Railways Blog

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

Some rolling stock additions

There is little progress to report on the layout, so to fill the game, some of the rolling stock I’ve acculumlated over the past year ir so.

Dapol Class 33

The most recent purchase, the new and long-awaited Dapol class 33, a locomotive always associated with the Southern Region. In the days of the 1955 Modernisation Plan, the SR management concluded their motive power needs were quite different to other regions. With all their main lines scheduled for electrification and relatively little heavy industry they had no need for an express passenger or a heavy-haul freight locomotive. What they wanted was a one-size-fits-all locomotive suitable for passenger work on non-electrified secondary routes and for general freight work across the network, able to operate in pairs on what little heavy traffic their was. They rejected the Modernisation Plan type 2 designs as underpowered, came up with their own specification for a medium-power machine, and Birmingham Carriage and Wagon were the successful bidders.

In later years these versatile machines spread their wings as declining freight traffic made more of them available for other work. They worked on the Western Region in Devon and in West Wales, on the cross-country route from Cardiff to Manchester, and even into North Wales. None were allocated outside the Western Region, instead working complicated cyclic diagrams that took them back to their home region for maintenance. The majority were withdrawn in the 1990s, but even today a handful remain in traffic. Several more survive in preservation.

Minitrix Cisalpino

Something completely different, an addition to the Swiss-outline fleet. It’s the Minitrix Re484 in Cisalpino livery with matching EC coaches. Cisalpino was a joint venture between the Swiss Federal Railways and the Italian State Railway operating through trains between the two countries, using dual-voltage trains to avoid needing to change locomotives on the border. The rolling stock was a mixture of Italian Pendolino multiple units and Swiss locomotive-hauled trains. As ought to be obvious from the picture, this train is one of the latter. They were a common sight on the Lötchberg main line during the mid-noughties.

Dapol Grange and Farish Hawksworth

And next, a couple of kettles for when the layout is running in transition-era mode. This one’s the recently-introduced Dapol Grange class. The GWR had several classes of mixed-traffic 4-6-0s, and the Granges combined the smaller driving wheels of the Manors with the larger boiler of the Halls. The result was a locomotive with the same overall power as the Hall class but with a greater tractive effort at the expense of reduced maximum speed. This made them especially useful for fitted freight work in the west of England, the sort of versatile machine that would work freight during the week and heavy holiday trains at weekends. The coaches are Farish Hawksworths in the older blood and custard livery, since Farish have yet to released them in 1960s BR maroon.

Dapol 2884

And finally, another Dapol model, this time the Collett 2884 class. These locomotives were were the Great Western’s equivalent to the LMS Stanier 8F. The GWR didn’t build eight-coupled freight locomotives on the scale of the LMS or LNER, preferring to use mixed-traffic 4-6-0s on much of their freight traffic, but despite this the 2884s were found all over the system, including a couple based at St.Blazey in Cornwall for china clay traffic. The china clay wagons are made by Farish as an exclusive model for Kernow Models.

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Huge cuts at DB Schenker UK

Britain’s largest railfreight operator, DB Schenker, plans to cut 900 jobs, a third of their total workforce, and significantly reduce the size of their locomotive and wagon fleet.

The reason is a dramatic decline in steel and especially coal traffic as the UK moves away from burning fossil fuels in favour of renewables. The one growth area in rail freight is distribution and logistics, largely intermodal, and that’s not enough to offset the loss of bulk traffic to heavy industry.

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Class B Tanks

No, Revolution Trains crowdfunded model is not the first ready-to-run example of the 1955 Class B tanker in N. That honour goes to these beasties, made by Lone Star in about 1960.  Though extremely crude by the standards of even a decade later, they’re clearly not based on the older steam-era short wheelbase tanks. The 1955 long wheelbase tanks look like the more likely inspiration.

This trio resulted from my making a speculative low eBay bid and turning out to be the sole bidder. I only really “needed” one…

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Revolution Trains announce crowdfunded class 92 in N

revolution-92Revolution Trains have annnounced a Class 92 as their next N gauge crowdfunded model. It will be available in six liveries including DB Schenker Traffic Red and the recently-introduced Caledonian Sleeper colours, as well as the original Railfreight grey from their introduction.

These locomotives were introduced with the opening of the Channel Tunnel, and still haul all freight services through the tunnel itself. They are the only duel-voltage locomotives in Britain, able to work in the Southern Region third rail as well as the 25kV overhead in the tunnel and on the WCML.

Though they have never worked deeper into France, they haul many international trains through to their destinations in Britain, which sees them working the length of the West Coast Main Line. They also work as a heavy haul freight locomotive for some domestic traffic, as well as being the motive power for the Caledonian Sleeper.

As the one significant present-day locomotive that’s not available in ready-to-run form (unless you count the hand-made CJM model), it ought to be a popular choice, and complements Revolution’s existing Pendolino. So it’s unfortunate that we have ended up with two rival crowdfunding projects underway for the same locomotive, the other being from DJM. Hopefully at least one of the two will get a sufficient number of backers to go ahead.

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Arriva’s Cross-Country Franchise Extended

The franchise extension promises better journeys for passengers on the cross country network.

Rail passengers across Britain are set to benefit from quicker journeys, thousands of extra seats and free Wi-Fi, after the government agreed a new deal for services for the Cross Country franchise. Under the contract, which will deliver improved connections, a better customer experience and set tough new targets, Arriva Cross Country (AXC) will continue to run services which stretch from Aberdeen to Penzance, Bournemouth to Manchester and from Stansted to Cardiff until October 2019.

It’s not at all clear where these extra seats are going to come from. Cross Country will be adding two coaches (Yes, two whole coaches) to their fleet, taking on a pair of spare Voyager driving cars from Virgin Trains and reforming them with two five-car sets to make three four-car sets. There is no suggestion that Virgin Trains wiill be giving up any more of their Voyager sets even though many of them spend all the time working under the wires. Perhaps in the medium term they might take on some former Great Western HSTs once they become available, to add to Croxx-Country’s existing small HST fleet. But such 40 year old trains would only be a stopgap.

As someone who uses Cross Country a lot, with many trips between Reading and places like Wolverhampton, Manchester and York, their sevices suffer from severe overcrowding at busy times, especially at weekends. It’s common to find people standing not just in the vestibules but along the aisles as well making a claustrophobic experience even for passengers lucky enough to find a seat.

Add to that the fact that the Voyager fleet originally specified by Virgin Trains isn’t really suitable for long-distance travel. Though they make some very long runs, for example from Dundee to Penzance, they’re really a glorified commuter train, with cramped seating and inadequate luggage space. They were designed on the assumption that their journeys are really several regional routes joined together end-to-end, with most passengers making short hops of two or three stops rather than travelling the whole way.

What the North-East to South West really needs is new trains, preferably loco and coaches rather than DMUs. Would the 68+CAF Mk5s similar to the recent order for Trans Pennine be a solution?

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Black Bridge

This will be the prototype for the first of the photo planks, a short  section of the famous sea wall berween Dawlish and Dawlish Warren. The modelled section will be a slightly telescoped rendition of the secion where the train is on the picture, with the footbridge marking one end of the scebe.


Here’s the same location from Google Earth, and with a 12″ module depth it looks as though the buildings on the upper level on the left of the picture are close enough to the tracks to be part of the scene.  Not that my photo is taken with a telephoto lens shooting parallel to the coast, and those buildings are, as the above image shows, directly behind the train.

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Eurostars for Scrap

According to Rail, Eurostar is to scrap the first class 373 Eurostar trains, with the first one due to make its final journey to Kingsbury in the West Mindland this week. The ones going for scrap are those which haven’t been refurbished.

It seems a waste to scrap to 186mph trains, but they’ve been replaced by more modern Velaro trains on Three Capitals services, and aren’t reeally suitable for cascading on to other work. While they still seem relatively new, their 22-year working life is the same as that of the Deltics from the east coast main line. Like the Eurostars, the Deltics were complex and sophisticated machines, built for one specific purpose and unsuitable for anything else once superceded.

It’s only the unrefurbished trains which are going for scrap, the refurbished members of the class 373 Eurostar fleet are likely to be around for a good few years yet.

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Didcot and Goring

66086 at Didcot

A few photos taken last week when Summer briefly returned. First, DB Sschenker class 55 No 66086 at Didcot Parkway, still with the old EWS “Three Beasties” logo on the cabside.

66524 at Didcot

Freighliner’s class 66 no 66524 heads an up intermodal through the slow line platforms at Didcot Parkwau. The overhead knitting is already in place here, ready for Great Western’s new electric services.

Goring Gap

An unidentified Great Western HST set in the new green livery speed through Goring Gap. There were complaints made when the catenery went up because they were thought too visually obtrusive. Were there similar complaints when Brunel built the original railway in the 1839s?

Goring Gap

Again unidentified (you think I can read numbers at that distance?), a Cross Country Voyager crosses the Thames midway between Goring and Pangbourne..

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A Day at the Cowshed


A few photos from The International N Gauge show at the Warwickshire Exhibition Centre. The exhibition centre, a few miles outside Leamington Spa, is a former farm, which is the source of the nickname.

The show has been a fixture in the exhibition calendar for quite a few years now, as the one major British show completely dedicated to N. It’s the big meetup for N gauge modellers from all over the country, and there were plenty of familiar faces present.

The first couple of photos feature the Cornish layout “Moulinnis”, a present-day layout set in the heart of clay country.

There’s some clever thinking-out-of-the-box design elements here, with the branch line forming a continuous run while one end of the main terminates in a fiddle yard. It also captures the atmosphere of clay country even though the china clay mill (which would have dominated the layout) is offstage. And it’s very compact, with a footprint of 8′ by 3′

Not all the layouts were British outline, with German, French and American layouts on display. South Walton was a little more unusual, set in New South Wales.

As well as layouts, there are plenty of traders to damage everyone’s credit cards, and manufacturers large and small display their wares and announce new products. Here’s the first engineering sample of Graham Farish’s new class 40, equipped with DCC sound. Can you beleive that’s N?

They were also demonstrating the sound-equipped class 108 DMU, which is already in the shops. What’s remarkable is they’ve managed to program the chip so a lot of the sound functions work under DC as well as DCC!  Apply a low voltage and you’ll get the sounds of the engines starting up and idling, but the train won’t move. Increase the power and the current will flow into the motor and the train will set off as the sound chip goes through the gear changes.

Over on the Dapol stand some finished production samples of the long-awaited class 33 “Crompton”. A countainer (not a Hanjin one!) is on the high seas, eight days out of Southampton, so they should be in the shops within weeks.

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Is British Industry really “Fat and Lazy”?

When Trade Secretary Liam Fox accused British industry of being “fat and lazy”, I immediately thought of this film, dating from 1959 when the world was a very different place.

Back then, Britain had trading deals with what until recently been the Empire, in which we imported food and raw materials in exchange for manufactured goods. Railway networks from Australia to Africa relied on motive power built by English Electric, North British and Beyer Peacock.

Half a century later, though we still have a train-making industry, we’re a net importer of railway equipment, which comes from America, Germany, Spain and Japan. In the past two decades Britain’s railways have seen deliveries of large numbers of locomotives, but just one, the steam locomotive “Tornado” was actually built in Britain. Though even its boiler came from Germany. The idea of a railway in Africa or New Zealand buying British today is unthinkable. They buy from America, Japan and China now.

What happened?

It’s probably a complex combination of many factors, not least the technological shift from steam to diesel which left some British train builders unable to adapt. It’s ironic that the two steam locomotives in the film remained in traffic for much longer than most of the diesels built for British Railways shown in the early part of the film. The comparison between the service lives of the South African class 25s and the BR D600 diesel-hydraulics, both the products of North British, is exceptionally stark. That company is long gone now; they proved themselves incapable of building reliable diesels, and went bust.

But a major factor has to be the way British industry, used to favourable trading arrangements dating from the days of the British Empire, was simply unable to compete in a global marketplace.

So I think Liam Fox, like so many other Brexiteers, is hankering for the days of Empire.

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