Scotland’s Grand Tour on the cheap

IMG_8632As spectacularly scenic railways go there is nothing anywhere in Britain to match the Scottish route from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh and the West Highland Lines from Glasgow to Fort William, Oban and Mallaig.

Such is their appeal that ScotRail now markets a ticket known as the Scottish Grand Tour – a chance to travel a near 500-mile circular route encompassing both the Kyle and Mallaig lines, with bus and ferry links included.

Grand Tour tickets cost £89.00 (£58.75 with a railcard) for a single journey in either direction, giving you four days rail travel within eight consecutive days in which to complete the journey, at any time, except on departures from Glasgow or Edinburgh before 09.15 on weekdays.

But at this time of year, as well as in the spring months, there is a much cheaper way of doing the Grand Tour for holders of a ScotRail Club 50 Card (£15 a year and available to anyone over the age of 50). Continue reading “Scotland’s Grand Tour on the cheap”

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A taste of re-nationalised railway

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Railway catering has been a subject dear to my heart ever since I was first lucky enough to sample the delights of the Manchester Pullman during one of my first journalist jobs, in about 1980.

For many years after that I would take every opportunity of an inter-city journey to sample breakfast, lunch or dinner, and had many memorable meals and encounters until restaurant service had all but disappeared in the aftermath of privatisation in the mid-1990s.

Initial East Coast franchisee GNER remained a beacon of light, with its impressive commitment to full catering, but once short-lived franchisee National Express took over the rot set in and, just as happened on the West Coast under Virgin Trains, proper meals were replaced by the airline-style service we have today. Continue reading “A taste of re-nationalised railway”

A look at the future of signalling in Wales

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Eight years after its opening in October 2010, the £16.5 million Wales Railway Operating Centre (WROC) is really starting to come into its own, as more and more of the Principality’s network falls under its control.

Situated in an anonymous and highly-fortified building, surrounded by razor wire and a bomb-proof wall, half a mile west of Cardiff Central and overlooking Canton depot, the WROC works round the clock 365 days a year, employing a total of around 180 Network Rail staff.

In addition, and in a separate first floor room from the signallers, the integrated control room sees a further 46 Arriva Trains Wales staff sitting opposite the NR team, overseeing operation of the whole Welsh network and stepping in to manage incidents as they arise. Continue reading “A look at the future of signalling in Wales”

Railway rambling on the Isle of Wight

IMG_8597There is something rather special about a trip to the Isle of Wight. For many it is the charming scenery and fine beaches, for others it is the glorious countryside and fine walks.

Having already appreciated it all by walking the 65-mile long coastal path, what continues to make the island so special for me is its quaint railway systems – as well as the thrill of being able to travel there on the world’s last commercial hovercraft service. Continue reading “Railway rambling on the Isle of Wight”

Haslemere’s Grade II Listed Signal Box

IMG_8356Control of colour lights by traditional lever frame is a reasonably common feature of Britain’s signalling infrastructure, but few signal boxes can surely match Haslemere, where 2018 marks 81 years since replacement of its semaphore signals by colour lights in 1937, to coincide with electrification of the Portsmouth Direct Line.

Haslemere is one of only three surviving signal boxes on the route, the others being at Farncombe and at Petersfield, with the latter also being Grade II Listed. What makes Haslemere unique among this trio, however, is in retaining its complete and original 47-lever frame, controlling signals and points between Liphook and Witley. Continue reading “Haslemere’s Grade II Listed Signal Box”

Favourite photo-spots: Westbury

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For variety of passenger and freight traction, there can be few places in the South of England to match Westbury, a small and unremarkable Wiltshire town best known for its White Horse, carved into the chalk hillside overlooking the town.

Westbury stands 109 miles from London Paddington and is a major junction on the Berks & Hants route via Newbury to the South West, being the point where it crosses the busy Bristol to Portsmouth line, while other services run from here to Swindon via Melksham.

Add the regular stone traffic originating at the nearby Merehead and Whatley quarries, and you are in for pretty much non-stop action on an average weekday, with the three hours I spent there on Friday (17 August) producing no less than five different classes of passenger unit and three different classes of freight loco. Continue reading “Favourite photo-spots: Westbury”

Waiting for that weekday train to Okehampton

IMG_8078Okehampton is one of those places where the argument for reinstating train services seems to have been won in spades, yet time marches on and, in spite of the right noises being made, nothing actually seems to happen.

For more than two decades the residents of this Devon town, and those wishing to sample tourist attractions, like the Granite Way path leading south over the Grade I Listed Meldon Viaduct, have been tantalised by a seasonal service on one day a week. Continue reading “Waiting for that weekday train to Okehampton”