I popped down to London yesterday to take a spin out to Reading on the Great Western Main Line from Paddington which has just seen electric services extended as far as Didcot Parkway.
The change at Paddington is noticeable for two reasons. Not only are there a lot more shiny new GWR green Electrostars in evidence, there’s also many more Hitachi Class 800s knocking around too. These trains are like a breath of fresh air – literally – as electric is replacing diesel traction, improving the atmosphere in the station and on into our capital, which has once again become notorious for poor air quality.
That said, it was still one of the venerable HSTs that took me out to Reading as there’s plenty of them still in service. Bowling along towards Reading I saw how much of the route has changed in the past year. The new tracks for Crossrail were very obvious around Westborne Park and Old Oak Common, along with the dive-under the yard entrance at Acton Main Line which has been commissioned. Platform extensions were another clear sign of change at several stations, not just on the Relief lines at places like West Ealing and Slough but also on some of the the Main lines.
Of course, Reading is the biggest change of all. Only the 1860 station building with its prominent clock tower survives, almost everything else is new. If it wasn’t for the fact I’ve got shots of the station going back to the 1980s I’d find it very difficult to picture how it used to be as the transformation’s so great. However, one thing that hasn’t changed is the biting wind, in fact the new design feels like its channelled it! I always remember how chilly it could be in winter and yesterday was no exception – even when the sun did break through! But that’s the price you pay for being stuck out on the end of platforms taking pictures rather then hiding in a warm waiting room like any sane passenger.
Photography’s a lot more challenging than in past years. Not only because of the plethora of masts wires and signal gantries casting shadows in the low sunlight but also because of the assortment of new office buildings which have risen up on the South side of the station over the past couple of decades. The length of the trains presents new challenges too – a 10 car Class 800 takes up most of the platform and the days of running down the ramp onto the ballast to find the space for a nose shot are long gone. Even the 4 car 387’s pull right up to the platform ends rather then stop on the middle of the station so you have to get used to how the new station & services operate to get the pictures you want. One thing I did notice is how quickly the Class 800s accelerate away from the station. After being used to HSTs they certainly seem quicker off the mark.
As the weather was closing in I opted to return to London and sample one of the Electrostar stopping services which are a step-change in quality from the old ‘Thames Turbo’ DMUs. They’re light, bright, clean and with plenty of space. They’re quiet and warm too as they’ve a modern HVAC system as opposed to hopper windows. Add in the fact they’ve tables and plug sockets and GWR are really onto a winner with them. They’re just about everything you could wish for in a modern train.
I broke the return trip at Twyford so that I could get a few more pictures before the sun disappeared for the day. Installing overhead wires has altered the feel of the place, but not as much as some other stations which have lost their old GWR footbridges in order to provide the necessary clearance. Platform extensions were very much evident in Twyford, but on this occasion they were on the Main line, not the relief.
On the final leg to Paddington I cast a critical eye over the new electrification masts which have been supplied by Furrer & Frey. They won’t win any awards for aesthetics, but they look like they’ll stand up to anything – including a nuclear attack!
Back at Paddington I grabbed a few more pictures before heading to Kings Cross for the journey back to Yorkshire. The curse of the East Coast Main Line struck again as my return train was delayed near Huntingdon because we were requested to run at low speed to inspect the line ahead. As it was an OLE issue I couldn’t help wishing that the East Coast head-spans had been as bomb-proof as the equipment I’d seen on the GWML earlier!