Posted in Railways on Saturday 19th November 2011 at 11:58pm

Yet again, this tour had already generated pages of internet debate before a wheel had turned - but for me, with a bit of a grind of a working week to deal with, I'd almost not given it a thought until yesterday when I began my wander up to Preston. But, after a comfortable night in the new Premier Inn, even the beginnings of a cold couldn't dampen the excitement. Class 50s on the mainline, into Scotland - something I'd not really expected to see with the recent history of the preserved examples of this class which is synonymous with my home area. Slogged down to the station at around 4:30am, with the sound of the engines already floating up to Fishergate as I headed over the bridge. The stock was, for the standard class folks, not the right way around - but being in the middle I wasn't too worried. Took a few quick snaps of the locos before heading for my seat. Ideally positioned beside the kitchen car for an early breakfast too, which set me up for the 700 or so miles ahead...

Just like previous winter tours which have done this route, the fog closed in somewhere around Huddersfield, just as some familiar faces joined the train. However somewhere north of York, the mists cleared and the sun came out. So, strangely, after some fast running we arrived at Edinburgh Waverley in bright winter sun to a gallery of photographers. Having focused on the 50s, I hadn't considered 57001 on the rear - now in West Coast Railways purple and fresh from an overhaul, this was a winning loco for me. As we set off in the direction we'd arrived from, a cloud of white exhaust filled the station. It seems 57001 is a surprisingly interesting example of it's class!

50049 and 50044 at Preston
50049 and 50044 at Preston

The timings for the minitour part of the day had been troublesome for a while, and here they began to become wearisome. Around forty minutes allowed for a traversal of the Suburban Lines left us waiting for ages to head for the Forth Bridge and into Fife. It was hot and sleepy on the train, and after chatting for a bit around the circle, I soon dozed off. My second visit to Fife of the year was a little less eventful than the first then. Returning to the capital for a break, we once again slogged slowly around the sub waiting for a platform in the station.

I didn't stray far, since I was feeling worse by now and the thought of a trudge into town wasn't too appealing. So shopped a bit, had a coffee and chatted to fellow passengers before assembling with the growing crowd for our train. In true Waverley style, the stock was late in, with an errant Newcraighall unit blocking the platform until after it's due time. However, once we'd struggled past the obstructive construction works on the station and onto the train, we were soon heading south into the darkness. It was a long old run back, but the locos peformed flawlessly throughout.

Winter tours can sometimes be a bit gloomy, but this was a sociable affair with some cracking locos and some fine running. It was also very probably my last trip with Spitfire of the year - it's been an interesting and unpredictable one, but again there have been some cracking trips. Here's to next year...

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Posted in Railways on Saturday 12th November 2011 at 10:59pm

Over the last few weeks there has been quite a buzz about TOC-operated tours doing all kinds of interesting track - and with First Great Western soon to operate a 'Class 142 Farewell', this feels a bit like 'any old excuse' really. A more appealing prospect in traction terms though, is the London Midland operated Class 150 farewell. These stalwart units are mostly making their way down here, and as the all-new fleet of Class 172s is delivered, people are getting just a little nostalgic in the Midlands. I'd looked at the possibility of travelling on the trip, along with a number of other BLS folks, but a tricky start time meant at least one night away, so instead I decided to reverse things today and say 'hello' to the new units instead. So, armed with a West Midlands Day Ranger, I set off on a wander around the area covering track that I hadn't seen in ages - including a few surprises too!

Quickly booked the Day Ranger on arriving at New Street, and headed straight to Moor Street. I was taking a pretty relaxed attitude to today, given that there were plenty of options and a fair bit of time - but in the event a shiny new Class 172 arrived just as we entered the barriers, so we hopped on and headed for Stourbridge Junction. The units are much like their electric cousins, but have a real sense of space inside which makes them feel comfortable. At Stourbridge, a quick cross-platform move to swiftly head down the Town branch on 139002, sadly the same Parry People Mover from my last visit here a couple of years back. Stourbridge was under construction, with a new bus station being built on the site of the old one - navigated the diversions into town briefly, before heading back to the Junction. From here it was a short hop to Smethwick Galton Bridge, where we planned to head for Wolverhampton, with one eye on a very late running Arriva service from Wales, just in case it used the rare Platform 6. In the end, the next train in was Liverpool bound, so we hopped on - and with the Arriva unit apparently still running through to Birmingham we stayed on to Crewe, the northern extent of the ticket validity.

A somewhat battle scarred 168215 waits at Leamington Spa
A somewhat battle scarred 168215 waits at Leamington Spa

Time for an early lunch at Crewe before the 11:33 to Euston, which we covered as far as Northampton - as far as the ticket permits heading south. This was a decent length journey, if rather warm and busy journey and gave me a chance to snooze a bit having had two pretty awful nights of sleep. Over the bridge at Northampton and onto a Birmingham-bound unit. Lots of possible combinations of journey were proposed here in order to get to Stratford-on-Avon via Leamington, but none worked well - so instead we once again walked over to Moor Street to find a bit of a chaotic scene with late-running Chiltern services terminating here rather than going on to Snow Hill. This meant the next departure would be from one of the terminal platforms, which I needed - so duly waited and hopped on as far as Leamington Spa. Again, the options weren't good from here so we decided to explore the station a bit, wait a little while and then catch the terminating short working from Moor Street from one of the bay platforms. This ended it's journey in the other terminal platform at Moor Street, thus completing the set for me.

So finally, we headed back to New Street for the voyager home. I didn't spot the Class 150 tour anywhere on our journey today - but I understand it all went pretty well. However, it was really good to have a flexible, easy day out with a few interesting bits of railway thrown in. The ticket is surprisingly good value too!

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Posted in Railways on Saturday 5th November 2011 at 10:20pm

Who'd be a railtour promoter? As the difficult situation with timings continues, there is a huge amount of upheaval in the supply chain just now - with at least one Train Operating Company in the throes of sale, another seemingly keen to commit commercial suicide and a group of promoters which is shrinking. Some of this is an inevitable consequence of the ongoing economic mess in the real world, and some of it is about chickens coming home to roost for those who've been 'playing trains' for a while. In every case though, the great risk is that the customer loses out. That's why it's always a pleasure to do one of these essentially simple trips and see lots of people just enjoying their day out - no moans and groans, petty squabbles or public forum hissy-fits - just a couple of decent locos on a good long run.

It's also a tour from home territory - and thus one I'd always try to support. This year sporting a pick-up at Bridgwater too, the now annual "Jorvic Explorer" trip was rescheduled due to West Coast Railway Company once again overcommitting it's fragile pool of assets. For me that's a bonus as I was detained by the BLS AGM on the original date. Sadly, WCRC also seem to have worked to prevent the minitour to Monk Bretton from taking place, and amidst some very unfair stick aimed at Spitfire, the real story is far odder it seems. In any case, a quick hop to Weston on the first train saw the cafe open early as he'd heard there was a special in. He did a brisk trade in coffee and papers prior to the train arriving bang on time. On to the train, and a good breakfast before heading up the front for a chat and a cup of tea.

37676 and 37685 on arrival at York
37676 and 37685 on arrival at York

In terms of route, the trip followed the pattern set a couple of years back by this run - out via Worcester, avoiding Birmingham, the 'Old Road' to Swinton, then via Ferrybridge to York. Arriving early, there was time to wander the station a little - noting that the model railway building is being refitted as what looks like a rather fine pub - and then out into the rather grey, drizzly city for lunch and coffee. It was busy with tourists, despite being a fairly grim November weekend. Back to the station to catch up with some fellow passengers and watch the world go by before our timely departure south.

The run back will remain in my memory for a long time, as it was the first ever time Bristol Panel have let a charter train both in and out of Temple Meads before due time! Having lost a couple of minutes rejoining the mainline at Chesterfield, we had caught up very well. At Abbotswood Junction, noted we were rather early - and that we got earlier as we sped south to Bristol. It seems that a problem near Birmingham had sent everything via Worcester this evening, and consequently we were ahead of the pack. We finally rolled into Weston around 27 minutes before time - with no doubt I'd make the last train home this time!

Shorn of it's minitour, this wasn't quite the day I'd intended - but it was sociable, the locos performed well, and it was full of content punters - which any promoter is going to be pleased with these days. I hope these 'performance' issues from WCRC are solved soon - but until then, lets hope the promoters who remain serious about running railtours get the support they need from customers.

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Posted in Railways on Saturday 22nd October 2011 at 11:57pm

Watford is a very odd place...arriving yesterday to the most chaotic hotel check-in I've ever experienced, I realised that this 'central' hotel is in a centre which has moved. The almost rural setting, in a site hemmed in by two arms of railway, a distributor road and the course of the diverted River Colne is mere metres from the High Street, but could be a world away. Having spent a somewhat uneasy night anticipating a complicated early journey, I shuffled down to the station - the first customer through the ticket gates in fact. This accommodation was a late choice, and was based on a Euston start and finish. In the event I had to get to Paddington - and for an earlier start that planned by an hour or so. Given my pathological escalator fear and the inevitable Circle Line engineering this mean getting the first Overground train into Euston, a bit of a slog made easier by good music and people watching, then heading over to catch a 205. In the event, we arrived on time and I dashed across the concourse and out onto Euston Road making a +3 connection which got me to Paddington nice and early, and in time for a relaxing breakfast and lots of coffee to prepare for the long day ahead. Chatted with some friends, and then noted when boarding that I was seated with some others I'd not seen for a while. It was going to be a pleasant day.

The route ran much as planned out of Paddington, with the sun rising to reveal a bright wintry morning as we sped west. Having spotted some signalling problems at Basingstoke online earlier, I wondered what the effect would be - and in an extended stop at Reading it was mooted that progressing via Westbury might be the answer, but in the event we went via the booked route, using an unusual crossover to pass a freight just outside Basingstoke station. Here things sped up a little and we headed towards Eastleigh where food supplies were taken on board, before continuing via various loops and goods lines to Southamtpon and beyond. Having passed through a sunny and rather busy Poole, we began to curve away from the line through the disused platform at Hamworthy Station, taking the sharply curved track towards the Quay. Despite a number of crossings we pressed on as far as the line was physically available, with our coach drawing level with the former station platform. A quick reversal took us back onto the mainline, with some frustratingly slow running behind stopping trains which compounded the slight delay we were carrying. However, we made up a little time as we sped back to Winchester to reverse in the Baltic Siding which is used exclusively for ECS moves and may never have seen a passenger train before it seems. On arrival at Eastleigh we headed over the connection into the works, travelling right to the end of the line inside the complex, alongside rakes of stored Class 313s. I think everyone onboard was impressed with this result - and it was odd to be in here on a train, after wandering around the site at the open day a couple of years back.

37706 at Aldershot waiting to head for Waterloo
37706 at Aldershot waiting to head for Waterloo

We reversed again into Eastleigh station, before heading out in the Portsmouth direction. A little after the long and rather forlorn brick building of the works, we curved sharply right onto the Depot Reception line which makes a huge loop around the back of the works, through a carriage washer and into a fan of sidings which once held EWS's stored locomotive assets before they were sold, scrapped or shipped off to Toton. Today there was just one largely derelict Class 58, lots of Riviera stock and a couple of their Class 47s around. We pushed on through the sidings, finally exiting in the narrow angle of lines between the mainline to Southampton and the Works entrance. Back into the station with much rejoicing at some excellent track completed - and the first time in many years a train had passed through the works and the depot here. Next we headed for Portsmouth Harbour - disappointingly being denied access to Fratton depot's through lines by a Local Manager despite permissions being in place. A minor loss really, but it did enable us to arrive a little earlier than expected, and thus depart from the Harbour on time, clawing back our delay. For those heading directly back to London this was a bonus, though for any of us staying on for the second part of the trip, this meant that we'd have to sit in Staines Loop for a much longer wait. Swings and roundabouts I suppose. The run into London via Aldershot was slow and dark, and I amused myself by watching the world through people's windows as we scudded through the suburbs - always an interesting trip.

Said some hurried goodbyes to companions at Waterloo, before we headed off again taking a slightly different route to Staines, where we sat in the Up Loop for a while. Whiled away the time chatting to one of the organisers about railtour politics, future trips and matters of interest, before we began our slow traversal of West London in order to gain the slow lines on the WCML which was operating as a two-track railway by now due to engineering possessions overnight. As we passed my hotel in Watford, glowing warmly purple in the now chilly night, I felt the lurch over to the right which meant we were taking the very rare connection to the St.Albans Abbey platform at Watford Junction. Indeed, the unit which is usually locked onto the branch sat in the yard as we crept past and headed onto this elusive bit of track. A brief step onto the dark, cold platform at the end of the line to savour the triumph of finally getting here, before boarding again for the short hop back to Watford Junction where a slightly early arrival meant I comfortably made the last train back to the High Street and didn't have to make the trek on a painfully wonky ankle which I'd developed.

In comparison to the similar Buffer Puffer trip a couple of weeks back, this trip delivered almost all of what it planned to. Some elements fell out early on - not least the now near impossible East Putney curve - but there was lots of interesting track, a friendly atmosphere on board and a real sense of the organisers wanting things to work out - and doing their homework to ensure it did. Strangely, in a time when everyone predicted the rare track tour would die off in favour of top notch lunch trains and excursions, there is a fair bit of competition to get to new places, onto private lines and further along odd branches. Long may this continue, providing people really do try to deliver what they advertise. Spitfire definitely did today.

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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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