Railways Blog

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

A Runway for the 1%?

Sometimes the arguments used in favour of something can be the best arguments against that thing. For an example, see this press release I received about the expansion of Heathrow Airport:

A significant amount of time, effort, and energy has been spent at arriving at the conclusions. Strong account has been taken with the need to meet EU air pollution limits, address noise pollution concerns and move most ground traffic from road to rail. What must happen is action by the politicians: further delay would significantly damage UK plc.

In context, the UK has not built a full-length runway in the South East since World War 2. Our neighbours in the EU have overtaken us – Frankfurt, Paris, and Amsterdam already have much more runway capacity. What this means is that we’re losing out in the global connectivity race: Paris already offers 50 per cent more flights to China than London, for example. This is significant, because by 2025 there will be 7,000 new $1bn companies globally, and nearly 7 in 10 will be in emerging economies. If we want to connect with these we have to act.

With the world’s biggest cities planning 50 new runways by 2036, allowing for 1bn new passenger journeys, we simply can’t afford any further political delay. Given that Dubai will soon have more capacity than all of London’s airports combined, it is clear that expansion of airport capacity in the South East is a must. The world is watching to see if London and the UK has the ambition to maintain its position as a Global trading hub – we’re losing ground to our competitors, and further political delay would be unacceptable.

I find this self-serving corporate-bureaucratic bullshit a lot more offensive than Anglo-Saxon terms for bodily functions used as expletives. Look at the way it glosses over the environmental impact with meaningless empty platitudes, and says nothing at all about how it might affect the lives of ordinary working people. It’s clearly not about the transport needs of the those who actually live and work in the south-east of England, let alone the rest of the country. It’s all about “competing as a global hub”. Who cares how many runways they have in bloody Dubai?

The whole thing speaks volumes about the worldview of big money. The only people that matter are the global elites who owe no loyalty to any nation or culture. The same people who are slowly and steadily turning London into a soulless corporate wasteland filled with luxury apartments that they occupy for a few weeks a year while ordinary Londoners are relentlessly priced out of their own city. The people who only see the rest of us through the tinted windows of the chauffeur-driven cars, except then they’re barking orders to the staff in expensive restaurants.

Screw these people. And if their needs are really the main thing  that’s driving the demand, screw their runway as well.

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Electrification Postponed: Echoes of 1963?

Midland Main Line 222 Meridian

So the government have postponed the Midland Main Line and Trans-Pennine electrification schemes amidst suggestions that the high-profile Great Western electrification is running seriously late and way over budget.

Given the Tories pre-election promises it’s looking like their equivalent of the Liberal Democrat’s tuition fees débâcle, at least on the surface. So much for the “Northern Powerhouse”. Though in this case, since it’s widely suggested that there were plenty of warning signs that the GW project was in trouble, but bad news was being deliberately suppressed prior to the election. Which means the charge against the Tories one of deliberate lying rather than broken promises.

There is horrible echo of the 1963 appointment of Dr Beeching in response to the cost overruns of the 1955 modernisation plan, though in a time where passenger numbers are rising year upon year we’re unlikely to see Beeching-style closures. The 1955 plan was a crash programme following years of under-investment on a network that had never really recovered from being run into the ground during World War 2. It involved a lot of new and untried technology, much of which wasn’t terribly successful, from manufacturers who seemed to be chosen as much because of politics than their expertise. A lot of money was misspent, both on unsuccessful locomotive designs and on vast freight marshalling yards which soon turned into massive white elephants. And let’s not mention the unspeakable horror that is Birmingham New Street station.

Likewise we’re now playing a heavy price for the lack of any large-scale electrification schemes since the late 1980s East Coast Main Line, a full generation ago. Paul Bigland describes it well: The Labour government from 1997 to 2010 believed there was no need for electrification because some magical new technology was just around the corner. So the British railway industry lost the skills base necessary for such large and complex engineering projects, which is one reason the Great Western scheme has run into such difficulties. It’s just the same as the stop-start-stop approach to rolling stock procurement has decimated Britain’s train manufacturing industry. We’re now importing locomotives and multiple units from America, Spain, Germany and even Japan because British works went out of business during lean years.

A more rational approach would have seen a slow but steady rolling programme of electrification over the past four decades; as one project finished the teams would move on to the next, and lessons learned in past projects applied to future ones. The Midland and Transpennine routes would have been electrified years ago, along with other trunk routes who’s electrification isn’t even on the horizon.

One final point. A lot of ill-informed commentators with political axes to grind are now claiming that the MML and TPE schemes are being scrapped in order to save HS2. Paul Bigland again skewers this argument as complete cobblers, emphasising the fundamental difference between upgrading existing lines and building brand new infrastructure. And yet again the anti-HS2 mob have no answer to the fundamental rationale behind HS2, the lack of capacity on existing routes heading north out of London.

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DEMU Showcase

DEMU Showcase at Burton-on-Trent

A few photos from 21st Anniversary DEMU Showcase at Burton-on-Trent from a couple of weeks ago. DEMU stands for “Diesel and Electric Modellers United”, an organisation dedicated to modelling British prototypes after the steam age, formed at a time when steam-age modelling was considered the default. Here’s the spectacular viaduct at one end of the 2mm finescale Fencehouses, set in County Durham in the 1960s.

DEMU Showcase at Burton-on-Trent

I’m probably in a minority here, but “Diesels in the Dutchy”, based on St.Blazey in Cornwall in the late 1980s doesn’t quite do it for me. It captures the look of the place very well, including details like the stone blocks of the tramway that preceded the railway. But as someone very familar with the prototype in the era modelled, there’s an element of verisimillitude missing for me; the simplified trackplan means it doesn’t operate like the prototype, turning it into a working diorama rather than a reproduction of a real working railway.

DEMU Showcase at Burton-on-Trent

Graeme Hedges’ Stoney Lane is a perennial exhibition favourite, a N-gauge slice of south London with all the buildings scratchbult from card and based on real buildings from the area. Graeme claims to have had a pint in each of full-sized versions of the layout’s multiple pubs.

DEMU Showcase at Burton-on-Trent

The term “Modern Image” coined by the late Cyril Freezer after the end of the steam in 1968 needs to retired. Layouts like Wibdenshaw, set in early 70s West Yorkshire demonstrate why. It’s a time as far removed from the present as the end of steam was from the 1923 Grouping, and the railway of the early 70s was in many ways the steam-age railway with diesel locomotives at the head of the trains. Loose-coupled trains of short-wheelbase wagons or parcels trains made up of heterogeneous pre-nationalisation vans are a world away from the railway of 2015.

DEMU Showcase at Burton-on-Trent

DEMU doesn’t do chocolate-box branch-line scenes from the inter-war years. Instead it’s lovingly modelled representations of 1980s urban decay. Farkham even features half-sunken shopping trolleys in the canal.

DEMU Showcase at Burton-on-Trent

And finally, the show also feaures manufactures showing off their wares. Here’s some samples of the forthcoming Graham Farish Mk2a coauches in Network South East livery, looking very smart. They’re in the later version of the NSE livery as used on the Waterloo-Exeter line, which was the explanation I was giving for the absence of any first class vehicle; the Mk2a FKs painted in NSE were in the earlier version of the livery with the lighter blue, used on Thames valley services out of Paddington.

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Old and New

Sir Edward Elgar

Edward Elgar’s birthday a few days ago was an excuse to give 50007 a spin on the layout. The prototype was painted in Great Western green to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the GWE in 1985.The repaint and renaming was somewhat controversial in some quarters, earning the locomotive the nickname of “Snotvac”. It survives in perservation, although it’s currently running in its earlier guise of “Hercules”.

The model is one of the oldest on the layout, resprayed and detailed by Chris Marchant of CJM something like 25 years ago. This one’s still running on the original Farish 5-pole chassis; one of the early ones with nylon gears that therefore still runs. The coaches are very much newer; a rake of the the recently-introduced Farish Mk2as.

Farish 31 No 5826

In contrast, the newest addiion to the fleet is one of Graham Farish’s newly retooled 31s. No 5826 was one of a handful of locomotives outshopped in the late sixties in an unusual interim livery, still wearing the original green but with full yellow ends and BR double arrow logos normally applied to locomotives repainted into BR blue.

5826 was one of the locomotives transferred to the Western Region at the beginning of the 1970s to replace the WR’s non-standard diesel-hydraulic fleet. It was running in this livery in 1973, representing an earlier era to the 1980s class 50, but ideal to run alongside the hydraulics.  Here it’s pulling a very mixed parcels train, typical of the sort of duties these medium-power locomotives found themselves working during the 70s.

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Pacers still doomed in the North

Northern Rail's 142020 at Middlesborough. These things, bane of Northern England's commuters have long since exceeded their original 20-year design lives, but there is no replacement for them in sight.

Rumours that Northern Rail’s passengers might have to endure thirty-year old four-wheeled bus-derived Pacers for a good few years yet may be ill-founded.

In an annoucement that that’s a superb example of what Neal Stephenson’s novel “Anathem” described as “Bullshytte, Rail Minister Andrew Jones is quoted in Rail,

“All Pacer vehicles on the Northern franchise will be withdrawn by 2020 due to incompatibility of the Pacer vehicles with the vision for economic growth and prosperity in the North, as per the announcement by the Secretary of State in February 2015.”

No doubt one or two of these almost universally unloved vehicles will be preserved. And it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if their replacements turn out to be Vivarail’s D-Train, rebuilds of redundant London Underground District Line trains which are actually slighly older than the Pacers.

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East Lancashire Railway 40s Weekend


On the weekend of Mostly Autumn’s gig at Bury Met the East Lancashire railway was holding their annual 1940s weekend. They renamed all the stations to fit the theme; this is the station normally known as Summerseat.

US Army Jeeps

The event is a major gathering of World War Two reenactors representing the armed forces of many nations. Here American forces have liberated Ramsbottom.

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But Rawtenstall was stll under German occupation. On the morning after the Eurovision Song Contest it’s probably not a good idea to taunt these guys with “Nul Points”.

Following controversy in previous years when people turned up dressed as senior Nazis, the ELR imposed some strict rules for German reenactors on their stations, for example prohibiting  SS uniforms and prominent Nazi symbols such as Swastika armbands.

Lancashire & Yorkshire class 27 locomotive of 1896.

The railway was running a special enhanced timetable all weekend with multiple locomotives in steam.

Ironically, World War Two may have contributed towards the survival of this locomotive. Built by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway as long ago as 1896, it’s typical of the very old locomotives that didnt get replaced by more modern ones in the 1940s. British industry had other more urgent priorities

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Ramsbottom station featured some 40s-style entertaners to add to the period atmosphere. This is Paul Harper on banjo.

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I don’t actually remember this singer’s name, though she did say to me “Everyone keeps taking photos of me as if I’m famous or something”.

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100 Years Ago Today

Quintinshill Today is the 100th anniversay of Britain’s worst even rail disaster at Quintinshill in Scotland, where 226 people perished in a double collision and fire, a result of criminal negligence by two signalmen.

Most of the dead were soldiers of Royal Scots en route to Liverpool bound for Gallipoli. Their troop train, composed of elderly wooden-framed coaches, collided head-on with an early morning local train. Moments later a northbound sleeping-car express ran into the wreckage. Fueled by escaping gas from the gas-lit coaches, the whole wreck caught fire.

The National Railway Museum blog has a piece about the disaster.

While the disaster is well-known in railway circles, it’s rather disappeared down the memory hole with the general public. It doesn’t loom nearly as large as the second-worst disaster at Harrow & Wealdstone in 1952, or even the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879. Probably the fact that it happened during wartime and the vast majority of dead were soldiers is a major factor.

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To Boldly Go Where No Locomotive Has Gone Before

Announced today by Rapido Trains.

Rapido is excited to announce that a limited run of just 40 HO scale “LRC Shuttlecraft” DC/DCC-ready locomotives are being offered for bid in our on line silent auction in support of the Canadian Lung Association’s efforts to eliminate COPD.

Now you can bid on one of 40 exclusive, never-to-be-offered-again LRC shuttlecraft. Only one shuttlecraft allowed per person.

Starting bids are $199.95 for these once-in-a-lifetime units. Bid as high as you can because only the top 40 bidders will get their HO scale LRC shuttlecraft!

Bidding ends midnight June 1st – all winning bids will be contacted by email and will have seven (7) days to arrange payment. We accept bids worldwide. Shipping costs will be charged separately.

100% of all successful bids received will be donated to the Canadian Lung Association in memory of Leonard Nimoy.*

Full details on the Rapido Shuttlecraft oage.

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Arriva Trains Wales class 158 bound for Pwllheli crossing Barmouth BridgeOnce under threat of closure because it was being eaten by worms, Barmouth Bridge is still here 35 years later.

Here’s a Birmingham to Pwllheli train crossing the bridge back in March. Travelling up and down the Cambrian lines in the days following HRH Prog bought back a flood of memories. First from family holidays the mid-70s when the trains were in the hands of a motley assortment of class 101, 103 and 108 DMUs, with the Chester-based 103 Park Royal sets signature trains of the line. There was still a daily freight working up the coast in those days too; a diminutive Sulzer engined class 24 with an assortment of 16-ton coal wagons, vanfits, and the distinctive gunpowder vans carrying explosives from the Nobel factory at Penrhyndeudraeth.

Then there was another visit in 1990, when there were still locomotive-hauled trains on Summer Saturdays, and I travelled from Porthmadog to Shrewsbury on one of the last loco-hauled trains of the season. The sound of the class 37 struggling up Tareddig bank on a dirty night with nine coaches in tow and reduced to walking pace by the summit won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

Even that was a quarter of a century ago now. Where has the time gone?

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Network Rail suspends West Coast Railways

West Coast Railways (Wikimedia Commons) West Coast Railways have had their operating licence suspended following a signal passed at danger resulting in a near miss from what might have been a very serious collision.

As the RAIL piece says:

Network Rail has served West Coast Railways with a suspension notice effective from midnight on April 3.

It follows the Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD) on March 7, when a 100mph collision between a First Great Western High Speed Train and a steam excursion operated by WCR was missed by barely a minute. The SPAD ranked as the most serious this year.

This is an unprecedented suspension. Operators have been banned from certain routes, but this is the first total network ban since privatisation, indicating the gravity with which Network Rail is treating the incident.

West Coast Railways provides crews and motive power for charter trains across Britain, including the well-known Fort William to Mallaig run, and this suspension is likely to force the cancellation of many steam specials on the main line in the coming weeks. Two scheduled for this coming bank holiday weekend have already been cancelled.

There have been incidents where a bus company has had its licence suspended after a fatal accident revealed serious issue with driver training and the roadworthiness of their vehicles. But nothing like this has ever happened on the railways.

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