Monday, 31 July 2017

Trip Report - SNCF - DB - SNCB Circle

The view of Cherbourg from the Musee de la Liberation. The railway is prominent and the course of the former route to the Gare Maritime can easily be picked out. In the station BB26012 waits for the 12:54 to Paris St Lazare
Day 1.
BB15045 has arrived with at Cherbourg with a
push-pull set from Paris. 23/07/2017
A very hastily planned trip due to having a few days off work and not having escaped from the country since February. More to the point I had not set foot in Europe during 2017 and things were getting desperate. Planning for the trip was, at best poor and escaping the UK was going to be difficult without major expenditure given the start of the school holidays. While out with friends on the Friday night I found myself calling P&O to discover that their Dover-Calais route was fully booked until early evening (even for foot passengers)- not good for getting to Paris, therefore early Saturday morning I found myself booking onto the 15:15 Portsmouth-Cherbourg ferry. That left me a few hours to pack, and get the train down to Portsmouth. I had checked the weather for the weekend and helpfully that symbol of a cloud with the sun sticking out of the top and a lightening bolt from the bottom prevailed. By Portsmouth the heavy rain had arrived. The walk from Portsmouth & Southsea station is slightly quicker and a *little* more pleasant than that from Dover Priory to the ferry terminal. The terminal for the cross channel ferries is certainly a lot nicer than Dover. After the worlds shortest bus ride (about 200m) from the terminal to the boat I was soon setting sail, slightly late, on board the 'Normandie Express' fast ferry to Cherbourg. Weather was changeable with some great views of the Isle of Wight and also some heavy downpours. One child on board spent a good half an hour screaming it's head off but aside from this the sailing was uneventful if a bit choppy at times. Due to poor weather we were late into Cherbourg but it didn't really matter. There is no train to meet the ferry. The ferry docks quite close to the old town but one is then bussed to the terminal building which is about as far as the town in the opposite direction. Once there there is a free shuttle bus to the 'town centre' which meets the boat. I took this as it was raining- the description of 'town centre' is perhaps a little unfair as the bus drops you on a road junction on the other side of the ferry port, a stones throw from where the boat docks in the first place.
It was raining again as I arrived at the Hotel Ambassadeur with a room overlooking the old harbour. Cherbourg was surprisingly pleasant and I enjoyed a good meal before bed.

Day 2
The big surprise of the day- and once a common sight- BB17068 arrives at
Paris St Lazare. I would take this train on the 16:57 towards Pontoise.
Woke up to find that it wasn't raining which is always a positive. There was no rush to get out today as my train wasn't until 12:53. Explored Cherbourg a little more including climbing up to the Musee de la Liberation which is quite a climb with luggage! The view however is worthwhile. I also had a wander around the former Gare Maritime building (now a museum - Cite de Mer). Ghost Sybic 26012 was provided for the 12:54 to Paris St Lazare, a route I had not traveled before and of course comfortable with a fine set of Corails. For now this line is still a sure bet for loco-haulage and plenty more sets were seen stabled at Caen. Arrival into Paris was a couple of minutes early. I had a little bit of time to kill before making my way to Paris Est for the 18:12 to Culmont-Chalindrey so hoped to pick up a BB27300 or two. There seemed to be a distinct lack of the locos in the station and the only one I could find was first stop Argenteuil so I flagged that as I thought it was a bit tight on time- a strangely sensible thought for a change. Just as I was contemplating how best to spent my hour in Paris I looked towards the platforms and to my utter surprise BB17068 was pulling in- While these were commonplace only a year ago I thought they had now lost virtually all of their work form St Lazare (and everywhere else for that matter)- certainly I didn't expect to see one on a Sunday. Not only was this possibly my chance to have a ride on one of SNCF's small electrics- it was also required. Obviously it had to be done even though the 16:57's first stop was Argenteuil... so much for being sensible! Of coures it isn't quite the same riding these on VB2N stock as it was on the RIO's but that isn't a choice anymore. On the return BB27367 was taken back to St Lazare before a quick dash over to Paris Est on the RER.
This was the first big test of my quickly hashed together itinerary. The only booked working for a CC72100 these days on a Sunday is the 18:12 to Culmont-Chalindrey. If it wasn't hauled there was no point trying to get into Germany through Belfort. 20 mins before the train was due to leave there was no sign of any stock, only the ominous presence of one of the Alsthom Coradia units which have now taken over almost all Line 4 workings. With no platform allocation I sought out the only loco hauled train in the station with BB15001 and BB15050 in platform 1. I came back to the coucourse to find the 18:12 allocated to platform 9. I hadn't seen any stock arrive and I could swear that was where the Coradia was... It wasn't going to happen was it. Just I was thinking what on earth plan B might be the broken nose of a BB15000 came into view next to the Coradia... could it be? Yes- it was! From somewhere some stock had arrived and the nasty Coradia was actually on platform 10. That was a relief- but left me just 10 mins to grab photos (in appalling light) some food, and try to use the station WiFi to book a room in Belfort! I managed the first two. Required CC72190 was the power that I would take through to Chaumont, the heart scraped into the dirt on the locomotive appropriately displaying the enthusiasts affection for these locos in their dying days.
Photography under the trainshed at Troyes is never easy and the rubbish weather didn't help either! CC72190 pauses with the 18:12 Paris Est - Culmont Chalindrey, the only booked working on a Sunday and likely my farewell to this classic class of locomotive which I first met in Paris back in 2011.
The new order, an Alstom Coradia unit at Vesoul.
Away from Paris Est on time it was sad to pass Pantin looking out for the big diesels (and CC72084 of course) stabled there to only see Coradias. At Nangis we passed a set of stock which had clearly been there some time- I can only presume since CC72141 hit a car here back in 2015? Sad again to see such a low value placed on the Corail stock that it can simply be abandoned. We also slowed down in this area causing a delay of a few minutes which the train would never make up. Chaumont came around all too quickly and it was time to say goodbye to 72190, after possibly my last big diesel ride in France. 10 minutes behind was the 18:42 ex-Paris which would continue my journey to Belfort. My first taste of the Intercities Coradia's, and I have to admit, aside from it being a unit it wasn't bad at all. I can't see myself coming back to this line once the loco's finish but I'm sure the 'normal' passengers will appreciated these new trains which are comfortable and modern- and a vast improvement over an AGC at least. Accommodation for the night ended up being the Hotel Kyriad which owing to mobile internet not working on my phone was booked by my Dad over the phone from the UK! The hotel was reasonable and largely refurbished, however my corridor still resembled a building site, the room itself was ok if spartan.

Day 3.
A 'Carvelle' shows off the SNCF heritage scene at Mulhouse.
Woke to rain again in Belfort. My decision to pay for the hotel breakfast proved to be a good one and the raincoat was on again for the walk back to the station. I was sure my train to Mulhouse would be a unit, but as I was walking to the station BB22354 arrived into the station. This turned out to be the train for Lyon while my train to Mulhouse was an AGC. I had a quick connection at Mulhouse during which preserved 'Carvelle' X4395 was photographed- complete with notices asking people not to vandalise it- I'm not sure that is how it is supposed to work!? It was nice to be on a 'proper' train again on to Strasbourg with BB26141 providing the power, the weather improved during the run as well.

The weather has brightened up considerably by the time I chance from SNCF to DB at Wissembourg. DB 'Talent' Unit 643 007 will take me across the border and on to Neustadt. 24/07/2017.

I was hoping I might see a few of the commuter push pull turns at Strasbourg and looked up some old diagrams. Nothing booked on the BB67400 front though there were a few turns with BB25000 that could have produced depending what work these locos had left. I was to be disappointed as no locos were seen between Selestat and Strasbourg and there was no sign of any push-pull activity at Strasbourg either. A couple of BB25000 were parked up by the workshop and a line of BB67400 were further back. No sign of any RRR sets at all that I could see. BB26150 was seen sporting 'Grand Est' another non-livery in my opinion but a new one on me (swap the couloured bits of 'Vermillion' for blue).

Back behind locos after an interlude of multiple units. 146001
is the power from Mannheim to Frakfurt Main 24/07/2017.
I deviated from my planned route into Germany and rather than heading for an ICE from Offenburg elected to take local trains via Wissembourg. A Regiolis completing the French side and a Talent unit into Germany. I tried to buy a German FIP ticket from the SNCF window but was told to use the machine- opting for the Bahn card 50 option didn't go down wonderfully with one conductor who just said 'bahn card' to me several times before accepting the FIP, the other conductor was happy no questions asked. The route up to Frankfurt continued via Neustadt and then a suburban train on to Mannheim. There were a couple of options on to Frankfurt from here but as the first one was a rake of Dostsos with 146001 I chose that option via Darmstadt.

'Thunderbunnies' at Frankfurt- 218836 and 218813 await their next rescue call.

Frankfurt is always a hive of activity, though there has been a reduction of RE locos since I was last here. The plan was to have a quick spin on a 111 and/or 143. This didn't go well. Two sets of N-Wagons appeared with 111's that would have been suitable, but by the time I got to the front of the queue to get my FIP ticket from the DB ticket office they had already gone (allow a good 15 mins for a visit to a DB ticket office). I cut my losses, got a Bratwerst and continued on my next leg towards Koblenz.

Plenty of RE loco hauled action still appears at Frankfurt.

I was aware that locos had disappeared from local trains on the Rhein Valley and my train was some variation of Stadtler Flirt. I must say despite the lack of a loco the train was very comfortable and pleasant. There was even a guy pushing a food trolley around, presumably legitimately as he was wearing no trace of uniform of DB identification that I could see. The DB staff travelling on the train got a free coffee though so it must have been fine. I didn't see him serve anybody else!

Shortly after arrival at Cologne 111 129 appears with an RE to
Siegen from Aachen. 24/07/2017.

I was hoping to get off at Oberwesel to spend a few hours photographing in the Rhein Valley but a few mintues before our arrival we entered a tremendous thunderstorm to the extent that the other side of the river could hardly be seen. I stayed on to Boppard where the weather had cleared a little- this is a lovely area and I am sure to be back. Another Flirt on to Koblenz and while there were hauled RE options from here the lure of an OBB compartment proved too much as 101056 pulled in with a EuroCity. The sun was out now so I spent an hour or so on the station before heading off to my hotel in town, the Casa Visa (excellent if you like an orange bathroom) and then found a spot by the river for dinner. I had a night photo session planned at the station but the trains didn't play ball and I was told not to use my tripod during my first shot- clearly the biggest issue on a Monday night when there are drunks and screaming kids running around the station.
A stunning view over Boppard with a northbound IC heading along the banks of the Rhine before it rained again. I shall be back!
Day 4.
Belgian 2829 appears through the gloom at Koln West with a freight. There is
a good variety of activity here and the weather did improve slightly 25/07/2017
Surprise Surprise- raining again. A good (free) breakfast at the hotel where I got the impression there were only about 3 guests. Waked over to Koln West for some freight action- around 10 trains were seen in around 80 minutes with a fair selection of traction. It was then time to try spinning some locos out of Cologne taking a 146266 down to Bruhl and 146268 back to Koln Hbf. This batch of Traxx locos are quite musical- though not quite as good as a singing Taurus!

IC, ICE and RE trains at Koln Hbf 25/07/2017.

It was time for the final days travelling to begin now and finally a ride with a 111, traction to Aachen being 111129. A few more locos were seen at Aachen before I boarded my SNCB unit across the border to Welkenraedt. Back on a proper train from here with 1861 and 1805 taking me on to Brusseles Nord. I eventually had to change carriages as another small child was making a repeated unpleasant noise in the front one which I could only stand for so long! I was running ahead of schedule so had time here to pick up another loco into Brusselles Zuid/Midi- but with so many platforms finding what you want and making it on board proved difficult. What I wanted was a class 27 or 21 on the 'fresh air' coaches. I eventually settled for 2863 on an InterCity Direct.
DB gives way to SNCB on my journey at Aachen where 111 118 waits to work back to Hamm.

I had ridden the local train from Aachen into Belgium once
before- when an ICE had failed and terminated- the entire train
full of passengers had been transferred to the 2 car unit. The
type of EMU may now have changed but 2 cars is still (usually)
sufficient for this journey.
The big question of the day was whether I would manage to secure my FIP Eurostar ticket back home- it was a bit of a risk but paid off with space being available on the 19:52 train as I had hoped. This left me a couple of hours to try again at spinning some of the older electrics. Again this is difficult on normal tickets if you have not done your research and don't know what goes where (as was my case). Even less helpful is that my InterRail app seemed to be showing the stations in French, whereas the station was advertising them in Flemish, the destinations often being totally different. Once I eventually found the booking office at Midi I got a ticket to Mechelen.

1874 arrives at Welkenraedt with the train to Oostend which would convey me as far as Brussels. Despite their power many Belgian trains have multiple 'Vectron' locos in their consist- this one had another on the rear. 25/07/2017.

Belgian 'Goggles'? EMU 912 at Mechelen.
Now I just needed to find an appropriate train going there. 2153 was my chosen train from Midi to Nord but I couldn't work out whether or not that went on to Mechelen or not. Infact I could not work out where it was going at all with my multi-lingual issue! I took the safe option and bailed off at Nord. 1893 and 1856 took me on to Mechelen where I would hope for some more turquoise action on the return. Mechelen station has some charm but does also illustrate how neglected and run down most Belgain stations appear to be. Certainly compared to the spotless, modern and well maintained stations of France and Germany. I have always considered Brusseles Midi to be a bit of a dump, but actually compared to many other SNCB stations it is probably actually one of the better. At Mechelen there seemed to be plenty of loco hauled trains heading away from Brussels but everything heading in the direction I was after was producing units. Eventually after over 45 minutes I was finally rewarded with 2722 back to Midi.
Following the disaster that was the attempted introduction of High Speed 'Fyra' units on the Brusseles - Amsterdam service conventional NS loco hauled stock is now once again used and powered by hired in class 186 Traxx locos. 2863 pauses at Mechelen with a service to Breda (engineering works in the Netherlands curtailing the train). 
2722 rolls into Mechelen with a service to Brussels. 25/07/2017.

Now all that remained was to board my Eurostar (3001/2) and finally head home after a crazy few days and completing over 1,300 miles. I upset the security people on the Eurostar platforms by standing at the front of the train to take some photos (I may not see another 'original' Eurostar here?)- I don't think the photos were a problem but apparently standing at the front sets off an 'alarm'. What should have been more of a concern was that the reservations on the set were all reversed with coach 18 where coach 1 should have been. This didn't help boarding and we left a few minutes late with plenty of people in the wrong seats. This wasn't a huge issue until Lille Europe where the correct incumbents of those seats then turned up. Leaving 15 minutes late from Lille made this the latest train I had been on all trip and missed us our slot through the tunnel securing an almost 20 minute late arrival in London. I find it amazing that the last Eurostar from Brussels to London is as early as 19:52 (21:03 arrival) though it does have the useful advantage of making sure I get home at a reasonable hour!
A sight I might not see again? Original 'Three Capitals' Eurostar set 3002 prepares to depart Brussels Midi with the 19:52 to London St Pancras. 25/07/2017

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Sheffield Icons

3rd June 2017 marked the 60th anniversary of the handover of pilot scheme D8000 from English Electrics Vulcan Foundary at Newton-le-Willows to British Railways. The first of 20 pilot scheme diesel locos which would lead to a successful production run totaling 228 engines had appeared on the rail network. The class 20's soon found their worth and were a familiar sight throughout the early diesel era, often working in pairs bonnet-to-bonnet providing a lightweight 2000hp power solution (and also removing the issue of the poor visability for the loco crew when driving 'bonnet first'. While withdrawal of the class by BR began in the mid 1980's some members of the class did make it through to the privatised era, most notably with DRS employing a fleet of up to 15 modified class 20/3's. In more recent years Harry Needle Railroad Company (HNRC) has returned several class 20's to the main line for hire contracts, including to GBRf for work delivering London Underground S-Stock train sets from Derby.
On Sunday 16th July GBRf ran one of their occasional charity trips the 'Charitably Chibble' tour from Ipswich to Basingstoke (via Sheffield) employing a pair of HNRC class 20's for the section north of Peterbrough. GBRf turned out 20132 and 20118, the pair of Railfreight Red Stripe and undoubtedly the best looking locomotives of the class on the network today. As well as raising more than £21,000 for charity GBRf provided a great day out behind these locomotives of 60 year design vintage. While 20's were never common on passenger trains they certainly would have been regulars to the Sheffield area with many of the class being based at the large marshalling yard at Tinsley. 20132 and 20118 are here pictured at Sheffield station, overlooked by an icon of the Sheffield skyline the Park Hill estate, another product of 1957 when construction began. This modernist estate of 995 dwellings took influence from the work of French architect and urban planner Le Courbusier was initially popular but fell into decline in the 1980's and 90's. Controversially the estate was awarded Grade II listed status in 1988 becoming the largest listed building in Europe. Renovation of Park Hill began in 2009 and full completion of the scheme is expected in 2022.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Exploring the Wimbledon Loop

The pioneer of the class 319's, built from 1987 for Thameslink services, 319001 arrives into St Helier with a Sutton service on a hot 21st June 2017. 
Thameslink's Wimbledon Loop is one of those railways on the border between London and Suburbia that can often seem to be forgotten. Conceived as the Wimbledon & Sutton Railway it was a fairly late addition to the South London rail network opening between 1929 and 1930. It was originally planned that trains to Sutton via Morden would run as an extension of the District Railway branch to Wimbledon though in the event the link was never built and electric services were operated from the outset by the Southern Railway. When built the line served a largely rural area- particularly between the towns of Wimbledon and Carshalton with housing developers keen to extend the London suburbs promoting it's construction. Housing developments did indeed spring up along the route and the population in the area rocketed- however competition from the City & South London Railway (today's Northern Line) which had extended to Morden meant that passenger levels never reached the levels which were hoped for.
The future for the Wimbledon Loop - Siemens class 700's are now being delivered and entering service in ever increasing numbers. The 700 fleet is set to displace all class 319s' before the end of 2017. 700005 approaches Tooting. 21/06/2017
319443 arrives at West Sutton bound for Sutton. 21/06/2017
The service today is operated by Thameslink (part of Govia Thameslink Railway) to much the same pattern that was begun in 1995 when 'Wimbledon Loop' services began running through the Snow Hill Tunnel from Luton. Two trains per hour run around the loop in each direction before heading through Central London to Luton. A recent threat to the cross-London service came prior to the introduction of new trains to the route when it was proposed to curtail the service at Blackfriars in order to prevent shorter 8 car trains (the maximum length permitted on the Wimbledon Loop) from reducing capacity through the Thameslink core- after a campaign however the through route was saved. From the inception of Thameslink the route has been almost exclusively served by the dual voltage class 319's. As part of the 'Thameslink Program' these units are all being replaced by new fixed 8 car 700/0 trains from Siemens which should oust the remaining 319's during 2017. During the transition period class 377's have also appeared on the route. In addition to the all day Thameslink service a limited peak hours only service is operated by Southern using class 455's which run a service to/from London Bridge.
455843 leads a classmate into South Merton with a Southern
peak service from London Bridge. 21/06/2017
Many stations on the route are unstaffed and platform design is notable for the Island platforms on the section form Wimbledon to Sutton, many of which feature grassed central areas between the two running rails such is their width. The route is double tracked throughout with the notable exception of Wimbledon station where the down line through platform 10 has been converted for use by Tramlink over the former Wimbledon - West Croydon route leaving just the reversible platform 9 for Wimbledon Loop services.
One further notable feature of the route is the  'The Wall of Death' - a distinctive deep curved concrete cutting between Sutton and West Sutton which has gained its colloquial name form its likeness to motorcycle stunt fairground ride.

The familiar face of the BREL class 319 will soon be disappearing from Wimbledon. 319437 enters the single track section through platform 9 with an evening service towards Sutton. 21/06/2017

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

50 Years since the end of Southern Steam

34019 'Bideford' awaits it's fate at the end of Southern Steam. This was an excellent photo piece put together by the Mid Hants railway using their out of ticket 34007 'Wadebridge' (plus a little help from photoshop!). 34007's boiler certificate expired during 2016 and she now finds herself in the overhaul queue at Ropley.

BR Standard 4MT 76017 waits for departure time from Ropley with a shuttle
service to Alresford. 76017 spent it's entire career on the Southern based at
Eastleigh shed before finishing its days based at Salisbury.
Sunday 9th July 1967 was a sad day for the Southern Railway with the curtain finally falling on steam traction. The final routes to be steam worked was the main line from Waterloo to Southampton, Bournemouth and Weymouth with electric services taking over from the following Monday. This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the end of Southern Steam and has seen a great number of events, railtours and galas to commemorate the occasion. With work commitments preventing me from getting to the highly successful Bulleid gala at the Swanage Railway earlier in the year I was determined not to miss the 'End of Southern Steam' event at the Watercress line in early July.

Both diesel and electric traction replaced steam on the Southern.
33053 would have run alongside steam in the latter days, the
class being a product of BRCW at Smethwick from 1960-1962.
33053 is here seen with an engineers train including the working
steam crane (some of which worked into the 1980's for BR!)

The railway was hosting it's event over two weekends culminating on Sunday 9th July- 50 years exactly since the last steam hauled train to Bournemouth left Waterloo. Present at the line were four (working) Bulleid Pacific's accompanied by a host of other locomotives associated with the final days of steam on the Southern region. Weather on the first weekend was forecast to be changeable however the Sunday was blessed with almost wall to wall sunshine. The photos that follow are a fitting tribute to this anniversary and also a reminder of how thankful we should be that the UK has such a thriving preservation movement and that scenes such as these are still possible for us all to enjoy.

Double headed 'Pacifics' would not have been common- especially on 5 coaches! 'West Country' class 34053 'Sir Keith Park' leads classmate 34052 'Lord Dowding'* with a service from Alresford to Alton. *This is 34046 'Braunton' currently running as scrapped 34052.
35006 'Penninsula & Oriental' represents the 'Merchant Navy' Pacifics. This locomotive was making its first visit from the Gloucester and Warwickshire Railway where it has recently returned to service after a lengthy overhaul from scrap condition.

Another locomotive recently restored to working order is 34053 'Sir Keith Park' which entered service at the Severn Valley Railway in 2012. The re-built 'West Country' is seen with the final train of the day from Alresford to Alton.

Only one 'Air Smoothed' Bulleid pacific was present for the gala, 34081 '92 Squadron' visiting from the Nene Valley Railway is resplendent in SR Malachite Green- a livery it would have lost long before the end of steam in 1967. Looking quite the part, and demonstrating why the class were nicknamed 'Spam Can's' 34018 is seen heading towards Meadstead & Four Marks.
Over the course of the gala several trains have been reenacted including several freight trains using the lines restored wagons. BR Standard 4MT hauls a brake van special towards Ropley.

35028 'Clan Line' powers through Hersham in the last of the days light with
the 'Bournemouth Belle' on 5th July 2017.
On the 50th anniversary week itself a number of steam specials ran on the main line network. One of the most prominent was a re-run of the Bournemouth Belle, the premier Pullman service from London to Bournemouth. The Bournemouth Belle was last steam hauled on 5th July 1967 and it was to be 50 years to the day that the train was re-enacted with 35028 'Clan Line' at the helm. The date was also significant in being 50 years since 35028 last worked under BR ownership. While BR may have had no use for these locomotives 'Clan Line' has just returned to main line service following a comprehensive overhaul. She will continue to provide main line service for many years to come, often at the head of the luxury 'Belmond British Pullman' who's coaches were used for the re-creation of the Bournemouth Belle.