NORTH WALES COAST RAILWAY:NOTICE
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04 August 2014
61994 The Great Marquess heads out of Blaenau Ffestiniog with the return 'Welsh Mountaineer' on 29 July. See report below. (Picture by Ian Pilkington)
Thanks for all the contributions as always: some have been held over to next issue.-Charlie
North Wales Coast Express 3 August
Report by Alan Crawshaw
After two journeys to north-east England for A4 pacific-hauled charters that suffered late cancellations, I played safe by driving from Bangor to Llandudno Junction with the aim of negotiating a reduced fare for the shorter journey on the North Wales Coast Express to Holyhead and back. If this failed then we would photograph the train and return home. A steward told us that next weekend's 'North Wales Coast Express' has been cancelled because of low bookings, some people transferring to today's run but there were still plenty of seats so the train manager was happy to accommodate us.
However, it did run, and I was able to photograph it arriving at Llandudno Junction; I had time to return to the station during the half-hour watering stop.
After topping up the tender with water, we were away, 60009 Union of South Africa registered 74.38 mph on the outward run, almost the maximum 75 mph permitted for steam. Above, the view of the train in platform 1 at Holyhead from the Celtic Gateway bridge after arrival.
The nameplate: Gill Sans typeface at its purest. Note the flaps in the streamlining - for access to sandboxes and oiling points?
57 316, on the rear of the train on arrival, would assist with shunting and couple to the other end before departure. In the carriage sidings is Arriva's Premier Express train, stabled here on Sunday as usual.
Released from the train, 60009 ran round and returned to platform 1 before heading off tender-first to Valley to turn on the triangle there in preparation for the return.
Having turned, the A4 backs on to the train.
A view through the first class dining carriage to 67 002 in the sidings.
Holyhead town centre was 'closed': surprisingly not a single café took advantage of the influx of potential customers, and none of the pubs looked inviting. 70 mph was touched on the return journey, a lovely afternoon out.
Pictures from the lineside
Bagillt (Ian Pilkington)
Passing through Robert Stephenson's addition to Conwy town walls (Garry Stroud).
Passing Llanfairfechan westbound (Peter Basterfield).
Negotiating the bridges and tunnels at Penmaenbach on the return journey (Peter Basterfield).
The evening return train passing Abergele station, whistle blaring (Darren Durrant).
The driver looks out for signals approaching the bridges and tunnels before Chester station; picture by Anthony Thomas looking over the wall on Raymond Street. The springbok plaque on the side of the locomotive was donated on 12 April 1954 by a Bloemfontein newspaper proprietor, according to Wikipedia. It is on the left-hand side only, whilst the South African Coat of Arms appears on both sides of the cab.
57 316 on the rear (Anthony Thomas). Note the milepost on the cutting side marking 180 miles from London Euston. The train has just passed Roodee Junction, the point where two tracks widen to four.
With the NWCE - by Stephen Hughes
I made a last minute decision to travel along the North Wales Coast On the RTC 'North Wales Coast Express' on August 3 , not having had steam haulage along the coast since the regular trains over twenty years ago. I did, though, cut it rather fine, road closures in Bangor and a malfunctioning parking ticket machine would have meant that I 'd have missed the 10:59 train to Chester, but happily that was running over ten minutes late due to 'technical' issues at Holyhead. The two-car 158 was crowded, standing room only after Rhyl, extra passengers generated presumably by Chester races. I only had a few minutes at Chester to change platforms before the on time arrival of the NWCE headed by 60009. Conflicting information had led me to believe that the train might have been 'Black 5' hauled, an authentic class for the line (last time I had authentic steam haulage on the North Wales Coast was a Britannia in 1965!) but I wasn't complaining, as I later realised that I had now completed main line haulage by all three of the current serviceable A4s, it had only taken 47 years to achieve since my first trip behind 'Sir Nigel Gresley' in 1967!
However, it was a good fast non-stop run to the Junction with no checks, coming to a stand just before the Queen's Road bridge only 48 minutes after leaving Chester. After a stop of about 30 minutes for water a similar good run followed to Bangor.
For any North Wales enthusiast who fancies a ride along the coast, I would certainly recommend buying a ticket 'on the day'. (There were enough available seats). When I eventually located the Train Manager, I was charged £25 for the single journey, which I thought was very reasonable (and about right). I might even have to do it again.
Although these on-the-day fares often exist, they cannot be booked in advance and places are not guaranteed. The Railway Touring Company would no doubt emphasise that they are intended for local residents, not for people who want to save money by driving from Manchester to Chester. Yet many people will always leave the train for the day at Llandudno so there will always be room west of there, so why not offer bookings for the section west of there? The economics of these operations are very fragile, as can be seen from the tendency to cancel some of the advertised trains.
From a very personal point of view: we rarely travel on such excursions: Mk1 coaches, sometimes in less than sparking condition, are no great attraction, there are no longer any 'photographic run-pasts' in this country to allow passengers chance to get a decent view of the loco, and the long stops for water, etc, are really quite tedious.
Problems on the 'Welsh Mountaineer'
The Preston - Blaenau Ffestiniog 'Welsh Mountaineer' steam excursion has run a few times each summer for a few years now, mostly without problems, once it was realised that because of the steep gradients and sharp curves of the Conwy Valley line the train must be kept relatively short by charter train standards, with relatively high fares to compensate. It has not been though necessary to add a diesel locomotive to the rear of the train as happens with the 'North Wales Coast Express' and other Railway Touring Company trains.
The train on Tuesday 29 July ran more-or-less to time on its outward journey, including a scheduled scheduled stop for water at Frodsham, a half-hour spent at Chester while the loco was turned so as to face forward when travelling up the Conwy Valley route, and another half-hour for water at Llandudno Junction - Ian Pilkington's picture above shows 61994 The Great Marquess in its trendy black livery passing Dunham-on-the-Hill.
Ian Pilkington caught up with the train climbing the 1 in 62 gradient near Dolwyddelan, with rather smoky exhaust in evidence. By this time the loco and its crew were struggling to keep the train on the move.
The train made Blaenau Ffestiniog 48 minutes late at 14:03; Peter Basterfield's picture shows it approaching the station. Departure time from Blaenau was on schedule at 16:00, but arrival at Llandudno Junction was over half an hour late at 18:00. The coal was said to be of poor quality, and despite much effort the crew were unable to get the steam to the required boiler pressure - it was said to be down to just 105 psi - and after some discussion about possibly continuing to Chester it was decided to cancel the rest of the excursion, and send the passengers home by normal services starting with 175 112 on the Llandudno - Manchester Airport service. Passengers for Preston would have had to change at Warrington; lets hope nobody was compelled to buy a ticket.
A rescue loco in the shape of 47 245 departed from West Coast Railways' Carnforth depot at 18:40, and arrived at Llandudno Junction at 21:47 after a delay at Chester, reportedly caused by the fact that the driver who brought the loco from Carnforth could not continue as he did not 'sign' the North Wales line, in other words did not have the required route knowledge, with the result that the driver of the steam loco was obliged to also travel by service train to Chester to collect the rescue loco and drive it to Llandudno Junction. The empty train, with 47 245 hauling and 61994 going backwards in the rear, eventually departed Llandudno Junction at 22:04.
The good news is that no ordinary passengers were seriously inconvenienced by all this, even on the Conwy Valley branch with its long single-line sections. What went wrong? Clearly this is a very sensitive topic, and we are no experts on steam loco operation, but comments received from readers suggest that the coal, which is imported, is of a different chemical make-up from British steam coal used when steam was regular traction, hence the 'continued failures year after year, time after time of steam traction, with poor steaming or causing multiple fires.'
Why couldn't a rescue loco be found from Warrington or Crewe, you might wonder. Although Network Rail does apparently have the authority to 'commandeer' a loco in emergency situations, this was not justifiable in this case, even if feasible, as the problem train was not blocking any others. Arriva's Class 67 loco was still working its normal train from Cardiff at the time, and anyway Arriva does not have a 'safety case' for rescuing steam trains. Whether the 'Thunderbird' Class 57 loco from Crewe could have been used, we leave as a 'problem for the reader.'
Llandudno station officially open
BBC news reports on 22 July: 'A seaside town's train station has been officially opened, after a £5.2m refurbishment. It was built [to replace a smaller one] in 1892, and the refit started in 2012. The project received £3.5m of Welsh Government and European funding, as well as money from the Department of Transport and the Railway Heritage Trust.'
Welsh Finance Minister Jane Hutt was in attendance for the ceremony, as was Mark Langman, Wales director of Network Rail. You can watch their speeches, and see some view of the station, on YouTube. The new facilities include a new ticket office, upgrade of the concourse area featuring a new glass curtain, and a new car parking area for up to 125 cars as well as car and taxi drop-off points. A bus lay-by with two bus stops has been created at the front of the station with additional bicycle storage facilities. The front of the station continues to be in keeping with the Victorian architecture of the town.
Work has also been undertaken to improve accessibility at the station. The whole station area has been levelled off, in line with the regulations of the Equality Act, which has made the station a much smoother, more accessible space. New toilet facilities have also been installed including a specialist accessible toilet, a "Changing Places" facility, complete with showers and hoists.
These platform gate signs could surely have been integreated into the heritage look?
High Summer at Tan-y-Bwlch - with John Roobottom
The Ffestiniog Railway's Fairlie David Lloyd George drifts into Tan-y-Bwlch on the sunny Saturday afternoon of 12 July, having left Blaenau Ffestiniog at 15:05. It is in the works grey livery, similar to the grey undercoat sported by Taliesin way back at Easter 1957.
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