Category Archives: Rail

East Midlands Finale

Following on from ‘Lost In Leicester’, this post records the events of one Wednesday; our last full day on and around the East Midlands rail network during our August 2017 holiday based in Leicester.

Class 43 number 43060 on the rear of a northbound service at East Midlands Parkway station
Power & Pollution: 43060 emits a plume of diesel fumes as it powers away from East Midlands Parkway. We need electrification.
In the morning we took the 09:25 from Leicester to East Midlands Parkway. This was an Intercity 125 set powered by 43081 and 43060. I photographed the latter, which was on the rear of the train, as it left East Midlands Parkway with the cooling towers of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station as a backdrop. I had previously planned to change trains here in the afternoon to take photos of passing trains with the power station in the background, but it would have involved spending an hour on the station. My grandmother was concerned that it might not be a nice place to spend an hour (she hadn’t noticed a waiting room when we had passed through previously) so I amended the plan to have 15 minutes for photography in the morning instead.

Diesel multiple unit 158810 at East Midlands Parkway
Cooling Towers: 158810 arrives at East Midlands Parkway
During that time, I was able to photograph a class 222 ‘Meridian’ and a southbound class 158 before our next train, 158810, arrived. This service was due to depart East Midlands Parkway at 09:56 and we stayed with it all the way to its destination (Lincoln). The route crosses the East Coast Main Line on the Newark flat-crossing; a rather rare arrangement of track particularly when one of the routes is such an important main line.

Photograph of Lincoln station with two single class 153s waiting in the platforms
Luckless Lincoln: 153376 and 153383, awaiting their next duties in Lincoln station.
I had pondered several other possibilities for the day’s journeys, including other routes to/from Lincoln, but I was concerned about the quality of rolling stock I might find. These concerns were justified on arrival in Lincoln; apart from our train everything present was a single class 153, which the exception of the Pacer on the Northern service to/from Sheffield.

The bottom of 'Steep Hill' in Lincoln.
It Gets Steeper: the bottom of ‘Steep Hill’ in Lincoln.
I had allowed just over two hours in Lincoln and this was just as well because our walk up to the cathedral (a lot more impressive than Leicester’s) and back took over an hour. Our route took as past the Corn Exchange and up a street named, I kid you not, ‘Steep Hill’. It certainly lived up to its name, rather surprisingly given the miles of largely flat country our train had travelled through to take us here.

The towers of Lincoln cathedral
Three Tall Towers: Lincoln’s very impressive cathedral, seen from just outside the castle.
At the top of the hill, as well as the cathedral, was Lincoln castle; only a small part of which was visible from where we were walking. Back at Lincoln station, we boarded the 13:37 Lincoln to Leicester service, formed of 156415. This we left at Nottingham, having spotted what appeared to be the remains of a previous Nottingham station just prior to our arrival at the current one.

A composite image of Nottingham railway station
Red And (slightly) Dead: a composite image of the slightly odd, but impressive, Nottingham station.
In the time we had available, we took a look around part of the current station and spotted a canal with old warehouse buildings alongside. The station is rather grand in my opinion but I wasn’t entirely sure whether I liked the monochrome colouration of the buildings (slightly different shades of red; presumably purpose-made brick). My grandmother seemed to dislike the whole design, but we both agreed that the new bridge which carries the NET (Nottingham Express Transit) trams over the mainline station is not attractive.

Class 153 number 153319 and a fellow-unit at Derby station
Not So Super Sprinters: the pair of 153s at Derby. Despite their failings, the class 153s are officially known as ‘Super Sprinters’, just like their large-windowed class 156 cousins.
Our next train, the 15:20 departure, was the only time our luck failed us in terms of East Midlands Trains rolling stock. This service, bound for Matlock, was formed of a pair of class 153 units. Ours was 153319 and the other was 153302. The problem with class 153s is that their windows are too small to allow the bays of four seats around a table to properly align with them. Passengers on at least one side of the table therefore have their view interrupted by a window pillar. I suspect the only way of making these trains work for passengers would be to go for an airline-style seating layout throughout with only one row of seats per window (two wouldn’t provide sufficient legroom). Fortunately, we had already done this route so an impaired view wasn’t much of an issue and we were getting off fairly soon anyway (at Derby).

Melton Mowbray railway station
Nowhere To Hide: a shot of Melton Mowbray station from earlier in the week; the waiting rooms here are probably closed for the night by the time the evening train from London arrives.
The next leg was considered the ‘do or die’ section of our tour of the east midlands rail network. Our service was the 16:36 Derby to London St. Pancras, the only service of the day from Derby to Corby via Melton Mowbray and Oakham. In order to travel the section of line between Oakham and Corby in both directions, we would have had to wait just over an hour in Kettering for the day’s only through service from London to Melton Mowbray, which terminates at the latter and would have left us with a wait of over 40 minutes there for a train back to Leicester. We wouldn’t have got ‘back to base’ until 20:46, which was a worry. Thus, I would have to try and observe both sides of the line in a one-way trip.

Class 222 DMU number 222103 at Derby station
Tense Wait: 222103 stands at Derby station while we wait to be allowed on board
Another worry was that this service was the only London service we had seen formed of a 4-car Meridian, 222103 on this occasion, rather than a longer train. Could we get a decent seat? After an agonisingly long wait standing by the door, the guard finally unlocked them and we boarded and managed to find good seats. So far, so good. The highlight of the trip was to be the Harringworth Viaduct, apparently also known as the Welland Viaduct and as the Seaton Viaduct. A larger number of tunnels than anticipated contributed to me not being entirely sure we had reached it, and I failed to spot the trackbed of the closed line that passes under the line near one end of it. After a fairly long station dwell at Corby, the train continued to Kettering (with little sign of the promised electrification works) where it would have another long wait; and where we were getting off. Although I would have liked to go back over the line, the fact the waiting room at Melton Mowbray would almost certainly be closed for the night (making the long wait there very undesirable) didn’t help the case for that option. I also wanted to get back to Leicester at a reasonable time so opted to board 222012 which was waiting at Kettering with a Sheffield service that took as directly back to Leicester.

Lost In Leicester

A street in Matlock, viewed from a train window while passing over a bridge above the street.
Leaving Matlock: the view from our train as we ran through Matlock
Last week’s post, The Mainlines Of Yesteryear, was intended to report on the 15th of August, the Tuesday of our holiday based in Leicester. However, that post became rather lengthy so I decided to break it into two parts. At the ‘interval’, my grandmother and I were on board a class 156 DMU, 156415, which had been due to leave Matlock at 15:37.

We left this train, which would then continue to Newark Castle, at Derby. Considering that Derby is home to the last remaining British Rail works that still builds new trains, its station (as we had seen briefly earlier in the week) is a rather bland affair that does little to suggest that heritage. With about 50 minutes in Derby this time, I intended to seek out what remained of a traditional station.

Photo showing Derby's clock-topped 'roundhouse'.
The Roundhouse: one of Derby’s railway relics
A fine 19th century railway building which is visible from the platforms is ‘The Roundhouse’, which I had already featured in the background of photographs taken on the first day of the holiday. Now a venue for various events, this structure has found a new use after become surplus to the rail industry’s requirements.

Photo of the taxi-rank area outside Derby station with Network Rail buildings in the background
Network Rail Buildings: possible steam-age survivors at Derby
Most of the steam-era station buildings not been so lucky. The platform furthest from the roundhouse however retains a number of two-storey and three-storey brick buildings which appear to predate the operational parts of the station. At least one of these is adorned with Network Rail logos, so is presumably in use, but none of them are particularly ornate.

Photo showing former station entrance clock (in the background) at Derby
The Old Clock: ornate former station entrance half-hidden behind the wall at one end of the platform.
The sole visible relic at the opposite end of that platform is a different story. Largely hidden from view, a dragon-topped clock stands behind a wall. Wikipedia tells me that this clock was once part of the Victorian station entrance but was moved to its current location in the station car park when the rest of the building was demolished.

Today’s entrance is rather less grand, but besides investigating the architecture our stop in Derby served another purpose. Following the tribulations on our northbound journey from Wales, I had decided that travel on CrossCountry’s intercity routes without a reservation was too risky. We therefore visiting the ticket office in Derby station and booked our seats for the XC leg of the journey back to Wales.

East Midlands Trains Intercity 125 set in the sidings next to Derby station
Coaches Close To Home? IC125 in Derby; the mark 3 coaches were apparently built at Derby works.
While we were on the station, a full East Midlands Trains IC125 set spent a short while in one of the sidings adjacent to the station, presumably heading to, from or around the city’s Etches Park train maintenance depot. After that had gone and I had collected a shot or two for my planned video regarding the recent cancellation of electrification projects, we returned to Leicester for the night on the 17:01. My photographic record suggests that the Meridian working this service was number 222005.

As I’ve been discussing Derby station you were probably wondering why the title of this post is ‘Lost In Leicester’. That name came about because, in the evening after returning from Derby, we took an unintentionally extended tour of Leicester. We knew there was a cathedral to be seen, where my grandmother was hoping to ‘see’ Richard the third, and George Bradshaw’s 1863 ‘handbook’ told of a former castle.

A 3-photo panorama of the frontage of Leicester station in the evening sun
Sunshine Station: a 3-photo panorama of Leicester station in glorious evening sunshine

In order to see these I had planned a circular route of just over 1.8 miles on Google Earth. We were heading in the planned direction when we set off from the railway station alongside the A594 ‘Waterloo Way’ dual carriageway but soon came adrift. I knew we needed to turn right at some point, but down on the ground I wasn’t sure when.

Brick building with stone columns and arches in Leicester
Court View: one of the buildings we passed on ‘New Walk’
In fact we overshot the right turn I had planned, but only slightly, and were treated to the pedestrianised ‘New Walk’; a pleasant tree-lined street, as a result. So far so good. Our big error came when we came almost to the end of ‘New Walk’ and needed to veer slightly to the left in order to head east towards the river Soar. Instead I think we must have turned sharply into King Street and began heading almost due south, because we passed a neat brick-built crescent and then came to Leicester prison.

A curved brick building and its neighbours in or near Welford Place, Leicester
Wrong Turn? This is Welford Place, Leicester, at the junction of Newarke Street and Welford Road. New Walk ends just round the corner out of shot to the right.
As far as I can tell, we then headed north up Welford Road almost to where we had left ‘New Walk’ and then turned left into Newarke Street as we should have done earlier. I cannot remember the full details of the muddle we got ourselves into, but seem to recall deciding that the signposts for pedestrians were useless and that only the maps on the signs could be trusted. I think we even passed one signpost for the cathedral and then, further along the same street, saw another pointing in the opposite direction.

Castle gate in Leicester
Welcome Discovery: we were somewhat relieved when we finally found ‘Castle View’ and its old castle gate
Eventually, we came to the street called ‘Castle View’, mentioned in my Bradshaw’s. Spanning this lane was a gateway, presumably one of two Bradshaw described (one as being in ruins) as being remains of the castle. Beyond that gateway a brick building, the Leicester Castle Business School, stands in a courtyard. If the information boards are to be believed, this contains another part of the old castle, possibly the great hall mentioned in the historic railway guidebook.

The Leicester Castle Business School building
Castle Hall: the business school building inside the castle walls.
Also surviving the centuries is a tall mound that, Bradshaw writes, is all that remains of a castle destroyed in 1645. Given that this is the same site as the gatehouse and great hall mentioned above, I am a little confused by the guide; are the mound and gatehouse somehow part of separate castles? Or was Bradshaw simply too keen to describe features as the sole surviving section of the castle?

Leaves of different colours in Leicester's castle gardens, seen from the castle mound
August Colours: Leicester’s castle gardens seen from the mound
After a rest on top of the mound, which according to the information boards has been reduced in height, we descended into the public gardens behind the business school building. The ‘Castle Gardens’ as they are called run along the bank of the River Soar, we headed north to St Augustine Road and, as planned, turned right to head for the cathedral.

Merged photo from two images of Leicester cathedral
Not particularly impressive: Leicester cathedral
The resting place of King Richard III, as cathedrals go, is rather restrained. I have probably seen lesser churches which are more impressive. There were however a few interesting architectural features on and around some of the surrounding buildings. Unfortunately, by this point it was too late for my grandmother to go inside the cathedral.

Photo of the Turkey Cafe, Leicester
Turkey Cafe: another of the interesting buildings we passed on our walk around Leicester
From there we continued as planned, or not far off course, towards our temporary place of residence. On the way, we passed another few interesting buildings and stopped off at the restaurant we used for most of our evening meals during the week. Getting lost had extended our walk from the planned route of around 1.8 miles to possibly 2.5 miles but we had seen what I set out to see so the evening wasn’t a total disaster.

The Mainlines Of Yesteryear

East Midlands Trains' 222010 and another class 222 at Loughborough station
Loughborough Meridians: 222010 and a classmate at Loughborough (Midland Main Line) station
This post was nearly titled ‘Back To The Past’, since it follows on from ‘Back To The Future’, the previous instalment in my ‘Roving The Midlands’ travel report series and features a visit to a heritage railway.

Our travels on Tuesday 15th August began with a short hop along the Midland Main Line from Leicester to Loughborough, the home of Brush Traction, on board ‘Meridian’ 222010 which formed the 09:30 to Sheffield. There we temporarily bade the modern railway farewell and took a taxi to the other Loughborough station, home of the persevered Great Central Railway’s locomotive fleet.

The entrance to the Great Central heritage railway's station in Loughborough
Great Central Station: entrance to the heritage railway in Loughborough.

The engine shed at Loughborough we left for later in order to board the 10:15 steam service for the journey along the length of what is claimed to be Britain’s only mainline heritage railway. The route was indeed once part of the Great Central Railway’s main line, which according to Wikipedia opened in 1899. Around 70 years later much of it was considered to be unnecessarily duplicating other main lines and therefore closed.

Steam train at Leicester North station
End Of The Line For Steam: our train at Leicester North, with the rusty totem signage just visible on the left.
The particular section that has been reopened as a ‘mainline heritage railway’ certainly is a ‘duplicate route’ as the train was taking us back towards Leicester. The southern terminus of the heritage operation, Leicester North station, is however a long way from the city centre and national rail station, hence my decision to join the heritage railway at its northern end. The totem signs here were rusty; perhaps artificially so since this station is presented in 1960s style (which of course was when the line closed). The transitional era depicted also permits the station staff there to wear uniforms featuring the British Rail double-arrow logo.

Signal cabin at Rothley station on the Great Central Railway
Shades Of Green: Rothley Signal Box
After the engine had run round, we headed back north to Rothley station where we were due to arrive at 11:17. I can only assume that the shade of green coating the signal box and various features on the platform was used by the original Great Central Railway company, although the warning signs on the foot crossing were London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) ones. Somewhat inexplicably, these platform features included several Great Western Railway benches; I don’t think this was ever G.W.R. territory but I’m not an expert on railway company boundaries.

GWR benches on the platform at Rothley on the Great Central Railway
Which Great Railway? GWR benches on the platform at Rothley.
Our next train, due at 11:35, was the other rake of the two in service on the day and would take us back to Leicester North. While waiting for this at Rothley my grandmother visited the café and I took a look at the garden railway. As a result of this we only just made it back onto the platform in time to catch the train (the staff may even have held it briefly as they saw us heading for it). To my slight disappointment the 2-6-0 locomotive hauling the train was the same type as the one hauling the other set of coaches, an LMS/BR class 2.

Looking south from Rothley station to where the double track line from Loughborough reduces to single track
Single Southwards: two tracks merging into a single-track at the southern end of Rothley station.
The section between Rothley and Leicester North is, like other heritage railways, single-track and traversed (at least on the day of our visit) at low speed. The first impressions of a passenger starting their visit to the railway from Leicester North might therefore be one of a ‘sleepy branch line’, despite the fact that this was once the Great Central Main Line.

A view of Leicester North Station from behind the buffer stops.
Single Platform: Leicester North Station with the bricked-up entrance to the now-demolished original island platform just visible above the train.
Leicester North is the railway’s only station with just a single platform at the side of the formation, and was built from scratch for the heritage operation. Intriguingly, the other three stations (Rothley, Quorn & Woodhouse and Loughborough) all have an island platform between a pair of tracks (so two platform faces). A former station on the site of today’s Leicester North had the same island platform arrangement but was demolished due to it being in poor condition.

Quorn and Woodhouse station on the double-track Great Central main line.
On The Double: Quorn and Woodhouse station on the double-track Great Central main line.
Staying with the second rake we departed Leicester North on the 12:05 service, this time bound for Loughborough. North of Rothley, the ‘mainline’ claims of today’s Great Central are far-more justifiable as the route is double-track. Unlike on other heritage lines, our train was thus able to pass the other without stopping to exchange single-line tokens, although this happened to occur only moments before we called at Quorn & Woodhouse anyway. We did however still appear to be limited to the same low speeds of the country’s various preserved branch lines.

L.N.E.R. buffet car in the platform at Loughborough on the Great Central Railway
Strange Route: the places listed on the side of the teak carriage do not appear to belong to a single train service.
As with other heritage railways, most of the coaching stock appeared to be of the British Railways mark 1 design. Back at Loughborough however I was able to photograph two older vehicles, one (out of service) in LMS livery and an LNER varnished teak buffet car in our train. The latter had traditional destination boards on the side with a curious list of place names: Marylebone, Leicester, Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield. All were presumably served by the original Great Central but surely a train service would not have followed such an indirect route.

Platform furniture, buildings and canopy at Loughborough on the Great Central Railway
Blues And Greens: the slightly uncomplimentary colour schemes on the Great Central station at Loughborough.
The colour scheme at Loughborough’s heritage station was a curious mix of British Railways (eastern region) blue and black and green seen at Rothley. Surprisingly, the railway permits extensive public access to their locomotive shed at Loughborough. This provided us with the opportunity to see much of the railway’s varied locomotive fleet, rather than being limited to the ones in service. The size of these impressive machines can really be appreciated when viewed up-close at ground level rather than from a station platform.

A close look at the chains and cables coming from under Loughborough signal box on the Great Central Railway
Ye Olde Signalling Cables: chains and wires coming out of Loughborough signal box.
Also on show was an array of chains and cables emanating from Loughborough signal box. The building itself is a fine example and, like many others across the UK railway network, puts the ‘re-locatable equipment buildings’ used for modern signalling equipment to shame aesthetically. ‘Re-locatable equipment building’, by the way, I believe is just a posh way of saying ‘portacabin’. As per usual, clicking the photograph will take you to my Flickr page where you will find a shot of the signal box along with other photographs from the holiday. At the time of posting, the album is not complete, there are still more photographs to upload from this trip.

Class 47 diesel locomotive 'Sparrowhawk' on the Great Central Railway.
Shiny Sparrowhawk: class 47 diesel locomotive outside the shed on the Great Central Railway.
Once again, we then had to hurry to catch a train, this time the 13:58 East Midlands Trains service from the other Loughborough station. This meant I did not have much time for looking around the small museum at the other end of the heritage railway’s platform and, to my annoyance, we forgot to ask the question that had in part brought us here. That question was whether the ‘only mainline heritage railway in Britain’ ever ran trains above the normal low speeds with members of the public on-board. I have read that the line is permitted to run faster, up to 75mph for testing. They also run demonstration travelling post office trains at above the normal heritage railway speed limit of 25mph during gala events. What I do not know is whether those gala events also include the operation of passenger trains at speeds greater than 25mph.

Unfortunately, we felt we did not have time to double back and ask the question, so carried on our walk to East Midlands Trains’ Loughborough station. I think we arrived with about 10 minutes to spare, so I was able to obtain some photographs of the station with the Brush Traction works in the background. With one heritage mainline, the Great Central, behind us we switched to another when we boarded Diesel Multiple Unit 222015 which was bound for Nottingham. The class 222 units are only middle-aged, yet represent how very outdated the Midland Main Line is. In 1981 British Rail recommended a programme of electrification which prioritised electrification of the Midland Main Line, plus the Birmingham to Derby and Leicester routes, ahead of the East Coast Main Line north of Newcastle. 36 years later, diesel trains built at the time are becoming life-expired and electrification north of Kettering on the Midland Main Line (MML) is once-again without a funding commitment from the government.

Loughborough Midland railway station, seen from the car park, with the Brush Traction works behind
Loughborough Midland: the East Midlands Trains station in Loughborough, with the Brush Traction works behind.

Meanwhile the Great Central Railway is constructing a new bridge over the Midland Main Line in Loughborough, which will reconnect the line with another stretch of the Great Central Main Line which has also reopened as a heritage railway. According to a notice on the Leicester North to Loughborough line, the original Great Central Railway bridge over the MML was demolished to make room for electrification of the MML. Electrification that still has not happened; a modern railway this is not.

East Midlands Trains' 156415 at Beeston station
Break At Beeston Over: our train to Matlock arrives
We left the Meridian at Beeston to await the 14:25 service to Matlock, which was formed of ‘Super Sprinter’ 156415. The run past Attenborough and back to the double triangular junctions south of Long Eaton offered tantalising views of pleasant-looking lakeside walks, primarily in Attenborough Nature Reserve, before the train rounded the north side of the southern triangle and joined the MML’s western branch towards Derby. Staying on-board, we were taken up into the very different terrain of the Peak District.

Footbridge to disused platform with surviving building at Cromford station
Cromford Cottage: attractive building, with footbridge, at Cromford station
Now merely a branch line, the Matlock route was once part of the now-severed main line from Derby to Manchester. One of the railway guidebooks I was carrying told us to look out for the curious mix of architecture found at some of the stations on the branch, and I managed a photograph of one station buildings through the train window.

Matlock railway station with an East Midlands Trains class 156 in the platform
End Of The Line: the Super Sprinter that look us to Matlock rests before its return journey.
It is possible to travel a little further than Matlock by changing for ‘Peak Rail’, another heritage line, which operates almost as far as the Peak District National Park. Neither that nor the East Midlands Trains service actually cross that boundary however. My plans did not include a ride on Peak Rail, so after I few photos of Matlock station had been taken I re-boarded the Super Sprinter to head back down the Matlock branch.

This post terminates here, but the day was not quite over. In a fortnight’s time, I hope to bring you a report on the following day’s travel. The story of Tuesday’s events, following our departure from Matlock, will be continued next week if possible.

Back To The Future

My record of my August 2017 Midlands rail adventure continues (you can catch up on the previous instalment, “Moor, Please”, here).

Worksop railway station buildings and footbridge, with a class 156 train
‘Our’ East Midlands Trains ‘Robin Hood Line’ service after arrival at Worksop station
With the weekend over, the focus returned to the modern railway. The morning of Monday 14th August saw us take the 09:48 from Leicester to Nottingham on ‘Meridian’ unit number 222015. There we changed on the ‘Robin Hood Line’ to Worksop, a route that closed to passengers in the 1960s. This fact we found rather surprising since one of the places served, Mansfield, is a rather large town. According to Wikipedia it was then probably the largest town in Britain without a station, but now has two. Both Mansfield (town) station and Mansfield Woodhouse also seem to have retained their original station buildings, at least in part, although the structure at the latter is rather odd. It looks more like an engine shed than a station building, apparently having no indoor ticket office or waiting room area. I wonder if it really is a survivor of the original railway or an unusually well-designed modern replacement dating from the line’s phased reopening in the 1990s. The service we used was the 10:26 from Nottingham, with 156411 in charge.

Despite the line’s marketing name recalling the legends of Sherwood Forest, the trees we saw (which were rather more plentiful than expected from a look at the route on Google Earth) did not appear to belong to any form of ancient woodland. I don’t suppose much true ancient woodland still exists in the area.

East Midlands Trains diesel multiple unit number 156411 at Worksop railway station
Robin Hood Terminus: ‘our’ class 156 stands at Worksop waiting to return to Nottingham.
The ‘Robin Hood Line’ was a bit of a detour on-route to the main objective of the day, to take a photograph of a class 399 unit and investigate the route they will be used on. The class 399s are tram-train units for the ‘Sheffield Supertram’ system and were due to be added to the Supertram fleet later in 2017. Thus, after arrival at Worksop we turned west, boarding the next Sheffield-bound service. This route is operated by Northern, rather than East Midlands Trains, and I wondered what rolling stock they would use on it. The answer, it turned out, was Pacers. Ours was 142028, due off Worksop at 12:15 and bound for Adwick (reversing at Sheffield). The unit was still fitted with bench seats similar to those in old buses but in 2+3 configuration (wider benches on one side of the aisle).

Not far out of Worksop, and if I recall correctly also visible from the Robin Hood Line, was a large quantity of wagons. These I believe were large coal hoppers and I surmised that they were redundant following the decline in coal traffic. My grandmother suggested that somebody should try to find a way of reusing them. I think some redundant coal hoppers have been modified with the addition of covers to allow the transport of biomass for burning in power stations, but since we were travelling on a Pacer and these large coal hoppers have bogies my idea was to use the under-frames to create ‘Bogie Pacers’. The Pacers are near life-expired anyway though and the chances of the vehicle lengths being the same are quite slim, so I doubt that is a sensible idea.

Three Arriva Northern Pacer diesel multiple units in Sheffield station
Pacer Central: A line-up of Pacer units in Sheffield station
While the class 399s will initially just be working ordinary tram services on the current Supertram network, the reason for their existence is a plan to extend Supertram services over Network Rail tracks through Rotherham Central station. Ordinary trams are not permitted to share tracks with conventional heavy-rail trains, hence the class 399 ‘tram-trains’ which can mix with both. On the approach to Sheffield, our Pacer passed the Supertram depot where, to my dismay, I counted at least five class 399s. Knowing the total fleet was only 6-8 units (having now checked Wikipedia, I see the planned fleet size is 7 units) I feared none might be in use that day. Sticking to the plan, we stayed on the Pacer while it reversed in Sheffield station and headed out, through Rotherham Central, to Swinton. Here we left the train, it having rejoined the Sheffield – Doncaster route (Rotherham Central is on a separate short line).

Footbridge and platform canopies inside Sheffield station
Steely Station: the colour scheme of the platform canopies at Sheffield evokes the city’s steel-making heritage
We then headed back into Sheffield, boarding the slightly delayed 13:19 service. This was bound for Lincoln and, according to Real Time Trains, had come from Scunthorpe. Scunthorpe to Lincoln via Sheffield; a strange route and a long way to go on a Pacer. Our unit was another bench-seated one, 142023. At Rotherham Central, where I had noted on the way up that works to build the low platforms for the class 399s had apparently barely started, I wondered how they would get the Overhead Line Equipment (OHLE) to power the trams through the station. It looked as though the station had recently been rebuilt without consideration of tram-train scheme, although Wikipedia tells me the current buildings date from February 2012 as a result of a project started in 2010 (so perhaps before the tram-train plan). Outside the station, a number of the masts to support the overhead line were in place on the section to be used for the tram-train service, but no wires as yet.

A view of Sheffield cathedral with the public square in front of it
Cathedral Square: public open space outside Sheffield cathedral, part of which is visible on the left.
Back at Sheffield station, the dilemma of how to find and photograph a class 399 came to the fore. Having possibly seen the entire fleet in the depot my first thought was to try and get there, but down which of the tram routes that converge on the city centre was it? And would it be too far to walk? We started following one line in the direction we had come on the train until we came to the junction where the lines meet.

Class 399 'tram-train' unit on the Sheffield Supertram network outside the city's cathedral
Spotting Success: tram-train 399201 appears, approaching the Cathedral tram stop in Sheffield city centre.
At this point I decided that even if we could reach the depot the fencing around it might prevent photography. We therefore reverted to my original plan to walk alongside the tram line to the cathedral, following a section that all the routes use according to the network map I’d found online. If a class 399 was in service, it would have to pass us. I spotted a poster on one of the tram stops that explained that class 399s weren’t yet in service, but might be in use for driving training. We waited outside the cathedral for a while and thankfully it turned out one was out and about. Photos taken: mission accomplished.

A Sheffield tram in blue & cream livery
Standout Supertram: a Sheffield tram in blue & cream livery heads into the city centre.
On our way to the cathedral, I had decided that all the trams carried the same livery of Stagecoach blue, with the class 399s having black fronts and the other trams a red front. By the time we had finished at the cathedral and walked back to the station however, we had seen at least one with a blue front and one in an interesting blue and cream livery.

Water features in Sheffield with the railway station in the middle distance
Water features outside Sheffield station
Sheffield station retains well-designed ‘railway age’ buildings and canopies, the latter being an interesting grey colour. Grey, interesting? In this case yes, because it results in a steel-like finish that is rather fitting given Sheffield’s history. That history is also reflected in one of the water features just outside the station.

Interior of class 158 diesel multiple unit
Northern Quality: interior of ‘our’ class 158
I had a number of options for routes back to Nottingham and thence to Leicester. In the end, after grabbing some footage for a short video about electrification cancellations, the one chosen was the 16:05 to Nottingham via Chesterfield. Northern provided a very different standard of train for this run. Almost making up for the earlier Pacers, 158794 turned up with some really nice seats and the Regional Railways original two-tone blue stripes on the luggage racks. The only issue with the interior was the legroom in the airline-style seats; not quite enough for comfort on a long journey (not that ours was particularly long on this occasion).

Two diesel multiple unit trains in Nottingham railway station
Investment (in electrification) Required: Nottingham station with two diesel multiple units present (an XC Turbostar and an EMT Meridian unit, probably the one named ‘Invest In Nottingham’.
Nottingham, along with Sheffield and Swansea, has recently suffered the indignity of having its promised electrification cancelled. With footage of Sheffield in the camera and Swansea, as railways go, practically on my doorstep Nottingham was the obvious next target. I might have left it a day or two and made a special trip up to Nottingham later in the holiday, but fate intervened. As I walked along the platforms, I noticed that the class 222 due to depart in a few minutes was named ‘Invest In Nottingham’. You couldn’t have made it up; it seemed it was just meant to be, so I filmed its departure. That did mean a wait of nearly half an hour for the next London-bound service, the 17:32, but since that train was already in the platform I wasn’t bothered.

Interior of mark 3 coach at Nottingham station, showing imperfect alignment of table bay with window
Window Whoopsy: interior of mark 3 at Nottingham station, showing imperfect alignment of table bay with window
Taking the 17:32 also meant I got my first ride on an East Midlands Trains IC125 set. 43044 led us to Leicester with 43066 on the rear. The seats were the original British Rail ones with the slightly awkward fixed armrests. That wasn’t the only shortcoming either; assuming the interior layout is unchanged I’m not entirely impressed with BR’s efforts. Despite the mark 3 coaches having reasonably large windows, some of the table bays managed to offer an obstructed view to half their occupants.

Hilltop building, seen from a train leaving Nottingham station
Nottingham Skyline: the large building on the hill-top, seen through the train window.
The seats themselves were a reasonable shape (the armrest problem aside) and the seat-base cushions were ok, but the seat-back was hard. Unlike on the Great Western, where first class has been reduced to 1.5 coaches out of 8 the EMT sets seem to have 2.5 coaches of first class. As we left Nottingham, I managed a slightly blurry photo of an unidentified large building on a hill top that had caught my eye previously.

Moor, Please

This is the third instalment of my Midlands rail adventure write-up, following on from Rutland Ramblings.

Two arched spans of Leicester station's historic frontage
No Chance: ‘Departure’ arches at Leicester station (photo taken later in the week).
Planning for Sunday 13th August was frustrated by a terrible timetable. As part of my holiday I wanted to travel over the Erewash Valley Line, the direct route from East Midlands Parkway to Chesterfield passing Toton TMD (Traction Maintenance Depot). Prior to the trip, I had established that the route had hardly any passenger services, but on Sundays a 10:08 service from Nottingham was booked to use part of the route, including passing the TMD. I had decided to aim for that service (and then going from Chesterfield to Birmingham to see the Shakespeare Express) but was horrified to discover that there were no northbound services from Leicester before 10am on a Sunday.

Thus thwarted, I was forced to abandon the idea of riding the Erewash Valley Line. We therefore reverted to our Heart Of England (3-in-7 days) Rover tickets earlier than planned and went directly to Birmingham New Street on the 10:22 from Leicester (CrossCountry’s 170101). With very little rail mileage the previous day (all of which was using the ‘East Midlands Rover’), I was keen to make the most of the rover and so added a return trip from Birmingham to Redditch which also helped fill the time that would have been spent on the trip up to Chesterfield. The third day of the ‘Heart Of England’ rover would be used later in the week for our return journey to Wales.

Exterior of the main station building at Birmingham Moor Street
Sight Of Relief: Birmingham Moor Street station after we had found our way to it from New Street
For the Redditch trip, we travelled on London Midland’s 323202 which was coupled to a second class 323 to form a longer train on the 11:45 from Birmingham. We did not note down the departure time from Redditch (which was 12:27) on the day’s itinerary, so to avoid the risk of being left behind I didn’t even step onto the platform there to take a look at the station. Back at Birmingham New Street I was very pleased to discover that there were open toilets (as opposed to ones behind a pay barrier as some other large stations managed by Network Rail have). This forced me to somewhat adjust my opinion of the station, which I had previously considered a hell-hole to be avoided like the plague. We then headed out of the station in search of Birmingham Moor Street, somewhere I’ve wanted to see more of ever since my first visit, which was rather brief.

Castle class 4-6-0 steam locomotive number 5043
Steaming Into Birmingham: 5043 arriving at Moor Street
On the way between the stations we took a wrong turn but happily still managed to find Birmingham’s attractive GWR station with ample time for a look round. 5043 ‘Earl of Mount Edgcumbe’, heading north, then brought ‘The Shakespeare Express’ into the station at around 13:36 and off into the tunnel to Birmingham Snow Hill.

Water tower on the platform at Birmingham Moor Street station
Supplies For Steam: water tower at Birmingham Moor Street
The station still has a water tower and water crane, though I’m not sure if they’re connected together so using it as a water stop for the ‘Shakespeare Express’ might not be possible. The station looks quite authentic but on closer inspection I was dubious about some of the colours used; rather than just ‘light stone’ and ‘dark stone’ there seemed to be at least three shades in use. There was also a baby changing facility, which my grandmother informed me the railways didn’t have in the old days. The signage for it though did not look at all out of place, it being in the same white-on-black style as the rest. It really is a very good-looking station.

Under the station roof at Birmingham Moor Street
Inside Moor Street: the open space behind the buffer stops for the bay platforms

Castle class steam locomotive tender-first at Birmingham Moor Street
Back Through: The Earl of Mount Edgcumbe heads tender-first towards Stratford-Upon-Avon
5043 then returned, just after 14:00, now running tender-first towards Stratford-upon-Avon. I was disappointed that the Hall class locomotive originally advertised for the Shakespeare expresses had not been reinstated, but at least that allowed me to drop the idea of taking a bus to capture it away from a station. Also, assuming the Hall would have been tender-first southbound as the Castle was, I wouldn’t have been able to get the photograph I wanted of it at Moor Street anyway.

Non-standard London Midland station name-board with gold background at Stratford-Upon-Avon
Golden Gaffe: unattractive golden sign at Stratford
At 14:30 we set off in pursuit of the Castle-hauled train on a service formed of 172212 and 172221. Stratford-upon-Avon station is sadly not the picturesque sight that Birmingham Moor Street is. It does retain a traditional station building, complete with canopy, and what looks like a GWR footbridge. The latter however is obscured on one side by a modern footbridge in a horrible pink colour and some of the station name-boards have a rather odd-looking golden background (rather than London Midland’s normal black).

Exterior of a building with visible timbers in Stratford-Upon-Avon
A Sample Of Stratford: one of the many buildings with visible timbers in Stratford-Upon-Avon
The town however has quite a selection of attractive old-looking buildings, although by the time we had reached the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre my grandmother was so fed up of the crowds of other tourists that we did not continue to find their other theatre. Instead we headed back towards the station on back streets that, thankfully, most of the other visitors hadn’t noticed.

Model railway in Stratford-Upon-Avon
Nearly Missed Model: My brief glimpse of the model railway
The railway exhibition we had seen advertised on the way down to the theatre was closing when we passed it on the way back, but they did let us in for a quick look at one of their model railways. We made it back to the station in time to see ‘Earl of Mount Edgcumbe’ making a disgraceful departure from Stratford-upon-Avon. Clouds of filthy black smoke were emitted and barely any acceleration achieved; I think it even slipped a little soon after finally making it passed the end of the platform I was standing on.

Class 172 Turbostar unit 172334 at Stratford-Upon-Avon
Time To Turbo(star): 172334 waits to whisk us away from Stratford-Upon-Avon station
Our train back to Birmingham was shorter that the one we had arrived on, a single 3-car class 172 unit instead of a four carriage formation. Our 3-car unit was 172334, forming the 16:29 departure from Stratford-upon-Avon. Rather than alight at Birmingham however we stayed on-board through to Smethwick Galton Bridge.

The canal at Smethwick Galton Bridge, seen from above
Calm On The Canal: looking down at the water from Smethwick Galton Bridge station
Unfortunately the ‘Galton Bridge’ itself (which I think takes a road over the canal below) could not be easily photographed owing to the sides of the railway bridge that the Snow Hill line platforms are located on. We then returned to Birmingham Moor Street on the 17:46 service (172341) and managed to find our way back to New Street without the detour we had made earlier. Finally, 170637 took us back to Leicester. On this leg, as on the outward run, we were puzzled by a grand building not far from a reservoir. A quick survey on Google Earth as a write this has revealed that this was probably Whitacre Water Works, just east of Water Orton.

Invitation To Foreigners

Following a period of ‘competitive dialogue’ with four possible partners, the Welsh Government (or their relatively new ‘Transport For Wales’ body) finally issued the Invitation To Tender (ITT) for the next Wales & Borders rail franchise in the past week. This time next year, the current Arriva Trains Wales franchise should be just a few weeks away from coming to an end.

Arriva Trains Wales DMUs of three different classes (153, 150 and 175) at Carmarthen station
About a year left to run: Arriva Trains Wales units at Carmarthen station
The pre-qualified four are Abellio Rail Cymru, Arriva Rail Wales, KeolisAmey and MTR Corporation. The winner will be an ‘Operator and Development Partner’ (ODP), required to play a bigger role in the development of infrastructure than train operating companies in the UK have done since privatisation. Therefore, at least some of the bidders for the new contract are joint-ventures involving an infrastructure firm along with one of the ‘usual subjects’ in UK franchise contests.

Not all the ‘usual subjects’ are represented though, First Group and Stagecoach are conspicuous by their absence from the line-up. That leaves subsidiaries of foreign railway companies leading the four hopeful groups. Arriva belongs to DB, the state-owned railway of Germany, Abellio to NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the Dutch state-owned railway), Keolis to SNCF (owned by the French state) and MTR (in part) to the Hong Kong Government.

Arriva Trains Wales class 150 DMU crossing a bridge on the Heart Of Wales Line just south of Llandovery
HOWL Of Pain: a class 150 on the Heart Of Wales Line. Will four hour journeys on uncomfortable trains like this be eliminated in the new franchise?
The short listed bidders now have a little while to work up a final tender to submit to the Welsh Government / Transport For Wales. Most sources are reporting that all four bidders are still in the game, but there have been suggestions that only Arriva and Abellio remain in the contest. With any luck, the claims that the franchise will still be awarded by the end of February 2018 (despite a delay to the devolution of the powers for awarding the franchise to the Welsh Government) will prove true, allowing the new regime to begin in October 2018.

It is also to be hoped that the new contract will offer widespread improvements. However, unlike in DfT-led franchise competitions, the Welsh Government have not made many of the requirements in the ITT public for the new Welsh contract. At this point then, it is all a mystery. Fingers crossed everyone.

The Time Train?

Network Rail buildings at Whitland station
Re-Structuring: new Network Rail buildings at Whitland
Time waits for no man, and time machines haven’t been invented yet. Nevertheless, it seems history can repeat itself. I’ve spent most Saturdays over the past few summers collecting footage for a video or two I want to make about the Pembroke Coast Express. The modern Pembroke Coast Express isn’t too much trouble to film, but to get footage of a steam-hauled one? A steam railtour to Pembroke Dock has run in previous years, but that was before I discovered they existed. This year’s run (2017) was cancelled, but even had it appeared GWR motive power was unlikely to be provided. There was nothing for it; I would just have to cheat and find a suitable GWR locomotive in use elsewhere on the network. Just such an event was scheduled for Saturday 12th August, in Melton Mowbray of all places, along with the Shakespeare Express (Birmingham – Stratford-upon-Avon) on most Sundays throughout the summer so I booked a holiday to fit around these. That holiday started on Friday 11th August, and I started ‘time travelling’ earlier than expected.

Continue reading The Time Train?

Summer Of Sorrow

A series of unfortunate announcements meant that the UK Parliament headed into its summer break with a trail of destruction in its wake. I have very little time for this blog and I was unable to keep up with the tide of depressing and controversial announcements in order to form them into a coherent post.

One of the announcements was a particularly big blow; the cancellation of the Midland Main Line electrification to Nottingham and Sheffield with only Bedford to Corby going ahead. Cardiff-Swansea electrification was also ditched but for reasons I hope to explain in future isn’t perhaps as serious a disaster. I did start to write about these announcements in more depth but never finished.

Some of that may surface in time, but for one reason or another there’s been several weeks without posts on this blog and for that I apologise. I cannot promise much in the way of future posts either, although a six-day holiday gave me material for a travel report series which I intend to publish in fortnightly instalments starting next Sunday.

Soccer Saturday Shame

A rather damp 27th May 2017 (this past Saturday) saw the return of the through services between London Paddington and Pembroke Dock which form part of the summer Saturday timetable. Out filming the westbound service at Neath, I was caught in a shower and returned to the station rather soggy. Fortunately, the weather had improved by the time I reached Cardiff Central, where I filmed the first of the two eastbound services (which is formed by the stock off a Swansea to Pembroke Dock service, the westbound London to Pembroke train forming an afternoon/evening return working).

Pembroke Coast Express (Intercity 125) crossing river in Neath
Wet In Neath: The Pembroke Coast Express heads west in the rain

Since they are First Great Western Railway long-distance services out of Paddington, these trains are formed using 8-carriage Intercity 125 trains. They prove valuable in some weeks as the crowds of tourists travelling to and from Tenby simply would not fit on the 2-car class 150s which operate the Monday to Friday and winter services on the Pembroke & Tenby line.

I hope for the railway’s sake that next Saturday (3rd June 2017) will be a quiet one in Tenby, because otherwise it is likely that there will be a lot of unhappy passengers. This is because, as station announcements were warning this week, the UEFA Champions League final is coming to Cardiff. What the announcements did not say, but the Great Western Railway journey planner website does, is that both Intercity 125 services on the Pembroke Dock branch are cancelled for that day. The services will be truncated to run between Swansea and London only, as they do in the winter timetable. I presume this has been done in order to free up IC125 sets to provide additional services through Cardiff which will be extremely busy due to the soccer game. According to the journey planner though, while the GWR service reverts to the winter timetable, Arriva Trains Wales is expected to run their summer Saturday service on the Pembroke Dock branch. This leaves a gap of over four hours, and another of over three hours, for the GWR services that will not be running, compared to the every-two-hours winter service. The ‘Weymouth Wizard’ summer Saturday special between Bristol and Weymouth also seems to have been removed from the schedule next weekend.

Update: the Weymouth Wizard ran, slightly retimed, using hired mark 2 coaches rather than an IC125 set; as far as I’m aware the Pembroke & Tenby was left with nothing.

An Intercity 125 on the Pembroke Coast Express, and a class 158, at Cardiff Central
Chaos Is Coming: Cardiff Central (pictured) will next week be extremely busy with football fans heading to the stadium nearby
While pulling the IC125s to provide extra capacity in Cardiff is probably a sensible move, passengers on the Pembroke Dock branch will get a raw deal. There is no mention of the change in the paper timetable booklet as far as I’m aware, so anyone who doesn’t look online might turn up for a train that doesn’t exist. The most disgraceful part of the whole affair is that, apparently, GWR are not even arranging replacement road transport to cover for their missing trains in Pembrokeshire, meaning anyone who does turn up for them will be stuck for hours waiting for the next Arriva Trains Wales unit (and, if the weather brings out the crowds, they will have to play sardines on it).

Stena Shocker

A view of the harbour at Goodwick, Fishguard
Harbouring change: a view of the harbour at Goodwick, Fishguard. Stena Line’s ferry terminal is out of shot to the right.
Stena Line have today introduced a new ferry timetable which has played a part in the start of a new chapter for the Great Western Railway. Apparently, the ferry timetable between Fishguard and Rosslare has remained largely unchanged for decades. Today however all four departures have been shifted by at least an hour, some almost as many as three.

Train and ferry at Fishguard Harbour
Changes all round: the ‘Stena Europe’ and the trains connecting with it will both run at different times from today
Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) have, for their part, reworked the Fishguard rail timetable to ensure rail connections are available. However, they have been forced to breach the terms of their original 2003 franchise agreement. That contract required only two trains per 24 hours, and specified that these must run between Fishguard and Swansea (or Cardiff), connecting with ferries and either running through to/from London or connecting with London services.

Obviously, so far ATW have opted to connect with First Great Western services to and from London Paddington rather than run through services themselves. In light of Stena Line’s changes however, the London connections required by the 2003 franchise agreement are no longer provided. One of the ferries now arrives at Fishguard Harbour fairly late in the evening; by the time the connecting train reaches Swansea or Cardiff the last train to London would be long gone with the first morning train to London not due for nearly four hours, thus breaching the terms of the 2003 contract.

Intercity 125 train in London Paddington station on arrival from Swansea
Link Lost: London Paddington (pictured) is no longer be reachable from one of the two ferries from Rosslare to Fishguard.
In fairness to ATW, the London service no longer appears to be a reasonable requirement given Stena’s new ferry timing, unless I have misinterpreted the franchise agreement the only way ATW could possibly comply would be to either run through to London themselves (and their staff probably don’t have the required route knowledge) or somehow make First Great Western provide an additional service in the middle of the night. The departure time from Cardiff would be about 1am and arrival in Paddington about 4am (or slightly earlier if First Great Western, using a 125mph train, ran the service). Meeting that requirement would therefore cost a lot of money for very little gain (is anyone likely to find a service at such unsociable hours useful?).

ATW cannot be let off the hook completely however, since another aspect of their changes also appears to breach the franchise agreement. The new rail timetable shows that the problematic evening train, which couldn’t connect into a London service, terminates at Carmarthen, without even a connection to Swansea. That, according to the 2003 franchise agreement, is clearly a breach of contract; through services to at least Swansea are mandatory. Since publishing their timetable, it seems ATW have realised this and the Real Time Trains website is now showing that the new evening boat train, the 22:14 from Fishguard Harbour, will run through to Swansea after all. It will terminate there at 00:04. The 21:58 arrival at Fishguard Harbour however, which would connect into the overnight ferry, is now shown online as starting from Carmarthen at 21:03, thus involving a change for passengers from Swansea and Cardiff and breaching the 2003 agreement. That is also a change from ATW’s PDF timetable leaflet, which suggests the service would start from Manchester Piccadilly at 15:30 (with a suspicious instantaneous reversal in Carmarthen station).

Arriva Trains Wales class 150 at Cardiff Central on a Fishguard service
Lost train: the Fishguard boat train about to leave Cardiff at 10:57, a service which did not call at Swansea. From today this working is replaced by a service from Swansea to Fishguard, so not only will passengers have a slower route they will also have to change at Swansea.
It isn’t only the timetable that isn’t clear, ATW’s current contractual commitments are also shrouded in mystery. Although the 2003 franchise agreement is available online, the contract for the additional Fishguard services introduced in 2011 is not. For this post, I attempted to gain a clear picture by submitting a freedom of information request for the 2011 contract. My request was refused on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. We therefore cannot be sure if the Arriva are allowed to use the local services that do not connect with ferries to meet requirement for services to run through to/from Cardiff or Swansea, and we don’t know if reducing Fishguard’s train service from 7 trains each way (per 24 hours) to 6 (the 01:50 overnight service is withdrawn now that the sailing it existed to connect with is no more).

GWR class 387 electric multiple unit at London Paddington
The future now arriving: class 387 electric unit at London Paddington.
Stena’s unprecedented changes are not today’s only shock to the established Great Western status quo. You will also get a shock, a potentially lethal one, if you touch the overhead wires on several sections of the Great Western main line, including between Paddington and Maidenhead. There, class 387 Electrostar electric multiple units have become the first electric trains to carry fare-paying passengers on a section of line electrified under the current Great Western electrification project. Sections further west have been live for testing purposes for some time, but cannot be used for passenger services yet due to gaps in the overhead line between them and Maidenhead.

Returning to the Fishguard ferries, a definate plus is that there is now an extra train connection on the Irish side. Before, the only night ferry had rail connections in Rosslare. Now, it appears the new earlier timing of the Fishguard to Rosslare daytime sailing will allow it to connect with a train to Dublin which previously left Rosslare just before the lunch time boat from Fishguard arrived. As far as I can make out, given the differenced between Real Time Trains and the ATW timetable booklet, the connections shape up as follows:

Monday – Friday services – Old Timetable

Dublin Connolly 16:37
Rosslare Europort arr. 19:25
Rosslare Harbour dep. 09:00 21:15
Fishguard Harbour arr. 12:30 00:30
Fishguard Harbour dep. 13:29 01:50
Swansea arr. 03:47
Swansea dep. 03:52
Cardiff Central arr. 16:00 05:01
Cardiff Central dep. 16:25 05:12
London Paddington 18:32 07:30
London Paddington 08:45 20:15
Cardiff Central arr. 10:46 22:30
Cardiff Central dep. 10:58 22:32
Swansea arr. 23:28
Swansea dep. 23:45
Fishguard Harbour arr. 13:27 01:33
Fishguard Harbour dep. 14:30 02:30
Rosslare Harbour arr. 18:00 06:30
Rosslare Europort dep. 07:20
Dublin Connolly 10:15

Monday – Friday services – New Timetable

Dublin Connolly 13:36
Rosslare Europort arr. 16:26
Rosslare Harbour dep. 08:00 18:10
Fishguard Harbour arr. 11:15 21:25
Fishguard Harbour dep. 12:50 22:14
Swansea arr. 00:04
Swansea dep.
Cardiff Central arr. 15:19
Cardiff Central dep. 15:26
London Paddington 17:30
London Paddington 07:45 16:45
Cardiff Central arr. 09:49 18:48
Cardiff Central dep. 09:49 18:50
Swansea arr. 10:45 19:45
Swansea dep. 11:00 20:11
Fishguard Harbour arr. 12:30 21:58
Fishguard Harbour dep. 13:10 23:45
Rosslare Harbour arr. 16:25 04:00
Rosslare Europortdep. 17:55 05:35
Dublin Connolly 20:44 08:46

Fishguard Facilities…

…And ‘Connections’

As the Welsh Government’s consultation on the next Wales & Borders rail franchise draws to a close (ends 23rd May 2017), so to must my series of posts regarding issues that I hope the new franchise will address. In this instalment, I discuss some of the problems with station facilities and bus-rail integration, using examples from Fishguard. The consultation on improving bus services in Wales, due to end on 31st May, might also be relevant to this discussion.

Continue reading Fishguard Facilities…

Tracks And Trams

As noted previously, the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) is proposing a Cardiff & Newport metro and are running a franchise competition to select an ‘Operator and Development Partner’ (ODP) for the Wales & Borders franchise. The first part of this post pointed out that the late and over-budget partial redouble of the Wrexham-Chester line has led WAG to adopt a risky strategy; taking ownership of the ValleyLines infrastructure north from Cardiff Queen Street, plus the Cardiff Bay branch and maybe the Cardiff Central to Cardiff Queen Street section, off Network Rail.

Class 150 at platform 0 in Cardiff Central
Not threatened: This class 150, standing at Cardiff Central’s platform 0, is probably working a service to Ebbw Vale. This route uses the Great Western Main Line so is not at risk of tramification.
One of the risks is the very fact that it is an untried approach; to my knowledge a significant portion of the national network has never been split off since the big four were merged to create British Railways. Sections have of course been sold off to create heritage railways, but they are their own self-contained operations and the Cardiff Metro will have to maintain interfaces with Network Rail, if only for freight services. Admittedly some heritage railways have ambitions to extend their services onto Network Rail infrastructure, but so far I believe only the North Yorkshire Moors Railway has achieved this. So, the second risk is that Network Rail isn’t completely removed from the picture. That in turn gives rise to a third risk; that WAG and/or their ODP may try to minimise the interfaces with Network Rail by segregating what WAG are already calling ‘the core ValleyLines’ to a very great extent.

At present of course, many services from north of Cardiff (Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) run through to Penarth, Barry Island and the Vale Of Glamorgan Line to Bridgend. That is very sensible, since a frequent service runs Cardiff Central on these routes; and this is unlikely to decrease. A potential Metro frequency of 4tph (trains per hour) from each of Treherbert, Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhymney, Penarth and Barry Island, plus 2tph from Bridgend via the Vale Of Glamorgan is a total of 26tph before considering Coryton and Radyr services. Even with four platforms (4, 6, 7 and 8) now nominally designated as ‘ValleyLines’ platforms, 26tph terminating at Cardiff Central would give less than nine and a half minutes for turn-around time. Add Coryton, Radyr and possible new lines and recovering the timetable following delays would be well-nigh impossible. Trying to split core ValleyLines services from the rest of the Cardiff Metro would therefore be a serious risk to punctuality.

Manchester Metrolink tram at Deansgate Castlefield tram stop, with the long-closed Manchester Central station behind
Less seats than a Pacer: Manchester Metrolink tram
Splitting the service also presents a risk of a different kind; a risk to passenger comfort. While the current fleet of class 150s and Pacers is not-exactly comfortable, there’s worse out there. The one thing less comfortable than a seat on a Pacer is having to stand; and one option the Welsh Government may be considering could reduce the availability of seats. That option is light-rail, probably in the form of trams. The Bombardier M5000 trams on Manchester’s Metrolink are about the same length as a Pacer but have 46 fewer seats (almost halving the 106 seats on a Pacer) and room for perhaps 100 more standing passengers. Any other passenger train will be longer than a Pacer, and hence have even more room for seats. Even if you have longer trams than Manchester’s, each coach still needs to be shorter than most train carriages because trams need to handle tighter curves. Shorter carriages mean more corridor connections between cars and probably more doors, leaving less room for seats. Light-rail would probably make the project cheaper, and perhaps enable earlier delivery, but with a journey from Cardiff to Merthyr Tydfil taking an hour (perhaps slightly less with electrification) I don’t think it is the right choice.

A further risk is that budget overruns and project delays aren’t unique to Network Rail projects anyway. WAG and their ODP will probably need to choose from the same pool of electrification contractors as Network Rail, and so they may yet suffer similar high costs and late delivery.

Incomplete rear entrance to Cardiff Central station
Changing Times: Could trams stop here (outside Cardiff Central) in future?
Returning to the idea of trams; despite the reduced seating capacity which I deem unacceptable for the longer journeys, there are clear benefits. Perhaps the most important is that trains cannot mix with road traffic on street-running sections. That means a direct rail service between Cardiff Central and Cardiff Bay, which seems to be a key Welsh Government objective, is probably only possible with trams (which I suppose would stop at street-level outside Cardiff Central’s new southern entrance). The reduced cost of lower-voltage light-rail electrification, as already mentioned, is also plus so maybe a mix of tram and train could be the optimum outcome for the Cardiff Metro.

Limiting light-rail to the shorter routes however poses a number of problems. The Cardiff Bay line is the only obvious candidate for light-rail conversion, with short on-street links at both ends (to Cardiff Central at the north end and closer to the millennium centre etc. at the other end). That alone seems unlikely to provide either the volume necessary to justify the overheads of a tram system (such as a depot) or access to an area of open land for a depot. Ordinary trams might be permitted to share streets with cars, but they are not allowed to share tracks with heavily-built national rail trains, so the rumoured Metro depot location at Taff’s Well is out of reach. Tram-trains could run everywhere, but are more expensive than straight trams and the UK’s tram-train pilot scheme in Sheffield is behind schedule. With the possible removal of funding if the project isn’t complete by 2023, the tram-train option might also be a big gamble.

A damp and overcast day in Treorchy
Too far for trams: trains through Treorchy should remain heavy-rail
Let us assume therefore that it is a choice between having some trams that cannot run on heavy-rail tracks and not being able to deliver the Cardiff Central – Cardiff Bay link. How do you grow the tram network enough to reach a suitable depot location, without either blowing the budget or screwing up the heavy-rail part of the Metro by converting more of the existing network? Taff’s Well is 20 minutes from Cardiff Central, right on the limit of being too far to subject passengers to the loss of seats that trams would bring. However, it is over 5 miles as the crow flies; I doubt finding and constructing an all-new route from Cardiff is feasible, so existing rail alignments would need to be used. That either means quadrupling (providing two light-rail tracks and two-heavy rail ones) or conversion to light-rail. As far as I can tell from Google Earth, there is no room for more tracks on some sections that would need quadrupling. That means a conversion would be necessary, but since any services north of Taff’s Well and Llanishen ought to remain heavy-rail the Cardiff Queen Street to Heath cannot be converted and heavy-rail services and the same applies to at least one of the two routes to Radyr (via Fairwater and via Cathays).

Therefore, there are two final questions.

  1. whether a single double-track route for services from north of Taff’s Well to Cardiff is sufficient and, if not
  2. whether it is possible to build a street-running tram route of almost 4 miles from Cardiff Central to Heath, plus 2.5 and a bit miles of new line from Coryton into Taff’s Well

Making the metro is not going to be easy.

Twin-Track Troubles

Class 158 train on Chirk Viaduct
Wrong side of Wrexham: I don’t have any pictures of the section between Wrexham and Chester, so here’s a 158 on Chirk Viaduct, between Wrexham and Shrewsbury.
I should report, slightly belatedly, that Network Rail finally opened the new second track between Saltney junction and Rossett junction on the line between Wrexham and Chester on the April 1st, 2017. The redoubling project has roughly halved the length of single track between Wrexham and Chester; the southern half remains single due to issues which make redoubling that section more-challenging.

Aside from the eventual outcome; a shorter single-track section and over five miles of additional track is certainly a big plus, it is hard to draw positives from this scheme. As I posted a few weeks ago, the Welsh Government’s objective of an hourly Holyhead-Cardiff service was a poor reason for the project, but Network Rail must also be questioned. The May 2017 issue of Modern Railways magazine informs me that the Wrexham redoubling project was originally due for completion in early 2015. Two years late: that is a serious delay beaten only by certain elements of Network Rail’s electrification programme (and even then, the wires are due to reach Cardiff only one year behind schedule).

Train of Arriva Trains Wales mark 3 coaches at Chester station
About to brave the bottleneck: taken before the re-doubling, the ‘Y Gerallt Gymro’ service prepares to depart Chester and would shortly enter the single-line section to Wrexham.
Costs have increased too, the Wrexham redouble came in at £49m but in May 2013 the slightly shorter single-track section between Swansea (Cockett West) and Llanelli (Duffryn West) was redoubled at a cost of £40.3m including a second platform at Gowerton station and a brand-new bridge over the river Loughor. That scheme was delivered on-time and on-budget, but past successes can be forgotten when things go wrong, as they have on the Wrexham-Chester line. It is therefore understandable that the Welsh Government (who were paying) is displeased with Network Rail, and the problems north of Wrexham have contributed to a risky gambit further south.

The Welsh Government’s new gamble concerns the ‘south Wales Metro’ project. Personally, I would call what the Welsh Government is proposing a Cardiff & Newport metro, but I digress. The idea is that ownership of the core ValleyLines (Cardiff Central to the heads of the valleys via Cardiff Queen Street) would be taken away from Network Rail. The new ‘Operator and Development Partner’ (ODP) of the Wales & Borders franchise would then be responsible for ensuring the ValleyLines are modernised within the available budget and presumably before part of the funding expires in 2023. This novel idea seems to have one big plus, which is that track and train would be controlled by the same management, but is risky for several reasons.

Those reasons are detailed in part 2 of this post.