Friday 7 August 2015

69: A Scandanavian Sojourn: Sweden and days in Denmark and Deutschland

Hello and a warm welcome to the latest Railwaymedia blog covereing my recent(ish) holiday to Germany, Denmark and Sweden a few weeks ago. Usually I'm pretty quick at downloading, captioning and processing all the pictures once I return but this time it has taken me several weeks to catch up with them, hence the delay in writing about where I went and what I saw!

The main reason behind our choice of destinations for the trip was the planned diversion of all Denmark to Germany freight trains via the diesel only route via the Marschbahn which runs from Tønder via Niebüll down to Hamburg. Usually freight runs via the electrified route through Flensburg but engineering work on that line for the second year running necessitated the diversions.

It is an interesting area to visit anyway as all trains on the route, currently, are diesel hauled with Nord Ostsee Bahn providing the roughly hourly 'local' service from Hamburg to Westerland using ex Norwegian MAK diesels and more modern Siemens Eurorunners, and Deutsche Bahn's Inter-City service utilising pairs of class 218 'Rabbits'. In addition to this, as Westerland is on the Island of Sylt which is only accessible by train there is a frequent service of car trains between there and Niebüll on the mainland, also at the moment hauled by class 218s. New diesels are on order though.

After an evening arrival in Hamburg on Sunday night there was just time for a couple of evening pictures at Hamburg Altona station. There are still a few local DB hauled trains in the Hamburg area, mainly using class 112 electrics (similar to the former East German BR143s), principally on Regional Expresses from Altona towards Kiel and also on the frequent trains on the line from Hamburg Hauptbahnhof towards Lübeck, which has been electrified since my last visit to the area.

Our evening meal was in the Paulaners 'Miraculum' opposite Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, several litre-sized tankards of Weißier being in order. We stayed in the Novel Hotel Alster St Georg which was only 5 minutes walk from the station and very reasonably priced for where it was located.

The next day started with the journey up to Niebüll which is several hours on the train from Hamburg. As previously mentioned, NOB run hourly from Altona but the Inter-Cities which come from elsewhere in Germany serve the Hauptbahnhof so we caught the one that left just after 0900. Nice and quiet the train was too for the journey with an electric loco pushing as far as Itzehoe then a pair of Rabbits taking the train forward from there. I had a staff pass to use for this train, my friends bought cheap 19 Euro advanced tickets: the local 'Länder' ticket is not valid on the ICs. In common with most of Germany these tickets though are excellent value allowing travel through a wide area on all local buses and trains (Hamburg to Westerland is three hours on the train) and in this case for only 28 Euros for one but even better value as each additional person (up to maximum of 5) is only an additional 3 Euros so five people can travel all day after 0930 for 40 Euro (about £30!)

One oddity of the operation of these Inter-City trains is that most convey through coaches to Dagebüll Mole. Whilst Westerland is itself on the Island of Sylt there are several other Islands in the area served by ferry services from Dagebüll. For the coaches to reach here a complex shunting move takes place at Niebüll with the DB train locos taking off the front two coaches, attaching them to the back of private company NEG's branch unit which then in turn has to attach to the rear of those a generator van to power the electrics for the coaches. The Deutsche Bahn locos then take the rest of the train to Westerland and on their return the whole process is reversed. The front two coaches off our train are seen above attached to the DMU and generator van in the adjacent NEG station.

First stop photographically was Langenhorn, the first station south of Niebüll, and an excellent all-day photographic location with shots available in the morning south of the station and all afternoon and evening from the road that parallels the line to the north. This was another place I had visited back in 2007 and we returned several times on this holiday. We spent the first afternoon there hoping some of the diverted freight would appear. Several did although it was a bit dull.

The evening was spent the other side of Niebüll at Morsum on the Island of Sylt where there is a nice bar located on the station. After a little while the owner and her friends were highly amused that we kept disappearing every time we heard the level crossing gates go down. With several NOB trains and car shuttles (autozugs) each way every hour, this happened a lot. We had a couple of hours there before retiring to the convenient and highly recommended Hotel Insel Pension in Niebüll.

The following day was another full one spent in the area and we decided to do the long (approximately 6km) walk from Klanxbüll station to the start of the Hindenburgdamm, the 11km causeway which is the only fixed link between Sylt and the mainland. I really should have taken a hat as we had uninterrupted sun all day and, although it was a tiring hot walk in both directions, well worth it. The new engines on order to replace the 218 'Rabbits' are due to start arriving by the end of this year so it was probably my final chance to photograph them at work on the Autozugs crossing the dam. Just a word of warning though-walking along the dam itself is strictly forbidden.

A few shots to illustrate the location: when we first arrived mid-morning the sun was just right for trains heading east coming off the dam heading towards Niebüll, as the sun moved round it obviously started favouring the view the other way. The NOB locos are usually on the Westerland end.

One further location was  round the landward part of the causeway towards Klänxbull and we had a further hour or so there. All in all it was about a 75 minute walk each way.

We had 30 minutes respite changing trains at Niebüll to stock up with beer from the garage near the station, much needed, before we returned to Langenhorn for the evening. Once again it was a diet of Inter-Cities and NOB push-pull services with a slightly disappointing number of freight trains. We only had a rough idea when they would be running as we had the previous years timetable to go by, this being the first week of the diversions. The following day we did acquire an up to date one which proved to be much more accurate. I shall spare you more details of Langenhorn that evening but we finished off the day with a nice pizza from an Italian restaurant not far from Niebüll station.

The next day was a move from Germany and into a new country for me, Denmark. Usually there is a roughly two-hourly train service provided by Arriva Denmark from Niebüll to Tønder and up to Esbjerg but due to the freight diversions over this single track route all services to Tønder were replaced by buses and only a handful of trains were running north of there to Ribe. This was then the second time I've crossed an International border on a local bus (the previous being Eupen in Belgium to Aachen in Germany). 20 minutes in Tønder bagged a picture of a waiting freight before the Arriva unit appeared to take us north towards Esbjerg. The junction of this branch and the Danish 'main' line is at Bramming; we alighted at Tjæreborg, the only intermediate stop bewteen there and Esbjerg.

Although the station didn't look too promising on Google Maps it proved to be a reasonably good spot. The main advantage of the location is because there isn't room to do so at the junction at Brammiing all the diverted freight trains have to head west to Esbjerg before going back east towards København, so every train has to pass Tjæreborg twice. We weren't sure exactly how things worked but it turned out that the German BR232 and BR233 'Ludmillas' which were powering the trains up from Germany were replaced at Esbjerg by former Danish Nohab 'MZ' Class diesels for the run to Fredericia where the usual electric took over. I had hoped to maybe see one or two of these MZ class engines but as it turned out there were five in regular use operated by DB Schenker Rail Danmark plus a couple more engines hired from other operators. More about these later on.

This particular day we remained on the station. The view of westbound trains (above) was reasonable, especially in the afternoon when the sun became better, eastbound trains were on the near track so a shot of the end of the platform was more constrained but at least with signals each way and the passenger timetable, we had plenty of warning when something was approaching.

We were heading across to København that evening so had to leave at teatime. We went to the junction station of Bramming for the final two hours and were lucky to discover that the local railway society were running two return trips from there to Lunderskov each Wednesday for a few weeks in the summer and the second trip of the day was due to return. Unfortunately we had no idea which platform it was to arrive on, it came in on the wrong one for the sun, but was still nice to see.

We stayed at the First Hotel Taastrup near Høje Taastrup station on the edge of København which is very convenient as every train heading west out of the city stops there. It worked out about £55 a night which for Denmark was very cheap. I had three full days left, the main aim being to get pictures of the ME class diesels used on passenger trains out of København but with Tim only having one full day left we decided to wait for those and instead the next day to do another new country, Sweden.

There is a fantastic rail service between København and Malmö, peak hours they are every 10 minutes, using the Øresund Bridge and Tunnel which gets you across the approximately 8 mile strait seperating the two countires. The service is operated by a large fleet of three car units which not only link the two cities but also provide the local services from København to Helsingør and Nivå on the Danish side and long-distance services from Malmö to as far north as Göteborg in Sweden.

I had looked at possible locations to visit in the Malmö area and one that seemed from google Maps to be reasonable was Hjärup on the mainline between there and Lund. North of Lund the line diverges, left towards Göteborg and right towards Stockholm so before Lund seemed to be the best bet for getting any freight that might run in the country having struggled to find much information on the internet about traffic patterns in Sweden. I had therefore hoped to maybe see one or perhaps two freight trains but as it transpired there was almost one an hour, counting both directions together. With another day of unbroken sun though we could only ever really photograph trains heading south. In between the occasional freights there was an never ending procession of units.

The particular spot I had identified was just south of Hjärup station where there was a grassy mound near a road. On Google Maps this looked ideal however foiliage and lineside cabins made it not as good in real life as it had appeared on the computer. The Hector Rail train above appeared whilst we were investigating what turned out to be an official patch of grass for use as a dogs toilet. We therefore made our way along the edge of the cornfield further on which looked better and had a very pleasant hour watching the frequent Øresund and local units, regular Inter-Cities and freights.

The sun was starting to get a bit head on so we made our way back to Hjärup station. Originally we had thought of moving on at this point but with such a busy line, perfect weather and a reasonable location we decided to spend an hour in the very odd village of Jakriborg. We had spotted this quaint old village as we alighted from the train so found a cafe and sat for an hour or so whilst the sun moved round enough, having a couple of expensive Swedish beers. Something didn't seem right about the place though and a quick look on the internet provided the answer as the whole village, complete with cobbled town square, only dates from the late 1990s!

Once the sun was beginning to get more side on to the railway we decided to investigate the railway just north of the town and came across the perfect location to spend the rest of the day. A large mound again, similar but larger to the one to the south of the station, this offered various viewpoints of the line looking towards Lund. We finally left there about 8pm but we could have had another hour or two more with the sun setting across the open field. Certainly the shot of the holiday up until that point (and there had already been a few contenders) came about an hour after we returned lineside with a pair of Green Cargo (the former national freight operator) Rd2 Electric locos.

This section of line sees between three and six Øresund trains, four local Skånetrafiken units and one or two SJ X2000 Inter-cities each way every hour. To be honest after I had exhausted the many different views you could take them from by the end I wasn't botheroing pointing my camera at most of them! The X2000s I found though particularly photogenic, reminding me of an East Coast class 91 in a way, the locos are virtually always on the south end heading towards Malmö and København.

We decided to call it a night eventually and headed into Malmö for tea. There was no rush with Øresund trains all night and the last train from København back to our hotel about 0230. Malmö is a lovely city but take plenty of money! It was a Thursday evening but very busy though we managed to get a table in a steak restaurant; a few beers and a meal for two came to just under £100. Before we caught the train back to Denmark we called into the main bit of the station (most trains now use the underground section next door) to see the nightly Stockholm sleeper train. All in all a visit to Sweden is well worth it. As expected it was a really nice country but it might be worth your while taking a packed lunch from Denmark if you do a similar day trip to us rather than eating out!

So the next day it was time to bag a few pictures of the Danish Railway's ME class diesels. I was quite impressed with these big, noisey diesels with some producing copious amounts of exhaust fumes. During the day there are four departures from København every hour that can be hauled, although the relatively new Ansaldobreda DMUs are starting to make inroads into this. A long running saga like the Ansaldobreda built high speed units for the Netherlands, they were meant to be in service in 2008 but still aren't authorised to run in multiple. I'm guessing when this finally happens it will probably be the death-knell for the MEs. Going by the dreadful noises the gearboxes on the new units make though the diesel locos might be safe for some considerable time however!

Anyway, the MEs generally run hourly to Nykøbing F, hourly to Kalundborg and most of the twice-hourly stoppers to Holbæk, the latter two destinations being the same direction meaning upwards of three an hour on the recently doubled branch from Roskilde to Holbæk. All of these operate along the mainline as far as Roskilde and served our base at Höje Taastrup; the engines are on the western (country) end of the double-deck rakes so light is generally best for them in the afternoon.

After a few shots at the station of Trekroner midway between Taastrup and Roskilde, once the sun had moved round enough we ventured onto the Holbæk branch. The first stop at Lerje had looked promising on maps and the recent double tracking of the route helped as it has cleared quite a bit of vegetation. The shot from the end of the platform looking east was pleasant enough.

After a couple of pictures here both of oncoming trains and going away shots, we investigated a footbridge about half a mile to the west. Again with the lineside clearance this proved to be an excellent location. We were there about 2pm but maybe an hour or so earlier would have been better as the light was just starting to get head on. The sun eventually went in anyway, though not before we had managed a few shots of passing Ansaldo units and a few class ME's too.

With the clouds increasingly moving in we headed back to Trekroner to track down the one all day diagram for the class EA electric locos that exists  on the Østerport to Roskilde stopping services. The light, when the sun made the odd appearance, was ideal mid-afternoon for trains on the 'slow' line coming out from København though wrong for fast line trains from that platform.

 It was even trying to rain by this stage (how rude) so we headed further into the city. From Høje Taastrup the mainline becomes two track with just one intermediate station as the others are served by the 10-minute frequency S-Tog. The best station we found was Danshøj, by my reckoning late evening the sun would be ideal for trains coming out on the mainline. There was a steady procession of ME diesels and units to watch which passed the time before Tim had to head to the airport.

With myself being the last man standing, what could I do on my own in Denmark on a Friday night? Well I decided on a trip to Kalundborg on the train taking a stock of beer which was far more pleasant than festering in a pub or bar on my own. I had of course no idea what Kalundborg was like, I had about 30 minutes there whilst the train was serviced. It turns out Kalundborg is a container and ferry port and, at least round the station, not much happens on a Friday night. Fortunately a 5 minute wander and I found a Netto that was open until 9 o'clock so I could restock for the journey back.

The final full day was of course mine to choose what to do. It seemed daft not to revisit the Tjæreborg again as we had had such a good day on the Wednesday. I got up reasonably early for the three hour journey, of course returning back to Taastrup would be late on so like the Kalundborg trip the night before was just a case of stocking up on enough beer to enjoy the scenery.

Rather than stay on the station this time I went for a walk and found a farm track I had spotted from the train located just over a 20 minute walk to the east of the village. This turned out to be a nice spot, the bend of the line wasn't quite right for eastbound services but the sun was moving from the front by the time I arrived anyway. I settled down to about 3 hours sat there during which time I didn't see another person so relaxed on the banking with a book and a bottle of coke awaiting trains.

The view looking east was much better and with the line dead straight offered plenty of warning of approaching trains. This caused a bit of consternation at times though with the very fast moving clouds wondering if the oncoming train would arrive before the next cloud. I probably had a 50% success rate with this but at least got one of the required MZ class locos in sun.

Between Tjæreborg station and the farm track was a road bridge. Tim had checked it out earlier in the week and it looked a nice view. Having got the westbound freight pictured above I reckoned I had time to await the next eastbound one and get to the bridge before the following one heading towards Esbjerg, however it came much sooner than expected, though fortunately before I started walking. I went to the bridge not expecting much to come so I was therefore a bit suprised to see the signal beyond the station clear when I knew no passenger trains were due, and even more so when I heard a loud noise from around the corner. Whilst the MZ's were built by Nohab, when that manufacturer is mentioned most people think of the earlier MX and MY classes which were much more streamlined and stylish. CFL (Luxembourg National Railway) Cargo Denmark own a few and it was two of these that appeared, though for a second I thought the clouds would spoil things.

These by far trumped the Green Cargo Rd2s as the 'shot of the week' as they are rare enough to see in action as it as let alone a pair on a freight train, and I returned to the station via the supermarket to pick up some beer to celebrate. This line is in the process of being electrified so the three views above may change considerably in the next 12 months if diversions take place next year.

I only really had Sunday morning left as it was a mid-afternoon flight back from København to Manchester. I went the other side of Roskilde for the last few pictures of MEs, a number of which operate even on Sundays. I finished off seeing a little bit of København itself. In my mind it is nowhere near as nice as Malmö but maybe I missed the decent bit. The final shot of the holiday was taken in the main station, a lovely building but not very easy for photography.

All in all a very successful week away with two new countries covered. I liked Denmark but apart from the diverted freights and the ME diesels there isn't an awful lot else of interest. Sweden I would like to see more of, maybe when I have won the lottery. North Friesland in Germany I would recommend anytime, even when next year the 'Rabbits' have been replaced.

All the pictures can be found for a short while in the New Additions section before they will be moved to the 2015 Trips folder. I hope the details of the locations etc will be of use, especially if the Denmark to Germany freight diversions take place next year. Thanks as always for taking the time to read this, please look out for the next addition of the blog and I'll leave you with a picture of two men and a level crossing, I'm not sure where the third of our group was... Bye for now!

Monday 6 July 2015

68: Stirling, Stranraer and Other Scotrail Scenes Concluding With Some Tales of Tractors

Welcome to edition 68 of the Railwaymedia blog. It was exactly two months ago since edition 67 appeared covering my trip to the Czech Republic; a forthcoming trip next week to Germany and Denmark made me realise I'd forgotten to write one in the meantime, so here it is.

Looking back at the trips I have made since the last blog, I think the reason I have neglected until now to pen (can you use the verb 'to pen' for something written on a computer?) this edition of my ramblings is because I have always tried to keep my blog mainly relevant to the railway side of my photography, only mentioning the increasingly frequent bus trips in passing. The last two months have mainly been bus orientated though with a few significant exceptions.

Launching straight in with a picture of a bus simply because the first two trips of May were virtually entirely bus focussed. The first one was ostensibly to mop up some Wetherspoon branches I hadn't previously visited in the Central Belt of Scotland, wonderful places like Falkirk, Grangemouth, Stirling and Alloa. The latter was useful as I also hadn't previously travelled over the railway line to there that reopened several years ago. Any non low-floor bus is quite rare now so shots like that above of a First Group Olympian leaving Stirling Bus Station are worth having.

My next photographic expedition was once again principally road based, a few beers enroute from Warrington to Southport, though I did stop off at Winwick Junction for a picture of 4M25 which runs daily from Mossend to Daventry and for a few months now has been hauled by pairs of class 90s displaced from Sleeper duties. It's not ideal for the light as it passes through the North West around lunch time when the sun is generally head-on. The return working is at night.

The awarding of the Scotrail franchise to Abellio was 'celebrated' by the company by offering free tickets online. I used this as an excuse to visit Stranraer, one of the longest sections of line I had never travelled on with the exception of the Highland routes. Out via Glasgow and back via Kilmarnock it was a pleasant day, the line from Ayr south is very scenic and an enjoyable ride on the class 156s that usually ply their trade on the route. Stranraer Harbour station is a shadow of its former self, once a Motorail terminal for cars heading to Northern Ireland even the ferries have now gone as they now operate from a new harbour at Cairnryan further down on the other side of the Loch.

The rest of May involved a few bus photographing outings plus a quick visit to Grange-over-Sands for my first photo of the Northern Rail loco hauled trains run by DRS on the Cumbrian Coast. More about these later. The 31st of May was the North West Vehicle Restoration Trust's running day from their base at Kirkby. Lots of buses provided free rides to Liverpool, Prescot and the surrounding area. Most vehicles were of a North West origin but there were plenty of visiting buses from other areas. Sunday 12th July is the running day of the other local group the Merseyside Transport Trust based at Burscough. I've covered their days before and they are well worth visiting if you can.

Besides the Cumbrian 37s perhaps the other big passenger train development locally was the introduction into wide-scale service of the former Thameslink Class 319 EMUs onto Liverpool to Wigan and Manchester trains. Since the wires were energised between Edge Hill and Earlestown there had only been two diagrams on the Liverpool to Manchester Airport service but from May the half hourly Wigan all stations trains and the Liverpool to Manchester Victoria services went over to 100% Class 319 operation on weekdays. here 319365 arrives at Garswood heading for Wigan.

As promised, returning to the Cumbrian Coast, from May there was also a big development with the introduction of two loco-hauled diagrams Mondays to Saturdays. Coupled with the 319s operating out of Liverpool this enabled Northern to release enough DMUs to start the much delayed Manchester to Blackburn via Burnley service over the new curve at Todmorden.

One of the class 37 diagrams is out all day starting with the 0546 Barrow to Carlisle it then shuttles between these two towns finishing at Carlisle at 2031. The other starts with the 0515 Carlisle to Preston, the 1004 to Barrow, then after 4 hours 'rest' the 1437 to Carlisle and return finishing at Barrow at 2029. These services have so far proved exceedingly popular with enthusiasts, helped by a regular cheap promotion in local papers for day tickets and of course the highly scenic nature of this line. Currently both services have been top and tailed by two engines although anytime soon one is expected to be operating with a former Anglia Driving Van Trailer at one end.

With a week off work I took the opportunity myself to travel on the trains a few times, sometimes just for beer and other times for photography. I wasn't as fortunate with the weather as when I went to Brock one morning to see it (pictured above) but the scenery, good pubs along the route, and of course the sound of the class 37s working hard pulling away from the many station stops made up for that. A good example of the weather is this picture of 37606 powering away from Seascale; there is actually some sea about 50 yards away on the right through the fog that had rolled in.

A brief interlude between trips to Cumbria was a day in Edinburgh. Generally there isn't an awful lot of interest railway-wise in the area unless you go out to the likes of Prestonpans when something special is due, but the one regular highlight is the two class 68s used on peak hour trains between Edinburgh and Fife. Like with Northern Rail these are used to release DMUs for elsewhere, the two evening trains leave Edinburgh at 1703 and 1719. Good shots of these can be had crossing the Forth Bridge. I didn't have time to go there but I did get to see them heading into Edinburgh empty as they both go to Motherwell in between the AM and PM journeys, so can be pictured returning. The light would usually be wrong at Slateford for these but on this day as it was dull it hardly mattered.

It is just possible if the second of these is on time to hoof it down to Saughton about a mile away to see them both come back out of Edinburgh. There is a view from the new tram bridge although the trees are growing very quickly. HERE is a picture of the other set heading to Fife.

Trying to avoid too many mentions of buses, apart from two Wetherspoons trips to Yorkshire that obviously also included a bit of bus photography, that pretty much concludes where I've been during May and June. As always all these pictures can be found either in my New Additions section or after about a month they get moved to the Trips of 2015 page.

I will endeavour to write the next edition sooner rather than later, hopefully there will be plenty to describe from Northern Germany, Denmark and hopefully even Sweden. Thanks for taking the time to read this, please look out in a few weeks for the next blog. Bye for now.

Wednesday 6 May 2015

67: Chasing Czech Locos along the Labe

A warm welcome as always to the Railwaymedia blog, edition 67 which will cover last weeks trip to the Czech Republic, principally to Ústí nad Labem in the north of the country.
It was a trip organised by a friend so for once I was really just tagging along, he had sorted out the best photo locations in the area and the times of day the sun, if any, would be optimum for getting those shots. All in all it turned out to be a very succesful trip and probably one of the most enjoyable foreign jaunts I've been on to date with plenty of freight and loco-hauled passengers seen.
Outbound we went on a mid-morning flight from Stansted. This put us into Prague at about half past two local time so once the hire car was sourced we were straight out. Unbeknown to me there is a diesel line not very far from the airport, it would be pretty easy to create a spur to the terminal itself, but I guess the cost of upgrading this single track route to carry airport services would be high (though not as high as extending the metro or tramlines). Current options for getting to and from the Airport and Prague itself is a half-hourly shuttle bus direct to the main station or a frequent local bus to one of the two nearest underground stations for the Metro onwards.
Anyway, as we had a car this wasn't an issue right then so we drove the 15 minutes round to Hostivice located pretty much at the end of one of the runways. A small town, the station is a major passing place on this single-track route. The first picture of the holiday was of a pair of rebuilt 'Goggles' working for private operator SD Kolejová doprava which were shunting onto a rake of wagons in the yard. 'Goggles' is the nickname for a common Czech and Slovak diesel locos from classes 750, 753 and 754 so named because of their distinctive cab windows. The main reason we went to Hostivice was because one of these was due on the 1502 Prague to Rakovnik passenger train. There is a frequent local service on this route usually provided by rebuilt and unrebuilt class 810 and 814 railbuses but in addition there is this loco hauled train every couple of hours. 
The next location we visited was about 30 minutes down the motorway past Beroun at the very similarly named Hořovice located on the Prague to Plzeň mainline. This was a busy road bridge but with a pleasant view across the fields. We had about an hour there in which we saw four loco hauled passenger trains plus a Czech Pendolino. There appears to be little freight on this route despite the fact that beyond Plzeň (Pilsen, home of the famous beer type) the line extends into Germany.
After the hour here it was back finally to near the first location to Ruzyně for the passing of two diesel hauled passengers on that route, the second being the next run-by of the 'Goggle' we had photographed earlier but the first a peak hour diagram with a smaller class 714 engine hauling a rake of what I call 'Wheelie Bins', which are basically glorified tin cans on four wheels.
There was a fairly long drive then as it started to get dark north to our base for the rest of the week at the Hotel Vetruse in Ústí nad Labem. Ústí is a large town on the River Labe (known better perhaps as the Elbe), 'nad Labem' literally meaning 'above Labe', and is appendaged after virtually every town name along it. The hotel itself is highly recommended. Four star it is spotlessly clean and whilst probably expensive at Czech prices very reasonable to us at about £45 per night.
Rather than list what we did over each of the next three days it will probably be easier to describe where we went in terms of the railway routes along each side of the river. The line through Ústí is the main route between Dresden in Germany and Prague. In Germany it is a single route along the west bank of the river but when it reaches Děčín it divides and there is then two routes, one along each side. In generally trains bound for the Prague area must travel along the west bank and trains heading towards Kolín and the east have to take the other bank south of Děčín. It is possible for them to go along the west side as far as Ústí but they then have to enter the yard there and run round.
So I shall start the main bit of this blog about the Czech Republic with a picture of a local German train. After a hot partly sunny first half day in the country with temperatures exceeding 20 degrees the next day was 3 degrees with rain and even a heavy snow for several hours! With there being no possibility of any master scenic shots along the river near Ústí given the weather we decided to head over the border to the section of line near Königstein on the German banks of the river.
My last visit here was during my first foreign jaunt in 2006 when the half-hourly Dresden based S-bahn was entirely in the hands of former East German class 143 locos. Most now are pulled by new Taurus engines but it was nice to see a couple still with more classic traction. We spent a good part of the day at Kurort Rathen where there are several vantage points; with the S-bahn stopping here it is very doable by public tranport. This shot, and many others, was taken at the level crossing to the south of the village, there is also a shot available to the north of the station but the southern crossing offers views either way, plus a bit of warning from the bell on the barriers, and more importantly on this day, some shelter in the form of a wooden public gazebo next to it. We returned here later in the day too as the others could watch the trains from the warmth of the car whilst I got wet and cold rushing about photographing the regular passenger and freight trains.

In between we retreated from the rain by having coffee and dinner in a nice little cafe in Königstein before trying another shot which promised to be a good location (if the sun was out) near Krippen station. The long straight provided a bit of warning of oncoming trains, although the view of their approach was somewhat marred by the lack of visibilty caused by the weather.
For completion of the area, Königstein itself can be good for pictures too, a popular place in summer months with a small ferry across the river. Photos from my previous trip can be found HERE.
Between Děčín and Ústí we only tried one location, that being on the east bank at Techlovice. We had heard that the east bank was generally busier for freight, in practice we found not much between the two. The west bank has more, and more variety, of passenger services but south of Ústí freight levels seemed pretty consistent on both sides with generally two or three each way an hour (though with the occasional longer gap). North of Ústí is a bit quieter on the east bank as there are additional trains coming out of the yards at Ústí, however Techlovice was a nice location with views from the lane and the field and we did get three freight trains in the hour we were there.
As can be seen from the above picture, the following day was again a massive contrast in terms of weather and we had unbroken sunshine virtually all day enabling us to tour all the locations we had wanted to visit. Staying on the east bank of the river, but heading from the south, our first port of call that day was Litomerice where there is a nice early morning view from the road bridge across the river with the attractive town as a backdrop. The bridge was being reconstructed when we visited but apart from a bit of rubble in the foreground it didn't detract from the shot. Unfortunately only one freight train came the required way whilst we were there (as usual three went the other way). Fortunately the hourly passenger service on this section of line is loco hauled, usually in push-pull mode with the engine on the south end, which gives a bit of added interest whilst waiting.
A location we didn't visit that particular day but we found the next was two villages down the river at Libochovany. We actually spotted it as a possible photo opportunity from the station at Prackovice on the opposite bank, about 3/4 mile away as the crow flies but about 40 minutes by road. There is a road and cycle path flanking the railway to the north of the village, in investigating the latter we found a nice spot in a small grass lined cutting where the light was right for most of the afternoon. We were a bit unlucky with the sun that day but did get one passenger shot in nice light.
On our way back from Litomerice on the morning of the second full day we stopped off for 15 minutes at Brná nad Labem south of Ústí where there is an excellent morning shot good for southbound trains from about 0930 at this time of year until about 1100. We were rewarded by two freight and a passenger train within 10 minutes, we noticed that the freight trains often seem to be clustered around the time the passenger service is due. I wasn't keen on the steep bank we had to climb as it was still very wet from the previous days' downpours but it was well worth the effort. There are no stations nearby but there are frequent buses on routes 17 and 27 from Ústí.
I will actually leave the main location on this line for last, partly as it does sort of span the river, so with that logic I will move to the west bank. We only visited two locations on the line running towards Prague; in general the east bank is much quiter in terms of road traffic and built up areas and is also less enclosed by trees. I spent an hour at Prackovice station whilst the others went in search of somewhere better. There are loops here which I guess are probably well used by freight; the local hourly passenger service operated by Ceske Drahy's only double deck stock, Prague based three car electric units called 'City Elefant', use the loop heading south to serve the platform. The view off the end of the platform wasn't at all unpleasant, the sun was trying to come through but failing and at 1330 when this picture was taken was just starting to be good for southbound shots.
Moving north the other location we tried was at Vanov. Again there is no station here but bus number 15 runs roughly hourly. The main shot is in an afternoon one of northbound trains taken from a minor road parallel to the line as it passes a small attractive chapel. There are morning shots of southbound trains available but they are on the nearest line so the banking makes them less than ideal. If anything the west bank line sees more activity by private operators than the east where elderly CD classes 122 and 123 dominate on freight. I like the new Siemens Vectron and this livery suits it well.
Having described all the places we visited outside Ústí there just remains to mention the main one at Střekov, a suberb location to the south of the town. You could spend virtually all day from sunrise to sunset at this particular spot as it offers numerous views of the east bank line. There is a railway station at Strekov which is about a 15 minute walk from the weir, dam and locks that forms the centrepiece of this part of the river. It would be also possible to walk along the river from Ústí itself or there are three bus routes running regularly, the 9, 17 and 27.
As mentioned there is a gigantic lock complex stradling the River Labe, one of several along the river large enough to take massive leisure boats and industrial barges. There is a footbridge across this enabling shots looking over the water, indeed you can get across to the west bank and also get nice images looking right across to the castle that dominates that side of the river. 
From the early morning shot pictured below to the afternoon shot taken from a small metal jetty in the river itself (above and at the top of the blog) to views from the dam itself (very last picture at the bottom) there is a wide range of views available. Apart from the few pictures I have added here the rest of the shots I took over the course of the week in this location can be searched HERE.
A couple of other things I should add about this spot, first being there is a small car park by the line just as the road bends away from the railway which is useful but also there is a convenience store about 100 yards up this road which would live up to its title should you wish to spend all day here. The signals looking north before the dam give you good warning of approaching trains in that direction but the southbound signal is automatic so no help regarding what is coming.
Having had three and a half excellent days photographing, Friday was the day to head home. We had all decided to go our seperate ways back, my flight back to Manchester was just before teatime so I caught the train back to Prague for a few hours photographing the trams and trains in the city.
I was lucky enough to see a class 749 diesel on a working to Čerčany, these were endangered on my last visit so good to see one or two are still holding out covering for unavailable 'Goggles'. They sound a bit like a British Rail class 25 or 33 so have long been a favourite with British enthusiasts. A quick visit to the nearby Marasykovo terminal station also produced a shot of a 'Goggle' waiting its next duty to Rakovnik, plus a few pictures of trams were taken in the vicinity.
As it turned out it tried to rain around midday so finding myself at Florenc Metro station I searched out the excellent Pivovarsky Club which has six Czech beers on draught plus a wide range of bottles and food. I managed to drag myself away early enough to do a bit of photography on the Metro itself. I always find it easier to stand on busy underground stations with a camera after a few beers, though obviously not too many so that you keep the lens pointing the right way...
All in all, as I have said previously, this was an excellent trip and one which makes me want to return to the Czech Republic again. Lots of freight trains were seen and although the weather was a bit hit and miss we did well and got to all the locations we wanted. Many thanks to our Chauffeur for both doing the homework on the best places to visit and of course for doing all the driving.
I'll leave you with the promised view taken from the top of the Střekov lock. Thanks for taking the time to read all this, I hope it will be of use to anyone wanting to visit the Ústí nad Labem area, hopefully all the links in the place names should take you on Google Maps to the rough spots the pictures were taken from enabling you to find them easily. Please keep a look out for the next edition of the blog, providing I get to go anywhere in the next few weeks, bye for now!