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18 November 2013
An everyday scene at Machynlleth on 13 November ... except for the 'Harlech' destination shown for the 10:54 train (Ken Robinson). The line beyond there remains closed thanks to the damage to the Briwet bridge at Penrhyndeudraeth reported in the last issue: Arriva are now quoting 25 November as a possible re-opening date, with buses replacing trains (on quite a roundabout route). On the other platform, the 08:25 from Harlech is being coupled to the 09:30 from Aberystwyth to form the 10:07 onwards to Birmingham International. The now redundant 1960-built signal box can be seen in the distance.
Crewe - Shrewsbury signalling
The new signalling between Crewe and Shrewsbury, with its controversial new level crossing systems, has finally been brought in to service after several postponements. The intermediate signalboxes at Nantwich, Wrenbury, Harlescott, Wem and Prees have all been closed: safety supervision of the full-width-barrier crossings, previously done by the signaller looking out of the window, is now carried out by 'obstacle detector' systems using radar, augmented by low-level 'LIDAR' laser detectors. The Network Rail code for this kind of crossing is MCB-OD - manually controlled barrier with obstacle detector - although as we understand it, the operation will be automatic when a train is approaching. If any such obstacle is detected on the crossing, then the protecting signal cannot be cleared and the approaching train will come to a stand. (What happens next?)
The diagrammatic plan of the signalling and track layout is in the public domain, downloadable from the Giaconda website in PDF format, and reveals that in addition to the level crossing changes, axle-counters have been used instead of track circuits, and the route has been equipped with bi-directional signalling so that trains will be able to run on the 'wrong line' when necessary without special arrangements. However we believe this facility is not to be used at present. David Peacock's pictures here were taken for us at Nantwich station, the only one where new signals are at the platform end. The signals with their LED lights look rather odd, having reverted to the single-light layout used by some companies in the early days of colour-light signalling. Adding to the strangeness is the lack of a ladder (the post hinges down for maintenance in the style of a platform lamp) as well as a slight resemblance to a famous extra-terrestrial...
A close-up of the head of signal SC 8466, which can show red or green, shows the 'modular' nature of the head. This type can show red, yellow, or green; on high-speed lines where a double-yellow advance warning is needed, a second head would be needed. Note the repeater on the edge for when a train is standing at the signal.
Meanwhile, the grand old LNWR signalboxes in the Shrewsbury station area continue as before.
In other news ...
A mention of various other new developments follows. The railway's new network for train drivers to talk to signallers or to 'control', is now 'live' on the North Wales Coast line, following recent checking visits by the Radio Survey train. GSM-R is in fact a private application of the same communication used by the public mobile phone network. It is capable of transmitting data as well as voice, and is used as such on the Cambrian lines, but on the Coast line (for now) it simply replaces the old radio system.
On the Manchester line, 25kV overhead line electrification of the route from Castlefield Junction (Manchester) to Parkside (Newton-le-Willows) is now complete and energised. From December, Manchester Airport - Scotland trains will be diverted to this route, calling at Wigan instead of Bolton, and the ten new Class 350/4 'Desiro' 4-car electric trains will take over services as they are delivered and tested. Most of the newly-electrified section, which is just Phase 1 of a much larger scheme, is part of the famous Liverpool and Manchester Railway route of 1830: no doubt George and Robert Stephenson would be impressed. From next May, the diesel trains displaced by the new fleet will be used on a new direct hourly service between Liverpool and Newcastle which will increase the number of TransPennine Express trains between Manchester and Leeds to five trains per hour.
Finally, news has leaked out, via an article in the Shropshire Star newspaper, picked up by other media, that a limited through train service will be operated by Virgin Trains from May 2014 between Shrewsbury and London Euston. Until now Virgin's proposals have been totally blocked by the Office of Rail Regulation in the grounds of line capacity. Apparently there will be an 'off-peak service' Monday to Friday and 'one train' on Sundays, and according to the BBC on 14 November, 'exact times would be revealed on new timetables issued on Friday'. So far (17 November) we can find no mention of this on the Virgin, Network Rail, or Rail Regulator websites.
Premier Express at large
On 11 November the northbound 18:21 Cardiff - Holyhead express (a.k.a. 'Gerald' or the 'WAG Express') was top-and-tailed by Class 67 locos, reportedly because the Driving Van Trailer vehicle had developed flats on its wheels, a common problem at this time of year when trains are prone to sliding on leafy rails when the brakes are applied. Jack Bowley photographed the train at Colwyn Bay, with 67 002 leading ...
... and 67 001 trailing. Theoretically Arriva Trains Wales has three (82306-8) of the eight 823xx ex-Virgin Trains Driving Van Trailers which have been fitted for working with Class 67 locos, but we believe that 82306 has been loaned to work alongside 82301-5 by fellow Deutsche Bahn subsidiary Chiltern Railways. Maybe they are also having problems?
On 13 November, a DVT was back in service in the shape of 82307, but to judge from a video of the train at Chester posted by 'Video47' on YouTube, the wheel-flat problem remained unsolved.
On the evening of Friday 15 November, to-and-tail was in force again, although DVT 82308 was included in the train, 1W94 Cardiff - Holyhead, pictured by Jack Bowley at Llandudno Junction with 'celebrity' loco 67 029 Royal Diamond up front, and 67 001 at the back. The silver livery reflects the station lighting remarkably well. Jack's pictures prove that with modern cameras there is no need to use flash lighting, which is in any case very much disapproved of by train crews and platform staff.
Jack also made a video of the ensuing departure.
The next day, Saturday 16 November, the same formation, complete with both locos was used for a Holyhead - Cardiff extra 08:07 Holyhead - Cardiff to carry fans to the Wales v Argentina Rugby international, seen above at Llandudno Junction in the morning (Darren Durrant).
67 029 is kept in very good external condition (Darren Durrant). It was the first 67 to be converted and repainted to work Mk3 push-pull trains, for use with the EWS 'company train' in 2004.
Contrast in front ends (Darren Durrant).
Was it really six years ago? (Darren Durrant).
Approaching Colwyn Bay (Jack Bowley).
Shotton (Tim Rogers). This train ran via Crewe, so did not need to reverse en route. The return service ran at 18:21 from Cardiff, and did run via Wrexham, reversing at Chester.
Beeches Farm (Bob Greenhalgh).
Santa's Annual visit to his very own railway station on the Bala Lake Railway takes place on the weekend of 7 and 8 September. Trains will depart from Llanuwchllyn at 10.30, 11.30, 12.30, 13.30, 14.30, and 15.30.
Ticket prices. Adults £7.50 and Children £8.50 include a drink and a mince pie for adults and a present, biscuit and squash for children who are aged 11 and under. Booking essential: download a booking form in PDF format.
A reflective view of a Hallowe'en special on the Llanberis Lake Railway, hauled alongside Llyn Padarn by Elidir (Peter Basterfield)
It had been suggested to us that the HST-based measurement train would no longer appear in North Wales, but here it is at Talybont near Bangor on 14 November (Peter Basterfield).
As mentioned last time, Network Rail's Multi-purpose vehicles also see service on railhead treatment work. Above, DR98954 and DR98904 are seen at Helsby on 15 November. This train is based at Wigan and serves the line to Chester via Warrington before treating the Merseyrail Wirral system, including two return visits to Liverpool James Street via the tunnel under the Mersey, the West Kirby and New Brighton lines, and Hooton - Helsby. This link shows the full route.
Other Wigan-based MPVs serve the Crewe - Manchester, Mid-Cheshire, Rose Hill and Buxton lines among others. Above, DR 98962 and 98912 make their way across Stockport viaduct at 12:05 on 13 November.
An interesting meeting at Crewe on 13 November. DRS 'Thunderbird' 57 308 County of Staffordshire rests with 92 002 H.G. Wells. Behind, 66 425 undergoes a crew change on its way to Coatbridge with the 4S44 intermodal service from Daventry (Martin Evans). [92 002 was Charlie's first sighting of a 92 - in Vienna where it was undergoing cold weather tests in 1994.]
150 250 shows off its new Welsh Government livery on the Borderlands line at Shotton, 16 November (Tim Rogers)
Northern Rail is supporting the 'Movember' campaign by applying moustaches to the front of its trains, as shown on 156 438 on 15 November working the 10:30 Hazel Grove - Preston. A far cry from the 'speed whiskers' worn by the DMUs of yore.
37 608 and 37 612 crawl through Llandudno Junction at 14:00 on 12 November, running early with the Valley - Crewe flask train (Peter Lloyd).
FNA wagon 550053 is nearest the camera (Peter Lloyd). Believe it or not, the bodies of these wagons are un-painted stainless steel.
On Friday 15 November 37 605 & 37 612 sit silent at the Valley loading point waiting for a flask to arrive by road from Wylfa power station (Nick Gurney).
Some time later, heading east over Pen-y-Clip viaduct (Peter Basterfield).
Beeches Farm (Bob Greenhalgh).
'Wires Down' - a traveller's tale by Alan Crawshaw
On 13 November, Christine had to take her bike to Roberts Cycles in East Croydon so we both went down to combine it with seeing friends and visiting some exhibitions. I was delighted to discover that we could avoid central London by taking the 09:22 from Bangor as far as Milton Keynes where a 12 minute connection would make the hourly Southern service; just one connection would avoid crossing London to Victoria. I arrived at the station in time for a shot of 97 303 / 304 (above) making their way to Holyhead with the Rail Head Treatment Train ...
... while 175 107 waited time on platform 1 with the 08:05 Holyhead to Cardiff. The latter is used by schoolchildren on Anglesey, calling at the request stops across the island and timed for them to get to school by 9 am. It then waits to comply with the Arriva Trains Wales 'clockface' departure schedule. On Saturdays it leaves Holyhead at 08:20.
On board the Voyager, the conductor announced that some of the wires were down near Watford Junction and that some trains had been delayed by 30 minutes. We weren't too concerned but on alighting at Milton Keynes we found that all the local trains had been cancelled. There were no staff around to advise, simply an information display advising passengers to refer to the rail companies' websites or Twitter feeds, which is no substitute. We took the safe option of boarding the next train to Euston, as we had to get to the bike shop before closing time. The bike door on the Pendolino was locked so Christine had to stand in a vestibule with it while I found a seat. After apologising for the train being half an hour late because of the Overhead Line incident and warning of possible further delays, the train manager then had a go at Christine for being in a vestibule without a bike reservation for that train! Other passengers were grumbling unfairly about Virgin for the delay, not their fault but their customer service is shockingly bad at times.
We walked to Victoria, where the barrier staff accepted our ticket after our explanation, transacted our business at the bike shop and caught the tram from East Croydon to Wimbledon, my first experience of the Croydon system which was efficient and well patronised.
Christine stayed to visit her sister while I returned home on Friday, catching the 14:40 Manchester Pendolino, first stop Crewe. Almost every seat was reserved so I claimed one of the tip-up seats in a vestibule, which was soon home to more people sitting on the floor and standing. The train manager wished us "a pleasant and comfortable journey", which could only be achieved in first class on this train, and we were off. The experience was not enhanced by a party of noisy lagered-up Londoners making frequent visits to the shop and the lavatory, after which the class 150 Chester shuttle seemed luxurious.
I transferred to Merseyrail for the trip to Hamilton Square as the Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society were running a 24 hour "Tramathon" in aid of Children in Need. I took a night ride to the depot, which was open to visitors, and a few tripod-assisted shots of tram 69, built in 1992 for the tramway.
I returned to Chester (the picture above shows 508 139 at Birkenhead Hamilton Square) ...
... where one of the departure boards was displaying a Windows error, and caught the 20:26 Voyager back to Bangor, very busy but I was able to get a seat and the train was mercifully free of idiots.
Past times with John Hobbs - Brymbo
The Brymbo Heritage Group (BHG) has been awarded £97,000 to help preserve the heritage of Wrexham's former Brymbo steelworks. The site which closed in 1990 with the loss of 1,000 jobs has some protected buildings although their condition is said to be deteriorating. The Heritage Lottery Fund which pledged the cash called it unique, a surviving example of an 18th Century ironworks.
I thought these pictures might appropriate to celebrate this. Above: GWR 2-8-0 3850 climbs up towards Brymbo, the steelworks buildings which can be seen on the plateau to the left of the image, this area is now covered by housing. This working was from Croes Newydd Yard to the Steelworks which would reverse in the loop beyond Brymbo Middle Signal Box, run around and climb into the complex on the plateau; this was 5 August 1965.
3850 carried on up the climb and is seen here at the site of Brymbo Station, with only seven wagons in tow it was an easy climb with no banker. The line to Mold diverted just beyond the locomotive and the branch to Wheatsheaf Junction on the Wrexham to Chester line trailed in at the rear of the train. When I asked for a ride at Croes Newydd the guard asked if I had a ticket, I replied that I had a "Runabout Ticket", he responded that was good enough; the clerk at Prestatyn Booking Office was surprised to hear that my North Wales Runabout Ticket covered the freight-only line to Brymbo!
Llangollen events - report by George Jones
The overhaul of WD71516 Welsh Guardsman at Llangollen has come to a conclusion and as of Sunday 16 November was in the yard awaiting a fire. On 17 November it was due to take a private party of sponsors down the line.
In steam and taking water, 18 November. It is due to head off to the Gwili Railway on Thursday 21 November.
Meanwhile the cab for the 'Patriot' (see last issue) has arrived and is seen installed on the frames. The big lift to assemble the frames with the newly delivered wheels ...
... big at 6ft 9ins (2.06m) diameter, will take place later this week and the whole assembly should be on the road on Thursday when the loco will be moved to the Warley Model Railway Exhibition at the Birmingham NEC 23/24 November. It will be visiting Tyseley for axlebox work before coming back to Llangollen.
Sunday saw no train services but the Class 08 13265 (above) was active with a shunt at Llangollen station to extract the exhibition coach and put in Santa's Grotto.
The appearance of Santa's sleigh with Welsh greeting on the platform means that is nearly that time of year again. For Santa Special details see the Llangollen Railway website.
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