.

3rd August-
A shot I have long wanted to take; SU45-089 with a train for Kostryn photographed on the river passing through Gorzow.
Leaving Wolsztyn in the morning the original plan was to head directly to Gdansk. However until a chance discussion with Howard of the Wolsztyn experience I had not realised that the loco hauled trains for the Kostryn festival would still be running. I had wanted to cover these trains with SU45's for a couple of years so a new plan was very quickly drawn up, Instead of heading to Poznana and Gdansk we traveled by car to Zbaszynek and then on by railcar to Gorzow. The day was far from disappointing with SU45's on all the trains through Gorzow during our time there:
R88905 07:35 Krzyz - Kostryn - SU45 089
R80902 07:59 Kostryn - Krzyz - SU45 115
R80904 09:56 Kostryn - Krzyz - SU45 089
R88907 10:32 Kryzy - Kostryn - SU45 079
R80906 13:16 Kostryn - Krzyz - SU45 079
R88909 13:41 Krzyz - Kostryn - SU45 089
R88911 15:35 Krzyz - Kostryn - SU45 115

A smart SU42-506 arrives at Krzyz with 2 coaches from Pila.
Unfortunately it was only possible to get a ride with 089 and 079 (the only SU45 I didn't require) as in order to get to Chojnice (which it turns out is not pronounced anything like it is spelt) for the diesel train to Gdansk the following morning meant the last train we could take to Krzyz was at 14:08 from Gorzow leaving a long fester before the 17:26 on to Chojnice. Plenty of festival-goers clearly also had to take the long fester option as the station was littered with rucksacks and camping mats.

With all the loco hauled activity on the line to Kostryn I was not expecting to see any on the line to Pila- however I was quite mistaken as a very smart SU42 506 rolled in at 12:50 with the 11:57 from Pila with two double decks.
Making a note to watch subsequent arrivals from Pila was a good move as no sooner had SU45 rolled out with the 15:35 to Kostryn than another SU45 - 241, pulled into the station with the 14:41 from Pila!
Another departure from Krzyz to Kostryn. All in all four SU45 locos were in use on the line replacing the usual DMU's.
By this time attention had started to turn to what would form the 17:26 to Chojnice- I had naturally assumed and expected it to be a unit- but there was a set of articulated double deck coaches in the designated platform which had earlier arrived from Pila. With all the shunting going on I fully expected these to be moved to another part of the station- but instead SU45 079 shunted another coach onto the front and proceeded to sit there for some time. With no units in sight were we going to get lucky and get a hauled set all the way through to Chojnice?
The 16:00 from Pila arrived with a unit, and promptly announced it was going to form the 18:25 to Pila, meanwhile the front coach behind SU45 079 was opened up (the articulated set being locked out of use)- we were going to Chojnice hauled. Shame it was another run with, by now, very dud 079 - but still a massive bonus over the unit I expected!
Finally passed the 16:58 Pila - Krzyz which was unidentified but definitely a hauled set.

A huge amount of diesel hauled trains for 2015 in Krzys! I will definitely consider coming back next year for the festival weekend- of course that is if the SU45's last that long?

Very smart in the right light- Przewozy Regionalne EU07-186 at Krzyz.
11:56 Pila - Krzyz - SU42 506
14:41 Pila - Krzyz - SU45 241
16:58 Pila - Krzya - Unidentified loco
17:26 Krzyz - Chojnice - SU45 079

Other active locos seen at Krzyz:
PR- EU07 187
SM31 087
EP07 1026
Akiem (unbranded) 186 263
ET22 2008
EP07 435
PR- EU07 222
ET22 600
ET22 648
ET22 202
EP09 034

4th August-
SU42-532 at Rytel with the hauled service from Chojnice to Gdansk and Hel.
Having effectively missed a day in the Gdansk area while getting distracted by the festival diesels there was a bit of catching up to do today.
A lot of the ground was made up by taking the diesel hauled service from Chojnice to Gdansk, negating the need to ride it on the Hel line later. As promised SU42 534 was waiting with R50798 the 07:18 to Gdansk with two single deck coaches and an articulated set.
A good run up to Gdansk (including run around at Tczew) before leaving the train to drop off our bags at our hotel.
SU42-1007 and SU42-1006 haul EIC 5530 from Hel to Gdynia, seen passing Kuznica on the Hel peninsula.
Back to the station to catch EU07 1521 on a freight before boarding EP07 1065 up to Gdynia. Plan was to take the EIC to Hel which I expected to be the CD 754... not the case, the Goggle was nowhere to be seen and instead SU42 1006 and SU42 1007 were in charge of the train. No windows to hear the locos on the run up to Hel, not that they make any noise anyway. The return EIC was photographed as well as the other locos stabled at Hel- SU42 1005/8/10. Interesting to note that the yellow DMU's on the route had been strengthened with the addition of a loco hauled coach- I hadn't expected the DMU's to have conventional couplings- but they do.
Most trains on the Hel line seemed to be between 10-15 minutes late all afternoon.
A pleasant afternoon was spent on the beach followed by an excellent but somewhat rushed meal before taking the unconventional move (for a rail trip) of the 20:10 boat back to Gdansk. A very pleasant day.

5th August-
Having been to Hel and back today was a chance to catch some freight on the line south of Gdansk which I was expecting to be busy. Every trip has a disappointment or two and today was to be it. In 2 1/2 hours just one southbound freight was photographed, the northbound line seeing only a little more traffic (looking straight into the sun of course). I'm sure the line can be busy- I think I will put this down to poor luck to make up for the SU45's earlier in the week!
 Unbranded EU07-166 was the only southbound freight seen between Gdansk and Tczew. 
Seen was:
Newag 6Dg 139 (LE)
DB 170 048
ET22 1174 (LE)
EU07 096
ET22 1097
EU07 166 (Unbranded white/grey livery- anyone know the operator?)
A couple of passenger and a few Pendolino trains also broke the silence:
EP07 391
EP09 040
EU07 072
EP07 1040
EU07A 003

The intention was to finish the trip with a loco hauled run from Tczew back to Gdansk, but even that didn't work with the timetable if we were to make our flight. We settled on a unit back and ended up quite pushed for time once it was missed due to not realising our noodle lunch in the shopping centre was going to come as a sit down meal! On a positive the food was good and the cafe area has a great view over the station so we could see that no more freight was missed.
A quick 'tourist' wander around Gdansk resulted in us missing the planned airport bus (are you spotting a theme here!?)... so a huge ice cream was instead conquered in this time. The bus to Gdansk airport is slow and fairly unpleasant. This situation will change on 1st September when a new rail link to the airport is opened- A DMU was in the airport station testing when we passed.

Overall an excellent trip. Wolsztyn was great fun (and I highly recommend the footplating experience)- with any luck 2016 will see daily steam services resume, most likely on the line to Leszno.
SU45-079 approaches Gorki Notecki
Covering the SU45's on the Kostryn trains was a real unexpected bonus of the trip and most enjoyable- having done it once I will definitely be tempted to return next year.
The Hel Line was good entertainment, though clearly a shadow of the summer fun it once was with 'real' SU42's- great beaches near the line though if one wants a break from the trains. Unfortunately as a result of the 'change of plan' we never made it to Leba to sample the diesels on this line.
Since I was last in Poland in 2012 a lot more EMU's have come on stream and far fewer locos now wear traditional colours (only one active ET22 spotted in green all trip)- however there is still much of interest in Poland and I will of course be back.
Travel for the whole trip was on point to point tickets with many of the Polish regional trains being purchased on board. I think we may have paid an extra couple of zloty for the privilege. This arrangement is certainly much more hassle than using a railpass which as I usually would for such trips.
Thanks are due to Jon Wright for convincing me that Wolsztyn was a good idea, and for his company on the trip. Also to Howard at the Wolsztyn Experience for all his assistance during the week and especially his gen on the SU45's.

A somewhat shabby SU45-241 arrives into Krzyz with a set of articulated double deckers from Pila.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

While I'm away...

I'm out of the country this week on another railway adventure. Here are a few clues as to what you may be reading about next!