Posted in Railways on Friday 20th July 2007 at 10:22pm


My summer weekend off crept up on me rather unexpectedly this year. Since I wasn't attending a conference this summer, and also because my planned railtour this coming Sunday was cancelled due to low bookings, I'd all but forgotten the trip to York and the tickets for the Minehead to Bristol service today, which I'd booked to fill a gap in my itinerary. So down to the station in mist and drizzle which I rather pathetically hoped would go away just because it was my day off work! The plan was to take the train to Taunton and then catch the bus to Minehead. I had thought about hopping off at Bishop's Lydeard to get the West Somerset Railway service - but since I was about to do the line back and had done it recently too in both directions, I decided to go for the bus trip instead. As it happened the DMU to Minehead was waiting for the bus as we called at the station, and I noticed a couple of familiar faces from previous class 31 hauled trips lurking about the station. Decided to stick with the bus since I'd paid the fare.

The journey was fairly interesting too. Once disentangled from a convoy of military vehicles near Norton Manor camp, we headed into very damp Quantock countryside. Noted that the road stuck fairly close to the railway as we wound through tiny villages and occasional small towns like Williton, passing under a fair few very low bridges. Particularly interested to visit Watchet where I haven't been (aside from the station) for many years. Arrived in a presently dry but overcast Minehead and strolled down the main street. Again a recent visit meant I wasn't too concerned with exploring, so I took a wander along the sea front to Tesco on a reconnaissance mission for my cousin. Strolled back to the station, watching the stock shunt over the level crossing and into the platform along the way. Also noted Tangmere stabled nearby.

31452 awaits departure of the inaugural 'Butlins Express'
31452 awaits departure of the inaugural 'Butlins Express'

The pair of locomotives looked and sounded in fine shape, and it was good to see them on a train again rather than languishing in Derby! Thought back to a good few excursions to Brighton and Weymouth over the past few years prior to the demise of Wessex Trains. Soon on board the service with plenty of seats to choose from, although a headcount later indicated a fairly healthy 80 passengers for a first, fairly poorly advertised trip. A couple of redcoats wandered up and down the train with literature and just to chat to passengers, which at least means Butlins are taking this experiment fairly seriously too. There was a fairly good trolley service provided which also made for a pleasant trip. Shortly after leaving Minehead we entered a patch of fairly heavy rain, which I think we pretty much remained in for the rest of the day. As ever, a long slow drag along the WSR - especially when you know the Peds could work much quicker. Noted North Star working the diesel service, along with 31128 stabled at Bishops Lydeard.

Once off Lydeard, their was an air of excitement. A fair few railway members and top-brass had come along for the right. And so as we passed onto the mainline at Norton Fitzwarren we became the first scheduled service to Bristol from Minehead since 1971! An early arrival at Taunton soon turned into a late departure however, due to a points failure north of the station. Unavoidable really as the only platform accessible from the connection with the WSR is 2. We eventually set off, reversing in order to pass through platform 5 and to speed towards Bristol, around 30 late.

Not much time for anything at Bristol, except to note whilst looking for our train on the departure board, that almost everything was cancelled! Heard there had been serious floods, but no means of checking where or how bad. Our train wasn't on the board either, but I understand a fair few National Rail tickets were honoured on the return! A very quick turn-around at Bristol, and a much quieter train on the way back. The rain was becoming heavy and I noted with alarm that in some spots along the way it hadn't stopped raining since I set out! The return run was a spirited affair if a great deal quieter on the passenger front, and I was lucky enough to be entertained by the conversation of Victa Westlink Rail and WSR management - quite a bit of which centred on the 'spartan' accommodation offered to the Victa drivers by Butlins. The irrepressible redcoats were happily out of earshot at this point! The trip back was a rollercoaster of gaining time here and losing it again there. I arrived in Taunton just in time to watch the hourly stopper I planned to catch home disappear into the gloom. Time at Taunton to note the chaos though - nothing going to London either via the Berks & Hants or Box and Bristol-Gloucester closed. London-bound passenger were being sent via Exeter and Salisbury "whilst that remained possible"!Watched the 31s disappear towards Minehead and spoke on the 'phone with my cousin who was at Worle and eventually caught the unit which would form my service back north, despite advice of it's cancellation.

66625 and unique Bardon Aggregates liveried 66623 at Fairwater Yard
Unique 'Bardon Aggregates' liveried 66623 at Fairwater Yard

So an interesting first day of operation, and a nice day spent chugging along the attractive branch line. Quite proud to have been on the first train too! As I type, the weather situation seems fairly desperate with widespread and serious flooding in the south. This also means that the York trip - already a pale shadow of the planned entertainment - looks in jeopardy. What will the morning bring?

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Posted in Railways on Saturday 14th July 2007 at 11:41pm


Despite a miserable and damp morning it felt good to be going somewhere today. After news of yet another tour cancellation next week, and more work-related strangeness I needed something to work out - and happily today ran pretty smoothly. I'd tried to plan a few hours at the Barrow Hill Diesel Gala when I saw it announced earlier in the year, but no Virgin Value tickets seemed to be around at the time. A half-considered idea of staying in the area didn't materialise either. Checked again for tickets last week and found a reasonably priced fare, so recruited a local colleague and set about organising a trip. Out on the 0633 as far as Bristol, where it was only a brief wander up the platform to board 1S42. This combination has started a lot of successful trips and it proved reliable today too providing a relaxing run with an on-time arrival in Birmingham New Street. Time to get breakfast and to head for the already waiting 0930 to Chesterfield. Again, a swift and punctual trip which ran smoothly. A bit of a surprise passing Burton-on-Trent however, where we cruised past what appeared to be a Freightliner working, only to find Fastline's 56303 at the head of the train!

Arrived in surprisingly bright conditions at Chesterfield and joined the queue for the free bus. Something of a party atmosphere on the ride via Staveley to the Roundhouse. Also saw the tail-end of 57303's train disappearing along the 'Old Road' as we crested a hill on our journey. Disembarked and paid our way into the site. Immediately found unique 89001 repainted into former Intercity Executive livery, looking much the way I remember it best. Attempted a picture, which was a little tricky given it's location.

89001 formerly named 'Avocet' outside the roundhouse
89001 formerly named 'Avocet' outside the roundhouse

This year's event was themed around the 50th anniversary of the Class 20 locomotive's arrival on the scene. Many examples of the class in various states of repair and in some very unusual liveries were on show, and the regular shuttle trains were topped and tailed by pairs of the runners among the collection. A couple of tours out to Hope Cement Works were also running, but our all too brief visit occurred between these, so we didn't get to see them.

20092 in the unusual Technical Services livery
20092 in the unusual Technical Services livery


20228 carrying number 2004 at Barrow Hill
20228 carrying number 2004 at Barrow Hill

Strolled around the exhibits in surprising sunshine, managing to see almost everything on display. A few notable departures in the last twelve months, but some high-profile new visitors showed the importance of this facility to both the preservationists and the working mainline railway. A surprise was 47832, a recent visitor to the South West, which appeared to be undergoing some fairly heavy work. A resplendent 55022 looked in fine shape and hopefully will remain so for it's tour engagements later in the summer. We were also surprised to find DRS's 37667 in the shed, in apparently ex-works condition.

DRS liveried 37667 undergoing work
DRS liveried 37667 undergoing work

Followed the tour of the yard and sheds with a look around the numerous stalls, which proved expensive for some of us who couldn't resist purchases! All too soon it was time to head for the bus back to Chesterfield. Unfortunately the cheap tickets meant we'd had to opt to travel back sooner than I'd hoped, but we managed to see pretty much everything we'd hoped to during the visit.

After a brief food stop and a chance to bask in the unexpected sunshine at Chesterfield, boarded a surprisingly quiet Voyager and upgraded to First Class for the run back to Bristol. Another really fine journey, and so good to be back on the rails again! Pondered the fate of these cross-country services under new ownership, but figured not much would change beyond the livery and the uniforms. Another on-time arrival at Bristol and onto a rather packed local stopper, where some further old friends were encountered which meant a fairly entertaining ride home. Directly to the pub to celebrate a cracking day out with my cousin, who would I'm sure want me to point out he was in no way involved with the trip himself! One to look forward to for next year I think...

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Lost::MikeGTN

I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.

I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.

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