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That sound? That’s British democracy gurgling down the plughole.

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Ever felt that you’re dreaming and that you’re in the script of a totally implausible movie? One that’s so unreal you think “Surely, no-one could think this would fly in real life?” Well, someone did write it, and it’s for real. It’s called Brexit, and we’ve all been trapped in it since June 2016. Only now it’s getting even more implausible, because today, the House of Commons voted to make itself redundant. Instead it voted to hand power to a Government that hasn’t got a clue what to do apart from save its own skin at the expense of the country’s economic and social wellbeing, led by a Prime Minister who will shamelessly tell a blatant lie to the national broadcaster (May telling the BBC that ‘extra’ money for the NHS will come from the non-existent Brexit ‘bonus’) who doesn’t even challenge her on the lie.

Who would have thought that UK democracy was so fragile, and so easily bought – and that MPs of both major parties would collude in it? I can only imagine what our European neighbours think as they watch our disaster unfold – apart from a determination to ensure that it doesn’t happen to them and they’re not infected with the political version of mad cow disease that we’ve succumbed to so easily. The next few months will show just how bovine our politicians have become…

 

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Best laid plans…

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So much for my quiet week at home! I’m currently sat on Grand Central’s 10:35 Halifax-Kings cross service en-route to the capital thanks to a very short-notice press call (all will be revealed tomorrow). I’ll get back home Wednesday but it’s certainly altered my workload.

It doesn’t look like I’ll be at home much in July either. Yesterday was the final day for entries to the 2018 ACoRP awards. I’m a judge of the ‘It’s your station’ category (along with Paul Cook of the Royal Horticultural Society) and l’ve just seen how many entries there are this year. 29! These are dotted around the country, from Scotland to Devon and East Anglia to Merseyside. ‘All’ I have to do now is work out how we get to visit them all!

At least I’ve got a few hours on the train to get some picture editing done. Watch out for some appearing later…

Quieter times

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After the madness of the last 7-10 days this week looks positively relaxed by comparison! Most of my time will be spent working from home, writing several articles and editing the enormous collection of pictures I’ve taken recently. My commute to work is a lot easier too – all I have to do is make my way from the front bedroom to the back office, with occasional forays to the kitchen!

First up in the editing list are pictures I took in the Manchester and Bolton areas when I went to have a look at progress on electrification of the line from Manchester to Preston. Here’s a sample.

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Masts have appeared around Bolton West Junction and the line to Blackburn. The route isn’t being electrified but the station area is in order to allow operational flexibility during engineering work or emergencies when trains may need to be turned round.

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The bay platforms (1 and 2) at Manchester Victoria also have masts in place now.

Once I’ve all the NW pictures done later the morning I’ll be sorting out the ‘3 peaks by Rail’ pictures, so expect a few links to galleries later. After that, I’ve pictures to add from the High Speed Rail Industry Leaders conference in Leeds, plus a large amount of pictures from the press trip to see Siemens in Germany. Expect lots of pictures of brand new trains (like this one)!

 

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A pair of brand new Siemens Desiro HC 4-car EMUs, No’s 462004 and 462007 on the test track at Wildenrath, Germany on the 14th June. 

 

3 Peaks by rail 2018

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It was a long old haul, but I made it! I’m now aboard the special train taking all the Railway Children staff and volunteers on their 3 peaks adventure. I caught up with them at Bangor (North Wales) where the train collected all the hikers after climbing Snowdon. We’re now heading for Ravenglass on the Cumbrian coast where we should arrive at 0900. Right now I’m going to grab some sleep but I’ll blog and post pictures throughout the day.

8.01am.

The train’s burst into life now. People grabbed what little sleep they could, with bodies in sleeping bags draped all through the coaches. Whilst the walkers slept, the crew toiled, preparing a cooked breakfast and hundreds of packed lunches.

There’s something special about being served breakfast at your seat on a train (especially when you’ve been up and down a mountain!). Here’s a sample…

In less than an hour we’ll reach Ravenglass so the teams are busy packing the kit they’ll need for tackling Scafell. Wandering through the train i’ve bumped into several friends from our ‘Ride India’ adventure in March – only re-branded for our latest jaunt!

Fortunately, the storm that hit the UK in the past 24 hours has passed. The sun’s not exactly cracking the flags, but conditions are looking good…

9.00.

Walkers have detrained at Ravenglass and transferred to the narrow gauge ‘L’al Ratty’

Now we’re on our way to Dalegarth..

12:13

I rushed ahead to climb up to my perch on Scafell where I can get the best shots of the teams hiking up the mountain. I only just made it before the first team arrived and steamed past me. My excuse it that I’m carrying camera bag that weighs 14kg – and they’re not! Here’s where I am now.

This is what I was waiting for…

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20:47.

We’re on the move again and heading for Fort William. All teams made it up atop Scafell although there was some attrition. Each team was given the name of a band as their call-sign. I’ve never known so many groups split up since the 1970’s!

There’s been a few minor injuries, although I think the bigger issue has been people underestimating the level of fitness required to do this event. A few weeks walking miles on the flat really isn’t going to prepare you for fell-walking – never mind the UK’s three highest peaks!

After descending Scafell we had a two-hour layover in Ravenglass to allow time for our train to be serviced and our loco (68016) to be replaced by a pair of Class 57s top and tailing us (312 leading and 305 trailing).

On departure our weary travellers were served an excellent repast which had been prepared by the volunteer train crew.

To be honest, most people waned after that. Some sought out the services of the on-board Doctor or ministrations of the physiotherapists. Others just flaked out. It’s 21.34 now and most of us are about to follow as we’ve an 04:30 start in the morning.

Saturday 05:20

All the teams are on Ben Nevis now.

We were given an alarm call at 03:30 when the crew brought round croissants, orange juice and hot drinks as an aperitif for the main course…

– bacon rolls! (A veggie option was available).

Folk performed what ablutions they could (all I can say is whoever invented ‘wet ones’ deserves a medal) before getting their gear together and checking they had the right kit to see them safe on the mountain if the weather changed suddenly.

At 04:30 the train arrived at Fort William and after grabbing snacks off the trollies we streamed on to several coaches which ferried us to the start.

After registering their start time with control, a final radio check and they were off!

Now all the rest of us have to do is set up the finish line and wait for them to return.

The only problem is that base camp is ‘midge central’ this year! The wee bitey things are out in force this year, so many of the staff are wearing mosquito nets that make the place look like a Taliban training camp!

Sunday 17th.

Yesterday I ran out of both time and phone reception to finish updating this blog, so I’m ending it not with words, but pictures.

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It’s 05:10 and the last teams are setting off up Ben Nevis.

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At 09.00 the first team crossed the finishing line. They’re one of the 6 teams from headline sponsor Stadler, who had entered the challenge for the first time (and did extremely well!)

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Scotrail MD Alex Hynes chatting with event staff at the Ben Nevis base. Alex joined us on the train to congratulate the teams and help hand out medals .

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Some of the volunteer traincrew who keep the challenge running (year after year). Whilst the teams rest these are the people who’re busy preparing and serving food and drink or servicing the train.

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Eoin Brunton serves weary walkers with a meal of chicken in mascarpone sauce on the train home. The scenery on this stretch of the line from Fort William is stunning, but window gazing wasn’t on most people’s minds!

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Alex Hynes presented the teams with their medals on the train home.

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Posing with the Railway Children team and some of the volunteers who come back and help year after year. It’s always a pleasure to join this band, so roll on 2019! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Rolling blog). Another mad day…

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Morning folks, it’s 06.51 here in Dusseldorf and I’m getting ready for another busy day with Siemens. I’ll try and blog through the day as the pace should be a little slower than yesterdays whirlwind. First, here’s a link to my Zenfolio website where I’ve managed to add some of the first pictures. Today we’re off to the Wildenrath test track to ‘play’ with some trains.

The first tough decision has come early, what to have dor breakfast here in the Radisson Blue. Talk about being spoiled for choice…

Oooh! OK, the fish it is…

S’cuse me whilst I tuck in…

14:00 (German time).

We’re now on a coach headingfor the airport after an interesting morning whizzing around the Wildenrath test track aboard one of Siemens new r-car Desiro HC (high capacity) EMUs which will run Rhine-Ruhr Express services from December 2018. The two centre cars of each set are double-deck vehicles. Here’s what they look like from the inside.

16:05

Now the fun starts! I’m about to board my flight from Dussledorf to Heathrow, then hot-foot it to Euston to meet Dawn to swap my brogues for walking boots and waterproofs before heading up the WCML to catch up with the team heading iff to do “3peaksbyrail”. It’s unlikely i’ll make it to Crewe in time to meet them at the start, so I’ll have to chase them as far as Bangor (or even Holyhead, where the train will be serviced whilst the walkers ascend Snowdon). Wish me luck…

16:32. Bugger, not a good start. Our plane’s been delayed by air traffic control. We won’t be pushing back for another 20 mins and it’ll take at least another 15 after that before we’re in the air…

16:50 (UK time)

Landed! In the end we were allowed to leave a bit earlier. The flight’s taken an hour so i’ve literally landed at the same time as taking off thanks to the time difference…

17:22.

I sped through passport control here at terminal 5. There’s plenty of biometric gates & few passengers! Now I’m kicking my heels by the baggage carousel, waiting for my suitcase. There’s no chance of making the Crewe connection now so the pressure’s off. Now all I’ve got to do is get to Bangor before the train collects the weary climbers after they’ve come down from Snowdon.

At least I get to have a more than a few fleeting moments with my other half now!

17:37

Still kicking my heels in baggage reclaim. An “incident” has delayed them apparently..

18:29

My bag finally arrived at 17:52. I’ve opted for Heathrow Express as I want to make up time.

Catching the Express wasn’t cheap but it was a good move as I got to meet Dawn at Euston with an hour to spare before her train back to Yorkshire. I have to admit, I couldn’t have done this without her love and support. We swapped all my conference gear for outdoor clothing, a sleeping bag and (vitally) midge spray! The hour passed in a flash. I left Dawn at Kings Cross, then made my way to Euston.

21.10.

I’m now speeding towards North Wales aboard a Virgin Pendolino, working the 21:10 Euston-Preston. I’ll be leaping off at Crewe but right now I have a table seat in the unreserved coach U which is giving me chance to charge up some of my batteries ready for the trip. The 3 Peaks stock is old mark 2 stock so charging stuff up is a challenge to say the least!

00:55

Phew! This is the final leg now. I’m on Arriva Trains Wales 00:15 from Crewe to Holyhead as far as Bangor. It’s a 2-car 158 fitted with power sockets and wifi. Unfortunately (tonight) it’s also been fitted with a group of loud and obnoxious young drunks. Yep, they’re the one’s who noticed I was taking a picture!

Thankfully, they got off at Chester so I’m enjoying the fact there’s only four of us left in the coach, allowing me to hog power sockets & suck up enough juice that I’m amazed this 158s keeping time!

Whilst I was waiting at Crewe the ‘Caledonian Sleeper’ called on its way to Fort William. As that’s where I’m headed it was rather tempting, but it would have been a cheat on a grand scale!

Dusseldorf bound…

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Here we go again for my second trip of the year to Dusseldorf and visit to Siemens. I suspect I’m going to be Arabica powered over the next few days, it’s only 06.36 and I’m already on my second cup here at terminal 5!

The next couple of days are going to be very busy but I hope to have time to post an update – a process made much easier now that the expensive mobile phone roaming charges have been removed thanks to EU legislation. Talking of the EU, i’m going to resist the temptation to comment on the Brexitshambles right now because if I get started on that I’ll probably miss my flight.

After being bussed around what seemed the entire perimeter of Heathrow i’m now occupying seat 27A on BA936.

The weather’s looking good too, let’s hope it’s the same in Germany. Here’s the view from my plane.

See you on the other side…

12.24 (UK time).

Phew! It’s already been a busy day. We wasted on time on arrival as Siemens whisked us straight to their press preview at Krefeld. The morning was spent getting a briefing on Siemens products, including their new high-speed train, the Velaro Novo.

Capable of 250 to 360 km/h, the Novo is an update to the Velaro platform, which uses 30 percent less energy than previous Velaro models, it’s reckoned this translates to average savings of 1,375 tons of CO2 a year. Thanks to its lightweight construction, the train’s weight has been reduced by 15 percent. At the same time, available space for passengers has been increased by ten percent.

I’ll have more details later,

(Rolling blog). Ready, steady, go!

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The marathon’s started. Right now i’m wedged in the vestibule of a 2-car Class 158 making its way to Leeds from Halifax. I’m an infrequent user of these services so it wasn’t until the Conductor apologised for the short-formed set that I realised this wasn’t the norm. There’s 14 people in this vestibule and we’ve had to leave people behind at Bramley because we’re so full. Good job I wasn’t planning to try and do any work on the train!

Despite everything, it wasn’t a bad journey and I arrived in plenty of time to make my way to the High Speed Rail Industry Leaders conference which was being held at Leeds Music College.

20.38.

Time for an update on the day. I’ve been to a lot of conferences but this was one of the better ones. Over 250 people attended and the line up of speakers was excellent. One of the highlights of the morning was Lord Andrew Adonis who was on scintillating form! He gave an absolute barnstormer of a talk covering everything from Hs2 to Brexit (which he happily slipped a knife between its ribs)! He was funny and informative in equal measure. As he’s been a Transport Minister and Chair of the Infrastructure Commission he knows his subject and isn’t afraid to offer opinions – if you agree with them or not!

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Lord Adonis with Daisy McAndrews, ITV’s former Economics Editor, who chaired the conference.

The day passed very quickly despite the crowded programme and it really deserves a blog in its own right (although I’m not sure that I’m going to find time to write one right now). What I will say is that – unlike many conferences, it didn’t tail off after lunch as the first person up was Hs2 Ltd’s Chief Executive Mark Thurston, who came across very well when it came to the Q and A session.

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The final section of the day was given over to a panel debate and Q & A session with Tim Wood (Northern Powerhouse Rail Director, TfN). Susan Hinchcliffe (West Yorkshire Combined Authority Chair and Leader of Bradford Council), Paul Griffiths ( Phase 2b Director, Hs2 Ltd), Angela Barnicle (Head of Asset Management, Leeds City Council) and John Downer (Director of HSRIL). This was a genuinely informative and inspiring session where the groups really laid out what Hs2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail mean to the North and the synergy between the two projects that could see TfN building parts of the shared route before Hs2 do. Tim also laid bare TfN’s ambition to build entirely new rail lines between Leeds-York and Manchester-Liverpool.

After leaving the conference I made my way back to Leeds station with some colleagues before getting a few photos. Whilst having a mooch around, one thing struck me. Despite the impact Northern’s timetable problems are having, there’s not a single poster anywhere offering an apology or explanation. Nothing. You wouldn’t even know there’s a temporary timetable in operation. It’s bizarre. In the days of MD Heidi Mottram and (later) Alex Hynes, you can guarantee there would have been profuse apologies (not to mention regular updates) – even a presence on the front line. This is no way to run a public service…

Now I’m speeding to London on a late running VTEC service. Apparently, a Northbound working ‘sat down’ near Peterborough leading to delays, but as I’ve plenty of time I’m not too bothered and VTEC have done what Northern haven’t – kept me informed and apologised!

22.56

I’m now back in London and emailing pictures to RAIL mag in readiness for press day tomorrow before heading off to Germany and a couple of days with the press pack at the Siemens Innotrans preview. Expect pictures and details when I can post them…

Another mad week begins!

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The old expression “feast or famine” springs to mind this week as I find myself with one of those weeks where there’s just too much happening at the same time, leaving me with an interesting exercise in logistics and juggling.

Right now I’m off to Manchester to check on rail improvement work and the effects of the timetable ‘difficulties’. I’ll report back on what I find. At least my train from Sowerby Bridge to Manchester’s only a minute late. It’s 158905, which is one of the DMUs West Yorkshire PTE funded ‘back in the day’. It’s still providing sterling service, even if it’s carrying a lighter load than usual today.

Funnily enough, I’ve just passed one of its sister units at Hebden Bridge which is still carrying Scotrail livery (158871). It’s the delayed cascade of units like 871 that’s contributed to Northern’s present difficulties

Tomorrow, the fun starts in earnest. I’m attending the High Speed Rail Industry Leaders conference in Leeds then heading straight down to London in readiness for an early morning flight to Germany. I’m part of a Siemens press trip which will preview some of their new products ahead of the massive Innotrans trade fair in Berlin in September. It’s going to be a busy couple of days in Germany but as soon as I land I have to dash again – this time to Crewe as I’ve volunteered to take the pictures on the Railway Children charities annual ‘3 peaks by rail’ fundraiser. This is only being made possible by my long-suffereing wife, Dawn – who will be meeting me (fleetingly) in London for a rapid kit change! Hopefully (Heathrow customs permitting) I’ll make it to Crewe in time to catch the train. If not, I’ll be catching up with them in Bangor at some God-awful hour!

The ‘3 Peaks by rail’ event lasts from Thursday evening until Saturday evening, when I should land back in Preston in time to get home. Last year that didn’t happen. One of the pair of Class 37s had to be changed at Carlisle so we were late and I had to stay over in Manchester. I’m hoping for better luck this time. Dawn’s on standby with the car, just in case…

As you can see, there’s going to be plenty to shoot and write about, so watch this space…

15.37.

Right now I’m returning from a look at electrification of and expansion to Bolton station. The delays to this project are another reason for Northern’s problems…

I knew I should have worn shorts…

After a busy day taking pictures of the Sussex Power Supply Upgrade for a client client I’m heading back to Yorkshire. It’s been a fascinating day for a number of reasons. I’ve learned more about the investment that’s being made in our railways and had the chance to explore towns I’ve never visited before.

The Sussex PSU is a multi-million pound project to strengthen power to the 3rd rail on sections of the Sussex coast line in order to allow more (and longer) trains to run. Feeder stations are located in several sites and I visited Goring-on-Sea, Adur (near Shoreham-by-Sea) and Heatherwick. Although the equipment installed at each site is similar, each site presented its own challenges and solutions, whether that was building a haul road through a school, across a flood plain, or building sheet piling to form a raised level site alongside an embankment. Of course, each site had unique environmental considerations too and every efforts been made to mitigate the impact of this vital work.

Whilst the weather was ideal for pictures, it wasn’t as kind when you’re wearing full PPE and carrying a sodding great camera bag. It was a little ‘toasty’ at times, making me wish I’d left my jeans at home and worn shorts under my PPE instead.

The day ended in Shoreham-by Sea, which was a real find after the disappointment of Worthing. It’s a pretty little place. Well, if you ignore the harbour area with its scrapyard and stay in the old town anyway. The old town is lovely, it’s full of quirky old buildings, pubs, alfresco dining cafe’s and shops. I’d certainly come back again and use it as a base to explore the area.