Railways Blog

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

What Plandampf Should Be Next?

Arriva class 150 at Blaenau Ffestiniog
How about replacing this with a steam train for a day or three?

After the success of the plandampf on the Settle and Carlisle line using 60103 “Tornado”, what other routes would be good candidates for something similar?

For the uninitiated, plandampf is a German word describing steam locomotives taking over regular scheduled services for a few days or a weekend rather than the more usual one-off special that doesn’t appear in the public timetable. It’s been a popular thing in Germany for many years.

Here are a few suggestions; since steam locomotives are restricted to 75mph on the main lines it rules out inter-city routes, much as we’d love to see a King running from Paddington to Plymouth instead of a High Speed Train.

The Conwy Valley line

This spectacularly scenic line is one of Wales’ best-kept secrets, the one surviving standard-gauge line to run into the mountainous heart of Snowdonia, and also connects with the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog railway. As an operationally self-contained line, it’s ideal, and the current timetable allows a single train to operate the entire service, though a second locomotive might be needed to speed up the turn-round at Llandudno. The passing loop at Llanrwst North would also allow two-train operation for a more intensive service.

The Central Wales line

This is much longer scenic trip from Swansea to Shrewsbury over a meandering route through the hills of mid-Wales that allegedly only survived the Beeching cuts because it ran through so many marginal parliamentary constituencies. It has the advantage that there’s a triangle to turn the locomotive at both ends of the line, so no tender-first running over the most scenic part of the route The one potential problem is the reversal at Llanelli, though top-and-tail working with a diesel for the short section between Swansea and Llanelli might be one solution here.

Par to Newquay

This is another of those scenic Cinderella lines that, like the Conwy Valley, is crying out for some heritage traction. Lack of any run-round facilities at the Newquay end means top-and-tail working will be necessary, but it will likely need two locomotives to keep to time on those grades in any case; back in the steam days holiday trains needed banking on the 1 in 37 up the Luxulyan valley. A train with a Castle or Hall at the front and a 52XX 2-8-0T at the back would something to see slogging up that grade.

The Greenford Loop

For something completely different, how about this short and self-contained shuttle from West Ealing to Greenford in west London? Rather than a day out behind a big main-line locomotive this is ideal for a Great Western auto-train and the recently-restored steam railcar. The line is double track, so there’s the opportunity have two trains running at the same time.

Over to you. What lines would you love to see taken over by heritage traction for a day or three?

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Eurostar Refurbishment

Eurostar RefurbThere’s an interesting photo-article in Wired UK showing the refurbishment of one of the twenty year old original Eurostar sets at their depot in Lille.

What the article fails to mention is that only a handful of the original sets will be receiving this treatment; the rest are going for scrap, replaced by new Siemens e320s. I can understand the logic for fleet replacement at this stage when the old trains contain a lot of dated technology and replacements result in increased operating efficiency. But I can’t think of a precedent, in Britain at least, for major mid-life refurbishment of just a minority of a fleet.

There is presumably a perfectly good reason for this, but I haven’t seen it expressed anywhere.

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First class 88 electro-diesel arrives in Britain

The first of Direct Rail Services class 88 electro-diesels has been delivered to the operator’s depot in Carlisle. The class 88 is the first 25kV AC electro-diesel to run in Britain, and like the DC class 73s from the 1960s is intended to be used as a electric locomotive with “last mile” capability enabling it to reach freight terminals off the electrified network. It’s now set to undergo an eight-week testing program.

As a tester I’d love to know more about the test programme. What’s involved in testing a new design of locomotive?

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Vivarail publish report on the Kenilworth fire

Vivarail have just published a full report on December’s fire at Kenilworth (pdf) during a test run of their class 230 DEMU. They identify the cause as a fuel leak, and note several design improvements that need to be made to avoid a repetition. The whole thing is an interesting read for anyone concerned with testing.

Having your train catch fire during what amounts to a full system test is a pretty serious failure by anyone’s standards, and it’s forced the abandonment of plans for a passenger trial this May. But despite the naysayers who seemed all too keen to dance on Vivarail’s grave, it’s a long way from terminating the project.

The concept of converting surplus trains from London Underground’s District Line into diesel trains by installing underfloor diesel generator sets to power the existing traction motors is a sound one. With running gear and motors dating from 2005 the trains have twenty years’ life left in them, and the conversions are far cheaper than new-build DMUs. There is some political resistance to “London’s hand-me-downs”, but something has got to replace the Pacers.

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Blue and Grey in the late 1960s

British Rail, Rail Blue Part 1 the 1960s (New Version). from Lewisham Bill on Vimeo.

One for anyone interested in some late 1960s nostalgia, whether it’s the trains or the music that forms the soundtrack.

There’s a lot of great footage of the southern end of the electrified West Coast main line, the West of England main line and the Southern Region out of Waterloo, as well as a bit of the Eastern Region, and a very brief glimpse of Scotland. There are Westerns and Warships, Blue Pullmans, 4-CORs and Deltics.

But this is not just about the locomotives, but the coaches. What makes this one interesting from a railway modelling standpoint is that is that much of the time it shows the whole train. Because film was expensive, much 60s cine film focused on the locomotive and tended to stop after the first couple of coaches, which is frustrating if you’ve modelling the era and want to know something of the train formations. This one is different.

It’s from a time when blue and grey was beginning to dominate, many Mk1s still wore maroon, and the Mk2a was the newest carriage on the railway. There are some interesting oddities; look out for the remarkably clean Stanier BG at St. Pancras in the long-obsolete crimson livery, and the maroon Gresley buffet at Teignmouth.

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Last Call for Class B Tanks?

Revolution Trains 35t Tanker

Last year RevolutioN Trains announced the Class B tanker as a new crowdfunded model. With the prototype spanning the steam/diesel transition era and the blue diesel era, which ran both in block trans and in twos or threes in mixed freights, it ought to have had broad appeal. Unfortunately pre-orders so far have been disappointing,

Ben Ando posted this on RMWEB a few days ago:

We are still a few hundred short of the minimum number we need to reach to be confident about starting tooling.

By contrast, the HOA hoppers are already well beyond the minimum and CADs are now being drawn, with tooling work to follow soon afterward.

We still can’t understand why these wagons are struggling. They fill a useful gap, can be used in block trains or in twos and threes, and are the same prototype as the iconic Airfix kit many of us remember from yesteryear. What’s not to like?

They will continue to take pre-orders until February, and if the model is still well short at that point it won’t be going ahead. So if you still want one, or a full train of them, get your pre-order in now.

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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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