Great guest post by Gregory Spawton of Big Big Train on the National Railway Museum blog about the inspiration for the song East Coast Racer, from their latest album “English Electric Part 2″.
I really need to get round to reviewing that album for this blog. Like it’s predecessor it’s steeped in English history and landscapes, telling stories of the heroes in the industrial revolution, all set to music that evokes the spirit of 70s English progressive rock in a way that no neo-prog bands comes close to achieving.
Beleagured commuters in Northern England and South Wales can rejoice. The ambitious electrification plans over the next few years should release enough more modern units to replace the entire class 142 “Pacer” fleet, and Angel Trains plans to withdraw them all by 2019.
These trains date from the mid 1980s, a time when the railways were at a low ebb, starved of funds by a government that believed public transport was for losers. They were a low-cost solution based on a Leyland National bus body mounted on a freight wagon chassis. Known as “Nodding Donkeys” due to their pitching motion when they get up to any speed, they’ve never provided a comfortable ride. They had a design life of 20 years, which they’ve now exceeded by some margin. All the new rolling stock delivered in recent years has been needed increase capacity, with none left over to replace worn-out older trains.
I remember my first encounter with these trains, in 1986. I was travelling to St.Austell in Cornwall, and had to change at Plymouth. I was expecting the connecting train to be a class 50 and a rake of good old Mk1 coaches, but instead we were confronted with a pair of 142s in faux-Great Western chocolate and cream. The look on many passengers’ faces was priceless.
They didn’t last long on Cornwall. The four-wheeled fixed wheelbase chassis really didn’t like the sharp curves on many of the Cornish branches, and they were banished to the north of England within eighteen months.
For those nostalgic for the 1980s rail experience, there are plans to preserve one.
Monday afternoon was my first chance to use Reading station in its post-rebuild form with the station back in full use. It’s an ambitious rebuild aimed to improve capacity for what had become a major bottleneck on the system, with five brand new through platforms on the north side of the station on the site of the former goods avoiding lines, and complete replacement of all platform-level structures on the existing platforms to match those on the new plaforms.
The view above is of platforms 9 and 10, which had previously been the two relief line platforms. Now the fast lines have been slewed across to feed in to them, and the relief lines slewed to serve platforms 12-15. I guess the up main (on the left-hand side) must be a temporary alignment, and will eventually be straightened.
Looking west from the same spot. The track layout is unchanged bar one new crossover, one end of which was the old turnout leading into the now-removed bay platform. In this interim layout the former fast lines on the left are currently out of use, the old slow lines are the new fast lines, and the two new tracks on the right form the new slow lines.
The brand new platforms 13 and 14, looking very new and shiny. It looks almost like Kato Unitrack.
Platforms 7 and 8, looking towards London, with a lot of building work still taking place. These were the original fast line platforms; 7 on the right is currently connected only to the Berks & Hants line heading towards the south-west, while 8 on the left is here used by a reversing Cross-Country service. The old centre through track is now disconnected and out of use.
A view of the interior of the spacious new transfer deck. There’s an awful lot of empty space here at the moment.
The infamous Cambridge “misguided busway” (An ill-conceived project than has all the disadvantages of both rail and road and the advantages of neither) is not supposed to carry freight. Should have been heavy rail instead?
Photo by Network Rail
Part of my childhood has disappeared. A few weeks ago, as part of the Great Western Main Line electrification project, Network Rail demolished Trenches Bridge, about half a mile west of Langley station.
I spent the early years of my life living very close to this bridge; whatever it’s official name might have been, we all knew it as “The Hillside”. Quite why is anyone’s guess, although it was probably a reference as much to the embankment as to the bridge itself. Where the embankment leading down from the bridge met the road there were three impressive elms that, to a five-year old, were like a forest. Sadly those fell victim to Dutch Elm Disease many years ago.
As for the bridge, it crossed the busy four-track Great Western main line out of Paddington, which as much as now was an endless procession of trains, with far more variety than you see today, especially freight. I have memories of long summer evenings after school watching the busy evening rush-hour. I was too young to remember much of the final years of steam (at least too young go there unsupervised), although I do have one strong memory of an ex-GWR pannier tank shunting the Stadex siding on a frosty morning. The strong memories are of the heyday of the WR diesel hydraulics, the Westerns and Warships in their distinctive maroon livery, and what was always a childhood favourite, the Hymeks. Often the highlight of an evening would be a Blue Pullman, one of the WR’s multiple unit Pullman sets working the down Bristol or South Wales Pullman.
We moved house early in the 1970s. by which time the diesel hydraulics were in decline, and green and maroon liveries had given way to corporate image BR blue. But the love of trains has never left me.
If Journey were British, he would have caught the midnight rail replacement bus…
Trains from Doncaster to Goole and Scunthorpe in northern England are currently disrupted due to a landslip. This one looks rather more severe than a mere collapsed embankment, as this photo posted to Twitter shows:
Somehow I think this line will be closed for some time.
According to the Landslide Blog, it has the same cause as the Aberfan tragedy of 1969. Fortunately this one hasn’t caused any loss of life. The mess will still take an awful lot of clearing up.
It appears as though Swiss railway’s changes to ticketing policy has turned into a major PR disaster, especially for a nation that’s always prided itself on the quality of their train services.
If the BBC report is remotely accurate, it looks as though they’ve introduced a penalty fare system along the lined of that introduced by some train operating companied in Britain, and just as has happened in Britain, it’s had the effect of penalising honest travellers rather than habitual fare-dodgers. As in Britain many are wondering if that’s really an unintended consequence at all. Their system seems excessively harsh; at least British train companies allow their conductors to use their discretion, and make allowances for ticket machines not working. And their penalties are far higher than the British equivalents. Does a broken ticket machine really mean you can’t travek, or is that inaccurate reporting?
When will people realise that higher and higher train fares aren’t “investment in better services” but the entirely avoidable overheads of the cumbersome structure of the privatised railway?
The early years of the diesel hydraulics in the west of England weren’t covered that well by photographers. With steam banished west of Exeter as early as 1962. most railway photographers spent the next six year chasing the remaining “kettles” in other parts of the country, leaving the early years of fully dieselised areas under-recorded. A pity, because this was a fascinating era, with much of the old steam-era railway surviving with little change other than the presence of diesel locomotives at the front of the trains. Which is why a book like this is very welcome indeed.
All the diesel-hydraulic classes feature quite extensively with the exception of the class 14s, with Warships and D6300s featuring particularly heavily. A few of the photos leave something to be desired on a purely technical level. With quite a few grainy photos, faded negatives and shadow-side shots this is not a book to blow many people away with stunning photography. But it more than makes up for this with the historical interest, which is surely why those less-than-perfect images were included. This isn’t to say all the pictures are poor; I love the atmospheric shot of a Warship on china clay coming round the curve from St.Blazey at Par. There are one or two howlers in the captions too; at one point, what’s described as a parcels train looks remarkably like a couple of breakdown train tool vans to me.
The vast majority of photos date from the 1960s, showing not just the express passenger workings on the West of England Main Line, but a lot of freight and branch-line workings that far too many photographers ignored. There are plenty of photos showing all or most of the train formation rather than the standard three-quarters views of the loco. This sort of thing is very useful for modellers; in the early 60s many second-string passenger workings used a real mix of pre-nationalisation coaching stock rather than uniform Mk1s. There’s even the odd pre-grouping vehicle in one photo of a SR Plymouth to Exeter working! There’s some real oddballs here too. How about a six-car “Silver Pullman” piloted over the south Devon banks with a Western? In the snow, as well. Or a rake of 1960s Metro-Cammell Pullmans in umber and cream at Truro behind a maroon Warship?
Some very interesting shots on the branches. Not only have we got D600s on china clay workings, but D6300s on the Kingsbridge and Helston branches during that brief period between the end of steam and complete closure. One that gets me is double-headed D6300s on the St Ives branch, looking for all the world as if it’s the West Highland line in Scotland until you look closely and realise the two North British locomotives aren’t class 21s but their diesel-hydraulic equivalents.
If you want a book filled entirely of technically stunning photos, you may well have reservations about this volume. But if you’re interested in a rather neglected period of British railway history, especially if you’re modelling that era, this book is for you.