Sunday 31 July 2016

Catch Up Time

At last I am mobile again and have been released from my Suffolk County Council imposed flat arrest! So on Friday I drove to Gorleston where I left the car as I wanted to sample one of the ex Leeds Geminis recently arrived in Yarmouth. Then I found another place to leave the car as I realised I hadn't been to that area since all the service changes and where I had parked was no longer served by the 8!

Sure enough after a short wait 36183 rolled up. I had heard mixed reviews of these 12 reg B9tl's but it's important to remember what they are there for and what they are replacing. So a quick review would go as follows:

Are they more comfortable than the Presidents?  Yes.
Do they rattle less than the Presidents?  Yes
Do they feel 10 years younger than the Presidents?  No
Are they perfectly adequate for trundling around Yarmouth?  Yes

And there you have it - a vast improvement on the Presidents but no one is going to be shaking with excitement when one turns up.

ex Leeds Volvo B9tl Gemini 2 36187 BN12 JYK on the X11 to Norwich
By pure chance Friday also saw the debut of Yarmouth's first open top service for many years. Ex Essex Volvo B7 President 32905 has been very tastefully converted and painted up at Rotherham and I was lucky enough to see her on her first full trip between Vauxhall Holiday Camp and Seashore Holiday Camp. I say lucky as she has not had the most auspicious of starts to her tourist career. As you may have seen on East Norfolk Bus Blog 32905 arrived at Yarmouth on the back of a tow truck thanks to a blown turbo. On Friday I waited with fellow enthusiast Cameron Robinson for nearly 45 mins so we could take the quick trip to Vauxhall and back just to say we had been on her. Turns out she had broken down at Seashore and that was it for the day. Saturday wasn't much better as Cameron reports 32905 broke down once again at Seashore so this picture could prove to be rather rare in the fullness of time!

32905 W905 VLN on her short lived debut on Friday
It was also my first opportunity to see the new 7 between Yarmouth and Norwich, now operated by Konect using re-liveried Park & Ride E400's. I'll attempt to travel on one next week to see what they are like, but from what I saw on Friday they are yet to dent the X1 loadings. Time will tell.

Koneect 638 SN65 OAX on the new 7 to Norwich
I do wonder if Konect have considered introducing deals between Postwick and Yarmouth, as well as Norwich so people will be tempted to park at the P&R site, then catch the bus to Yarmouth thus avoiding the parking probs there. Also through tickets from other P&R sites. Might be worth a thought.

After Yarmouth I caught Gemini 36185 back to Gorleston, then drove to Beccles to see my mates at BorderBus. By lucky chance I timed it perfectly as one of the new Geminis, none of which I had seen in the flesh yet, was about to go out on a brake test so I hopped on for the ride. 210, currently registered LF52 ZPC is a 14 year old Volvo B7tl that has spent its entire career in London, and so the BorderBus wizards have got a few rattles and bangs to sort out but comfy seats and again a perfectly adequate vehicle for the job it will be doing. Brakes work well too, as my internal organs will testify having been rearranged on that brake test!

BorderBus 210 LF02 ZPC
On return from the brake test I spent a pleasant hour chatting to Andrew Pursey, and heir to Borderbus Jamie Pursey. Andrew explained how he had got the local community involved in the resurrection of the Beccles Town Service, more of which I will reveal when allowed - suffice it to say some great inventiveness is being put to trial, and will determine just how much the community want this service to continue. Another first for the area is the co-operation with Simonds in the operation of the 580/581 Diss to Yarmouth service. The Borderbus commercially operated 580 starts on August 15th, while the current tender operated by Anglian is still running. However from the 29th August Simonds will be taking over the Diss - Beccles side of the Council sponsored route. To encourage continued passenger use two journeys each way a day will have guaranteed connections at Beccles for those wanting to use both services, and even better there will be mutual ticket acceptance so fare payers will not have to pay because two different operators are involved. About time, gentlemen, and I hope this proves to be the catalyst for more common sense attitudes like that.

In the interest of fairness I should also mention that from August 29th Anglian will be introducing their own commercially operated 81 between Bungay and Yarmouth, to a broadly similar timetable as present, although there are no ticket acceptance arrangements between Anglian and anyone else.

Now I don't normally quote anyone but an exception is in order on this occasion. Andrew said something quite nonchalantly that made my ears shoot up. "I think, with the 580, BorderBus has finished growing". Not sure he was trying to convince me or himself but I have a feeling that quote might be the subject of much laughter in the years to come!

I was chatting with the guys in the yard just before leaving when the one Gemini I hadn't seen came back to the depot. One of those times you grab the camera and hope for the best. In this case 209 LF52 ZFB came out looking rather good.

Borderbus 209 returning to base
 It's going to be a very interesting couple of months on the bus scene in East Anglia, and I hope to be far more on the ball than I have been in recent weeks. However now I've boosted my train related readership I'm not going to neglect that side again either, so I'll be striving to find a balance without overdoing things again as I have in the past. Thanks to all of you for sticking with me over the past few weeks and here's to the future.

Finally a message to my thousands of readers in Russia, who have been outnumbering UK views quite considerably recently;

Спасибо всем , кто принимает галстук т читать блог тыс . Не знаю, почему транспорт в Восточной Англии интересен в России, но рад, что вы все на борту, даже если я подозреваю, вы просто случайные компьютерные программы , а не реальные люди !

Wednesday 27 July 2016

Oh MAN Please No!

Just when we thought things couldn't get any worse eh! Despite all the service cuts, delays, cancellations, breakdowns, constant flow of drivers coming and going, constant flow of managers coming and going, rumours, counter rumours and complete disorganisation one beacon, a huge massive glowing beacon of light kept what popularity Anglian retained going. That beacon was the 12 remaining MAN Ecocity gas buses. My opinion that they are without doubt the best single deck buses ever built has not wavered, and I never miss an opportunity to ride them. Smooth, ridiculously quiet and very comfortable they are like nothing else.

On July 8th I contacted Graham Richardson at Plymothian Transit as I had heard rumours that the gas buses had been earmarked for transfer down there. He told me the same rumours had reached him but he couldn't confirm anything. Well today on his blog he has confirmed that later in the Summer the Anglian gas buses will be transferring to Plymouth Citybus. Roy Northcott of East Norfolk Bus Blog reported Graham's post, and Graham confirmed to Roy that he had been told by the MD of Plymouth Citybus of the transfer. I contacted Anglian, and a spokesperson informed me that no one at Anglian had been told a thing about it. No surprise there really - Go-Ahead only tell people things they want them to know and Anglian has been locked in a dark room for 4 years now.

The big question is WHY?? Why are buses iconic to the region, revolutionary at the time, brought here and paid for by Green Grants from the Government being moved? Why should our air quality suffer? Of course the theorists will be going into overdrive trying to work this out and I'm not going to miss the opportunity to give my two pennyworth too!

Anglian 100 on the old 62
The gas buses require specialist fuelling equipment. This is installed at Ellough, and the buses won't transfer to Plymouth until the equipment is installed there. But why are they moving in the first place? Is it because Go-Ahead have plans to close Beccles depot and relocate everything to Rackheath which doesn't have gas pumps? Would make sense but the resulting dead mileage wouldn't. So is it even more drastic and Anglian are closing full stop? I doubt that to be the case as they have just sponsored a local football team and they are just about to start operating the 85 again, unless it is one big smokescreen. The trouble is no one knows away from Go-Ahead's Head Madhouse, where all the barmy decisions affecting our area are made - they are certainly not made locally. So we will just have to wait and see, but it will be a sad day when the best buses in our region, arguably some of the best buses in the country leave the area.

I will be preparing a couple of posts dedicated to the gas buses over the next few weeks, using pictures of their construction and development never seen before as well as archived pics of them in service.

In other news that I don't think has been reported elsewhere Our Bus have won the tender for the 86, currently operated by Simonds. However at present details as to route changes and frequency are sketchy except the VOSA registration included Beccles, not currently served by the route, so it is possible an extended 86 could be replacing the withdrawn 81A to the villages concerned.

Monday 25 July 2016


If you happen to live in Reydon, Wangford, Wenhaston, Halesworth or Holton today is not a good day, particularly if you happen to be a fare payer. You see Anglian Bus have done it again - decided you good people are not worthy of a convenient bus service if you happen to want to go to your nearest big town, ie Lowestoft. From today the 61 no longer operates between Kessingland and Southwold, leaving most of Reydon, Wangford and South Wrentham without a direct service to Lowestoft for the first time in many years. But it also has knock on effects. When Anglian withdrew the 62 last year between Halesworth and Southwold, they said passengers from Halesworth Holton, Wenhaston and Blythburgh needing to get to Lowestoft could catch the 88A to Southwold and change to the 61. Of course earlier this year those same passengers were disencouraged from making the journey due to ridiculous waiting times for connections in Southwold.

Now to get from Blythburgh to Lowestoft - both located on the A12 remember - it will mean the 88A to Southwold, then a 99 to Lowestoft. If you're in Wangford you need to get the 146 to Pakefield and change there to the 99. Either way if you are a fare payer you have been priced out of the market due to having to use multiple operators and still the lack of a multi-operator ticket that the rest of the country seems to have. In other words tough - we want your money as the council don't give us enough for Concessionary passes but make the bus an attractive option for those not in major towns or cities? Don't be silly - we'd rather not run a bus at all than make an effort to encourage passenger use with sensible timetabling and financial incentives.

The good old days of the 62
 But fare payers of Blythburgh and Wenhaston fear not for I have devised a way you can travel the 15 or so miles to Lowestoft and not have to pay twice - are you sitting comfortably? Good because you'll need the practice.

First of all you will need to catch the 0913 88A from Blythburgh to Halesworth (0918 Wenhaston). Jump off pretty quick as you only have 2 mins to make the connection at Halesworth onto the 0935  60H to Beccles arriving at 1007. Again you'll need to be pretty sharpish getting off as you need to immediately jump on the 1010 service 81 to Great Yarmouth, arriving at  1050. There you can link up with the new not much improved 61, leaving at 1105, arriving in Lowestoft at 1153. Not bad - only 160 mins to do 15 miles. Now let's look at the return journey shall we assuming you only want a couple of hours in Lowestoft. Ok you can't have a couple of hours as you need to get the 1325 back to Yarmouth so no time for a leisurely lunch I'm afraid. Once at Yarmouth you can catch the 1417 service 81 to Beccles arriving at 1457. Oh dear we have now hit a slight problem as the next bus back to Halesworth doesn't leave until 1720 so you might as well have lunch in Lowestoft after all. Back to the drawing board. Instead get the 1525 from Lowestoft to Yarmouth but make sure you get off at Southtown Rd as the Beccles bus leaves Market Gates a minute before the 61 gets in. This will mean you get to Beccles at 1652 and only have to wait 28 mins for the 60H, getting to Halesworth at 1755. Oh hang on what's this? The last 88A to Southwold which until today left Halesworth at 1815 has been cut, the last one being 1715 so you're stranded in Halesworth. Sorry about that let's try again.

So back to plan A - have your 2 hours in Lowestoft, catch the 1355 61 from Lowestoft to Yarmouth, jump on Konect's new service 7 at 1435 to Norwich, which you can use your all day (no kidding) ticket on then catch the 1600 X88 to Halesworth which becomes the 1715 88A arriving at Blythburgh at 1729. Simple really isn't it! Oh just one thing - from the end of August the 81 times change again, and that morning connection at Beccles you make by 3 mins? Sorry - the 81 will now leave 5 mins earlier so it won't connect anymore. Still fancy catching the bus? Yet more communities effectively cut off through damned incompetence and yet again it's the fare payer who suffers the most - the very people we are told should be encouraged to use the bus more often.

However if you live in Bungay, Beccles or Haddiscoe you are going to see a dramatic improvement in your bus service. On 15th August Borderbus launch their new 580 service between Beccles and Yarmouth. The service will operate hourly between 0816 and 1432 via Shipmeadow, re-introducing the fast link between Bungay and Beccles that proved so popular, and James Paget Hospital, thus reinstating a direct link from Beccles - JPH that was lost when Anglian withdrew the 60. For the first two weeks Anglian will be operating the current 80/81 timetable but from August 29th Anglian will be going commercial between Bungay and Yarmouth, also operating via Shipmeadow but then current route to Yarmouth. Although operating less journeys per day than Borderbus Anglian do operate the earliest and latest journeys. If the 580 proves successful I would expect Borderbus to increase afternoon journeys as they have done with the 146. Also from August 29th Simonds begin operating the Diss - Beccles part of the route, renumbered 581, and two journeys each way a day will connect with the 580 at Beccles. The 581 will operate the existing route between Bungay and Beccles but as yet I do not know if there will be mutual ticket acceptance on the 580/581. Borderbus are also taking over the Beccles Town Service, with four morning journeys a day Monday - Friday. *UPDATE: Just been informed that there WILL be mutual ticket acceptance between the 580 and 581. Good. Let that be the start.

Speaking of the 146 yesterday marked the second anniversary of the launch of the 146, and my how the route has flourished in that time. I predicted deckers would soon be needed and sure enough a 3rd Gemini arrived on Friday. Four more record days last week with figures for July currently showing a 71& increase in passenger numbers and 90% increase in revenue compared to July 2015  Now if only they could take over the Halesworth corridors too!

Sunday 24 July 2016

Thumpers, Tractors and Test Trains

While the good and the great of the railway enthusiast world, or should that be grailway enthusiast world after Trainspotting Live, were making a beeline for the Open Day at DRS in Crewe, I had something far more pressing to go and see. Growing up in Kent on the 3rd rail network there wasn't too much variety. No Deltics, 45's, Westerns etc for us. We had a diet of EMU's, 33's and 73's. However there was one train that whenever I saw it had me staring in wonder, wishing it was on my line, and just loving the sound it made. When I was a teenager at college in Tonbridge I would sit for hours on Tonbridge station watching and listening to the Hastings Diesels. I'd sometimes buy a single to Tunbridge Wells purely to sit near one of the engines as it clagged up the hill to High Brooms. If it was a double unit even better as you had two engines back to back. Their unique shape due to the restricted Wadhurst Tunnel made them even more evocative, and it was a truly sad day when the Hastings line was electrified and those awesome trains were retired.

However one survives, 1001, lovingly preserved by Hastings Diesels Ltd and yesterday it was on one of its tours which involved travelling up the Great Eastern Mainline to Norwich, then up to Sheringham to venture on the North Norfolk Railway to Holt. This was not to be missed, and so the legend who is Tim Miller came to pick me up and off we went to find the train that holds so many personal memories for me.

I wanted to hear those engines working hard, so having studied the route decided that the stretch of line just after Whittingham Junction would be the best place. Sure enough we found a footbridge that crossed the line in the perfect place and waited, using the extremely useful live diagrams to follow the Thumper's progress. Then the moment I had been waiting for. Plug your headphones in, turn the volume up to 11 and enjoy.

The next aim was to catch the Thumper crossing the road at Sheringham making the transition from Network Rail controlled line to the North Norfolk Railway. Despite all the holiday traffic we made it just in time and discovered we were not the only ones with the idea - Sheringham was packed and the crossing point especially so. However that meant I had to adopt an unusual camera angle (hold as high above my head as possible and hope for the best) and the resulting pics show a train looking as though it is part of a carnival parade - so pleased with these!

1001 crosses the road at Sheringham in triumph!
And enters North Norfolk Railway territory
We had lunch while 1001 trundled off to Holt and back, but were in situ to catch its return, where it passed one of NNR's steam locos, 92 203, a BR Standard Class 9F that was amazingly built 2 years AFTER the Thumper in 1959. Black Prince holds the record for the heaviest train hauled by steam (2,178 tonnes) set in 1982.

Thumper meets Black Prince at Sheringham NNRprince
It was quite something to get up close and personal to 1001 again - a train I was lucky enough to guard in service when she was hired by Connex in the very early 2000's. What a train, what a sound and what memories.

Before we rendezvoused with the Thumper though, there was an opportunity to go tractor hunting in the form of the Anglian Short Set, which on Saturdays operates fast services between Norwich and Great Yarmouth. So Tim and I set ourselves up at the picturesque Brundall station. Sadly no clag, but 37's at speed have a presence in my opinion that can't be matched, and that made it worth it alone. 37405 is leading with 37422 on the rear.

That hadn't been the only DRS 37 action in the previous day or two. Thursday saw a Network Rail test train come to the area, and it spent the afternoon and evening trundling up and down the lines from Norwich to Yarmouth and Lowestoft, before making a trip down the East Suffolk Line and back. Cameron Robinson sent me this picture he took from a bus on the Acle Straight near Yarmouth.

37605 with the Network Rail test train
At Yarmouth Grahame Bessey was in place to capture it there. Here is 37602 soaking up the sun

37602 atYarmouth
In fact it seems that the pair of 37's enjoyed the Suffolk sun so much they wanted a bit more. After arriving back at Lowestoft from their tour of the East Suffolk Line early Friday morning one of them decided that was it and promptly failed. The rest of Friday was spent in the sun before finally ending their brief holiday at 2330. Cameron was once again on hand to take this pic of a very relaxed looking 37605.

Nice 'ere innit! 37605 takes a day off in Lowestoft.
So plenty of DRS action without having to go to Crewe! Thanks to Grahame and Cameron for the pics and special thanks to Tim for what was a truly outstanding day.

Monday 18 July 2016

Dawlish Delights

Since I have been Railcamming I have got to know Simon Deane, one of the brains behind Dawlish Beach, which operate the Dawlish Cams giving viewers a stunning opportunity to see trains going past arguably the most desirable spotting location in the country. Not just for trains either but the famous Dawlish Sea Wall is also one of the most spectacular places to watch Mother Nature wreak her vengeance. When a strong South Easterly is blowing the waves crash over the wall making for some mesmerising viewing. Simon has sent me a selection of photos taken from the Dawlish cams, and I'll add one or two of mine as well. I recommend visiting and taking out a free trial. I'm sure you'll agree the modest subscription fees are well worth it, especially as if you miss something you can rewind the cameras to catch up on anything, or indeed watch something again.

Many thanks, Simon, and I simply have to get down to Dawlish at some point soon.

First up we have West Country class 34046 "Braunton", who I personally think is better looking than the Flying Scotsman. Renumbered 34052 "Lord Dowding" this year here she is in June.

Braunton passes through Dawlish
Of course Dawlish is on the Exeter - Plymouth section of the GWR, so is the domain of the Class 43 Intercity 125's, who have been gracing our mainlines for over 40 years now. Here are a couple of superb examples of how Great Western make the most of these icons. First we see 43002, repain5ed into original 1975 livery and named Sir Kenneth Grange, after the man who designed them

253001 (43002) Sir Kenneth Grange on a cloudless day in Dawlish
Secondly my personal favourite. 43172 is dedicated to the fallen, and I think this unit looks suitably majestic.

43172 dedicated to the fallen
Every Summer Saturday Great Western operate a Plymouth - Exeter return journey using coaches hauled by a Class 57 loco. Here is impressively looking 57304 gleaming in the Devon sun.

57304 on the Saturday Special
Finally from Simon's collection a little self indulgence and one for my friends North of Hadrian's Wall. Just about as far away from home as is possible Class 37 37925 "Inverness TMD" hauls a Network Rail test train. My favourite locos by a mile!

Isn't that a glorious sight? 37025 with NR test train
Now I mentioned it wasn't just trains that the Dawlish cams capture well but the weather. I've still to see my first decent lightning on the cams, but in the Winter and Spring I certainly saw some spectacular sea conditions.

A 125 in almost Turneresque conditions
It can be scary out there!
Of course it can also be extremely calm and serene in Dawlish, and I'll leave you with a moonlit scene, complete with artistically blurred 125.

Very romantic
 If this doesn't convince you to give Dawlsih Beach a try then nothing will! Not too any cams are as good in the winter as they are Summer, but with the added ingredient of the sea then dawlish is the exception.

For those of you wondering where all the bus news is, well when I can get out again to get some I'll post it! As railcams exist and buscams don't I'm rather restricted at present. Normal service should be restored in the next couple of weeks.

Saturday 16 July 2016

Guest Post: Trainspotting Live - Another View

If you look down the links section you will see a recent addition is Steven Carty's personal blog. Steven, known as Cheggs to his mates, is a rail enthusiast, an Admin on Railcam, and is one of those people who makes a difference to your life from the moment you meet him. Cheggs asked me if he could write a rant, loosely disguised as a post for the blog as he has a bit of time on his hands at the moment. You see he was so excited at the prospect of the 3rd Trainspotting Live that his heart couldn't handle it and decided hospital was a better option. Still awaiting test results Cheggs sent this to me earlier, and it is his take not so much to the programme itself, but the reaction of the hardcore enthusiast world to it. Those of you who know me well will know I have little patience with the hardcore enthusiast, who think they are the font of all knowledge above those actually working or who have worked in the industry, for whom the word "humour" is from an alien galaxy, and all of whom are Doctors of Pedantology. So I'm delighted to publish this post from Cheggs, show's I'm not the only one! Get well soon mate, and thanks for getting this, erm, off your chest and speaking, erm, from the heart......Hope the blood pressure is normal again.

Dear World.

I am writing this piece as by means of an apology. For what exactly, I will divulge shortly. As many of you will know, last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday saw the airing of in my opinion a very bold and brave show.........TRAINSPOTTING LIVE. Broadcast on BBC4 at 8pm on said evenings was a simple production without hundreds of thousands of pounds of budget behind it attempting to bring the world of both trains and trainspotting to the general public at large who for countless decades have sniggered, sneered at and derided our love of trains, railways and all things flange wheeled.

So, were we delighted this was happening?
Were we heck! Naaay, naaay and thrice naaay. From minute 1 when it was announced it was doomed to failure. And I shall tell you why.
Because of the very same people who want everyone to like our hobby, but don't want anybody to either criticise it or dare get anything wrong associated with it. Those who want it to appeal to a mass public, but want it to be on THEIR terms. Those who think you can only be 'indoctrinated' by them and what they think or don't bother at all.

I had my doubts, I made quips and jokes beforehand. I had horrible visions of being laughed at by friends etc. And you know what, I wouldn't have blamed them for laughing. But not at who you think.
Peter Snow, Dr Hannah Fry, Tim Dunn and Dick Strawbridge fronted up to live cameras and attempted to do a job that these so called enthusiasts could only dream of! And my hat is off, and my heart goes out to them for doing so. State for the record your honour that I really enjoyed the programmes (well 2 of them as I write this as a certain health issue stopped me from seeing the 3rd one live haha) and would really like it to appear on our screens again and hopefully soon.
See the thing is, I don't care if they got fooled by a month's old clip, or they got one or two bits of terminology or factoid wrong, there was 3 hours of non-stop talking and showing and explaining trains / railways.

However, I would have been laughed at by my friends because of one thing........Facebook. Just before 8pm on Monday 11th July, Facebook should have carried the following.........

For the next 3 evenings and possibly beyond, you are about to be subjected to behaviour of extreme smugness, high-almightiness, all-knowingness and petty proportions that will make you cringe and possibly want to vomit. No, not by the show, but from the hundreds of grown people who see their hobby as exclusive and to which only they know what's best. Who hang out of train windows looking like they're about to give a Nazi salute. Who wish to be photographed 'almost touching' a loco. Who pounce on any mistake anyone makes about anything railway related that you don't ever dare to question them ever again, I mean how could you!?
For this, the trainspotting and railway community would like to say a huge sorry. Because despite anyone's best efforts nothing will ever be good enough to those who would undoubtedly be able to bring you THE best ever live production the WORLD has ever seeeeen!!!

We are trying to get rid of stereotypes etc etc but all we did was feed them this week with all the holier-than-thou attitudes. How about some of US actually got together seriously and put a show together? No, not broadcast it! And not one that's an hour of trains going by with someone telling you what the damn things are! I meant a show that we think would appeal!? And pitch it to someone. Go on then.

So, my sincere apologies world. We really do want you to like us and like our hobby and passion, but only when we're ready, and only how we see it, okay? Cool, nice one.

But keep spotting ;-)


Thursday 14 July 2016

Trainspotting Live - On The Right Track?

When Trainspotting Live, which aired on BBC4 this week was announced, it was described as "Springwatch for rail enthusiasts". It was designed not for the hard core spotter permanently camped at the end of a platform at Clapham Junction or Crewe, but for those who have an interest in trains that doesn't border on obsession, and an attempt to throw off the "nerd in an anorak" image rail enthusiasm has. A commendable aim, so I watched with interest to see what transpired.

Springwatch has been a phenomenal success. It took natural history from the rain forests and African savannas into viewer's back gardens, showing that what was going on in front of your eyes was worth sitting up and taking notice of. As a result more bird boxes and feeders than ever are in back gardens, there are organised barn owl watching walks, toad crossing patrols etc etc as people have realised you don't have to be David Attenborough to enjoy, or interact with nature.

Key to that initial success were the presenters. Bill Oddie and Kate Humble, both experts in their field, who were able to explain the basics of what was presented to the viewer without patronising anyone, and just as importantly some humour. There was banter as to if Bill's tits or Kate's tits would fledge first etc and viewers felt really involved. Simon King was despatched to a remote island to live with seagulls or red deer to demonstrate the other side of nature watching - cold, wet, windy and hours of waiting to see what you want.

So obviously it was assumed that the BBC would find a couple of presenters to ignite the same kind of enthusiasm for the railways. Peter Snow, former Newsnight presenter and "Swingometer" operator seemed completely lost at Didcot Railway Centre, and reminded me of a well meaning grandad trying to be enthusiastic about his grandchild's latest computer game, without having the faintest idea what is going on. That is unfortunate if you are reading texts and tweets out from people who DO know what they are talking about on live television, as every gap in knowledge is and was exposed to almost cringeworthy proportions, "Spirit of Sunderland vinyls - whatever that is". Had Bill Oddie not known what plumage is it's unlikely Springwatch would have had the same success.

Teamed up with Peter Snow was Hannah Fry, a mathematician, who promised us to go through the huge amount of maths and numbers involved in the railway. Except she didn't. The first night was spent working out the maximum speed a train number could be spotted from 20 yards. Turns out to be around 680mph but doesn't take into account speed blurring........Yes ok that's useful to know then. The second programme was all about torque - a word I have never heard spoken on the railway before - and the difference in torque between steam and diesel locomotion. The third programme did try to delve into the maths involved in timetabling, but spent time looking at unintelligible graphs rather than taking specific examples.

None of those will have sparked enthusiasm in anyone new. I was expecting total miles of track on the network, number of sleepers per mile, maximum train/freight lengths, how many trains operate in the country per day, how many stations there are, the cost of maintaining the railway per mile, the difference between overhead line and 3rd rail traction etc etc - information relevant to today's railway. Hannah did her bit competently, but showed no more knowledge of the railway than her co-presenter did.

The word "Live" was also taken a bit loosely. Springwatch have always said if something was pre-recorded or filmed a bit earlier etc. On the first show Trainspotting showed some footage "just come in" of a convoy of new gbrf Class 66's being delivered which completely threw the poor guy at Didcot. Not surprising really as I had seen one of them at Ipswich a month ago! That made the front page of The Sun and a grovelling apology ensued at the start of Wednesday's programme. In fact very little was actually live, and quite often what was planned to be live either failed to materialise or sneaked into a platform while someone was talking. Dick Strawbridge was enthusiastic to the point of gushing on location, trying to make the very people the programme set out not to aim at interesting, whilst not making anything very clear. Tim Dunn was the roving reporter, up in Mallaig to see the Jacobite Steamer at just about the least spectacular spot on the line on Monday, in Carlisle to see Class 37's on Tuesday, except when it arrived they decided to cut away before anyone could hear the engine, and for some unknown reason at Stafford for the 3rd programme to see Class 325 mail trains, which had a disproportionate exposure in the programme. It was by chance that 66779, the last 66 built made an appearance, and no one appeared to have done any research, or timetable reading to see what operated where and when.

Everyday there was a daily task for viewers - a "Holy Grail" as Peter Snow said as often as possible. Monday was to see the "Flying Banana" - a Network Rail Measurement Train topped and tailed by HST125 power cars. This one train was allegedly spotted everywhere from Kings Cross to Inverness! On Tuesday the task was the mail trains, rather interestingly not realising that between 2000 - 2100 most of the mail trains are either at Willesden or Warrington being loaded up..... On Wednesday it was Virgin East Coast Class 91 91110 which is dedicated to the fallen. It failed to show up.

To start new enthusiasts off, though, there were easier tasks. Monday was devoted to Class 66 locos, or Sheds as they are known by enthusiasts. Although I personally can't stand the things they can be seen on virtually every line in the country so a good choice to use as bait to hook new spotters. On Tuesday you had to spot a Class 43, otherwise known as a 125. Not so good if you don't live on either the East Coast, Midland or Great Western mainlines. Wednesday we were encouraged to spot an EMU, acronym for Electrical Multiple Unit, something that Peter Snow seemed to find highly amusing yet unfathomable at the same time. Of course no one realised that the Class 325 mail trains we had to spot the night before are actually, erm, EMU's!

However, in an effort to show viewers you don't have to be obsessed to be a rail enthusiast, Peter Snow had a daily guest. On Monday a chap who has photographed every station in Britain, on Tuesday a man who collects engine plates and has his house covered in them, and on Wednesday a prolific collector of tickets. No obsession required there then!

Of course the lack of knowledge of the railway network manifested itself rather sadly in some of the texts and tweets read out. A Pendolino was apparently spotted in Wick - which is roughly 250 miles from the nearest electrified line. An HST 125 spotted in Carlisle, which is on the West Coast Mainline and doesn't get them. Another EMU was seen on the Sudbury branch - yes it's not electrified, and a Class 45 EMU was spotted somewhere - a 45 is a massive loco! I'm not sure the same lack of basic knowledge of the network would have been allowed on Springwatch.

But above all the programme failed in its mission to demonstrate you DON'T have to be standing at the end of a platform, notebook clutched in hand, to have an interest in the railways. It can be a picnic in the woods by a line, sitting on the wall at Dawlish (if you don't cheat and watch the spectacular Dawlish Beach cameras), from the comfort of your own home by watching the superb Railcam. It didn't demonstrate how solitary the hobby can be, how theraputic - an escape from the trials of normal life can be, that travelling by train for pleasure can be so rewarding if you don't have a deadline to meet. That it's not all about train numbers, just being in the right place at the right time to hear a 37 roar past, or see a Eurostar (of which there was no mention at all or HS1) come across the Medway Bridge doing 186mph. Seeing a steamer on the mainline bringing back childhood memories for so many people. It isn't all about taking numbers in a notebook on a platform. It really isn't.

There was also the opportunity to explode urban myths about the railway. A practical demonstration of the effect leaves can have for example. I'll never forget the first time I saw black rails on the line between Tonbridge and Redhill, and I finally understood what it was all about. Everyone is held up by signal failures, so an explanation of those would have been useful, how points operate etc etc - things that affect ordinary people on a day to day basis. That would have interested a lot more people than the difference in torque between steam and diesel.

However, it was good that finally a programme focusing on the trains themselves was aired. At least we didn't see Peter Snow boarding a 156, an aerial shot of a 170, then seeing him alight from a Voyager like you do in Michael Portillo's Great British Railway Journeys. The more exposure railways get the better, but as a programme aimed at getting more people involved in railway enthusiasm I think it missed the target by a considerable distance.

I hope a second series is commissioned, but get presenters who know something about the railway, make it known there are sites such as Railcam and Dawlish Beach that people unable to get around the country can use to spot trains from their living room, go to locations other than busy stations, talk about aspects of the railway that affect everyone, and above all plan it better, using people who know what they are talking about to plan what is featured and spoken about. There is a big potential there, but the lasting impression I got was lack of preparation, rehearsal, and basic knowledge. It could, and should have been so much better.

Sunday 3 July 2016

Second Anglia Short Set Arrives

Around three weeks ago I mentioned on a railway chat room that Abellio Greater Anglia were going to hire in 2 Class 68 locos and 3 Mark II coaches to form a second Short set to cover for the badly damaged 170204 which had a coming together with a tractor at a level crossing in Thetford a few months ago, I was shouted down and ridiculed. No it's not going to happen, the 68's are there for Trans Penine Crew training (Norwich struck me as a funny place to do that), the unions would never have it blah blah blah.

Yesterday I was rescued from my prison flat (due to minibuses being impossible to book these days) by Tim Miller and we drove to Haddiscoe to see....yes that new Class 68 hauled Short Set with erm, 3 Mark II coaches that has been hired in by Abellio Greater Anglia to cover for 170204 which is still awaiting repair........ At the moment the set is hired in until the current franchise expires in October. However presumably whoever wins the new franchise (whispers say First are favourites) will still have to cover for the damaged 170 so who knows.

Anyway the locos are 68016 and 68023, the coaches are ex Anglian coaches still in Anglian livery which has a nice nostalgic feel to it. We set up shop on the Down platform at Haddiscoe, and then an almighty panic ensued as the set, out on its first training run came round the corner some 15 mins early!

68023 pulls into Haddiscoe on the test run to Lowestoft
Now before I get people saying where are the headlights the Class 68 locos use LED lights, and the frequency has the same effect as many bus destinations in that cameras don't always pick the light up. In fact on video the lights look as though they are flashing alternately. Technology for you!

68023 is named "Achilles" and comes complete with ghost crew member!
68016 is named "Fearless"
I like the 68's. They are pleasing on the eye, and have a lovely soundtrack, unlike the ghastly 66's. Nothing will ever match the growl of the 37's but the sound of the 68's at full clag was very satisfying.

68016 at the rear as the train moves off towards Lowestoft
All of the above pics are stills taken from the video I took, which you can see below. We did move to a different location to catch the return journey from what is locally known as Haddiscoe Island, with the river between us and the railway and a splendid backdrop of the Broads. Unfortunately my video was heavily wind affected, failed to pick up the amazing drone as the set approached, and the picture was lousy! I'm hoping Tim's effort was more successful, and if it was I'll post it as soon as he's processed it. In the meantime here is the video from which the above pics were taken and turn the volume up! Thanks for coming to get me, Tim - truly appreciated.

Finally my hearty congratulations to a syndicate of drivers at Dublin Bus' Broadstone depot, who scooped the 22m Euro jackpot on the Euromillions draw on Friday. According to RTE news some are nearing retirement age. Enjoy it, gentlemen and ladies, and I'm only slightly jealous!