Wednesday 18 December 2013

52: Desiros and DCR, Barton and Buckinghamshire

Welcome to the Christmas Edition of the Railwaymedia Blog; not that there is anything especially Christmassy about it, but I am certain it will be the last one of 2013 as I am working more or less solidly over the Christmas period so, barring a sudden snowfall or hearing about anything extremely special running, I'm unlikely to get out with my camera until January.

It has also probably been my longest ever gap since the previous blog, getting on for a month and a half, for two quite opposing reasons: first off I didn't go anywhere for almost three weeks and then I had two weeks where I was out and about all the time, though not necessarily with my camera.

The biggest news of November in the North West was probably the arrival of the first of Trans Pennine Express' new class 350/4 Siemens Desiro EMUs. As the future of the TPE franchise is still unclear, though an extension is likely, they have been delivered in a similar undercoat livery to that which London Midland's original batches of class 350's were first seen.

350401, seen above, was initially used for type testing between Crewe and Carnforth and could be seen heading up the main line following the hired in London Midland class 350 that was being used for driver training. That has since been returned, with one of the three 350/4's that have so far been delivered taking up this duty. They have also been used to test the newly electrified Chat Moss line between Newton-le-Willows and Manchester, which was finally energised this month.

Through electric services between Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester, which were due to start with the December timetable change, have now been postponed until the new year. Services have been altered though to enable the 350's to be filtered into service one they are delivered and commisioned, much to the chagrin of commuters from Bolton who now have one less train an hour.

With the electrification complete of the eastern end of the Chat Moss route, work has now started on the sections between Earlestown and Wigan to Edge Hill (Liverpool), causing much consternation to one particular pensioner according to the Wigan Observer. I love local news reporting!

Three weeks spent on night shift was the reason I didn't go anywhere for most of November, though I did take my camera with me to work most nights, principally to get shots of the newly delivered 350's, but there was also an ecclectic mix of locos appearing at Crewe over that time. Devon and Cornwall Railway's 56311 was a surprise visitor one night on the former Diesel Depot.

The start of more or less two weeks off was marked by a plan to visit a few Wetherspoon pubs in Yorkshire with a friend. With a few days available I took the opportunity of getting a Coast and Peaks Rover. It's a good value ticket covering from Sheffield and Derby right across to Holyhead and was a regular purchase for several of us in school holidays back in the 1980's.

With a lot of bus journeys needed to get to some of the places we wanted to visit I ended up not taking my camera on a few of the days. It made a nice change not to have to carry a bag around with me. I got to visit places I've not been to for years; places like Wombwell that we used to visit for the bus scrap yard there and Sandiacre which was the destination if trying to get round Toton Yard. Alas the Barton buses that used to operate the route from Long Eaton station have changed; on my last visit in perhaps 1989 they were still using elderly coaches complete with conductresses.


On my final day using the Coast and Peaks Rover I knew I would be making more use of trains than I had on the other three so I took my camera. I started at another place I'd not visited for years, Worksop. Nearby Retford was a popular place for us to trainspot then as you got both trains on the East Coast Main Line but also the frequent class 56 hauled coal trains on the bottom line heading to Cottam and West Burton power stations. Whilst the 56's have of course gone I was pleased to see there is still a bit of coal train movement in the area with two passing not long after my arrival.

I then headed down the Robin Hood Line towards Nottingham, the northern end of which I have never previously travelled over. This end of the line, although it only has an hourly passenger service in the main, is worth investigating further: I noticed some nice semaphores at Creswell. 

I alighted at Bulwell for a quick change onto the Nottingham Tramway. I wanted to call off at Wilkinson Street depot to see if any of the new trams were visible. 22 new Alstom Citadis trams have been ordered to supplement the current fleet of 15 Bombardier ones for when the extensions of the network to Beeston and Clifton are completed by the end of next year, 2014. There were four of the new trams visible, this one, number 218, was obviously being used for load tests judging by the quantity of sandbags placed next to it. Testing is taking place at night apparently.

I managed one more trip out last week. Again it was based round visiting Wetherspoons, at this time of year with it getting dark so early it is a challenge finding locations worth going to for photography, so I prefer to do other things and to just try to build in a little time for pictures enroute.

The plan was for a trip across Buckinghamshire starting at High Wycombe and ending up in Milton Keynes. The itinary worked suprisingly well enabling me to get to not only 10 Wetherspoons I hadn't previously visited but also to ride on three railway lines I've never traversed before.

The first of these was Marlow which is only a 20 minute bus ride across country from the Chiltern line at High Wycombe. Hugging the River Thames for most of its route this branch line runs hourly at off-peak times with a change of ends required at Bourne End. During peak times through trains from Paddington run to here with the branch unit shuttling between Bourne End and Marlow.

The second branch, which actually terminates only a few miles from Marlow, was from Twyford to Henley-on-Thames. My first stroke of photographic luck was as I alighted at Twyford I knew from Real Time Trains that a Theales to Earles Sidings cement train was approaching. I decided to go to the east end of the platform to avoid the train I had alighted from getting in the way. As it turned out I would have been better going to the other end, but it would have been close.

Back on the bus to High Wycombe and again I was lucky that during my 5 minute wait for a northbound train there 67018 came the other way propelling the 1312 Birmingham to London Marylebone service. The diagrams for their loco services have obviously changed from the new timetable as I'm fairly certain this wasn't one of their booked services earlier in the year. Usually the loco-hauled services are shown in Chiltern Railway's timetable as 'MS' for Mainline Silver, the rest being units, so maybe this was filling in for a failed class 168.

Onto Princes Risborough in order to do the branch line to Aylesbury and again I was lucky to get a freight train in the 20 minutes I had there changing trains. GBRF's 66723 came through heading for Calvert with a load of London Clay excavated from the Crossrail tunnels. Judging by the state of the leading cab it had been parked a bit too close to the conveyor belt filling the wagons.

With the light rapidly fading now it was gone 3pm, I expected that to be it for the day for photography but I arrived at Aylesbury to find Chiltern's converted former class 117 unit about to leave on a water-cannon duty to Harrow. I have better shots of the unit as it was now almost dark, but it was a nice end to the day with just the delights of Milton Keynes to look forward to after.

So as mentioned earlier that is probably the last with regards to pointing my camera at anything for 2013. I am still ploughing through reprocessing and recaptioning pictures on my website, I should have all the DMUs done by Christmas leaving me with just EMUs to do in January before I can get on with the job of scanning in my remaining railway and bus pictures from the 1990s.

Thanks for reading, please look out in January for the next edition of my blog, here's wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Friday 8 November 2013

51: Fake Moustaches and File Mortality

Hello and welcome to edition 51 of the Railwaymedia blog. This will probably be quite a short one (hopefully!) as I've not really been anywhere, especially since I returned from my last Foreign trip to Austria and Hungary (as detailed in my previous blog).
I have actually been working more or less solidly since my return; this week would usually have been a full week off and so I would have probably made a day trip to somewhere further afield but I have had to make do instead with a couple of photos taken whilst at work. It looks like yet again I will more or less miss the Rail Head Treatment Train season, unless I get chance to photograph one or two over the next couple of weeks, though this will have to be done in between night shifts.
DRS have as usual got the contract to run a few RHTTs throughout the country and so they are having to press their older locos into service a bit more. 6K05, the Carlisle to Crewe afternoon departmental has on several occasions produced a class 37, not that I have been able to photograph any of them, but they have also had to resort to using pairs of them on their long distance Scotland to Daventry liner trains. Being at Carnforth the other day I waited for a picture of 4M44, the 0847 from Mossend, expecting the usual 66. 37605 and 37259 were a pleasant suprise, though had I known what was hauling the train I would have picked a better location than this.
Also still running along the northern section of the West Coast Main Line is the hired in London Midland class 350/2 unit that Trans Pennine Express are using for driver training in advance of the introduction of their own class 350/4 units, the first of which was delivered to Britain this week. The 350/2 spends the night in the sidings at Preston, not a location where vandalism is common, however for the last 3 months two security guards have been posted each night on the end of the old parcels platform to protect the train. I assume this is part of the contract between TPE and London Midland but the poor blokes doing this must be getting frozen now the weather is colder.
With the weather now chillier and wetter I feel less guilty about spending so much time at home on the computer processing and sorting out pictures rather than going out taking photographs. As regular readers might perhaps know I am constantly, it seems, going through all my pictures on my site reprocessing them to try and at least get a fairly consistent quality to how they look even if I don't always manage to improve them! From time to time as a result some of the thumbnails on the albums, in particular the 'Archive of Trips' section, may be missing as it is a time consuming job to keep checking these after I have updated pictures in another section. Images on some of the older blogs here may also be missing too whilst awaiting me being able to update the links to them.
The other big job I am doing in parallel is renaming many of my pictures files. Storage is a big issue with digital photography. Chris Nevard in his Blog recently mentioned the fact that whereas film transparencies, and to a large extent prints, can last almost indefinately given the right type of storage, noone really knows how well digital image files will survive over the years.
Partly through learning from experience, I now back all my files up on two external hard drives which I try to avoid having plugged in at once. I had one fail on me a couple of years ago. Fortunately I still had my original RAW files on CD-ROMs so was able to back most images up again, but it took a long time. I am not a fan of 'cloud' services, and it would be certainly foolhardy to rely on them alone. Many people lost a lot of images when the Fotopic site crashed a few years ago. You also need to bare in mind that if you use RAW files then as these are to the camera manufacturers specifications so they may not be able to be decoded in years to come.
The photo above is a case in point. When my (single) hard drive crashed I had to then retrieve my original RAW files from their CD-ROMs and convert them to TIFF files before putting both on my new pair of hard drives. The 317 seen here at Upminster was one of two files out of maybe 30 on that particular disc that for some reason are now unreadable. As a result I have been left with just the full resolution JPEGs that were stored on a seperate CD-ROM. Fortunately my reprocessing was of reasonable quality so it hasn't been a massive loss but I do have some pictures where my original processing was quite frankly terrible, so in effect I have lost those images completely.
File names are another element that I am concentrating on at this moment. It has taken me all week so far to go through the files on my hard drive to ensure my file naming is standardised. Generally it is as I have from the outset of digital used a fairly simple file numbering system which is {train number}+{location}+{date}. Except the odd occasion where you take more than one picture of a particular train on the same day this guarantees a unique file name for each picture, along with the basic details of what, where and when always being visible.  
Apologies if all this is off-topic to some of you but I really believe it is essential to take full control of the safety of your images as soon as possible. Oh, and also don't forget to let your wife, husband, girlfriend or partner know what all your CD-ROMs and hard drives contain. In the event of your death they may very well come across prints or slides and pass them on to a fellow enthusiast but a hard drive is too easy for them to overlook and either wipe or chuck in the skip. Even a photo of a class 142 or a 317 EMU in 100 years will be valuable to enthusiasts then!
 So thanks for reading as always, I will leave you with a shot for 'Movember', the now annual event supporting male prostrate cancer that encourages men (or I suppose women if they can) to grow a moustache through the month of November. Northern Rail are supporting the cause this year and have 'grown' moustaches on all their trains. Some of them have been placed centrally but others have been put in some odd places! Bye for now.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

50: Oldies in Osterreich and a moment in Magyar

Hello and welcome to edition 50 of the Railwaymedia blog covering another 5 day trip abroad, this time principally to Austria to see the Mariazellerbahn but with also a quick trip over the border to Hungary in search of former BR Class 86s and GYSEV Ludmillas. It will be a long blog and I make no apologies for the fact most of the included pictures will be of just one type of engine!
In a way, much of the information in this blog will be academic by the time you get to read it. The Mariazellerbahn, which is an 85km long narrow guage line running from St Pölten into the mountains to Mariazell, has for the last 102 years been operated by OBB's class 1099 electric locos dating from 1911, accompanied by an assortment of units and diesel locos. The regional Government took over the line from OBB in 2010 and have invested over €100 million in the line, not just on the infrastructure but also on 9 new units built by Stadler called 'Himmelsteppe' ('Stairway to Heaven'). The apparently silly name is a reference to the fact that Mariazell is a pilgrimage centre.
The influx of these units, due for completeion this December will mean the end of day to day running of the class 1099s; already there are no booked trains hauled by the 2095 diesel engines and the new winter timetable starting next week (28th October) will eliminate the last of the loco hauled workings, though the Otscher Bar tourist train (pictured above) will return for one round trip daily next summer. Despite there being just two 1099 return workings left I managed a fair few pictures of them over the 5 days, some will be included in this blog the rest can be viewed HERE.
The two loco hauled trains were departing St Pölten at 0730 and 0830, the first of which was an 'ordinary' train using an old OBB liveried 1099, the 0830 was the Otscher Bar. All week there were only 4 engines used, two for each train, generally running on alternate days. Each day I went up the line I caught the 0730. Boarding at the first stop St Pölten Alpenbahnhof it was barely light enough for a shot as the train ran in. Whilst the first train up came straight back at 1053 from Mariazell, the Otscher Bar waits until 1553 to return so the same problem was encountered by the time that got back to St Pölten, seen above not long after I arrived in the town from Vienna Airport.
My friend Richard had visited the line a month previously and had recommended Frankenfels as a photographic location about 80 minutes journey time up the valley. Even when I arrived there just before 0900 the sun was barely getting over the top of the valley sides. A lucky small dip enabled a sunny shot of the train I had just got off departing the station and it was then a case of hanging around for an hour for the following service. The resulting picture is at the top of this blog.
One advantage of going so late in October, despite the shorter days, is that if the sun comes out then the colours on the trees can be fantastic. Tuesday, my first full day, was also the only day where it was sunny virtually all day. It was a nice feeling to be able to get the shots I wanted on the first day as it took the pressure off the rest of the week. I had to hang round Frankenfels for a couple of hours to await the first loco to return from Mariazell but was rewarded with the shot below.
With 5 hours until the Otschbar 1099 returned I headed back to St Pölten to spend an hour or two on the Westbahn, which is the principal Austrian mainline linking Vienna and Salzburg. Historically only two tracked a lot of work has been undertaken, and is still ongoing, to upgrade the line. As a result many of the stations around Vienna and St Pölten have been upgraded too and so aren't very photogenic. I alighted at Markersdorf two stops west where it is still only double track. Unfortunately out of the 7 freight trains I saw in 90 minutes, 6 were going the wrong way and the one that did appear managed to coincide with some cloud and also only had two wagons!
Fortunately, during the afternoon at least, all the OBB passenger trains are loco-hauled with the engines on the correct end for the sun (the western end) including this odd working that I saw twice, the 1404 from Vienna to St Valentin, which is formed of a Taurus loco hauling double deck stock and also an older 1144 Electric on City Shuttle single deck stock both combined into one train.
I returned to the Mariazellerbahn for the returning 1553 Otscher Bar. I had previously spotted a small bar at the end of Ober Grafendorf station so with open countryside around I went in the hope the train would come just before the sun set. Alas it went behind the hills a few minutes too early. Maybe the week before I would have been able to catch the last of the sun on it as it headed out of the town. Anyway I retired to the station bar afterwards. Shame the last train was only an hour later.
On Wednesday the weather forecast was poor both around St Pölten but also in my intended destination of Hungary. There is a two-hourly Railjet train from St Pölten to Budapest so I used this to get to the border station of Hegyeshalom. On my trip to Hungary last year we had failed to get a picture of any of the former British Rail Class 86s now in use with Hungarian open access operator Floyd, though passing we had seen a pair stabled at Hegyeshalom. There was one stabled down the yard and as is common abroad there was no trouble walking down to get a PICTURE of it. An added bonus though as I stepped off the Railjet was that an enthusiasts tour was just in the process of changing engines from a MAV Class 431 electric to this ex East Germany Class 01 steam engine, now preserved and owned by the Austrian rail history group OGEG.
I spent two hours at Hegyeshalom but little else was moving during my stay, so caught the local unit that connected with the following Railjet south to Csorna where four routes meet, mainly operated by the cross border passenger company GYSEV. The target here was the two diesel diagrams they operate hauling portions of Inter City trains from Budapest on the non-electrified route to Szombathely. Recently GYSEV have acquired a handful of Ukranian built Ludmillas from Deutsche Bahn to cover their few diesel routes. One arrived just after I did and I was suprised to see it then disappear off light engine back to Szombathely. I was later to realise why.
With the weather dreadful, an icy cold wind was blowing and it was threatening rain, I went to find a cash machine in order to get some Hungarian Forints to enable me to find a bar to shelter in whilst I waited 2 hours until the next Ludmilla was due. A mixture of forgetting what the exchange rate was and a schoolboy error in conversion meant I got out the equivelent of near enough £80 worth instead of the £20 I wanted! I did however find a German style Gasthaus which enabled me to have some dinner and some beer. I had to change the rest of the money back when I got home.
Having not read the timetable properly I thought the next Inter-City arrival from Szombathely wasn't until almost 1800. There was however a departure the other way at 1600, hence my suprise when the loco had disappeared. There is a good level crossing 15 minutes walk from Csorna station on the Szombathely line which I had planned to go to. I was just approaching it when an Inter-City I hadn't been expecting went past. Not just highly annoying in itself but I also missed a one-car DMU that was literally right behind it whilst I was trying to work out what I had just missed.
Being philosophical about things, I hadn't expected that other train to run so I didn't miss anything I was hoping to photograph. Despite the poor weather the shot of the Ludmilla coming back out from Csorna worked well and was what I had gone there for so I can't complain too much. I walked back to the station; I would have liked to get the shot of the next inbound IC here but it would have been pushing it to get back to the station to catch my train back to Hegyeshalom and Austria. Annoyingly the setting sun came out as it was due so it would have been a nice shot at the crossing. I had to, in the end, settle for a back-lit shot as it as it entered the platform with the red sun behind.
My original plan was to do just the one day on the Mariazellerbahn. I found out though that whereas a return from St Pölten to Mariazell (in effect a day ticket) is about €29 a ticket for the whole line for all week is only €33 so it seemd churlish not to take advantage of this. Like on the Tuesday I went up the line on the 0730 train, got picture of that and its return, and also the 0830 Otscher Bar, then spent the afternoon down on the mainline before returning for the evening return 1099.
Thursday was  a right mix of weather. It was thick fog when I walked down to the station. One of the lines 2095 diesels was just about to depart the Alpenbahnhof for Ober Grafendorf. There is an old depot there where the line's steam engine is housed. There were cranes on site so some vehicle was obviously to be shunted out and removed by road for some reason. I went beyond Frankenfels this time to the lines new HQ at Laubenbachmüle where a massive new visitor centre, conference and office rooms, and two three-road sheds to maintain the Himmeisteppe units has been all built in a large construction that takes up a significant part of the valley floor. The sight and sound of the 102 year old 1099 departing from underneath this massive new building was odd.
Despite the prescence of the visitor centre and cafe, most of the hourly trains from St Pölten terminate 8 minutes down the valley at Frankenfels so, with 3 hours until the next southbound train, I walked the 7 km back down the valley along the road through the gorge. Halfway between the two villages is another, Boding, where I sheltered in a convenient bus shelter to await a photo.
I enjoy walking and it was pleasant in the not too warm, not too cold drizzle, but I was a little wet by the time I boarded the unit at Frankenfels. This took me downhill to Kirchberg, the principal town in the Pielach valley. There is a cycle path running south alongside the railway and I utilised this for a shot of 1099-014 as it returned down the valley. I found a nice little kebab 'hut' in the town which served well for dinner. Not that it is something I eat often but Donner Kebabs in Europe always seem nicer than in Britain, plus of course in England you can't usually enjoy a beer with one!
I got back off at the Alpenbahnhof to have a look round the adjacent depot. I asked a driver in my pigeon German if it was OK to go across the tracks to get some pictures. I probably didn't need to ask really as it is a very laid back place. There are several lines of both 1099s and 2095s in the yards, some of which probably haven't been used for some time. They are all apparently on some kind of lease-back arrangement from OBB so there may not be a rush to scrap any of them once the main loco operations cease. I assume the Alpenbahnhof depot will be kept operational to maintain the two engines needed for next summers Otscher Bar trains as I can't see the brand new workshops at Laubenbachmüle having the facilities to work on these locomotives.
Loosdorf was my destination for the afternoons brief mainline photographic jaunt. This isn't a bad station to photograph from the end of during the afternoon but unfortuantely a new section of line commences just before you reach this station meaning all the IC and Railjet trains bypass it, as did one westbound freight. Yet again most of the goods trains were going the wrong way. I returned later to Ober Grafendorf for a shot of the returning 1099 and a few beers in Gunthers Bar.
For the week I stayed in the Pension Elisabeth in St Pölten. It was cheap enough, also a bit out of town and not of the highest standard, though it did the job. This was my first major European trip on my own so I needed really somewhere not too busy so I could sit in a corner quietly. The Hotel Alt Wien served food until around 9pm and I ate there two nights. Not the cheapest grub I had but it served my purpose. It is much more conveniently located than the Pension Elisabeth for the Alpenbahnhof; the rooms seem more expensive too but if I went again I would perhaps consider using that as a base instead. Of course there are plenty of hotels in the City Centre itself which would be even better located as a base for reaching the Hauptbahnhof each day.
Between the Alt Wien and the Pension Elisabeth along the main road heading south was the best bar I found (excepting Gunthers at Ober Grafendorf). Bar Tritsch-Tratsch doesn't look very good from the outside, more like a roadside cafe, but it was the only one I came across serving a slightly different beer from the usual Lager/Pils, that being the excellent Hacker-Paschorr on draught.
Anyway, back to transport. The final day I needed to get over to Salzburg for my Ryanair flight back to Stansted. At £23 this was very cheap, much more so than the £70 Easyjet gatwick to Vienna flight earlier in the week and, to be fair to O'Leary, it actually left and landed early. I still had time for one quick run up the Mariazellerbahn to Rabenstein, pictured above. I am certain that will be my last ever ride behind one of those engines. I wonder if now that they have, or shortly will have, finished in regular daily operation that the Hythe Pier Railway I visited last month (see Blog Number 48 ) is now running the oldest electric locos in daily service in Europe (dating from 1913)?
There is a regualr service from St Pölten to Salzburg, although the journey time is over 2 hours. Salzburg Hbf is being redeveloped at the moment and is really not much good for photography. I decided instead to have a quick hour sight-seeing. The line west from Salzburg crosses the River Salzach near the Old Town. I waited for a shot of an S-Bahn unit crossing the bridge. Rather fortuitously a cloud came over whilst it did, so I waited for the next one. Before that could appear two freight trains crossed which otherwise I wouldn't have seen, the first being hauled by one of OBB's class 1163 centre cab Electric engines, the second by a EuroRunner diesel.
By the time I had hung around the river for 20 minutes it was time to get the Trolleybus to the airport. Salzburg as a City is somewhere I very much would like to visit again and see properly.
To conclude, as I said at the beginning, much of this blog may not be of much use as the main reason for any Enthusiast to visit the Mariazellerbahn is now all but gone. I have visited Austria three times now, though twice only in passing through. There are still plenty of loco hauled trains to see, though the locomotive selection is in general quite limited with OBB and Open Access operators mainly using Taurus Electric locos. The 1142 and 1144 Class electrics still working on many local services are well worth photographing. I actually saw a MAV (Hungary) Taurus on a Salzburg local OBB train. I have no idea how or why, but proves there is still some limited variety.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog, I hope it is of some little use to someone planning a visit to the St Pölten area, or even to western Hungary. I'll leave you with a picture that shows in a small way why train companies in Continental Europe seem to just do things generally better than in the UK. In Britain, even on long distance Inter-City trains, the name of the game is to try and cram as many seats in as possible (try getting on a First Great Western HST). When building the Austrian Railjets, not withstanding the massive legroom they have in comparison to our trains even in Second Class, they also found room to 'squeeze' in a small cinema for children! Bye for now.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

49: September Sun: Pizza in Pisa

Welcome to another edition of the Railwaymedia blog. As I had expected it has been about a month since the last blog was published due to having a week away in Italy and, consequently, needing to process all the pictures from there before I could get round to writing this.
It was my first visit to the country; there's a diminishing number of (Western) Eurpoean countries I still need to visit, for railway photography at least. Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal are probably the main three. I might give Lichtenstein a miss as it only has 4 stations on a 10 mile line connecting Austria and Switzerland! Further east is probably going to have to be the aim for future trips: Latvia or Lithuania maybe; I would like to do Romania but I'm not keen on going there on my own.
Anyway, moving on to the here and now, or rather the last few weeks, and this blog will mainly describe where we went and what we saw in Italy. The principle aim was to see the FS (Ferrovie dello Stato) class D445 diesels, pictured above, as rumour has it they are being phased out over the next year or so. One of the principle lines they are used on is that from Firenze (Florence) to Siena. They haul a more or less hourly service, supplemented on the branch by additional DMU operated stopping services. They work in push-pull mode with the engine on the Siena end.
With this line being our target we flew to Pisa with Easyjet. There are flights from the North-West but I chose Luton as the flight times suited me better. Pisa has an excellent small airport with two trains an hour connecting it to the main Pisa station, though it is possible to walk to Pisa Centrale in about 20 minutes anyway if you have just missed one. We stayed in the Hotel La Pace which for Italy was fairly reasonably priced. It also does a good buffet breakfast and being virtually right ouside Centrale station is handy if you want to take night shots of the sleeper trains.
Before we needed to check in the hotel though, we had a few hours available to try to get a handful of pictures somewhere. Being September we had to find somewhere open in order to maximise the length of the evening light and to avoid the consequent long shadows. Many of the locations we used throughout the week were as a result of taking tips and looking at pictures from a website of a friend who makes many trips to Italy.Vada was one that looked reasonable for our requiremnts, although we discovered by ourselves this particular field 15 minutes walk north of the station.
The two hours we spent here started our hatred (or perhaps that's too harsh: let us say annoyance) of FS's ubiquitous class E464 electric locos that are used on virtually all regional services. Now naturally loco hauled trains are preferable to units but as, unlike the Siena line trains where the loco is always at the same end, on the electric network there is no telling which end the loco will be. More often than not it is never on the end that you want it to be for the photograph.
Our first full day was, with excellent sunny weather forecast, aimed at getting shots of the Siena line D445's. The main locations we used were centered on the stations of Poggibonsi, Castelfiorentino and Certaldo. The latter one, pictured above, is by far the nicest station on the line. There is a road bridge to the north of Poggibonsi (about a 20 minute walk) which gives good morning views: we took a picture of the 0910 from Firenze here, though the light would be better an hour earlier.
At Certaldo I ended up going for a much longer stroll, bit by bit heading south trying to find a decent location. I ended up near the village of Basseto about 3 miles away. To say I was sweating in the heat was an understatement, but at least I got my best shot of the day from the bridge there.
Meeting back up with Richard later we headed to one of the locations on our list, that being the river bank at Castelfiorentino. This is a good afternoon shot for Siena bound trains, and we could even nip to a local bar between photographs for a very welcome beer. With the shadows starting to lengthen we chanced our luck walking up to a bridge we could see to the north of the town. With the sun moving round and all the locos being at the south end of the trains there was only one more good photograph we could get of a D445, but with lovely evening light and an intersting backdrop it was worth hanging round for an hour to photograph a few of the intersting elderly units.
The next day we decided to hit the 'mainline' to get some Electric loco pictures. We went south from Pisa, past Vada, to San Vincenzo where there is a decent morning location north of the town. Unfortunately Italian railways seem to go very quiet on all lines between about 1000 and 1200 so we didn't get too many pictures, and needless to say any regional trains that did run tended to have the loco on the wrong end. We did though see a couple of freight trains, one of those being a frequent trip working of limestone from San Vincenzo to Rosignano hauled by an articulated Class E655 loco dating from the 1970/80's which in total we saw 6 times during the day.
This train was a bit of a life-saver for us as we saw little else all day apart from passenger workings. The line north of Pisa towards La Spezia appears to be much busier for freight, but there aren't as many good scenic locations for photography. During the afternoon we moved north from San Vincenzo to La California which is probably the best photographic location in the area though it is a long 40 minute walk from Cecina. We had maybe 5 hours in total there: fortunately there is a supermarket just before you leave the built up area of the town in which to stock up with provisions! There is a road bridge spanning the tracks and also a quiet lane running alongside the line, so from early afternoon through to late evening shots are possible one way or the other. 
We had a choice of rushing back to Cecina station before the sun went down or staying for the last of the light and having two hours to wait for the last train to Pisa. In the end we chose the latter and had tea at the small bar outside the station, which was basic but cheap. Birra Moretti is probably the most widely available beer and is pretty good; pizza is unsuprisingly available everywhere. Even eating in a fairly posh restaurant in Pisa one night it was only about 7 Euro's for a pizza, beer was between 3 and 5 in general. I was warned Italy was expensive but didn't find that to be the case.
Day 3, and after a hour or two east of Pisa at Pontedera where we saw no freight trains, we decided to go north towards La Spezia. Richard carried on to the Cinque Terre tourist area whilst I had two hours at the small station of Camaiore. There are few trackside locations on this section of the line, Camaiore is probably the quietest and most picturesque station, but I was rewarded with a couple of freight trains and even the E464's were mostly on the right end of the trains for once.
I then headed up north to meet Richard. The Cinque Terre is a collection of five villages clustured along the rocky coastline west of La Spezia and is extremely popular with foreign tourists. The railway engineering here is outstanding. There is no easy road access to any of the villages but the railway is hardly any better. From La Spezia the railway is almost continually in tunnel, indeed in the 44km between there and Sestri Levante 28km of it is underground, generally only popping out into daylight to squeeze in a station (some platforms are even in the tunnels themselves).
I alighted the train at the second of the five, Corniglia, just as I saw Richard getting on, so he spent the remaining hour or so of daylight at the next station along. There is a good location in the village of Corniglia overlooking the station and the bay, though it took a lot of climbing of steps. I also got bitten by loads of Mosquitos. Evening is perhaps not the best time to hang about there.
We were going to have our tea in one of the villages as they go noticeably quiter after dusk as all the tourists head back to wherever they are staying, but we were a bit anxious about the connection into the last train back from La Spezia to Pisa. In the end we went back early and finished the night in what had been a lucky find on our first night, namely the brewpub Brasserie La Loggia just outside Pisa Centrale station. It claims to be a brewpub, though apart from the standard lager the interesting beers were served only in bottles, but there were four on the menu to choose from; not particularly cheap but it was nethertheless an unexpected find. And they do pizza of course.
With the flight back to Luton not until 4pm that gave a full morning to go out photographing. Getting some more D445 shots I felt was probably the sensible thing, though with a heavy bag to carry about and as the weather had changed and only started to brighten up at dinner time, I restricted myself to principally doing station shots. One thing I will say is that neither of us got any hassle from any railway staff during the visit, something I believe can occasionally happen in Italy.
I camped out at Poggibonsi for a couple of hours, enforced mainly due to the strange mid-morning service gap I mentioned earlier. Ten minutes of amusement did occur though watching an English woman trying to use the station's self-cleaning toilet. I almost got to spend even longer there as the light engine pictured above broke down at the next station causing 30 minute or so delays, though the man here on the platform as it went through didn't appear to be too peturbed about it.
All in all a good trip to cover a new country, if you are interested in the full selection of pictures I took they can be found HERE. I'm not sure if I would make a specific effort to visit again as, certainly with regard to passenger trains, with most regional trains having the same motive power and with rumours that the E464s might even replace the older E444s on the Inter-City trains, there is little new to see. Maybe a family holiday will be in order though, with the odd photographic excursion thrown in if I can escape for a few hours, to get some more scenic coastal shots.
With having to fit in processing all the Italian pictures in between work commitments I have not otherwise got out with my camera this month, with the exception of two shots last weekend at the annual Ribble Steam Railway's Diesel Gala.This always seems to coincide with the weekend I have a kind of beer festival at my house which usually prevents me visiting on the Saturday at least. This year there were no visiting locos anyway as such so there was little need to nip down, though with Sunday afternoon turning out quite nice I did nip down the docks for some dinner and a shot of their immaculate class 14 diesel. It just needs some blinds in the headcode boxes!
I have, though this hasn't proved popular at home, booked yet another holiday for next week. This one is to Austria to try and get some pictures of the 100 year old locos on the Mariazellbahn. With new units having been delivered this year it seems that 27th October is the final date, barring summer specials, that the class 1099 electrics dating from 1911 will be in daily service.
Of course there will be more about the Austrian trip in the next blog, in the meantime thanks for reading this one. I shall leave you with the obligatory picture to take in Pisa. We went to see the Campanile at midnight, which was far better as it was much quieter; during the day it must be as bad as the Cinque Terres are for the numbers of tourists flocking about. Bye for now!

Sunday 8 September 2013

48: Under Ground, Over Water, Burton and Bracknell

Welcome to edition 48 of the Railwaymedia blog. It's been over a month since the last posting but school holidays aren't really the best time to try to find a couple of hours to sit down undisturbed to write this waffle! I've had a few trips out photographing over this time and have also been doing a bit of work on my website. Whilst I am reprocessing and captioning all my pictures you will find some pictures in this blog, and indeed on the front of folders on my photo galleries will be missing. It will probably take me a few weeks to do the locomotive section alone.
My first outing of August was not so much a photographic jaunt as it was a visit to the excellent Egham Beer Festival which is held three times a year at the United Services Club. It is easily accessible being only a 10 minute walk from Egham Railway Station, served by the half-hourly London Waterloo to Reading service and always hosts an incredible selection of beers both on the bar and in the rear courtyard. The next one is being held between the 7th and 10th of November.
I went by the way of Reading and stopped off at Wokingham and Bracknell, the latter place appearing to have no redeeming features whatsoever. I'm sure there may well be some nice bits of the town (though maybe not judging by this website) but I'm afraid the centre itself is a classic 1960s concrete monstrosity which apparently is due, not before time, to be regenerated.
Two days later and I was back down south for a rare Saturday visit to London. I don't usually go anywhere on a Saturday, mainly due to football, but I was promised that there were no premiership games playing so I took the chance that I would avoid any hoards of supporters on trains.
My main aim was to get some pictures of Underground stock on the Hammersmith & City and Piccadilly lines. The C Stock that is used on the Circle Line and Hammersmith trains is due to be replaced shortly by the new Bombardier S7 Stock, the same as has been recently introduced on the Metropolitan Line but one coach shorter. Following thew withdrawal of the A Stock on the Metropolitan these are now the oldest trains in use on the London Underground.
The Piccadilly I had not covered particularly before so I spent an hour on the four track section between Hammersmith and Acton Town where the Piccadilly and District lines operate in parallel, unusually the small tube trains run non-stop whilst the full size District D Stock provides the stopping service due to the need to speed up the Piccadilly trains as they serve Heathrow.
After a morning photographing the tube I paid a quick visit to Holloway Bus Garage where there was a charity open day being held and then it was beer time whilst my friend went to watch Leyton Orient play. As he was heading east it was rude not to join him for a beer after the match in the William IV  pub at Leyton. Prices have gone up to a massive £2.35 a pint for their home brewed Brodie's beers. Anyone who knows how much a pint normally is in London will realise how cheap that is. Food is reasonably priced too. Another place I would recommend visiting!
I had an hour and a half in Glasgow with work one day a week or so later so decided to visit the Glasgow Subway (colloquially known as the Clockwork Orange). I have not been down there for a few years and in the meantime the trains have been repainted. It was also a good opportunity to test out my new Canon 5D in low light conditions. I used 1600 ISO for most of the pictures and there was little noise at all on any of them, certainly far less than on my 20D. Two pictures here to show the difference, both at 1600, the first on the 5D with no noise reduction and the second from my 20D which needed the use of Neat Image to reduce the noise levels on the darker areas.
A new photo location for me a couple of days after that was at Burton on Trent. The line between Derby and Birmingham is one of the countries busiest for freight and I have visited locations such as ElfordWater Orton and North Stafford Junction before. There is a convenient footbridge just to the east of Burton station and during a period of slightly over one hour in the afternoon 6 freight trains and the Network Rail HST went past in addition to the usual class 170s and Voyagers, although the 56 was a bonus as it had been diverted from its usual route to Boston via Nuneaton.
I went home via Rugeley and, had I realised earlier, I might have spent the whole day on the line from there to Walsall as it was the last day before the line shut over the bank holiday weekend for resignalling and the closure of the signal boxes at Rugeley (Brereton Sidings), Hednesford, Bloxwich and Walsall. I was fortunate as there was a coal train approaching just as I stepped off the local train at Rugeley Town station. Not the best angle for a photograph but worth the shot including the signal box for posterity on its last day of operation after 105 years in use.
The Bank Holiday weekend also saw what was billed as the last day that the Blackpool Tramway's heritage fleet would be in operation during daylight in 2013. For the rest of the year they will see use during the illuminations though of course only after it has gone dark. I went over on the monday to have a ride on them. A 'Heritage' day ticket is £10, though also covers you on all other trams and buses, which is just as well unless you are simply going to do round trips from the North Pier or from the Pleasure Beach where the heritage fleet were starting and finishing.
There was no timetable as such for the heritage fleet aside from three booked trips to Fleetwood. Due to the lovely weather the open top 'boats' 602 and 604 (now renumbered to their original numbers of 227 and 230) were mainly running between Pleasure Beach and North Pier and were carrying healthy numbers of tourists. The other trams were doing trips further afield to Bispham or Cleveleys, though oddly none seemed to go there between the afternoon and evening Fleetwood trips. Quite a few enthusiasts were waiting in vain for one to appear at Bispham. Some form of basic timetable is needed for this service, even if it is just for one tram with the others operating on demand.
The following day I was free to make a longer trip somewhere. I had thought about going to Newcastle to get some Tyne and Wear Metro pictures, in between visiting branches of Wetherspoons, however the weather forecast dictated the south would be a better option so I plumped for a visit to a small railway that has been on my 'to do' list for some time, namely the Hythe Pier Railway.  
Built in 1909 and electrified in 1922, there are two locos, four coaches and two trucks, one being a four wheel flat truck for carrying baggage and buggies, the other being a fuel tanker for supplying the companies two ferries. The locos are probably the oldest engines in daily service in Britain dating from 1917 when they were built as battery locos to operate in a mustard gas factory, converted to electric third rail engines in 1922 when they were bought for the pier railway.
The line operates a 30 minute service to connect with the ferry from Southampton. The bus from there to Hythe takes about an hour so the train and ferry are a popular way for tourists and commuters to get between the two towns, the entire journey taking about 15 minutes. Currently a return from Southampton on the ferry is £5.50 with the train being free to ferry users. There is a pub and shops by the station and a nice small seafront where you can sit and watch, or photograph, the train.
Rather than my usual rush across London to grab an overpriced beer in either the Euston Tap or the nearby Bree Louise pub before my train home, I once again thought I would try and test out my 5D on the Underground, the Northern Line being another that I only had a couple of pictures from. For most of the shots I again used 1600 ISO, but forced by the platform at Waterloo being busy to trying a picture of one entering the station at speed, I needed to use 3200 ISO for one shot. Again there was very little noise apparent on the image. The station was well lit but, even so, being able to take a photograph at 1/640 of a second underground with good results is pretty amazing.
That is it for my August wanderings. As yet I haven't had chance to go anywhere this month, though I do have my first trip to Italy booked for a few weeks time. I hope then to get some pictures of the Italian D445 class of diesel loco which I understand are being phased out over the next year or two, amongst other pictures of course. All will hopefully be revealed in blog number 49.
I'll leave you with a picture of a rather unexpected find in Edinburgh whilst I was out having a bit of a stroll. It is now a cycleway but this tunnel formed part of the Edinburgh and Dalkeith Railway and led to the terminus at St Leonards. Originally built for coal it started being used for passengers after only a year, St Leonards becoming Edinburgh's first railway station, indeed the 566 yard long tunnel under the western flank of Arthur's Seat is the thought to be the first railway tunnel to be built in Scotland. There is little to be seen of the old station, the site now being a housing development, but the tunnel and trackbed to the south can still be walked along for about 2 miles to the point where it used to meet up with what is now the Edinburgh Suburban line round the southern outskirts of the city near Brunstane; it is well worth a look. Thanks as always for reading, bye for now!