Railways Blog

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

Cambrian Coast Line Reopens

The new bridge at Pont Briwet (photo from Network Rail)
(Photo from Network Rail)

The Cambrian Coast railway is now re-opened with trains again able to run the full length of the line following completion of the railway part of the new bridge at Pont Briwet just south of Penrhyndeudraeth.

The entire line was forced to close following the severe storms in January. The southern section reopened in stages during the spring following repairs to the sea defences at Tywyn and Barmouth, but until now trains had been unable to run north of Harlech due to the ongoing bridge reconstruction work.

The reopening means that Porthmadog, Cricceth and Pwllheli are once again connected to the main line rail network, although it was still possible to reach Porthmadog via the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway.

The fact that there was never any doubt over the line’s future says something abou the change in political climate towards rail over the past couple of decades. Back in the early 1970s the line was under thread of closure; indeed it got as far as closure notices posted at stations. At the end of the decade the future again hung in the balance as the mile-long Barnouth Bridge was being eaten by worms. But today, although it still runs at a loss, it’s recognised as being an important part of a regional economy that relies heavily on tourism.

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The Advanced Passenger Train

Thirty years ago, the Advanced Passenger Train represented the future of inter-city rail travel in Britain, a revolutionary tilting train that promised far higher speeds on existing tracks than conventional trains.

Sadly the project suffered many teething troubles after the trains entered public service prematurely, and generated much negative press in the media. In a climate where the governement of the day was so hostile to the rail industry that fringe cranks who wanted the entire rail network converted into roads had the ear of ministers, the project was abandoned, and the trains scrapped.

There was a time when the Advanced Passenger Train represented the future of rail travel.

Only a few coaches now survive, on public display at the Crewe Heritage centre, where they’re formed into a shortened representation of a typical set. What’s left of the train that represents what rail travel could have been sits alongside the West Coast Main Line, the route for which it was designed.

Now Virgin Trains’ Pendolinos and Super Voyagers speed past, running between London and Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, delivering what the APT promised a generation before.

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UK Train Fares – The Highest in Europe?

London Midland 350 at Rugeley Trent Valley

Rail fares are in the news again, with the annual announcement of above-inflation fare rises for the new year. The usual headlines emphasise how British rail fares are far higher that equivalents in most other countries. But given the complexity of British fare structures with astronomical peak-hour prices on prime business routes and extremely cheap bargains that are only available when booked weeks in advance, it’s not quite that simple.

The Man in Seat 61 has analysed a range of different journey, and concludes the real story is a lot more complex.

So the next time someone says (or you read) “Britain has the highest rail fares in Europe”, you’ll know this is only 15% of the story. The other 85% is that we have similar or even cheaper fares, too. The big picture is that Britain has the most commercially aggressive fares in Europe, with the highest fares designed to get maximum revenue from business travel, and some of the lowest fares designed to get more revenue by filling more seats. This is exactly what airlines have known, and been doing, for decades. But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself, check some UK train fares at www.nationalrail.co.uk…

But all this is academic if you actually want to make a specific journey rather than a hypothetical one.

If, for example, you need to travel from Reading to York in three days time, the fact that the peak hour fare from London to Manchester is eye-wateringly expensive or you can get a really cheap ticket to Cleethorpes on a Wednesday in November isn’t relevant. All that matters is the tickets available for your journey. And in my case the cheap advance tickets never seem to be available for the times I need to travel, and the cost of an off-peak return is a three-figure sum.

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Porthmadog Again

Ffestiniog Railway's double-Fairlie A few more photos from norh Wales, starting with 1979-built double Fairlie “David Lloyd George” at Blaenau Ffestiniog, having just arrived on the morning train from Porthmadog. It’s still running in grey livery following an overhaul. Despite being one of the “new” locomotives build since preservation, it’s now 35 years old.
Continue reading

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Today’s new word, courtesty of a thread on RMWeb, is “Crayonista”. It’s a derogatory term for those groups or individuals who propose reopenings of railways lines that make absolutely no economic sense, but look pretty when drawn across a map in crayon. The proposal for a north-south railway across central Wales, linking Cardiff to Rhyl via Brecon, Llanidloes and Corwen is an example of the work of Crayonistas.

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Big Kettles

Tornado!

While my model railway interests centre firmly in the diesel era, there is still room for the occasional kettle on the layout. The first one, A1 Pacific “Tornado” actually belongs to the post-privatisation era fleet. The prototype was only built in 2009, used for charter trains all over the country. Though I’m not certain it’s ever visited Cornwall, it was a performer on the Torbay Express at one point, and I think LNER-style apple green goes well with the WR chocolate and cream coaches used on that train.

Dapol 9F 92226

9F 2-10-0 No 92226 belongs firmly to the transition era fleet. Built in Swindon in 1960, it was part of the final batch for the Western Region that also included “Evening Star”, the last steam locomotive built for British Railways. It had an extremely short life, withdrawn after just five years with the end of steam on the WR. In the early 1960s, Plymouth Laira had a small allocation of these locomotives. As far as I can tell they were all used on the main line east of Plymouth and didn’t run into Cornwall, but modeller’s licence applies. They were (or are, since several are preservcd) magnificent locomotives, and that’s enough of an excuse for running one.

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The NMT Comes to York

The Network Rail Measurement Train at York on 29th June 2014

Network Rail’s High Speed Measurement Train pauses at York on June 28th.

This train is a familiar sight for regular train travellers throughout the country. Converted from a High Speed Train a few years back, it records the state of the track, criss-crossing the country, covering each line every couple of months.

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Evocative Railway Remains

Glen Ogle ViaductPhoto from Scotlandincolour.com

There’s an interesting thread on the RMweb forum about evocative railway remains.

Abandoned railways loomed large in family holidays in the sixties and seventies. Back then the Beeching closures were still very recent, and the trackbeds were still easily recognisable. Indeed, the track was still in situ for the section of the Ruabon to Barmouth line running parallel to the A5 between Llangollen and Corwen in the mid-60s when we holidayed in Angelsea. Later years saw the viaduct at Berwyn covered in half-grown trees. Now it’s restored, and trains again cross that viaduct. An even earlier holiday was on a farm adjacent to the Seaton branch in Devon, again with the track still in place. Now narrow-gauge trams pass that location.

I remember taking  a photo on my old Kodak Instamatic in the early 70s of the closed station at Dolgellau further west on the same route, and being told by a local that I shouldm’t photograph it because it was just too sad.

Nowadays, half a century on from the Beeching closures, railway remains fall into two categories.

First, there are the big spectacular structures that have survived long after they ceased to serve their original purpose. I can think of the viaduct high up the side of Glen Ogle on the closed section of the Callendar and Oban line in the Scottish highlands, along which I have walked during a holiday.  Another is the impressive structure that once carried the Dearne Valley Railway  across the Don Valley, which I see regularly from the former Great Central line between Sheffield to Doncaster on journeys between Reading and York. Then there’s the old Didcot, Newbury and Southampton viaduct south of Winchester, visible from the M3 (and before that the A33)

Second, there are those remants that offer tantalising glimpses of what had once been. One such example is the isolated bits of embankment and viaduct around Swansea Victoria. Another is the plate girder bridge than now carries the A4 across the A33 just south of Reading town centre. It’s not the sort of bridge you’d expect t see for a road-over-road bridge; that’s because the A33 uses the trackbed of the Reading South freight branch, closed in the early 1980s.  Yet another is the surviving long-abandoned track and pointwork from a narrow gauge mineral tramway on the footpath between St Blazey and Pontsmill in Cornwall.

What railway remains do you find evovative, and why?

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As reported by diamond geezer, London Undergound’s C69 trains bow out today after 44 years service on the Circle, Hammersmith and City, and the Edgware Road branch of the District Line. Makes me feel old that I can remember the COP stock they replaced.

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The 2014 Derby Show

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A few photos from the Derby model railway exhibition from a couple of weeks ago. The first two are of Netherwood, an O gauge layout based on the final years of the Woodhead elecrification, set in south Yorkshire, with coal traffic predominating.

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The distinctive class 76 electric locomotives unique to that line are the obvious signature item, but I also liked the class 123 DMU, former Western Region trains that spent their final years on the South Trans-Pennine route, and occasionally ran over Woodhead on Sunday diversions. The model is made from cut-and-shut Lima Mk1 coaches.

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Like Netherwood, Barton Road oozes atmosphere, and although not based on any specific location, it has a very definite sense of time and place. It was predicted that the excellent recent N gauge diesel-hydraulic locomotives from Dapol and Farish would inspire a lot of 60s/70s Western Region layouts, and this is one of the first such new layouts I’ve seen.

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Although neither has a steam locomotive in sight, both of these layouts are historical models, capturing a railway scene long since gone. Which is why using the dated term “Modern Image” to describe them is just silly.

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