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Railway Renaissance

RR_CoverGareth’s new book – published on 30 September

 Pen & Sword Books Ltd

ISBN: 9781473862005

Order now at Waterstones or Amazon

When a 35 mile stretch of the former Waverley route from Edinburgh to Carlisle reopened on 6 September 2015, it became the most significant reopening of any UK railway since the infamous Beeching Report, ‘The re-shaping of British Railways’, was published in March 1963.
In his report, Dr Richard Beeching recommended sweeping closures of lines across the UK to improve the financial performance of British railways, which led to wholesale closures over the following decade and a reduction in the UK rail network from 18,000 miles in 1963, to some 11,000 miles a decade later.

Continue reading “Railway Renaissance”

Preserving Britain’s remarkable signalling heritage

IMG_9044Finding new uses for redundant Signal boxes is often no easy matter. While some do find a new lease of life – cafes at York and Totnes being good examples – many other fine structures are simply boarded up and left unloved, where the years inevitably take their toll, or they eventually succumb to fire damage.

Happily that was not the case with the 1913-vintage Exeter West box, a fine wooden structure, with a 131-lever frame (only installed in 1959), that was made redundant by re-signalling in 1985.

It was painstakingly re-built at the Crewe Heritage Centre, after failing to find a home on the Severn Valley Railway, at Bristol Temple Meads and then at Swindon’s new STEAM museum, and was ceremonially re-opened almost exactly 25 years ago, on May Day 1993. Continue reading “Preserving Britain’s remarkable signalling heritage”

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Steam-hauled to Hel and back

IMG_8556Poland has been totally transformed over the past three decades since the drab and sinister days of communist rule were overthrown by Lech Walesa and his brave shipyard workers, and nowhere is that change more evident than on PKP, the national railway network.

Pictured above is Pt47-65 arriving at Chełmża on 13 April 2018 during the first day of its trip to Hel and back.

Having been the last European country to retain steam traction, 1988 marked withdrawal of the last true main line class, the Pt47, with steam then rapidly disappearing over the next three years and eliminated entirely by 1992, except at the remarkable museum depot in Wolsztyn. Continue reading “Steam-hauled to Hel and back”

Avon Rail Link: it’s time for action

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Having reviewed the many railway re-opening prospects around Britain for my book Railway Renaissance, one of the most compelling candidates is unquestionably the Avon Rail Link – a missing nine miles of line that would give Stratford-upon-Avon a southern link to Oxford, London and the South-West – by reinstating a section of line that has been the subject of re-opening efforts for decades.

Pictured above is 37608 approaching Long Marston on 31 March 2018 towing EMU 350263, which formed 535Z, the 08.55 from Northampton EMD, with the EMU being taken to Long Marston for corrosion repair work

Shakespeare’s birthplace has been a terminus to passengers on local services from Birmingham and Leamington Spa ever since the end of services to Evesham and Worcester on 5 May 1969, yet its attraction as one of the UK’s foremost tourist destinations meant that more than a million passengers passed through its station in 2016/7, the first time that seven-figure total had ever been achieved. Continue reading “Avon Rail Link: it’s time for action”

A missed opportunity for more loco-hauled services in Scotland

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ScotRail operator Abellio commendably uses two loco-hauled sets for weekday commuter services on the Fife Circle, but from an enthusiast point of view seems to be missing a trick when it comes to stock utilisation.

Pictured above is 68020 at Haymarket on 8 March 2017 with the 17.11 departure for Glenrothes with Thornton

Looking at the movements morning and evening of the two Class 68-powered six-coach trains reveals that they spend far more time working empty from and to their Mossend and Motherwell bases near Glasgow than they do in revenue-earning service. Continue reading “A missed opportunity for more loco-hauled services in Scotland”

North Wales Semaphore Finale

IMG_4931Readers of my previous blogs will know that in less than a week’s time the North Wales Main Line will be closing for the week-end as new signalling is commissioned and five mechanical signal boxes between Talacre and Abergele & Pensarn will be signalling their last trains before final closure.

IMG_4836Having already featured the boxes at Prestatyn, Rhyl and Abergele, following a visit kindly arranged for me by Network Rail, this seems a timely moment to take one final look at the signalling that is about to disappear from these locations, as captured on last month’s visit (23 February 2018) and on my previous visit to North Wales one year earlier, in February 2017. Continue reading “North Wales Semaphore Finale”

The madness of split-ticketing

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The pressing need to simplify railway ticketing has been a long running theme on Britain’s fragmented network, but nothing tangible ever seems to happen, and we continue to live in a crazy world where getting the cheapest fare for my most recent day return journey involved buying no less than four separate sets of tickets.

My Sunday trip from Haslemere to Cardiff – for the Wales vs. Italy Six Nations rugby international – would have cost me £55.50 (using a railcard) had I opted for the cheapest direct ticket, a super off-peak return (not via London), travelling to Guildford, then on to Reading and from there directly to Cardiff. Continue reading “The madness of split-ticketing”

Goodbye, Abergele, Farewell, Prestatyn!

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In less than three weeks’ time a key milestone will be reached in the £50 million North Wales Railway Upgrade, with closure of five mechanical signal boxes between Talacre and Abergele and the commissioning of new colour light signalling that will be controlled by the Railway Operating Centre in Cardiff.

IMG_7592On the day of a visit last month to Rhyl No. 1 box (featured in my previous post) I was also fortunate to be able to visit two of the other doomed boxes, those at Abergele & Pensarn and at Prestatyn.

As with Rhyl No. 1, Abergele & Pensarn is another Grade II listed LNWR box, dating from 1902, which stands between the running lines at the eastern end of the Grade II listed, but unstaffed, station. Continue reading “Goodbye, Abergele, Farewell, Prestatyn!”