Railways Blog

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

The Silk Railway

Silk Road LocoSome textbook transport-illiterate sub-editing from The Guardian here on the return of the silk road.

No, that Chinese hood-style diesel locomotive will certainly not be rolling into Barking. As the text says further on, the train will be hauled by several different locomotives over the course of its seven and a half thousand mile journey. The final leg is almost certainly either going to be hauled by a British class 92 or 66.

When the East Wind train rumbles into east London this week, it will be full of socks, bags and wallets for London’s tourist souvenir shops, as well as the dust and grime accumulated through eight countries and 7,456 miles.

The train – made up of 34 wagons – will be the first to make the 16-day journey from Yiwu in east China to Britain, reviving the ancient trading Silk Road route and shunting in a new era of UK-China relations.

Due to arrive on Wednesday, the train will have passed through China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France before crossing under the Channel and arriving in the east end of London at Barking rail freight terminal.

There is something depressing about the first train along a historic and legendary route to be laden with cheap tat for the tourist market.

Update: It enters the Channel Tunnel behind a pair of DB Cargo UK class 92s.

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Farish 2017 Announcements

Bachmann have made their 2017 announcment of  forthcoming models. You can read the full list on RMWeb.

The new models are

  • Retooled Stanier 8F 2-8-0
  • Wainwright SECR C-class 0-6-0 shrunk down from 00
  • Refurbished 31 diesel, initially available in original Railfreight and Railfreight Petroleum liveries
  • LNER Thompson coaches, range includes first, third, composite and brake third, initially in LNER teak and BR blood and custard
  • Retooled TEA tanker This is the same 1960s prototype as had previously been in their range rather than the modern tanker produced by Revolution.

Well, I guessed one right.

There are plenty of reliveries, including a couple of sector-era 47s. There are some intestesting coaching stock choices beyond the obvious Inter-City RMB, and the Stanier 50′ BG in BR blue; Mk2a FKs in maroon and SR Green (are they prototypical?), and Mk1s in the short-lived Sealink livery.

From my multi-era Western Region perspective it’s quite a thin list. Neither of the new kettles got anywhere near the south-west, and when it comes refurbished 31s it’s the 31/4s that used to turn up in the south-west on Summer Saturdays. The Inter-City buffet car goes with the previously-annouced Mk2 aircons whenever they finally appear. The long-overdue Stanier 50′ BG in BR blue is also very welcome; there were very common on the heterogenious parcels trains in the south-west.

But still no maroon Hawksworths….

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Farish Frothing for 2017?

This weekend, Bachmann will announce their 2017/18 programme for the N-gauge Graham Farish range. With so many models announced two or three years ago still to appear in the shops, or in some cases even shown as works in progress at exhibitions, we can probably expect another year of consolidation, with no lengthy list of proposed models many of which would take years to be delivered.

So here’s my predictions:

  • LNER Thompson coaches, as a follow-on from the Thompson BG commissioned by The N Gauge Society.
  • GWR Large Prairie. It’s the one “old” Farish model (going right back to the early days) that hasn’t been redone as a next-generation model.
  • LMS/BR wood-bodied “Highfit” open wagon. This is probably the most significant remaining gap in the transition era/blue diesel era wagon fleet.

After that, it’s probably just going to be reliveries. Some of the obvious ones have to be:

  • WR Hawksworth coaches in BR maroon. I was expecting these last year but suspect they’re waiting for the stocks of blood and custard ones to clear first
  • More class 47 liveries. The obvious ones yet to be done are Railfreight Distribution, InterCity Swallow, Rail Express Systems, and Virgin Trains.

On Sunday we’ll find out how much I was way off the mark…

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Bi-mode Class 319s for Northern

Train leasing company Porterbrook have announced that some class 319 dual-voltage EMUs are to be converted into bi-mode trains for use on Northern.

It’s an interestng development. These trains were built for Thameslink in the late 1980s, operating on 25kV AC overhead along the Midland main line to Bedford, and on 750V DC third rail on the Southern Region, switching between the two at Farringdon.

It’s that dual-voltage capability that makes them suitable for conversion, since there’s already a DC power bus running the length of the train carrying traction current from the 3rd rail shoes on the driving trailers to the motor coach in the middle. The plan is to add underfloor diesel generator sets to the driving trailers, enabling the train to run on diesel power away from electrified routes while retaining AC overhead capability while running under the wires.

Rebuilding thirty-year old trains in this manner seems a bit “make do and mend” compared with shiny new trains. But it does say something about the build quality of rolling stock from the later years of British Rail that such a thing is being considered.

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The Old Street Tunnel Incident

This just beggars belief. A property developer was completely unaware there was a working railway tunnel running directly beneath their construction site, and drilled right through the tunnel roof as part of the preliminary piling work. It was only a quick-thinking train driver that averted what could have been a very serious accident.

During the morning of 8 March 2013, a train driver reported that flood water was flowing from the roof of a railway tunnel north of Old Street station near central London. The driver of an out-of-service passenger train was asked to examine the tunnel at low speed and check for damage. The driver stopped short of the water flow and reported that two large drills (augers) had come through the tunnel wall and were fouling the line ahead of his train.

The augers were being used for boring piles from a construction site about 13 metres above the top of the tunnel. The operators of the piling rig involved were unaware that they were working above an operational railway tunnel. Its position was not shown on the site plan, or on any map available to either the developer or the local planning authority. As a consequence, Network Rail was not consulted during the planning application stage and was unaware of the construction activity.

There is a maze of tunnels under London; not just the tube network, but a whole host of utilities, communications, and wartime and cold war bunkers. That there is no one map showing them all is problem, given the amount of construction work going on in central London.

And it shows why documentation matters.

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Back in Black

Back in Black

Great Western’s oldest locomotive, 08483, at Paddington having bought in the empty stock for The Night Riviera to Penzance. It’s usually a main line locomotive assigned to this duty, so Great Western were presumably a loco short, needing the Old Oak Common depot shunter to fill in with a rare trip to the big station.

08483 was built in the former Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway works at Horwich in Lancashire way back in 1958, and started work on what was then an almost entirely steam-operated railway. Even the design is a legacy of the age of steam, with a layout resembling the small steam tank locomotives it was built to replace. Well over a thousand of them were built, even after more than half a century there are still a handful left in service, of which 08483 is one.

Even the freshly-applied livery is from the steam age; it’s British Railways black with the old “cat on a mangle” logo, the stanard livery for diesel locomotives prior to the 1955 modernisation plan.

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Revolution Trains announce HOA Stone Hopper


Revolution Trains have announced their next proposed model, the HOA aggregates hopper. Nearly 200 of these wagons are in service with three operators in five different liveries, and they are used for stone trains from quarries in central England, the Mendips and have also seen service on Anglo-Scottish sand trains for glassmaking.

The model will again be  produced by Rapido, who produced the very well received TEA tankers, and will feature similar levels of details and attention to accuracy, It will be available in five different liveries.


As a crowdfunded model, it will only be produced if it gets a sufficient number of pre-orders; at the moment it’s still at the expressions-of-interest stage.

Revolution are still taking pre-orders for the KFA containler flat and that 1955 class B tank. The latter is still some way short of the number of pre-orders needed to nake it viable to go ahead, so if you want this model to happen, get your order in as soon as possible!

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No Wires to Hull

Plans to electrify the railway from Selby to Hull have been dropped in favour of a new fleet of bi-mode trains.

Some people are not impressed.

Labour MP for Hull North, Diana Johnson, said she was “very angry” at the decision.

“If they are really sincere about the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ then Hull has to be included in infrastructure investment,” she said.

Grandstanding MPs aside, the decision to invest in bi-mode trains which can take advantage of electrified sections of the route while being able to run on diesel power to serve destinations off the wires is probably with wise one now that the concept has proved viable.

Back in the old days of the 1960s and 70s, when long-distance trains were locomotive-hauled, they simply changed engines where the wires ended. So an Inter-City from London to North Wales would be electrically-hauled as far as Crewe, then a diesel would take the train forward.

All that ended when everything went over to fixed-formation unit trains. Now services from London to places like Chester or Hull must be formed of diesel sets running under the wires for almost the entire journey because they need diesel power for those last few miles. At the moment Virgin Trains even uses part of the class 221 “Voyager” fleet on services that are completely under the wires just so they have diesel-powered trains available for weekend diversions.

Now that technology has reached the level where it’s possible to equip a high-speed multiple unit with both diesel engines and transformers without carrying around too much dead weight, bi-mode trains change that equation. Great Western’s  new inter-city fleet is entirely bi-mode, which means they can enter service before the long-delayed electrification is completed,  as well as reaching “off the wires” destinations like Camarthen or Weston Super-Mare which aren’t proposed for electrification. They’re also looking like an optimum solutuon for places like Hull which are close to but not on the electrified network.

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Croydon Tram Disaster

Photo from RAIB report

Photo from RAIB report

While everyone was still in a state of shock over the news from across the Atlantic, news reports filtered through back home that a tram had overturned in Croydon and people were trapped.

By mid-morning it was clear it was quite a serious incident. Then came the news that there were multiple fatalities as well as more that fifty injured, and the tram driver had been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter. It had gone from a serious incident to a major disaster.

The Rail Accident Investigation Board (RAIB) has put out a preliminary report, possibly to quell media speculation. It stated that the curve on which the tram derailed had a speed limit of 12 mph, and, as ought to have been evident from the aerial photographs in the media, the tram had been travelling well in excess of that.

It’s the first multiple-fatality rail accident in Britain since the Ufton Nervet crash way back in 2004.

You don’t associate trams with accidents on this scale. Since the opening of the Manchester Metrolink in 1992, trams have returned to the streets of several of Britain’s cities, with a good safety record. While there have been a few fatal incidents involving pedestrians or other road users, I don’t recall a single fatality to a tram passenger before.

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Great Western Electrification Woes

gwr-800The Great Western Electrification project has been going badly off the rails for a long time, running massively late with knock-on effects on subsequent electrification projects such as the Midland Main Line.

Now several sections are being deferred:

We have been clear that there have been difficulties with this programme. These were set out last year in the review of Network Rail’s delivery plan by Sir Peter Hendy. Following the re-planning of work that followed this review, the programme has been placed on a more efficient footing. A key part of this is the ongoing assessment of investment decisions so that passengers and taxpayers get maximum value.

As a result of this scrutiny from the Hendy review I have decided to defer 4 electrification projects that are part of the programme of work along the Great Western route. The 4 projects being deferred are:

  • electrification between Oxford and Didcot Parkway
  • electrification of Filton Bank (Bristol Parkway to Bristol Temple Meads)
  • electrification west of Thingley Junction (Bath Spa to Bristol Temple Meads)
  • electrification of Thames Valley Branches (Henley & Windsor)

This is because we can bring in the benefits expected by passengers – newer trains with more capacity – without requiring costly and disruptive electrification works. This will provide between £146 million to £165 million in this spending period, to be focused on improvements that will deliver additional benefits to passengers. We remain committed to modernising the Great Western mainline and ensuring that passenger benefits are achieved.

This looks worse that it is. Since the new class 800 trains are bi-mode they can run on diesel power for the last few miles into Bristol. The one deferment that makes less sense is the Didcot-Oxford section, which would prevent the use of GWR’s new class 387 EMUs on Paddington-Oxford semi-fasts. Will these trains terminate at Didcot with a DMU shuttle to Oxford in the interim?

The reasons for the delays in the Great Western electrification are many, but the biggest has got to be the fact that there hasn’t been a major main line electrification project in Britain for a generation, and the knowledge base has been lost. The people who managed the East Coast Main Line electrification in the late 1980s have long retired.

Commenter “Phil-b259″ on RMWeb (There are an awful lot of knowledgable people on that forum) lays out some of the reasons why the project has run into so many difficulties:

  • NR having hardly any experience in undertaking electrification projects thanks to Governments of all colours not undertaking any such schemes since privatisation.
  • NR not having key historic data due to much if it being thrown out as ‘not needed’ by Railtrack and the IMCs who were supposed to manage the infrastructure in the years immediately after privatisation.
  • NR making lots of mistakes (sometimes repeatedly) as it tries to re- learn all the skills necessary or rebuild its route knowledge to overcome (1) and (2)
  • The fact that most of the work all has to be contracted out leading to extra interfaces and potential sources for delay / dispute compared to 30 years ago when the work was all done ‘in house’
  • Poor project management on the part of NR and the seeming inability to get on top of things – though this again is in part due to the sheer size of the project.
  • Health and Safety regs having got tougher since the late 1980s with knock on effects on costs and what can be achieved in any given possession, etc.
  • The various big railway contractors (e.g. Balfour Beatty) having no recent experience of electrification work in the UK – for the same reasons as NR, i.e. a lack of Government action for over 20 years.
  • The Government dumping several big electrification schemes on NR within the space of six months and not taking into account its lack of action in the previous 20 years.
  • The Government pushing ahead with train procurement themselves resulting in the most expensive to lease in the Uk trains being delivered before the wires will be ready for them.

Is anyone else getting flashbacks to the 1955 Modernisation Plan?

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