Hysbysfwrdd Rheilffordd Arfordir Gogledd Cymru

Young railfans show interest as 57 306 Gordon Tracy is detached from 390 047 Heaven's Angels at Crewe on 20 December. See our updated 'Railfan Info' page for details of this weekly working and other useful data for train watchers.  Picture by Charlie Hulme.

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Last update 23 December 2008

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The last Mostyn shunters - report by Dave Sallery

Another era came to an end on Wednesday the 17 December when the last two shunting locomotives left Mostyn docks.  The two Sentinel diesels H003 Rosedale (above) and H057 (below)  were loaded onto lorries and returned to the owners RMS Locotec.

The need for shunting locomotives at Mostyn docks has ended because of the termination of the contract to export steel to Northern Ireland. Locos have been hired from RMS Locotec since January 2003 when the last original Darwen & Mostyn Iron co. shunter was withdrawn.  According to that wonderful book "Industrial Locomotives of North Wales" there have been shunting locos at Mostyn since 1873.  In that year an 0-4-0 saddle tank was built by Fletcher Jennings and delivered new to the works.  So ends 135 years of railway history.

Thunderbird logs - report by Mike Thomas

Although there are reports that Colas Rail are taking over the haulage of the Chirk timber trains, on Friday 19 December, the train in my picture above, seen in Platform 5 at Preston awaiting the road south at 18:05, was still in the hands of a Virgin 57/3. 57 309 Brains had arrived at Preston in not very good shape and was replaced by the Preston 'Thunderbird' 57 302 Virgil Tracy.

Gerald's week

As previously reported, loco suffered technical problems on 17 December:, 57 315 was run round to the front of the train to haul its ailing sister 'dead in train.' Picture at Cardiff by Peter Lloyd.

Graham Bloxsome writes: 'Since 15 December, I have used as part of my commute the 'Gerald' service from Chester (07:08)  to Crewe. On Tuesday the service was cancelled due to the engineering problems at Abergele; however, Arriva ran a substitute service from Chester using a three-coach FNW-liveried class 175. This departed at 07:25 once a driver had been found. Gerald ran empty to Cardiff.  I caught the return working at 18:46 from Crewe, running 15 minutess late. On Wednesday morning both 57 314 and 57 315 were coupled together at the head of the train, not top and tail and on Thursady and Friday the train loco was 57 316 (ex - FAB 1), painted in the Arriva blue livery with fleetnumber but no decals for Arriva.

'It is a very pleasant experience to travel on Gerald, the ambiance is of an airy comfortable train, smooth riding with very comfortable seats much preferable to the plastic pendolinos and voyagers. The train only shows its age with design details such as the black plastic armrests and the slam doors; I can't say I'm partial to the class 150-style end murals, but overall, it is much like the Wrexham & Shropshire service. The train shows the quality of BR stock from the past, too readily ditched by Virgin.

'One point I have noticed is that at Chester, the connection to Manchester via Warrington leaves at 07:12 from Platform 3A which is very tight for passengers arriving down the coast on Gerald into platform 4, and on at least two days last week wasn't possible, as the 175 always left on time.'

Another view from 16 December showing 57 315 at Holyhead about to run round the train in the evening following on from our upper picture. (Corrie)

Gerald's speed
A subject we have touched on here before is the maximum permitted speed of this train. Thanks to everyone who has written on this subject; here are the facts, checked with people who definitely know. The train comes under the rule that if the maximum line speed on a given line is 90 or 95 mph, the train can do 80, if it's 80 or 85 it can do 75. If it's 75 or less then the train can run at line speed. Except ... if it is snowing, maximum speed is reduced by a further 10 mph down to 50 because concern that the disc brakes on the Mk3 coach will freeze up. So if the line speed is 85 and it's snowing then the train is limited down to 65.

However, a further complication is that on some sections of line there are differential speed restrictions between locomotives and multiple-units such as 158s and 175s because of the latter's lower weight being less likely to disturb the track. Between Crewe and Craven Arms the line speed signs say '70/MU90' (70 mph for loco-hauled trains, 90 for multiple-units), whereas south of Craven Arms there is some 'real' 90 (or there would for a suitable train). Then there's the bridge north of Craven Arms which is still 40/MU90 despite having been replaced years ago, and the down distant at Dorrington is poorly sighted so it's 50/MU75. So really, the only way the 'express' gains time over other trains is by omitting stops.

With the ATW Cardiff express stock recessed for the weekend and the Saturdays only Virgin Trains  57 + Pendo combo, on a Saturday lunch time visit there is a chance to photograph three 57's at Holyhead.
Here was the scene at a very dull and damp Holyhead on 20 December.

Gerald's upgrade offer
Readers might be interested to know that Arriva Trains Wales have realised that with only one service in each direction there wasn't much choice for first class passengers, and in any case, people might be using it as part of a longer journey with no first class (like Aberystwyth to Salisbury or Cardiff to Manchester). So they have introduced a first class supplement for individual sections - you can upgrade from a standard class off-peak ticket on the train. Cardiff - Crewe, for example, is £35 extra which includes first class travel and the three course dinner, which isn't bad value at all.

Aberystwyth to London direct?
Get ready for an Arriva Trains Wales press release:

Arriva Trains Wales has today [19 December] issued its consultation on a proposed new direct train service between Aberystwyth and London Marylebone. This service is being planned in conjunction with a request by Ieuan Wyn Jones, the Deputy First Minister and Minister for Economy and Transport at the Welsh Assembly Government to examine options for an hourly service on the Cambrian Main Line.

The proposals for London services include two daily direct services to and from Aberystwyth, restoring a link to Britain’s capital withdrawn by British Rail in 1991. Through services would also be provided between London and the Cambrian coastal route to Pwllheli on summer Saturdays.

Mike Bagshaw, Commercial Director for Arriva Trains Wales said:  “Following the successful introduction of a new more reliable Cambrian timetable on 14th December, we are delighted to announce exciting further plans for the route.”

“Market research and our own knowledge of the local market, has shown that there is a strong customer demand for a comfortable and reasonably priced direct service between mid Wales and London, avoiding the need to change trains in Birmingham.  The restoration of this through link will bring significant benefits to both the local economy and tourism.”

The completed offical application form, and its supporting glossy brochure, are now available for download (in PDF format) from the Network Rail website:

Responses from 'stakeholders' to the consultation are expected by 23 January: the person to write to is Chris Dellard, Track Access Manager, Arriva Trains Wales (chris.dellard[at]

'Whatever next?' you might say ... but don't expect a loco-and-coaches operation, as the new Euro-radio-signalling being installed soon on the Cambrian system will only allow trains fitted with the system to be operated, and the only trains being fitted are Class 158 railcars. (There are also to be four yellow Network Rail Class 37s, but these don't have train heating supply, so are unlikely to be used on this proposed train, although they might work some charter trains.)

The Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth Rail Passengers' Association has been quick off the mark with their response to the consultation. Says Chairman Gareth Marston:

ATW’s market research is correct in that there is strong need for a quality service through to London from Mid Wales both in terms of existing users and suppressed demand. Our concerns are given the reality of having experienced 5 years of often below standard services from Arriva since they took over the Wales and Borders franchise. Are they the right people to deliver such a quality service?

Whilst we have had a few days of improved timekeeping since 14 December at the cost of a slower service and lost connections at Shrewsbury it's a bit premature to say that Arriva have finally permanently improved the timekeeping on the Aberystwyth line. They should knuckle down to the day job and prove to the people of Mid Wales they are capable of consistently delivering an acceptable product before getting ahead of themselves.

We have concerns about the condition of the rolling stock. The current Class 158 units used on the Cambrian are in desperate need of a mid-life refurbishment and in current condition are not suitable for a London service. Passengers will expect a product closer to what Arriva offer on their new Y Gerralt Cymro service or what Wrexham and Shropshire Railway provide.

The proposed new service appears to be in competition between Shrewsbury and London with the trains of Wrexham & Shropshire, although Arriva say in their application that it will be complementary. However, there are rumblings from the Wrexham policitians about the W&S business case being damaged. Readers might be surprised to hear that there are enough Class 158s in the ATW fleet to provide this service, espcially since 150s are sometimes seen working their North Wales diagrams, but it seems that there are some currently operating a Cheltenham - Maesteg service which could be converted to Class 150 operation, assuming that ATW get get back the 150s they have recently been obliged to 'lend' to First Great Western. It appears that December 2009 is the target start date for the service.

The University people at Aberystwyth will love the idea for sure, but one does wonder whether holidaymakers from southern England will be attracted in any quantity to a revived Cambrian Coast Express with an eight-hour journey from London, even in a refurbished 158.

Carrog scoops heritage award - report by George Jones

Volunteers with the Llangollen Railway’s Signal & Telecoms Department have been given a prestigious National Railway Heritage Award for their work at Carrog station.  The 2008 Westinghouse Signalling Award was presented to the Llangollen Railway at an awards ceremony in London recently by BBC Antiques Road Show presenter Paul Atterbury. The Award plaque for the Carrog Signalbox and Signalling project was handed over to Andy Maxwell, Mark Smailes, both from Llangollen, and Phil Rogers from Abergele, as representatives of the team who undertook the project.  The picture above shows Carrog signalman Alan Bullimore from Llandudno, a retured Britsh Rail operating manager, in Carrog signal box with the plaque.

The project, which took four years to complete, was undertaken by a team of 14 regular volunteers working in their spare time to equip the signalbox with an operational 26-lever frame connected to traditional semaphore signals and associated point work.

When the railway was extended to Carrog in 1996 the station loop, sidings and signals were worked from a ground frame and point levers. Whilst the signalbox had been rebuilt from the ruins of the demolition in 1968, the equipment to make it operational was not initially available.  However the team rebuilt a lever frame secured from the old signalbox at Haughton on the Chester - Shrewsbury line, and, using other parts obtained from elsewhere, have reassembled it in the Carrog signalbox to work all the semaphore signals and points. The station now boasts a fine array of traditional signals controlling entry and exit to all lines.

Above: GWR 0-6-2T 5643 approaching Carrog on a Santa Special on 6 December amidst the fine array of semaphores which now signal the loop from the fully-operational signal box. (Also interesting. on the left of the picture, the GWR-style net and hook on which the crew of future trains from Corwen will be able to hang the single-line token in its pouch for collection by the signalman, and the holder from which they can collect the token for the next section.)

Andy Maxwell explains: 'Whilst traditional semaphore signals are still in operation and maintained on the main lines in parts of the country, notably North Wales and in Shropshire, the installation of such equipment has become a lost art and the team had to rediscover the techniques to allow the work to be completed.'

Nick Patching, Llangollen Railway Company Secretary, says: 'The scheme was the culmination of many years planning as the railway extended west and will include further features when the line to Corwen opens.  At present, eight running signals and their associated points and shunting signals control train movements from the rebuilt GWR style signal box and lever frame. Intense on-site work has been going on for more than 5 years, involving S&T staff, the Friends of Carrog and our specialist building volunteers.  At times a gang of more than 20 could been seen on site.

'Without the combined efforts of all involved this rare example of wooden-post GWR signalling practice could not have been re-created and the award is a fitting tribute to the quality of the result achieved. All the members of the Llangollen Railway are absolutely delighted that the Signals & Telecoms team has received this Award in recognition of the dedication they brought to this task.'

The successful completion of this work has seen the operation of the station at Carrog transformed. From being a terminus where only one train was allowed west from the signalbox at Glyndyfrdwy, the Railway can now handle two or more trains within the station limits at Carrog. This greatly improves operational flexibility and during special events engines can be held at Carrog to take over incoming trains and so provide a spectacular variety of motive power on assorted types of trains within an extended timetable.

Visiting rail enthusiasts to the autumn steam gala noted with delight the various train options which the completion of this project has now made possible.

Seismology report

Increasing obesity of passengers seems to have become a problem at Chester station...

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