Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016- a year in review

Spending time on the Gotthard pass this year has been a joy. I ultimately made two trips as the weather poor for almost the duration of the former. On the second trip, standing with enthusiasts of several nationalities at Wassen high level we were rewarded with the passing of the VSOE luxury train early on the morning of 10th June behind Re4/4's 11244 and 11157.
Another New Year is upon us and it is time therefore to look back on 2016. I managed to visit eight different countries this year, which is quite impressive, however new countries are getting harder to come by. While none of these countries were totally new to me several had not been explored in much depth or for some time. Finally I got myself out to the Gotthard Pass in Switzerland, a location which has long been on the list. It was just in time with the Gotthard Base Tunnel opening in the summer and as of December having consumed the vast majority of trains which used to travel over the beautiful trans-alpine line.
37175 is one of several ex-preserved class 37's currently seeing
use with Colas Rail. It is seen leading a test train into
Guildford on 27th October with 37116 on the rear.
Another highlight has to have been my two week long trip across America. I always love taking long distance journeys by train and the journey coast to coast with Amtrak was brilliant and I hope you've enjoyed reading about it. There are a few more location reports to come from this trip including from the famous Tehechapi pass.
Closer to home the year started off with with poor weather which brought disruption to several routes in the UK- one of these resulted in the West Coast Mainline being closed into Scotland necessitating diversions to trains. Some of the most interesting of these were for Caledonian Sleeper services which took alternative routes, in some cases giving the opportunity to travel behind pairs of class 47's. There has been other good news for followers of main line heritage traction in the UK with both Colas rail and DRS returning some long absent class 37's to the network for both infrastructure monitoring and passenger operations.
Blue BB67400's will continue to see use with SNCF into 2017
but how much longer these veterans will last is difficult to
predict. BB67556 stands at Issoire on May 2nd 2016.
Unfortunately if there is one thing that the railways of the UK will be remembered for in 2016 it is the ongoing industrial dispute between Southern and the rail unions. For the sake of passengers I hope this can be resolved soon and will not be a continuing theme into 2017, though getting the right decision is of course of paramount importance.
Looking ahead to 2017 it is great to see that the presence of loco-hauled trains in the UK is looking as strong as it has done in recent years with class 37's looking secure in the medium term both in Cumbria and Anglia and the new build class 68's continuing to pick up work.
Across Europe we must hope OBB can turn around the fortunes of the beleaguered City Night Line services which were withdrawn by DB in December. The operator clearly sees a future for these trains and recognises the valuable contribution they make to public transport. Undoubtedly as the year progresses we will continue to see more new locomotives and multiple units arriving across the continent. Hopefully enough interest will remain to sustain a few more enjoyable trips to France, though many of the trains which I enjoyed here only a couple of years ago are now very much on their way out.
Enjoying a glass of bubbly in a Budd dome car on the
Grand Canyon Railway.
I'm not sure yet where 2017 will take me, but I'm sure there will be some interesting trips on the horizon which I look forward to sharing with you. I wish my readers a Happy New Year and hope you will continue to find these pages of interest. My stats tell me that readership is up this year but I'd love to know that it isn't just robots reading the pages so do please feel free to leave me some comments or follow this blog to be the first to know about any updates.

All the best, James

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

More 707 deliveries

On the night of 22nd December a further two class 707's [707003 and 707004] were delivered to South West Trains- just in time for Christmas! This time rather than parking the units up outside Clapham Yard they were shunted and moved straight into the depot- their position allowing a much better look at the new trains than that of 707001 which arrived earlier in the month.
This time UK Rail Leasing's 56104 and 56098 were used for the transfer with 20142 continuing to be based at Clapham Yard for shunting. Testing of the units should begin in early 2017.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Red pens at the ready!

21st December 2016 was by no means blessed by the weather,
however with a day off work and the prospect of catching up
with 37424 made a trip to Anglia worthwhile. 37424 is seen
arriving at Cantley with the 14:55 Norwich - Lowestoft. 37405
is on the rear of the Anglian 'Short Set'. 
After a remarkable 16 years off the national network 37424 has made a remarkable return to traffic during 2016. On December 16th it hauled its first regular passenger train, since it's final passenger working for EWS, the Fort William portion of the Caledonian sleeper (diverted to Oban) on 7th March 2000.
For those searching for 37/4's this locomotive definitely has a draw, not made any less strong by the out-shopping of the locomotive in BR Large Logo blue as 37558 in commemoration of the final year of operation of Avro Vulcan XH558. The locomotive has had extensive work carried out on it at Loram (formerly RVEL) at Derby including a complete re-skinning and major structural repair work to bring it from close to scrap condition back to a revenue-earning passenger locomotive. With the amount spent on the overhaul it is hoped that 37424 will continue to see use on passenger trains with DRS for some years.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

707001 arrives!

Overnight on the 8th December 2016 the first of South West Trains new class 707 'Desiro City' trains transited through the Channel Tunnel to arrive on UK soils. The move of the single 5 car unit was carried out by Rail Operations Group's 37800 and 37884. Once on SWT territory the unit was taken to Clapham yard to await moving into the carriage sheds on the morning of Saturday 10th December, 20142 was provided for shunting.
The 30x 5 car class 707's are similar to the class 700's which are currently being delivered to Thameslink. While destined for pure DC operation the first class 707's will be fitted with pantographs for AC testing as part of the type approval process. They are due to enter passenger traffic on suburban routes with SWT in spring 2017.
Not one of the greatest photographs to ever appear on this site, but one that does have significance. The first class 707 for South West Trains is shortly to be shunted from 29 road in Clapham Yard to the carriage shed for initial training and acceptance works. 29 further units will follow 707001 through the tunnel to South Western metals. 

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Survivors in Yorkshire

Class 31's are due to dissappear from NR test trains very soon.
31233 is seen powering from the rear of a train at Sheffield.
With some stunning weather forecast I spent a day in Yorkshire on 28th November on the way back from a trip to Scotland. As well as regular traction in the area I was fortunate to catch up with two real survivors of the privatised railway- 31233, now the last serviceable loco of the class with Network Rail on test train duties and class 20's 20312 and 20305 on RHTT duties. The class 20 will celebrate it's 60th birthday in 2017 and it really is testament to their design and reliability that both these modernisation plan diesel classes can still be seen working on the national network at the end of 2016.

20312 leads an RHTT set and 20305 through Hatfield & Stainforth with the South Yorkshire rail head treatment train from Grimsby to Bridlington via Sheffield and Hull. Class 20's celebrate their 60th Birthday in 2017.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Is competition good for the South West Mainline?

Last month Alliance Rail Holdings announced their intention to begin a new 'Open Access' service between London Waterloo and Southampton to compete with the franchised operator on the South West Main Line. The SWML is one of the busiest and most congested routes on the UK and a franchise which currently pays a significant premium to the UK Government.
Alliance says that they are working with the industry to identify paths for seven off-peak journeys per day (with two peak services to follow in 2018 following work to increase capacity on the line) using class 442 'Wessex Elecric' 100mph EMU's.
37884 hauls 2411 from Three Bridges to Eastleigh on 11th November 2016 seen in the Addlestone area. The unit has come off lease with Southern/Gatwick Express, but could these fine trains return to the SWML with an 'open access' operator?
Competition has undoubtedly brought more consumer choice on the East Coast Main Line where both First Hull Trains and Grand Central operate open access services, however it has also meant that the expansion of franchised services has been subdued and detracted revenue which would otherwise be received by the government in premium payments.
Introducing more seating capacity on the SWML is certainly a good thing but whether this should be in the form of a competing operator I am not sure. Certainly I would be more than happy to see the 442's back on the Wessex patch where they belong, but I would first be interested to see what service enhancements are proposed in the two bids for the next franchise by Stagecoach and First/MTR. It is entirely possible that these bids may also have identified extra paths and stock to utilise them and this may give a better return for the taxpayer as well as giving more operational flexibility in not having another operator to deal with on the congested line into Waterloo.
There is definitely a leisure market on this route and South West Trains have increasingly tapped into it with their promotional off-peak fares. Could Alliance Rail offer a better product? We will have to wait for the ORR to give their ruling on the proposal. Alliance hope to be running their off peak services from the December 2017 timetable change- their press release can be read here.