Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Picture of the week - 25th November 2015

The Bellmond Pullman (formerly Venice Simplon -Orient-Express) makes regular luxury excursions from the London area providing fine dining and an interesting day for those who can afford the tickets! Most trips with this train, with vintage 1920's and 30's 'Pullman' carriages are behind modern class 67 diesels, along with several trips each year worked by steam. Very occasionally more interesting heritage traction gets a turn on the train such as on 16th July 2015 when the Pullman was hauled by Deltic D9009 'Alycidon' on a UK railtours trip to the Severn Valley Railway. Here the train is seen near Gerrards Cross on the Chiltern Main Line heading north.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Semaphore so long

Autumn sees additional interest at Barnetby several days a week when class 20's working the 2S13 water cannon circuit pass.
GBRf's 66745 applies its sanders as it passes by the signals
at Barnetby. The road has been set for the next move in the
opposite direction.
I first came to Barnetby in 2007, I knew then that it would be a place I would keep coming back to. The combination of a busy freight scene together with a stunning array of semaphore signals and plenty of photographic variety was a winning combination. Sadly however the days of the semaphores have had a line drawn under them. On 24th December 2015 they will be used for the last time before a 17 day blockade takes place to renew all signalling equipment under the North Lincolnshire Area Resignalling scheme. Nine boxes at Appleby, Barnetby East, Brocklesby Jcn, Elsham, Marsh Jcn, Pasture Street, Roxton Sidings, Stallingorough and Wrawby Jcn will be made redundant with control of the new signals transferring to the Route Operating Centre (ROC) in York. The new equipment will be more reliable than the old signals and release capacity for freight services. However photographs such as these, from my last trip to see the semaphores at work on 16th November 2015 will become a thing of the past.

The evening light catches the semaphores controlled by Barnetby East box. All of this will be gone after Christmas 2015.
The sun is setting on the semaphores at Barnetby as a passing freight train streaks across my camera lens.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Crazy for Crewe!

97303 stands at Crewe having reversed on 3S71 the north Wales RHTT. Due to traversing ERTMS fitted lines this diagram
has to be worked by the class 97's which bring some welcome growl to Crewe. 97304 is on the rear. 
43062 'John Armitt' waits to head south with the NMT.
Talk to any of the camera or notepad wielding inhabitants of the platforms at Crewe station and you will no doubt be told that this place simply 'isn't what it used to be'. Of course the days of loco hauled passenger trains; diesels on the North Wales Coast and the regular passage of Anglo-Scottish expresses at the hands of class 86 and 87's are long gone. Even the general presence of locomotives is much reduced following the demise of the once busy Crewe Diesel Depot.
All this said- the station can still have interest and I was fortunate enough to have the company of no fewer than eight class 37's during a quick 2 hours stint at the station on 28 October 2015 (three of these being on the depots to the south of the station). Throw in the New Measurement Train, a few light engines and of course the regular traffic and it is certainly still possible to have a crazy few hours at Crewe!

The first test train, 37604 and 37667 pause at Crewe on their route to Holyhead. 
At one stage 75% of the class 97 fleet was present at Crewe as 97301 turned up to work a test train back to Derby while the
RHTT 97's were also in the station to reverse- unfortunately they were at opposite ends of the station.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Comment: To brand or not to brand?

The Scotrail franchise has it's own identity quite distinct from Abellio who currently operate it. 380011 in 'Saltair' colours waits at
Glasgow Central on 9th July 2015

Lime green was a stark contrast to pre-90's liveries. A Central
Trains 170 approaches Ely on 4th November 2006.
Whatever your view on privatisation of Britain's railways it has without doubt been colourful. The first fruits of colour bloomed out of BR corporate blue in the late 80's with sectorisation and creation of railway businesses such as InterCity and Network SouthEast. When privatisation took hold 'en mass' the railway was awash with colours it had never seen before; Central Trains brought us lime green, Anglia; turquoise while Midland Mainline gave us a peculiar shade of teal. Liveries continued to morph with the vinyl revolution in the 2000's making once un-paintable liveries possible- the 'dynamic lines' of First Group and even at one stage a mobile Ginsters Pasty advertisement!

More recently something seems to have changed. Several large franchises have adopted somewhat more generic liveries or decided not to re-brand at all. The first area to throw a spanner into the debate was Scotland- where many of the decisions on the railways are already devolved to Holyrood. Here the Scotish government has taken the lead and specified a livery which was first applied by First Group- the 'Saltair' livery. What happened here for the first time was the removal of the rail operators image from the franchise. First Group and now Abellio (who have run ScotRail services since April 2015) have a small logo pasted onto what is otherwise a 'national' livery. There isn't even a mention of Abellio in the company name or much of their promotional material - it is very much 'ScotRail - Scotland's Railway'- and it will stay this way for the considerable future negating the cost of re-painting vehicles which has long been lamented as a wasteful by-product of the franchise system.
A large new 'Great Western Railway' plaque on the side of
57605 at Paddington 23/09/2015
The new livery de-brands franchise owner First Group from
the new and sophisticated livery. 23/09/2015

First group has now gone on to de-brand another of their franchises- the flagship Great Western route out of London Paddington to Wales and the West country. In a bold move the 'dynamic lines' of First Great Western will be replaced by a smart (if slightly dull) dark green and silver scheme harking back to the networks Brunelian routes as the Great Western Railway. It is yet to be seen if this will be another livery which will transition with a new franchisee, and while only a handful of trains have yet been repainted the re-branding of the website and station announcements from 'First Great Western' to 'Great Western Railway' has certainly been stark.

Despite now being part of GTR the colour scheme of
Southern has not changed. 455824, 19 May 2013
Another surprise has recently been thrown into the pot by what is now the largest rail franchise in the UK- Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR). This new monster franchise is the combination of former First Capital Connect (FCC) and Southern franchises within which there are four brands- Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern and Gatwick Express. While GTR has worked to remove former First Group branding from it's ex-FCC trains it has surprised some critics by taking the decision to retain the existing brands and not to re-package all operations as GTR. Those passengers on the Southern and Gatwick Express routes (already owned by Govia) are unlikely to have noticed any difference in the appearance of their rail franchise since GTR took over in July this year. In a talk to the Institute of Railway Operators CEO Charles Horton explained that the individual brands had become established and were recognised by their individual passengers. He reiterated that the large size of the franchise was not important and that smaller changes to services and facilities would instead define the success of the business. In keeping the existing route brandings best practice can be taken from each to build a better GTR.

It seems that as the franchise model matures the garish paint schemes of the not-so-distant past are becoming more subdued and also maturing. Operators are becoming more focused on service and less on having the most eye-catching paint job as their train pulls into the station. This is an attitude I would support as I have long argued that the public by and large does not care whether their train is aquamarine or pink- so long as it arrives on time and provides a safe and reliable service at a fair price. All this said it is difficult to see brand conscious operators such as the Virgin group relinquishing their red and silver scheme which is as much part of the product as the train itself.