Hysbysfwrdd Rheilffordd Arfordir Gogledd Cymru

On Barmouth Bridge, 30 January (Ian Macer-Wright)

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02 February 2010

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Snow report

Some parts of or area woke up to another dose of snow on Sunday 31 January. Above, 158 818 arrives at a snowy Wrexham General for the 13:39 to Birmingham  (George Jones). Sundays in February will see trains terminate here whilst engineering work is done on the single line towards Chester.

Class 60 power still rules on the Tunstead - Oakleigh limestone trains: 60 094 Rugby Flyer passes Ashley with the Sunday loaded train on 31 January. (Richard Boyd)

Altrincham station at 20:00. The Metrolink line has been shortened by a few metres recently, to provide for an improved accessible route to the Manchester-bound Northern Rail platform. (Charlie Hulme)

Watching the Pendolino

The Saturday Pendolino 'drag' on 30 January produced two different blue-liveried 57/3 locos, and some pleasant pictures from our contributors on a sunny winter's day. Above, the westbound train passes Rhyl behind unbranded 57 313 (Larry Davies)

Old Rhyl No 2 signalbox looks down on a  changing world. (Larry Davies)

57 313, with 390 027 Virgin Buccaneer in tow, passes the footpath underpass at Old Colwyn (Stéphanie Durrant)

Sunny, but a day to avoid the edge of the promenade (Darren Durrant)

Through Llanfair PG station (Richard Fleckney)

57 315 hauled the return train to Crewe: John Young's picture shows the train entering Bangor station; the signalbox is currently receiving attention.

Back through Old Colwyn (Stéphanie Durrant). We wonder if this is to be the regular method for transferring locos from the Holyhead - Cardiff service to Manchester Longsight depot for attention?

Near Connah's Quay (Stavros Lainas)

The previous Saturday, 23 January, and a matching train: 57 306 Jeff Tracy hauls 390 014 City of Manchester westbound through Waverton between Crewe and Chester (Tim J. Rogers)

The same train runs into Llandudno Junction, as seen by Paul Williams from the Queens Road bridge.

Road and Air news
Work on the '£50m' (it was '£40m' a year ago) Porthmadog, Minffordd and Tremadog by-pass on the A487 Bangor to Fishguard Trunk Road was officially 'kicked off' on 29 January by Welsh transport minister Ieuan Wyn Jones in a 'special tree-planting ceremony' to mark the occasion.

The new road will run inland of the town of Porthmadog, removing through traffic from the Cob and the main street including the Welsh Highland's street-running section. It will cross the Glaslyn river alongside the Cambrian Coast line's bridge, and require 840 metres of the line to be relocated to a new alignment. Network Rail plans involve building the new line while the existing route remains open, and connecting it up over two weekend possessions.

Meanwhile, Highland Airways, operators of the Valley - Cardiff air service as well as various routes in Scotland. has run into financial problems, blamed on cancellations due to bad weather, despite its £800,000 annual subsidy for the Welsh service from the Welsh Assembly Government. But up pops Ieuan Wyn Jones AM again to tell us that the WAG was determined to see the service continue, whether that was with Highland Airways or another company. He says it is a 'vital link' and that they were committed to keep it flying. The service has 'surpassed even optimistic projections of passenger numbers with close to 30,000 users' of the 18-seater flights over the first two years.

We understand the total subsidy WAG currently pays for the air service including civilian terminal at RAF Valley is £1.2m a year, compared to £1.7m a year for the Holyhead - Cardiff express train 'Y Gerallt Gymro' (or 'Von Ieuan's Express', according to some joker). Highland Airways contract for the Welsh route ends in May 2010. An Assembly Government spokesman 'declined to comment' on a report in the Western Mail that it was the only airline to bid for a new contract.

And yet - the politicians continue to discuss ideas for further flights from Valley to Cardiff, as well as London and Dublin which would, according to Anglesey MP Albert Owen, 'make Anglesey a very attractive place to do business.'

Wrexham and Shropshire news and views

After a late Friday fall of snow in north east Wales the scene at Wrexham General was again wintry on 30 January. Above, 67 013 leaves with the 11:23 to London Marylebone diverting via the West Coast Main Line again. 67 014 arrives light engine having come back from works attention - wheel flats perhaps?

Later the same day, and, 67 014 is now at the north end of the 14:18 departure formed of the Cargo-D blue and grey coaches and DVT 82304 (above, left) and 67 012 which had brought in the northbound train was stabled in the bay. This swap has allowed the terminating train to start from platform 1 as a shunting move. Inside two hours the snow had gone, but it remained treacherous underfoot in places.

Cyclists will be pleased to know that the doors on the W&S Driving Van Trailers are now passed  for use (there was a locking problem apparently) and bikes are now being carried with effect from 23/24 January.
Above, The open door awaits and there was one bike stowed inside on 24 January.

Some other news about Wrexham General station is that listed building consent has been given for the installation of a lift to access Platform 4, the Bidston line platform which was once considered a separate station, Wrexham Exchange.


During the two-week closure of the southern half of the Conwy Valley line due to engineering works150237 awaiting return to the Junction at North Llanrwst with the 12:26 service on Monday 25 January. (Larry Davies)

One of the excellent illustrated posters - this one at Llanrwst - produced by Arriva Trains Wales which gave clear directions for the replacement buses and which have drawn very favourable comment from passengers. (Larry Davies)

A minor classic: a picture taken on 30 January by Stavros Lainas showing 150 285 on a Wrexham-bound train departing at 14:18 from Cefn-y-Bedd, a location rarely seen on these pages.

150 282, working the other Borderlands line diagram on the same day, calls at Penyffordd at 15:07. This station has the only signalbox between Wrexham (Croes Newydd) and Dee Marsh Junction.  The siding just beyond the box, which has a run-round loop for use by freight trains is the remnant of the connection to the former Chester to Denbigh line. Penyffordd, or Pen-y-Ffordd, can be translated as The End of the Road...

The Wrexham - Bidston route continues to see workings of Merseyrail electric trains for overhaul at Doncaster works. Above, 67 026 drags 507 012 round the curve at Buckley with 5X75 15:53 Birkenhead North - Doncaster on 27 January.

On another branch-line, 153 327 waits at Llandudno on 28 January (Darren Durrant)

The 'dogbox' departs from Llandudno for the Conwy Valley, under one of the last semaphore signal gantries still in use in Britain (Darren Durrant)

The scene at Maesdu Road in Llandudno, where pile-driving is under way for the construction of the new road bridge (Stéphanie Durrant)

Stavros Lainas (and quite a lot of others) set out for Parkside on 30 January to photograph the 'Cotton Mill Express' steam tour round Lancashire which has been revived by the Railway Touring Company following the demise of the Past Time Rail organisation last year. Unfortunately this train; hauled by 6115 Scots Guardsman, was cancelled at Preston due, apparently, to brake problems, but as a consolation prize, the sole DB-liveried Class 66, 66 152, appeared at the head of empty ballast wagons returning from Bury where some relaying work is taking place on the Metrolink line.

Incidentally, there is now also a DB Verkehrsrot Class 67, 67 018, which has been repainted and renamed Keith Heller to commemorate the retirement of that gentleman as 'head honcho' of DB Schenker's UK division. It also carries a large maple leaf symbol to reflect his Canadian homeland. 37 670, which also carries the new livery, has been stored away after suffering a failure. The other loco so far repainted is 59 206: perhaps a Class 92 will be next?

The Duchess and the donkey

Dignity and impudence, 1981 style: Thanks to Peter Hanson for this fascinating picture taken at Chester station on 26 June 1981. 46229 Duchess of Hamilton was a regular on the 'North Wales Coast Express' steam trains, having been recovered from a Butlin's Holiday Camp and restored to working order in 1980 by the National Railway Museum. Today it is on display in the Museum in York, looking completely different, having been returned to its original 1930s streamlined condition.

Alongside this majestic loco stands the prototype two-car railbus 140 001 which was tested on various routes around Britain at the time. It married the Leyland National bus body and a wagon-style underframe with a BR-designed cab which was intended to be strong in a collision. For the production version, the Class 141, a better-looking cab was designed, and for the second version, the Class 142 'Pacers' which run into to Chester today on the Northern Rail route via Northwich, the body was made wider than the original bus body bus version to better match the normal train width and allow 3+2 seating. The unique Class 140 still exists, preserved but 'awaiting restoration' on the Keith and Dufftown Heritage Railway in Scotland.

Behind the scenes at Basford Hall - with Andrew Vinten

I was lucky enough to get permission to visit to Basford Hall yard, Crewe, on 24 January.  The first picture shows 66 608 and 66 605 top-and-tail part of a Continuous Welded Rail train (CWR); both of these locomotives were assembling engineering trains.


Also present in the yard was  70 002 ...

... along with 86 638 / 613 / 607.

The last picture is a overview of the holding sidings the following locomotives were present (left - right) 66 543 and 66 572, 66 593, 66 503, 66 603, 66 617. The latter two were stood at the head of engineering trains.

Chester station, the passengers' view - by George Jones

Passenger Focus [catchphrase: Putting Passengers First] has released the results of an investigation into passenger perceptions and satisfaction with the station environment and facilities at 25 Stations across England and Wales. The study undertaken in Nov/Dec 2008 aimed to establish the impact of the National Station Improvement Programme (NSIP) by recording passenger satisfaction with stations before the government-sponsored improvement programme took place. £150 million will support improvements at 150 stations and a similar study will be repeated in 2009/2010 at the same stations to establish which elements of the improvements had greatest impact on passenger satisfaction. A questionnaire designed by Faber Maunsell was handed out in the course of weekday shifts on one morning and one afternoon and on one Saturday mid-day period.

At Chester the three shifts produced 134 completed survey forms, representing 4% of the daily patronage figure taken from the Office of Rail Regulation's website for 2007 'footfall.' Of the 134 returns 38.9% of respondents were male and 61.1% female. The highest proportions of respondents were aged 45-54 with 24.8%, 16-25 with 22.4%. Some form of disability was recorded for 29 respondents. Just 36.1% of respondents used Chester station at least once a week with a shopping trip being the most common reason for the visit – not surprising at this time of year which missed out the tourist season.  The majority, 86, were travelling alone. In terms of ticketing the majority 84% were travelling with Anytime or Off-peak tickets.

The majority of respondents 79.1% were arriving at the station, 17.2% were changing trains and 3.7% were leaving. Over one third had walked to the station, and over one quarter had used a coach or bus, whilst a third used car parking. Of those leaving onward travel was by bus or coach for 40% of respondents.

Mean scores from a set of tables found that there was general satisfaction with:
Less satisfaction was recorded for:

Over half of respondents were dissatisfied with the number of car parking spaces and the availability of waiting rooms. The 'client' (Network Rail and Arriva Trains Wales) remarked that there are two car parks at the station (east and west ends both inadequate), cycle storage and a taxi rank but 'no bus available' (whatever the last comment means given the availability of the City Hopper service and the N orth Wales buses which terminate opposite in City Road.)

Overall the 'how satisfied with the station' question found a mark of 6.07 on the scale of 1-10, meaning slightly satisfied. Most respondents (81.6%) felt that over the past year Chester had got better, 11.7% felt it had stayed the same and 6.7% felt it had got worse. Refurbishment of the station (they mean the concourse) was noticed by 16 respondents, the new café (Costa) by 11 and general smartening up by 10.

Most noticeable improvements mentioned by 80.7% of respondents referred to:
Facilities in need of improvement ranked provision of a waiting room as top priority (47 respondents), plus toilets (38) - unavailable, insufficient and unpleasant - and car parking - insufficient and expensive (26).

Asked to rank facilities in need of improvement the waiting room (23), car parking (15) step-free access from platform to train (12) were identified. Of secondary importance were the waiting room (17), audible announcements on train times (10), the waiting shelter (possibly the one on platform 7) (9) and toilets (9).
Toilets, information and the waiting room were again marked as third in importance by 34 respondents. The four facilities deemed important were ranked as: Toilets; Visual train information: Connecting buses; and Audible announcements on arrival and departure times.

For the informed user of Chester station the reported results will come as no surprise. However the quality of the results for facilities might be judged from the scores of 3.49 and 3.41 awarded to the non-existent subway and escalator at Chester! Quite why a quality survey contains such inappropriate questions is something for the designers perhaps to consider next time round.

Further inquiries have encouraged the setting up of an exhibition at Chester to show what is intended for the refurbishment of platform 4/7.

Pictures by Charlie Hulme, October 2009. The text is reproduced, by kind permission, from the January issue of Severn Dee News, the excellent newsletter of the  Shrewsbury - Chester Rail Users' Association (SCRUA). Membership of the Association is open to all: Individual Membership is £6 per year, Family Membership £8. Email us and we will pass on the membership secretary's address.

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