After a rare day at home I’m on the move again. This time I’m off to explore (in detail) the railway from Bidston to Wrexham. I’ve traversed it several times but never stopped off anywhere on the route. Today I’ll be putting that right, so expect some notes and pictures.
Right now I’m crossing the Pennines on the beautiful Calder Valley route. The skies are picture perfect again, clear blue with just a wisp of cloud here and there. I honestly can’t remember when we’ve had so many days of unbroken sunshine. They bring back memories of childhood, when your mind remembers every day like that!
Stopping to change trains at Manchester Victoria I was stuck by how many ex-GWR diesel units were working services. Here’s 153305 (in a neutral white livery) with much-travelled 150129 (ex-Centro, ex-Silverlink, ex-GWR).
My onward train to Liverpool was another recent addition to the Northern fleet as it was an ex-Thameslink Class 319 electric. These 4 car 100 mph have made a huge difference to services as they’ve replaced 2-car Class 156 diesels. Despite the doubling in capacity, my train is 85% full! By the time we reached Rainhill even the vestibules were rammed.
On arrival at Lime St we pulled into one of only two working platforms as the station’s in the middle of an extensive rebuilding programme which will see platforms extended, extra ones added and the track layout modernised and resignalled.
I always laugh when I see work like this and remember Hs2 antis perennial refrain “invest in the existing network instead”. If they could be bothered to get out of their armchairs to take a look around the UK network they’d know we’re doing exactly that. The problem is, it soaks up what little capacity we have left on our existing main lines, leaving nothing for the future. Here’s how Lime St is looking right now.
Moving on by Merseyrail I crossed under the river and emerged into the daylight at Birkenhead before arriving at Bidston, a small Island platform station which is the junction for the Borderlands line to Wrexham. I’m old enough to remember when this service ran as far as Birkenhead, before it was cut back to Bidston. In those days the area was busy with freight. Iron ore was imported through the docks and moved to Shotton steelworks by rail. The infrastructure’s all long gone now. Instead, an hourly passenger service run by Arriva Trains Wales is the sole survivor.
For many years the line was worked by single car Class 153s. Nowadays 2 car Class 150s are the norm.
My first stop on the service was Shotton, where I came to photograph what’s become the symbol of the line – the triple span bridge over the River Dee.
The bridge is only a short walk from the stations. Yep, Shotton’s graced with both high level and low level! The low level station’s fairly recent. Built on the former Chester to Holyhead railway, the platforms are on what was the slow lines when this was a four-track railway.
Shotton is an odd little place. It owes its existance to the nearby steelworks established by John Summers (and now owned by Tata). At its height it employed 13,200 people. Now it’s around a 1000. The towns fortunes reflect that of the steelworks. My first memories of the place are from the early 1970s when I’d encourage my dad to take this route on the way to family holidays with relatives on Anglesey as it followed the railway, allowing me to try and see the trains. Sometimes my parents and sisters would humour me – other times not.
Now this bastion of heavy industry is a shadow of it’s former self (like many UK locations). I’m always truck by this when I travel across Germany, a country which still possess these places. Shooton seems to rely on the pensioned-off (hence the size of the towns Wetherspoons) and also the nearby Airbus aircraft plant at Broughton – which is under threat from Brexit. It’s deeply ironic to think tbat nostalgia for the past and heavy industries is putting the future of towns like Shotton at risk.
I’m now back in the bosom of West Yorkshire, heading home on the Calder Valley line again. I managed to get the scenic shots on the Borderlands that I needed but the further South I went towards Wrexham, the more the clouds started to creep in. Here’s an example, taken just outside Cefyn-y-Bedd station which can be seen in the background.
Having the shots in the can I made my way back to Shotton low level to catch a train to Chester which is only 15 minutes away. This gave me time to get a few shots at yet another boyhood haunt before catching a direct train to Manchester. I’m not sure if these are the regular units on the service but I have to say a two car Class 150 is less than ideal – even if they have been refurbished to a high standard.
Tomorrow I’m off again, so I’ll draw this blog to a close.