It has reached that time again where as a new year beckons it is time to look back on the year that has passed.
With massive orders for UK rolling stock it certainly feels like things are changing. I made a trip in late spring to enjoy a final fling on HST's with opening windows on the Dawlish Sea Wall. It is almost certain that this simple pleasure will no longer be possible in 2019. While HST's will still ply the route those remaining are now rapidly being fitted with new sealed automatic sliding doors. HST's days are now numbered with Great Western although the shift to Scotrail does provide new opportunities to travel behind these classic trains.
Elsewhere in the UK it has been a good year for loco haulage- the Cumbrian class 37 turn has seen out the year, and despite a stint of class 68 operation on one set finished its final months with two 37's back at the helm. I have made three visits to the route over the year and wish I had made more before (hindsight and all that!). Despite services being cut back in May to no longer serve the route between Barrow-in-Furness and Preston the Cumbrain coast remains one of the best rail journeys in the UK. I've also managed to pick up a few much needed class 37's including 37402 an 403- definitely a great feeling when you manage to track down a machine which you never thought you would see in mainline service again. Certainly not in 2018!
While the 37's have now finished in Cumbria the locos will continue into 2019 in Anglia. Perhaps the must unusual loco-hauled event of the year must be the crazy couple of weeks on the Windermere branch following the shortage of traincrew on Northern after the well documented disaster that was the May timetable change. Class 37's, 47's, 57's and even a class 33 had a turn playing on the trains which were free to the public.
Once again I've managed a credible number of trips to foreign soils with seven countries visited during the course of the year. While not primarily a 'rail' holiday the highlight has to be my trip to New Zealand and Thailand in February where did at least briefly get to enjoy some wonderful railways. My stop off in Thailand could not ignore the rail system and a bit of research revealed that the GE 'Shovelnose' locos were the ones to go for. I had rather more luck than I was expecting with these locos and also was able to visit Bangkok's Hau Lampong station which will be replaced possibly during 2019. I'd love to go back- whether I will any time soon is another question. The highlight of the trip was of course New Zealand where I tracked down a number of trains with the help of Darryl Bond on the other end of the phone! A pair of DX locos on the North Island Main Trunk was very pleasing and although the weather may not have entirely played ball the journey from Wellington to Auckland on the Northern Explorer satisfied my needs for a long distance journey, the open observation car being particularly good fun. With the Coastal Pacific having now resumed I will have to visit the south island next time!
Some of my European highlights have included the Dampflok Spectacle at Trier earlier in the year with possibly the greatest concentration of mainline steam outside of China. Switzerland has also become a firm favorite and another very successful trip was made over the summer. A return to the Ratiche Bahn is already in the pipeline for this winter before the latest order for EMU's spells the end to some of the charm of this network.
The most complex trip was without doubt the 9 day epic to Italy and Croatia which brought not only great weather, and great trains but was also a great social occasion. The year was wrapped up with a very enjoyable couple of days in Bavaria enjoying a final fling with the DB 218's on the Fussen branch. It has now been announced that the elderly e656's will last a bit longer into 2019 so who knows if a return trip might just manifest?
Looking forward to 2018 we have the long awaited introduction of class 68's and new Mk5 rolling stock on Transpennine as well as deployment of the new coaches to Caledonian Sleeper duties. HST's will continue to be deployed to Scotland while a little closer to home class 442 'Wessex Electric' EMU's are due to return to the rails imminently. I've got a couple of trips lined up and I'm sure some more will mainfest.
Finally this leaves me to wish you all a very happy new year and all the best for 2018.