How green was my valley

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Investment in upgrading the important Valleys Line services radiating north from Cardiff has been on the political agenda for some considerable time, with ambitious plans announced for partial electrification and/or conversion to light rail.

Yet while all the bold talk continues, the saga of delayed electrification to Cardiff and cancellation onwards to Swansea is a warning not to take anything for granted, and a mainstay of Valleys Line operations today remains the reviled Pacer (Class 142/3) units. Continue reading “How green was my valley”

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A trip to Tondu

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Along with those at Pembrey and Ferryside, featured in my previous post, another South Wales signal box potentially being replaced during Network Rail’s Control Period 6 (2019-24) is Tondu, sole passing place on the eight-mile branch from Bridgend to Maesteg.

The former Tondu Middle box is another Great Western Railway Type 3 design and dates from 1884 although, unlike Ferryside, has been subject to some subsequent alterations.

It stands immediately north of the station and controls a passing loop (currently out of use), as well as access to a seldom-used diversionary route to Margam and a remaining stub of the closed Blaengarw branch. Continue reading “A trip to Tondu”

South Wales’ last main line semaphores

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Travel down Brunel’s Great Western Main Line towards Bristol, pass through the Severn Tunnel into Wales and, after a change of train at Swansea, it will be exactly 208 miles from London Paddington before you reach the first of two semaphore signalling outposts on the South Wales Main Line.

Pembrey & Burry Port marks the start of old technology in signalling terms, and is the first of six surviving boxes between here and Clarbeston Road (junction of the Fishguard and Milford Haven routes) that are due to be closed during Network Rail’s forthcoming Control Period 6 (April 2019-March 2024). Continue reading “South Wales’ last main line semaphores”

Cumbrian Coast Class 37 farewell

IMG_8449As operation of Class 37-hauled passenger services along the wonderful Cumbrian Coast is due to end on 28 December 2018, this seems a good moment to post a few images from a memorable week in Barrow during early April 2017, when I was visiting locations along the route to get photos and background for my forthcoming book on Britain’s last semaphores.

Continue reading “Cumbrian Coast Class 37 farewell”

A breakdown in communications

IMG_0334What started out as a planned hour long trip to capture some rare steam action on the Portsmouth Line today (17 December) became a three-hour epic that exposes the total inadequacy of real-time information screens on stations, National Rail’s live trains app and the use of a station help point to get accurate information about the impact of serious service disruption.
   My simple plan had been to take a train from Haslemere (09.39) to Witley (09.45) in order to photograph LMS “Black Five” 44871 as it passed the station a few minutes later (09.52) on The Cathedrals Express charter special from Alton to Yeovil Junction, before hopping on the next return train from Witley (10.11) that would have had me back in Haslemere eight minutes later.
   But a fatality at Surbiton had thrown everything into chaos, so despite getting to Witley in time to get a decent shot of the steam special as it approached the station, things then became rather slow and frustrating.

Continue reading “A breakdown in communications”

Least used stations 2018

Sugar Loaf was Wales’ least used station in 2016/7 but experienced a remarkable eightfold increase in passengers in 2017/8, according to the ORR figures

Apart from studying the intricacies of timetabling, one of the other pleasures for those with a fascination for our railways is publication by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) of its annual station usage estimates, and the remarkable contrasts it highlights between our busiest and our least-used stations.   

While there are no real surprises amongst the busiest – Waterloo with an estimated 94.355 million entries and exits in the year ended 31 March 2018 being the UK’s busiest and Birmingham New Street (43.741 million) being the busiest outside London – the real interest lies amongst those obscure and badly-served places that are our least used stations. Continue reading “Least used stations 2018”

Movement at Marchwood

 

A longstanding candidate for reopening to passengers is the branch line from Totton, just west of Southampton, to Hythe, which forms most of a route to Fawley that lost its passenger services in February 1966 and most of its freight traffic in early 2016, when the last train of oil tanks bound for the huge refinery arrived from Holybourne, near Alton. 

While most of the 9.5 mile route now stands mothballed, there is still the chance to see action on the line, with occasional freight traffic serving Marchwood Port. This once vitally-important military facility, which boasted its own extensive railway system, is reached by a spur off the Fawley branch immediately south of the former Marchwood station, 3.5 miles from Totton. Continue reading “Movement at Marchwood”