Ghost train to Paddington

Ghost_02Take a trip out of London on a West Ruislip-bound Central Line service and for a lengthy part of the journey – from North Action to South Ruislip – a little used and partly single track railway line runs alongside, and there are even a clutch of mechanically-worked semaphore signals to be seen as the tube train approaches Greenford station.

This is what was once grandly known as the New North Main Line, but is now less glamorously known as the Acton to Northolt line, running for a total distance of 11 miles from just west of Old Oak Common depot on the Great Western Main Line to a junction with the Chiltern Railways route from London Marylebone at South Ruislip. Continue reading “Ghost train to Paddington”

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Favourite photo-spots: Yeovil Pen Mill

IMG_2467.jpgDespite having been scheduled for replacement during 2016, Yeovil Pen Mill signal box remains an isolated outpost of semaphore signalling in the south of England, where the nearest surviving manual signals are those at Liskeard in Cornwall and at Marchwood on the freight-only Fawley branch near Southampton.

Pen Mill is a delightful station, standing on the eastern side of the town alongside the Pittards leather goods factory, with relatively easy opportunities to photograph signalling at either ends of the station and two excellent pubs close by (the Great Western and the Pen Mill Hotel) to pass the time between trains. Continue reading “Favourite photo-spots: Yeovil Pen Mill”

Favourite photo-spots: Craven Arms

IMG_9602Controlling an important junction south of Shrewsbury between the Marches Line to Newport and the Heart of Wales line to Llanelli is Craven Arms Crossing, which was once one of two signal boxes here, along with one at the station itself, some 300 yards to the south.

IMG_9644.jpgWhile the box itself looks more like an East German border post than a traditional signal box, and the station has long been reduced to basic “bus shelters” on each platform, the station footbridge and platform ends offer a splendid vantage point from which to appreciate the collection of lower quadrant semaphore signals that are  a feature of the Marches Line. Continue reading “Favourite photo-spots: Craven Arms”

Heritage traction on a Breton branch line

Chateau_04In summer 2016, Brittany remained one of only three regions in France to see local services still worked by single car X2100 units, which were in service alongside the new generation X73500 units on routes such as the branch line heading south from Rennes to Chateaubriant. Weekday services on this pleasantly rural route comprise just three or four round trips, with one  late afternoon working as far south as Retiers.

Chateaubriant’s well-preserved station has become an interchange with the re-opened route south to Nantes, which has been converted into light rail route T1 by the Pays de la Loire region and is currently served by eight trams a day, with a significantly more frequent service operating from Nantes as far north as the towns of Nort-sur-Erdre and Suce-sur-Erdre.

 But co-ordination of the two rail services appears almost non-existent. Looking at the summer 2016 timetables, there was only one viable connection a day in each direction – with a southbound departure from Rennes at 07.43 connecting into a tram that gave an arrival in Nantes at 10.29, while in the reverse direction the only connection was from a tram departing Nantes at 10.10 that gave a connection into a train service arriving into Rennes at 12.51. Continue reading “Heritage traction on a Breton branch line”

Narrow Gauge to the Rhodope Mountains

Narrow gauge railways have always held a particular fascination for me and one which I had long wished to visit was the 125km (78-mile) 760mm gauge Septemvri-Dobrinishte line in Bulgaria. Despite persistent closure threats the line continues to be run by Bulgarian State Railways and is the country’s only narrow gauge line.

IMG_1057This is a truly remarkable railway that traverses some fabulous scenery and feels like a step back in time when you are able to look out of the window and see horse-drawn ploughs being used in the fields. With the four daily round trip hauled by diesel locos dating from the mid-1960s, it is a trip not to be missed. Continue reading “Narrow Gauge to the Rhodope Mountains”

A metre gauge adventure in Greece

IMG_9792My interest in the extensive metre-gauge network around the Peloponnese Peninsula in Greece had been aroused during a summer-time visit in 1979, when I had travelled a few sections of the remarkable route, from Athens to Korinthos (Corinth), Mycenae to Tripolis and Olympia to Patra, while on a low-budget student month touring Greece and Greek islands.

Having fallen victim to the Greek financial crisis in 2011, which left only two isolated sections of the system in operation – Olympia to Pirghos and Katakalo and a Patra suburban service – it was good discover that much of the system was still useable three years later and to have the chance to travel much of the route on a two-day PTG Tour in October 2014. Continue reading “A metre gauge adventure in Greece”

Narrow gauge delights in the Czech Republic

Think of the Czech Republic and the odds are that what springs to mind are the cultural and nocturnal attractions of its capital, Prague, or the population’s legendary beer consumption and the vast range of beers on offer. Less likely to feature is a vast, efficient, and predominantly state-run rail network and two fascinating narrow gauge rail systems on opposite sides of the country.

While it does not enjoy the reputation among those interested in European rail systems of two neighbouring countries – Austria, for its numerous narrow gauge lines and Poland for its surviving steam – the Czech Republic is a very scenic, cheap and attractive place to spend a few days and the two narrow gauge systems – one privatised and one still in the hands of state operator České Dráhy (ČD) – are remarkable places to visit.

IMG_8867What these two 760mm (2’ 6”) systems have in common is regular steam operations during the summer months and being home, for the moment at least, of a fleet of aged Tu47 Czech-built Bo-Bo diesel locomotives, dating from 1954-59 and currently the mainstay of daily scheduled passenger services. Continue reading “Narrow gauge delights in the Czech Republic”