Rheilffordd arfordir gogledd Cymru: Hysbysfwrdd

16 May 2011

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Contributions and comments are encouraged: see the Contributions Page

This site is dedicated to all our regular contributors and supporters, and especially the rail staff of North Wales.

Forthcoming events

May 2011

28-30 May Rhyl Miniature Railway Centenary Gala. The line's biggest Gala ever, with a host of family attractions. Full details on the RMR website.

June 2011

Saturday 4 June: Halton Curve special event: North Cheshire Rail Users Group. See below

Sunday 19 June Steam on the Coast: Northern Belle Father's Day Special. Crewe-Holyhead and return with 46201 Princess Elizabeth.

July 2011

2 & 3 July – Welsh Highland Heritage Railway, Porthmadog – Steam in the Sheds. 'Over a hundred very small steam engines will be on display and working in the Engine Sheds.

Tuesday 9 July Conwy Valley Steam: Railway Touring Company, 'The Welsh Mountaineer' Preston - Blaenau Ffestiniog.

August 2011

Note: The Railway Touring Company tours in August can also be booked together as a week's package which also includes steam trips on the 'Cumbrian Mountain Express' and 'The Cambrian'.

Sunday 7 August Steam on the Coast: 'The North Wales Coast Express' Railway Touring Company Liverpool and Chester to Colwyn Bay, Llandudno, Bangor and Holyhead. Hauled throughout, by one of 6100 Royal Scot, 6201 Princess Elizabeth, or 60019 Bittern.

Tuesday 9 August Conwy Valley Steam: Railway Touring Company, 'The Welsh Mountaineer' Preston - Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Sunday 14 August Steam on the Coast: 'The North Wales Coast Express' Railway Touring Company Liverpool and Chester to Colwyn Bay, Llandudno, Bangor and Holyhead. Hauled throughout, by one of 6100 Royal Scot, 6201 Princess Elizabeth, or 60019 Bittern.

Saturday 20 August Steam on the Coast: Vintage Trains Tyseley - Llandudno and return with 5043.

Sunday 21 August Steam on the Coast: 'The North Wales Coast Express' Railway Touring Company Liverpool and Chester to Colwyn Bay, Llandudno, Bangor and Holyhead. Hauled throughout, by one of 6100 Royal Scot, 6201 Princess Elizabeth, or 60019 Bittern.

Tuesday 23 August Conwy Valley Steam: Railway Touring Company, 'The Welsh Mountaineer' Preston - Blaenau Ffestiniog.

27, 28 & 29 August –August Bank Holiday Weekend Welsh Highland Heritage Railway, Porthmadog – Fun Whatever The Weather!
'Who cares if it rains over the Bank Holiday? We’ve organised a special fun weekend, including chance to win a prize if you find the Welsh Dragons hiding in the Engine Sheds.'

See the Calendar page for more details and later dates.

Halton Curve event
Saturday 4 June:

Following last year’s successful event the North Cheshire Rail Users Group has worked with Mark Barker of Northern Rail to organise a repeat performance this year of a group journey on the 'Parliamentary' train.

Please make a note in your diary on Saturday 4 June 2011 for the rare chance to travel over the Halton Curve and onwards to Liverpool South Parkway, (LSP) - the train terminates at Runcorn on all the other days that it runs.

The train will depart Chester at 07:53 and call at Helsby, (08:00), Frodsham, (08:04) and Runcorn Mainline, (08:10), arriving LSP 08:15. These timings at Helsby, Frodsham, Runcorn and LSP are approximate as final confirmation from Northern Rail is awaited.

There is no pre-booking, the train is open to all, and tickets should be bought on the day at Chester station or on the train if boarding at Helsby, Frodsham or Runcorn Mainline. We understand the service will consist of a two-car Unit. Last year 66 passengers were carried and the Group hope this figure will be exceeded this year.

The return from LSP will be, as last year, by vintage Crosville buses kindly provided by John Oates, Chairman the Mid Cheshire Rail Users’ Association. The return by bus is not obligatory as some passengers may wish to make their own arrangements for their return.

The single rail fare from Chester is £5.15 or £3.43 (with Railcard). Presumably the Cheshire Day Ranger ticket is valid, although the Frodsham - Helsby curve is not shown on the validity map. Contributions towards running costs for the return by bus will be gratefully received.

A tour of LSP station is being arranged for anyone who missed this opportunity last year or who would like a repeat. Refreshments are, of course, available at LSP.

Network Rail measurement train at Roman Bridge, 13 May (John Eyres).

The events of 12-13 May generated much interest by our contributors, despite the rainy weather. So much so, that we'll have to split the reports across more than one update. Here we begin with Paul Varley's account of his busy day, and then further down, among some general notes and a sad tale to finish, we follow the Compass Tours excursion as it heads along the Coast for Scotland. On Friday we'll follow the 'Northern Belle' in the Conwy Valley in more detail. - Charlie

Royal correction

In the last issue we rashly claimed that "no train in normal service (as opposed to preserved locos) has been directly named after a royal personage since the railways were privatised". That was wrong, although only one reader, Ken Cuthbert (thanks Ken!) has pointed out the error.

On 17 October 2006 a First Great Western HST power car was named Prince Michael of Kent in recognition of the Prince’s lifelong fascination with railways and his extensive knowledge of the world’s trains. The Prince himself unveiled the nameplates on power car 43 165, then newly re-engined with an MTU diesel. The naming took place at Bristol Temple Meads station; the name was chosen in recognition of the Prince's lifelong fascination with railways. Following the naming ceremony, the Prince was treated to a tour of the St Philips Marsh maintenance facility, and had a go on the driver training simulator based at the depot. Later in the day a cab ride was provided to return the Prince to London Paddington.

The Railway Centre website has a picture of the Royal gricer in action.

Train of Hope update

The recent eBay auction to raise funds for the Train of Hope charity being organised by a group of Virgin Trains drivers raised £1700, the largest amount being for the tour of Valley RAF base. Well done to any readers who entered. Tickets are now available for the Train of Hope itself, or you can but raffle tickets of make a donation, through the Train of Hope website. More auctions, including some railway items, and promised soon. The train itself will run from from Crewe to Carlisle and back on 1 October. All money raised goes to support the Clic Sargent children's cancer charity.

North Wales to Scotland with Compass Tours

Compass Tours do a good job providing excursions for the residents of North Wales to other parts of the UK: on offer on 13 May was a trip from to Dundee aboard train 1Z46, made up of locomotives and stock from West Coast Railways, which was worked empty the day before from Carnforth to Holyhead as train 5Z45, seen above passing Llandudno Junction at 15:25 on 12 May. Locomotives: 47 826 leading, with 47 804 on the rear (Peter Lloyd)

Arrival at Holyhead (Stéphanie Durrant)

Next morning, 13 May, and Larry Davies was at a deserted Conwy station before 07:00 to see 47 804 roll the train through on its way to Scotland.

47 826 on the rear, passing Mochdre (Garry Stroud)

Along the shoreline at Ffynnongroyw (John Eyres).

Helsby (Stavros Lainas)

Inspecting the line

12-13 May saw the visit of Network Rail's track recording train to Cheshire and North Wales. Deputising for the failed Track Recording Unit 950 001 were 31 233, inspection coach 999508 and 31 285.
Above, on 12 May, the train pauses at Chester for its path towards Hooton, Ellesmere Port and Helsby. Picture by Mark Riley, who notes: 'Whilst I was photographing this, the 'Cathedrals Explorer' railtour sneaked into platform 4 17 minutes early!

Passing Dunham-on the Hill on 12 May (Stavros Lainas)

The train traversed the little-used line between Frodsham Junction and Halton Junction (Runcorn) on 12 May: above, 31 285 emerges from the tunnel under the Runcorn Expressway (Mark Barber). The vegetation is taking over...

Flashback: Mark Barber's picture of 47 626 at the same place on 19 August 1990 working a diverted London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street service, before the line was reduced to single track. The summer-only weekly train from Chester to Runcorn will be running again on Saturday mornings: as usual the North Cheshire Rail Users' Group will be making a point of travelling the line of 4 June: see the message in the left column for details.

On 13 May, the train worked to Blaenau Ffestiniog, Llandudno and Bangor. Above, it heads west at Abergele the next day, 13 May (John Eyres).

Leaving the main line and heading through the jungle that is now Glan Conwy Freight terminal towards Blaenau Ffestiniog (Larry Davies).

Dolwyddelan (John Eyres).

After returning from its jaunt to Blaenau Ffestiniog, the train is seen passing Llandudno Junction heading for Llandudno, with 47832 at the rear of the Preston-Blaenau Ffestiniog 'Northern Belle' waiting to depart (Mark Riley)

Approaching Llandudno (Garry Stroud)

At Deganwy on its way back from Llandudno (Larry Davies).

The train returns from Llandudno into Llandudno Junction led by 31 285 (Mark Riley)

Preparing to depart Llandudno Junction for Penmaenmawr (Jack Bowley)

A close-up at Llandudno Junction (Jack Bowley). Note the camera behind its window fitted in the old connecting door position: it has its own little windscreen-wiper.

30 minutes after arrival the train departed for Bangor (Mark Riley).

Passing Conwy Castle (Tim Rogers)

Bangor station (Rowan Crawshaw)

Approaching Conwy on the return journey (Garry Stroud)

Colwyn Bay (Darren Durrant)

Passing a Class 175 and Chester Racecourse on the Roodee viaduct on the approach to Chester (Nick Gurney)

On the way home to Derby, at Christleton, east of Chester (Stavros Lainas)

Just a spark - report by Roger Carvell

My day to see the two Great Western engines in North Wales [see 30 April issue] had gone well on the trains. The 07:28 First Capital Connect Class 365 from Hitchin to King's Cross saw me at Euston with time to spare for the 08:30 Pendolino to Crewe. After a 90 minute journey and a change into the 10:25 to Chester it was good to be on my old patch as the Class 150 raced beneath Beeston Castle in glorious weather.

At Chester I caught the 10:55 to Llandudno, (above): 175 105 was well filled, with standees, and custom was good at intermediate stations. The helpful conductor worked very hard, checking tickets, giving information and helping aboard, with the portable ramps, a disabled scooter passenger at Abergele and off again at Colwyn Bay. This was the privatised railway and its staff working well.

Later in the day, I stood beyond Llandudno station, camera at the ready to photograph the GW double-header. The preceding 17:44 departure to Llandudno Junction left on time, and lineside excitement grew as an increasing cloud of smoke and whistle-sounding drifted across the town. As events would roll out, I regretted not catching that 17:44!

With a good shot safely in the bag I returned to Llandudno to catch the 18:44 departure. This train would get me to Crewe well in good time to catch the 20:47 to Euston, the last Pendolino of the day, and the train my booked online ticket was only valid on. Scanning the passenger information screen, the 18:44 was absent, the next departure being the 19.10. Plan A was not going to work, the 19:10 was too tight a connection at Crewe. With the station now unmanned and no information available my survival instinct kicked in- time to implement Plan B and catch an Arriva bus to the 'Junction' and connect with a train from Holyhead.

The No.5 bus, driven by a Polish driver, set me down by the Junction flyover, well in time to catch the 18.53 to Chester and Manchester Piccadilly. This duly turned up as a 175 and I was soon at a window seat to enjoy the sea views as we sped along the coast. I was to get rather more time to watch the setting sun over Colwyn Bay than anticipated, for after the booked stop at Colwyn Bay, the train slowed to a very lengthy halt near the site of the Llysfaen signal box. The driver walked back through the train, which boded ill. A long time, maybe 15 mins, passed until the conductor appeared, checking tickets. I asked him about the delay, to be told about a series of lineside fires between Abergele and Rhyl, caused by a 'preceding steam train'.

The time dragged on, a brief announcement was made but passengers, particularly the elderly, grew frustrated. Younger travellers reached for their mobile phones. After calling home to explain a possible delay, I resigned myself to missing the 20:47 from Crewe as the setting sun gradually sank across the window; had we really been standing at Llysfaen that long?

With a loud cheer, we suddenly got moving again and arrived at
Abergele by 20:00, and then proceeded, under caution, to Rhyl. There was a smell of smoke at Abergele, but a large gorse fire, now extinguished, was seen near Rhyl, oddly, on the down side of the line. Firemen, with extinguishers, stood in attendance with a Network Rail representative. Nearing Chester, and now very late, the conductor announced that the train would terminate at Chester and gave information about the rail replacement bus services to Warrington and onwards. Connections to Crewe went unannounced as we rolled into
Chester's Platform 4.

There was quite a scrum to get over the wide footbridge and an anxious race to the Chester to Crewe Class 150, standing in Platform 1. The DMU, with a heavy contingent of delayed passengers, left at 20:56 and the driver really exploited the train's power as we sped towards Crewe. At Crewe, the conductor made an announcement that all London-bound passengers. were to make their way to Platform 12 to catch the 21:43 to Birmingham New Street.

By now many of the more senior of our North Wales passengers were getting rather fatigued. Platform 12 offered us nothing and we were re-directed over the footbridge to one of the east-facing bays where a Virgin Voyager stood (having been there all the time). During all this, I noticed that nowhere at Crewe could you buy drinks or refreshments. The station, at 21.30, looked like it was all locked up; no refreshments for many who, I found out, had been travelling for many hours, a few having started their journeys in Ireland.

The Voyager made rather heavy weather of its journey to Birmingham New St, with frequent slow running through the West Midlands suburbs. Near Wolverhampton, a Virgin conductor appeared and asked for a show of hands as to where we were all headed. As she helpfully took tallies of heads and final destinations, she stated that she would now contact Virgin control, who would allocate taxis onwards to final ticket destinations from Birmingham New St. Our late-night welfare looked promising as a fellow lady passenger from Holyhead explained that she was travelling alone to Deal in Kent. 'Would they put me up overnight in a Birmingham Travelodge', she asked me. All this because of a stray spark from a steam locomotive!

On the slow crawl down into New St, our conductress reappeared. There was to be a change of plan, she announced. We were to travel on the 22.53 stopping train to Northampton, remarking that it would be 'with another train operator'. 'How long would that take?,' asked another weary passenger from Holyhead. 'Another train operator' brought the predicable response from the Virgin girl, 'I really don't know'. The 22.53 to Northampton was a London Midland Desiro, already filled to capacity with well-dressed Saturday night-revellers. Their West Midlands laughter and smiles as they headed out to Coventry clubland was in complete contrast to the gloomy faces of the North Wales passengers, staring out into the darkness, clutching their luggage.

What would await us at Northampton? The promised taxis, or abandonment? We, 'the problem,' had been moved onto another train operator. As we left Birmingham New St, I couldn't resist a wry smile, for through the gloomy tunnels I could smell Great Western left-over smoke. Lovely! The Swindon duo, going back to Tyseley depot, must have been just ahead. Northampton was reached at just before midnight. This station, like Crewe, was locked up as our LM driver gathered his bag and headed for the crew room. Asked about where we should go now, he just shrugged his shoulders, saying he was 'just the driver'. A Deganwy lady and her mother got angry with him as the crew door slammed in their faces.

Urging my new-found Deganwy couple on, our throng made for the now-deserted station forecourt, about 30 people in all. The London Midland station attendant tried to bring about order among the now fractious faces. In the shouting, he radioed for his assistant to reinforce him. Yes, he called out, there were taxis, contract ones, but only three! Between Birmingham Virgin Control and Northampton, passenger totals had become scrambled. One taxi driver said he was taking six passengers to Deal. Another said he would only take one as far as Milton Keynes. Total confusion and tears.

A married couple desperately wanted to get to Selhurst in south London. We were going nowhere. The Deganwy ladies were going to Luton, so I said I would accompany them as well as reassure. My wife would pick me up from Luton station. Amid the shouting and accusations on the taxi rank we made our own way to a Mercedes saloon driven by a friendly and helpful Italian. Would he take us to Luton? Of course! By then, a taxi supervisor had appeared, no doubt well-versed in rail replacement and the financial windfalls that ensue and cleared up some, if not all the confusion among the crowd. Fares would be paid by the train operators, rest assured, he said.

So we, the Deganwy party, sped off onto M1 on the last lap to Luton after what had become a long, long day. I finally got in the house at 01.40, and recalled the boast to my fellow pub-goers, that me, fresh from a 518 mile round trip to Llandudno, would have joined them in our Hitchin local well before midnight the previous day!

One fact to finish on; no-one on my train, to my knowledge, blamed the steam locomotives for causing their travel misery.

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