South Western Railway short-changes its most loyal customers

IMG_1583.jpgGold Card (annual season ticket) holders in what is now the South Western Railway (SWR) franchise area have, without warning, lost a great perk of their long-term loyalty to the railway.

After 20 years in which previous franchise holder Stagecoach gave its annual season ticket holders six free week-end tickets a year, this attractive and valuable perk has been quietly abolished by new franchisee FirstGroup/MTR. Continue reading “South Western Railway short-changes its most loyal customers”

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Velingrad re-visited

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Hopes (fulfilled!) for some winter sunshine, and the offer of bargain-priced flights with recently-troubled Ryanair, were all that it took to persuade me back to Bulgaria this week, for another chance to travel on the remarkable 125 km-long (78-mile) narrow gauge railway that winds its way from Septemvri – a town on the main line linking capital Sofia and second city Plovdiv – all the way up to the noted ski resort of Bansko and a terminus at nearby Dobrinishte.

IMG_6490My round trip once again took me from Stansted to Plovdiv, for a night in the splendid Alliance Hotel, a five-minute stroll from the railway station, before a 30-minute trip the following day to Septemvri. From here there are four round trips a day on the narrow gauge line, the earliest of which leaves at the unearthly hour of 02.05, with the most civilised departure being my chosen service, the Mesta, at 13.10 (all services on this route are named). Continue reading “Velingrad re-visited”

Weymouth’s wasted asset

IMG_6394A bright red aspect still shines out from signal DR205, more than 30 years after the last scheduled train passed it in order to make its way towards Weymouth Quay station, by travelling along what must surely be the finest and most wasted section of railway line in Dorset – the 1.2 mile long Weymouth Harbour Tramway.

IMG_6275For a route last used when a charter train passed over it in May 1999, the Harbour Tramway remains remarkably intact, still signalled at its junction north of Weymouth’s Town station and surprisingly free of obstructions, such as the parked cars that were once literally bounced out of the way when the Channel Isles Boat Express made its sedate progress along Commercial Road and Custom House Quay. Continue reading “Weymouth’s wasted asset”

Seeing the Light

IMG_7926Comments made by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and widely reported today suggest the he, at least, may finally have seen the light and realised that re-opening closed rail links to fast-growing towns and areas that have developed significantly over the past 50 years is far better value than committing infinite sums to HS2.

Particularly striking was  a Grayling quote in The Times, where he goes further than any Government spokesman has ever done by declaring: “People say which is my priority: spend a billion pounds to shave a minute off the journey time or reopen some commuter lines so we get a better service for people? I would go for the latter any day of the week.” Continue reading “Seeing the Light”

Off-peak return to Kyle of Lochalsh

IMG_6114.jpgTourists are pretty thin on the ground during November in the West Highlands so, ever anxious to avoid crowds, and taking the opportunity offered by ScotRail’s seasonal Club 50 £17.00 flat fare (remarkable value for a 514-mile round trip from Edinburgh) it seemed a good time to  make a long overdue return to Kyle of Lochalsh.

While the 82-mile route from Inverness has been hailed as the world’s most scenic rail journey, passenger numbers are distinctly modest out of the tourist season. I and my travelling companion were two of only ten passengers on board the 13.35 service from Inverness after leaving Dingwall on 14 November, with slightly more aboard the 12.08 ex-Kyle of Lochalsh a couple of days later. Continue reading “Off-peak return to Kyle of Lochalsh”

All change at Blackpool North

IMG_7526.jpgAt 01.04 on Saturday 11 November 2017, the 23.30 hrs Northern Rail service from Manchester Airport will draw into Platform 6 at Blackpool North station and go down in railway history as the last train to be signalled into the station by Blackpool North No. 2 Signal Box and its splendid semaphore signals.

IMG_5263Once the empty stock has left the station, it will be closed for complete re-building, the signals and box demolished, and the 17.5-mile line from Preston shut to until next spring, as work begins in earnest on the route’s modernisation, electrification and re-signalling. This diagram inside the signal box shows the final truncated layout, with just four remaining platforms. Continue reading “All change at Blackpool North”

Fabulous Fort William

IMG_5851.jpgMy nationwide quest to visit every possible location in England, Scotland and Wales that still has semaphore signalling comes to a glorious end at a remarkable outpost of mechanical signalling, and one that for much of the year controls the daily movement of steam-hauled trains.

Three decades after the rest of the West Highland lines from Glasgow to Oban and Mallaig were converted to radio signalling (RETB), one charming reminder of the past is Fort William Junction, just north-east of Fort William station and convergence of the route from Glasgow with the Mallaig extension. Continue reading “Fabulous Fort William”