Thursday, 30 August 2018

Comment - Public bidders for next Scotrail Franchise?

380 019 wearing the Transport Scotland prescribed 'Saltair' livery calls at Paisley Gilmore Street.

This week it has been announced by Transport Scotland that a public body will be able to bid for the next Scotrail franchise, which will begin in 2025. I had not realised that it was as long ago as 2014 where I wrote a comment on the Inter City East Coast franchise, which was then under public ownership as Directly Operated Railways following the collapse of the National Express franchise. I asked at that time whether it was appropriate for a public bidder to enter the competition for the Inter City East Coast franchise- of course it didn't, and the contract was let out to a consortium of Virgin and Stagecoach. Fast forward to today and Inter City East Coast is once again in public ownership, now branded as LNER, after the failure of the Virgin/Stagecoach operation.
320 313 approaches Bellshill
I was particularly interested therefore to see the announcement this week that Transport Scotland would allow a public bidder to compete against the private sector in Scotland, something which the UK Government had previously refused to entertain. Transport Scotland have stated that 'Our consistent view over many years is that there ought to be a level playing field between the private and public sector in bidding for rail franchises.'- Almost exactly what I had suggested in my previous comment, and very similar to the model used in many parts of Europe where national operators bid (and sometimes win) against the private sector. This landmark ruling is a breath of fresh air for the UK rail industry and provides a real opportunity to challenge the current franchising system which has been so criticised in recent years. I will certainly be watching the next Scotrail bidding competition closely; whether or not a public bidder wins the franchise or not it will certainly shake up the system, and this can only be a positive step.
The full Transport Scotland statement can be read here.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

New Zealand Mk2's

DF 7200 heads away from Wellington with the 17:30 service to Masterton on the 'Wairarapa Connection'- the consist is is 6 re-gauged and heavily re-built British Rail Mk2 coaches. 

Kiwi Rail DFB 7049 stands at Upper Hutt with the 12:25 Wairarapa
Connection train from Wellington to Masterton.
The most 'Mk2 looking' vehicles are the first batch of
conversions, still used to day on the Capital Connection.
I have always maintained that the railway has an insatiable appetite to surprise. Surely one of the most surprising developments in the late 1990's and 2000's was the export of British Railways Mk2 coaches to New Zealand for further mainline use after re-building.
There were three main variants of 'NZ Mk2' which were dealt with in different ways. All involved re-gauging to the NZ 1067mm gauge and some degree of internal and external modification.

The first set of Mk2's to re-enter traffic in New Zealand were classed as 'S class' and entered traffic with minimal modifications (and still very much looking like a Mk2) for the 'Capital Connection' train from Wellington to Palmerston North. The train makes one return trip each day and still runs in 2018 with the Mk2 coaches- poor ridership however could put the future of this operation in doubt.

The 5:15pm Capital Connection gets underway from Wellington to Palmerston North.

The largest batch of coaches went to Auckland for use by Auckland Regional Transport Authority (run by TransDev) who operated suburban services with diesel locomotives. These Mk2's were altered to have double sliding doors at 1/3 and 2/3 positions along the coach side and classified as 'SA Class'. Further vehicles were converted as driving trailers 'SD Class' to enable push-pull operation. The Auckland operation ceased in 2014 having been so successful in re-vitalising commuter rail in the city that widespread electrification became viable and the loco hauled operation was replaced by modern EMU's built by CAF. The coaches are now in store with some earmarked for various projects which may give them further use.

Another rake of  'SW Class' Mk2's wait their departure from Wellington to Masterton behind DFB 7348.

Slide-plug doors, new ribbon glazing and an altered end
profile make the Wellington 'SW Class' Mk2's almost
With the end of operations in Auckland the largest daily user of Mk2's in New Zealand is now operated by Kiwi Rails 'Tranz Metro' business in Wellington. Recently the majority of the Wellington commuter network has received new stock from Hyundai Rotem/Mitsui however the non-electrified 'Wairarapa Connection' to Masterton continues to use diesel locomotives and coaches. Mk2's for this service are extensively re-built and classified as 'SW Class'- they feature slide plug doors at the coach ends, new bodyside windows and are totally refurbished internally. A smaller batch of 'SE Class' coaches is also used on the Wairarapa Connection which largely retain their BR interiors. These coaches are hauled by Kiwi Rail DF loco's and run up to six times daily in each direction.
The interior of an 'SW Class' Mk2 on the Wairarapa connection shows what can be done to these elderly vehicles. Barely recognisable as Mk2 internally these coaches are a comfortable way to travel.

An ex-Gatwick Express coach in New Zealand waiting it's
turn for overhaul by the Mainline Steam Trust.
The final user of ex-BR Mk2's is the Mainline Steam Trust which has purchased a number of vehicles for use with their heritage operations in New Zealand following a risk that national operator Kiwi Rail may no longer be able to supply stock for their trips. The coaches are in the process of being overhauled for excursion use.

DFB 7200 powers a Wairarapa train on the non electrified section of the route near Carterton.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

SBB/BLS/MGB/RhB Switzerland Trip Report - BLS and Narrow Gauge Railways. 13-17 July 2018

BLS 'Brownie' 188 approaches Kandersteg with one of the frequent car shuttles from Goppenstein through the Lotschberg tunnel. 14/07/2018

Friday 13th July
Re460 100 heads towards the Lotschberg
Base Tunnel at Reichenback
As so many of my trips seem to have done this year, I found myself leaving the office after a night shift, suitcase in hand, heading straight to the airport. My Swiss Flight from Heathrow to Zurich was around 1 hour late, which was frustrating- I just wanted to get to Switzerland and into the mountains!
As ever the SBB journey was painless with Re460's from Flughaven to Zurich Hbf and on to Bern and Spiez. I had identified a field near the station at Reichenback for some evening photography. Unfortunately the sun didn't play ball and I didn't really achieve any reasonable photos. I did however meet up with Rhys 'fancy seeing you in this field' who was joining me for the trip.
With rain now descending and the light closing in it was time to make our way on to Kandersteg and our accommodation. I do love the mountains and sitting outdoors in the warm weather listening to a local band playing while having dinner was a very pleasant way to spend the evening. Now we just needed to keep everything crossed for some good weather in the morning- and some BLS 'Brownies'.

Saturday 14th July
BLS Traxx 485 019 leads a RoLa train past lake Thun at Einigen as it travels towards the Lotschberg Pass. 14/07/2018

'Brownie' 195 approaches Kandersteg.
There were a few clouds in the sky but also some nice breaks when I poked my head around the curtains at dawn. Breakfast was very good at Hotel Alpina and having picked up Rob, the final member of our Clan we made our way to the railway. Aside from the mountains there was one reason we were staying in Kandersteg- this is the northern end of the regular car shuttles that run through the Lotschberg tunnel between Kandersteg and Goppenstein, there being no road access over the mountains. At Goppenstien the trains run out of the tunnel and directly into the loading area, however at Kandersteg there is a short stretch of open air running where the trains can be photographed.

BLS 188 looks somewhat diminutive among the Swiss Alps
with another car shuttle from Goppenstein. 

The shuttles run with one of the attractive BLS Re4/4 'Brownies' on the north end with rake of flat car-carrying wagons and a driving trailer coach at the south end. The formation gives a narrow window of opportunity for sunny pictures, though even with the long days at this time of year there is only a couple of hours between the sun clearing the mountain tops and coming round off the front of the trains. Fortunately the shuttles run frequently with departures ever 30 minutes through the day with additional trains running as required. During the early part of Saturday morning shuttles seemed to be running at least 4 times an hour in each direction giving ample opportunities to photograph the 5 locos which were working from various locations.

MRCE hire in's to SBB 189983 + 189107 emerge from a dramatic background at Einigen with a northbound container train. The skies had been darkening over the mountains and thunder was not far away! 14/07/2018
BLS 'Brownies' 182, 178 and 194 on freight duties at Spiez.
Freight over the Lotschberg pass is much reduced since the opening of the Lotschberg Base Tunnel in 2007, however due to this project never being fully completed and leaving a significant period of the tunnel as single track, there is still some freight traffic which is routed over the old mountain route (unlike the Gotthard, where the fully double-tracked tunnel has eliminated mountain running). Freight trains can be erratic and infrequent but one was captured during our morning of photography with a pair of the blue BLS Re465 locos.

BLS 501 waits with a service to Interlaken. 14/07/2018

Once the sun had moved round too far it was time for us to move on from Beautiful Kanderstag. We took one of the local units on to Speiz before diverting ourselves away from the lineside briefly for a loco-hauled spin to Interlaken behind one of the ex-SBB Re4/4ii's which now work for BLS. I believe there are only 3 locos left in traffic and the scenic run along lake Thun was much enjoyed behind 501, especially once we found an opening window in a vestibule.

 BLS 465 011and 007 head towards Spiez at Einigen.

While we could have taken the train back there was a waiting RE460 at Interlaken so this conveyed us back to Spiez where we then commenced the long (around 40 minutes) walk to the popular spot at Einigen. This is certainly a beautiful location with the lake and mountains behind the trains, and fairly busy with traffic- however the hours we spent here were sadly disappointing. Despite some very good light most of the time very few interesting trains came in the direction we wanted.

One of less than a handful of Re10/10 combinations photographed on this trip, 11348 leads 11670 towards Spiez at Einigen.

Sadly no in the best light, Re6/6 11163 leads Re4/4 11343
past Einigen. 11163 was the last of its type to carry the older
green livery and is through to have entered the paintshops
only a few days after this photo was taken.
The only 'Brownie' we saw working a proper freight passed while we were walking to the location and even SBB Re10/10 combinations were very few and far between. To add insult as we were about to leave an Re10/10 finally showed up- headed by no less than 11163, the last of the class to carry the older green liver- it would have been a great shot had the cloud not had other ideas. By around 18:00 the clouds were gathering and we had been hearing thunder in the distance for some time. We made it back to urban Spiez, but not to the station, before the heavens opened. It most definitely rained and shelter was taken under a building canopy for a good 30 minutes (during which time all the Re10/10's obviously came past!). Fortunately the rain diminished and allowed us to get to the station for our train, now both wet and burned from the earlier sunshine.
BLS 465 014 and 018 cross the Kanderviaduct on the 'classic'
Lotschberg route nears Frutigen. 14/07/2018

There was just about time to get off the train at Fruitigen and head up to Tellenburg castle purely to do a reckkie of the view of the long arched Kanderviaduct on the classic line. We didn't expect a train in the 20 minutes we had at the location so despite the overcast weather were very pleased when a pair of BLS Re465's made an appearance. While it was not possible to photograph further trains around 5 were seen on the classic line in the hour we were in the vicinity! After that it was time to head back to Kanderstag for another excellent meal and some much needed sleep.

Sunday 15th July
Descent to Andermatt - Hge4/4ii 103 demonstrates the gradients of the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn as it zig-zags its way down the mountain to Andermatt with a Chur - Zermatt Glaicer Express. 15/07/2018

Hge4/4ii 103 prepares to depart from Brig with a Glacier Express to Chur.
Today was planned as a transit day with the option to spend some additional time on the Lotschberg route again before transiting across to Graubunden and the Rhatische Bahn. The day indeed started off on the Lotschberg with a few hours spent trying to perfect the previous days haul of photos on the car shuttles. Today was much less successful however as the sun no longer wanted to play ball and, being a Sunday, just the regular 30 minute interval shuttles were running. Shortly after 10:00 we began our long journey firstly on a unit through the tunnel and down the Lotschberg pass to Brig. Here we stopped to pick up supplies before boarding our first narrow gauge train of the trip- the Matterhorn Gottard Bahn (MGB) service to Andermatt which we would take to Oberwald. Since 1982 the railway has continued from here through the Furka Base Tunnel, however we chose to take the full traditional route which has re-opened in full each summer for tourist purposes since 2010. Over the summer months Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke run daily steam services over the spectacular old railway route. The trains are certainly not cheap (around £55 single), but it is certainly quite an experience to climb up into the mountains on a steam rack railway over the second highest railway in Europe.
Hg3/4 #4 pauses at Muttback-Belvedere close to the summit of the Furka railway and shortly before entering the Furka Tunnel. #4 dates from 1913 and was built at Wintertur. Trains are assisted through the rising grade of the 1858m Furka tunnel by a diesel to safeguard against any failures in the confined tunnel.

HGm4/4 61 descends the rack railway of the Furka pass with
a bike train approaching Oberwald. 15/07/2018
Trains only run in summer months as the route is closed (as it always has been) during the winter due to the severe weather and risk of avalanches- there is even one bridge on the route which is dismantled and 'folded away' each winter to protect the line from seasonal damage. Even in July traces of snow can be seen at the top of the mountain - indeed it is this route which gave its name to the famous 'Glacier Express' trains which run from Zermatt to St Moritz, the glacier in question being the Rhone Glacier which could be seen until 2013 from the trains- it has now retreated over a ridge and out of view from the railway. Our locomotive for the trip was HG 3/4 No.4 which was the only steam loco running- the other train on the route being hauled by an HGm 4/4 diesel loaned from the MGB for the summer. The ride to Realp over the original route takes just shy of 3 hours, including an extended break near the summit for a refreshment stop. This was cut slightly short on our train as we think the driver wanted to get home! Anyway- we didn't complain as it put us back onto the MGB an hour earlier than planned for our journey onward to Andermatt. It is possible to view another set of car shuttles from Realp, those which operate to Oberwald. Though the Furka Base Tunnel this journey takes just 20 minutes all year round- it may be less scenic but the improvement over the mountain route is clear.
Andermatt is the main junction for the MGB where passengers must usually change to continue their journey towards either Goschenen or Disentis.
Deh4/4 23 descends to Andermatt with a train from Disentis. 17/07/2018
Our MGB train terminates here and due to being an hour ahead of the connection we expected there was a short while to photograph the next two arrivals, a Glacier Express from Chur and the next regional arrival from Disentis. The railway after Antermatt climbs one of the most spectacular gradients on the route with the rack railway criss-crossing the mountainside to gain height- it is possible from the station to see the train descending on several levels. After the train from Disentis arrives the loco runs around the stock and we can then continue our journey over the oberalp pass, the highest part of the MGB. From the summit it is a downhill run to meet the Rhatische Bahn (RhB) at Disentis where we leave the somewhat boxy Hge4/4 rack loco's of the MGB and transfer to an RhB service with one of their attractive Ge4/4ii locos- externally very comparable to the familiar SBB Re4/4ii- but quite a different bit of kit electrically. This isn't part of the RhB route I had travelled on previously and is a very pleasant run along gentle gradients following the young river Rhine to Reichenau-Tamins. It is now beginning to get late in the day as we await our final train, which turns up with a Ge4/4iii hauling one of the new Alvra trainsets. These are very impressive new trains which even feature a 'photographers area' with electronically powered opening windows! They certainly met our approval. Our destination is the request stop at Alvaneu as I had found some affordable accommodation here.
The Furka Steam pauses at Gletsch. 17/07/2018
We were expecting this to be something of a one horse town and this certainly proved to be the case, stepping off the train pretty much onto ballast we made our way down to our accommodation at 'La Cantina Restaurant' with our fingers crossed that we would find somewhere for food (especially following my December disaster in the larger town of Filisur). Fortunately the restaurant at our accommodation was still open and were accommodating of our need for pizza. Breakfast was announced as not being until 9am (a bit late) and it was at this point of discussing our plans that a large problem became very apparent. I had overlooked that Alvaneu was only served by 4 trains each day- it just happened that our arrival time had been one of them! We would have no choice but to leave around 7am (or take the postal bus) and therefore our somewhat confused hosts were quickly coerced into making breakfast sandwiches. I am never quite sure what language is being spoken when I am in Switzerland and after a while curiosity got the better of me and I just had to ask what language the hotel owners were speaking - the lady laughed, Portuguese! So that would explain why it didn't sound German!
What an incredible day of travelling it had been- loco hauled all the way from Brig over three narrow gauge railways with racks, spirals and zig-zags and some spectacular scenery (and even some steam)! Definitely time for bed though!

Ge6/6ii 705 Works from St Moritz to Landquart and is seen passing north of Saas on the Rhatische Bahn. 15/07/2018

Monday 16th July
Ge4/4ii 632 works up grade towards Saas with a train to Schol-Tastrup.
This was the day we had been worried about- for about a week the weather forecast had been uncertain- varying between 'mixed' and 'wet'. It was a pleasant surprise therefore to wake up to blue skies. We were glad to be hitting the trains early while the weather was good and headed on the morning train to Filisur and then on to Davos by railcar. Connections are annoyingly poor at Davos eating almost an hour into our time as we waited the train to Klosters. We had a few photo spots in mind but eventually ended up taking a punt on Saas- this turned out to be a good call and an hour later we were back at the station with several photos we were all really pleased with. So that was the two objectives of the trip (a 'Brownie' and a Ge4/4ii photographed in good light) achieved. A friend had tipped us off that you could buy the days loco allocations from a ticket office so we headed back to Klosters to try to procure such a document. The helpful staff had no idea what we were talking about- but we did at least come away with some approximate times for freight trains. One would be in a few minutes, then a northbound train at 15:00 and a southbound one at 18:00. A quick trip to the Co-op to find a very affordable lunch and the first freight very clearly did show up. The light was awful unfortunately but it was fun to see the Ge6/6ii shunting it's train formation.

Ge4/4iii 651 in 'Glacier Express' livery approaches the short tunnel near Saas with a service to Davos Platz. 16/07/2018
Ge4/4ii 621 heads away from Saas with a train bound for Schol-Tastrup.
Note the addition of several wagons on the rear of the train as
is common practise on the RhB. 15/07/2018
Next we made a stop off at Klosters Dorf for some more shots, not as successful as our previous stop but still producing some pleasing results. We spent the remainder of the afternoon in the Saas area exploring several pleasing shots and waiting for the southbound Freight which we had been told was 15:00 at Klosters. Again the sun was kind to us, coming out very fortunately for the vast majority of trains- so much for today being the poor weather day! Time ticked on and with no sign of the freight (and a necessity to get back to the other side of the network and our accommodation) it was time to go. Just as we were starting to pack up of course a Ge6/6ii appears- on passenger! It made a nice photo and was a good note to end on. Of course 3 minutes later while we were half way down the hill there was another rumble and the freight passed- always the way!
Ge4/4ii 613 clings to the valley side as it ascends towards Klosters. The
gradients of the RhB are quite incredible for an all adhesion worked line!
There were two options to get back to Alvaneu- either via Chur and Richenau Tamins or back up to Klosters, through the Veriena tunnel and back via Samedan and the Albula pass. Fortunately the 1 minute connection at Kublis made comfortably and we were able to take the longer route via Samedan. Having emerged form the tunnel the route is very scenic and definitely somewhere we would like to visit again in the winter. Changing at Samedan I thought we might get our first unit of the day (other than the Davos - Filisur railcar) but I was pleasantly surprised when another Ge4/4ii was at the head of the train. We traversed the Abula tunnel and then descended the spectacular route down the line to Filisur winding over multiple spirals tunnels and bridges. I had forgotten quite how incredible this stretch of line is- the RhB certainly has some incredible gradients for an adhesion line!
On arrival back at Alvaneu (this being another of the few trains to call) we were much more confident in getting food and the restaurant once again obliged. With packed lunches put together again for the following day we had a couple of beers to celebrate what really had been a very good day on this incredible railway.

Tuesday 17th July
Ge6/6 'Crocodile' 414 arrives into Davos Glaris with the summer heritage
turn between Filisur and Davos. 17/07/2018
This was our last day in Switzerland and there was still quite a lot to achieve- we had forgone photographing both the Ge6/6 'Crocodile' heritage turn and the Landwasser Viaduct which had been on our list the previous day. Once again Landwasser would have to wait for another trip and we would seek somewhere between Davos and Filisur to photograph the Croc. First however there was the small matter of securing a ride behind a Ge6/6ii- since seeing one on passenger the previous day a little detective work discovered two 'mixed' trains which are hauled by the locos each morning. This meant taking the first train from our little station at Alvaneu down to Sarava for a +1 connection onto the mixed train. We had plans to wave to the driver out of the window to indicate our desire to make the connection- but we needn't have worried- the connecting train was another 5 minutes behind our arrival and comfortably connected. 704 with one coach and a couple of wagons was taken up the Albula pass to Samedan and was most enjoyable despite the crazy hour that we had got up. After this we transferred again to the Filisur - Davos line for the 'Croc'. Unfortunately our general luck with the light seemed to be through and the Croc passed in shadow- and you really need some sunlight on these dark brown locos! My friends were in a dilemma now- stay lineside to photograph the returning service, or cut your losses and ride it. There was no doubt in my mind- I had to get the train in order to make connections back to the airport and back to the UK for a night shift! Either way it was a fun novelty to travel behind the Croc in an open coach. Of course all my tight connections back to Zurich Flughaven worked perfectly, and I manged the whole journey loco hauled- I even had a chance to catch up with a couple of Re450's on the Zurich suburban network. Next time maybe I'll remember to bring details of the 'Lion' peak trains with the Re4/4ii's.
Ge4/4iii 650 approaches Klosters Dorf with a service to Davos. Many RhB locos carry special liveries, either advertisements or promoting the line. 650 wears a special scheme featuring the Landwasser Viaduct and celebrating the Albula Railway's UNESCO heritage status. 16/07/2018

BLS 180 approaches the car terminal at Kandersteg.
Switzerland must be one of the most enjoyable countries to visit for trips like this. The scenery is incredible and the trains are pretty good as well- this is even one country where I don't mind the zero expectation of seeing a diesel! The two main objectives of the trip were achieved, to get some pictures of the BLS 'Brownies' which were rumoured to be being withdrawn early in 2018 (they're certainly still going strong at the moment- but for how long?) and to improve on the gloomy pictures I managed of the Ge4/4ii's on the RhB which I saw in December. It would have been nice to photograph one of the 'Brownies' on a proper freight train, but given the small amount of time we had lineside on the Lotschberg route it is hardly surprising that this wasn't achieved. It was pleasing to see that a good number of trains do still use the mountain route on the Lotschberg pass and it is a line I would definitely like to come back to.
The photo we wanted of the Crocodile! Ge4/4ii 620 approaches Davos Glaris
with a service from Davos Platz - Fillisur. 17/07/2018
The narrow gauge trains of Switzerland are always good fun with their opening windows and crazy geometry. A trip back to the RhB this coming winter, before the influx of new 'Capricorn' EMU's, due to enter traffic in 2019, is already in the pipeline. Even once the units have arrived this route will be no less spectacular and we can only hope that the practise of attaching coaches and freight wagons to trains will continue.
Sadly this was the first trip I have made to Switzerland without riding behind an SBB Re4/4- Not surprising given the few SBB trains I travelled on, but something that is likely to become a more frequent occurrence with the impending introduction of the TwinDex trains.

Re460 064 hauls a train past the popular photospot at Einigen, near Spiez. 14/07/2018