Wednesday, 25 April 2018

From the Archives- Last Scheduled 'Thumpers' 24th September 2004

205028 awaits departure from London Bridge with the 18:12 to Uckfield. 205032 was on the rear. The scene has changed somewhat in the intervening 13 years with the trains replaced and the station entirely re-built. 24/09/2004

A conversation at work in the last week turned to 'Thumpers' - the SR DEMU's which plied non-electrified lines from the late 1950's right up until the mid-2000's.
205001 on the blocks of platform 11 with stock for the 17:10 to Uckfield.
4-VOP 3917 occupies platform 10. 24/09/2004.
I caught only the very end of these distinctive units mainline careers; discovering them on one of my early outings in 2003. I went for a run on the two routes which were by this time the final stomping ground of the class 205 and 207, Oxted - Uckfield and Hastings - Ashford. As well as these fairly rural services (which were some way from home) there were two workings each weekday peak into or out of London. Due to the price of a peak travelcard (a large consideration back then, even on child fares!) I never covered the inbound runs from Uckfield to London, however the evening runs, the 17:10 London Bridge - Uckfield and the 18:02 Victoria - Uckfield (Later 18:12 London Bridge - Uckfield) became a regular way to spend my evening.
Guards accommodation on 205009.
I missed plenty of other trains in the process- but quite frankly at 17:00 on a weekday if I was out there was only one place I would be and that was at the end of the high level platforms at London Bridge waiting for the inbound 'Thumper' ECS.

Friday 24th September 2004 wasn't a normal day for the Thumpers. Or in many ways it was. This was the *last* normal day for the Thumpers out of London. From the following Monday the new class 170 'Turbostars' would take over the peak trains, having already replaced the Thumpers on the branches. This was the last booked day of the Thumpers- and I wasn't going to miss it.

205009 at East Croydon with the 17:10 London Bridge - Uckfield. 24/09/2004
I headed up to London Bridge after school and by the time I arrived and met my friends the ECS for the 17:10 to Uckfield was already sitting under the LB&SCR Roof on platform 11 formed of 205001 and 205009. Both the London peak trains were booked to be formed of 6 coaches, but regularly turned up as 5 car formations (and occasionally a very cosy 4!). 205001 was one of the 2-car units technically dedicated to the branch duties. The train was formed up with the 'triangle end' power car of 205001 at the buffers and the power car of 205009 the same way round, with the non-powered trailer leading. The train was even busier than normal with enthusiasts who had come to say goodbye to the ancient DMU's so we ended up travelling in the guards van of 205009.

4-VEP 3403 at East Croydon shortly after departure of the first Uckfield Thumpers with a service to East Grinstead. 24/09/04

Far from the best photo I have ever taken- 205032 at Uckfield following
arrival with the last scheduled service from London Bridge. 24/09/2004.
At East Croydon, as was usual, we left the Uckfield train. Something must have gone wrong at this point as it was usually possible to take a 'Slammer' back to London Bridge (often a VEP via Crystal Palace if memory serves me correctly) to make the 18:12 departure, but on this occasion my photos reveal we travelled on a 455, possibly to make sure we didn't miss what could have been the very last train. Whatever the reason for the 455 we overtook the ECS stock at Norwood Junction and arrived into London Bridge in plenty of time to see 205032 and 205028 arrive for the 18:12 to Uckfield. This train used platform 9 and before long (and after taking many appallingly blurred photos!) we boarded the power car, both of which were in the middle, of 205028 for the full journey to Uckfield. 205028 was one of the units I had seen comparatively little so it was good to get a further run onboard. It was unusual to take the train beyond East Croydon (and out of Travelcard territory) but this was a special occasion. Furthermore Southern who operated the service at the time had agreed to run the ECS from Uckfield to Selhurst in service to East Croydon (the earlier peak train was booked to return in service, but not the 18:12) in order to appease the enthusiasts, and get us home!

The run was noisy as ever on the crowded train- windows were wide open and heads were out (those 2-piece window bars never were very effective!). It was always fun riding this train, but it was fair to say this occasion was tinged with sadness knowing that we may never again fly down the mainline to the sound of two 4-SRKT English Electric diesel engines on non-corridor stock from a different railway era.

The interior of 205032 on the return 'special' to East Croydon.
Only enthusiasts remain on board but the train is still
reasonably busy- testament to the popularity of these trains,
and the fact we probably all crowded into the power car! It is
difficult to imagine traveling in a train looking like this today.
At Uckfield some enthusiasts climbed onto the front of the unit and adorned it with stickers of its old number, 1128- a practice that definitely wouldn't be permitted today, and in all likelihood probably wasn't in 2004 either! Many photos were taken of the train, possibly the last 6 car to reach Uckfield in normal service- I distinctly remember one chap with what can only be described as a floodlight taking his photos of 205032 on the London end of the train. To say that the driver was not amused would be an understatement. Maybe Southern had failed to inform him that this was the last run of the Thumpers. Certainly he was even less amused when the gathered enthusiasts informed him that he was taking us back to East Croydon in service. A few phone calls were made to control and much to his dismay he was indeed in service back to Croydon non-stop. Here a final photo call was made before the assembled enthusiasts with much jollity savored the final English Electric departure to the depot. That was the end of scheduled Thumpers on Southern and the end of non-corridor stock.

A final photo shoot with 205032 at East Croydon before the train headed off to Selhurst Depot. 24/09/2004

Fortunately the 'slammers' were still going strong at this point and the evening wasn't quite over with 'phase 1' 4-CIG 1704 being enjoyed to Clapham Junction. The Phase 1 units were always a particular joy to travel on with the additional headrests on the seats and some compartments even still featuring string luggage racks!

Phase 1 CIG 1704 at Clapham Junction with a Littlehampton - Victoria
service. 24/09/2005.
Of course this didn't quite turn out to be the final run for the Thumpers- several units were kept available to cover for unavailable Turbostars for several more weeks and I had one more ride with 205028 and 205032 in regular service less than a week later on 30th September- this pair covering the 17:10 while 205001 and 205009 worked the 18:12. That occasion however was to be my last mainline run besides the public farewell tour on 27th November 2004. It is hard looking back to think that it is now over a decade since the Thumper Farewell - certainly penning this article brings back some fond memories. Thankfully all bar one of the final Southern units were preserved, and with the exception of 205028 which lies out of use and damaged at Meldon Quarry all of the units in use that day can still be enjoyed in preservation.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Trying New Trains

There has been an influx of new trains to the UK rails recently. Over the past few days I've had the opportunity to check out some of the latest arrivals.

GWR class 800 (IEP)-
800008 'Sir Gareth Edwards' stands at Reading with a service for London Paddington. 13/04/2018
One of the most widely anticipated (if not controversial) new trains in the UK for a number of years are those of the Hitachi Intercity Express Programme (IEP). This fleet of trains will serve as the replacement for on the the UK's most iconic and successful trains of all time the InterCity125 HST along with other long distance train sets including the InterCity225 on the East Coast Main Line. The product of a Department for Transport specification and tender the trains have come under fire from the beginning by some of the operators who would use them, this is without mentioning the massively behind schedule and over budget scheme to electrify the Great Western Mainline.

My first IEP - 800013 standing on the blocks at Paddington. 13/04/2018
The first IEP's were constructed at Hitachi's Kasaido works in Japan with the bulk of the fleet to be assembled at a new plant at Newton Aycliffe. The first passenger run of a class 800 was in October 2017 between Bristol and London- despite some initial teething problems the trains have settled down into service on the GWR and are now being used in increasing numbers allowing the ageing HST fleet to be slowly stood down. The IEP has a lot to live up to and first impressions are of a sleek modern train which really doesn't look too bad at all. It is quickly apparent that the smart Great Western Railway livery is entirely applied with vinyls as a quick glance at doorways will easily reveal the white base colour where it has not been covered. The first trains to be delivered are 5 car class 800/0's which will run in pairs to replace an 8 + 2 HST formation. This means that catering facilities will be duplicated and both passengers and staff will be unable to walk between units. The trains for GWR are now all to be delivered as Bi-Modal since for cost reasons the complex section of electrification through Bath has now been postponed. Currently IEP's run on electric between London Paddington and Reading before switching to diesel for the journey forward. My journey was on board 800013 from Reading to Paddington, on electric traction so I cannot comment on any noise or vibration from the under-floor diesel engines.

Standard class on the class 800 IEP. 13/04/2018
The interior of the train is smart if not a little plain. Certainly the colours chosen are much brighter than the GWR HST fleet. Seating is a mix of tables for 4 and airline style seating all arranged in 2+2 format in Standard class. Power points and electric seat reservation displays are fitted throughout the train. The layout appears to be an improvement over the current HST seating arrangement (though the story may have been different had First Great Western not refurbished the HST's internally so badly in order to fit in extra seats!). This said there are still a number of seats which do not align with windows at all. As has been widely reported the seats are hard. The actual shape and size of the seats is not at all bad, but there is definitely no opportunity to sink into these seats on a long distance journey! I will not comment on the First Class interior as I did not get a chance to sample it on this short journey.

The journey from Reading to London is fast and unremarkable- perhaps as a new train should be!?

TFL Rail (to become Crossrail 'Elizabeth Line') class 345- 

345009 arrives into Romford with a Shenfield - London Liverpool St service for TfL Rail. An outgoing class 315 can be seen departing from the near platform. 14/04/2018

The majority of seating on the new 345's is longitudinal. 14/04/2018
Crossrail, the multi-billion project to build a new heavy-rail route under London, is almost upon us and will open completely in 2019. In preparation for the 'Elizabeth Line' as it will be branded the route from London Liverpool St to Shenfield has been transferred to Transport for London and will be branded 'TfL Rail'. Inheriting a fleet of ageing 1980's built class 315 EMU's this route has been first to see the new Crossrail trains, built by Bombardier and branded 'Aventra'. Built in Derby the fleet are initially being delivered in 7 car formation but will be extended to their full 9 coaches at a later date once infrastructure works are complete. Entering service in June 2017 between London and Shenfield the class 315's are now being displaced from the route.

Bays of facing seats are available in several areas. 14/04/2018
The first, and most noticeable feature of the class 345 is it's front- it is not yellow! For decades it has been compulsory for British main line stock to carry a yellow warning panel, however this rule has now been relaxed (the intensity of modern railway headlights deeming it unnecessary). The class 345 is the first train to appear without the warning panel and instead has a black front- it certainly takes some getting used to! The front end design differs significantly from artists impressions as it was amended by various stakeholders during the design phase of the cab. The AC EMU's feature 3 sets of doors per carriage for easy loading and full width gangways throughout for easy circulation through the interior space. As would be expected of any new train today the sets are fully air conditioned and are finished in a light and airy style with a purple moquette mirroring the 'Elizabeth Line' branding. Seating is a mix of longitudinal and 2+2 facing seating in some small areas. Grab rails and handles are provided in many locations for the large number of standees that these trains are expected to carry. On initially boarding 345015 at Liverpool Street the train was lightly loaded and appeared very spacious, however by Stratford a large number of passengers boarded and already all of the seats were taken (mid afternoon on a Saturday). The loss of seats when compared to the outgoing class 345's is significant with many passengers now required to stand for their journey that would have been seated before. The result is a claustrophobic feel to the train with any view out of the opposite window from the longitudinal seating blocked by people! As we have come to expect by now seat cushions were hard, but not uncomfortable.
By removing seats and adding grab-rails the standing
capacity of the class 345 is increased. 14/04/2018

Overall my view of the class 345 is a positive one, good news as a large number of 'Aventra's' have now been ordered by several other operators. It was however good to get back on a class 315 (never thought I'd say it) and at least be guaranteed a seat!

Class 345 trains are now testing on the Western part of the 'Elizabeth Line' to Reading and will being running through the Crossrail tunnels under central London from December 2018. Full Shenfield - Reading services will commence in 2019.

Monday, 2 April 2018

A weekend in the Netherlands

1740 approaches Nijkerk with a push pull DD-AR service from Zwolle to Utrecht. 24 March 2018.

Saturday 24th March

186020 prepares to depart Rotterdam Centraal with one of the frequent
Intercity Direct services to Amsterdam via the high speed line. 24/03/2018
Arrival in the Netherlands was by way of Hook of Holland and the overnight sailing from Harwich on board the Stena Hollandica. We had got a decent sleep and woke up to the call for breakfast as Holland appeared at the window. Disembarkation was around 08:30, past the site of the former Hoek van Holland Haven station which since my previous visit has closed for conversion into a metro line. There is some evidence that the line has seen some work since the NS route closed in 2017, however the proposed opening, originally scheduled for early 2018 seems to have slipped considerably. I struggled to work out what ticket I needed for the bus connection to Schidam Central but fortunately the bus driver was able to assist and advised that our ferry tickets would cover us on the bus- good start.
A VIRM EMU between Zwolle and Amersfoort. 24/03/2018
It wasn't too long before we were back on a train, and despite some reports I had heard the bus was fairly prompt and had plenty of room for all of the foot passengers off the boat. Our first train to Rotterdam was VIRM double decker unit. There was soon plenty of loco-hauled activity at Rorterdam Centraal and we enjoyed spending some time photographing them in the gloom that we had woken up to. We missed the first Inter City Direct train that we had thought about getting so instead ended up on a Breda service with a Bombadier 186.

1733 leads a DD-AR set north from Nijkerk. 24/03/2018

There are two types of locomotive up for haulage in the Netherlands; the more traditional NS class 1700 which were built from 1990 and based upon the French BB7200, and the modern Bombadier class 186 'Traxx' locos introduced in the last few years following the debacle of the failed 'Fyra' high speed service. We wanted to sample both but this would involve some travelling as the only location where both services cross over is Amsterdam.
From Breda we took another Intercity on to Eindhoven (these trains while not branded 'Intercity Direct use the same coaching stock top and tailed by Traxx locos). It was then time to hop on an EMU again to reach the capital Utrecht where we would meet up with the 1700 hauled operation.

NS 1700 locos are now undoubtedly in decline and their only 'traditional' hauled workings are the IC Berlin trains between Amsterdam and Bad Bentheim (where DB traction takes over). A handful do however still operate on push-pull 'Sprinter' services together with DD-AR train sets.
More DDZ trains seemed to be running on the Zwolle - Utrecht service than
we thought possible by the diagrams! One such train approaches Nijkerk.
All DD-AR push-pull sets were withdrawn in the early 2010's with most coaches being refurbished and marshaled with EMU power cars to become true EMU's. However with the failure of Fyra and the ensuing traction shortage NS decided in 2013 to reactivate the stored DD-AR's which had not been overhauled and this meant bringing back the 1700 and DD-AR formation. Today these trains work local services between Utrecth and Zwolle and between Appeldorn and Almelo. There are aslo a number of DD1 workings on peak hours only between Amsterdam and Enkuizen/Haarlem. Our first target would be the Utrecht workings and would start with disappointment with the first diagram producing a DDZ (the post refurbishment motorised DD-AR). As the sun was starting to come out we took it anyway to search for a location to take some photographs and hoped to see some other push pull sets as we passed.
1736 pushes a DD-AR set towards Utrecht at Nijkerk with the local 'Sprinter' service. 24/03/2018.

Former ACTS traction at Amersfoort. 24/03/2018
The line up of old locos at Amersfoort proved too tempting and we took a quick and worthwhile pause here. Many withdrawn locos are kept in the yard and former ACTS 6703 and 1251 were also next to the station (these bringing back memories of my first trip to the Netherlands, and indeed probably my first 'rail holiday' back in 2007 for Mercier Charters 'That Which Survives' which used these two locos in conjunction with 5814, class 58038 to you and I which was at the time working in the country with ACTS).

The only diesel of the trip; DB's 6516 gets it's ballast train underway from
Amersfoort. 24/03/2018.
A ballast train was also photographed at Amersfoort before our journey continued, this time with a 1700 and DD-AR up to Nijkerk where we had found some views with potential for some good photos.

It took a while to get the pictures we wanted as these trains are far from predictable. Despite the 'Sprinter' running every 30 minutes many of the trains had DDZ's on them, and many of those with a loco had it at the wrong end. Eventually we got what we wanted and it was time for a quick dash back to the station to pick up another 1700 back to Amersfoort.

1745 arrives into Amersfoort with IC146 from Berlin to Amsterdam, the NS 1700 having taken over at Bad Bentheim. 24/03/2018

We had a fairly quick connection here to make the 2 hourly international train back to Amsterdam which arrived on time with 1745 at the front. This train would get us back to Amsterdam in daylight for some photos and also to explore the city which was a new destination to myself and my companion for the weekend Rhys.
On board the IC Berlin train we sat near a couple of Dutch railway enthusiasts (they seem to be everywhere) who took great pleasure in telling us their favorite locomotives and a bit about the NS system. Certainly nice to see some enthusiasm from this young pair and all the others we bumped into.
186017 prepares to depart Amsterdam with an Intercity Direct. 24/03/2018
There was time for a few photos at Amsterdam Centraal, which is a beautiful (and giant) station, if a little difficult for photography. It was a slight surprise to be watching an IC Direct leave and watch Ian Ross and Daniel Brereton go past from the window- amazing who you can almost bump into on these trips!
A few bars and a rack of ribs finished off the night in Amsterdam (which is beautiful for those not already well aware) before heading back to our airport hotel at Hoofddorp near to Schipol Airport- city centre hotels were simply too expensive for a rail trip!

1761 passes light engine through the impressive station at Amsterdam Centraal on the evening of 24th March 2018.

Challenging photography under the dark station canopy as 186020 arrives into Amsterdam with another Intercity Direct.

Sunday 25th March
Bombadier Traxx 186040 arrives at a sunny Breda station with a
Den Haag - Eindhoven intercity service. 25/03/2018
My head was a little sore waking up in the morning, and the alarm perhaps wasn't as early as it should have been but the weather outside was lousy (and this was supposed to be the better of the two days). After a nice Holiday Inn breakfast we dragged ourselves back to the InterCity Direct network by way of Schipol and on to one of the many frequent trains via the High Speed line to Rotterdam. We had a couple of locations in mind for the day, the first of which was near to Delft Zuid. Boarding a Den Haag train from Rotterdam we once again bumped into Ian and Daniel (and were able to talk this time!), they provided the information that the sun was out in Breda, so rather than wandering around Delft we jumped on the next Eindhoven train back to make our way to the other spot at Boxtel, close to Tilburg.

186032 leads an Eindhoven bound Intercity as it approaches Boxtel. A sliver/grey class 186 can be seen on the rear. 25/03/2018

186017 leads towards Tilburg with it's train for Den Haag. 25/03/2018.
Sun was a little side on here, but at least it was shining! We didn't have a lot of time before we had to start thinking about heading back to the UK, but by taking our 'reserve' Benelux train rather than the one we really should have been on brought is about 90 minutes at this spot. Time for a couple of the InterCity Direct trains and a few freights all of which passed in pleasing light. There was a slight mishap when two trains approached at the same time from opposite directions resulting in myself falling off a fence and some rather hurried shots- Ouch! I think they just about came out ok though!
This is the one I fell off that fence for! SBB Cargo 189 288 works past Boxtel
with an intermodal service heading south. 25/03/2018.

Boxtel itself is served by local 'Sprinter' services in the hands of Talent EMU's (which I think are pretty nice as modern EMU's go), these got us to Tilburg to finally drop onto one of the might 'Koploper' Intercity trains to Breda from where it was back onto InterCity Direct to Rotterdam.
We could have saved considerable time sticking with the Koploper through to Roosendaal, however these had been terminating at Breda earlier in the day so the plan didn't work- though they did now appear to be running through.

2806 leads the Benelux train at Mechelen in Belgium. These trains are now
top and tailed (with 2804 on the rear) as they will run on the high speed line
in the Netherlands from April reversing at Breda rather than taking the old
route via Dordrecht. 25/03/2018.

It was a healthy plus for our 16:09 Benelux train from Rotterdam but I still nearly missed it by going out to photograph the station. I was wondering if I had time to get a drink when I noticed it was 16:07 and I was outside the station barriers! Fortunately the train was made still with time for a photo, but it was a little closer than I would have liked. We had been travelling on FIP coupons within the Netherlands (the barcode for the automatic gates working with no issues) but I needed to buy my ticket on from Roosendaal to Brussels which I was hoping to do on the train. This wasn't a problem... except that the conductor would not (or couldn't) sell me a ticket with my FIP discount.

The classic 'Koplopers' are very much a feature of the NS
network. 4043 is seen approaching Amersfoort. 23/04/18

I know I shouldn't really grumble too much but that's the first full price ticket in Europe I've had to buy for quite some time! Instead of going right through to Brusselles we left the Benelux at the beautifully decrepit Mechelen to pick up another loco into the capital. Clearly this is a much easier move on a weekend than it is on a Sunday! Eventually we gave up waiting a loco and settled for the refurbisehd AM75 EMU which was on an Antwerp IC service!!! I didn't know these EMU's were being refurbished and while the ancient interior will be missed it was nice to see it at least looking clean.

1924 leads it's train into Brusseles Noord. 25/03/2018
Once again we left the train at Brussels Nord hoping to pick up a loco to Zuid- again this proved more difficult that we thought, but eventually 1924 and 1914 arrived on a service to Blankenberge.

There wasn't much time left to get food (obviously avoiding 'Quick' burger) but I managed a waffle which was eaten in the Eurostar queue before boarding the 19:52 which I still believe is far too early for the last train to London. 374019/20 obliged for the non-eventful journey back to St Pancras where it was nice to see a line up of all three types of train currently in use on Eurostar services with both original and refurbished class 373's lining up with the 374.

Or course the most frustrating part of the trip was the journey from London back to Surrey with buses being provided due to a total engineering block at Wimbledon...

All in all not bad for an easy weekend away with a few decent photos and another 19 foreign locos in the book.
Another Intermodal at Boxtel with Railpool 186 457 (Leased by Captrain) at the helm heading north. 25/03/2018.

It's 186020 again this time in some sunlight at Rotterdam Centraal with another Intercity Direct service to Amsterdam. 25/03/2018