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I’m on my way home after a very busy day testing new trains for RAIL magazine along with an old friend and colleague – Pip Dunn. I can’t go into any detail about what we experienced (obviously) as you’ll be able to read about our findings in future editions of the magazine. We’ve checked out two different versions of the same type of train today. Firstly, the CAF built Class 196s for West Midlands Trains (hence us staying in Shrewsbury last night). We tried out their 4-car trains that have been introduced on the route from Shrewsbury to Birmingham New St. We tried two different class 196s between Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton. That job done we moved location. Pip had come by car as travelling to our next destination would have been time-consuming by rail. Instead, we drove through foggy Shropshire to join the A5 to head to Wales. Amazingly, the weather changed en-route. Once we were West of Llangollen the fog cleared, and we were treated to clear blue skies and sunshine all the way to Llandudno. There we swapped the car for a trip on a Transport for Wales 2 -car Class 197 to Bleanau Ffestiniog and back. Despite sharing the same bodyshell, traction package and underfloor equipment the two units were very different internally – as you’ll find out if you read the articles. What I will show you now is a couple of external shots.

The four-car commuter version for West Midlands Railway, seen at Shrewsbury after a run from Birmingham.
The two-car, longer-distance version for Transport for Wales, seen at Llandudno. The interior is very different to the unit pictured above. These units are wasted on the Ffestiniog branch as they’re configured for mainline running.

On our return from Ffestiniog I bade adieu to Pip at Llandudno Junction as I was heading home by rail whilst Pip had another little job to do for his other passion – HGVs. I ended up on a packed 2-car TfW (Transport for Wales) Class 158 all the way to Chester. The North Wales Coast line’s very scenic as it hugs the coast. Except when it’s a winter’s evening like today when you can’t see a bloody thing!

At Chester I had time for a swift pint in the pub across the road from the station – which was packed as it’s a Friday evening – before catching my train home. I’m now sat in the lead car of yet another CAF built unit, this time a Northern Class 195/0. Only this one seems to have square wheels! There’s a noticeable wheel flat on the front bogie (which I’m sat over) which is painful at slow speed but bearable at line speed.

Despite the wheel flat I’ve had a productive journey as far as Manchester as I had a table to myself, so managed to get loads of pictures edited. Tat changed at Manchester Victoria where the commuter and Christmas shopper hordes were waiting for my train to take ’em home. Now we’re rammed, so it’s time to sign off for now, but I will leave you with one last shot of rather older traction. The ‘leafbuster’ trains are still very much in evidence due to a late autumn and I caught this over-powered example at Chester yesterday.

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