The awards season’s here…

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Having spent the past few days at home working on the cottage I’m back on the rails again, heading down to London in readiness for taking the pictures of tonight’s National Rail Awards. I’ve only just realised that this is actually the 15th year I’ve been working at it. Where the hell has the time gone? I started back in 2003, which seems like a lifetime ago. It’s always an amazing event to work at, partially because of the venue (the Grand room of the Grosvenor House hotel in Park Lane, London) but also because it’s a showcase for the best the railway industry has to offer in the way of projects and people. But it’s not all work. It’s also an opportunity for me to catch up with friends and colleagues whom I’ve met or worked with over the years. No doubt a few stories will be told in the bar afterwards!

My next awards ceremony is a little different. I’ll be working at the Community Rail awards in Derby next month. It doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of the NRA, but it’s another great showcase of a different kind – it celebrates the fantastic work of the volunteers (and some paid staff) who look after their local stations or railway lines.

Finally, I’ll be volunteering my services at a slightly different event. The Railway Benefit Fund annual charity ball in Glasgow. It’s one of those nights where the industry comes together to help members of rail staff (current and retired) in need.

Fun times ahead…

 

 

 

 

Greater Anglia’s Aventra mock-up

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As promised earlier, here’s a look at the mock up of the interior of Greater Anglia’s Aventra trains. Be aware that this isn’t exactly how they’ll appear In service (it is a mock-up after all). The model has been built to test various layouts, so it’s an amalgam of styles. Still it give you a feel for what they’ll look like in service.

GA have ordered 665 Aventra vehicles. They’ll form 22 x 10 car trains and 89 x 5 car trains. All will be standard class. 5 car trains will have 540 seats and 10 cars 1100.

Features to note include underfloor heating, air conditioning, plug sockets (with USB) and high capacity broadband. The units will be used across the GA network, including Hertford East, Kings Lynn and Ipswich to London. Also GE services including Norwich, Ipswich, Braintree, Clacton and Southend.

The first trains will enter service in 2019.

DG280412

 

DG280409

The seats are cantilevered from the body sides, creating more luggage apace and making them easier to keep clean. Note that each bay has more USB sockets than seats. 

The DG280522

 

DG280526

Derby bound…

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After a weekend of DIY at home I’m on my travels again, heading for a job in Derby. An advantage of having a fiancé who works by Huddersfield railway station is that it’s easy for me to get a lift to a station that has a far greater selection and frequency of services than my local one. I’d a number of routes to choose from but today the best option was a Northern service to Wakefield Westgate for a connecting Cross-Country train to Derby. It nearly didn’t happen. As is often the case, Trans-Pennine Express services were running late. Today, they were very late*. My 09:31 was held to let a York through that was 50 minutes down. Despite this, quick work by the crew of our Pacer turned a 7 late departure into an on-time arrival. It wouldn’t have mattered – my onward connection was late too! A pair of Voyagers rolled in 6 down. I’m sitting in one now, scribbling this before posting it via the wifi. We’re gradually making up minutes en-route so I’m expecting a right-time arrival at Derby. The beauty of Voyagers is they’ve plenty of horsepower when needed!

To say the weather is changeable at the moment would be an understatement. It really has been a case of four seasons in one day,  I need to be carrying a brolly and waterproof sun cream in weather like this! At least today’s job is undercover. I’m heading for the Bombardier plant to shoot a mock-up of one of the new Aventra trains that’ve been ordered by Anglia, so expect a few pictures to be added this afternoon.

See you later!

* In fairness to TPE, this wasn’t their fault. Torrential rain caused the line to be flooded at Greenfield. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There and back again.

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I’ve escaped from home for the first time this week. The last few days have been spent on domestic duties, retiling our bathroom. It’s been fun but frustrating as (like most old Victorian properties) there’s not a level wall in the place!

I’m en-route to London on a flying visit to get some pictures for a magazine. It’s not ideal weather, as I write this I’m passing through the Colne valley which contains a Turneresque collection of low clouds and rainstorms. It’s not meant to be much better in London as thunderstorms are forecast. I expect I’ll be in for a soaking at some point today.
My recent absence from blogging has been due to a variety of reasons – including the fact that I’ve been writing for work, not pleasure. I’ve an article on the Heart of Wales railway line in the current issue of RAIL magazine which carried an earlier one on the ‘Three peaks by rail’ event for the charity the Railway Children. I’ve also been kept busy visiting 17 stations around the country in my role as a judge for the ACoRP awards. I thoroughly enjoy that. Not only does it give me chance to visit places I wouldn’t normally travel to – I also get to meet some amazing and inspirational community rail volunteers and Officers and see first-hand the fantastic work they’re doing. During our visits, I can talk about what other groups are doing and help spread best practice and ideas. This year the awards are being held in Derby, a town that’s at the heart of the rail industry (the awards move each year). It’s always a great event and I’m looking forward to seeing the faces of some people when they find out that they’ve won.
Part 2
Now I’m on a Virgin Pendolino, heading for Euston after a seamless connection at Manchester Piccadilly. Unusually, I managed to get a table seat on the earlier Trans-Pennine Express service from Huddersfield. They’re often packed, so the new (longer) loco hauled sets being built by CAF in Spain will be a welcome capacity increase – as well as providing something new to photograph.
My Pendolino’s busy but I’ve managed to find a seat here too. Whilst it was the school holidays I spent a lot of time sitting in vestibules as the trains were so rammed. I never bumped into Jeremy Corbyn tho…I take back my earlier comment about the unsuitability of the weather, there’s a glorious mixture of moody skies, sudden showers and outbreaks of blue sky or sunshine that would make for some great pictures if you’re in the right place at the right time. Hopefully, at some point in the day, I will be…
Right, that’s all for now folks, it’s time to stop scribbling and catch up on some reading.

Part 3
After a couple of hours back in London I’m heading back North, this time on a Virgin East Coast. Coast service. The performance between the two trains is noticeable. A tilting Pendolino irons out the twists & turns on the West Coast whilst you can really feel the curves or pointwork aboard VTECs Mk4’s. A couple of times my laptop has threatened to leap off the airline seat table its perched on. It’s POETS day (Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday) so this Leeds train is packed with people heading back to their roots for the weekend. Sadly, there was no chance for me to indulge in any moody weather shots as the capital suffered uniformly low cloud. Instead, I’m going to call in my local pub on the way home and enjoy their quiz. Friday night may seem to be a strange time to have one, but this is a bit special. It’s a small group who answer the questions printed in our local ‘Pub Paper’ read out by Mel, a woman with a booming voice and a broad Lancashire accent. She’s the only person I know who needs to come with subtitles! She won’t mind me saying this but her pronunciation of unfamiliar words can be a real source of amusement. The other week she came out with ‘Sarco Fagus’, it took a minute for the penny to drop. She meant sarcophagus!

Enjoy your weekend.

I’m still here!

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Finally, I’ve found a few minutes to blog. I’m sitting on a train from Leeds to Derby to meet up with a fellow ACoRP judge (Paul Cook of the Royal Horticultural Society) before we go looking at stations that are entered in the ‘It’s Your Station’ section of the community rail awards.

It’s been a hectic month, which is why I’ve not had any time to blog. The only writing I’ve been doing has been for a living. There’s one article on the 3 peaks by rail event in this weeks RAIL magazine and another on a Welsh railway line is in preparation. I’ve also been busy getting pictures from around the country for ACoRP’s ‘Scenic rail Britain’ website (which you can find here). All this has meant most of my time has been taken up by travelling, picture editing or writing – not that I’m complaining! I’ve had a wonderful time visiting some great places. Here’s a sample, the beautiful Borders railway in Scotland.

DG275804. 158869. Stow. 3.7.17

The next couple of weeks will be taken up by the awards judging. We’ve stations all over the England to visit, so it’s quite time-consuming. After that I should be able to spend more time at home – but then, I’ve said that before. In this job, you never know what’s going to come up next!

A busy week for Hs2.

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I’m on a train to London, so I’ve got some time to finally catch up with a bit of blogging. As anyone who’s been following the news will have seen it’s been a busy week for Hs2. Firstly, £6.6bn of Civils contracts were awarded. Balfour Beatty’s joint venture with French firm Vinci won two contracts worth £2.5bn. They’ll design and build the Long Itchington Wood Green tunnel to the Delta Junction/Birmingham Spur plus the section from the Delta Junction to the west coast main line near Lichfield in Staffordshire. Vinci has previously been involved in the high-speed Tours-Bordeaux rail project in France.

Contracts worth nearly 2bn to build Euston Tunnels and Approaches and the Northolt tunnel were won by a joint venture between Sweden-based Skanska, Austria’s Strabag and UK firm Costain, which has worked on Crossrail and the Channel tunnel.

Two more packages, worth a combined total of £1.34bn for the North Portal Chiltern Tunnels to Brackley and Brackley to South Portal of Long Itchington Wood Green Tunnel went to a Carillion / Eiffage / Kier joint venture. Carillion have been in the news, recently, so this attracted media attention.

Other companies to have won HS2 work are the joint venture between French construction group Bouygues and UK firms Sir Robert McAlpine and VolkerFitzpatrick. They claimed a £965m contract for the Colne Viaduct and Chiltern tunnels package.

A story planted in the press the day before as a spoiler, claiming Hs2 would cost £111bn caused a predictable furore from the usual suspects, so it’s worth bearing in mind that in the tender, the estimated range for these contracts was from £7.1-11.8bn. Of course, what will happen now is a year of detailed design work before the contract target cost is set.

Later in the day the Government announced that the phase 2a Hybrid Bill had been deposited in Parliament. This bill will begin its passage through the Houses, with the intention of Royal Assent in 2019, allowing construction to beginning 2020.

It’s worth remembering that – despite the claims from antis that Hs2 is ‘late’, this section has been brought forward several years, from 2033 to 2027!

The Phase 2b Hybrid Bill is expected to be with Parliament in 2019, with Royal Assent being granted in 2022. To this end, Monday afternoon saw Transport Minister Chris Grayling announced his decision on the final route choice (link). Unsurprisingly, it confirmed that Meadowhall had been dropped in favour of a more Easterly route and that Sheffield would be served by a loop, with trains running through Chesterfield. The change appears to be for several reasons. The Hs2 design panel had already expressed concerns over the viability of Meadhowhall on space, cost and technical difficulty. What appears to have tipped the balance was the growing influence of Transport for the North (TfN) who have developed ambitious plans to ensure the North’s major cities (including Sheffield) would be within 30m journey time of Manchester Airport. The route change will allow greater integration and connectivity with the future Northern Powerhouse rail (aka HS3). Of course, the fact the change will save an estimated £1bn will have made the idea attractive too!

A minor change to the route in Leicestershire around Measham has seen a third option adopted with a minor deviation off the 2013 route. This should render MAPA, the local StopHs2 ‘action’ group redundant, although to be honest, they were doing very little post-consultation anyway!

The reaction from those opposed to Hs2 showed just how ineffective they are nowadays. Hs2aa haven’t made a sound. In fact, if you look at their website, you wouldn’t know anything’s happened since April! StopHs2 trotted out Joe Rukin to do the usual round of splenetic ‘rent a quote’ interviews, but it’s all rather pointless. What’s been very telling is how few of Stophs2 followers are engaged with them nowadays. Despite having several thousand ‘followers’ on social media, only a handful are passing on the message though retweets and shares. Here’s an example…

stophs2. 20 jul 17

Predictably, Twitter was full of people jumping on the bandwagon to offer their opinions about Hs2 for a couple of days. These ranged from the ignorant to the batshit crazy, along with Hyperloop supporters and the folk to whom the NHS is everything. None of it will make the slightest bit of difference of course as they’re simply individuals sounding off about something, they’re not a campaign. As for an ‘organised’ Stophs2 campaign, that’s essentially history. Stophs2 is two people, the most prominent of which is Joe Rukin. Local sources tell me that Joe’s been looking for a (real) job for some time now. Chair Penny Gaines lives in the SouthWest nowadays and does very little. When Joe goes – that’s it…

All this activity means that Hs2 will be featuring in the news a lot from now on several fronts. There’s the construction of phase 1, the Parliamentary process of phase 2a and the consultations and environmental assessments of phase 2b.

Talking of phase 2b. The pictures not looking too rosy for those trying to Stophs2 on that section of the route. With the collapse of the national groups they’re on their own and (in typical Yorkshire style) they seem to spend as much time arguing between themselves as they do trying to stop Hs2! The supposed merger between the Trowell and Erewash groups appears to have hit the rocks as people backpedal. The announcement of the final route will see others breathe a sigh of relief and step away, leaving them even thinner on the ground. Hopefully, the residents who’re genuinely affected by Hs2 will ditch the rabble rousers and political opportunists and start trying to get what they can out of Hs2 Ltd in the form of mitigation and compensation for their communities. Whilst their MPs support building Hs2, there’s no doubt they also want to get the best for the communities they serve. I wish them well in doing it.

Hs2 antis have been Mogged!

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It’s been hilarious to watch the remaining Hs2 antis fawning over Jacob Rees-Mogg MP. today. How did he become their latest poster boy? Well, Hs2 antis have been swooning over him since he appeared on BBC’s ‘Question Time’ last night. When questioned about public sector pay and where the money for increases could come from he said “HS2 would not be my priority for spending”

Antis immediately took to Twitter to praise him, suggesting that he would scrap Hs2.  Poor Penny Gaines from StopHs2 must have been in a paroxysm of delight. She watches the programme religiously, ready to tweet at any critical mention of HS2. She’s had thin gruel for some time now, so she was off like a rocket! Here’s some of the comments.

gaines

densonread. 7.7.17

So, is Mogg a hardline anti Hs2 campaigner? No. He’s a backbench Tory who’ll say anything as he knows he’s never going to be in any position of influence or have to carry through what he says. He can just make stuff up to suit whatever his audience is at the time. What none of them bothered to do was check his voting record on Hs2, because if they did, they’d find he voted FOR not against building HS2 as this piece from the Evening Standard points out.

Mogg’s words are carefully chosen, but meaningless. It would not be ‘his priority’? Well, as it’s not his decision, who gives a stuff about his ‘priorities’? They no more matter than the ordinary man in the street. It’s not as if there’s going to be another vote on Hs2 phase 1 anyway, it’s a done deal and it’s being built. His constituency is NE Somerset, nowhere near Hs2. So the idea that a man who has a record for voting with his party 94% of the time is suddenly going to rebel when it comes to Phase 2 of Hs2 is about as likely as me winning the lottery.

Poor Hs2 antis, they’re desperate for any good news, but yet again, they’ve been had.

 

 

A post-election look at the anti Hs2 ‘campaign’…

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Sorry for the lack of blogging recently folks. I’ve been so busy with my travels and catching up on work stuff I’ve had little time for writing. Still, here’s one I’ve been hoping to write for some time – a look at the anti Hs2 campaign after the election.

To be honest, antis had an even worse election campaign than I thought they would. Mind you – so did the Conservatives! Apart from the non-story that Joe Rukin put around, claiming the Tories were going add cancelling Hs2 to their manifesto nothing was really heard about the anti Hs2 campaign. Apparently, Hs2aa raised their arse off their sofa long enough to find a few bob down the back of it and pay for an ad in The Spectator, and – well, that was it. Stop Hs2 did little better. It’s evident that Joe Rukin and Penny Gaines are just going through the motions now. The Stop Hs2 website and Facebook page had nothing of relevance added and their tweets were sporadic. There was no attempt to actually lead a campaign. Instead it drifted, rudderless. But then, what is there to lead anymore? If you look at their Facebook page it has a measly 7,488 followers but the number of people who ‘like’ a post have never got above 200 throughout the whole election campaign. The number who share or comment is even poorer than that. Here’s a screen- grab of one of the more popular. This was posted on the 21st June. The screen-grab was taken today (27th).

sths2

Twitter was no better. Stophs2 have a lousy 5,369 followers. So, how many retweeted this same comment?

sths2 tweet

A miserable 21! In an election campaign!

This is a great illustration of what I’ve always said. Social media is a double-edged sword. It exposes your weaknesses as well as strengths.

In past elections they’ve also run a ‘no votes for you with Hs2’ campaign, but it’s always been an abject failure – as the results on election night show. This year was no different.

The phase 1 campaign is a dead man walking. I’ve blogged about it plenty of times in the past so I’m not going over old ground, but what was interesting this time was to see how quickly the Phase 2 campaign groups have collapsed.

Remember that the Leeds branch of Hs2 has (supposedly) the most ‘active’ anti groups on it. A number of new ones were formed due to route changes in Leicestershire, Notts and Yorkshire. So, lets have a look at some case studies.

MAPA is a group that was formed in February this year. Here’s their website. As you can see if you can be bothered to browse it. There’s not a lot going on. The residents of the villages they claim to represent total some 8,700 souls. Their minutes claim 110 turned up to their first meeting, which is 1.26% of all residents. Not exactly a groundswell then! Things haven’t got any better. Despite their commitment to publish regular minutes of meetings, nothing has appeared since January. Instead, this was sent out by the group in mid May…

MAPA The only sign of life is the barrage of pointless tweets from one of the group, Stephen Leary (who I’ve blogged about before here). I can’t help wondering how long this groups can survive. It’s already moribund and if the local area consultation shows that more residents support the route change than oppose it, they’re toast.

Meanwhile, in Nottinghamshire, we have the Erewash ‘Action’ Group. Here’s their website and Facebook pages. Here’s their ridiculously ambitious aims (copied from their website).

Erewash. objectives

Stop Hs2 within 2 years and hold elected representatives to account? My! So, how’s that going then? Badly.

The local MP is Conservative Maggie Throup, who won the seat from Labour in 2015 with a 3,584 majority. Maggie is a supporter of Hs2 and she’s clearly no pushover as the Erewash antis have found out! Their agressive style and regular lack of honesty hasn’t gone down well with the MP who’s confronted them a number of times. Most recently here in response to this bit of bombast from the Erewash antis. Now, take note of this bit;

“In recent weeks, the STOP HS2 Erewash Campaign has gained huge momentum with an influx of new volunteers and supporters, as well as significant press coverage and public interest. The campaign is operated and staffed by concerned local residents, business owners and activists, who all feel strongly that HS2 should be stopped in its entirety.”

So, how did holding Maggie to ‘account’ go?

At the 2017 election she increased her majority from 3,584 to 4,534 on a swing of 0.84% from Labour! Oh dear…

Erewash antis went very quiet after their meeting with Maggie as it was clear it hadn’t gone their way (see their Facebook page for details). Well, quiet until today, when this was slipped out on Facebook:

erewash. 26.6.17

So much for stopping Hs2 in 2 years by a campaign that had “gained huge momentum with an influx of new volunteers and supporters”. They’re very coy about the merger, but it’s actually with the nearby group from Trowell (who aren’t so coy!)

Trowell hs2Trowell are another tiny group with a similar problem. They’ve no political clout either! The idea this creates a ‘unified nation campaign’ is the stuff of fantasy! Their MP is the feisty anti Brexit MP Anna Soubry (another Hs2 supporter). How a merged campaign across the constituency boundaries is supposed to Stop Hs2 is anyone’s guess, but then that’s the problem with these campaigns. They’re so out of their depth there’s only going to be one result. If they’d any sense they’d be working with their MPs to gain the greatest benefits for their areas from Hs2 instead of trying to throw around weight they don’t have, pretending they can Stop hs2.

So, that’s a snapshot of the state of play with StopHs2 after the election. It’s obviously on its last legs. Interestingly, the announcement in the Queens speech that the phase 2b Hybrid Bill will be put before Parliament hasn’t raised as much as a glimmer from any Staffs antis – although that’s hardly surprising. There’s not been a credible Hs2 ‘action’ groups in Staffs for years as they tended to be run by either ‘eccentrics’ or as a front for UKIP. Which brings me neatly onto the other fall-out from the election campaign.

Remember when UKIP said they’d Stop Hs2?

Farage Hs2

Instead, voters stopped UKIP! Now there’s only one party left in Parliament that still opposes Hs2. The Greens – and they’ve still only got 1 MP….

On the road again (pt 432)

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I’ve added a lot more old Sri Lanka pix to my Zenfolio website. This will be the last one for a while as I’m not going to have any opportunity for time-consuming slide scanning over the next few months.

Later today I head to Birmingham for tomorrow’s National Rail Conference, after which I hot-foot it to Crewe to join the teams from the rail industry competing in the 3-peaks charity event for the Railway Children. I was approached to help so offered my services as the official photographer for the event. We’re travelling by special train between the three peaks in what promises to be an eventful (if mostly sleep free) event. The train will be everyone’s home for the length of the event. I’ll try and add a few comments and maybe some pictures as we go. After travelling back from Fort William on Saturday I end up at Preston before heading home to a comfortable bed!

After that it’s time to take up my role as a judge for the ACoRP awards. This means I’ll be travelling the length & breadth of the UK over the next couple of months. So, who knows where you might bump into me…

 

Decision day.

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I have to say, I’ve never known a general election like this. So many people are expressing their confusion and angst over who to vote for. Comment after comment on Facebook is from friends who are clearly torn over which box to put their cross in. “A pox on both your houses” seems to be a common sentiment as the choice between Labour and Tories is seen by many as being between the devil and the deep blue sea.

I went to the dentists this morning. Whilst I was having my teeth checked the hygenist and her assistant started discussing the election. The young assistant admitted she probably wouldn’t vote as she didn’t know who to vote for and didn’t really understand the issues. The hygenist mentioned that she had a Labour MP whom she liked, but may back the Tories as (although she didn’t like Brexit) she wanted it to be sorted out.

I was asked for my opinion, so I pointed out the emptiness in May’s rhetoric and her suicidal willingness to countenance a hard Brexit. I wasn’t much kinder about Labour, but I did mention they may make less of a mess of Brexit. The conversation wasn’t untypical of ones I’ve had elsewhere.

Frankly, it’s terrifying that on such a crucial issue as Brexit, the main parties have colluded in keeping voters in the dark about the reality of what we’re facing. It’s clear to me that many more enlightened and educated voters are seeing this, hence their quandry over who to vote for. Equally terrifying is the way the right-wing press are pushing for the Tories and a hard Brexit. It really does feel like the country is rushing headlong over a cliff, egged on by the billionaires and others who will benefit.

Could the election yet throw up a surprise? I believe it might, although I’m pessimistic. I’ve never known so many people willing to ditch old allegiences (including myself). I suspect we’re going to see voter mobility and tactical voting on an unprecedented scale, but I’ve no idea where it will take us.

It’s going to be a long night…