Friday 29 August 2014

59: Family Frolics: Berkshire and Bootle, Kent and Koblenz

A warm welcome as always to another edition of the Railwaymedia blog, I thought I'd try to squeeze a quick edition in before the end of August whilst the family are out and I've got a little bit of time to sit down undisturbed. School holidays have determined where I have been this month, rather than having a couple of days out around Britain myself I've been on a couple of longer family trips, although of course I managed to still get a few bus and train pictures along the way.
The final trip of July was on the last day of the month and was a trip to Kent. This area is one of the few strongholds for older Stagecoach buses with a good fleet of Volvo Olympians spread around the depots and a few B10M single decks at each one too. Readers of previous blogs will have noticed my trip to the Isle of Arran to photograph their fleet of these buses. All single deck buses have to meet the 2000 Accessibility Regulations from January 2016 with double decks the year after, so time is running out for these type of buses, generally those with registrations plates of 'S' or earlier.
I still need a couple more trips to the area to get some more shots of these buses, Hastings still has a few plus I have been intending to visit the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway for some time so hopefully I will try to fit at least one of those in during September.
Continuing with buses, a few days after that I had a trip to Liverpool, an area I spent a lot of my childhood in but haven't taken many bus photographs there since the mid-1990s. I had no firm plans on where I was going to go but started off with breakfast in Bootle where the weather was perfect for a few pictures on Stanley Road near the Strand shopping centre. I then moved on into Liverpool before heading under the Birkenhead Tunnel (pictured below) to the Wirral.
Heswall was a place I wanted to go, my first visit there in the 1980s had been suprising as this small town had a massive Crosville bus depot behind the bus station. A pub has replaced that now unfortunately though a small bus station remains. By this point I was getting more interested in having a few beers than taking pictures anyway. I stopped off in Irby on the way back to liverpool for a picture (and a pint) and ended up having some food in the Shippons pub in the village which do the strange offer of giving you a free main course if you buy a starter. You wouldn't really pay £5.50 for the starter itself of course but for two courses, good quality too, I couldn't complain.
I only managed one train picture on the Merseyside trip but managed a few more on the follwoing weeks family trip to Windsor. The kids had been wanting to go to Legoloand for a long time (unlike me) so with a fairly reasonable price for the Travelodge in Windsor for two nights it made for a good mini-break. I've passed through Windsor a few times but never stayed, it is of course a nice town, but avoid the daytime between about 9am and 6pm when the tourists coach loads descend!
Totally by coincidence (really) the day that was planned for the Legoland visit was the same day that I would normally have gone to the excellent Egham Beer Festival which is only about 10 miles from Windsor so, managing to get out of Theme Park Duty I had a pleasant day there instead, managing a few pictures both there and in nearby Staines, including my first sight of one of the former Gatwick Express class 460s Juniper units that have now been converted into class 458/5s.
The original 458s were very similar to the 460s except for the front nose-cone and the luggage areas fitted to the Gatwick trains; the project underway involves converting the 8x8-car 460 units and 30x5-car 458 units into a homogenous fleet of 36x5-car units. The biggest thing to note is the new front which has been made to look similar to South West Trains fleet of Desiros.
Highlight of the day for me was a pair of Class 73s running light engine through Staines, a class that I don't get to see too often; the beer festival is only a five minute walk from a footbridge over the railway which is the main freight route from London towards Eastleigh, so I was also able to nip out a couple of times when Real Time Trains informed me something interesting was coming.
The following week was the second family mini-break, this time a slightly longer one to Germany. We travelled by Eurostar and Deutsche Bahn's ICE to Cologne then local train onto Koblenz where we stayed 3 nights in the Hotel Continental next to the Hauptbahnhof. It was a typical European City hotel, fairly old and basic but very convenient for the station and only about a 10 minute walk to the Old Town. Situated at the confluence of the Rheine and Mosel rivers Koblenz is a popular stopping off point for the many Rheine cruise boats that ply the river; the river valley south from Koblenz is an UNESCO heritage site and is well worth a visit for both scenery and railways.
I had a massive stroke of luck when we arrived in Koblenz as three minutes later one of DBs heritage BR103 electric locos arrived on the Salzburg to Münster inter-city service. Brought in a few years ago to solve a minor engine shortage there is still a regular diagram a few days a week for these 1970s locos which were once the flagship of the German fleet. A local photographer told me the time that it was due back in the morning so I was able to get a second shot of it returning before our planned visit for the day to friends staying on a campsite nearby across the river. 
Currently these locos are working the 0700 Salzburg to Münster on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays and return the following day on the 0727 Münster to Innsbruck.
Our friends were staying about 5 miles from Koblenz in Oberlahnstein at the campsite Burg Lahnek. I'm not into caravaning but if I were I would definitely stay at this place, high above the Rhine Valley and with an excellent adjoining bar/restaurant and outdoor swimming pool; sat drinking beer by their caravan I was able to see and hear the trains on both sides of the river. Generally from observation most freight trains run on the east bank of the river, which has in addition just an hourly passenger service operated by units. The west bank has some freight but is much more busy with passenger trains with an hourly local service, at least hourly Inter City trains, and a roughly two-hourly Regional Express working that is currently operated by top and tailed BR143 locos.
After a lovely sunny day at the campsite the following day started much more dull and by dinner time had descended into heavy rain. I had two hours photographing in the morning at a random station on the west bank then later we went for dinner at the first major town south of Koblenz, Boppard. There used to be a branch line service operated by BR218 'Rabbit' diesel engines but this is now worked by a single car DMU. The town itself is attractive, we ate at a restaurant on the bank of the Rhine watching (to a bit of frustration from me) a procession of freight trains trundling along the opposite side. There is a small ferry across the river at this point but I wasn't allowed away!
We headed back home via the same route we had come, namely via Cologne, Aachen, Brussels and Eurostar, though this time we took the slower trains back to Brussels including the trip across the border from Aachen to Welkenraedt on one of SNCBs elderly units that are still operating despite a big influx of new Desiros that have now taken root in the Brussels area itself.
That has been it this month for trips, I suppose really I've not done too bad as most were made with the family; schools go back next week so I'm already thinking about where I can head on my next days off, Kent as mentioned for one. The end of next month a trip to Switzerland has been booked in order to get some last shots on the Gotthard route through the Alps before the Base Tunnel opens in 2016, cutting journey times but also removing most of the freight trains from this busy scenic section of line. I visited here back in 2008, the shots from the Gotthard can be found HERE.
For the next week or so I will be continuing the long process of working my way through my scanned pictures Thanks for reading this latest waffle, I shall try to get time to write another before I head to Switzerland, for now I'll leave you with one of my more interesting bus scans from 1991. Hartlepool Transport at the time had a large fleet of rare double-doored Bristol REs that at the time of this picture were over 20 years old and lasted another 3 until Stagecoach took over.
Bye for now!