Posted in Railways on Saturday 28th November 2009 at 10:11pm
Woke a little earlier than I needed to, after a night of odd and troubling dreams. I can't help but wonder if these were related to being in Wolverhampton - which just seems to become a stranger place everytime I visit. However, there's no doubting it's convenience as I was soon trudging along the colonnade and into the High Level station. The small crowd joining our train had caught the buffet staff unawares, so breakfast was off the cards - but much needed coffee was avaialble. Noted some now very familiar faces in the crowd, as the growl of 37609 and 37259 was heard - commendably early - from the direction of Crane Street Junction. The stock was, as ever, a mixed bag - but noted that we were in a very pleasant ex-Blue Pullman coach which was in excellent condition. Settled in for the trip north in some comfort. We took the familiar route, often used by Charter Trains, via Telford and Shrewsbury, then turned east to Nantwich and Crewe. Here we crossed onto the line to Manchester, following this as far as Stockport where we took the 'ghost train' route via Denton to Guide Bridge. With the sky looking a little brighter, noted a dusting of snow capping the Pennines. Relaxed and chatted with some of the usual suspects as we sped east.
After passing Huddersfield, we turned north again through Milford Junction and were soon in York. Here we joined two other charters, lined up along the western reaches of the station with Pathfinder's trip to Durham arriving shortly after us. We were first off however, and after dropping those who'd come for the Christmas Market and collecting a fair few passengers for the trip to Newcastle we set off on the second leg of this tour - dubbed The Growling Geordie! This started with a rather swift dash up the East Coast Main Line, through flat and very wet fields, and crossing still swollen rivers. Around the back of Darlington station for the second time in two trips, then a quick glance at the breathtaking views across Durham as we flashed past. Soon enough we were crossing the Tyne and curving into the impressive station. Perhaps more surprisingly, we were doing so in low but bright winter sunshine. Made a dash for the front for the obligatory photographs.
Ventured out into Newcastle with some trepidation. A home match is never a recommendation for exploring a city - but with St. James Park being very much a city centre ground, things here were going to be more congested. For this reason I avoided the lure of some of the interesting pubs in town, and went for a wander around the eastern part of the city centre. Found some refreshments for the journey back, and when the crowds became denser and harder to navigate, made a dash back to the station to enjoy the sunshine, grab a coffee and watch the stock arrive for the trip home. Felt very content lazing around in the sunshine despite it being November!
Once onboard the stock it became clear that all was not well. Firstly, the Class 47 which had been providing heating wasn't on the back anymore. Rumours of serious wheelflats had already reached us - but it seems it had remained at Heaton Depot where the stock had been serviced. So, despite providing a much nicer coach, WCRC had once again let down Spitfire and it's passengers by providing an unserviceable ETH loco. Decided this wasn't going to affect me - and settled in for the trip around the coast. This route gets little attention from railtours, and indeed this was only my second visit - the previous one having been on a unit four years ago. We curved onto the south bank of the Tyne, passing the site of the once mighty Gateshead Depot, and marvelled at the new developments of housing replacing the industrial landscape. After a brief run alongside the Metro, we shared tracks with it from Pelaw to Sunderland where the underground station is under seemingly constant repair. Bursting out into an amazing sunset on the coast, enjoyed views across the grassy flats to the North Sea. It was getting a little chilly on board, but beer and conversation helped - and the views were genuinely stunning. Soon turning back inland, we made for Northallerton and rejoined the ECML for the dash down to York. Now fully dark, the stock was lit by the customary emergency lights which have become the norm on the way back over the last few trips. Much grumbling from the punters joining at York who'd been trudging around the freezing city all day and were looking forward to a nice warm carriage home! Rumours of a relief loco to provide heat proved unfounded, and we were soon off again in the dark and cold.
A variation in the route home took us through Ferrybridge, Sheffield and on to the Hope Valley line. Little to see in the pitch black, but some interesting running nonetheless. Regained our outward route via Guide Bridge and began the process of setting down some very cold, but mostly content passengers. We kept excellent time throughout the homeward run, and I soon found myself stepping off the train at Wolverhampton - and despite having enjoyed the run back, looking forward to my warm hotel room! Some quick goodbyes and over the bridge to fight my way out of the station through the Saturday night crowds, which again convinced me this wasn't a place to socialise often! Once again today, the rolling stock provider let down the Tour Organiser. The great shame is that people who planned a pleasant day out won't be privy to this, and will assume otherwise. Spitfire have provided an excellent programme of interesting trips this year, using locos which don't get an airing with other operators, and travelling over some less visited lines - not least today's trip. Long may they continue, and even more amazingly - despite all the gripes, railway politics and armchair-expert drivel they remain very nice people!
Posted in Railways on Saturday 21st November 2009 at 11:11pm
Not sorry to get out of the hotel this morning however early, as it had been a fairly noisy night and the room wasn't really up to scratch. However, I managed a decent sleep and felt quite rested. I'd also had an attack of feeling miserable which hadn't helped - perhaps it was work, the weather or just the fact that yesterday turned from a pleasant sunny day into a dark wintry night? In any case I trudged down to Victoria feeling much better, and noted a few familiar cranks already milling about. Lurked around near the buffet and managed to sneak in as customer no. 2 of the day to get a coffee which almost instantly improved the outlook still further. So, today was another Spitfire tour in the 'Growler' series, which has kept the late summer and autumn interesting with lots of Class 37 mileage to a variety of destinations. Yes, there are a lot of 37 tours - and this argument gets regular airings on the internet - but these good value, high mileage jaunts can't be beaten - especially with the added 'mini-tours' which cover unusual bits of line. Joined the assembly on platform 4 where the lights of our locos could be seen waiting to enter the station early - a good sign. Soon onboard and seated - with some all too familiar reprobates from previous tours alongside which meant I'd have an entertaining trip north if nothing else!
The day didn't really get light - it just became somewhat less dark. As the sky lightened it became clear that we wouldn't see much in terms of scenery due to a low fog which hugged the landscape from Yorkshire right through into Scotland. Routed to avoid Leeds, passing an empty Healey Mills and then through Milford Junction, the first point of interest was York. Made a pitiful stab at identifying 185s in Leman Road which was to set a pattern for the day - with colleagues on the other side of the train turning in an equally poor performance! Into the wilds north of York and back into deep fog as far as the Tyne, where the locos stormed noisily through Newcastle Central and into the long stretch of wildnerness along the east coast. With the usual compensation of sea views not available, had a relaxing and sleepy trip over the border.
The real target of this tour for me was the trip around Central Scotland, and after arriving at Edinburgh Waverley on time and depositing most of the passengers for pubs and shopping excursions, we headed west through Haymarket and wondered just what would happen next. A landslip at Shotts a couple of days back had left single-line working in place, but it wasn't clear if we'd be routed via this, admittedly quiet, line now. In the event, we turned south and west for Carstairs - a less interesting route in some respects, but a faster one - and we arrived at Holytown Junction a little early as a result. After negotiating the curves around Mossend, we passed through the yards here and at Coatbridge before the highlight for me - the curve from Gartsherrie South Junction to Gartcosh Junction. A tiny line on the map, but a surprisingly long turn to the west and into the Glasgow suburbs. One of the few bits of track in the area I haven't covered, and thus worth the cost of the trip alone - although I doubt others will understand this rather odd perspective on things! It was strange, skirting Glasgow to the west and passing Springburn and Cowlairs where I was minutes away from my walk to Saracen Cross a month or so back, but might as well have been miles away! Back on the E&G line, we made a very swift dash back east with a brief pause in Polmont Loop. Noted the progressing electrification on the eastern approach to Edinburgh, along with the works for the tram line to Gogar. Good to see progress on major projects like this which doesn't seem to be reflected south of the border at all. Soon back into a very damp looking Waverley and out to the end of the platform to watch the empty stock departing for Craigentinny Depot.
Time for a brief wander in Edinburgh - not my favourite city in many ways, but perhaps in fairness it didn't get a look in with the gravitational pull of Glasgow to the west. I recall a miserable couple of days in Edinburgh a decade back and my swift escape to Glasgow as soon as I practically could! This time, set out into the Old Town - where I've spent far less time. Up the winding street towards Avalanche Records which I recalled from a previous visit, and onto the Royal Mile. The glow of warm inviting shops in the grey afternoon was attractive, but the constant flow of tourists was just irritating me - so I walked back over North Bridge into the new town and in a huge circuit to Waverley. Found a few local real ales to entertain myself on my return journey, and had a pleasant wait for the stock to come in for the ride home with 47787 - the loco provided to heat the train - thundering impressively back into the station.
We left Edinburgh in the dark, so the return journey was even less visually entertaining than the fog-enclosed outward leg. Some very swift running on the way back, and a fine atmosphere on the train. Efforts to elicit 2010 plans from Spitfire staff met with silence until they're further developed, which sparked a discussion on what to expect from next year on the railway. Pleasant to think of longer days and better weather as the wind and rain whipped our train. Back via York and Leeds, and soon heading into Victoria again. Off the train into a sea of hormonal teenagers cascading down the stairs from the MEN Arena where the Arctic Monkey's had just finished playing. Watched several respected railway types get washed away in a tide of teenage girls, before bidding the Spitfire team goodbye until next week! Despite the weather and my gloomy outlook earlier, another entertaining and successful trip.
Posted in Railways on Saturday 14th November 2009 at 11:47pm
After a week of ups and downs, it was good to get away from things yesterday, with a leisurely run down to the south coast. The Bristol to Southampton route has never been a favourite - too many memories of horribly congested units in recent times - but a mid-morning departure made for a quiet and lazy trip. A little time spent at Eastleigh, and then holed myself up in the hotel at Southampton Airport whilst the weather raged outside. Woke this morning very early with a storm still whipping rain against the window. Realised that within a few short minutes I'd be out in it, and prepared myself for the long day ahead. Managed to take advantage of a gap in the rain to get the short distance to the station - but got a drenching in the even shorter dash from ticket machine to platform. Not sorry to see a pair of warm, dry 450s arrive - even if it was only for the five minute trip to Eastleigh! Over the footbridge on arrival to where a small band of people clearly on the tour were assembling. The arrival of the Pathfinder contingent further assured us that we were in the right place, and to everyone's surprise the stock rolled into the platform early, warm and ready for boarding. Settled in, and obtained supplies of paper towels to mop condensation from the windows - a hazard of these winter tours.
This tour had not been immune to changes in recent weeks, and the loss of a Hanson Class 56 had clearly hit bookings a little. Nevertheless, a fair number boarded at Eastleigh for the painfully early 06:07 start - and we were greeted with an already open Kitchen car which meant that the hideously long queues of recent tours with few off-train breaks were avoided somewhat. After departure we festered for a brief while in Wallers Ash Loop, before proceeding north with the sky becoming lighter by the minute. Oddly as the sun rose, the clouds seemed to clear - and by departure from Reading West we were enjoying a little weak sunshine. By the time of our stop at Fenny Compton loop where 31190 was to take over the train, the autumnal scene was completed with blue skies and a little warmth in the air - a quite remarkable contrast with the start to the day!
The revised plan was to have 31190 sitting on the Kineton Branch awaiting our train, but as 66139 was detached and drew slowly into the siding, it became clear that our replacement loco was nowhere to be seen. Spent a pleasant few minutes chatting whilst window hanging waiting for something to happen, as a procession of Voyagers and Chiltern units passed by on this surprisingly busy stretch of line. Eventually, a speck of green and yellow in the distance signalled the late arrival of the 31, which rather surprisingly sped past our train before crossing over, reversing and running back alongside our train before again reversing into the loop and onto the front of our stock. Finally, and only a little late, we were away. A single Class 31 hauling nine coaches, headed for the West Coast Main Line - this was clearly going to be an interesting day! We made good progress via Kenilworth and Coventry to join the WCML at Nuneaton. As we headed north towards Colwich, we were amazed to be put out onto the fast lines - our little loco coping remarkably well with the task expected of it, and not really losing any more time at all. Next, a pick up at Stafford then onward to Basford Hall where we took the lines through the back of the yard to Sorting Sidings Middle. Finally, almost a year after the first attempt, Pathfinder made good the route via the Gresty Lane Curve - and after making slow progress around this tight bend, we were soon heading southwards again via Nantwich to Shrewsbury. After setting down some stray normal passengers who had somehow ended up on board, we were off once again and heading for our first destination - Donnington Rail Freight Terminal. This location is a bit of joined up thinking and funding between the Local Authority and a number of other agencies, which has provided an exceptionally high quality facility at the end of a restored branch from the mainline at Wellington. The train was allowed to run to the road overbridge over the area which formerly housed the MoD vehicle depot, where we waited on the middle of five generous sidings for the loco to run around. There was clearly a great deal more to the site, with extensive warehousing beyond the bridge seemingly rail connected.
Once the train crew and depot staff had taken their own photographs, we were soon on the way again, retracing our steps to Shrewsbury, but then taking the route via Wrexham General to Saltney Junction. This stretch of line is a little dull and featureless, and with the weather once again pleasant I found myself dozing until the train bounced onto the mainline opposite Chester Racecourse. We soon turned away from the usual route once again, taking the very rusty curve from Chester South to Chester North Junction and heading north for a short way before traversing practically the full length of Hooton Long Siding - certainly further than my last visit. With 66139 having travelled up from Fenny Compton to meet us, we were soon underway again and following the same route as the previous tour via Ellesmere Port and the poorly served section beyond to Helsby. A new bit of track for me followed though, as we curved away to the west again via the equally rare Halton Curve to the mainline near Runcorn. Surprised at the length of this connection, but our progress was checked once on the mainline due to problems with the points at Runcorn Junction. However, as there were few options for our reversal except for the planned Folly Lane branch, we sat out the wait and were shortly passing behind Runcorn station and down the steeply graded branch to the stop board at the Network Rail limit. Darkness had descended and the weather was closing in over the Mersey and the Weaver as we awaited our reversal under the strangely alluring lights of the chemical works across the river.
With 31190 again leading, the tour had a final mission - some very unusual routing around Crewe. After a swift dash via Weaver Junction back onto the WCML, there was a sense of quiet anticipation on the train. Would we do this track, or would the railtour gremlins creep in again? As we approach Crewe Coal Yard, a lurch to the right signalled a move to the far western side of the station. Sure enough, as the platform lights began to slip by it became clear we were passing through on the Up and Down Loop - the line running behind the wall which has stymied many a photograph of passing freight! As we emerged from the station, we again curved slightly to the west and passed gingerly onto the link to Crewe South Yard. This bit of track was covered, completely by accident in the other direction on a Spitfire trip earlier in the summer - reportedly it's first use in around 30 years. Perhaps that trip had indeed provided proof that this was a feasible route - albeit a slow one - into Basford Hall? Once again through the yard for a further high speed dash along the WCML as far as Stafford, where we parted company with 31190 after sterling service throughout the day.
After a longer than necessary run around, and with 66139 once again in charge we set off again to Rugeley Trent Valley, taking the line through Cannock Chase - very rare for loco-hauled trains. Recalled a couple of previous visits - on the first weekend of the restored service to Rugeley Town a good few years back, and then on a through service to Stafford prior to the WCML upgrade. Despite some slow progress at first, we began to pick up a little speed and after being signalled straight out onto the main at Stetchford, talk turned to how late home we'd be. Despite carrying around 68 minutes delay from Stafford, we noted lengthy stops at Birmingham International, Kenilworth and Hinksey which might just save us. In fact it all seemed likely to collapse at the first hurdle as we were signalled into the remote platform 5 at International with a local all shacks service to Coventry due to depart mere seconds after our arrival! However in one of the more intelligent bits of regulation I've seen on recent tours, the signalman let us go and we were soon putting distance between us and the stopper. Likewise at both Kenilworth and Hinksey we passed unhindered, and we found ourselves at Didcot Parkway early! Despite some slow running into Eastleigh, we made it bang on time - stumbling out onto the platform around 17 hours after we'd left. Bade goodbye to the day's companions and hopped onto the next Airport bound service. A good old fashioned dash around unusual lines, with some interesting traction. What's more, the tour did everything it set out to - no mean feat these days!
Posted in Railways on Saturday 7th November 2009 at 6:59pm
As a fairly bizarre October turned into November, I realised that a month which is usually time for things to wind down in the railway hobby is actually pretty busy. However, still not firing on all cylinders here and lacking energy I wasn't sorry that today presented a fairly easy and almost local option. Not by any means second best though, as regular readers will know that I hold the South Devon Railway in extremely high regard. The now annual 'Gronk Aid' gala is pretty much the last gasp of the SDR's operating season, and gives the impressive home fleet chance for one last public appearance before the long break over the winter.
The day started with a very early train. It seemed like a good idea to take a direct train to Totnes when I booked it back in September. However, the early DMU turn which made this sensible last time out wasn't working this time, but with a glimmer of my legendary appetite beginning to return I was actually looking forward to an early arrival at The Signal Box on Totnes station. Shuffled down to the station to find that the 06:01 had suffered problems getting off St. Phillips Marsh depot and was running an even half-hour late. Home for another coffee before returning in a rainstorm and trying to explain to prospective customer that the next Bristol Parkway train would be stopping at Temple Meads too. She left unconvinced because she didn't trust "people from Highbridge". Charming. Eventually onto the quiet train, a quick chat with the guard, then a quick snooze at least until it got light a little before Exeter. Enjoyed the last leg of the trip in a pleasant sort of half-doze. Off at Totnes, with a fair crowd of local faces already in evidence. Over the footbridge and into the quiet, warm and comforting interior of The Signal Box. A paper, a coffee and a large and much anticipated breakfast later and I was ready for the day ahead.
One of the highlights of this gala was the promise of 50002 being on display at Buckfastleigh. Having glimpsed the loco in a state of some disrepair here before, I was keen to see it again after some serious bodywork attention. It is, unfortunately, still going to be a long while before it turns a wheel again, but as the rain had managed to hold off I hoped it would still be out of the shed. So, as D7612 was detached, made a swift dash through the gate and into the yard to find 'Superb' living up to it's name in all-over BR blue. Managed a few snaps before dashing back to the train which now had 33002 on the front ready for the trip back to Totnes.
However, there was something of a delay and the guard soon let us know that D6737 had failed down the line, so no time was wasted in attaching D7612 once again to act as rescue loco, and we were soon off with an interesting double-headed combination on the train. At Bishops Bridge Loop, D7612 left the train and disappeared around the corner to Staverton where the 37 was waiting with it's train. We then witnessed one of the most impressive performances of the day, as the Class 25 used all of it's 1250hp to haul the dead D6737 and it's train from a standing start on a fairly challenging gradient. The noise the relative small loco made as it passed us in the loop will no doubt be one of my most memorable moments on a preserved railway. Equally impressively however, the powers that be just 'got on with it' - and despite running late the diagrams and timetable survived largely intact. A couple of further leaps allowed me to get the last locomotive on the list, 20118 and also one more trip on the day's hero D7612 before my time ran out and I had to make a very wet dash down the footpath, over the bridge and back to Totnes station for my train home - another good value cheap ticket, this time First Class in a Voyager as far as Taunton.
Looking back on today's entertainment, it's interesting to note that a fair few people involved in the industry turned out, including folks from Shackerstone, Spitfire, Pathfinder and elsewhere - all taking the opportunity to enjoy some fine machines, a few decent local ales and a great little railway. I was chatting to someone recently who had nothing but bad things to say about the SDR - but then, as this was someone involved in the rather heady political world of the West Somerset Railway, perhaps that's to be expected. The fact is, this is a small railway but the effort and organisation which goes into these events displays a huge amount of talent and determination.
See you next summer maybe?
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.