Sunday, 22 January 2017

Four on a Saturday Morning - 21.01.2017

The main event; preserved 'Large Logo' 37025 continues to work for Colas Rail on test train duties. On this occasion it is partnered with sister 'split box' machine 37099 as it heads down through Petts Wood Junction with a test train from Hither Green. The train was due to terminate at Woking having spent most of the day covering lines in Kent however due to the lack of an available driver later in the day the train was instead terminated at Tonbridge.
With the morning dawning cold and crisp and the promise of two class 37's leading trains within an hour I couldn't resist heading down South East London to catch the trains heading down towards Kent.

The first train of the day was 66012 with an engineering train from Hoo Junction to St Leonards. 

I've been meaning to catch up with the class 375 drags for some while as they've been running with Rail Operations Group class 37's for well over a year now. 37800 is seem approaching Petts Wood on 5z58 with  an overhauled 37805 in tow returning from Derby to Ramsgate. ROG have pioneered the concept of moving units without the need for barrier wagons.


Things worked out nicely that there was time to catch one final stock movement on the way home. 66730 is seen approaching Hither Green with 5X89 the Slade Green - Doncaster 'Networker' drag. This move contained more traditional barrier wagons, though interesting these are formed of former class 508 vehicles owned by Arlington Fleet Services. 

Monday, 16 January 2017

ONCF Morocco Trip Report 5-9 January 2017

E1316 pulls into Rabat Ville with a service to Fes on 6th January 2017. Both the locomotive, based on the SNCF BB7200 and the Corail coaches which it pulls are typically French. 06/01/2017.
Thursday 5th January-
No trains today- unless you care about the journey to Stanstead airport.
It was a leisurely fight with Ryanair to Rabat. Despite not choosing to pay for an allocated seat I was given a window right near the front of the plane. During the course of the flight both of the two people sitting in my row got up and disappeared... I did't think I smelt particularly bad!?

Having arrived at Rabat there was a bit of a faf with getting money as neither ATM at the airport liked my card (I think it was my card rather than the ATM's at fault) so my first dinar was exchanged from my sterling at one of the money exchanges- I would have to hope my card would work in the morning! Transfer to the city was by the airport bus for 20 dinar (about £1.80)- first impressions of Morocco were as a modern 'civilised' country, then we passed two lorries massively overloaded with the most hay bails I have possibly every seen!

I stayed at the Rihab Hotel which was well located and fine. At first glance very nice actually, but the bathroom turned out to be ropey and the water turned out to be luke warm at best. As it was well dark by the time I arrived dinner was at a chain chicken restaurant around the corner, all very nice but I didn't really want the football on loudly booming across the whole place. I asked for the WiFi code and the waiter smiled and said 'no'... not sure what that was all about!

Friday 6th January-
Rabat Ville with Anseldo Breda Z2M EMU's which work local
trains between Cassablanca and Kenitra (plus some to Fes).
After breakfast I headed to Rabat Ville station, about 10 minutes from the hotel. I purchased a ticket for the short leap to Rabat Agdal partly to score a loco for the 5 minute hop but also to gain access to the station. I used the automatic ticket machines which do have an English option but always seem to be out of change. Expecting hassle with photos I made my way to the end of the platform out of the way for a few snaps, about 50% of the trains here are the new-ish double deck units, the other half being electric loco hauled. It generally seemed that the lower numbers, two digit trains were units with the three digit trains being 'grand lignes' locos and stock. Shadows were difficult in the lowish winter sun so I boarded the first loco to arrive E1412, one of the new Alsthom Prima II's to Agdul. I have to say, for a modern loco I really like the Prima II, especially in ONCF's orange and grey.

My first ride on ONCF was with E1412 a very smart Alsthom Prima II.
I spent around 90 minutes at Rabat Agdul during which a further 3 loco hauled trains were seen, firstly a southbound train with old Hitachi E1262 and secondly a northbound with Alsthom 'Nez Cassis' E1314 - a very French looking train once you couple it up with a typical train of Corail coaches. Finaly I left Agdul on E1408 heading back to Rabat Ville. I really needed to ride some of the older classes but I had a few shots and had not been accosted for photography at all.


I liked the Hitachi built E1200 class much more than I expected to. These
locos definitely have some character. E1262 stats at Rabat Agdul 06/01/2017.
I spent the early afternoon wandering around Rabat, though the Medina and out to the coast. An absolutely fascinating city by all accounts and a great place to while away a few hours. It's an odd mix of everything with the medieval Medina butting up to the modern tramway (opened 2011) with its Alsthom Citadis trams!
Before I had got bored of the place it was time to head back to the hotel, pick up my bag and head to the station for my train onward to to Fes. I had bought my tickets at the station earlier, this time from the counter as I wanted to break my journey in Kenitra in order to score another loco. This was no problem and with a bit of French and English I had my tickets no problem. I was told that despite having a train number printed on the ticket I could take any train that day with my 2nd class fare.





The train rolled in with E1316- Brilliant- not another modern Prima! The train was very busy but I did find a seat with a window in an open coach. Not everyone was so lucky. Kenitra turned out to be a building site but I didn't have too long here. Shortly after my arrival E1411 pulled in. Soon there was a flurry of activity around the front of the loco so I headed down to see what was going on- At some point earlier on its run it had clearly hit something large enough to smash and shatter the windscreen. No problem though- some sticky back plastic was quickly found and a makeshift repair made. Now I couldn't see a driver back home taking that forward in service, but off it went! My chariot forward pulled in as E1404 where I found a nice seat in a compartment for the journey on to Fes. The area around Rabat/Kenitra is seeing heavy investment as it will take the TGV's off the high speed line when it opens- part of this upgrade involves fencing in the entire railway with large concrete 'upside down T' sections which will make any lineside photography very ugly- and also doesn't entirely seem to keep the locals out as I saw several men vaulting over them. The line is rather flat and boring until reaching somewhere near Sidi Kacem where the landscape becomes more mountainous, and it god dark.
I don't think this would continue in service in the UK somehow! E1411
receives attention to its windscreen while it is paused at Kenitra.
On arrival at Fes there was the reassuring sound of a diesel heading east in another platform- I wandered over for a look and hopefully a photo, though the light was awful. I was quickly ushered away. The station staff clearly didn't want me anywhere near that diesel.
Gare du Fes is located in the new town, so I would need to make my way to the Medina for my hotel. Out of instinct I told all the taxi hawkers to go away before realising that what I actually needed was a taxi. I paid 40 dinah to reach the beautiful Riad Ibn Khaldoun, where upon arrival I discovered a taxi should have cost me 15-20 dinah. I would highly recommend this Riad to stay in- my room was stunning and it had heating (which is not a given for Morocco in winter). It was dark now so I went for a walk around the local area for the medina before finding somewhere for dinner. I rather suspect I was put upstairs in the 'foreigners room' for dinner as non-Moroccan parties were scattered sparsely around tables generally eating spaghetti bolognase. The restaurant was cold and sadly lacked atmosphere- but I can't complain at my giant bowl of cous-cous with lamb and with hindsight I don't think I paid too far over the odds for it at 100 dinah.
In an unusual change for these trips I was in bed at a reasonable hour.

Saturday 7th January
The 'wrong' end of DH363 is seen as it prepares to shunt a coach off of the
stock which has arrived at Fes to form the 10:45 to Beni Nsar Port. 07/01/2017.
Breakfast was traditional Moroccan breads and things, but nice enough. Now if the exquisite room wasn't the best thing about this Riad then the view across the Medina had to be- absolutely stunning, and what a city Fes is! Anyway... on to the trains. I found a taxi no problem for 20 dinar back to the station and purchased my ticket to D'Oued Amlil on the line towards Ouidja. Train services are very limited with only 3-4 per day and this seemed to be the best place for a run of about 2 hours out and back. Having left plenty of time, as I don't trust taxis, I had about an hour on the station. I was watched quite closely but nobody gave me any grief until 5 minutes before my train departed at 10:45 for Beni Nsar Port. Two trains had departed west in this time with E1262 and E1416. Soon after DH363 arrived with stock for another westbound departure (which I think left with an E1300). Shortly after newer DH411 appeared light engine, DH364 also departed west with a freight, but a photo was not possible as the yard is behind a fence. Now which loco would work my train (which arrived from Casablanca with E1258?). DH363 shunted off a coach, and then DH411 backed on, a shame- I wanted the old one!

DH430, one of the newer batch of locos in the revised ONCF colours departs from Gare D'Oued Amlil for Fes.

Just time for a quick photo of DH363 as we pause at Gare Ain Sbit. 
It was a good run though we lost a little time for no apparent reason. I had a comfy seat in a Corail compartment again. On arrival at D'Oued Amlil there should have been a -2 onto a train back to Fes. I had figured as we were on single track it might make despite our 5 minute delay and it did. It was however never the plan to take it, especially as it had another of the newer locos, DH430. I did have time for a nice picture of it leaving though. Around an hour behind this train was another, one of very few occasions where you don't get stranded for hours. This gave me time to buy my return ticket, get some lunch (BBQ meat and bread- straight off the carcass for 50 dinar, probably a hugely inflated tourist price). I had vaguely hoped that a nice eastbound freight might turn up during my lay over. Of course it didn't, but I did find a nice spot to photograph my train arriving and then to leg it to the station to jump on. This worked very well and one of the older locos DH373 appeared for the full sun shot. I had an excellent run back with the loco and the remains of my lunch in a lovely old red-faux leather ex SNCF compartment. I had also figured by this point that the Corail doors would open while on the move... that was the answer to hearing the loco within the air-con's then! There was even time for a short photo stop at Gare Ain Sbit despite slightly late running. The driver seemed to get out of the loco here so I asked the guard how long we had 'about 1 minute' - that'll do! I sneaked a couple of photos of the train on arrival at Fes but didn't want to outstay my welcome having already been told, very nicely, that I wasn't allowed to take photos.

I should have come years ago if I really wanted to see the DF
class at work in Morocco- With an awful shadow across the
front DF116 (ex SNCF CC72018) stands in the yard at Fes still
wearing it's former Fret SNCF livery. 07/01/2017.
Then I saw it... The holy grail of Moroccan trains... there was a DF in the yard. It was instantly recognisable as one of the ex-French CC72000's as it was still in SNCF Fret colours- now how on earth was I going to get a picture? The yard is reasonably well fenced and walking along the tracks was not going to work here. Eventually I found an access point through the black migrant camp (they were rather surprised to see me walking through!). Expecting to get kicked out of the yard I waited for the opportune moment to get my photo, letting a triple headed freight (E1100 + E1300 + E1200) get away in the process. I got my photo- with a massive shadow across it and was then greeted by a member of railway staff... Somehow we ended up having a nice chat and having passed him a photo of an SNCF CC72100 on the Belfort line I left with a few more photos and a friendly wave from him and his colleagues- that worked ok then! DM614 was also in the yard (with a shadow across it).

Wandering the Medina in Fes in search of dinner.
The diversion to DF 116 had cost me valuable time and I now had a lot less time to be a tourist around Fes. I got another 20 dinar taxi back to town and knew that my first port of call after dumping my bag was the tannery. It was a really fascinating place and I'm sure I needed the belt (100 dinar) and rug (350 dinar) that I was coaxed into buying! On a positive however I didn't get lost, or bugged by touts and actually found that having spent next to all of my money wandering the Medina was much more fun- I wasn't going to be forced into buying anything I didn't need because I couldn't! I ended the evening in one of the food alleys which was also a lot less filled with tourists. I made friends with a few stallholders while I stood drinking a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. For dinner it was street food- a stall I had seen with a queue the night befor. Here I definitely didn't get ripped off- I had seen the person in front of me pay his 10 dinar and clarified that my sandwich containing some sort of fried potato, an egg and some red stuff would cost the same. As I was turning to leave the stallholder called out to me... I hadn't picked up my change! Well there you are- dinner for 6 dinar (about 50p)!
It was an early night again and after some photographs of the city skyline by night it was time to bed down.

A view worth waking up for- the rooftops of Fes


Sunday 8th January
I got my first ride behind a Hitachi E1200 leaving Fes. As it
happens this was not it, but it would be my second as it would
work Tangier the train which followed behind my departure.
I had really enjoyed my time in Fes, but it was time to move on such was my whirlwind schedule. Today I had to end up in Tangier and had planned a schedule involving a couple of trains to score a few more locos, and maybe find some DF's in yards. My first train with E1260 took me to Meknes on the 09:40 departure to Casa Voyages. I had paid for a 1st class ticket for this part of the journey as it was cheap enough I could and would avoid any issue if the train was particularly busy. I found a nice compartment to myself and went to try the window to see if it was locked. It wasn't however as I went to open it I discovered another problem. It didn't stop at the angle it usually would and very soon was open to 270 degrees and a moment later was attached only to my hand and not the coach! I'd better put that back quickly... unfortunately it didn't really fit. Maybe it was like that before I thought as I watched it wobble in the frame. After a short while of unease I moved away from the middle seat convinced that it would blow in at the first tunnel. I didn't need to wait that long as 30 seconds after moving a train passed and that was enough- Bang! and the window was on the floor where I had just been sitting. I thought it prudent to let somebody on the train know, and the trolley attendant had just passed. He didn't seem interested at first to my 'problem finetra' but when he walked back past my compartment the scene was greeted with an 'Ooh la la!' so maybe it was an issue afterall! By the time the train had reached Meknes the travelling fitter was attending and I had been very apologetically moved to another compartment! At Meknes a E1300 was departing with a mixed freight as I arrived and there was an ONCF DF in the yard but it was totally inaccessible, especially given that the Tangier train (09:55 ex Fes) was shortly behind, the earlier train having left nearly 15 minutes late for no apparent reason. The second train had been observed with an E1400 the previous day but it was nice to see another oldie in the form of E1254 in charge.

Given it was one of my better photos of the trip it is probably no wonder that I didn't take up the option to delete this photo! E1302 waits with a southbound at Sidi Kacem with a train mostly formed of old liveried Corail coaching stock. This was formerly the point where electric locos gave way to diesels heading north to Tangier. Since electrification in 2011 trains have continued north to Tangier with electric traction. 08/01/2017.

Next stop was Sidi Kacem where our train was scheduled to lay over for around 30 minutes, quite significantly reduced because of our delay. I can only assume the timetable has not been re-cast since locos used to be exchanged here for the diesel run to Tanger before the wires were put up? In the other platform was a very well lit E1302 heading southbound. I popped over for a picture but before it departed was ordered not to take photos by the station staff. The driver didn't look best pleased either (all others had been super friendly) and I was advised that I 'should delete the picture'. As this was only advice and not an order I obviously didn't (it's probably my best shot of an E1300 as well)- but I did retreat back to my own train without taking any more!
I had a plan to change again at Mechraa Belksiri as there was another Tangier service 90 minutes behind mine (and I still wanted another E1300)- I had also worked out that there should be two southbound trains passing which would be good for the sun. I eventually found a spot which was nothing more than 'ok' for the first of these trains which eventually turned up about 35 late with E1256. The second I had not seen before my cut off to head back to the station for my own train- It was the right decision to give up on it as it was 45 late, and had an E1400 at the helm. It passed the station as I was boarding my own train north, with E1417. For the sake of 1 mediocre photo and another E1400 I'm not sure the 90 minute stint had been worth it!
The weather had clouded over by the time that E1417 arrived
at Tangier Ville. Much construction is taking place here. 
Arrival into Tangier Ville was shortly before nightfall and revealed another DF for sight with DF 120 in the yard opposite the stored TGV's. There is a lot of evidence of high speed line construction in this area but also much evidence that it is a way off yet. While the latest opening date of 2018 isn't impossible I'm not convinced it will happen myself. I counted 6 complete TGV Duplex sets in the new depot, some of which have now been there since 2015. It cannot be denied that the High Speed line will reduce journey times and thrust the rails to the forefront of Morocco's economy but like many I do question whether it is the best use of money, the project seeming slightly out of place with much of the character of the country.
Tangier Ville station is another building site, with the station building some 100m away from the tracks connected by a temporary shelter. Once TGV services start running this will be the grand northern terminus. It is a pleasant 30 minute walk to the old town, mostly along the sea front (another construction site) with views of the Spanish mountains across the Straight of Gibralter.

Some of the TGV's at the new depot at Tangier have already been standing idle for over 2 years. The High Speed line is currently expected to open in 2018. - Track has not yet reached Tangier. 08/07/2017.

I took a wrong turning looking for my hotel the basic, but adequate (and cold) Hotel Mamora. A local stopped me trying to give me cards to hotels and as I was shoeing him away I realised one was the very one I was looking for! He got an adequate tip but wanted me more for showing me the way.
Not having any clue where to go for dinner I consulted trip advisor and ended up with a very nice meal which while the most expensive of my trip (130 dinar for two courses) I didn't feel I'd been overcharged for. I spent another hour or so wandering the Medina in Tangier and again not getting too lost before heading back to the hotel.
I would need a taxi back to the station in the morning as I had already purchased my tickets for the 07:15 train to Tangier Port Med. The hotel was happy to book this for me for 100 dinar- I sincerely hope the guy at the desk had got confused as it should only cost 15! I did try to point this out and eventually decided to try my luck hailing my own cab in the morning.

Monday 9th January
Finally- a DF in ONCF colours- DF105 and E1351 show off both the French 'Nez Cassis' classes in use in Morocco. 
I had to skip breakfast but had brought some provisions the night before. Getting a taxi for 15 dinar from the road was no problem and I was at Tangier Ville in plenty of time for my train. As ever I showed my ticket to gain access to the platform and was asked if I wanted to know the platform number in French or English. It really didn't matter to me and turned out to be irrelevant anyway as platform 4 which I was directed to was full of the 07:25 train to Casa Voyages. On platform 2 was a more likely candidate, a loco, one Corail and generator coach which the crew confirmed was the 07:15 to Tangier Port Med. I had read that this train was very lightly loaded and while the passenger numbers must have been in double figures I did keep a compartment to myself for the whole of the 1 hour scenic ride behind E1310. Having heard of other enthusiasts luck with DF's on the branch I kept my eyes peeled (and the coach door open) every time we approached a yard. I was rewarded on the final approach to the port with DF 105 stabled in a yard and finally a photo of DF 120 (ex CC72003 and again in SNCF Fret livery) pulling a train out of the car loading terminal in the docks themselves.

DF120 hauls an empty car train out of Tangier Port Med.
If you are only interested in the trains you can stop reading at this point, however my journey was far from over.

I hadn't pre-booked a ferry, in fact I was originally planning to take the FRS fast cat from the old port in Tangier town to Tarifa in Spain, but then I did discover the one daily train to Tanger Port Med which would put me on a boat straight to Algeciras. Unfortunately there was a long gap between my 08:15 arrival at the port and the next boat. One of the company rep's told passengers that their company would run the next boat at 10/10:30 (so 10:30 then). I checked and another boat was due to leave at 10, but as was pointed out to us, it was still out at sea on its inward voyage. To be fair to the guy his boat wasn't the first to leave when it did at 11:00, but the other boat was only 10 mins in front and at 23 euros I didn't feel too hard done by. It was however abundantly clear that I wasn't going to get a photo of the train departing Algeceras at 11:45 as I had hoped. My boat the Nova Star was well appointed and had a nice outdoor area where I spent the whole crossing taking in the fading view of Africa and passing Gibraltar before we turned left into Algeceras.

Leaving Morocco from Tangier Port Med by boat.
Algeceras itself is hardly an idyllic Spanish town from what I saw but does boast a large dock complex. The station is about a 10 minute walk inland from the ferry terminal and sees several trains each day, the long distance ones being diesel loco hauled Talgo sets. I had long missed the 11:45 as now expected (also loosing an hour to the time change) but wasn't far off the 15:03 departure! I found a spot to view this and hoped that it would be the loco and stock in the station and not the unit with it's lights on. I had almost given up on the loco when 3 minutes before departure the level crossing went down and then to my almost shock the driver got in the loco, lights on, engine on and off it went! 334018 didn't sound bad either!
The 15:03 Altaria Talgo service from Algeciras to Madrid gets underway behind 334018. 09/07/2017.

Now it was time for me to rescue the heavily delayed itinerary for my day- heading across from the station to the bus depot to take the M-120 to La Lunea for Gibralta. It's more of a coach than a bus and costs 2.45 euro taking just under 45 minutes. Once at the end of the route it is a simple walk through the e-passport gates to get back into Britain- sort of! Gibraltar is a funny place, no less so from the fact that you must walk across an active runway to reach the town! I didn't initially find the main street having ended up in a residential area but once I did it was certainly time to find a pub and get a cider. It's very strange seeing common British brands among the local population, the majority of whom speak Spanish. Armed with a cookie from M&S it was back across the runway to make my flight back to Luton with Monarch.
Walking across the runway with the Rock of Gibralta looking on.
The flight was pretty full and due to being one of the last to board I had to take my turn at being one of the 'normals' faffing trying to get their small case into the overhead bin. Again I had been allocated a nice window seat without the £7 charge, though did have to suffer a couple next to me who clearly couldn't manage to do anything solo... having fed his girlfriend he even started reading her a story- I mean really!?
Our final drama was on the tarmac at Luton where one passenger accused another of stealing his wallet, a situation handled phenomenally badly by both parties. Welcome back to Luton folks!
As is often the case I then had the worst journey of the entire trip getting back to Waterloo- I hadn't realised there was a tube strike when I booked the flight!

Conclusions-
Gare du Fes is typical of modern ONCF stations build in the
typical Moroccan style. Stations are clean and well appointed.
I had wanted to visit Morocco for a very long time but somehow it had never quite made it to the top of my list. Of course I now wish it had while the DF's were still working passenger.
That aside the country is still well worth a visit for it's trains and I'm sure I'll go back. The locos which do run are very pleasing and travelling on Corails is pleasant wherever you are in the world. Travel is very cheap as well, I used point to point tickets totaling 353 dinar (about £30) including one 1st class journey. Unfortunately very little freight was seen, and I'd be interested to hear from readers of their experiences- I'd like to catch some, was I just unlucky or in the wrong areas for much of the time (it was also a weekend)? Photography was not as big an issue as it could have been, though seemed to be totally hit and miss with some locations being find and others not. Either way nowhere felt like you would get away with loitering on the station for more than a couple of hours.
Aside from the trains Morocco is a fascinating and beautiful country full of friendly people and I highly recommend a visit.
DH373 approaches Gare D'Oued Amlil with the 08:40 Beni Nsar Port to Casa Voyageurs on 7th January 2017.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016- a year in review

Spending time on the Gotthard pass this year has been a joy. I ultimately made two trips as the weather poor for almost the duration of the former. On the second trip, standing with enthusiasts of several nationalities at Wassen high level we were rewarded with the passing of the VSOE luxury train early on the morning of 10th June behind Re4/4's 11244 and 11157.
Another New Year is upon us and it is time therefore to look back on 2016. I managed to visit eight different countries this year, which is quite impressive, however new countries are getting harder to come by. While none of these countries were totally new to me several had not been explored in much depth or for some time. Finally I got myself out to the Gotthard Pass in Switzerland, a location which has long been on the list. It was just in time with the Gotthard Base Tunnel opening in the summer and as of December having consumed the vast majority of trains which used to travel over the beautiful trans-alpine line.
37175 is one of several ex-preserved class 37's currently seeing
use with Colas Rail. It is seen leading a test train into
Guildford on 27th October with 37116 on the rear.
Another highlight has to have been my two week long trip across America. I always love taking long distance journeys by train and the journey coast to coast with Amtrak was brilliant and I hope you've enjoyed reading about it. There are a few more location reports to come from this trip including from the famous Tehechapi pass.
Closer to home the year started off with with poor weather which brought disruption to several routes in the UK- one of these resulted in the West Coast Mainline being closed into Scotland necessitating diversions to trains. Some of the most interesting of these were for Caledonian Sleeper services which took alternative routes, in some cases giving the opportunity to travel behind pairs of class 47's. There has been other good news for followers of main line heritage traction in the UK with both Colas rail and DRS returning some long absent class 37's to the network for both infrastructure monitoring and passenger operations.
Blue BB67400's will continue to see use with SNCF into 2017
but how much longer these veterans will last is difficult to
predict. BB67556 stands at Issoire on May 2nd 2016.
Unfortunately if there is one thing that the railways of the UK will be remembered for in 2016 it is the ongoing industrial dispute between Southern and the rail unions. For the sake of passengers I hope this can be resolved soon and will not be a continuing theme into 2017, though getting the right decision is of course of paramount importance.
Looking ahead to 2017 it is great to see that the presence of loco-hauled trains in the UK is looking as strong as it has done in recent years with class 37's looking secure in the medium term both in Cumbria and Anglia and the new build class 68's continuing to pick up work.
Across Europe we must hope OBB can turn around the fortunes of the beleaguered City Night Line services which were withdrawn by DB in December. The operator clearly sees a future for these trains and recognises the valuable contribution they make to public transport. Undoubtedly as the year progresses we will continue to see more new locomotives and multiple units arriving across the continent. Hopefully enough interest will remain to sustain a few more enjoyable trips to France, though many of the trains which I enjoyed here only a couple of years ago are now very much on their way out.
Enjoying a glass of bubbly in a Budd dome car on the
Grand Canyon Railway.
I'm not sure yet where 2017 will take me, but I'm sure there will be some interesting trips on the horizon which I look forward to sharing with you. I wish my readers a Happy New Year and hope you will continue to find these pages of interest. My stats tell me that readership is up this year but I'd love to know that it isn't just robots reading the pages so do please feel free to leave me some comments or follow this blog to be the first to know about any updates.

All the best, James

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

More 707 deliveries




On the night of 22nd December a further two class 707's [707003 and 707004] were delivered to South West Trains- just in time for Christmas! This time rather than parking the units up outside Clapham Yard they were shunted and moved straight into the depot- their position allowing a much better look at the new trains than that of 707001 which arrived earlier in the month.
This time UK Rail Leasing's 56104 and 56098 were used for the transfer with 20142 continuing to be based at Clapham Yard for shunting. Testing of the units should begin in early 2017.



Saturday, 24 December 2016

Red pens at the ready!

21st December 2016 was by no means blessed by the weather,
however with a day off work and the prospect of catching up
with 37424 made a trip to Anglia worthwhile. 37424 is seen
arriving at Cantley with the 14:55 Norwich - Lowestoft. 37405
is on the rear of the Anglian 'Short Set'. 
After a remarkable 16 years off the national network 37424 has made a remarkable return to traffic during 2016. On December 16th it hauled its first regular passenger train, since it's final passenger working for EWS, the Fort William portion of the Caledonian sleeper (diverted to Oban) on 7th March 2000.
For those searching for 37/4's this locomotive definitely has a draw, not made any less strong by the out-shopping of the locomotive in BR Large Logo blue as 37558 in commemoration of the final year of operation of Avro Vulcan XH558. The locomotive has had extensive work carried out on it at Loram (formerly RVEL) at Derby including a complete re-skinning and major structural repair work to bring it from close to scrap condition back to a revenue-earning passenger locomotive. With the amount spent on the overhaul it is hoped that 37424 will continue to see use on passenger trains with DRS for some years.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

707001 arrives!

Overnight on the 8th December 2016 the first of South West Trains new class 707 'Desiro City' trains transited through the Channel Tunnel to arrive on UK soils. The move of the single 5 car unit was carried out by Rail Operations Group's 37800 and 37884. Once on SWT territory the unit was taken to Clapham yard to await moving into the carriage sheds on the morning of Saturday 10th December, 20142 was provided for shunting.
The 30x 5 car class 707's are similar to the class 700's which are currently being delivered to Thameslink. While destined for pure DC operation the first class 707's will be fitted with pantographs for AC testing as part of the type approval process. They are due to enter passenger traffic on suburban routes with SWT in spring 2017.
Not one of the greatest photographs to ever appear on this site, but one that does have significance. The first class 707 for South West Trains is shortly to be shunted from 29 road in Clapham Yard to the carriage shed for initial training and acceptance works. 29 further units will follow 707001 through the tunnel to South Western metals. 

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Survivors in Yorkshire


Class 31's are due to dissappear from NR test trains very soon.
31233 is seen powering from the rear of a train at Sheffield.
With some stunning weather forecast I spent a day in Yorkshire on 28th November on the way back from a trip to Scotland. As well as regular traction in the area I was fortunate to catch up with two real survivors of the privatised railway- 31233, now the last serviceable loco of the class with Network Rail on test train duties and class 20's 20312 and 20305 on RHTT duties. The class 20 will celebrate it's 60th birthday in 2017 and it really is testament to their design and reliability that both these modernisation plan diesel classes can still be seen working on the national network at the end of 2016.

20312 leads an RHTT set and 20305 through Hatfield & Stainforth with the South Yorkshire rail head treatment train from Grimsby to Bridlington via Sheffield and Hull. Class 20's celebrate their 60th Birthday in 2017.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Is competition good for the South West Mainline?

Last month Alliance Rail Holdings announced their intention to begin a new 'Open Access' service between London Waterloo and Southampton to compete with the franchised operator on the South West Main Line. The SWML is one of the busiest and most congested routes on the UK and a franchise which currently pays a significant premium to the UK Government.
Alliance says that they are working with the industry to identify paths for seven off-peak journeys per day (with two peak services to follow in 2018 following work to increase capacity on the line) using class 442 'Wessex Elecric' 100mph EMU's.
37884 hauls 2411 from Three Bridges to Eastleigh on 11th November 2016 seen in the Addlestone area. The unit has come off lease with Southern/Gatwick Express, but could these fine trains return to the SWML with an 'open access' operator?
Competition has undoubtedly brought more consumer choice on the East Coast Main Line where both First Hull Trains and Grand Central operate open access services, however it has also meant that the expansion of franchised services has been subdued and detracted revenue which would otherwise be received by the government in premium payments.
Introducing more seating capacity on the SWML is certainly a good thing but whether this should be in the form of a competing operator I am not sure. Certainly I would be more than happy to see the 442's back on the Wessex patch where they belong, but I would first be interested to see what service enhancements are proposed in the two bids for the next franchise by Stagecoach and First/MTR. It is entirely possible that these bids may also have identified extra paths and stock to utilise them and this may give a better return for the taxpayer as well as giving more operational flexibility in not having another operator to deal with on the congested line into Waterloo.
There is definitely a leisure market on this route and South West Trains have increasingly tapped into it with their promotional off-peak fares. Could Alliance Rail offer a better product? We will have to wait for the ORR to give their ruling on the proposal. Alliance hope to be running their off peak services from the December 2017 timetable change- their press release can be read here.

Friday, 25 November 2016

EMD F40PH- Powering America

Metra is the largest operator of the F40PH in the USA with the type working on most of its commuter routes out of Chicago. #115 is seen heading out of town at the CP Morgan crossing shortly after leaving from Chicago Union Station.

Built from 1975 until 1992 the General Motors Electro-Motive Division F40PH was once the mainstay of long distance routes across the USA with Amtrak. While the type was withdrawn from Amtrak service in the 1990's the locomotives are still in use crossing Canada with Via Rail and can be found on many commuter railroads across the USA.

For me personally the F40PH is what an American locomotive *should* look like. The locos have a clean, powerful and stylish look and I have always liked them. It is perhaps therefore not coincidental that on my recent trip to the States many of the cities visited had commuter rail operations with F40PH power. Below are a few of the locations where I was able to catch up with these American railroad icons:

New Jersey Transit/Metro-North-
4914, one of the Metro-North F40PH fleet approaches Secausucs Junction in New Jersey with a train believed to be heading towards Port Jervis.



























NJT's own F40PH's are now confined to the history books having been replaced by more modern diesel and bi-modal locomotives from Alstom and Bombadier. However the locomotives have not disappeared from NJT metals entirely as a limited number are owned by Metro-North Railroad for their West of Hudson operations (sub-contracted to NJT). The small fleet of locomotives have recently been re-painted and look very smart. Most typically they can be found working trains on the Port Jervis line from Hoboken Terminal.


Metra-
A 'squashed' F40PHM at La Salle St waiting to work an off-peak service to Joilette.
The majority of the Metra locomotive fleet is made up of F40PH-2 and the slightly less common looking F40PHM-2 locomotives which differ in appearance with a squashed front missing the characteristic 'nose'. The locomotives can be found on all of Metra's diesel routes originating from Chicago Union, La Salle St and the Ogilvie Transit Centre. Metra operates a very intensive peak service and a large number of locomotives can be seen in a short space of time. Discounted day tickets are available at weekends when a less intensive service operates. All locomotives are currently in Metra's blue livery however over the next 4 years 42 of the fleet are to be overhauled and painted into the newer livery sported by the MP36PH and ex-GO Transit F59PH locos.


Grand Canyon Railway-
237 and 295 rest between duties at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Both locomotives are ex-Amtrak and are working hard in their 'retirement'
A rather different operation to the commuter railroads of North America the Grand Canyon Railway operates up to two trains each way per day between Williams, AZ and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The majority of the railroads fleet is made up of ex-Amtrak F40PH's which provide reliable and efficient power for its tourist trains.


Amtrak- 
NPCU 90229 is seen at the rear of a Pacific Surfliner as it skirts the beach at San Clemente, CA.
Despite dispensing with the F40PH as motive power in the 1990's in favour or the GE Genesis series locos the class has retained a purpose with Amtrak. 22 locomotives were converted to Non-Powered Control Units (NPCU's) to enable push-pull working of Amtrak trains. These vehicles had their engines removed and large roller doors fitted to allow their former engine space to be used for luggage. NPCU's can be seen on various Amtrak routes including the Hiawatha (Chicago to Milwaukee) and some Pacific Surfliner services in California. 


Coaster- 
One of the most scenic sections of the Coaster route is at Del Mar where trains run high above the beach and Pacific ocean below. 2103 is seen heading northbound with a late afternoon service to Oceanside.
One of the most scenic routes one can travel behind the F40PH's is undoubtedly the 'Coaster' which runs much of its route along the Pacific shore from Oceanside to San Diego in California. F40PH's make up the mainstay of the fleet running with Bombadier Bi-Levels.


Altamont Commuter Express-
Unusually 3102 and 3103 double head the final arrival of the morning into San Jose, seen here crossing the salt marshes at Alviso.





















Typical of the North American commuter routes which offer only a limited service the ACE runs just 4 trains each weekday in each direction between Stockton and San Jose. The entire fleet is composed of F40PH locomotives which operate with Bombadier Bi-Level coaches.


CalTrain-
911 approaches South San Francisco with an afternoon service to San Jose Diridon.



























Another large operator of F40PH locomotives is CalTrain which runs the busy route from San Jose to San Francisco. Regular trains run throughout the day seven days a week and there are exciting plans to develop the line with funding secured for full electrification and new trains. F40PH locomotives work most trains along with MP36PH locomotives which additionally working limited stop 'Baby Bullet' services. In July 2016 contracts were signed for the modernisation of the line with Balfour Beatty providing electrification works and Stadler to provide new EMU's which will offer a step change in the service and likely the end of the F40PH's on this route.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Across America with Amtrak - Part 4 - One more night on the Southwest Chief

Our final night on the train begins in the lobby of the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel (for it is the railway which provides the bus). We already know that the Southwest Chief is running late as James tracked its progress on WiFi over dinner. Indeed I have two email alerts on my phone detailing the increasing delay to Amtrak's train #3. We suspect this means that the bus from Willimas will run late also but neither of us are confident enough to order another cherry cola in the route 66 diner where we have eaten.

'Route 66' roughly parallels the Southwest Cheif and is very
much in evidence in the town of Williams. 
We are correct- staff on the desk let us know that we have 'time for at least one drink' in the 'pub' attached to the hotel. To tell the truth we are both stuffed from dinner so instead wait it out on the comfy chairs in the lobby. About an hour later than planned Clay the driver turns up with the peeling minibus and the four passengers (ourselves included) set off into the darkness to Williams Junction. Not even the singular station light is illuminated to greed us and with just the minibus providing light the night sky is perfect for stargazing- it is cold though! Within moments lights appear down the track and I comment to Clay on the precision of his timing, 'Oh no- this is just a freight train' he replies. 'The train has been further delayed.' 'Is it often on time?' I question. 'No' is the simple answer. 100% of our Amtrak trains have been late so far and with our final one 90 minutes down before we have boarded this figure is unlikely to improve. The large black lady sitting opposite me warns her husband not to stand out in the cold 'You will catch flu'- I feel this is slight over-reaction but they are obviously not used to the chilly temperatures being from Southern California. Every time I see lights approaching I walk out hopefully to the platform and several times I am greeted by the roar of a huge freight train thundering past- Up to five locomotives motor up the grade pulling their payload of over 100 wagons stacked with containers two high. After the train passes silence returns to this dark clearing in the forest somewhere in Arizona.

Eventually a different pattern of lights appears on the horizon, the station light is switched on and the Southwest Chief pulls into view. I half expect to see Philip waiting for us at the door but it is of course a new attendant. He shows us to our roomette and informs us that breakfast is served from 0500. That is terribly early given that it is now almost midnight but he doesn't know when the last sitting will be because of the delay. We set the alarm for 06:30 and I give up on the idea of a shower tonight. I enquire about the delay and the attendant informs me that it was due to police attending the train to remove a passenger at Albuquerque and then getting stuck behind a freight which had 'killed it'.
Breakfast is enjoyed as we traverse the Cajun Pass. BNSF's GE ES44C4 #7063 is seen climbing one of the tracks through the mountains with a long intermodal train. This section would have been in darkness were it not for our 90 minute delay.


I could have slept worse but am already semi-awake when my alarm sounds. Looking out of the window I can already tell it is warm. I elect to pop down to the diner to find out what the deal is with breakfast and return with the good news that we can snooze for another hour. When we do go go down to breakfast the train is traversing the Cajun Pass, a busy stretch of railway through the mountains which surround LA. The landscape here is very dry and has been tarnished by the devastating Blue Cut Forest Fire which had ravaged the area just months earlier. Several passengers we had spoken to talked of drought in California and the fact that there had not been significant rainfall for 5 years. I elect to have the omelette which is one of just a couple of options still available. There is much discussion about yesterday's delay. It turns out that it was our rather camp waiter who called the police to the train as there was a drunk making threatening remarks towards staff and passengers. The story goes that when he was refused travel he clung on to the train and they had to call the police- who evidently were in no hurry. This was the third person the dining attendant had had to remove from the train this week! Other passengers who had seen the unruly man expressed their thanks that he was not permitted on board, 'anything could have happened'.

Journeys end for the Southwest Chief- LA Union Station a mere
2265 miles from Chicago.
With the diner closing and the observation lounge also shut 'to prepare for our arrival in LA' -(what do you have to do to prepare some seats for arrival that takes over an hour?) we have no option but to return to our room. With a little while still to go and the scenery of the mountains now behind us I elect to have that shower that I abandoned the night before- for the novelty as much as anything. I had never taken a shower on a train before! It was pleasant actually- warm and quite frankly better than the fairly poor facilities at the cheap hotels we had stayed in so far. Feeling refreshed I headed back to the roomette for the view of the low relief cityscape as we made our final approach to LA Union station. Los Angeles had been described to us as a group of suburbs looking for a city, and I can't disagree as we passed towns of San Bernadino and Fullerton. Somehow we had made up 45 minutes of time in the last 45 minutes of the schedule, quite how I do not know, but being just 45 minutes late seemed pretty good going.

So that was it. Coast to coast with Amtrak completing and as I often find on these long journeys I had surprised myself with how little of my magazines I had read and how my i-pod had remained largely untouched.