Thursday 29 March 2012

13: Coffee Mugs, a Coal Train and Clydeside Buses

Unlucky for some, but I've actually made it to edition 13 of the Railwaymedia Blog!

As promised from the last posting, this will be mainly a 'trip review' of last Friday's jaunt to Scotland. In common with previous days out this was mainly centered, or at least planned around, visiting various Wetherspoons in the area. OK, not to everyones taste, but they are always cheap and you rarely get a bad pint in one (though as it turned out, in Scotland sometimes you can't actually get a pint in one at all before mid morning).

For anyone that's interested, there are currently 849 Wetherspoons establishments in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I'm only a beginner having so far visited about 180, but there's plenty of time. John Adams has visited most of them and has a comprehensive list of them HERE.

So on to the day out and with 20 minutes at Glasgow Central for the train to Kilmarnock it was time to visit the first 'Spoons' for a quick pint. Only it turns out that in Scotland, or at least in bits of it, you can't have a pint before 11 unless you're having breakfast. Apparently a breakfast sandwich doesn't count. So it had to be a quick coffee before the train for the pleasant trip south. Why can't they make modern trains like the 156s are, light, airy, comfortable with nice big windows?!


After a few photographs at the station it was a quick visit to the Lloyds No.1 Bar just round the corner. As it was only 1030 we suspected the 1100 beer rule may apply here too, so checking as we walked in it was amusing to see all the old blokes nursing mugs of coffee rather than pints of beer. So it was another coffee and a second bacon sandwich before the train to Ayr. As we had overtaken a coal train at Barassie we got off at Prestwick Town for 20 minutes in the hope of a picture, but it must have gone into a yard before it reached us because it never appeared. This put us an hour behind our initial schedule but ironically this gave us more time for photography at Saltcoats, though not before a quick visit to the Ayr branch of Wetherpoons for the first pint of the day.

Saltcoats, which is on the Ardrossan and Largs line, required a change of trains at Kilwinning. There is a short section where the line runs along the coast. I have visited here a few times as the line carries the coal trains to and from Hunterston. We had only just arrived when 66249 appeared.

Due to the strange nature of the line north from here we concluded there would be no more freight. Just after Saltcoats the line to Largs in effect becomes two single tracks. One carries traffic in both directions, freight to Hunterston and the hourly passenger service to and from Largs, whereas the other, as it has no platforms or overhead wires, can only be used by freight coming out.

We got the next train to Largs, where from the bus stop outside a regular service takes you towards Greenock. Having already done this journey a few years ago I knew it was less than 10 minutes on the bus before it passed the excellent station at Wemyss Bay, which is well worth a visit as it must be one of the nicest stations in Scotland. Time was tight so we stayed on the bus, though had I remebered the station had an excellent cafe and bar inside I may have been tempted to stop off.

Instead, it was onto Greenock which, based on just a quick visit, doesn't appear to have too many redeeming features. The bus station is a long walk from Greenock Central station and it's not very obvious the best way to get there. As Tim hadn't ever done the line to the terminus at neighbouring Gourock we caught the train there. I was last there in 2009 when the station was in a very run down state. What a shame though they couldn't restore the old buildings and roof; instead they have knocked it all down. Yes the platforms are cleaner and neater, but the unpainted metal overhead stanchions really don't add to the ambience. Here's the comparison, two years apart.


With the weather now distinctly dull, and of course getting darker earlier as the clocks hadn't gone forward by then, we headed to Paisley to wait for a bus to the somewhat out the way Wetherspoons located by a leisure centre at Braehead. And wait we did. The ticket we were using (Strathclyde PTE's Day Tripper ticket) whilst valid on all rail and underground services, also some ferries, is only valid on certain bus operators, of which McGill's of Barrhead isn't one of them. McGill's seems to run most of the bus routes around Paisley, some in competition with Arriva (who did accept the ticket), so we had to let several McGill 26's go and wait for an Arriva one.

The ten minute service wasn't acting as if it was every ten minutes. We waited ages until one appeared. We found out later though the possible reason, as from this week McGill's have bought Arriva in Scotland. Our guess is the Arriva drivers were out on a final Friday piss-up.

I remember many years ago hearing of McGill's coaches, indeed I seem to remember owning an EFE model of one of their Leyland National's (a rare choice of vehicle for a company in Scotland). It appears the original McGill's sold out to Clydeside Buses in 1997 which in turn was bought out by Arriva. Arriva then sold some of the services off again and the new company was called McGill's (with about 30 buses). It has since grown to own 190 buses, and has now taken over the rest of Arriva Scotland's services, so will gain another 200 buses! Anyway, suffice it to say we spent a non too exciting 40 minutes in an underpass beneath a Paisley Car Park waiting for the right Arriva bus to turn up and so slowing down our beer intake.

Well I think that's enough waffle for this blog; I am hoping to head off with my camera tomorrow, providing the good weather holds, so I will of course keep you updated. Thanks again for reading, I'll leave you with the only thing that brightened up my time waiting for a number 26 bus. It's also proof that the Paisley Highways Department haven't heard about Scotrail's investment in class 380's!


Saturday 24 March 2012

12: Tesco, (more) Trams and a Tug

Welcome to blog number 12, which is the second blog running that I've been able to write on the laptop whilst sat in the garden. Does that mean summer is coming? Certainly lighter evenings are on their way with the clocks going forward this weekend! We just need this nice weather to continue.

I've had quite a busy week, indeed as mentioned in the last blog I was hoping to write this one sooner as I expected to have some trips to report on. It turned out though that I've been out somewhere every day so actually haven't had the time until now to sit down and write anything. I wouldn't exactly say I've got lots of pictures but one or two of those I have taken have been worth the effort.

Monday, with the forecast good for most of the day, I set out early with the intention of getting beyond Oxenholme for the northbound Tesco train. Yet again it didn't provide the red DB 92 I was hoping for so I'll have to keep trying for a picture of one of those. Fortunately though it did manage to turn up in the last of the sunshine before the clouds moved in for the day.

 I managed though to miss 185108 heading south whilst I was waiting. This unit still carrys its Liverpool '08 decals on the roofline which it gained to celebrate the city being the Capital of Culture that year. Like the red 92's it has still eluded me getting a picture of this livery variation. I had a drive along the A65 afterwards to Hellifield for the Clitheroe Cement, which seems to run in its old later time on a Monday for some reason. With it being so dull I gave up afterwards and went home for dinner, and more importantly beer. 66111 was in charge of the cement and after a shot as it approached Hellifield I just, but only just, made it to Newsholme ahead of it for a second picture. There was much huffing and puffing as I ran over the hill between the car and the bridge.

Tuesday involved visiting some Wetherspoons in the West Manchester area, mainly by bus, though I did get two unit pictures, one at Daisy Hill and the other at Urmston. Highlights of the day were the Wetherspoons outside Chill Factor E at The Trafford Centre, where they had a choice of 4 Greenfield beers all for 99p a pint. I could quite happily have stayed there some time. It's a shame it's so hard to get to there from Preston by public transport! The other was the excellent pub, The Steamhouse, that occupies the former station building at Urmston. A good selection of beer, the food is recommended, plus if you get the right seat you can watch the trains go by the window.
The following day was a tram day (yes Blackpool again I hear you yawn). With only just over a week to the grand reopening I was expecting pretty much a full shadow timetable to be operating to train the drivers. It looked promising as I saw three trams between Squires Gate and North Pier, however with one line still being dug up by the Metropole meaning single line working in operation, I only saw two more beyond there. The road is also being dug up in Fleetwood itself so they are unable to go down Lord Street to the Ferry Terminal. Still, the 'Fishermans Friend' factory behind the tram in this shot proves they are at least reaching the outskirts of Fleetwood now.

 They now have 11 of the 16 new trams delivered to Squires Gate depot. Apparently number 12 is due on April 5th, though I wonder if anyone has worked out how they are going to get it off the lorry with the planned 20 minute tram service trying to use the adjacent track?

On to Thursday which was car MOT day. This was annoying as it was forecast as probably the best day of the week. Of course having no car meant I was stuck where to go to get some decent pictures as I had to travel by Public Transport, and in addition be back for 3pm to pick the car up. I settled on Warrington, or more precisely a location on the 'bottom' line that I hadn't done before. It was only a 25 minute walk to Sankey Valley Park from Bank Quay station and I thought I would just get there just in time before 60099 had run round its train twice at Warrington. It turned out I still had almost an hour to wait as the driver obviously wasn't in too much of a rush despite being 80 minutes late.

And spend some time I did. Normally trains take about 90 minutes to unload at Fiddlers Ferry Power Station, but this one took over 3 hours to return meaning I was out of position for 70003 on the Ellesmere Port coal working. It turned out to be a reasonable shot though, especially as the loco was clagging for Britain. Yes they are ugly, but they look powerful, sound good and if they all produce this much gunk out the top as they get older I'm sure they will develop a loyal following.

Finally, after about 4 and a half hours waiting, and only 5 minutes before I had to leave to walk back to the station, 60099 returned. Of course the sun had moved round too far by now but still a nice shot, and worth including Monks Sidings distant signal behind as the line is due to be resignalled soon.

Well, I think that is probably enough for this edition. I'll cover Fridays wanderings around Ayrshire in the next blog as I haven't processed the pictures yet. Needless to say it was centred on a tour of Wetherspoons, but now the light is getting brighter I am forcing myself to allow more time in the schedule to photography. Thanks for reading, please check back in a few days for further updates.

Sunday 18 March 2012

11: East Coast, Extending, and an Eighty Six

Hello once again and welcome to the Railwaymedia blog.
This blog comes after a week where I've managed to take no pictures at all. Monday involved an afternoon in Blackpool, though all travelling was done by bus as of course the tramway is not yet open; more about that later. Tuesday I had plans to go somewhere but the day was dull and as I just couldn't get up any motivation to drag myself anywhere I stuck to doing a bit of reprocessing at home instead.
Probably the main news of the week, which I mentioned in the last blog, was the trial of a Pendolino on the East Coast Main Line overnight on the Tuesday, and again on the Wednesday. Here's a general picture of two Pendolino's at Polmadie when brand new because, no matter what route they are testing them on, I've no intenetion of getting up in the middle of the night and drive 100 miles to go and see one! For a picture of the actual run, click HERE for The Railway Magazines' article.
Also this week the first of the new coaches to extend the original Pendolino's have been delivered. They came through the Channel Tunnel and were taken north to Longsight depot on Friday morning. There were 8 coaches delivered this time to make sets 5, 6, 7 and 8 up to the full 11 coaches.
With 3 of the 4 full new 11 car trains delivered the first longer set is due to enter service on April 2nd, which should be 390056 (or as the 11 car trains are to be redesignated class 390/1 it should be by then 390156). Numbers 5 to 8 will then have their carriages inserted, this is being timed to coincide with planned maintenance, with numbers 54 and 55 following once they have been fitted with wi-fi. It is rumoured that about 1 set every week will enter traffic until all 35x11 cars are in service before the franchise ends in December. Of course only 8 years ago Virgin were running 11 car rakes of Mk2 coaches around on the West Coast Main Line. The Mk2 coaches were more comfortable and would probably have tilted just as much if driven at 125mph...
Well returning to the Blackpool Trams, the timetable for the new low-floor Flexity operated service has been released, though it's still a slight secret as it's not on any freely available website yet. Most comments have been that it is a somewhat disappointing timetable with the overall journey time only a few minutes faster than the parallel number 1 bus route. Indeed frequencies are also identical at 20 minutes during the day and 30 in the evenings, also trams leave either end at the same time as the bus! It has to be said though that with only 10 out of the 16 new trams so far delivered it SHOULD be only a 'temporary' timetable, requiring 6 Flexity trams for the service, and also there has not yet been any mention of the timetable for the additional journeys to be made by the fleet of Balloon double decks which have modified doors to enable them to serve the new platformed stops.
I hope to get over to Blackpool this week to see what trams are out on test and how far to Fleetwood they are managing to run, indeed with a week off now I have every intention of dusting my camera off. Fingers crossed for good weather! That is about it for now, thanks as always for reading. Please check back for updates later in the week.

Sunday 11 March 2012

10: Double Duffs and a Drag

Welcome again to the latest Railwaymedia Blog.

My body clock is now trying to get adjusted to not being on nights; three weeks of going to work at the same time of day is not something that happens too often. I do however like nights and I shall be very much missing them at the end of this week when I have to get up at the ungodly hour of 5am.

The day, or rather night, after I posted the last Blog I came across Virgin Thunderbird 57309 at Preston. It was in charge of the Monday to Thursday Pendolino drag, which takes the empty coaches off the 2030 London to Preston service back to the depot at Longsight in Manchester. The use of a 57 is for two reasons; firstly as the route it takes is not yet electrified, but secondly to keep drivers familiar with the proceedures of the coupling mechanisms and with the handling of the train.

It is widely rumoured that from the new West Coast franchise in December the use of class 57s will cease. To that end six of the 'Thunderbirds' have already gone off lease and it looks like 57309 is next as all the nameplates (it's got no 'Brains' anymore...) and Virgin markings have been removed. Very scruffy it now looks! I made the effort and took my camera in the next night to get a picture of it.

It is suspected that this, with two others, are going to be heading to DRS shortly, which will leave Virgin with only 3 in standard livery plus the 4 in blue for the Arriva Holyhead to Cardiff service.

Still on Virgin news, the following night I got to Crewe in time to witness an 18 car Pendolino arrive from the south. Testing had been taking place all week with one unit between Stafford and Crewe, complete with light on the pantograph to measure the forces on the overhead wires, but by Thursday morning they had moved on to trialling two 9 car units coupled, and powering, together. It actually just fitted in platform 12, though as I doubt it would fit in any other station on the West Coast Main Line, and certainly none at Euston, so don't expect to see 18 coach trains running anytime soon!

On a similar vein, there is also going to be a Pendolino out on the East Coast Main Line this week. It's leaving Edinburgh late night Monday morning to work down to Kings Cross and then doing the same in reverse Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Rumour on this one is that Alstom are trying to sell the Pendolino to East Coast rather than the expensive 'IEP' that the government seems keen on.

So onto Saturday. As regular readers will have worked out, when I've been on nights Saturday is very much a day for beer rather than photography. Well, I'd taken the Friday night off so I could attend the Leicester Beer Festival which is, in my humble opinion, one of the best in the country, with a good venue and an outstanding selection of rare beers from new breweries. This meant I wasn't in so much of a rush to get to the pub on Saturday so had time for a little bit of time out with the camera.

There were three special trains due through Preston northbound in just over an hour so I forced myself to get up and head to Brock. The weather was somewhat dull, except needless to say for one shot of a Pendolino, though being cloudy this in a way helped as with most of the interesting trains being northbound the sun shining would actually have been problematic.

First up was 47786 heading a Nottingham to Fort William train, which was followed 10 minutes later by West Coast Railways' stablemate 47500 (pictured above) on the first leg of a Tyseley to Carlisle charter. 47500 took it as far north as Carnforth where it handed over to double headed steam in the shape of 5043 (Earl of Mount Edgcombe) and 6201 (Duchess of Sutherland). 47500 ran light engine back past Brock about an hour later. The third tour was 67025 also heading for Carlisle.

On top of these charters, there were also 3 freight trains in the 2 hours I spent at Brock, the last one being the regular Saturday run of the 6K73 flask train. All in all worth making the effort to get up for, though it was touch and go whether I could be bothered when the alarm went off!

The rest of the pictures from the morning can be seen HERE, but I'll leave you with, appropriately, the last picture of the morning. Once again thanks for reading!


Tuesday 6 March 2012

9: Hargreaves, Harry's and Hurry Up Blackpool

Welcome to the latest Railwaymedia blog.

Well a week has gone by, or slightly more, and I've managed to take a grand total of 7 railway pictures. I have again though managed to crack on with the re-processing of older pictures, and have finally finished doing all of 2005. These have replaced the older pictures in the various galleries, but I have also created galleries for each individual trip I took in 2005 which can be seen HERE. 

Working nights gives me a good opportunity to catch up on the computer, but often means I don't get chance to get out with the camera, except if the afternoon happens to be especially sunny. Saturdays are always free but by then I'm normally more interested in having a beer or two!

This last weekend I went on a tour of Wetherspoons in West Yorkshire by bus and train. A nice early start for breakfast in Halifax and then by bus through the 'Woollen District' to Cleckheaton, an area I've not visited since I was a student at Huddersfield. I was quite amused by the route branding Arriva have applied to their 268 route from Bradford to Cleckheaton and Dewsbury with every bus having a different Mr Man or Little Miss character. I've since found out that Roger Hargreaves who wrote the original Mr Men books hails from the town, which makes it a little more understandable. Very bizarre seeing them on the buses but at least the local children must enjoy them.

Heading via Leeds to Ilkley gave me a rare run on the 333s which serve the Airdale and Wharfedale routes. They are excellent units, the locals are very lucky to have them on such an intensive service. I remember well travelling on the line as a kid on family trips to Harry Ramsden's Fish and Chip restaurant at Guiseley, when the routes were served by DMUs on run down infrastructure. Well the line has seen a wonderful renaissance, but unfortunately Harry Ramsden's Guiseley branch has been closed down now. When it was the only, and original, outlet it always used to be busy with coach tours and you had to queue to get in for the waitress service of Fish, Chips, Bread and Tea. An excellent lesson in how to expand a brand but kill off its original market. Funnily enough the recent Mr Men books aren't anywhere nearly as good as Roger Hargreaves' originals either...

Well, this week is back to work on nights once more but I've managed to get out the last two afternoons as the weather has been good. Not too many pictures to show for it though! Monday I went in search of Blackpool's new trams on test again. There are large sections of the newly-laid tramway along the promenade being dug up again, and driving from the southern end at Squires Gate to beyond Bispham without seeing one I assumed there were no trams out. I then passed unbranded 002 heading south. By the time I'd caught up with it it was near North Pier running wrong line negotiating the dozens of metal barriers protecting the worksites. I went for a photo of a 150 on the Blackpool South line and then returned to look out for 002 again but it had vanished. So it seems there's only one out on training this week and even that isn't going past Cleveleys yet judging by the rust on the rails beyond there through to Fleetwood. 

According to Blackpool Council's WEBSITE the line will be open on April 3rd from Blackpool to Fleetwood. I remain to be convinced seeing how much work is yet to be done and how many trams have yet to be delivered. Mind you, the site does say that the 'Timetable and Route' will be announced nearer the date. I assume then by 'route' (there only being one of course) that they aren't too hopeful about it opening in it's entirety! Failing a shot of the tram here's one of ex-London Midland 150116 newly repainted in Northern livery making its way between Pleasure Beach and Squires Gate.

That was Monday and with it looking sunny Tuesday dinnertime when I got up I thought maybe I should make the effort to get out again. The BBC forecast was for it to cloud over in the afternoon from the west and for once they were exactly accurate. I managed a shot of 6K05 engineers at Gisburn in the last of the sun but it had fully clouded over by the time the following log train appeared at Clitheroe. These pictures, and the other ones I took Monday can be found in my New Additions section. I'll leave you with this shot of a board I've just discovered at Crewe Carriage Sheds. Normally the Northern Belle rake is parked in front of it. An obviously well used board, but not I suspect since when the shed closed under British Rail in the 1980s. Thanks for reading once again, please watch out for blog number 10 in the next week or so.