Didcot Parkway Railway Station

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In September 2018, I visited Didcot Parkway Railway Station, on the Great Western Main Line.  A two fold visit actually, as I also visited Didcot Railway Centre on the same day.  I had wanted to come to this Station for a while, as I had seen on videos that the views were fantastic, and I must say I was not disappointed.

Opened in 1844, just named Didcot, the station was a major hub for the Great Western, with connections available to Oxford (the main reason for the station at time of opening).  There was also a line from here to Newbury and Southampton, however this was closed fully in 1967, passenger services being withdrawn some 5 years earlier.  The oxford line (known as “The Cherwell Valley Line”) still operates, and is accessed by the station as well as the “East loop” for through trains.

The imposing Didcot Power Station is seen looking to the west.  A loop for coal trains used to be in regular use, however after the closure of Didcot A, these ceased in 2013.  Much of the track for this loop has now been lifted, to facilitate construction of new warehouses.

The station was given a new station building in 1985, as well as a 600 space car park.  The station was renamed “Didcot Parkway” at this time.

A major redevelopment occurred in 2012, giving better access for disabled passengers, new CCTV and lighting plus better drainage on site.

Facilities here are the usual toilets, as well as lifts and a small “Pumpkin” Café which although well stocked, lacks a big seating area.

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Services are plentiful.  Trains “down” to the West country stop on Platform 1, whilst fast services “up” to Paddington leave from Platform 2. Platform 3 carries primarily trains to Oxford, and Platform 4 carries the trains from Oxford to London Paddington, on a stopping service.  Platform 5 is used if Platform 4 is blocked for any reason, or for terminating trains from Paddington.

To the East of the station, extensive views can be had.  The “East Junction” is also visible here.

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A view to the west from platform 4 shows the covered area housing the café on platform 2-3.  The construction work here is to lengthen the station platforms to accommodate the longer class 800 trains, which are replacing the HST’s on the routes to the west.  Didcot Power Station is seen to the right in the distance.

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Passenger traffic is served by the new Class 800 “IET”, HST, 387’s and 165’s.  Vintage locos may also be seen leaving and entering Didcot Railway Centre , although these will most probably not be timetabled movements.

 

Freight is a regular sight at Didcot Parkway.  Intermodal services run regularly through the station, as well as other freight heading to and from Oxford using the “east” Junction.  These operations are mainly class 66, although the occasional class 70 or even 59 may be seen.  Some freight may pass though or be temporarily stabled at Foxhall Junction.

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All in all it was a great visit.  Lots of different traction, the only downside was the weather, which was overcast, windy and eventually drizzly.  However, the station is a fantastic place for photography and videography. I will return within the next couple of years, hopefully this time in the sunshine.  Below is a video taken on the day.

 


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Class 33 – ‘ Crompton ‘ – The Southern Diesel

As far as freight operations go in the South of England, there was only really one workhorse during the 1960’s 70’s and 80’s – the Class 33 “Crompton”.  The nickname came from the electrical equipment manufacturer used in the loco – “Crompton Parkinson”.  Very similar in looks to the class 26, the only difference being the inclusion of a 2 digit headcode indicator between the cab windows.

Originally for sole use in the South East of the region, Kent and Sussex, they rapidly became used throughout the southern region.  They were even used as passenger locos, most memorably on the Weymouth Harbour line.

These passenger services to Weymouth would be in a “push pull” configuration, starting at Bournemouth going down to Weymouth through the streets to the harbour, an example of this is seen below:

33119 - weymouth hbr - aug 1981

(c) Max Batten – Click Here for more.

The Class 33 has a top speed of 85 Mph, and frequently would work in pairs as “Double Headers” to facilitate longer freight trains.  In Kent, its speciality was primarily hauling freight, although it occasionally rescued failed passenger units.  Because of this, a few were stationed at some locations in the region.  Indeed, when the siding was still at Rainham (Kent), a ’33 could be seen stabled there during the 1970’s.  The loco’s would also provide freight runs further afield, notably cement trains from Cliffe in North Kent, up to Lanarkshire.

In this photo, taken by RMWeb member “eastwestdivide”, two 33’s are seen approaching Strood from the south with a Rake of empty stone carriers from ARC at Allington :

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 (c) eastwestdivide – link Here

These locomotives, along with the British Rail 411 Unit (4 Cep) and variants “Slam Door” were the first trains I saw as a youngster, and the sight of a Class 33 would be extra special.  The noise and smell of these locomotives would fuel my passion for the railway, and as such I have a great fondness for them. They were superseded by the Class 66 in the late 1990’s.

Currently a few remain at Heritage centres around England, and three are owned by the West Coast Railway Company , who provide railtours in the UK.


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Railway Stations Near Me – 2 – Higham

In the second of this series, I look at Higham Railway Station on the North Kent Line.  The station was 28 miles Down from its previous terminus at Charing Cross, however the Thameslink service no longer goes to Charing Cross, instead stopping at London Bridge before going though the London Core on its way to the its new end at Luton.

The first thing of note here is Higham Tunnel, at 1531 yards in length.  It originally was constructed in 1801 to serve the Thames and Medway canal, which acted as a passage for military traffic from Woolwich through Gravesend and Higham to the dockside at Chatham.  When traffic on the canal didn’t reach expected levels, the newly formed Gravesend and Rochester railway company acquired the canal and tunnel, putting a single track rail line alongside the canal.  This lead to the opening of Higham Station in 1845.

There are actually 2 tunnels, separated by what is locally known as ” the bomb hole”.  This was an area for the barges to cross.  The second tunnel is the “Strood” tunnel and at 2329 yards in length is the longest of the two.  The tunnels received extensive refurbishment in 2004 due to rock falls, and are now strengthened by steel and concrete.

A year later, the Gravesend and Rochester railway company was itself absorbed into the South Eastern Railway.  It is at this point the canal was drained fully, and a second rail line put in.  At this time the railway did not divert to the Medway towns, instead carrying on to Maidstone via the Medway Valley.  It was not until 1939 that a spur from Strood would carry trains onto the Chatham Main Line to Gillingham.

Higham would have a couple of sidings, both on the Up and Down lines, although both had been removed by the mid 1960s.  The most unusual piece freight unloaded by the station was a Swiss chalet in 1864 as a gift for Charles Dickens, who lived at nearby Gad’s Hill.

Although initially accessed by a foot crossing, platforms are reached via a lattice footbridge, a common sight throughout the Southern Region in the 20th Century.  The station building still survives, and was still heated by the original fireplace as late at the 1980’s.

The ticket office is open for only part of the day, at other times a permit to travel ticket must be purchased from a PERTIS machine, located by the bridge on the Up side. The station was served by SouthEastern until May 2018, when the new Thameslink Class 700 service to Luton/Rainham commenced and took over the 2 tph (each way) Stopping service.  Class 395 SouthEastern “Javelin” trains pass though, as well as various freight though the day, some heading for the nearby “Hoo Junction” Yard, around 2 miles further on the Up line.

Two pictures follow.  The first by me, shows a Class 66 hauling stone wagons exiting the Higham Tunnel on the Up line.  A train can also be seen passing through “The Bomb Hole” on the Down line heading towards Gillingham.

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The second is a view towards the station building, taken from the Down platform.  This photo by Nigel Thompson (credit under photo)

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Higham railway station, Kent
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Nigel Thompson – geograph.org.uk/p/3614705


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Banbury – Gateway To Almost Everywhere!

In the June of 2017, I visited Banbury Railway station, with a short trip to Heyford.  I had seen many videos from the station with its varied traction, but mainly wanted to see the Chiltern Railway services from London Marylebone to Birmingham,  some of which are class 68 / 67 hauled.  The day certainly didn’t disappoint.

Firstly a little history.  Banbury Railway Station opened in 1850 as Banbury Bridge Street Station, for the GWR.  At first it was just a single line station, but due to popularity was increased to double track a few years after opening.  Goods loops were also installed around the station, notably adjacent to the “up” line.  This also provided access to the LNWR route via another Station, Banbury Merton Street.  Further terminating bays and goods loops followed, cementing Banbury’s importance in the rail network.  In 1948 during nationalisation, the station was renamed Banbury General.

Banbury Merton Street closed in 1960, and with that Banbury General was renamed Banbury.  Some, but not all, of the goods loops around the station have subsequently been removed, and the station now has 4 lines, served by three platforms.

Many freight services pass through Banbury, mainly intermodal workings from/to Southampton.  Below are two images of Freightliner 66 501s working on the “Up” line from Southampton docks towards London.

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The main current (2018) passenger services are as follows :

Chiltern Railways:

3 tph to London Marylebone 
2 tph to Birmingham Moor Street, 1 of which carries on to Birmingham Snow Hill

Cross Country:

Services to Bournemouth, Manchester, Reading and Newcastle

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Cherwell Valley line services to Reading and Didcot Parkway

As you can see, it really is a gateway across a good part of the country!  The two pictures below are of Class 68 locomotives, on loan from DRS, on services to London Marylebone (top) and Birmingham New Street (bottom) for Chiltern Railways.

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And here are a couple of Cross Country Voyagers, en route to Manchester and London respectively.

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I have also posted a video to my YouTube channel, and this can be seen below:

The station staff are friendly and are ok with photography / video work, obviously with the rules of the railway always being adhered to.  I really enjoyed my visit here, so much going on with all different types of traction, and hope to visit again in the future.


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UK Railway future overview

On Wednesday 29th November 2017, the government of the UK announced its vision for the future of the UK rail network.  After reading the publication myself, I will outline some of the proposals below.  Note these are only proposals, even though much press speculation in the UK before this publication hinted at an actual announcement of line re-openings and the such, none were set in stone in the report.

The all important funding question had pretty much been answered in October 2017, when the government announced that £34.7bn had been set aside for funding between 2019-2024 (in England and Wales, Scotland provides any investment separately).  This didn’t mean however that recently deferred projects, such as electrification would now go ahead.  Instead the report says there is a need to “prioritise and invest in essential work on the existing infrastructure”.  This may give some hope back to these projects, such as electrification to the south west line, but doesn’t specifically say so.

The issue of Network Rail, the organisation which looks after the infrastructure of the railway such as tracks and signalling was addressed.  The overall impression given by the report is to try to make Network Rails’ operation more regional, instead of centralised.  It is noted that this is where most problems have occurred because of the lack of local knowledge when planning engineering works.  By working closer with the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) in their specific region, and giving more control to the local teams, it is hoped a more streamlined and efficient timetable of works can be achieved on time.

The report also touches on developments in track signalling.  In what seems to be a hint at a major overhaul in the future, digital systems could be implemented.  These include:

  • c-DAS (connected-Driver Advisory System). A way to inform the driver en-route about potential route changes or speed restrictions in real time.
  • ETCS (European Train Control System).  Eliminates the need for trackside signalling, instead moving everything to the drivers cab.

Of the two listed above,, ETCS would only be implemented when current signalling comes to the end of their life.  This would mean a long wait for such a system here in Kent, as we have only just seen the end of the East Kent Signalling project.  However in 2015 funding was approved for ECTS signalling in Ashford, Kent, although an exact timetable is still to be approved.

With regard to “new” routes, the only concrete route planned is the previously announced restoration of service between Oxford and Cambridge, which will be undertaken by the East West Rail Company.  Other routes are discussed very briefly and are still deemed to be in proposal stage.  These include

  • Bristol to Portishead
  • Bristol to Henbury
  • Exeter to Oakhampton
  • Bere Alston to Tavistock

From a local point of view, many were hoping that the Uckfield to Lewes line would be mentioned in the report.  It isn’t, however after a question by Lewes MP Maria Caulfield Chris Grayling replied that “I would be delighted to see the route reopened, and I hope that the consortium pursuing the project will prove successful.”.  This presumably means that other national line reopening’s can be revisited, providing funding and feasibility can be achieved.

Ticketing was addressed in the report, with a definite lean towards “Smart Ticketing”, such as tickets on mobile.  Smartcard technology for short distance journeys, such as TFL’s Oyster Card, could be implemented on some routes.  Personally I still like a paper ticket, as the smart ticket relies on mobile connection and more importantly battery life!

It was good to see accessibility to the railway get a (albeit brief) mention in the report.  Access for all to the rail network is essential for everyone, regardless of any disability.  Not just step free access, but proper training for staff to deal with customers with accessibility needs.

Investment in Wi-Fi technology was also mentioned, with at least £35 million set aside for trials.  Many networks do have Wi-Fi enabled trains, and it is good to see that investment here was forthcoming.

As far as the franchises go, the company which controls the much maligned Southern Rail, Govia Thameslink, could be broken up.  Much has been said in the Media about this franchise, so my suggestion here is to access a search engine, read for yourself and make your own mind up!  As far as my region, SouthEastern, is concerned, a new joint team of Network Rail staff and TOC will take responsibility.  This is in conjunction to the paragraph earlier about Network Rail integration.  The new franchise here is due to be announced in 2018.  Other prospective franchises are detailed on page 36-38 of the report.

As a rail enthusiast, I have always felt that freight carried by rail is an integral part of the UK economy.  I was therefore glad to see a continuation of 2016’s rail freight strategy in the report.  This includes provision to provide funding for improvements to rail freight up to 2024.

In conclusion, the report does include many great ideas which, if implemented, will improve the UK Rail network.  Integration between the TOCs and Network Rail is a sensible move, as is the proposed improvement to track signalling.  It unfortunately stopped short of headline line re-openings, but did hint at willingness to do so.

The full report can be read HERE

Videos of mine can be found on my YouTube channel, Rainham Rail Enthusiast .  Thanks for reading, I’ll blog again soon.

 

 

 

 

Trimley (St Mary) – a hidden gem

Whilst looking for a place to spot Freight coming up from Felixstowe in 2014, I decided that the station in the village of Trimley St Mary would offer some great views of traffic coming up from the docks.  On visiting this small Station for the first time, I loved the location, however was perplexed at how the station building was in such a state of dis-repair.  It was then I decided to find out more, and stumbled upon a community effort to re-instate the building as a community hub.

Delving deeper into the history of the station, I learnt that the duel platform station did indeed have a working ticket office up to 1967, and had a working signal box up until 1988. Signal control is now carried out from Colchester.  The view east towards Felixstowe is shown below, where a class 66 is hauling an intermodal service, and a Abellio Greater Anglia service is leaving towards Felixstowe.  A further picture shows another intermodal service heading towards Felixstowe from the Footbridge overlooking the level crossing.

What I have not photographed (rather surprisingly) is the station building, which is a fantastic example of a “new Essex Style” building, and according to the Trimley station website is “one of only two to be built outside of Essex”.  It was conceived by the architect WN Ashbee, who also designed the station at Felixstowe.

Only Platform one can be accessed now.  The level crossing is monitored by CCTV and is fully automatic.  The footbridge really only acts as a short cut should the barriers be down, but does offer great views both east and west along the line, particularly west, where you can get great photos of the freight approaching the station.

Many walks can be found around the station, one especially which follows the line down to the Port of Felixstowe, very pleasant on a nice day.  A pub (the Mariners Freehouse) is a 15 minute walk away, and serves a very nice lunch (go up station road, turn left and keep on going!), as well as a newsagent at the same location which provides the usual snacks. A link to the Pub website is here :

The Mariners Freehouse Trimley

I highly recommend this location, as you can jump on a train to Ipswich the same day and view the Freightliner depot, as well as sample the delights of this small village and its station.

Please visit the Trimley Station Community Trust website to know more, they can be found at :

Trimley Station Community Website

Videos of my time at Trimley can be found on my YouTube channel, Click the link below.  Thanks for reading, I’ll blog again soon.

Rainham Rail Enthusiast Featuring Mistydale Model Railway

Ipswich and its Freightliner Depot

One of my most favourite places to visit in the past few years has been Ipswich.  The Freightliner yard always has movements, and can yield quite a few class 66 and 70.  Being near the port of Felixstowe, predominantly it is intermodal traffic which passes through, although other traffic is also seen occasionally.

The depot is often quite busy with movements, and some maintenance can be seen at the rear of the yard on some days (see photo below of a Class 70 getting an engine check-up).  Shunting of fuel wagons has been seen by me too.  For the videography of slow moving locomotives up close on a regular basis, and at an easy to access location, Ipswich cannot be beaten (unless you know otherwise, please let me know!).

On the passenger front, currently, Abellio Greater Anglia hold the franchise for the majority of passenger traffic through the station.  Class 90’s, 153’s, 170’s and 360’s predominantly feature, the 153’s serving the line through to Felixstowe via Trimley, of which I shall feature in a future blog.

Videos of my time at Ipswich can be found on my YouTube channel, just click the link below.  Thanks for reading, I’ll blog again soon.

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