A fifteen year era has ended. KeolisAmey, a joint-venture, have this morning (Sunday 14th October 2018) taken over the running of the Wales & Borders rail franchise from Arriva Trains Wales. Arriva’s 15-year reign, thanks to the government of the time specifying a ‘no-growth’ franchise, has brought little in the way of improvement. That is supposed to be changing, with Passengers of Reduced Mobility legislation due to come into force in a little over a year.
Following the grand finale (our visit to Lincoln), Thursday (August 17th) was the end of our stay in Leicester. Our return to Wales would be the reverse of our outward journey; retracing our steps to Whitland. Thus, we boarded a Meridian (222023 on this occasion) at Leicester to take us to Derby for onward travel by one of the rare CrossCountry Intercity 125s.
On the way to Derby we overtook a bright yellow train; a Network Rail track machine of some kind, hauled by a blue locomotive. I had a faint hope that it would catch us up during our near half-hour wait at Derby and fortunately it did, allowing me to see that the loco was 50008 ‘Thunderer’. A class 50 in use on the modern railway was a nice surprise and really unexpected. It came to a stand just short of the station, then a few minutes later ran through light engine leaving the track machine behind. It was only then that I was able to read the loco’s number, but the track machine remained a mystery at that point.
An hour after our scheduled departure from Leicester, we seated ourselves on the 10:30 CrossCountry departure from Derby (bound for Plymouth), led by 43304. As we headed south, I was finally able to identify the yellow machine the class 50 had brought to Derby as a rail grinding train. Our reserved seats were, as we had been told, at a table but they were facing backwards (we had been told otherwise). I’m guessing therefore that the train was the wrong way round, unless the route involves a reversal somewhere. The man opposite us kindly moved elsewhere so that we could face forward, but CrossCountry’s dreaded ‘reservable on-route’ policy forced us back into our reserved seats at Birmingham. Before that, an interesting sighting was a Travelodge in Burton-On-Trent, housed in a former Midland Railway Grain Warehouse (or so the writing on the wall declared). A rather more sombre observation was two Eurostar (class 373) power cars with parts of their sides missing; probably in the process of being scrapped. At the time, I did wonder whether they could be the two power cars being refurbished for display at the national college for high-speed rail, but I think it more likely that the ones I saw were practically on the scrapheap.
For the record, the rear power car for our ride south was 43357. I saw this once we had alighted at Bristol Parkway, where I had planned a much shorter wait (11 minutes) than on our outward journey. The same-platform connection into the 12:42 service (bound for Cardiff with 43134 on the front and 43155 ‘The Red Arrows 50 Seasons Of Excellence’ bringing up the rear) went smoothly enough. Table bays aligned with the windows are almost like hen’s teeth on Great Western IC125s so we resorted to airline-style seating but at least I had room for my legs as the overhead racks took my suitcase.
At Newport, the guard made an announcement advising passengers for stations beyond Cardiff Central to change at the latter (avoiding the need to change platforms, which would have been necessary had we changed at Newport). At the time, I agreed with that advise given the time of day. Later on, although Cardiff Central is generally much nicer than Newport station, I would have to advise changing at the latter for Pembrokeshire stations as in my experience the late-afternoon services to Pembrokeshire normally depart Cardiff full and standing. Anyway, I had planned to catch the 13:49 service from Cardiff Central, bound for Milford Haven; assuming it wouldn’t be busy at that time of day. Big mistake. During the scheduled 17 minute wait in Cardiff, I slipped into not really paying attention and was rather taken by surprise as our train rolled into the platform. By the time I reached the train, a class 175/0 (2-car) which had stopped a fair distance along the platform, it looked like pretty much all the seats were taken with a small number of passengers still in the queue to board.
Not so much a welcome, really. Over five days* of travelling on East Midlands Trains, London Midland and Northern services, and even CrossCountry Turbostars, we had little trouble finding a seat. But now? We had come almost within two hours of Whitland and were crowded out. It seems that two carriages is not enough on a fast train between Cardiff and Swansea, even at off-peak times.
* not counting the travel out and back days
A GWR train to Swansea was due ten minutes later, so we waited for that. 43122 on the front and 43191 on the back, due into Swansea at 14:46. While there, a Manchester to Carmarthen service passed through; we could have taken that to get closer to home but in the hope of seeing 43002 and 43185 again I opted to wait until the 16:00 Swansea to Pembroke Dock service (which we would have had to wait for at Carmarthen anyway).
After the next train from London had arrived (not with heritage power cars) we boarded the final train of our trip; 150241. I think the overhead racks must have taken my suitcase on this too, as I don’t remember having it squashed against my legs. Unlike on the Great Western services however, getting my case up out-of-the-way is not sufficient to make room for my legs. A class 150 simply does not provide the necessary legroom in the airline-style seats and the table bays are few in number and not aligned with the windows. Oh well, I was getting off at Whitland anyway; at least I didn’t have to go all the way to Pembroke Dock on the thing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My record of my August 2017 Midlands rail adventure continues (you can catch up on the previous instalment, “Moor, Please”, here).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
This is the third instalment of my Midlands rail adventure write-up, following on from Rutland Ramblings.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
As one consultation on the next Wales & Borders rail franchise draws to a close, I have been informed that another is coming up. As part of this Transport for Wales / Welsh Government, the authority who will award the franchise, will be holding a series of consultation meetings from 20th March to 3rd April. Continuing my series on issues for the new franchise, this post will focus on a problem with service patterns in north Wales.
The present operational rail infrastructure of north Wales comprises the North Wales Coast Line (let’s call it the NWCL for this post) from Holyhead to Chester, with the short branch to Llandudno joining roughly half way along. A separate line diverges from the NWCL just west of Chester and heads south to Wrexham, before leaving north Wales and heading south to Shrewsbury. The Conwy Valley Line and part of the Wrexham to Bidston ‘Borderlands Line’ also lie in north Wales, but are largely self-contained operations that will not be discussed further in this post.
A glance at a map will show you that the NWCL runs broadly west-east, and thus trains from Llandudno and Holyhead to Crewe and Manchester would be reasonably direct and stand a good chance of being time-competitive with road travel. Unfortunately, at present one train every hour from north Wales (normally Holyhead) reverses at Chester, joining the line to Wrexham. Roughly half these continue to Birmingham and the others to Cardiff, both rather roundabout routes. The fastest rail route from Chester to Birmingham is via Crewe, but currently few north Wales services (other than Virgin’s Euston trains) run through to Crewe. There is of course no direct rail route between Cardiff and Holyhead/Bangor, which cannot help attract through passengers.
Fortunately for the railway, the A470 is a slow road. Even so, only the loco-worked ‘Premier Service’ manages Cardiff-Bangor in less than four hours, the other through services take around 4hr 14mins; close to the AA route planner estimates for driving. I feel the indirect Birmingham and Cardiff trains are a waste of train paths on the NWCL. In this regard I am supported, anecdotally, by several users of internet forums who suggest that the pattern of travel demand in north Wales is largely focused on the big cities of north-west England; Liverpool, Manchester and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Birmingham. As far as linking north and south Wales is concerned I believe the appropriate level of service is three express trains (like the original ‘premier service’) each way, 7-days a week, rather than frequent stopping/semi-fast services.
To my dismay however, the Welsh Government’s reason for funding the partial redoubling project between Chester and Wrexham (currently underway but experiencing difficulties) is to provide further Holyhead-Cardiff services (bringing the frequency up to hourly). The redoubling is otherwise welcome (though it is a shame that a single line section will remain), but again Holyhead-Cardiff services aren’t the best way to use the resources available.
In preparation for the franchise consultations, I carried out some research into other’s aspirations. A key source was a report on the re-franchising by the House Of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee. Some of the evidence they received supported the forum comments, for example this from Paul Maynard MP. “Clearly, there are two major rail markets in Wales, one through South Wales and one through North Wales, and what you have to do with any franchise that you design is ensure that it is as economically viable as possible”. The Institution Of Civil Engineers also stated in their response that the key links are with England and not Cardiff. They did support through trains from the NWCL to Wrexham, which is understandable but unfortunately does not address the problem of NWCL paths being taken up with trains that don’t link effectively to Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. Bangor university aren’t worried, they support the Welsh Government’s plan for hourly Cardiff trains AND ask for increased frequency of direct services to Liverpool, Manchester, London and Birmingham and Manchester airports. That would be five different routes, so potentially five trains per hour. Even if the NWCL has enough paths, would demand be sufficient for five trains per hour?
If you ask the Shrewsbury-Aberystwyth Rail Passengers Association (or some of its members, at least), the Cardiff trains, at least, would be rather under subscribed. I hope they submit the comments in their newsletter 71 to all the consultations, because I found a fair amount of good stuff in there. Almost echoing the quote from Paul Maynard MP above, they stress the importance of “expanding the revenue flows with the most potential”, this being “the best way to achieve extra income.” Cardiff-Holyhead isn’t one of those flows, it is a dangerous distraction, apparently described as “a barrier to bidders, unless the Welsh Government would adequately compensate them for lost revenue elsewhere”.
The Welsh Government’s plans for frequent through trains between Cardiff and Holyhead fly in the face of logic for another reason, too. Of equal importance, in my opinion, to the pattern of demand is an issue other parties seem to have overlooked. By taking away paths that could otherwise be used for electric trains to Birmingham (via Crewe) and Manchester, having NWCL trains reverse at Chester damages the case for electrification in north Wales. Electrification is a key aspiration for the GrowthTrack360 campaign. Ironically, their report suggests retaining the current NWCL-Wrexham through services that continue alternately to Cardiff and Birmingham. At least they are not suggesting the Cardiff trains should be hourly, I suppose.
For Holyhead-Cardiff trains to be electric, Network Rail would need to electrify not only the NWCL but also the Chester-Wrexham-Shrewsbury-Newport route. I don’t think even the Welsh Government would go beyond hourly Holyhead-Cardiff services, and that wouldn’t justify electrification of such a distance by itself. The other services sharing the route include the Swansea/Cardiff-Manchester trains (which to become electric would also need the Shrewsbury-Crewe line wired) and the Holyhead/Chester/Wrexham-Birmingham service. The latter has to use the same rolling stock as the Cambrian lines (Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli) because they interwork in Birmingham. I don’t see Pwllheli being electrified in the foreseeable future, and Aberystwyth’s chances of wires aren’t all that much better. That seems to lock the whole Chester/Crewe-Shrewsbury-Newport route into diesel operation.
Therefore, in order to make a strong case for electrification of the NWCL, the trains on it need to go to places that can actually support electric trains without having to string up much more than the NWCL itself. Chester-Crewe (for Birmingham) and Chester-Warrington (for Manchester) are relatively short stretches to electrify along with the NWCL. Keep the diesels to Cardiff down to three per day in order to make the most of the electrification or there’s no chance of wires in north Wales. A good starting point for a debate on future NCWL services might be:
- Hourly fast Holyhead-Manchester service, with a few hours missing (with the path taken by one of the three Cardiff services or a Euston service)
- Every 2hrs stopping service between Holyhead and Llandudno
- Hourly semi-fast Bangor-Birmingham service (via Crewe)
- Hourly stopping service between Llandudno and Liverpool, via the Halton Curve
Even that is pushing it a bit, since the Halton curve would only have an hourly service (if it had a second train each hour, that would probably run to Wrexham and hence would be a diesel).
As promised, here is the post focusing on several challenges related to the timing of rolling stock requirements in the “Wales & Borders franchise” (W&B) area.
Arriva Trains Wales’ (ATW’s) current fleet is spread thin. In December 2012, over 80% of the 125 Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) in the fleet were in use on weekdays and Saturdays*. ATW introduced a 4-carriage set of mark 3 coaches to relieve overcrowding on services between north Wales and Manchester, but crowding continues to be a problem across their network. The fleet is so stretched that ATW were forced to reduce maintenance time for a class 158 DMU, which now works a morning service before heading into Machynlleth depot, to enable additional Aberystwyth services.
Looking to the future, the challenges for the new W&B franchise start almost at once. It was announced in 2016 that infrastructure works would be carried out to allow a new hourly service linking Chester to the Liverpool via a largely disused stretch of track known as the Halton Curve. The new service is due to start in December 2018. Although Northern operate the current meagre service, there are longer-term ambitions to extend the new service into Wales, and thus it is expected that the W&B franchise will take responsibility for this. Therefore, within months of the new contract, Wales’ rolling stock fleet will need to be increased in size, lest it be stretched even further, perhaps to breaking point. This is on top of crowding issues.
It is of course possible that the Halton Curve service could be delayed, deferring the need to find rolling stock. The second major challenge facing the new franchise cannot be deferred. Six months later, in May 2019, the summer timetable will begin. During ATW’s current franchise, Great Western Intercity 125 trains have operated on the Pembroke Dock branch on summer Saturdays. These trains provide valuable additional capacity, given that ATW’s services on the line are only 2 coaches and large numbers of tourists head to and from Tenby on summer Saturdays. The problem facing ATW’s successor is that the latest Great Western franchise agreement will see the Intercity 125 seasonal Pembroke Dock service withdrawn with effect from December 2018. The Intercity 125s are perhaps overkill but, on a busy day, trains at least 92 metres long (four 23 metre carriages) are needed to accommodate the Tenby crowds. 4-car class 150s at 80m are unlikely to be sufficient. I cannot see ATW’s current fleet stretching to that, given that north Wales is busier on summer Saturdays too.
If the challenges stopped there, it could be a relatively simple matter of leasing additional rolling stock (if any diesel stock becomes available in the necessary timeframe). A big complication is introduced on 1st January 2020, just over six months later. From that day onwards, passenger trains must comply with regulations concerning accessibility for disabled persons. With those regulations a rapidly looming prospect, some options for increasing the fleet to resource the Halton Curve and Pembroke Dock requirements might be ruled out. Any investment to make rolling stock suitable for W&B is unlikely to be seen as good value for money unless it produces trains that the franchise can use into 2020 and beyond. This probably rules out additional loco-hauled coaches (the only non-electric stock available right now), leaving W&B dependant on other operators releasing stock.
Only 51 of ATW’s 125 DMUs are even close to being 2020-compliant at present. Of the rest, 38 probably will need scrapping (Pacers and class 153s); as would the mrk3 coaches unless complicated door modifications are carried out. A large number of trains will thus need to join the fleet by 2020, even before we consider the 36 class 150 units. These could be made compliant, those with Northern and Great Western will be, but there’s a further issue specific to W&B. Again, there is a time factor involved. The exact timing of this fourth challenge is uncertain, unlike accessibility regulations, the Halton curve and summer tourist traffic. ValleyLines electrification (or, if passengers are unlucky, conversion to tram operation) could change everything. ATW’s Pacers are largely confined to the ValleyLines network, along with at least half of the 150s. If the owners spend millions on the 150s to make them 2020-compliant, they will want them running for as long as possible in order to generate a return on investment. There is therefore a dilemma, since most of the 150s (and whatever replaces the Pacers) will be surplus to requirements when replaced by electric trains (or trams). They shouldn’t be seen as a potential cascade to other areas of the franchise, since the ValleyLines need rolling stock able to cope with frequent stations stops on a busy metro network. That sort of train cannot provide the comfortable interior, with ample leg-room etc., that is needed on the longer-distance rural routes which would be the only other use for trains with a top speed of 75mph (such as the 150s).
* source: “Today’s Railways UK” magazine, December 2012 issue
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an online article from one of Pembrokeshire’s local newspapers regarding a proposal for a Fishguard and Goodwick railway museum. Apparently, the town councillor behind the idea is discussing the possibility of locating the museum at Fishguard & Goodwick station with Pembrokeshire County Council.
Five years ago, I would almost certainly have thought this was a great idea. However, in August 2011 Pembrokeshire County Council demolished the original 1899 station building, which would have made a great home for the museum. In fact, not only could it have housed the museum it would itself have been a worthy exhibit. However, although Pembrokeshire County Council have constructed a replacement building, it does not have the stylistic qualities of the original.
Somewhere else which might have made a good home for a railway museum is Boncath station, which was up for sale recently, but Boncath isn’t the most accessible place in the world. Goodwick is better in that regard, but the new station building is a total failure in aesthetic regard.
Since this is a rather short post, and relates to the old building at Goodwick station, I have recovered and re-published one of the old posts on the subject from my long-lost original blog. The recovered post can be found here.
This was originally posted on my old blog on 11 September, 2011. I have recovered the post, but not the photographs which went with it originally. The pictures featured may or not be the same ones.
Look what Pembrokeshire County Council was willing to throw away:
This was the building of Fishguard & Goodwick station, which if restored probably would have been the nicest of any minor station on the national network. It has been demolished now, what a senseless act of vandalism.
Update: 23rd Nov 2011. I’ve just realised something. As well as everything else this distruction has lost us, we have lost probably the best spot to take photographs for promotional material to advertise the new rail service, and the opening of the station (without a nice building) next year. There is the brick hut to provide shelter, but that’s not the same.
Retrospect: Feb. 2016 The brick shed isn’t even used for shelter. All passengers have access to is a rail-industry-standard shelter; basically a bus shelter. These are bigger and look more robust than your average bus shelter, but just as draughty.