A warm welcome to edition 62 of the Railwaymedia blog, and warm it needs to be as its a bit nippy outside with the first real frost we have had this year. I should really be making the most of crystal clear winter sunshine outside by going somewhere with my camera but I have been putting off sitting down to write this for too long: November was the first month since I started my blog that I haven't managed to squeeze some kind of rambling essay out. So I had better start this one now!
The highlight of autumn is always the annual Rail Head Treatment Train (RHTT) season when Network Rail sends out various Water Cannon trains over the system to blast the fallen leaves off the track and help to increase adhesion between the wheels and the rail. Forget the Press and its perennial jokes about 'leaves on the line'; it is a serious problem and Network Rail chuck a serious amount of money each year into trying to prevent trains sliding past stations and signals.
As is usual various types of engine and track machine are used in different bits of the country, the one that covers Mid and North Wales usually uses Network Rail's own class 97 diesels (former class 37) as they need to have the new ERTMS In Cab Signalling installed to traverse the lines west of Shrewsbury. Most of that section is done at night but usually the trip to Holyhead and back from Crewe is undertaken during daylight, it is seen above arriving into Chester.
East Anglia is another area where interesting locos can be seen on these workings with the last few years DRS providing several trains based at Stowmarket. I had a few branches of Wetherspoons to visit in the Colchester area so tried to tie them in with a couple of shots of the RHTT that covers Southend Victoria and Clacton. I ended up with two hours at Wivenhoe just south-east of Colchester to get a picture of it going up and back the Clacton branch. There was a nice location 15-20 minute walk from the station back towards Colchester along the side of the River Colne.
I am lucky to still have this picture. My camera dropped out my bag at Basel Airport in September damaging the hatch to the battery compartment. I shoot in RAW but as the camera was saving the file of this shot the battery must have become loose and so corrupted the image. Not one to be held back I looked into things and fortunately a JPEG is saved first in the RAW data so with the correct program, I used Irfanview, you can obtain that JPEG even if the entire RAW file isn't there. Of course it's sods law that this happened on the principle shot of the day as it has only done it once since, but at least something got salvaged! No such problems with the returning working.
I should really have made the effort and written this blog after these two trips but with short periods of daylight and not many rail based pictures taken during it I thought I would leave the blog for a bit in hope I'd get out more, but after a few weeks scanning more old bus pictures my next days out were towards the end of November (hence why its now December that I'm writing it!)
Having been to Braintree on my Colchester trip I had hatched a plan to visit the Wetherspoons at Saffron Walden and Haverhill. They aren't too far from Braintree by road but since the Beeching cuts there is no railway so they needed to be attacked, as it were, from the Cambridge side. This was never going to feature many rail pictures, in fact not many pictures at all, with most of daylight hours taken up travelling on buses between the towns rather than wielding my camera.
Haverhill is a quite large place now, one of many where had the railway remained open another 10 years (only the section from Marks Tey to Sudbury remains) it would have once again become useful, though presumably mainly as a means to get out. Saffron Walden is a much nicer town, again its station closed in the 1960s although this was just a loop off the main London Liverpool Street to Cambridge line. The town itself is only about 2 miles away from the present station of Audley End. OK if you have a car but with only one bus an hour not much use otherwise.
The following day and work took me to Manchester where I made time to see the newly opened Airport extension of the Metrolink tramway. Opened 15 days previously it was a year early into operation. This seems to be happening a lot now which makes me suspect timescales are being extended unnecessarily as a contingency so they can trumpet it being ahead of time...
Featuring a mix of street running and segregated running it has extended the network to almost 60 miles in total, though until the second route through Manchester City Centre is opened trams from the Airport are only going as far as Cornbrook for onward connections to prevent tram congestion between there and Piccadilly. As with other routes trams run every 12 minutes.
Humberside was my next destination. I had hoped to again mix a bit of Wetherspooning with a shot of the local RHTT before the season finished, class 20s supplied by DRS have been featuring on a diagram working from York. Twice now though the day I could manage has been one of the days the circuit doesn't run to Grimsby, which appears to only occur on alternative days.
To fit all the pubs in I wanted to visit plus a bit of 'line bashing', travelling two routes I've never been on a train over, took a bit of doing but I got an itinery worked out with even the prospect of a picture of a freight and a Network Rail test train. Of course the freight turned out to be a light engine and the test train was just Network Rail's unique class 950 Sprinter unit but, hey ho.
Selby was the first destination and 66708 was the light engine. I suppose if I had looked at Real Time Trains closely I would have realised that it was just going to be an engine. I blame the excitement. In order to do the Barton-on-Humber branch and to save time I went via Hull and used the half-hourly Fast Cat bus service over the Humber Bridge. The bus was a bit late leaving Hull meaning I was a little worried at missing the once every two hours train. The train ended up being almost 30 minutes late anyway due to a road traffic collision conveniently in the middle of one of the busy level crossings in the centre of Grimsby blocking the line whilst an ambulance attended.
I had though left myself plenty of time in Cleethorpes to have a few beers and photograph the test train. My plan was to get off at New Clee, the stop before and to walk to a footbridge for photographs of the test train arriving and departing however I hadn't bargained on it being a request stop and the train sailing straight through! In the end it didn't matter with the test train being the Sprinter rather than a loco hauled one, and it went into the 'wrong' platform for a decent picture.
I returned from Cleethorpes via Scunthorpe and Grimsby, two towns not especially on my list of must-visit-again places. I had time for some tea in the Grimsby Wetherspoons before my ride back to Leeds which was the 1849 via Knottingley, a route that only has three passenger trains a day over the whole length: 0704 and 1849 Goole to Leeds and 1716 Leeds to Goole. Presumably any commuters finishing at five need to finish work on time and rush for their last train home!
Acton Bridge is a popular place with enthusiasts as it is one of the busiest freight spots in the country and a nice quiet station. I was the only photographer there last week when I visited as the weather was foul but I was rewarded by a busy hour or so. Highlight was probably former European 66749, now working for GBRF on an Ironbridge to Liverpool coal train, but another freight flow I saw was a new one serving Folly Lane at Runcorn operated by Freightliner taking domestic waste from Greater Manchester for incineration at a new plant there. These Runcorn rubbish trains used to go to Roxby Gullett near Scunthorpe, so two places with lots in common in terms of desirability
There were about 9 freight trains in total in just over an hour which is pretty good going, and I even got to see Pendolino 390112 which for December will be a bit of a celebrity as it has had its two driving cars at either end vinyled up as a 'Traindeer'. I'll put a picture of that at the bottom of the blog but for now here's a picture of 86604 on a Garston to Crewe Basford Hall Freightliner also seen that day. A slightly early happy birthday to it: one of only two class 86s left running (the other being 86610) with a build date of January 1965, it will be 50 years old next month.
There were two bits of excitement in the North West this last Saturday. First was 40145 which was doing a railtour from Southport to York and beyond. It is many years since a class 40 has visited Southport so it was too good an opportunity to miss to get up early and drive over to the Southport to Wigan line at Hoscar to see it pass. Annoyingly another 10 minutes would have seen the sun rise high enough above the early morning clouds that were hanging over Parbold hill.
The other railway fun in the area was the loco hauled shopping specials being run by DRS for Northern Rail. Christmas Shopping and the now obligatory German-style markets make trains into Manchester far busier than they normally are. Most trains into Manchester from Preston are full and standing all day as it is, even mid-week, so Northern decided to lay on relief trains.
The first week of operation was 22nd November with 47818 and Northern Belle 47790 in charge and run each Saturday until Christmas. Whilst they all operate between Preston and Manchester Victoria, in order to stop overcrowding not every journey is in passenger service throughout with many starting or terminating at Buckshaw Parkway or Chorley. Last Saturday again saw 47790 and 47818 in charge, though on opposite ends of the coaches than the previous week. There are rumours class 57s might be used once they return from RHTT duties. A list of times is below.
2Z04 0835 Buckshaw Parkway-Manchester Victoria
2Z05 0932 Manchester Victoria-Preston
2Z08 1045 Chorley-Manchester Victoria
2Z09 1137 Manchester Victoria-Preston
2Z12 1247 Buckshaw Parkway-Manchester Victoria
2Z13 1352 Manchester Victoria-Chorley
2Z16 1512 Preston-Manchester Victoria
2Z17 1617 Manchester Victoria-Chorley
2Z20 1729 Preston-Manchester Victoria
2Z21 1829 Manchester Victoria-Buckshaw Parkway
2Z24 1937 Preston-Manchester Victoria
2Z25 2028 Manchester Victoria-Preston
2Z28 2133 Preston-Manchester Victoria
2Z29 2220 Manchester Victoria-Preston
Finally I think I've caught up with everything important since my last blog, I've omitted a lot about buses to shorten it slightly, the scans of buses from 1991 and 1992 I have managed to process during this period can still be seen HERE for now, please check my New Additions section for any days out I manage to squeeze in during the next two or three weeks, alternatively check back on my blog as I shall try to find the time to write one more before the end of the year.
All that remains to be said is thank you for finding time to read this, I shall leave you by trying to make you feel slightly festive with a shot of the 'Traindeer'. Bye for now!