Posted in Railways on Saturday 28th March 2009 at 10:43pm


I didn't seem to have been asleep for more than a few moments when I woke. I pottered carefully around the hotel room, trying to avoid the creaky floorboards as I prepared to depart. Despite the fairly good weather yesterday, the morning was drizzly and cold, and I was amazed to see scantily dressed revellers still making their way home through the city as I trudged to the station, still aching from the exertions of the past couple of days. Arrived to find the stock for the tour already in platform 6. No sign of coffee at this early hour, so made my way down to the platform where 37401 sat at the head of a long rake of coaches. It has to be said that few tours in recent times have attracted the attention this one has prior to running. Simply proposing a pair of DBS Class 37s seems to have brought undeserved criticism for Pathfinder, and the sheer weight of (sometimes bizarre) speculation about what would show up on the day has resulted in unprecedented publicity! In the event, with 37406 not quite ready at Eastleigh (but reportedly possibly joining the train later) we set off with a single locomotive. 37401, much patched up since last appearing, was clearly up to the job and we made a thunderous exit from Nottingham. With fairly generous timings we made our way via Leicester and Nuneaton to Birmingham and then down the Lickey to Gloucester. Even at this early stage speculation was beginning about what arrangements would be made for getting back up the bank in the evening. At Gloucester, hopped out for a photograph and a chance to grab drinks, as with no buffet car in the formation due to a failure at Eastleigh and since the hot food kitchen car was producing long queues, getting coffee was proving tricky.

Patched and repaired for today, 37401 waits time at Gloucester
Patched and repaired for today, 37401 waits time at Gloucester

On leaving Gloucester we learned that there would be some slight changes to the day's itinerary due to some fairly major engineering work at Newport which meant a stop in the platform wouldn't be possible. Instead, those who didn't want the Uskmouth branch could hop off for a couple of hours break in Newport. Otherwise, we were in for a long day. By now, speeding alongside the Severn in glorious sunshine and heading for some fairly rare track it was difficult to be too concerned. Got chatting to a neighbour about track bashing and it's arcane ways as we headed into Margam. As something of a bonus we travelled much further into the complex than planned, ending up in Knuckle Yard on Line 16. Noted 60024 lurking among the ranks of wagons waiting to attach to our train and take us forward over the flyover and onto the Ogmore Vale Extension line. Not a winner for me, as it had appeared back in 2007 on The Retro Retracer, but in this age of a dwindling fleet of Class 60s, not an unwelcome sight! Reduced to freight line speeds, we made rather cautious progress past the Parc Slip site, and over the Maesteg line at Tondu. Despite the crawl along the OVE line, we were very early, and spent a fairly long layover in Garw Loop on the former Pontycymer route.

A rare view from Knuckle Yard - 60024 waits to join the train
A rare view from Knuckle Yard - 60024 waits to join the train

Once underway again, we took the more familiar passenger route back to Maesteg, crossing over west of Bridgend to pass through the station on the wrong line and take the connection onto the Vale of Glamorgan line. Through Cardiff Central and back on the mainline as far as Ebbw Junction where we took the curve to Park Junction. We curved away from the Ebbw Vale branch here, and started the slow climb into the valley beside the River Rhymney. Soon reached the site of Machen Quarry, with amazing views across the countryside in the clear afternoon sunlight. Soon underway again, heading south towards Park Junction and this time taking the curve towards Gaer Junction. Once services from Newport commence, this will see passenger trains, but for now it remains very uncommon track. Soon into Newport for the briefest of stops, before heading into East Usk yard.

Despite the cancellation of our break at Newport, timings hadn't been adjusted. Thus we had plenty of time for the run down to Uskmouth. First though, 08567 was attached to the rear of the train. Whilst we were waiting, and rather unexpectedly, a trolley suddenly appeared selling drinks and snacks - it's first appearance in twelve hours of the tour, despite it's fairly regular trips through standard class. Took advantage of refreshments, and enjoyed the slow transit of the branch to Uskmouth which provided amazing views of the Transporter Bridge. Contrary to some opinions expressed on the web before the trip, we made it all the way to the gates of Fifoots Power Station before reversing, with the shunter dragging us back into East Usk for a long wait before heading back into Newport.

Again, the briefest of stops while men working on the new signal gantries looked fairly worried at the site of a large group of enthusiasts charging towards the platform end for a shot of the shunter, sadly one I didn't get the chance for. As the sun began to set, enjoyed a further run beside the Severn into Gloucester where I watched 37401 roar off into the darkness towards the Lickey, where it was expected a banking engine would be provided. Grabbed a much needed coffee just before the buffet closed for the evening and settled into the Weymouth train for a run back into Bristol among the glamourous folks heading for their night out. Not sure what they made of an exhausted, bedraggled looking character with a huge rucksack? Changed at Temple Meads and headed under the station to the Rail Replacement Bus stop. Spotted a familiar face, and enjoyed a surreal chat with Mr Solomon all the way home to Highbridge. A strange end to a varied and interesting weekend away. Quite how I'm going to explain all this when someone asks "good weekend?" at work on Monday, I'm not sure!

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Posted in Railways on Saturday 21st March 2009 at 9:20pm


In some ways I'm not sure that today's trip warrants a long descriptive entry. It was, in most ways, a fairly unremarkable and relaxing day out on the rails. It was a last chance for a while at least, to spend a Saturday exactly how I like - getting up obscenely early and taking some convoluted trek around the UK. If it wasn't for the engineering work which I've been grumbling about for months now bearing down upon the area next week, I would probably not have done much differently in terms of my planned trip - but it felt important to put some miles under my belt today. I managed 499 exactly - so perhaps a mention here is deserved after all?

Having had the order of play dictated by the availability of cheap tickets, I set off for Bristol, staying on the first train of the day a little further than usual. At Bristol I found myself needing coffee very badly, and managed to grab a cup and not spill it while dashing for the train to Newport. The sun was up, and the mist dissolving as we sped west towards the Severn Tunnel. It promised to be a perfect day for travelling. Breakfast time at Newport while waiting for the Nottingham train to arrive. I've done this route in parts over the years, and have always enjoyed the variation - starting out serenely skirting the Severn Estuary, then disappearing into the Midlands before emerging in Derbyshire. Everything ran smoothly today as far as Birmingham, where the train was suddenly swamped with Wolverhampton Wanderers fans heading for Nottingham. They were a fairly well-behaved bunch, but the short two-carriage train which had seemed so quiet back at Newport was now very full, very loud and running pretty late. I had a back-up plan for the next leg of my trip, so I turned up my collar, plugged in the headphones and looked out for the Fastline Class 66 I expected to be hanging around Nottingham somewhere!

158859 waits to depart Sheffield for Leeds
158859 waits to depart Sheffield for Leeds

I'd covered the next leg quite recently, but it got me further along my route nicely and it did use an interesting route. The Northern service from Nottingham to Leeds seems to have slotted well into the timetable, and was much busier than on my first visit early in the year. We set off on time, but encountered some very slow running early on which seemed to dog the run up the Erewash Valley. Things didn't seem to get moving until we took the 'Old Road' and headed in a huge circuit skirting Sheffield and arriving from the north. Amazing warm spring sunshine made me a little drowsy, and it was good to get out into the fresh air at Sheffield. Had a wander around the station, but the presence of huge crowds of Police apparently waiting for more football fans and all too keen to move people along quickly meant I was safer on the platform. Found a spot and watched the trains for a little while before making my way to the platform for my next service. I've not covered the Transpennine route via the Hope Valley for a long while, and it was good to revisit in the comfort of first class on a Class 185 rather than the last trip in this direction on a dilapidated 142 during the evening peak! Lots of wagons but no locos to be seen on route to Manchester. The weather on the western side of the Pennines wasn't quite as warm - so on arrival, settled into a familiar seat in the coffee shop to send an email I'd been mulling over on the trip, and to imbibe enough coffee to wake me up a little for the trip home.

A brief wander around the station shops before boarding the 15:07 for Bristol. These trains always make me think of the old days when Class 47s worked this route and were a guaranteed loco-hauled ride home. Settled in for the long ride back via the Midlands, happily reading, listening to music and people-watching my way south. Arrived bang on time in Bristol and spent a pleasant half hour watching the sun set over Bristol & Exeter House in the chilly but clear evening. It's trips like this which keep me sane and entertained in rather strange times. Reorganising things for the next few weeks will be challenging.

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Posted in Railways on Saturday 14th March 2009 at 8:45pm


Back at the start of the year, I set out a list of possible trips for the first few months of the year. The plan was to travel as much as possible before the long blockade descended and weekend travel became tricky. I turned back to this list this weekend as time crept on, and a combination of indecision, long working days and the Cheltenham Festival made booking to get to the East Lancs Diesel Gala all but impossible. One of these plans was a trip out to London the usual way, then back via the former London & South Western route out of Waterloo to Exeter. As it happened, I'd covered much of the route piecemeal on my Laverstock trip and when pottering around on a rover. However, I'd still not done the trip in it's entirety and thought it was worth another visit since my last excursion was marred by being consigned to the vestibule due to a busy train and a botched change at Salisbury.

Made the customary early trip up to London, with the ubiquitous Mr Spinks along for the ride. No firm plans on how to spend the time in London prior to the trip back, but had a few suggestions which we talked over during a fine breakfast on the way up. Good to be doing this bit of the journey in daylight and indeed in very promising weather. Settled on a plan to attempt to cover the new bits of Docklands Light Railway and then work back over a couple of South London branches. These were largely decided by Mr Spinks making a critical analysis of my Baker atlas and pointing out bits which hadn't been done! The first winning track of the day was scored entirely by accident however. Made a snap decision to do the Circle line via Kings Cross rather than Victoria to get to Tower Hill. This looked like a bad idea - there were more trains heading south than north at Paddington, but eventually we set off. Shortly after leaving Kings Cross the driver announced that due to a failed train on the District side, we'd be terminating at Moorgate. Speculated briefly about the bay platforms, before feeling the train lurch over crossovers to reach the bay platform. As we headed over to the through platforms for the next service to Tower Hill, noted a good few passengers still sitting patiently waiting on the terminated service! Soon arrived at Tower Hill, and after a brief detour to see the gateway at St. Olave's church, we headed for the recently reopened and remodelled DLR station at Tower Gateway.

We ended up waiting some time for a train from Tower Gateway, and noted some fairly strange manoeuvres at the junction with the Bank lines. Spent the time watching 357s departing from Fenchurch Street, before heading off. A fairly quick change at Shadwell onto a Woolwich train, then settled in for the always entertaining ride though the eastern fringe of the city and out into the wide-open spaces and towering buildings of Docklands. Soon heading out of King George V station and descending steeply into a deep tunnel which led us to the new terminus at Woolwich Arsenal. A quick grapple with Oyster readers before heading onto the mainline platforms. From here the plan was to head to London Bridge, hopped onto the next 376 and enjoyed the busy scenes as we made steady progress towards the capital. Disembarked and consulted the departure screens. The next plan was to cover one of the bits of track which came under Mr Spinks' scrutiny - the route to Ladywell via Lewisham. My trip to Hayes had used the direct line avoiding the station, so we made the brief trip out to the suburbs and enjoyed a few minutes wait in the sunshine before heading back, this time via the avoiding route. A quick bite to eat, then over to the terminal platforms to get the almost-circular service to Victoria via Crystal Palace. This covered the 'Down Sydenham Spur' - the flyover crossing the mainline and leading to Crystal Palace. I wasn't sure if I'd missed inking this track or hadn't done it - but for the sake of completeness and since Mr Spinks needed it, we did the train into Victoria via Balham.

159014 rests at Exeter St Davids after working from London Waterloo
159014 rests at Exeter St Davids after working from London Waterloo

We now made a fairly swift switch, back out to Clapham Junction then into Waterloo - with a brief stop to watch the multitude of services passing. Narrowly avoided catching a class 456 for the second time today, as these elusive units appeared to be lurking in the platforms we expected to use but (perhaps thankfully) were not the stock for our trains! Shopped for refreshments at Waterloo before making our way to the platform for our somewhat epic journey west. Once out of Waterloo we made rapid progress without stopping in the suburbs. The weather was bright and the sunshine through the windows was warm. I'll admit some drowsy moments as we sped through the countryside which seemed to be waking after a chilly winter. After Salisbury, things slowed and we made our way via the cruelly singled line, which has so much more potential than it was afforded by the bad planning of British Rail. Good loadings and busy little stations all the way along the route showed that the plans for an hourly service are surely well justified. The long trip west flew by as I enjoyed the quiet and calm of this route and had more than one little nap in the afternoon sunshine!

Disembarked well over three hours later at Exeter St. Davids and walked around the station trying to get our reluctant knees working again! Had a glance at the depot in the sunset and waited with a small clutch of Bradford City fans for the Crosscountry HST to roll in. After the stately progress on the L&SW route, the run up to Taunton felt very speedy. A quick change and then back into Highbridge on time. An interesting and varied day out with some new track, a variety of traction and some contrasting routes covered. This is exactly why I spend so much time on the rails.

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Posted in Railways on Saturday 7th March 2009 at 11:35pm


This tour was something of an afterthought. I'd not planned to be on this until late last month, when I gave in to the lure of a decent amount of mileage behind some new locos, and some much needed unusual track into the bargain. Having had a fairly good night's sleep, headed down to Victoria Station early to find nothing open yet. Eventually the train appeared on the departure boards, which confirmed that things were running a little late. Time to get much needed coffee from the just-opened concession on the station and to watch the growing crowd waiting for the tour. Eventually, a marker light was sighted to the west and 37706 led 37676 into the station slowly. Found my seat and settled in for the day's trip northwards.

From Manchester we headed east to make pick-up stops in Huddersfield, Leeds and York. This route has always been a favourite of mine, and it was good to be doing it behind a pair of locomotives again. From York, we headed north towards Newcastle. This isn't the most inspiring stretch of railway in the country, and given the huge amount of services which have been stripped from the northern reaches of the East Coast Mainline over the years, it's easy to see why. Nevertheless, enjoyed some fantastic views and a relatively rare chance to travel this way. Once we neared Edinburgh there was a little more to see at the various freight terminals and depot's alongside the line. Surprisingly soon we found ourselves arriving in Edinburgh Waverley for only a brief stop before setting off on the second leg of today's tour.

Once all passenngers alighting were set down, we were on the way again and set off via Haymarket and crossed the Forth Bridge. This is never a dull moment, and I thoroughly enjoyed the crossing for the second time this year. From here we made fairly steady progress, with the locos making a fine old racket as we took the line via Ladybank to Perth - the destination of the mini-tour. With a light drizzle just starting, the vast station seemed a little bleak. Grabbed some food and drink and headed back over to the footbridge to watch a complicated running around manoeuvre designed to keep 37706 at the front of the train due to a minor speedometer fault on 37676.

37706 and 37676 running around at Perth
37706 and 37676 running around at Perth

Soon back on board for a low-key send off from the near deserted Perth station. Amazing to think what an important junction this once was, and to see the complex layout of platforms with trains still stabled in the nearby shed. Retraced our steps via Ladybank before completing the object of the tour from my perspective - the few chains of line from Thornton North Junction to the station at Glenrothes. Used by just a couple of very inconvenient trains each day, this link is one of the few sections of passenger track left undone for me in Scotland, so it was great to finally tick it off the list. Relaxed and enjoyed a noisy trip back over the Forth Bridge and into Waverley station. A quick dash to get refreshments and settle back in for the trip back to Manchester via the reverse of our outward route. Some spectacular views over the north eastern coast as the sun sank in the west too.

Arriving into York for our booked set-down, we pulled alongside another set of charter stock. A ripple of excitement passed down the carriage as we realised that this was the Leeds-Edinburgh trip which had been hauled here by 60163 Tornado. Having not seen this newly-built steam engine up close I was keen to get a look, and as we departed first, I was able to see the sleek, green engine quietly steaming at the head of the train. It's hard to explain why this is more impressive than seeing any one of the numerous mainline certified preserved engines on the network - because they too are feats of engineering and need endless care and attention lavished on them to keep them running - in some cases a century after they were built. But Tornado is special because it has skipped through the hoops of the modern safety culture, has been built somewhat against the odds, and perhaps most of all because it is a testament to good old fashioned railway enthusiasm! Looked forward to seeing the loco on Western metals in the summer, as York station receded into the distance and we headed back towards Leeds.

Arrived back into Manchester exactly on time, for a weary trudge back to the hotel. Another day where Spitfire delievered exactly what was offered - not too much in the way of unusual track, but a great run behind cracking locos and plenty of mileage. Long may these trips continue!

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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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