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There and back again – by Eurostar to Amsterdam in a day

Today I was fortunate enough to be part of the press corps sampling the first Eurostar service from London to Amsterdam and I have to say – it was a great trip.

We left St Pancras at 08:31 and our Siemens built e320 managed to set a new speed record between London and Brussels by completing the journey in 1 hour 46 mins – two minutes ahead of schedule.

I’ll write in more detail at a later date, but for now, here’s a few pictures from the day.

Train 9114, the inaugural passenger service to Amsterdam is ready to leave London St Pancras International

To celebrate the record run from London to Brussels Eurostar provided champagne and Belgian chocolates.

 

Here’s part of the new Eurostar lounge and customs post on platform 15a of Amsterdam Centraal

If you want to sample the service yourselves, the new service starts running on the 4th April and tickets start at £35 one-way.

 

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Another Stophs2 apathetic fiasco!

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I’m working in central London today and serendipity meant that nearby the Harvil Rd stophs2 protesters were ‘up before the beak’ at the Royal Courts of Justice, where Hs2 Td and the DfT had applied for an injunction against 8 named protesters (that’s all there is on a regular basis). Here’s the details, care of the protesters own Twitter account.

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Rather foolishly considering they’ve so little support, the protesters called for a demonstration outside the hearing. They publicised it via Twitter and the Penny & Joe show (formerly known as Stophs2) joined in…

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10.30-12.30? That suited me fine, so I decided to pop along and see how they were doing and what the media scrum would be like. Would the City of London police be out in force to keep order I wondered? I thought I’d give them plenty of time, let Joe Rukin get his inflatable elephant set up and the party get into full swing, so I didn’t pop along  until 11.30. This is what I found. Nothing, no-one, nada, zip, not a sausage – nothing….

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The Rolls building’s to the right of the picture. Considering that Hs2 passes through NINE London constituencies holding a total of 1,079.897 souls that’s an impressive bit of apathy!  It also highlights the Harvil Rd protesters problem. Unlike when they flit between Hillingdon & Euston, when you’re up in court, you can’t be in two places at the same time!

Twyford Down they ain’t….

Welcome to the week

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The long spell of wet weather’s continued its run this morning so for the first time in a long while I was left with no option but to get a taxi to the station. Normally I walk the mile and a half as it’s good exercise – and it saves me a fiver! There is an upside to the rain. It’s not snow, so the weather’s obviously warming up…

Right now I’m en-route to London aboard the first Grand Central train of the day from Halifax, the 07.08. Today it’s being worked by one of the ex-GWR Class 180s that transferred to GC after being displaced by the new Hitachi Class 800s. The GWR 180s aren’t bad but they need a little TLC and a refresh to bring them up to GC standards. Whatever type of set used, what remains unchanged is the friendliness of the GC staff running them. One of the beauties of being a regular traveller on a small company like GC is that you soon get to know the staff, some of the old hands have been with the company since it started the West Riding service from Bradford back in 2010.

Now it’s time for me to sit back and enjoy the trip. I have coffee, porridge for breakfast and wifi, plus ever changing scenery outside the window. See you later!

Best laid plans…

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Well, I had planned to spend a few hours catching up on blogging today but in the finest tradition of Harold Macmillan, events got in the way. That said, there’s going to be plenty to blog about in the next few days. I head back to London tomorrow for a day’s photography in the capital. Apparently, there’s a StopHs2 demonstration outside the High Court as the DfT’s taking out an injunction out against the Harvil Rd protesters. I might just swing by to see how few Hs2 antis turn out to protest.  After that I have a job to do for one of the railway industry magazines.

Tuesday is a day I’m really looking forward to as I’ll be on the Eurostar press trip launching their new service from London to Amsterdam. Expect a few tweets from @paulbigland1 during the day!

After that I’m heading back to Yorkshire, ramping up my cycle training as I’m off to India at the beginning of March to take part in the ‘Ride India’ charity cycle ride to raise money for the Railway Children charity. Indian phone reception and internet permitting – expect regular updates about that too…

Brexitshambles…

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Sorry for the break in blogging these past few days, I’ve been caught up with family stuff, work and cycle-training (more on which in the blog to follow)…

Today’s already been busy as we’ve picked up the ‘new’ car. Well, it’s new to us anyway!It’s an 11 month old Honda Civic that we’ve exchanged for our older 2014 model. Those three years have seen several refinements in the design of these Swindon made cars, the results of which mean it’s more economical and comfortable. Dawn loves driving it, which is just as well as I can’t: I don’t drive!

Being a passenger on the way home gave me time to think about what the future may hold for Honda’s Swindon plant because of the shambles that is Brexit. As things stand at the minute it’s looking increasingly likely that the price of new cars will rise by 10% and car plants like Swindon could face a very uncertain future. The Japanese have made it very clear that if the UK does leave the Customs Union and Single Market, leaving businesses unprofitable, they’ll be taking their businesses elsewhere. (link).

The problem is, our politicians aren’t listening. This week we’ve had a typically shambolic speech from Boris Johnson. It was lightweight, full of platitudes but absolutely devoid of any real content. We need answers about the Irish border, instead we got organic carrots. We needed to know what’s happening with the customs union, instead we got a sniggering reference to British sex-tourism in Thailand (link). It was cringe-making. The full text of the speech can be found here. Our politicians have become clowns, the problem is, the joke’s on us…

Now we have Teresa May visiting Germany, where the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel had to point out that she’s still none the wiser as to what it is the UK Government actually expects from Brexit (link). She’s not alone. It’s clear our Government has no idea either! Yet the clock is ticking ever louder. Businesses can hear it, many of us can hear it – but May’s government appears deaf. Mind you, Labour need new batteries in Corbyn’s hearing aid too!

I try to laugh, but in truth I’m angry – very angry, at the way the UK’s reputation’s being trashed on the world stage by the actions of both political parties and their spineless reluctance to be honest with people over the economic and social consequences of Brexit- not to mention their unpreparedness for what’s to come as a result of that inertia. Meanwhile, our EU neighbours aren’t. The Ducth have announced plans to recruit 750 extra customs staff to deal with the consequences of the UK leaving the Customs Union and single market (link). What are we doing? Nothing…

Rukin returns from the dead

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You have to laugh. What passes for an anti Hs2 campaign nowadays is the Joe Rukin & Penny Gaines show formerly known as Stophs2. Penny lives in Bournemouth and Joe’s in Kenilworth so it’s easy to see why it’s not exactly a tight campaign. In truth, it’s a campaign in name only. Stophs2’s collapsed. They’ve gone from campaigning to moaning. They’ve no presence in the real world – they’re reduced to social media – and they’ve been pretty crap at that. They’ve a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter account, but lately they’ve abandoned them all apart from the occasional retweet.

Finally, Stophs2 ‘Campaign Manager’ (shurely shome mishtake. Ed) has broken his radio silence to post this on their website.

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At least one MP was ‘paying attention’? His moan is that only 1 MP, Sir Kevin Barron (whose Rother valley constituency is on the Phase 2 route to Leeds) changed his mind to vote against Hs2.

OK, let’s dissect this nonsense. As usual, Rukin spins like a top but even he can’t disguise the fact that since the Hs2 phase 1 hybrid bill passed they’ve only ‘turned’ one MP. What Rukin fails to mention is that this one ‘win’ is more than cancelled out by the 7 MPs who voted against the Hs2 phase 1 bill but who voted FOR the phase 2 a bill. They were;

Steve Baker (High Wycombe)
Bob Blackman (Harrow Est)
Peter Bone (Wellingborough)
Chris Chope (Christchurch)
Mark Pawsey (Rugby)
Chris Pincher (Tamworth)
John Redwood (Wokingham)

Not exactly a victory, is it? Their campaign’s collapsed and seven of the tiny number of MPs who used to support them have changed sides. Let’s crunch the full numbers – when the Phase 1 Hybrid Bill stormed through 2nd reading it did so by 452 votes to 41, giving the project a majority of 411. Of the 41 MPs who opposed, 7 stood down or retired as MPs in 2015. Another two stood down before the 2017 election and another two lost their seats, so that’s 11 of the 41 gone. Now another 7 have changed their vote – which throws Rukin and StopHs2’s campaigning ‘skills’ into perspective. In the years since the Phase 1 bill passed they’ve lost, not gained political support & Barron’s change of heart is a pyrrhic victory at best. When you look through the spin and analyse the numbers, you have to ask – what the point of Stophs2 anymore?

The end is nigh for diesel trains? Don’t you believe it…

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Today Transport Minister Jo Johnson MP made a policy announcement on the future of the UKs diesel train fleets – sort of, ish…

Because the policy is more of an aspiration, not a firm commitment. Johnson told the BBC that “I would like to see us take all diesel-only trains off the track by 2040. If that seems like an ambitious goal, it should be and I make no apology for that. After all we’re committed to ending the sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. If we can achieve that, then why can’t the railway aspire to a similar objective?” Once doesn’t have to be a Professor of English to spot the caveats in that.

The inherent irony here is that his Government has recently scaled back electrification of routes like the Midland Mail Line (MML) and has ordered many more diesel-electric bi-mode trains like the Hitachi Class 802s for GWR. Bi-modes are the worst of all worlds as they’re hardly energy efficient, OK, they may run on electric power for most of the trip, but then they’re carting around a lot of dead-weight in diesel engines and fuel.

This also begs questions about the 55 new CAF built Civity DMUs which are on order for Northern. Can these be converted to EMUs and (even if they can be) what does this do for the economics of the Northern franchise? Elsewhere, Porterbrook leasing are converting all-electric Class 319 trains to bi-mode by fitting them with diesel engines. The rolling stock leasing companies must be scratching their heads right now. They’ve got 1000s of older EMU vehicles coming off-lease in the next few years but without an extension of electrification, there’s nowhere to run them! Instead, we’re going to the halfway-house of bi-mode.

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GWR are currently taking delivery of these Hitachi Class 800 bi-modes to replace their HST fleet. Does the Government seriously expect the MTU diesel engines to be redundant in 22 yrs time, and if so – how?

Whilst the announcement (or should that be ‘thinking aloud’) will be welcome news for companies like Alstom who have developed a Hydrogen powered train, it leaves more questions than it answers.

There’s one very noticeable omission in the ‘plan’: Freight.

The majority of the UKs railfreight is moved by powerful ‘go anywhere’ diesel locomotives. How will they be replaced by 2040 without electrifying the main freight routes? As many depots and sidings aren’t electrified train builders have fitted ‘last mile’ diesel powerpacks to electric locos. Realistically, can these be replaced by hydrogen or battery power by 2040? And what about the miles of freight lines where diesel operation’s the only viable option? Freight operators exist on very small margins as it is. How would this proposal affect the economics of their operations?

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Siemens Vectron locomotives under construction in Vienna in 2016. These modular locos are can be built as diesel or electric. The version in VR livery is an electric fitted with a ‘last mile’ diesel power-pack.

The current workhorse of UK freight operators is the Class 66. Without widespread electrification, what else could deliver the power at rail needed to move heavy freight trains hundreds of miles at up to 75mph? A Canadian plan for a hydrogen powered locomotive shows that it would be two units, with the second carrying the hydrogen. Doubling the size of the locomotive increases maintenance costs and potentially leads to shorter trains due to the capacity of sidings and loops (also increasing costs).

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A DB Cargo Class 66 hauls empty china clay wagons away form the harbour at Fowey, Cornwall.

So, I remain sceptical about the ‘plan’ as I don’t see a firm policy or long-term strategy from DfT or Ministers that will allow this to happen, which is a shame as Johnson’s aim is laudable. Recently, I blogged about the change to air quality at Paddington station which was evident now the HSTs and DMU’s were being replaced by electric traction. Sadly, with diesel bi-modes and back-tracking on electrification we seem to be going in the wrong direction.

 

Sunday miscellany

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It’s another dismal day here in the Calder Valley as we’ve suffered from high winds and waves of sleet and snow showers. In fact the whole weekend’s been a washout due to the changeable weather. It’s prevented me cycle training and left me catching up with household chores, paperwork and some picture editing.

Some of the pictures are from Friday’s visit to nearby Mytholmroyd, which is still recovering from the devastation caused by the Boxing Day floods of 2016. For those of you unfamiliar with events, have a look at this article from the Guardian newspaper.

Whilst most homes and businesses have now been re-occupied, a row of shops that were sandwiched between the main road and the river Calder were seriously damaged and have been demolished by the Environment Agency, they’ve been replaced with these ‘Lego’ blocks which form part of the new flood defences that are still under construction around the town.

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The view from the road bridge over the River Calder, showing the new flood defences which occupy the site of former homes and shops.

A few hundred metres up the road, behind the Shoulder of Mutton pub the Environment Agency’s rebuilding the shattered banks of Cragg brook that were overwhelmed. Flooding the pub, nearby homes and the housing estate opposite.

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Looking upriver along Cragg Brook towards Cragg Vale. The housing estate behind the wall was under several feet of water after the floods.

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Looking in the opposite direction to the previous photo. The Shoulder of Mutton pub can be seen on the right. The River Calder is a few hundred metres beyond the railway viaduct.

I only hope that once the Environment Agency’s finished the work Mytholmroyd will be protected from such devastation in the future and the problem isn’t simply moved downriver…

On another front, the resignalling of the Calder Valley line is continuing apace. More and more new signals are springing up along the route. Some are straight replacements for older signalling such as this pair at Mytholmroyd where the new signal has been moved forwards

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Others are new, installed to reduce the size of the signalling sections, such as this one in Sowerby Bridge which is protecting the station.

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What’s immediately noticeable about the new signalposts is the absence of ladders that previously allowed S&T staff to reach the signal head. These have been made redundant as the post is hinged at the base so that it can be lowered to the ground.

It’s now Sunday evening and the weather’s deteriorated as the temperature dropped. One minute you could see the other side of the valley – the next you were lucky to see 50 metres!

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The calm before the next storm. Looking down over Sowerby Bridge from by the Wainhouse Tower. The next snowstorm is coming in from the West  (to the right of the picture).

The wind whipped the snow flurries so that they were almost horizontal. Then, suddenly – blue skies would appear, giving a blissful few minutes peace before the next lot of flakes stormed in. We abandoned attempts to go walking and sought solace in the local pub for an hour of fun and laughter with friends.

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The Big 6 is a traditional pub of the old school. There’s no wifi or TV, you go there to drink good beer and engage in conversation with people. Beer like this…

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After the pub the two of us settled in for a productive evening at home. Dawn had promised to make another batch of her Thai style chilli pickle so the pair of us spent ages cutting up a large bowl full of red and green chillies which produced these jars full of weapons-grade pickle for ourselves and some friends.

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This stuff isn’t for the faint-hearted & should probably be banned under the Geneva convention – especially the next morning when its had chance to work its way through your digestive system. Johnny Cash summed up the effects perfectly…

Goodnight folks!

 

 

 

Saturday night musings

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To be honest I’ve had little time to construct a themed blog today as it’s been a busy time. Yesterday was taken up by an assignment for ACoRP (The Association of Community Rail Partnerships) at nearby Mytholmroyd station where I was photographing the activities of the local friends group. They’re a lovely bunch of people and great ambassadors for both the local area and the wider community railway movement. You can read about their plans for the station here.

Earlier that day Eurostar announced the start date for their new Amsterdam service which kept me occupied sorting out my accreditation for the inaugural trip on February 20th –  before blogging the news about the service. I’m really looking forward to the first trip. The idea that we’ll finally be able to get direct trains from London to Amsterdam has been a long time in the making, but now it’s finally happening – even if it’s only one-way until 2019. Of course, the bittersweet moment in all that was the latest piece of the Brexit shambles jigsaw with the Government announcing that it’s decided we ARE leaving the customs union, which can only make cross-border travel harder.

I increasingly feel that we’re living out the script of an implausible play, where the  politicians of left and right are hell-bent on destroying their country’s prosperity, future and standing in the world because none of them are willing to grow a backbone, stand up and say – “why are we doing this, this is madness?” despite the warnings from businesses and other Governments.

Here’s a great example. The Japanese have invested heavily in the UK as they were sold the idea that the UK was the ‘gateway’ to Europe through being in the single market and the customs union. Now the Japanese Ambassador, Koji Tsuruoka, has spelled out in plain terms what the Brexit fundamentalists have always refused to admit. “If there is no profitability of continuing operation in the UK – not Japanese only – no private company can continue operation. So, it’s as simple as that. This is all high stakes that I think all of us need to keep in mind.” (link)

That a Japanese diplomat tells this so directly & without frills, should be sounding warning bells. Actually, it should be klaxons, air-raid sirens and a bloody big gong the size of which would make even J Arthur Rank feel inadequate! Mind you, ‘rank’ seems a pretty good shorthand for Brexit…

The Japanese don’t do bluntness, so when they do… The sad thing is that you just know the Brexit fundamentalists will go into paroxysms of outrage about being ‘blackmailed’ and ‘threatened’ – none of which will cut the mustard with multinational companies in the slightest.

Our economy is heading for the cliff edge. meanwhile, the Government has graciously allowed MPs a sight of the post Brexit economic assessments that supposedly never existed. They confirm what was always suspected, the areas that voted for Brexit are those which will suffer most. (link).

Welcome to the first country in the developed world whose politicians seemed hell-bent on committing economic suicide! Still, it’s nice to know that our politicians are doing this out of love of our country, not for any personal gain. Oh, wait, what was that revelation about Jacob Rees-Mogg and his personal windfall from Brexit?

 

 

 

 

Eurostar announce the start of their New London-Amsterdam train service

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Eurostar have confirmed that their new service from London’s St Pancras International to Amsterdam Centraal will start on Wednesday 4th April. Tickets will go on sale from 20 February, priced from £35 one way.

The service, using Eurostar’s fleet of Siemens built e320 trains, will consist of two daily London-Amsterdam services (calling at Rotterdam) departing the capital at 08.31 and 17.31. Journey times will be 3hr41 (London-Amsterdam) and 3hr01 (London- Rotterdam), this will result in a record London to Brussels journey time of 1hr48 – a saving of 17 minutes

Direct  Amsterdam – London services won’t start until 2019,  Eurostar explained this was “a temporary measure whilst the governments in the UK and The Netherlands complete an agreement which will enable passport checks to be conducted on departure in The Netherlands as in other key Eurostar destinations. The governments have committed to putting this agreement in place by the end of 2019 so that Eurostar travellers can then enjoy a direct service in both directions”

In the meantime, passengers will catch Thalys services from Amsterdam to Brussels  where passport controls and security screening will be carried out before boarding a Eurostar to London. The company’s published a list of suggested Thalys services with connections for London

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I’ll look forward to being able to catch one of these trains from London to Amsterdam soon!

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