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Having tired of being tied to my desk (and home) I checked the weather forecast firs thing this morning and found it was more optimistic than 24 hours earlier and decided “bugger it, it’s time to stretch my legs”. I’ll be blogging throughout the day so feel free to pop back and see what I get up to…

Right now I’m on the 09:59 from Sowerby Bridge to Manchester en-route to Liverpool to have a look at one of the few positive stories about UK railways right now – the introduction of the Stadler Class 777 train fleet which have ushered in the era of level-boarding across Merseyside.

Journey’s beginning…

The weather en-route has been moody to say the least. There’s gangs of marauding rain clouds lurking but so far we’ve escaped any deluges. This Wigan bound train’s made up of a pair of Class 158s which are now relegated to secondary duties after the arrival of the CAF units. Loadings across the Pennines were low until we called at Rochdale were dozens joined us for the run into Manchester.


I had 30 mins to spend between trains in Manchester which gave me time to observe activities. Trans-Pennine Express were busy. A pair of Class 185s arrived from the East. Having disgorged dozens of people (the service was well loaded) the units were split. The rear set returned East as the 11:01 to Saltburn whilst the rear set worked empty stock back to Ardwick depot on the other side of the city. I was waiting for another TPE service, the 11:21 to Liverpool Lime St. This arrived (on time – heavens!) worked by 802216. Finding a free table in the front car as it’s not a busy train I’ve set up the mobile office so I can download a few pictures en route. The journey only takes 40 mins so there’s little time to do much else. The good news is the weather’s picking up the further West we go. Muscly white clouds are edging out the rain to leave space for blue skies and sunshine to follow.


After an on-time arrival and brief photo stop at Lime St I’m now aboard 777049, the first Merseyrail Class 777 to enter service which I picked up at Liverpool Central. I’m posting this via my phone and the trains wifi which even works in the tunnels. My phone’s also charging up via the under-seat sockets whic have a 3-pin connection and 2 USB sockets. First impressions? I’m impressed. It’s not the first time I’ve been on board a 777 but this is the first time in regular passenger service on the route they were built for. I’m sitting at the back of the train behind the driver’s cab and over the bogie, but the ride is still smooth (until you hit switches and crossings). Acceleration is impressive and also smooth. More soon…


We’ve arrived at Kirkby…

Having got some pictures I stayed on the same unit as far as Rice Lane (a stones throw from where I entered this world) to see how the ride was by the leading cab. There was a lot more hunting coming out of Kirkby but I suspect that has as much to do with track quality as much as the trains.

The 777s are good. Very good. I like the controlled saloon lighting that changes when you pass under bridges and tunnels, and the LED strips around the doors which aid access.


Apologies for the gap in blogging but the day took a bizarre turn – as I’ll explain in a minute. My trips on the Kirkby were really interesting. 2 of the 3 sets operating tge service were 777s. The other was fleet pioneer 507001. Sadly, of the two 777s set 009 was clearly having problems. There were isdues with the doors and the PIS system which meant it was taken out of service a couple of times, leading to gaps in the service. It’s surprising as the sets should have had plenty of time to ‘bed in’ during their mileage accumulation runs. But then, these things happen. I’ve no doubt the problems will be fixed, but it’s embarrassing when the units have just been introduced.

Whilst I was out I posted a 777 pic to a WhatsApp group I and a few close friends have – only to get a reply from an old friend and colleague who was out with his boss doing exactly the same as me! We arranged to meet up at Lime St where his boss got a train back to London, but Hassard dallied, so we had time for a spin out to New Brighton – a place he’d never visited before. I rather enjoy New Brighton and so did Hassard as he was fascinated by the river views and the artwork adorning many of the buildings.

Mersey rovers…

We had time for a quick beer so stopped off at the “Bow-legged Beagle” micropub where the second co-incidence happened.

The chap we sat next to saw our cameras and struck up a conversation. It transpired he also had an interest in railways and travel. Clearly, his accent wasn’t local but it was only in passing he mentioned he was on a day out – from Sowerby Bridge! He lives about a mile away from me! What’s the odds of two Yorkshire neighbours (one there totally by chance) bumping into each other like that?

Having headed back into Liverpool I bid adieu to Hassard so that he could head back to London whilst I caught TPE’s 17:54 service to Manchester. I’ll blog more later when I’ve had chance to download some of today’s pictures. Right now I’m heading back across the Pennines aboard another Northern Class 158 en-route to Sowerby Bridge and home.


Home again, so here’s a last update with a few more pictures from today.

777009 was the other new unit working Kirkby services but it wasn’t having the best of days. Here it is calling at Fazakerley with a service from Ormskirk. As you can see, the PIS isn’t working – hence the ‘not in service’ displayed on the front. I had to persuade an elderly woman who questioned me that – yes, this train was going to Liverpool. Once on board I saw a Stadler engineer busy on his phone, making it clear the train would need to be taken out of service at Kirkdale.
Having abandoned 777009 at Rice Lane to get some more pictures I travelled on to Kirkdale before walking to Bank Hall where I caught 507001 (the first of the BR built EMUs) passing the depot where 777009 sits in the background in disgrace.
Meanwhile, just the other side of the road to the last shot, here’s 508124 and 508112 calling at Bank Hall with services to and from Southport. When I was a kid this station had four platforms – hence the disused lines on the left. To say the area’s changed a bit in 50 years would be an understatement.

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