Railways Blog

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

Murdoch Bulk Muck Shifting

Oxford Diecast Murdoch tipper with Scania T-Cab

It’s almost disappointing to learn that “Murdoch Bulk Muck Shifting” is a real company based in Scotland rather than a joke at the expense of a well-known Australian newspaper proprietor.

The model is from Oxford Diecasts, filling what has until very recently been a big gap in the market, for modern commercial vehicles in British N (1:148) scale.

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Par to St Blazey in N

Par to St Blazey in N

This is another one of those draft project track plans of mine. It’s an attempt to squeeze one of my long-term ambitions into the loft space I currently have available; Par and St Blazey in Cornwall.

I started building a layout based on this prototype many years ago, in a 12′ x 8′ outbuilding when I still lived in Slough. It got as far as the main-line part, with trains running and some rudimentary scenery. It never ran that well due to the poor quality of my baseboard construction, and an enforced move for work reasons eventually put it out of its misery. But it’s an idea that never died, and of course I have all the necessary rolling stock.

Par & St Blazey

It was a fascinating prototype back in the late 1980s, when I started building the original layout, and visited the area several times. Par was (and still is) a classic junction station fully signalled by WR lower-quadrant signals. The marshalling yard and locomotive depot at St.Blazey sat half a mile along the branch to Newquay, and was the operational hub for freight operations in Cornwall. Most of the traffic at the time was wagonload, and the yard was the place where trip workings from various locations were assembled into long-distance trains for destinations outside Cornwall.

China clay was the predominant traffic, but the yard also saw cement to Chasewater, calcified seaward from Drinnink Mill, beer from Truro and fuel oil to Penzance. Freight traffic to and from west Cornwall had to reverse in Par station, usually running round in the station. It was a busy place; St Blazey yard saw up to seven arrivals and seven departures a day, including three to west Cornwall, and the main line saw a procession of passenger traffic, as well as a fair bit of parcels and mail. Most of the long-distance passenger workings were HST sets, but the local trains were four or five Mk1 coaches behind a class 47 or 50.

St Blazey Yard with an unidentified class 08 shunter in faded Mainline blue livery
St Blazay yard in 2004, by which time it was far less busy

My original layout was in a U-shape, with Par station along one wall, and St Blazey (had the layout got that far) along the other, with the staging yard for the main line behind St.Blazey. The main line was arranged as a dumbbell, so up trains could reappear as down trains, meaning you could operate a representative 24 hour timetable.

I couldn’t work out a good way of fitting that plan into my current space, which is slightly larger but a different shape, but this alternative plan seems to cover most of my “givens and druthers”. It’s still a U-shape, but with the main line a more traditional oval with the main fiddle yard behind Par, and a sexond smaller fiddle yard representing the Newquay branch tucked behind St Blazey. The plan uses Kato Unitrack, which for me is ideal for a layout focussed on operation rather than display. This will not be a finescale layout.

Single unit class 153 railcar in Cornish advertising black livery at Par
By 2004 all the local services were railcars

A few caveats. First, this is a first attempt to see if the concept can be made to fit the space; some of the track lengths in St Blazey yard have been bodged to fit, and will need some fiddling about with funny length straights for any final design. Second, the turntable is a Fleischman manual one, since I’ve actually got one available. The plan might work better with the newly-released Kato electric turntable. And finally, I haven’t designed the main line fiddle yard yet, which might be one of the more challenging aspects of the plan; exhibition-style up and down loops won’t work for the sort of operation I’m planning.

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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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