Sunday, 24 March 2019

Southern Snow

70006 leads a very lightly loaded Freighliner south at Worting Junction. Weekend engineering works which should have seen the train diverted via Andover had been cancelled due to the cold weather. 02/02/2019.
Repatriated from Germany by GBRf, 59003 crosses Battledown
Flyover heading from Eastleigh to Westbury. 02/02/2019
Conditions of snow and sunshine are rare in the UK, but these are the conditions that much of the country woke to on 2nd February 2019. Heavy snow had fallen across much of the UK over the previous 24 hours- including a blanket over much of the south of England. Many locations saw up to 5cm of snow settle but in some spots local accumulations were much larger. One area which saw more than its fair share of snowfall was Basingstoke which saw around 30cm of snow falling the previous day. This caused local transport chaos with roads blocked and cars abandoned- main routes including the M3 motorway became virtually impassable.

The railway was not unaffected either with a number of snow-laden trees falling onto the line between Basingstoke and Eastleigh rendering the route blocked. Over the weekend the route was scheduled to be blocked for engineering work, however the low temperatures resulted in the work being postponed. Freight services due to divert via Andover were able to continue running down the mainline however the planned diverted passenger services could not be altered back at such short notice.
Conditions were a photographers paradise and I was certainly not alone trekking out into the freezing conditions. Thanks also to those who got together to get our cars out of the car park at Worting Junciton!

159007 in the first variation of South Western Railway livery passes under Battledown Flyover with a West of England service. 02/02/2019
A 9 car class 159 formation wears a variety of liveries typifying the transition
from South West Trains to South Western Railway as it crosses Worting
Junction with an Exeter bound service. 02/02/2019

After a successful few hours at Worting there was one more target for the camera- A4 Pacific 60009 Union of South Africa working the Bellmond Surrey Hills Pullman. Unfortunately the snow diminished as I drove towards Guildford and by the time I reached Gomshall bank there were only remnants of the previous snow- however as the train appeared, a little late, the sky cleared to perfect sunshine for what may be the last appearance of 60009 on the Pullmans before it is retired as a static exhibit later in 2019. A cracking day of photography all in all and definitely a good day not to have been in the office!
60009 'Union of South Africa' makes a fine sight as it hammers up Gomshall bank with the VSOE Surrey Hills Luncheon. The Gresley Pacific was standing in for the usual traction, Merchant Navy 35028 which was on winter maintenance. 02/02/2019

Saturday, 9 March 2019

SNCF SBB RhB Trip Report 14 - 20 February 2019

Ge4/4ii 623 passes through Rabius-Surrein with the Glacier Express from St Moritz to Zermatt on 17 Feb 2019.

Thursday 14th February:
Paris metro line 6 awaits departure from Nation.
I am sure I keep telling myself that it is a bad idea to go straight into one of these trips off a night shift- yet that doesn't seem to stop me from doing it! I didn't actually feel too bad as I made my way up to St Pancras for the 09:42 departure for Paris with an e320 set. My plan to sleep on the train didn't come to much either and around midday I was in Paris. I had a couple of hours to kill and after photographing a very shabby looking BB22321 on the blocks at Nord I made my way, complete with suitcase into the city for a bit of sightseeing. It was a beautiful day and I do love this city- it would have been rude not to. Having walked down to Notre Dame and along the Seine towards the Place de la concorde I then made my way to the backwater of Paris termini at Bercy.
BB7248 passes Laroche Migennes with a Lyon - Paris TER 15/02/2019.
My move was to Lyon and I was pleased to see required BB7244 on the blocks for the mammoth run of over 5 hours to Lyon.

BB7244 paues at Laroche Migennes while pushing the
15:34 Paris Bercy - Lyon Perrache.
The run out of Paris was very pleasant in the late afternoon sunshine and the Corails were, of course, comfortable. The clenliness of the windows was however a problem with the view out of the sunny side being so obscured by dirt that it barely existed at all! BB7248 was passed at Laroche Migennes with a service from Lyon to Paris and after this it as darkness began to descend it was time for some sleep; first however I had to move as the A/C at my set of seats had begun making a most annoying squeaking noise. These Corails are still comfortable but could definitely do with some TLC (and some water in the toilets). Arrival into Lyon Perrache was around 21:00 and I was in need of some food and an early night. Fortunately my hotel recommended a very good bar which also served an excellent burger. As I was finishing a French group approached me and questioned why I was sitting in the bar alone with my burger. Soon I wasn't and the idea of an early night also went out of the window!

Friday 15th February:
GDe4/4 6003 in 'Train du Chocolate' livery gets underway from Montbovon with a MOB service from Montreaux to Zweisseman. 15/02/2019.

BB22313 dissapears into the carriage sidings at Geneva. 15/02/2019
The original plan for this morning was to get in some BB22000 mileage between Lyon / Chambery / Grenoble before heading across to Geneva. I had taken my diagrams to dinner the previous night and concluded that without a very early start there weren't really any viable moves to get me to Geneva at a good time. Also- I really wanted to see Lyon by daylight, so that was settled, a more leisurely start, breakfast and a wander around the city before the 11:46 Lyon - Geneva. This was booked to be loco hauled (or pushed) and thankfully it was as there was no back-up move. BB22313 was required and took me along the scenic route to Geneva, snow appearing on the mountains as I neared Switzerland (and thankfully clean windows this time - though still no water). This scenery was great but was just a warm up for what was to come.
MBC Re4/4 420 506 stabled at Morges.
I had not really though about segregated platforms at Geneva and it nearly cost me the shot of my French loco as I transferred to the SBB platforms. There were a couple of options to move on from here and the hope was to do it loco-hauled. 460 015 was the answer and was taken to Lausanne, passing a very smart BMC Re4/4 on the way at Morges. Also here were some locos with a set of freight wagons on translator wagons - It was perfectly positioned for a photo and I very nearly bailed off.

The narrow gauge train to Bulle at Montbovon.

At Lausanne I then needed to continue around Lake Geneva to Montreaux- however before my plan to do this had manifested I was surprised to see a top and tail Re4/4 scratch set coming around the corner heading back to Geneva. Not expecting many opportunities to get a ride with these, and with a nice opening window I found myself on the train back to Morges. It might delay my onward plans, but it had to be done! Unfortunately by the time I arrived the narrow gauge freight had gone, but I did find a train onwards to Montreaux with a loco, which the one I should have been on from Laussane was not!
Looking up the train I was now in revealed a very tight (+1) connection at Montreaux for the MOB train which I had planned to take. Being Switzerland, of course, it worked.
Views from the Montreaux - Oberland - Bernois (MOB).
I didn't really get a chance to view what was up front at Montreaux, but it was a loco on panoramic coaches. I would later learn that it was GDe 4/4 6003 in golden 'Train du Chocolate' livery. It turned out that I had inadvertently sat in 1st class during the panic to board, but the gripper happily accepted my FIP regardless. The climb up from Montreaux over lake Geneva is indeed spectacular, shortly after this the train swings further into the mountains and above the snowline. Even Swiss narrowgauge it seems is blighted by passengers who feel the need to put their music on loudspeaker- I'm not sure the guy (clearly a tourist) appreciated me telling him to turn it off, but he did and then fell asleep missing most of the scenery.
Railcars at Bulle
The classic Re4/4 is in decline on passenger SBB passenger workings,
but can still be found without difficulty at Zurich Hbf. 15/02/2019

Around 40 minutes in it was time for me to leave the train at Montbovon, the full journey through to Zweisseman will have to wait for another day. I changed onto a modern unit for a further foray though the snow to Bulle. What began as a sparsely loaded service filled up with schoolchildren  towards the end of the journey and was positively rammed! Luckily they didn't all transfer onto the next train to Fribourg. Here it was back behind locos with a IC2000 set (with added single decks) on to Zurich. Here I met the first of my friends before our whole group converged on Chur. I had arrived just a few minutes astray from them (having arrived from London by way of Strasbourg and Basel)- not bad given that the confluence of our journeys had not been designed. The train to Chur was rammed again it wasn't until Saglians that I swapped my armrest perch for a seat.
An early night was due for all of us- but then we ended up in a beer hall. Again we managed to make friends (or did they decide to make friends with us?), need I add that it was not an early night. A karaoke bar may have featured and most of my CHF's seemed to have disappeared by the morning!

Saturday 16th Feb:
Ge4/4iii 647 pauses at Samedan with a Chur - St Moritz service. Our dining car was on the rear of the train. 16/02/2019

Allegra at Arosa! Sadly not the loco hauled train I had
hoped for, but certainly the snow I wanted. 16/02/2019
Starting just weeks before our visit the first diagram for some years taking a loco hauled passenger train up the RhB Arosa line was announced. The previous week it had produced an Allegra unit. What would it be today? Firstly, would we be up in time!? Feeling very worse for ware I did make it to the station to find out. An Allegra again. Having made the effort to reach the station I jumped on regardless (though the temptation to head back to bed was considerable). I think I slept a lot of the way to Arosa, but did make a point of watching my return trip- an absolutely spectacular line, and snow almost the whole way. Just the outskirts of Chur ware bare from snowcover.

GE4/4ii is on the rear of the sled train returning from Preda
to Bergun. The sled run is on the left, briefly running uphill! 

Back at the hotel after a little lie down (and purchasing an adaptor for the funny European sockets in these parts) I was ready to go again to meet the rest of our group at Chur (14 of us in total) for our run on the dining train up the Albula line. Ge6/6iii 647 brought in the stock and the two dining coaches were at the rear of the train. Lunch was a very pleasant affair with good food and service, though I really didn't need a beer after the previous night!  The price was pretty good for Switzerland as well, eating from the set menu, and of course the Albula pass in the snow did not disappoint! We left the train at Samedan, it continuing the last few miles to St Mortiz. We were to head back in the opposite direction to Preda in order to risk life and limb on the sled run down to Bergun. Certainly sledding down the Albula is great fun, but with no instruction, very limited steering and next to no ability to stop I think it must also rank as one of the most dangerous things I have done! That didn't stop us having three goes, using the Bergun - Preda shuttle which runs specially for the sledding with Ge4/4ii 630 providing the power. It took until the last run for me to crash off the course altogether (and also clock a top speed of 43kph!).
Sledding over it was time to get the train back to Chur and find an evening meal. It wasn't such a late night, but carnival was in town and a fun evening was had listening to the various brass bands in funny outfits in the Stadthalle.

Sunday 17th Feb:
G 4/5 107 'Albula waits for a regular RhB train to pass the Landquarts - Disentis charter at Trin. 17.02.2019

Today's entertainment involved very little in the way of decision- our group was booked onto the RhB Nostalgic steam trip from Lanquarts to Disentis worked by G 4/5 loco 107 'Albula'. Together with sister locomotive 108 'Engiadina' these locomotives have been in constant employ on the RhB since their delivery in 1906!
107 'Albula' in the sun ahead of its excursion from Landquart.
We had woken to another cloudless morning though the sun did not pop over the tops of the mountains until a few moments before our departure from Landquarts (que everyone piling out to re-take their photos of the train now bathed in light!). After branching from the Arosa line at Rechinau-Tammins the historic train continues along the picturesque Rhine valley before tackling the proper climb up to Disentis, where the RhB meets the Matterhorn Gottard Bahn. There were several stops along the way to pass scheduled passenger trains running in both directions, these provided opportunities to photograph our train, though sadly the light was never really quite right- and no run pasts had been scheduled today. Even so the ride was very pleasant and the loco performed faultlessly (though I was a little offended by the painted on coal bags in the tender- these to hide the actual bags of Welsh coal, which maybe didn't look so traditional coated in plastic!). Riding on the verandas of the heritage coaches was particularly fun- if rather chilly!
Passengers assist in turning the loco at Sumvitig-Cumpadials. 17/02/2019
We stopped in Disentis for lunch in the station bar. The food was very good despite a mild panic when the staff realised that they had a very large group all of whom needed feeding and getting back onto a set train! We made it just- but some people's bills arrived only a few minutes before departure!!!
The run back was downhill, and time to hit the bar coach. With the organises not realising quite how many Brits were on board an extra beer stop became necessary with extra supplies brought on board at Illanz. By Landquarts the bar was fairly dry once again- even all their shots of 'Loco Wasser' had disappeared... can't think how that happened!
Tonight was finally a quieter affair, and it was needed!

Monday 18th Feb:
Ge4/4ii 628 work a St Mortiz - Landquart service across the viaduct between Saas and Kublis. 18/02/2019

A Be4/4 railcar works between Schiers and Razuns heads away from Malans
Along with much of the 'heritage' fleet these units are due to be replaced
in the near future with new EMU's. 17/02/2019.
Our massive group splintered in to several smaller ones today, some also having left right after the steam tour the night before. Today's aim, for my splinter group at least, was some quality snowy photography of the soon to be outgoing Ge4/4ii locos which are due to be replaced starting in 2019 with 3 car fixed formation EMU's. Before heading into the mountains however there was time to get a ride on one of the few 'mixed' trains that runs each day with a Ge6/6ii freight loco.

Ge6/6ii at Domat/Ems with the 'mixed' train from Illans to Chur.

The 07:53 Illanz - Chur which was picked up at Domat/Ems for a slightly later wake up call. 702 produced on this duty with a nice mix of coaches and freight wagons. A miscommunication within the group then led to us hitting the snow a bit later than planned, but this did afford a successful couple of hours at Malans before we headed up to the Klosters area with which we had become familiar last summer.

Ge4/4iii 650 advertising the UNESCO Albula route approaches Klosters with a train for Davos Platz. 17/02/2019.

A line up of Ge4/4ii and Ge6/6ii in fading light at Klosters.
Since we were moving accommodation bags needed to be stored before trudging through the snow, and after a bit of a disaster where we discovered that the self-serve lockers did not have enough room we were then saved by the attendant pointing out that there was a staffed luggage storage facility in the station- very quick, efficient and cheaper than the lockers for our three large bags- highly recommended. The timetable where trains all tend to arrive at once and limited daylight were a constraint on the locations we could reach, however some pleasing shots were taken on the double track section between Klosters and Klosters Dorf before heading down the line to Saas to walk to a viaduct which was photographed in the summer. Half way up a steep hill, deep in snow, I remembered how difficult this climb had been *without* the snow! Anyway- we made it and with only about 20 minutes of light to spare the shot we wanted.
Ge4/4ii 628 approahces Klosters. 17/20/2019.
All smiles we chose the road route to walk back town to Kublis before heading back to Klosters to pick the bags up and continue to Davos. There was a welcome distraction from our 30 minute wait here when we discovered 704 in the yard next to the station with a freight train. Dinner tonight was Fondu, with some fairly pricey wine. All very good though. Those of the group who managed to order meat Fondu 'without cheese' however were a little 'cheesed off' (sorry!).

Tuesday 19th Feb:
ABe4/4iii Railcar 55 leads a St Moritz - Tirano service along the frozen shores of Lago Bianco near to the lines summit of 2253m above sea level at Ospizio Bernina. 18/02/2019.

An Allegra set arrives into Ospizio Bernina. 
Today was the turn of the Bernina line. On my very first trip to the RhB I had made it as far as Alp Grum under the cover of darkness and in a snowstorm- but this was a little different. It was daylight and the weather was perfect! From Davos Platz our passage was by way of Fllisur, Samedan and Pontresina where of course all the neatly timed Swiss connections worked close to clockwork. We have hoped to see and travel on some of the older ABe4/4 railcars and were pleased to see a set at Pontresina heading to St Moritz- while not our train it proved that they were in service and working. Just before our own departure on an 'Allegra' set Ge6/6iii 702 pulled in with a freight, we didn't realise quite quickly enough for a decent photo. The Swiss being far too efficient in coupling the loco immediately to it's next train!
An Allegra railcar leads the Bernina Express through the vast snowy
landscape of Ospizio Bernina high on the Bernina Pass. 18/02/2019
Scenery on the Bernina pass is simply stunning. There is no other way to put it. The gradients and curves, all adhesion worked, are frankly astonishing! Everyone jumped off in to the cold day at the highest point on the line, Ospizio Bernina which at 2253m above sea level is not only the highest point on Rhaetian Railways, but the highest rail mountain pass in Europe. The scenery here is quite unlike anything I have seen before on a railway- above the tree line with snow all around and the frozen Lago Bianco sitting next to the railway. We struggle into a position to photograph the Berina Express which is following a few minutes behind our train. With no clear roads and deep snow this is easier said and done- but the rewards worthwhile. Only the more hardy of our group elect to spend much time here, the others sensibly continuing on the train to Tirano for a beer stop. Those of us who do elect to stay however are rewarded with some stunning photos in the near-perfect conditions. Or course we have to struggle through the snow to find the spots which really slows progress. Fortunately we're mostly dressed for it, though even my waterproof shoes become sodden inside. Snow-shoes really are a must for next time as we never know which steps the frozen snow will support us on, or how deep it will let us fall. One thing is for sure- walking across the frozen lake poses no risk of falling through!
ABe4/4iii railcars 54 and 52 work another train towards Tirano, Italy. 18/02/2019
After a couple of the ABe4/4iii railcars have blessed our photos and with our feet cold and wet it is time to head back to the train- there is one more surprise however in the shape of older ABe 4/4ii 23201 which has been converted for departmental use and painted yellow. The vehicle propels a flat wagon loaded with snow which is then churned up and sprayed spectacularly onto the side of the track. A bit of running through deep snow is required to get the shots, but very satisfied with this bonus we then continue our trudge back to the station and our train. Sadly not another railcar (I guess we can't have them all), an Allegra arrives to take us on to Tirano. The scenery doesn't let up with highlights being the descent from Alp Grum and the model railway-esque spiral at Brusio- the photos here will have to wait for another day! This section of line also features some street running and passes an incredible logging operation whereby tree trunks are airlifted by helicopter from the surrounding forest to a loading point. The operation is very slick with the road being temporarily closed as the logs are dropped- the railway, right next to the road, keeps running and gives a great view of the operation!

Departmental vehicle 23201, converted from an ABe4/4ii railcar on snow duties. 19/02/2019.

ABe4/4iii 52 departs from Tirano for St Moritz. 19/02/2019.
There is a tempting leap onto a pair of railcars on arrival at Tirano, just across the border in Italy. However we sensibly choose to join our friends for an ice cream, electing to take our inbound Allegra unit back up the mountain in just under an hours time.

Ge6/6ii pauses between duties at Pontresina. 19/02/2019

Returning with a few 'train beers' and a bottle of Lemoncello we make our way to dinner at the restaurant at Alp Grum. We have booked ahead but the need clearly wasn't too great as there are only a handful of other diners. There deserved to be more as the food, service and views were excellent. Another slight panic to pay as the 5 minute warning light for 'Pontressina' is illuminated. This is Switzerland of course and there never seems to be a problem. The driver pops into the bar for a coffee while the waiter pops onto the train to correct our bill!
The evenings entertainment is a bit of Apre Ski- but my voice won't hold out prompting an early conclusion than I would have liked. I'm sure I would be thankful in the morning.

Wednesday 20th Feb:
Ge6/6ii works between Punt Moragl and Pontresina with a short freight working. The cross country skier seems oblivious to the train, but many did become distracted by our pile of bags at the edge of the run! 20/02/2019.

Ge4/4ii 6XX heads towards Punt Moragl with a train to Scuol-Tarasp.
Our final day on the RhB and an early start as there were a couple of items still to tick off the list. First was to get a decent, well lit shot of a freight in the snow. Over to Fillisur again and up by way of Samedan to Punt Moragl where another fight with the snow ensued to get us into position. Ge6/6iii 705 turned up as our reward and after a brisk walk/run we made it back to the station for the next train back to Pontresina. This brought us the chance to ride the whole way along the Engadine railway to Scuol-Tarasp, thus completing the track of the RhB (with the exception of both the branches to St Moritz which always just seem to take such a long time to travel over!). Observations earlier in the week had unfortunately been confirmed that all of the push-pull trains working between Scuol-Tarasp and Pontresina were the wrong way around for the photo we wanted on the viaduct at Cinuos-chel-Brail. Since this was one of the shots we had come on this trip for we simply had to wait for the 2-hourly train to St Moritz which would have a loco on the front. At least it should have! Having waited for the train several expletives were muttered as the perfect photo of a driving trailer was taken with the loco in the middle of the train!

Ge4/4ii crosses the viaduct at Cinuos-chel-Brail with a train from Landquart to St Mortiz. 20/02/2019

Narrow Gauge Landscapes at Cinuos-chel-Brail. 20/02/2019
Defeated we headed to the hotel restaurant in town for re-fueling. My splinter group had a dilema- it was 2 hours until the next chance to try the shot but we had a flight to catch. Technically it was possible relying on a +2 connection at Sagliains, and then a +9 at Landquarts. It was Switzerland so surely they would work... but we had already decided it was too much of a risk. They *would* work though.... surely? As we watched the preceding train slip down the valley, it was going to have to!
I'm pleased to say it all paid off, 626 meeting grins as it crossed the bridge at the head of the St Moritz train. The freight which 'might' have followed it didn't, but we were going home happy, as long as that connection made- which it did!

SBB Cargo Re4/4's continue to work international trains into Germany.
421 379 waits at Zurich Hbf with a train for Stuttgart Hbf. 20/02/2019

Ge4/4ii 633 was our last loco on the RhB depositing us at Landquarts for a very crowded IC2000 set back to Basel. Swiss Express Re4/4 11108 taunting us with a train for Chur which we definitely could not take! There was just one more drama to befall us on the way home. After a beautiful run along the edge of Lake Zurich once we eventually found ourselves some seats it all nearly went very badly wrong at Zurich Hbf. Our train was through to Basel, fast from Zurich. Only a few minutes before departure I noticed the screens had changed on board; they were now showing Luzern. Presuming this was information about a connection I ignored it... but it didn't change, and wasn't showing any other connections. Our train was surely still going to Basel? No? No. That was now on platform 34 downstairs and leaving in 1 minute!!! Not the slick SBB operation I was used to with an unscheduled stock swap! Fortunately another passenger directed us to platform 16 where a Basel train was due to depart in just enough time for us to get on it. It was hauled and formed of the older style 'opening window' style coaches which are starting to show their age (surely due for withdrawal once the Twindexx sets finally settle down?). It was a stopping service to Basel behind an Re460 which would put us 20 minutes behind where we should have been. Fortunately the 50 bus to the airport was as efficient as always and the bag drop was made with minimum fuss with at least a couple of minutes to spare- we even briefly met our friends flying to Manchester who had left some hours earlier without the tight airport connection stress. EasyJet were on time as well, and thus ended another great trip.

Ge4/4iii 649 heads a Landquart - St Mortiz service as it starts its journey heading towards Malans. 17/02/2019.

Ge4/4ii 627 is stabled at Davos Plats for morning service. 19/02/2019
I still absolutely adore this railway and to say we were lucky with the weather would be an understatement! This trip ticked all the boxes and was in fact so successful that it has greatly reduced our chances of returning again. There are just so many other places to visit! If you like what you see I urge you- get to the RhB this year before it is too late. It will still be stunning as a mostly unit only operation- but it won't ever be the same.
Thanks to Jon, Rhys, Rob, Rabbit, Fatz, Bruce, Lyn, Matty, Nic, Strak, Paul, Ted, John and anyone else I have forgotten for your excellent company, organisation and just a great trip!

Ge4/4iii 651 approaches Malans with a train for Davos Platz. 17/02/2019