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  • The Scottish Rail Scene in the Twenty-First Century by John Jackson

    The date was 9th August 1968, a day I remember well. That was the day I crossed an imaginary line, and my imagination turned to reality. My love affair had begun.

    Leaving Carlisle’s Kingmoor yard behind me, my first entry in my beloved spotting notebook was to be at the isolated community of Beattock, around forty miles north of the border on the West Coast Main Line. That was the day that I had crossed the border from England to Scotland for the very first time.

    The iconic Forth Bridge, spanning the Firth of Forth since 1890. (The Scottish Rail Scene in the Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

    In the next few days I will notch up my fifty-first consecutive year of visiting Scotland at least once, and, most years, many times more.

    Just a couple of years ago, my visit to the re-opened Borders Railway ensured that I have still visited every open passenger railway station in that country. Of course, many escaped my grasp due to the ‘Beeching Axe’ taking out much of the Scottish passenger rail map before both my maturity and financial position would have enabled me to visit.

    Back in 1968, I was a teenager with a hobby, but it was so much more than that. It was, and still is, a passion. My father had lit the touchpaper by sharing with me his love of steam engines. Those beasts may have come and gone but my love affair with our railways remains. In recent years, my camera has become my travelling companion as I pursue another railway target, this time to take at least one photo at every station on the rail network. That remains a tall order.

    So, fast-forward fifty years from that teenage moment in 1968, and I am standing on the single platform at Altnabreac. This isolated station is just over forty miles south of Wick on the Far North Line. My wife and father-in-law, and our car, are left behind at nearby Scotscalder as I make the ‘out and back’ journey with a twenty-minute connection here at Altnabreac having arrived on the lunchtime southbound train and then returning north almost immediately.

    The remote outpost of Altnabreac on Scotland’s Far North Line. (The Scottish Rail Scene in the Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

    As I stood at this remote outpost I had to pinch myself. The motivation for this particular journey was to take a photo, not just for my private enjoyment, but also for imminent publication.

    I had decided that Altnabreac was to feature on the Far North Line pages of ‘The Scottish Rail Scene in the Twenty-First Century’, my tenth title for Amberley Publishing. It didn’t matter that there was no road access to this station whatsoever! The twenty minutes waiting here between trains gave me the chance to archive yet another chapter in my Scottish Railway memories.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed travelling the length and breadth of Scotland’s railways over the last half century. Of course, the Scottish railway scene has changed much in that time. By the time of my early ventures north the steam engines had disappeared, but in their wake came a wide variety of Diesel locomotive types. Most of these locos seemed to spend most of their time stabled out of use at the many depots that littered Scotland in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Most of those locos and depots have also been consigned to history. But Scotland’s railways still have much to tempt me north.

    The last few years of these travels are reflected in this book. The publication takes a whistle-stop tour of those lines that survived into the twenty-first century. From the border city of Carlisle to the Far North termini at Wick and Thurso, the book covers the length and breadth of the country. I have included as many lines and locations as space constraints allow. I hope you have the chance to share my journey.

    John Jackson's new book The Scottish Rail Scene in the Twenty-First Century is available for purchase now.

  • South Devon Railway by Bernard Warr

    This is the third book I have written for Amberley but the first about railways, a subject that is close to my heart. My romance with the South Devon Railway started on a hot summers day in 1965 when I was being driven along the old and winding A38 road in Devon. We came upon Buckfastleigh, much more famous among tourists for Buckfast Abbey than anything to do with railways in those days. My friend and flatmate, Nigel, in whose car we were travelling, pulled into the entrance of the station approach road but found our way barred by a substantial gate, firmly locked and chained. We climbed out to have a look and found a notice attached to the gate telling us that the former railway from Totnes to Ashburton was to be reopened by a private company as a tourist attraction. An appeal for help was made and an address to contact for information was given.

    Buckfastleigh Station in 1965. (Image Bernard Mills, South Devon Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    This sounded interesting and I contacted the address to offer my help, deep down expecting to be told that they wanted people who knew something about railways and could be of more use than a humble bank clerk. How wrong I was! They welcomed me with open arms and I was soon a regular attendee at the weekend working parties. On site, a veritable treasure trove of Great Western Steam engines and coaches had been assembled ready for the day when services could recommence. As it turned out, it was to be nearly four years before the first fare paying passenger was carried. The problem being the section of the line between Buckfastleigh and Ashburton. The Ministry of Transport wanted to keep this strip of land to enable the A38 to be straightened and widened. Because of this the company was only able to run services between Totnes and Buckfastleigh from April 1969.

     

    The very last train from Ashburton on 2 October 1971 was the 3.05pm to London Paddington, loading to eleven carriages, seen here approaching Buckfastleigh in the capable hands of former GWR loco 4588. (Image Bernard Mills, South Devon Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    In the succeeding years, as the railway prospered, so did Buckfastleigh, enjoying something of an economic renaissance as a result. Meanwhile the Dartmoor town of Ashburton, bereft of the tourist railway, has not participated in similar economic success.

    The last trains to Ashburton ran in 1971 and included enormous through trains from both Swansea and London Paddington and on this day, the line saw more visitors than at any time in its history.

    Shortly afterwards the road contractors moved in, ripped up the track and obliterated the line north of Buckfastleigh. An enormous embankment was built across the Buckfastleigh Station goods yard, removing at a stroke, the many storage sidings it contained.

     

     

     

    The bridge over the River Dart north of Buckfastleigh in 1971, with the station and goods yard in the background, all soon to be obliterated by the widening of the A38 Trunk Road. (Image Bernard Mills, South Devon Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    From this low point the company slowly built the new business, establishing a regular train service during the summer months and undertaking maintenance of the track, rolling stock and engines during the winter months. In those early years although the line passed through delightful scenery alongside the River Dart, it was very much a line to nowhere as the new station at Totnes, facilitated by the company, was divided from the town by the river and no one could get on or off!

    At about the time that the last trains to Ashburton ran the company was offered the freehold of the line between Paignton and Kingswear with the ferry across to Dartmouth. This proved to be an enormously successful venture and by 1989 the company decided that the line from Buckfastleigh to Totnes was losing money and could not continue to operate under their control. It was offered up for sale. Fortunately, the volunteers who had been supporting the Buckfastleigh – Totnes line banded together, formed a charitable organisation and negotiated a lease from the company with their first trains running from 1991.

    Copper capped chimney and gleaming brasswork. This picture of Small Prairie 2-6-2T No. 5542 as it passes Hood Bridge Permanent Way cabin says it all! (Image Bernard Miles, South Devon Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    The charitable status helped obtain grant aid to construct a pedestrian footbridge across the River Dart at Totnes which opened in 1993.

    Suddenly the ‘line to nowhere’ had gained a purpose and passenger numbers (and therefore revenue) soared. Over the years, other attractions have been developed; at Buckfastleigh there is the Otter Sanctuary and Butterfly World, whilst at the Totnes end is the Totnes Rare Breeds Farm. All very appealing for the family visit and makes an enjoyable day out. But of course, the real attraction is the Great Western steam engines with copper capped chimneys, gleaming brasswork and the smell of warm oil, burning coal and the steam! Long may it remain so.

    Bernard Warr's new book South Devon Railway is available for purchase now.

  • Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester by Colin Alexander

    The Quantock Hills have recently reverberated to the distinctive sound of two Maybach MD870 engines, as preserved Beyer, Peacock ‘Hymek’ diesel-hydraulics D7017 and D7018 were reunited in service on the West Somerset Railway. I first fell in love with these stylish machines when another preserved example, D7029, filled Newtondale Gorge in North Yorkshire with her distinctive growl, and more recently, the fourth survivor D7076 performing superbly on the East Lancashire Railway. The 101 ‘Hymeks’ were among the last locomotives to emerge from the famous Gorton Foundry of Beyer, Peacock, established 1854.

    One of Beyer, Peacock's most iconic designs was its 1864 4-4-0T for London's Metropolitan Railway, the world's first underground line. (Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

    Among its early products were the famous condensing tank engines for the world’s first underground line, the Metropolitan Railway.

    Beyer, Peacock was a versatile manufacturer, constructing some of Britain’s smallest narrow gauge locomotives, as well as the largest of all. By 1907, the Gorton Foundry had erected 5000 steam locomotives, of which two-thirds were for export. Beyer, Peacock locomotives were renowned for their build quality.

    Internationally, Beyer, Peacock will always be associated with the legendary Beyer-Garratt locomotive. This was an ingenious solution to the problem of moving heavy trains on lightly laid permanent way, steep gradients and tight curves. It was effectively two locomotives supplied by one boiler suspended on a frame between them. One locomotive carried the water tank and the other the fuel. This configuration ultimately allowed larger boilers and fireboxes, as there were no wheels directly beneath.

    The design was patented by Herbert William Garratt, who came to Beyer, Peacock in 1907 with his articulated locomotive design, and the Gorton Foundry constructed the world’s first Beyer-Garratt locomotive. This was the diminutive K1 for the narrow-gauge Tasmanian Government Railway. Happily this iconic machine is now preserved in Britain. From this neat articulated 0-4-0+0-4-0 evolved some of the largest and most successful locomotives ever built, running in 48 countries.

    Beyer, Peacock Works No. 1989 of 1881 is a Class 23 0-6-0ST of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway, seen in preserved condition at Haworth on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, in May 1981. (Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

    Of more than 1600 Beyer-Garratts to run worldwide, over 1100 were built by Beyer, Peacock.  Many of them were destined for South Africa where the GA Class 2-6-0+0-6-2 of 1921 demonstrated its superiority over the ‘Mallet’ articulated locomotive favoured in the USA.  By the end of that decade the South African Garratt had evolved into the massive GL Class 4-8-2+2-8-4, an example of which, appropriately, is preserved in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.

    The Beyer Garratt design was ideal for developing nations where infrastructure needed to be inexpensive and light axle loading was required. It also obviated the need for costly double-heading with extra manpower.

    Just a few weeks ago I was privileged enough to sample Beyer-Garratt haulage for the first time, as a former South African Railways’ NGG16 locomotive took me from Porthmadog to Caernarfon on the spectacular Welsh Highland Railway, with a grandstand view of the engine from the observation car. The effortless way in which she dealt with steep gradients and sharp curves was amazing to see.

    Statens Järnvägar No. 75 was an 'A' Class 2-2-2 built by Beyer, Peacock in 1866 as Works No. 627. (Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

    Like other British locomotive manufacturers dealing with the economic difficulties of the 20th century, Beyer, Peacock began to experiment and diversify. It dabbled in the manufacture of steam road wagons and took over the established Suffolk steam tractor firm of Richard Garrett in 1932. The factory’s versatility was demonstrated as tanks and other armaments were turned out during wartime.

    Attempting to keep pace with changing technologies on the world’s railways, Beyer, Peacock built small quantities of electric locomotives and later, usually in collaboration with other companies, diesels too. By 1949 the firm had joined forces with the established electric traction manufacturers Metropolitan-Vickers specifically to develop non-steam locomotives. For this, a separate factory was established at Bowesfield near Stockton-on-Tees. Beyer Peacock’s first experience with electric traction had come as early as 1890, when in conjunction with the firm of Mather and Platt, it was involved in constructing the tiny four-wheeled locomotives for the City and South London Railway. One of these can be seen today in the London Transport Museum.

    By 1966, locomotive orders had dried up and Beyer, Peacock ceased production after 110 years, with more than 8000 locomotives having emerged through the factory gates. There are many examples of Beyer, Peacock locomotives surviving in preservation around the world, but the company’s single greatest legacy is surely the Beyer-Garratt, which opened up so much of the developing world.

     

    Colin Alexander and Alon Siton's new book Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester is available for purchase now.

  • London Rail Freight Since 1985 by Malcolm Batten

    London owes its existence and development to the River Thames. The site was originally chosen as a settlement by the Romans who named it Londinium. The location was chosen as the nearest point to the estuary that the Romans could bridge the river with the technology at their disposal. The building of the first London Bridge then dictated the shape of the emerging settlement. Becoming a barrier to any ships that couldn’t pass under it, which meant that the wharves, warehouses and all other amenities associated with shipping came to be sited along the river to the east of the bridge. For several hundred years after the Romans left, London Bridge remained the only bridge in an expanding London. Other bridges would be added to the west, but it would not be until Tower Bridge opened in 1894 that a bridge was built to the east. This would then remain unique until the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge opened at Dartford in 1991 – still the only bridge across the river east of Tower Bridge, and all because of the need to provide clearance for shipping.

    Coming off the North London line and passing through Stratford, Class 47 No. 47476 Night Mail heads a Ford 'blue train' returning to Dagenham on 25 March 1999. (London Rail Freight Since 1985, Amberley Publishing)

    When railways first came to London, each line was built by a different company seeking to link their area to the capital. There was no through service from one side of London to the other, and indeed the railway companies were prevented from entering the central area of the City and West End. The traffic congestion that developed eventually led to the building of the world’s first underground railway, opened in 1863. The Metropolitan Railway ran from Paddington to Farringdon, linking the Great Western Railway’s Paddington station with the Great Northern Railway’s Kings Cross station and passing close to Euston station, built by the London & Birmingham Railway. When the Midland Railway opened their station at St. Pancras, next to Kings Cross, this was also served by the Metropolitan Line. But also significantly, the Great Western made a connection to the Metropolitan at Paddington and this allowed through freight trains to run to Smithfield Market until 1962. The Metropolitan would eventually be joined to the District Railway, opened in 1868, to form a Circle Line linking many of the main line termini.

    Class 60 No. 60025 Joseph Lister prepares to tackle the bank with the Langley-Lindsey return empty tank wagons, also on 19 July 1994. (London Rail Freight Since 1985, Amberley Publishing)

    While this enabled passengers to connect between the lines of different railway companies, albeit with changing trains, what of freight traffic from one line to another? In order to transfer freight traffic from one company to another, the various London railway companies to the north of the Thames made links to the orbital North London Railway which ran from Broad Street station in the east to Richmond in south-west London. The NLR also had a freight line into the east London docks. But when freight needed to cross from north to south London or vice versa, the railways came up against the same problem as the roads – no bridges to the east of London because of the need to provide clearance for shipping. There was a railway tunnel to the east of London Bridge – Brunel’s original Thames tunnel from Wapping to Rotherhithe opened in 1843 as a foot tunnel. This was converted to a rail tunnel in 1869. This did carry some freight traffic until the early 1960s, but its usefulness was limited by the fact that access on the north bank was from the west. Any freight trains wanting to enter the tunnel would have to reverse in the busy Liverpool Street Station first – not very practical. This tunnel is now used by the very intensive London Overground network and does not carry any freight. Until the 1960s some cross-Thames freights were routed by what is now the Thameslink route from Farringdon to Blackfriars and over the bridge there. But this involved a steep gradient, and the line now carries an intensive passenger service so no freight trains are now routed this way. Most cross-Thames freight (and passenger) traffic was normally routed via Kensington Olympia and the river bridge at Chelsea. This remains the case today, including traffic to and from the Channel Tunnel. When this line is unavailable due to engineering works, trains use the river crossing at Barnes Bridge – even further west.

    Shunting the yard to the west of the station on 25 September 1987 is No. 47376. The towers in the background, the nearer one of which is residential, are a local landmark. (London Rail Freight Since 1985, Amberley Publishing)

    While the one-time mass of transfer freights and trip workings between marshalling yards had long gone, as had the pick-up freights from local goods yards, there was still a reasonable amount of freight to be found in the 1980s and 1990s. This has declined somewhat since. Economic depression, the further losses to road transport and the closure of some sources of traffic have been factors. The regular Ford ‘blue trains’ have ceased with the end of car production at Dagenham, although there is still some rail traffic emanating from there. The Channel Tunnel has not generated the amount of through rail traffic that was at first anticipated. Instead, lorries clog the motorways to Kent to join the tunnel shuttle trains (or ferries) to cross to Europe. However the ever-present building work around London has kept the stone and aggregates traffic busy. The building of Crossrail led to a major rail freight flow, transporting the extracted spoil from the tunnelling site at Westbourne Park to Northfleet, where the spoil was loaded onto ships for land reclamation further downriver. Freightliner traffic from the ports of Felixstowe, Tilbury and the new Thames Gateway port, which opened in November 2013, is another major part of the London freight scene.

    This book takes the freight routes around London geographically, in an anti-clockwise direction, starting in East London north of the Thames and ending in South East London. The varying types of traffic, and the various locomotives and liveries used on these trains are depicted over a period of forty-plus years.

    Malcolm Batten's new book London Rail Freight Since 1985 is available for purchase now.

  • Holiday Trains by Greg Morse

    I’m on a train, a train heading in the wrong direction. It’s heading in the wrong direction because it’s taking me to work. I got on at Swindon with the same faces I see every day – plus a few new ones (who, as all commuters know, have no right to be there – at least not in ‘your’ seat) – and now I’m trying to write to you. I’m doing it the old-fashioned way, and my pen is bouncing all over the page as the wheels bounce over points and joints and goodness knows what. My fellow travellers tuck in to muffins and pastries, sip their lattes, read their papers and prod their phones. It’s February, and it’s quieter this morning as many are joining their children on their half-term holidays. Their absences mean the cloud of yoghurt-breath, BO and flatulence is smaller than on some days, the chances of being trampled or tripped up just a little bit less. These peccadillos matter far more than they should, but it is alas the way of things when using trains to facilitate the daily grind.

    GWR families wait in line at Swindon to board the trains for Trip Week, c. 1910. Destinations included Weymouth, Weston-Super-Mare and Cornwall. (Holiday Trains, Amberley Publishing)

    As my train powers on to Paddington, I start to think about my return this evening, but muse more on the prospect of heading the ‘right way’ in the mornings too. Not to Bath or Bristol, but a little bit further to Weston-Super-Mare – a seaside town, and well known and loved by me since childhood. During that wonderful Whitsun week, there would be endless ice creams on the Grand Pier, endless sandcastles, countless visits to the old Model Railway. There would often be a train ride too – a day trip to Bristol behind a chugging diesel (a Class 33, for those – like me – who like to know such things). How wonderful it all was! But how wonderful too it must have been to have gone to Weston in the days of steam, waiting on the platform with raincoats over suitcases, buckets, spades and all the paraphernalia of the traditional British holiday. It’s a tradition that goes back a long way: when Swindon had a railway works, Weston – along with Tenby, Torquay, St Ives, Weymouth – was a favourite choice during ‘trip week’, during which thousands would down tools and leave the town virtually empty as trains took them away from it all for a short precious while.

    The prized destination for many once the railways had come: Anchor Head, in Weston-Super-Mare, c. 1910. (Holiday Trains, Amberley Publishing)

    Weston’s origins can be traced back to the Neolithic period, but it was the fashion for sea bathing – sampled by George III at Weymouth in 1789 – that set it on a course away from farming and fishing. Many of the first visitors came by coach from Bath and Bristol in numbers soon sufficient to warrant a hotel, Weston’s first opening in 1810.

    As with Brighton, at first there were objections, local landowners being somewhat wary of this still-new technology; so much so, that when Parliament granted the Bristol & Exeter Railway powers to build a line between those two cities on 19 May 1836, Brunel – the company’s engineer – was obliged to bypass the town some 1½ miles to the south. As work progressed on this important broad gauge route, however, there was a change of heart (although fears about ‘noisy’, ‘smelly’ steam engines were such that when the first train arrived in the town on 14 June 1841, it was hauled by a team of horses).

    Brunel’s original station was a small affair in Regent Street, but when the branch was doubled in 1866, a new facility was opened on the other side of the road – conveniently doing away with a decidedly inconvenient level crossing. Though modified for mixed-gauge working in 1875, it was also in this year that powers were acquired to lay a four-mile standard-gauge loop into the town, allowing a Weston stop to be added to certain through services. By the time it opened on 1 March 1884, branches had been built to serve 14 more seaside resorts, including Blackpool (1846), Southport (1848), Eastbourne (1849) and Torquay (1859). The railways were starting to become a key part of the nation’s holiday-making. Holiday Trains explains how that situation developed.

    Greg Morse's new book Holiday Trains is available for purchase now.

  • Bristol Traction by Hugh Llewelyn

    English Electric Class 37/6 No.37 685, later named Loch Arkaig, and No.37 676 Loch Rannoch of West Coast Railway Co. approach Abbey Wood on the Weston super Mare - Manchester Victoria ‘Holy Oakes’ on 26 March 2011. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Growing up in South Wales, I first began to visit Bristol in the very early 60’s because family relations lived there. Later, as a teenager, I travelled ‘over the channel’ to open days at Bristol Bath Road diesel depot or simply to ‘trainspot’ at the end of the platforms of Bristol Temple Meads. Even then, with my very limited knowledge of railway architecture, Temple Meads did indeed strike me as a temple – far more impressive than Neath General, my local main line station! However, I never spotted any meads.

    I moved to Sussex and then London in the early 1970’s, but in 1976 my career resulted in a move to Bristol and I have lived in or around the city ever since. Fortunately near stations on the main line, namely Nailsea and Backwell, Stapleton Road and now Keynsham. Although a busy career and raising a family resulted in quite long periods where the chances to photograph trains were limited, nevertheless I took the opportunity to get out and follow my hobby when I could.

    Preserved but main line registered BR (Swindon) Class 52 ‘Western’ diesel-hydraulic No.D1015 Western Champion running as classmate No.D1005 Western Adventurer pulls away from Temple Meads in a typical cloud of Maybach smoke on the Bristol - Kingswear ‘Dartmouth Arrow’ on 30 August 2008. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Although not presenting the huge choice of traction that London had, nonetheless Bristol offered a good variety of diesel locomotives and multiple units with, of course, the spectacular architecture of Temple Meads as a backdrop. My book is perhaps tilted towards photographs taken there, but in pursuing my hobby I had no thought that my pictures would ever appear in a book and often that was the most convenient place to visit.

    My earliest photographs in this book were taken with a Halina 35X Super (though it wasn’t very ‘super’) but eventually I graduated to various SLR’s and DLSR’s. What I have found most astonishing, however, is that a relatively inexpensive mobile phone can now take photographs of surprising quality and enables snatched photographs at times I do not have my DLSR with me. So there are even one or two photographs in this book taken with my phone – something that would have been unimaginable to me just a few years ago.

    When Cross Country refurbished their Class 43’s they chose the MTU engine and the Class 43/2 nomenclature. Approaching a public footpath crossing between Nailsea & Backwell and Yatton is Class 43/2 No.43 357 (formerly No.43 157 HMS Penzance and originally Yorkshire Evening Post) in Cross Country’s distinctive livery on a Plymouth-bound service, 18 April 2014. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    I moved to Bristol just too late for the diesel-hydraulic era but variety of ‘classic’ diesel-electrics there was aplenty – Class 20, 25, 33, 37, 45, 46, 47, 50 and 56 locomotives and various classes DMU’s. But the era of the HST soon dawned and displaced the Type 4’s on passenger duties whilst second generation DMU’s. Displaced not just the older DMU’s but the loco-hauled cross-country and local passenger services. Freights, on the other hand, fell to the last British-built diesel locomotives – the Class 60’s – and imported Class 59’s, 66’s and 70’s from North America and Class 68’s from Spain. Nonetheless, ‘classic’ diesel locomotives can still be seen on excursions and specials, most notably Class 47’s and the re-engined Class 57 version.

    The Class 159’s were built as BR Regional Railways Class 158’s but converted to the specification of Network South East for Waterloo – Exeter services, replacing coaches hauled by Class 50’s which were becoming increasingly unreliable and unsuited to the service. (Bristol Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    Now even the era of the HST is rapidly drawing to a close as the Hitachi Class 800’s are being introduced on more and more services. Although I mourned the loss of loco-hauled expresses to HST’s, now I am mourning the loss of the iconic HST’s to the sleek but rather bland Hitachi’s.

    My book illustrates this changing traction in Bristol and the former county of Avon over the decades and, unfortunately, the loss in variety that has resulted. Luckily, the Avon Valley Railway adds interest to the local scene and a few photographs of diesels on this heritage railway are included.

    Hugh Llewelyn's new book Bristol Traction is available for purchase now.

  • Steam in the British Coalfields by Mick Pope

    Trainspotter, a description that has somehow become a term of ridicule, conjuring up an image of some bespectacled nerd who is unable to function in normal society and definitely won’t have any dress sense, wife or girlfriend. Funny how this has come about as an interest in railways in general as the second most popular hobby among men in the United Kingdom after angling. I did wear glasses as a young lad and so I was part way there already!

    Joseph climbs away from the screens at Bold Colliery with loaded 21-ton hopper wagons, probably destined for Fiddlers Ferry Power Station. August 1981. (Steam in the British Coalfields, Amberley Publishing)

    I must admit that my father was the first to encourage me to take an interest in the model variety of trains, having himself grown up as a collector of the old fashioned clockwork, tinplate Hornby ‘O’ gauge ones. I suspect his encouragement was merely to give legitimacy to him continuing his own passion as I had only a passing interest at that time. Then one day I was rebuffed by a school friend when I asked him what we would do over the coming weekend. After a hushed conversation with another friend he declared that he was going to Chester station to collect train numbers. It seemed a bit pointless to me but I tagged along anyway out of curiosity. I was advised to buy a ‘locoshed book’ published by the Ian Allen company as this contained the number of every locomotive working for British Railways, as it was then, plus the place where they normally were based. I was told that I also needed a notebook and that I should write down the number of every locomotive seen and then underline that number in the locoshed book when I got home. It all seemed a bit boring although it had an element of acquisitiveness that is present in most kids. One day and I was hooked! There was just something about the big powerful machines that seemed alive. I didn’t know what I was looking at in any detail but noted that some locomotives had names, that some were green, most were black and some very special ones were a kind of red and these got a special cheer from the assembled spotters. I needed more information and so bought more detailed pocket sized books with photographs and technical details. I learned fast.

    Warrior with a rake of 16-ton mineral wagons. The snow manages to cover what was normally a very muddy environment! (Steam in the British Coalfields, Amberley Publishing)

    With my friends we travelled further afield. Holidays on the south coast, and with relatives in Somerset, introduced me to new kinds of locomotives. We revived a moribund railway society at our grammar school, really just an excuse to obtain permits from British Railways to visit their locomotive depots, although we frequently ‘bunked’ these places, i.e. sneaked in without permission. Being well over six feet tall at age sixteen I could pass as an adult and, telling that little white lie, was allowed to obtain the required permits.

    Eventually, as with many childhood fads or hobbies, many of my friends gradually dropped out. By this stage I had also developed an interest in photography and, again encouraged by my father, owned a reasonably effective camera rather than the Kodak ‘Instamatic’ used by most of my fellow enthusiasts. By this time British Railways was rapidly disposing of its steam locomotives and collecting their numbers had become a bit pointless, you could never see them all which had been the original aim, and so taking photographs of what was disappearing seemed a sensible thing to do.

    Around this time I got a place at Nottingham University and, as bad luck would have it, this was an area where steam power had already been eliminated. Studies in Nottingham and a girlfriend back home took up most of my time and money. One day in 1968, the year steam locomotives were eliminated on British Railways, I was sat in the Social Science library at the university pondering a life without steam locomotives when I spotted a column of steam moving about in the distance. This puzzled me as it was unlikely that anything had strayed from the last stronghold in the North West. Studying an Ordnance Survey map that evening I guessed that the steam was coming from Clifton Colliery. I checked this out and sure enough they had a small steam locomotive. I knew from my GCE ‘O’ level Geography that there were lots of coal mines around Nottingham and therefore there might be other places with steam power. Further research discovered that there was actually a national society for those interested in industrial locomotives and that they published books recording every location and what could be found there. My studies took a downward turn and I was out and about, ironically photographing not the coalmining locations, few had steam power working by then, but the ironstone quarries in Lincolnshire, Rutland as was, and Northamptonshire.

    Descending from the colliery, a loaded train passes the mangled remains of a recent load that ran away on the steep gradient and derailed. (Steam in the British Coalfields, Amberley Publishing)

    Returning home to Liverpool once I graduated – with a very moderate degree – I found that the coal mines of Lancashire were still home to many steam locomotives as were those a little further afield in Cumbria. By the early 1970s my younger brother had also become something of an industrial steam nerd by this time, being handy for the last strongholds in North Wales, and so we went on expeditions together.

    Sadly even this means of satisfying our appetite was diminishing and in 1975 I made my first trip abroad to photograph steam locomotives in East Germany, Poland and, with my wife to be in tow, Spain and Portugal. By the end of the 1980s I had added, with several visits, India, China, South Africa, Turkey and Zimbabwe to the list, photographing both steam trains on the national lines of those countries but also industrial sites. When asked if I had seen the ‘Terracotta Army’ on a trip to China I had to answer ‘No but I did go to the steelworks at Anshan and the forestry line at Langxiang’ [where we taught the local workers how to play musical chairs at a social evening]!

    I had many adventures on these trips, some printable, some not! I also have a cupboard full of negatives and colour slides that I need to transfer into digital format before they fade away. So call me a nerd if you must but I have seen far more of the world than most and don’t regret it one bit. See my photos and judge for yourself!

    Mick Pope's new book Steam in the British Coalfields is available for purchase now.

  • Locomotives of the Eastern United States by Christopher Esposito

    When I was asked to put together this book for Amberley, I knew it was going to be a challenge. After all, how does one comb through over 10,000 photos of trains and select the best images to present to readers? What lines to pick? What engine models?

    NS ES44DC 7716 leads 13R over the Potomac River as it crosses from Maryland into West Virginia on the H Line. Shepherdstown, WV. Taken on 26 October 2018. (Locomotives of the Eastern United States, Amberley Publishing)

    In this blog post, I’m going to give a behind-the-scenes look at how I arrived at the selection process for the images used in this book.

    The first thing I looked at was variety. Since the topic of the book is locomotives, I wanted to include as many different locomotive types as possible. With the monotony of modern diesel power in the form of EMD SD70 variants and GE GEVO models, this was no easy task. While I did not include EVERY type of engine currently in use, I feel the book presents a realistic look at what is currently used by the major railroads.

    The second criteria I used was scenery. The Eastern region of the United States can range from vast mountain regions around Pennsylvania and Virginia to virtually flat plains of red clay in the Carolinas. In my selections, I used shots I felt captured the flavor of each region:  the quaint countryside dotted with family farms in eastern Pennsylvania, the mountainous and gritty coal country of West Virginia, the dense and populated commuter towns in New Jersey, the urban setting of downtown Atlanta. It was key for me to not just show you, the reader an image of an EMD SD70ACe for instance, but to show it as part of the bigger picture. Too often, rail photographers will focus on the train and ignore the greater surrounding scenery.  By doing that, you tend to lose the feeling of the area in which you are shooting.

    Union Pacific GE AC44CW No. 6588 leads eastbound intermodal No. 234 through Waburn, VA on the ex-N&W main line as a light dusting of snow covers the ground. Taken on 13 March 2018. (Locomotives of the Eastern United States, Amberley Publishing)

    The third condition on my list was consistency. While I did make a few exceptions by including older photographs, I made a conscious decision to use only photographs taken with my current model of camera – the Nikon D4S. The quality of the image produced by the D4S really jumps out at you, and I wanted to use the best quality shots for this publication.

    My final point was to try and include an assortment of railroads that run on the east coast. Due to traffic density, line proximity and fitting in trackside time, the photos used in the book tend to favor the Norfolk Southern railroad. While the black and white scheme used on the NS diesels is nothing to write home about, I feel the settings in which the trains operate make up for the lack of color on the engines.

    I hope as you page through the photos in this book, it gives you a sense of not only the engines in use on today’s railroads, but also a glimpse into the regions of America these trains traverse and the industries they serve.

    Christopher Esposito's new book Locomotives of the Eastern United States is available for purchase now.

  • Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham by Roger Mason

    My recently-published book is not a technical study of the Chiltern Line from Marylebone Station in London to Snow Hill Station in Birmingham. It features thirty-eight fascinating buildings, monuments, historical sites etc that can be seen from the window of a train making the journey. Although the book is not long out some interesting things have since happened.

    Wembley Stadium. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Wembley Stadium

    Wembley Stadium may be termed the jewel in the Football Association’s crown, and there have been advanced plans for it to be sold to Mr Shahid Khan who is the owner of Fulham Football Club. The proposed sale was strongly resisted by some and it was even termed scandalous. Partly due to the controversy and ill-feeling Mr Khan has withdrawn his offer.  The stadium will continue to be owned by the Football Association.

    The stadium has tightened its procedures on checking bags that are brought inside. All items carried by ticket holders and staff will be tightly checked and there may be personal wanding or pat down. Spectators will only be permitted to bring in one bag which must not be bigger than A4 size. Match day purchases will be supplied in sealed plastic bags. They may be brought into the stadium so long as the seal is not broken. The extra security measures are probably necessary but it is very sad.

    The state of Wembley’s pitch has been very heavily criticised in the late autumn of 2018. In fact it has been termed awful. The reason is that it has been over-used. There have been the usual England international football matches, and in addition Tottenham Hotspur have played all their home games there. This is because their new stadium at White Hart Lane is not ready and probably will not be ready before the end of the 2018/19 season. There have been three NFL American Football games in quick succession, and it has been the venue for Anthony Joshua’s successful world heavyweight title boxing defence against Alexander Povetkin. The groundsmen have had and are having a tough job.

    A red Kite. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Red Kites

    Chapter 15 tells the story of these magnificent birds. They are large, having a length slightly more than two feet, and they frequently twist and turn in soaring flight. Their tails are deeply forked, which helps identify them. By 1879 there were none left in England and Scotland, but a handful clung on in mid Wales.

    A joint project by RSPB and English Nature (now Natural England) reintroduced them in several areas. The venture succeeded, especially in the Chilterns and breeding pairs have spread out from their places of introduction. A particularly good point to see them is close to the railway line mid way between High Wycombe and Princes Risborough. This is the position featured in the book.

    For obvious reasons it is not possible to count the birds, but when the book was written RSPB’s latest estimate for England was 1,860 breeding pairs, plus further juvenile and non-breeding ones. I suspect that this is an under-estimate. I recently drove past the area mentioned and I counted seven soaring overhead. I was on my way to watch Wycombe Wanderers play at Adams Park on the western edge of High Wycombe. There were two more red kites circling the stadium.

    Chapter 12 in the book is about High Wycombe and this includes something about Wycombe Wanderers and Adams Park. In case you are interested Wycombe beat Shrewsbury 3-2 and they have an outside chance of promotion from Division 1 into the Championship.

    Chesterton Windmill. (Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham, Amberley Publishing)

    Chesterton Windmill

    Had I been able to consult Jane Austen she might well have told me that it is a truth universally acknowledged that a book such as this must be in want of a good windmill.  Chesterton Windmill is a particularly fine example and it is located on a bleak hillside three miles short of Leamington Spa.

    During my visit I was puzzled to see that two bunches of flowers had been laid at the foot of the structure. They were fresh and wrapped in cellophane, but there were no cards or other indications of their purpose. They reminded me of the sad tributes sometimes laid at the scene of a fatal road accident. I reconciled myself to not ever knowing the reason why they were there.

    I now feel that I do know the reason and it is a very sad one. A friend who lives a few miles away told me that some years ago there was a murder and that the body was found a short distance from the windmill. It happened in the winter at about the time of year that I made my visit. This must surely be the explanation.

    Roger Mason's new book Great Railway Journeys: The Chiltern Line to Birmingham is available for purchase now.

  • Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s by Colin Alexander

    When my mate David, now exiled in France, made me custodian of his collection of railway photos from the early 1980s it sparked the idea of compiling a book recalling our teenage years, misspent bunking BR diesel depots.

    Unidentified Class 31/1 on 31 July 1982. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    Wishing to include as much variety as possible I decided the book would encompass two decades, from 1970 to 1989. In 1970 I was six years old and my Dad was taking me to ‘watch the trains’. On these trips I can clearly remember seeing Clayton Type 1s dumped at the back of Tyne Yard.

    It wasn’t until 1978, aged fourteen, that I was allowed to go independently to Newcastle Central station. The cost of a return from Tynemouth and a platform ticket was less than 10p.  I quickly made friends with other ‘platform-enders’, forming lifelong friendships. Forty years later, we still go on rail-tours and to preserved diesel galas together.

    The west end of Central station provided a tantalising glimpse across the Tyne to Gateshead depot. A walk across Robert Stephenson's High Level Bridge led us via the old NER Greenesfield Works to the shed foreman's office door where we made the mistake of knocking and asking permission to look around. Having been chased off, next time we knew better and just sneaked in up the bank beside the King Edward VII Bridge and through a hole in the fence, to the sidings known as the ‘ash-heaps’.

    We soon progressed to travelling, usually with the excellent £2.60 weekly Northumbrian Ranger ticket. We mostly ‘bashed’ Deltics between Berwick and York but always made time to visit Carlisle’s Kingmoor shed. On all but one occasion we were flatly refused entry by the ‘gadgie’ in the office so we’d trudge back over the bridge, forced to view the locos across the main line from rusty sidings which often contained withdrawn locomotives awaiting disposal. They led to one of our favourite vantage points, the Waverley route bridge and its view of the secondary shed in the marshalling yard.

    The exterior of Inverness shed featured these bodly striped doors, outside which No. 27203 is stabled on 27 March 1982. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    We began to travel further afield in our quest for diesel exotica, and found Scottish shed foremen far more amenable to scruffy youths wandering about than their Gateshead and Kingmoor counterparts.

    The Ian Allan Locoshed books became indispensable, providing directions through the dodgiest parts of Britain's towns and cities to depots. My friend Tim and I, then aged 12 and 14 respectively, had been taken by his parents to Glasgow for the day. The grown-ups set off shopping, leaving us kids to visit Eastfield shed. Like many depots it was surrounded by run-down estates and we soon became aware we were being followed. Turning, I saw a boy about our age, but looking much ‘harder’ than us (not difficult), accompanied by a much older lad who looked even scarier. What caught our eye was that one wielded a half-brick while the other carried a bike chain. We ran as fast as we could but Tim’s legs could not carry him fast enough. I made it to the security gates of The Metal Box factory and got the guards there to rescue Tim. Our assailants scarpered but not before robbing Tim of what little cash he was carrying.

    One of the less numerous first-generation DMU types was the Class 100, built by the Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    The police were called and soon we found ourselves in a scene from “Rab C Nesbitt”, riding the tenement streets in a ‘jam sandwich’ squad car on the lookout for the baddies. Our description of the older of the two matched that of one of their most wanted, and soon enough we spotted them. He and his younger sidekick were hauled into the back seat and the former was literally sat on by the arresting officer for the journey to the ‘nick’, six of us jammed into a five-seater car! Their pockets were emptied, the contents given to us and we were sent on our way. A tidy profit was made and nothing was said to my friend’s parents.

    On another occasion, having used Merseyrail under the river to get to the sheds in Birkenhead, I lost my ticket and had no cash, and had no means of boarding a train back to Liverpool. Imagine the look on the ticket vendor’s face when I asked where the nearest bridge was, thinking I could simply walk back over the river. I now know that it is approximately a 25-mile walk to the bridge at Runcorn. Fortunately he took pity and let me fare-dodge back under the Mersey.

    With her headcode panel intact in 1982, Class 81 electric locomotive No. 81007 is captured at the buffer-stops outside Kingmoor. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    Whole weekends would be planned around shed-bunks. Just after my sixteenth birthday six of us travelled overnight from Newcastle to London. Three of us travelled in style behind Deltic 55012 CREPELLO to York then 55009 ALYCIDON the rest of the way to the capital, arriving in the early hours of Saturday morning. The other three lads were not so well-off so they met us at Victoria off the overnight National Express coach.

    We visited Clapham Junction, Selhurst and Hither Green with their Class 73 electro-diesels.  Then followed the trainspotters’ mecca of Stratford to see the last remaining Class 31/0s. The North London line took us to Willesden where AC electrics awaited, then trudged down the road to Old Oak Common to see Class 50s. Our trip was concluded with more Deltic haulage behind 55014 THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON’S REGIMENT overnight from King’s Cross, with diversions via Lincoln and the Leamside line, while our mates suffered another night on the M1 and A1. We all got home early next morning, tired, filthy and happy.

    If the varied contents of BR’s sheds were not interesting enough, it was even more exciting to visit the workshops of British Railways Engineering Ltd, normally accessible only on open days. Dad came up trumps, taking me to open days at Doncaster in 1978 and Crewe in 1979.  These events introduced me to the unforgettable smell of the paint-shops and the fascinating sight of locomotives being built, overhauled or scrapped.

    My only visit to Laira was on an open day, on 25 April 1982. (Author's collection, Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    The most memorable open day was the “Deltic D-Day” at Doncaster, in February 1982. Thousands of enthusiasts converged on the town to pay their last respects to the survivors of the class, all having been withdrawn from service and several having already been cut up.

    Open days were fine but their very legitimacy meant they weren’t a patch on blagging our way into a location where we shouldn't be!

    Perils associated with shed visits were unlit inspection pits, oily puddles, tripping hazards and moving trains. Southern Region depots offered a 750vDC third rail as an additional danger, but we are all still here. It is difficult to imagine in today’s era of health and safety that enthusiasts were ever allowed to access such facilities!

    In this book I have assembled a collection of photographs that show the widest possible variety of traction in the principal depots and works all over the network, along with many of the lesser installations.

    Colin Alexander's new book Shed Bashing in the 1970s and 1980s is available for purchase.

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