As I’m not trekking across half the country today there’s been no ‘up at sparrowfart’ start. Instead I’m soaking up the sun at Sowerby Bridge, waiting for Northern’s 09:04 to Wigan Wallgate. Today’s mission (which I’ve chosen to accept) is to track down and get some decent shots of the bi-mode, 4-car Class 769s which have now entered service between Alderley Edge and Southport. The units operate on electric power as far as Bolton, then switch to diesel.
The 769s are a conversion from the all-electric Class 319s owned by Porterbrook leasing which previously worked Thameslink services through the heart of London. Porterbrook had surplus electric trains coming out of their ears, with few takers for them due to a glut of new trains and the Government cancelling some electrification schemes that could have seen them gainfully employed – like on the truncated Midland Main Line scheme where I was yesterday.
To help provide a solution to the surplus, the boffins at Porterbrook came up with a cunning plan. Why not convert some of these trains by sticking a a pair of MAN diesel engines under the driving cars coupled to an alternator to convert them to bi-mode. Of course, like most simple ideas it was anything but. Fitting the engines and alternators and associated kit involved a lot of jiggery-pokery under the frames of the units and some components were swapped between vehicles to ensure even weight distribution. Technical problems (then Covid) knocked the programme back, leaving the Northern trains entering service 3 years late. But now they’re here. The units are capable of 100mph under electric power and 75mph on diesel traction, giving them a performance on diesel that’s superior to one of the units they’ve displaced on Southport services – the venerable, BR built Class 150s (which I’ve always felt as sluggish – and noisy). They’re billed as less polluting on diesel than the 150s too due to their modern power management systems. Northern have eight of the units. Others are (or will be) operated by GWR, Transport for Wales and Rail. Rail Operations Group (ROG) will have two for freight use.
I’ll be adding to this blog throughout the day, so keep popping back to see what I get up to. Right now I’m on that Wigan train…
We’re bumbling along the old L&Y Rly main line via Walkden where it’s great to see so many stations receiving a brush-up and lick of paint. Walkden itself seems to have some interesting metal sculptures. I’ll try and stop off to get pictures on my way home.
My train was late into Wigan North Western but I still had time to make it across the road to nearby Wallgate where two 769s on the Southport – Alderley Edge services crossed, one of which would take me West.
Here’s the first of the days pictures…
A bumped ino an old aquaintence on the train. Phil’s a guard for Northern and was out doing the same as me before he started his shift. We had a great little chat about the detail differences between 319s and 769s and how the 769s perform on diesel power. Their acceleration’s never going to beat any records but for low-speed lines like the Southport route that’s hardly a problem.
I left Phil at my first port of call and a place I know of old – Burscough. I’m now playing a game of ‘tag’ with the cloud Gods, but managed this early shot when they weren’t looking!
Having spent several hours around Burscough and Hoscar I’m about to move on again. Thankfully the skies have done nothing but clear so there’s less of those little fluffy white buggers to get in the way of the sun at crucial moments. I’ve now got a series of shots in the can so it’s time to change location and head to my old hhome town – Southport. Never in a million years would I have expected to see a Class 319 at the seaside, but there you go! I’lladd some pictures from these parts later when I have editing time. Right now I’m making the most of rge weather. In the past I’ve mentioned the expensive white elephant that was the new station building at Burscough Bridge. It was built at exactly the wrong time (2004) when the internet was changing ticketing forever. Vacant for years its found a temporary use as a place to pick Covid home testing kits!
Heading to Southport on 769448 I can see just how lucky I’ve been with the weather. The West Lancashire plain allows unobstructed views and ‘big skies’. Just a few miles either side of me I can see heavy banks of cloud – and the Southern bank (which is closer) looks especially unhappy!
Having reached Southport and managed a few useful shots in the sunshine I’m beginning to retrace my steps courtesy of the 16:15 to Alderley Edge which is yet another Class 769. Whilst they’re roomy and well-presented there’s a couple of things I feel are missing. Unlike other Northern trains there are no USB charging points – and no tables. They’re very much traditional Class 319s in this respect.
I’m station-hopping right now, making the most of the glorious weather whilst I can. My first port of call was somewhere very familiar: Parbold. It’s a lovely little station with a level crossing that’s still guarded by an original Saxby and Farmer signalbox although it’s modern barriers it controls now rather than heavy wooden gates. Unlike the box the adjacent Railway pub hasn’t stood the test of time. It’s closed down, waiting to be turned into a housing development.
My next port of call is also the only station on the line I’ve never visited before despite living on this line as a kid. Gathurst. I vividly remember it as a child as it was one of the last to have an active goods yard – and more. Back in the 1970s there was an ICI gunpowder works nearby which was linked to the main line by a narrow-gauge railway. Explosives were then transhipped to BR wagons. It was always a delight to see the narrow gauge train in action. Here’s a link to an old picture.
Of course all that’s long gone, although the original station building survives as a (currently closed) pub. I’ll add pics later.
Home again! It’s time to round off this blog with a few pictures from today trip before saying goodnight. Tomorrow I’ll be working at home as I’ve 2 days of travels to edit pictures from. In the meantime, here’s some of today’s tasters.
Not a sight I’d ever thought I’d see – 769431 arrives at Southport from Alderley Edge.
The old Lancashire and Yorkshire railway station building at Gathurst which is now a pub. You can find them on facebook at the Gathurst station Inn. They’ll be reopening soon…
Right, that’s all for now folks, goodnight!
I’ve a favour to ask…
If you enjoy reading this blog, please click on an advert or two. You don’t have to buy anything you don’t want to of course (although if you did find something that tickled your fancy that would be fab!), but the revenue from them helps to cover some of the cost of maintaining this site – and right now (because of Covid), us freelances need all the help that we can get. Remember, 99% of the pictures used in my blogs can be purchased as prints from my other website – https://paulbigland.zenfolio.com/