Saturday 18 August 2012

26: Ownerships, Oostende and Oldies

This is edition 26 of the Railwaymedia blog, a warm welcome as always.

Well, the biggest news of the last week that will affect myself has been the announcement that my current employer, Virgin Trains, has lost its bid to continue to run the West Coast Main Line franchise and, from December, First Group will take over. There's much speculation as to the effect this will have on both services and jobs, but I guess only the bid team of First Group know the answer to that. Their official announcement regarding the franchise and their plans can be found HERE.

Certainly Virgin Trains have transformed the West Coast in the last 15 years; from an enthusiast point of view I miss of course the old engines, but being able to get to London or Glasgow in only about two hours certainly enables me to get round the country more photographing (and drinking). Alas I can't see First drafting in any of the HSTs they own outright onto the West Coast.

After last week and the family holiday to Wales, I had a couple days back at work before a brief trip to Belgium. On one of those days working I had to go down through the former Crewe Diesel Depot, unusally in daylight as I'm normally there working nights. I took the opportunity to get shots of the two rakes of  locomotives that are currently stabled in and around the former fuelling point.

About two months ago a rake of five class 56s were moved out from the old workshop area to a position by the main line. These are 56031, 56038, 56069, 56074 and 56106. I assume these have been purchased off DB Schenker, but I've been unable to find out who by. The other 3 are class 47s, two of which (47769 and 47848) are owned by Riviera Trains and the other, 47747, apparently by DRS for spares. According to WNXX 47747 hasn't been operational since at least 2004.

The Belgium trip was the first time that my wife and myself have been away without the children for at least 6 years, if not longer. Certainly since our youngest was born. It was therefore not primarily a photographic expedition, though I did of course manage to get a handful of shots over the 2 days!

One aim for me was to get shots of De Kusttram ('The Coast Tram') which allegedly is the longest tram line in the world at around 68km. It runs almost the whole length of the Belgium coast from De Panne near France to Knokke near Holland, and takes 2.5 hours to complete the full distance.

Apart from seeing the trams, we had visited Oostende briefly in order to check out the suitability of the seaside town for a possible future visit with the kids. There are plenty of shops and a massive beach, so I suspect I may be getting some more shots of this tram route in the next year or two!

I spent a few days in Belgium last October in order to get pictures of their class 23 and 26 Electric Locos which were due for withdrawal. SNCB had ordered 120 new Eurosprinter Engines from Siemens in 2006, but protracted testing meant only a handful had been passed for service by the end of last year. Since then they have obviously been very busy delivering them as our engine back from Oostende was a very new looking number 1907, and they have replaced not just the elderly class 23s and 26s but have also displaced most of the 21 and 27 class locos onto just peak hour diagrams. 

Also being tested and delivered to SNCB is a new fleet of Desiro 3-car units. There is a massive 305 of these on order, which presumably will mean the total replacement of all the older classes of Electric Multiple Unit currently being used on both local and longer distance services. I only saw 3 of the new sets on test this week so if you want pictures of the older ones there is still a little time left.

I got Gill to try some Leffe beer whilst I did my best to work through some of the extensive beer menus that can be found in most Belgian restaurants and bars. Like my last trip we stayed in the Ibis Budget Hotel right next to Leuven station; it is basic but cheap and convenient. If you stay there take the short trip on the train to Aarschot and have an evening in one of my favourite places, Brasserie Demervallei, located opposite the station. They only stock about 450 different bottled beers.

I need to take this opportunity to formally close down my '92012-watch' section as, so I'm told, it was hauled from its 5 month long resting place at Shap in the early hours of the 16th of August to Warrington, presumably for onward movement to Crewe Electric Depot. I'm not sure when I'll be heading north towards Carlisle to confirm this is true, but I shall try to keep an look out for it. 

Thanks again for reading, I hope I've inspired anyone who has yet to visit the railways of Belgium to go whilst theres still a some of the old stock left. Like most of Europe it is a far more relaxed than Britain and even on the central stations of Brussels you are unlikely to get hassle from over-officious staff. One 'disease' they seem to have caught from us though is the policy of leasing coaches rather than the state railway actually owning them. This is inside of one of the coaches used on the main Inter-City Oostende to Eupen route. Those Germans seem to get everywhere! Bye for now.

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