Railways Blog

A blog about trains, covering photography, railway history, transport politics and modelling, in no particular order.

Virgin Trains East Coast

Virgin Trains East Coast HST at York

I know I take a lot of photos from this vantage point, but here/s another one; An HST set led by power car 43239 in the new (ish) Virgin Trains East Coast livery.

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Swiss Cheese at Plymouth

On the third of April there was a low-speed collision between two passenger trains at Plymouth station. A local train from Cornwall ran into the back of a stationary London-bound express. Though nobody was killed, thirty-five people were injured, a couple of them seriously.

The preliminary report makes it sound like an archetypal “Swiss cheese” incident.

If you imagine safety represented by several layered slices of Emmental cheese; each hole in the cheese represent an opportunity for human error to creep in, but an accident can only get through when all the holes line up. The more layers of safety the better.

This was what seems to have happened at Plymouth.

The normal pattern of operation was disrupted due to scheduled maintenance on the lifts, causing trains to be diverted away from their regular platforms. The signaller wrongly estimated the amount of space in the platform behind the express, and thought the local train would fit in behind it. The driver of the local train wasn’t expecting the platform to be part-occupied by another train. And because the approach at the western end of the station is on a very sharp curve, the driver didn’t realise the express was on the same track until it was too late to stop.

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Manchester Oxford Road

Manchester Oxford Road is a strange place. The cramped inner-city location hemmed in by buildings on all sides makes it look like a full-sized model railway rather than a real station. Here a Trans-Pennine Express emerges from the fiddle yard between the two buildings that hide the hole in the sky
Continue reading

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Revolution Trains announce Tiphook PFA/KFA container flat

pfaThe next model from Revolution Trains, announced at the York show over the Easter weekend will be the Tiphook PFA/KFA container flat.

Revolution Trains next model will portray the single unit PFA/KFA container flats built for Tiphook from 1987-88.

240 of these wagons were built by Rautaruukki of Finland: the first 40 numbered TIPH93242-81 and delivered with Gloucester GPS bogies, the remainder numbered TIPH93290-489 and fitted with Sambre & Meuse VNH-1 bogies. (The VNH-1 bogies look very similar to cast-frame Y25 bogies but have some structural differences.)

The first wagons were used to carry contaminated spoil from Chatham Dockyard to Stewartby in Bedfordshire; over the years they have been used for domestic refuse, containerised paper from Fort William, gypsum, MOD traffic and intermodal services.

They’re taking pre-orders now; the early bird price is £22 for a single wagon and £66 for pack of three; after June the prices will rise to £25 and £75.

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Douglas horse trams to run for 2016 season

Reported in Isle of Man Today.

The Isle of Man’s horse trams will be back in action this summer after being given a temporary reprieve from closure.

The Department of Infrastructure will operate the historic attraction for the 2016 season, maintaining a reduced service using existing staff.

After approval from from the Council of Ministers and a deal with Douglas Borough Council to use the trams and horses at no cost, the trams will run between May and October.

Infrastructure Minister Phil Gawne MHK told iomtoday: ‘I’m delighted that we’ve been able to offer the horse trams a temporary reprieve, but beyond the summer we will have to have a major rethink about their future.’

At the moment it’s only a temporary reprieve, but it’s a step in the right direction. Let’s hope it’s more than a brief stay of execution.

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More Lone Star Treble-0

To accompany those Lone Star coaches and wagons I blogged about a while back, I’ve now managed to obtain a pair of British outline locomotives to go with them. Both of them came via eBay, advertised as factory clearance, unboxed but in near mint condition at what appeared to be a very reasonable price.

They’re both models of the then very recently-introduced Modernisation Plan diesels. The upper model is an English Electric class 23 “Baby Deltic”, of which just ten of the real life version were built, and lasted little over a decade in service. My childhood train set included one of these, and I remember the Ian Allan ABC books for 1969 and 1970 showing just two remaining in service. I never saw the full-sized locomotives in action.

The second loco is a model of the Derby/Sulzer class 24. The full-sized versions of these were far more numerous, and I always associate them with 1970s family holidays in mid-Wales, when they appeared on freight and mail working on the Cambrian lines.

Since production ceased in the mid 1960s, these models have persumably been in storage somewhere for something like fifty years. They are complete, but giving the length of time they’ve been stored they may take a bit of work to get them running.

By comparison, the middle locomotive is a far more recent Graham Farish model of the class 24, painted in the later BR Blue livery I remember from those Welsh holidays. Considering there’s something like fifty years separating the two 24s, it suggests Lone Star were a long way ahead of their time when they introduced the range.

In retrospect, they were perhaps too far ahead of their time. The design used a large central motor that extended down into the fuel tank between the bogies, and it just wasn’t possible to motorise a British outline steam locomotive using the technology they had in 1960. So they launched an all-diesel range at a time when the real railway, though changing fast, was still largely operated by steam, long before “Modern Image” was a thing. It interesting to speculate where the range might have gone had they continued with it.

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Where Worlds Collide


Fellow prog fan Andy Hall posted this on Twitter earlier today, taken in Sainsburys.

Prog Magazine editor Jerry Ewing was not impressed with his illustrious magazine being placed next to one about toy trains. I do wonder if the editor of Hornby Magazine feels the same way about his mag being next to one dedicated to songs about Hobbits?

The first reaction for any self-respecting prog fan ought to be “Old King Coal was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he“. But it’s unlikely that many progressive rock fans are aware that Prog Magazine’s cover star is actually a model railway enthusiast.

Of course, if you’re one of those people who goes to both prog gigs and model railway exhibitions, you will realised that the attendance is drawn from the same demographic. Execpt that model railway exhibitions have even fewer woman.

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Twilight of the Pacers

Twilight of the PacersThere’s an informative and well-researched article on the BBC website telling the story of Pacers: The train that the UK has struggled to get rid of,

These trains were unloved even when they were new; I still remember seeing people’s reactions at Plymouth in 1987 when the forward connection into Cornwall wasn’t the expected class 50 and a rake of Mk1s but a pair of chocolate and crean liveried 142s.

But the article explains why they were a pragmatic solution for a cash-strapped railway under the rule of a government of the day that gave every impression that it hated trains and worshipped the private car.

But rail experts broadly agree that, in their early days at least, they were a pragmatic solution to a shortage of rolling stock. “Originally they were a good idea,” says Christian Wolmar, author of The Iron Road: The Illustrated History of the Railway.

Budgets were tight and British Rail was under great pressure to cut branch lines, says Wolmar. Meanwhile, at its factory in Workington, Cumbria, motor manufacturer British Leyland had produced a single-decker bus, the National, which needed to sell in high volumes to be viable.

“We had one practical chap suggested maybe you could take the body bit of the Leyland National and put it on a rail track,” says Eric Woodcock, who was a bus designer at the state-run conglomerate at the time and now campaigns on public transport issues.

Simultaneously, British Rail had been working on freight wagon technology, and engineers from both nationalised companies began collaborating on a way to fuse the National’s body with a bogie-less chassis to create a cut-price diesel multiple unit (DMU) train.

Their days are numbered now. They will not be compliant with disability legislation and cannot run in their present state after 2020. It’s not practical to convert the Leyland-built class 142s to make them compliant, and even for the superior 143s and 144s it would still cost more than would be worthwhile given their remaining economic life. Their original design life was only 20 years, and they’ve already done far more than that.

As an aside, it’s remarkable how well the Sprinter family of trains have aged. The oldest of these, the 150, are roughly the same age as the Pacers, and it’s likely to be 150s displaced by newer trains elsewhere that end up replacing most of the Pacers. They’re in far better condition now than the 20-25 year old first-generation DMUs that the Pacers and Sprinters were built to replace,  a tribute to the standards of engineering in the BR workshops that built them.

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More Layout Ideas Unlikely to be Built

Rift Valey RailwaysPhoto by Fredrick Onyango via Wikimedia Commons

Another of those layout ideas I’m never likely to build, a freelance layout based in a ficticious African nation.

The above picture of a Rift Valley Railways passenger train in Nairobi, Kenya with its American diesel and vaguely European looking coaching stock is the sort of scene it might try to evoke. The RVR is metre-gauge (and most other lines in sub-Saharan Africa are 3’6″ Cape Gauge), but a model like the recently introduced Arnold U25C and Brawa DR “Reko” coaches could represent something similar.  Some Kato Japanese-outline freight stock would not out of place either.

As for other motive power, there was an export model of the Brush 4 that ran in Zimbabwe, and might make an interesting conversion project from a Graham Farish 47. Kitbashing anything to represent the stylish English Electric export model 1-Co-Co-1s which also run in Kenya might be more of a challenge.

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Nuclear Trains

Scottish CND and one or two SNP MPs have been getting themselves in a lather on Twitter over a short video clip of nuclear flask train passing through Paisley on route between Hunterston and Sellafield. The heavily-constructed steel flasks carry spent reactor fuel rods for reprocessing.

Never mind that these trains have been running for decades, or that they run in connection with the civilian nuclear power industry and have nothing to do with nuclear weapons.

Lines like “I marched against nuclear weapons in 1963” and “What if Faslane was hit by a meteorite” show their level of argument. They come over as thinking “nuclear” is such a big scary word that there’s no point discussing rational assessments of risks with these people.

The above video isn’t actually Paisley, but from Bridgewater in Somerset, with flask traffic from Hinkley Point. The veteran class 37 locomotives are 50 years old,  two of a handful of the type still earning their keep more than a decade after most of their classmates were retired.

Interestingly the rail operator, Direct Rail Services, is the only publically-owned train company in Britain. Although it’s run as a commercial business and has diversified its rail operations to include Anglo-Scottish intermodal traffic and even some passenger work, it’s still part of the state-owned nuclear industry.

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