Monday, 30 December 2013

Another wet end to another year

While writing this I cannot help but reminisce my final rail activity of 2012- a very wet, dreary day on a railtour down to various freight branches in the south of England.
This years final rail activity was also not set to be a dry day. I had been aware for some days that the weather forecast for Monday 23rd December was, at best, 'appalling' and had even wondered the night before if UK Railtours 'Salisbury at Christmas' trip would run at all.
34046 'Braunton' makes at fine sight at London Waterloo.
The magical Salisbury Cathedral at Christmas.
Run it did, and we were met at Waterloo by a gleaming Bullied West Country Pacific 34046 'Braunton'- it hadn't even started raining yet! The rain however did arrive and by the time we reached Salisbury conditions were worsening considerably. The train schedule was amended to leave one hour early as with trees beginning to fall onto rail routes and a blanket 50mph restriction our journey could become anything but predictable.
In Salisbury we sought refuge in the cities magnificent 13th century Cathedral which boasts the tallest spire in the UK.
The storm is lashing down at the train prepares to depart Salisbury.
Returning to the train rather soaked and having just dodged a shop sign which had lost out to a sudden gust of wind there was bad news. A tree on the line at 'Salisbury' was delaying trains, though as departure time approached our charter appeared with 'Braunton' proudly defying the elements at its head. Progress was steady until our approach to Southampton where further trees on the line, and a prolonged visit to the goods loop at St Deneys hampered our progress. Booked route however was maintained up the SWML towards Basingstoke and Woking though there was some confusion as to whether we would end up back at Waterloo, or at Victoria as was booked.
Steady progress continued following our stop at Eastleigh where we disembarked the train to watch the locomotive take on water, and to find our clothes drenched yet again. At Woking however the next obstacle became apparent- a tree on the line at Chertsey was blocking our booked route. Our pause was brief however as we soon commenced a magical mystery tour of south London continuing off booked route up the SWML to Wimbledon and then by way of Tooting, Tulse Hill, Herne Hill and Wandsworth Road to finish our journey at Victoria.
Despite everything the weather had thrown at us we had made it to our destination, and only minutes away from our booked time! Time to get some dinner and dry out! 
Credit should go to UK Railtours, DB Schenker and all others involved for running another excellent trip and delivering exactly what was promised despite some challenging conditions.
We made it! And here's to another fun year of railways in 2014!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The end of Elipsos?

At 10pm on a Friday night passengers board the
Trenhotel at Paris Austerlitz ready for the
comfortable overnight journey to Barcelona.
The popular bar on board the Trenhotel

There is great news for passengers traveling between France and Spain from the 15th December 2013 timetable change- Direct high-speed services will, after many delays, link the two countries. The new TGV and AVE services will provide the fastest connection ever between cities in France and Spain.
The less good news is the almost certain curtailment of the Elipsos Trenhotel.

Quality dining is available aboard the Trenhotel
Set up in 2001 Elipsos is a joint venture between SNCF and RENFE to run overnight sleeper services
between their networks, and also formerly into Switzerland and Italy. The Trenhotel may not provide the fastest journey between Paris and Barcelona/Madrid but it does provide a very time efficient way of travelling. No longer will you be able to board the train in Paris as late as 10pm with an arrival in Barcelona the following morning before 9:45am having enjoyed a good nights sleep with an evening meal and breakfast served to you at a table. The earliest arrival possible in Barcelona by way of the new TGV service is is not until almost 2pm- and that requires boarding a train in Paris at around 7am!

What is disappointing about the withdrawal of the Elipsos service is that these trains are popular and busy. The fact that they cater for a totally different market to the the TGV has seemingly been totally overlooked by the SNCF and RENFE. The TGV will hopefully gain passengers from airlines, but the service Trenhotel service should remain as an alternative for time conscious passengers- particularly those making a longer journey by rail. It is a shame that these two services cannot both be retained to compliment each other.
From December 2013 the overnight Trenhotel from Paris will no longer arrive into Barcelona and Madrid.
The train is pictured here a few months before the end of its service at Barcelona Estacio de Francia.
Update Feb 2014: Since this post the Elipsos Trenhotel has been withdrawn leaving no direct overnight connections between France and Spain. It is still possible to travel largely overnight on these routes by taking 'Intercities du Nuit' trains within France and connecting to local services at the Spanish border. The excellent Seat 61 website contains details of how to make this journey.