Railways Blog

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

Ayrshire 380s

First Scotrail class 380 arrives at Ayr with a service from Glasgow

A few photos of the recently-delivered class 380 EMUs running on the South Clyde network. Here’s four-car 380 111 arriving at Ayr. It’s notable that the interiors of this outer suburban stock are more spacious and comfortable that those of Virgin Trains’ Pendolinos.

First Scotrail 380 crossing the river at Ayr.

The fleet is a mix of three and four-car sets, which often form six or seven car trains at peak times. Here three-car 380 018 crosses the river bridge just outside of Ayr station.

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The folding gangways on these units are near-unique, extending outwards when two units are coupled, and certainly present a strange appearance.

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The Return of the Night Riviera


The very first “Night Riviera” to run following the repairs to the breach at the sea wall at Dawlish, with 57605 “Totnes Castle” at the head of the train. It’s the last remaining locomotive-hauled passenger train on the West of England main line.

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Porthmadog Harbour rebuilt

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Over the winter the Ffestiniog Railway has been rebuilding Porthmadog Harbour station which had become a serious operational bottleneck since the Welsh Highland Railway finally reached Porthmadog. The works are now almost complete, and the station was open for business for the first time on the weekend of 22nd and 23rd March.

Here WHR 138 is running round having arrived with a WHR train from Caernarfon. The locomotive is running on what was originally the single platform road shared by both lines, now part of the WHR side of the station. The nearer of the two tracks is the new platform road. Trains no longer have to reverse in and out of the station as they were doing last summer.

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The Ffestiniog side of the new station. At first glance it doesn’t look that different from how it was before, but the whole layout has been shifted across the now-widened cob to make room for the new WHR platform and run-round loop.

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Slewing the tracks has made room for a new beer garden for Spooners Bar, which will be the ideal place to sup one of the region’s rather splendid ales on a summer evening after a trip up the line.

While this isn’t a construction project on quite the scale of Network Rail’s massive rebuilding of Reading Station, it’s nevertheless another example of railway infrastructure being rebuilt and enhanced to meet the needs of the 21st century.

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WHR 138 at Porthmadog

WHR Garratt No 138 at the newly-rebuilt Porthmadog Harbour having just arrived with the morning service from Caernarfon.

Welsh Highland Railway’s ex-SAR Garratt No 138 just after arrival at Porthmadog Harbour station on March 23rd after arrival on the morning service from Caernarfon. This was the first weekend of operation in the 2014 season using the newly-rebuilt station.

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FGW to increase Standard Class Seats

First Great Western HST at Dawlish

First Great Western announce more standard class seats and a refreshed first class environment.

First Great Western has secured agreement with the Department for Transport to increase standard class capacity on all First Great Western’s High Speed Trains, by converting some of its first class carriages.

The deal will create almost 3,000 more standard class seats a day for customers across the network and deliver nearly 16% more standard class accommodation on high speed services into London in the busy morning peak.

This is on top of an increase in peak-time seats delivered by the company in the summer of 2012, through the rebuilding and upgrading of disused buffet cars to create additional seats.

This sounds like a long-overdue move. The downside of fixed-formation trains is that the relative demand for first and second class seating varies considerably from route to route, and by time of day. This is one reason why first class tickets are sometimes heavily discounted at weekends. But there does seem to be an long-term decline in first-class travel overall, hence adjusting the ratio make sense.

The press release doesn’t make it 100% clear how many coaches are involved. Most HST formations are eight coaches with five standard class, two first class plus the seated half of the buffet car. Converting one of the two first class coaches would leave a coach and a half of first class accomodation in the train.

The HST fleet is well over 30 years old now, and the way the entire fleet is still in front line service bar a handful written off in crashes is a tribute to the original designers. The best train British Rail ever built, without a doubt.

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You call this music?


Big Big Train recorded an album called “English Electric”. But here is some actual English Electric 16SCVT music from around 1990 on the West of England line. It’s a sobering thought that these locomotives have been gone for more than 20 years, and some of the surviving preserved examples have now been museum pieces for longer than they were in traffic with British Rail.

Your definition of music may vary, but for me this qualifies, especially from about a minute in.

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Dawlish repairs to be completed two weeks early

Dawlish RepairsPhoto from Network Rail

Easter holiday boost for south-west as Network Rail confirms Dawlish railway reopening.

Network Rail today announced an accelerated date for reopening the Great Western Main Line through Dawlish, reconnecting West Devon and Cornwall to the national rail network – Friday 4 April, almost two weeks earlier than the previous mid-April estimate.

Innovative approaches to sea defence and round-the-clock working by a team of more than 300 engineers have already seen huge amounts of rebuilding work completed along the damaged seafront. The main 100m breach has been repaired with nearly 5,000 tonnes of concrete and 150 tonnes of steel, and a new 200m track is ready-built for installation.

A tremendous job by Network Rail engineers working in very difficult circumstances.

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Black Country in N

4x5 Black Country

Another of those layout plans I’d love to build. This one’s an attempt to fit as much layout as possible in a small space, in this case 4’6″ by 3’6″. Although not an accurate model of a real-life location, it’s inspired by the point just south of Wolverhampton station where the viaduct carrying the high level electrified main line passes Wolverhampton steel terminal.

I’ve designed it using Kato Unitrack for the visible portions and Peco Settrack for the hidden parts. The upper level is simply a stretch of double-track main line fed by a six-road hidden staging yard. The idea is that the four bi-directional centre roads each hold a four or five coach multiple unit, which can run through the scenic section in either direction. Stock like Virgin and Cross-Country Voyagers, and London Midland 350s would be typical stock. The two longer outside roads can each take one longer train, such as a locomotive-hauled freight.

The lower-level tracks (in red) represent the steel terminal, fed by a two-road fiddle yard beneath the main line loops. The siding tucked under the loops will be appear to run into a low-relief shed. The steel terminal handles a mix of wagon types; typically modern covered BYAs, Cargowaggons, and older SPAs and bogie bolsters. The small size of the layout rules out any physical connection between the upper and lower levels, the junction is assumed to be somewhere off stage.

All that’ mmissing is a tramway; the street-running part of the West Midlands Metro runs very close to Wolverhampton Steel Terminal. Perhaps a third, lower level?

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New Additions

Dapol 45XX and OOVs

A few additions to the rolling stock of as-yet unnamed layout. First, a rake of Farish OOV china clay wagons, made as a special commission for Kernow Models. They sell them both in post-1974 “Clayhood” form, and as illustrated here with the earlier flat tarpaulins, appropriate for steam or diesel-hydraulic haulage. It’s a shame the Dapol 45XX doesn’t run as well as it looks, and I suspect these wagons will be spending most of their time behind a class 22 diesel instead.

Farish Bullied Brake Second

Second, one of the new Farish Bulleid coaches. It’s a little-known fact during the early 1960s the Western Region’s coaching stock fleet including vehicles from all of the “Big Four” pre-nationalisation companies as surplus stock was redistributed across the regions to make the best use of their remaining useful life. I’ve seen photos of a Penzance to Paddington express with a single green-liveried Bulleid brake second in an otherwise uniform set of maroon Mk1s, which is why I bought this coach.  Although some rivet-counters have pointed out that it’s not quite the right diagram for the coaches transferred to the WR from the SR Eastern Division in 1962…

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Are Model Railways a form of Fanfic?

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugDavid Taylor’s Bridport Town

Despite being a long-standing science fiction fan, I have trouble seeing the point of knowing the finer points of Dr Who or Star Trek continuity, let alone that of the endlessly retconned comic-book superhero universes. Such things are the meat and drink of some corners of geekdom, but I find that obscure knowledge of media franchises does nothing for me at all.

After all, when the actual creators don’t give the appearance of caring two hoots about continuity, why on Earth should I care?

On the other hand, historical research for a model railway can be a fascinating subject, and for me that fulfils the interest in obscure minutia. For example I’ve recently seen long and detailed discussions on which Southern Railway Bulleid coaches ended up on the Western Region in the 1960s, and what liveries they were painted in. Someone even found photo of a brake composite painted maroon taken at Bere Alston in Devon, to settle discussions over whether such things existed.

And with trains, what is and isn’t canon is pretty unambiguous, much as some people would probably love to retcon Dr Beeching out of existence.

It struck me that in SF&F terms, railway modelling is a kind of cross between fanfic and cosplay. There’s an element of secondary creation in designing a layout, especially an exhibition-standard one, and there an obvious craft in building it. And operating it in public becomes a form of performance art.

There are plenty of layouts which attempt to reproduce a specific location in miniature, sometimes with compromises due to space; Jim Smith-Wright’s ambitious finescale model of Birmingham New Street is a great example.

But there are plenty of others that evoke a sense of time and place without being based any actual real-world location. There are layouts based on lines proposed during the in the 19th century railway mania but never actually built. And there are those based on an actual route, but with a fictional station, frequently an amalgam of features from several real stations in the chosen area.

To be convincing they have to follow the distinctive architecture and operational practices of whatever railway company they’re based on, feature the rolling stock that ran in that part of the country in whatever time period the layout is set, and of course capture the essence of the landscape through which the railway runs. If you think of it that way, it’s has an awful lot in common with fanfic’s knowledge of setting and characters.

A few examples to illustrate what I mean.

Warley 2013

This layout is a good example of a ficticious station on a real route. The Highland Railway architecture, the wild, barren landscapes and the class 26 locomotives immediately identify it as the Far North lines in Scotland in the 1970s, as surely as Imperial Stormtroopers denote Star Wars.

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Similarly, Stoney Lane immediately screams “South London”. Every building on this layout is based on a real south London building, and the layout’s builder has even drunk a pint in each of the layout’s four pubs.

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Bridport Town is an excellent example of model of a “might-have-been”. There never were any 2′ gauge railways in Dorset, and this ficticious railway is created out of the whole cloth. Even some of the locomotives are based on drawings of locomotives proposed but never built. But with non-railway structures based on real-life buildings in the area, the whole thing has a ring of authenticity about it.

So, does the fanfic comparison hold any water?

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