Covid-19 – changes and support your local heritage railway

Well, all my best laid plans are in tatters, as least for now!! But on a serious note we should all as rail enthusiasts be observing the nations ‘lockdown’ and not going out enjoying our hobby. It will pass, and we will soon be able to once again photograph and video to our hearts content.

In the meantime, two things. Firstly, I am working on my London Transport Museum video. I shot this in November last year, but wasn’t happy with it and was going to re shoot. This however is now not possible at the mo, and so I will do an edit with the best footage I got. The reason for wanting a reshoot? Well basically I have a new camera, which enables me to get cleaner, less jerky footage. But I will put this together for now and hopefully later in the year update it with new video.

Secondly, and more importantly, as railway enthusiasts we all like the modern, but many value the past as well. Many of us visit our heritage railways during the year and sort of take them for granted. But this situation we find ourselves in couldn’t happen at a worst time of year for these attractions. Many would have been working towards a profitable Easter and summer period, but now just lie dormant, with only a handful of volunteers able to tend to and maintain both stock and building infrastructure.

This is where we can still help. If you are able, why not donate a small amount to your local or favourite (or both) heritage railway. It doesn’t need to be much, but if we can all pull together, we can help save rolling stock and these attractions for others to enjoy in the years to come. I myself have applied to become a member of the East Kent Railway Trust, where unique rolling stock is situated. It may only be a small line, but it’s importance in keeping the memeories of the Kent coalfields alive is invaluable. I am sure there are many more heritage railways around the country with similar ties to long gone industry which now more than ever need our help.

So please if you can, give a little to help keep these running. Lets hope that by at least mid summer we can get out and about again, and hopefully get back to video and photography.

Many thanks for reading.

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London Termini – Liverpool Street

Liverpool street, from the Bishopsgate end

Once one of the busiest stations in London, Liverpool street has a very ornate interior much overlooked by its passengers. Having undergone many refurbishments in the years, the concourse now fills with natural light from the vast roof which spans it. Although now not as busy, the soon addition of the Elizabeth line may make this station a true hive of activity again.

A Brief History

London Liverpool Street was built to be the London terminus of the Eastern Counties Railway. Opened in 1874 with 10 platforms, two of which extended under the station forming a junction with the Metropolitan Railway.

Originally the buildings were 90ft high, with a spired clock tower. A hotel named “The Great Eastern” was built down the entire length of the new frontage. Many expansions came in the early years, which unfortunately created a myriad of entrance and exits. As well as this, the bridge used across the station was not wide enough and on two levels, which caused congestion and confusion for passengers wondering which part of the bridge they should be on.

The station is probably most famous for its role in welcoming children of the “Kindertransport”, an operation started in 1938 to bring children from the ever expanding Nazi Germany. The first children arrived on December 2nd 1938, and by September of the following year, almost 10,000 children would arrive into Liverpool Street, many of which landed at Harwich.

After being damaged in the Second World War, the station remained in a poor state until the 1960’s, when British Rail rebuilt and refurbished the station, giving it a new clock tower.

It was therefore a surprise that in 1974, British Rail would earmark the Liverpool Street station building to be demolished, and an underground terminus put in it’s place. Many campaigns were launched by eminent figures of the day, including the comedian Spike Milligan, to stop the bulldozers from destroying such a beautiful example of a London Terminus. Eventually after a few years, the tireless campaigning worked and Liverpool Street was saved.

A full refurbishment was again undertaken in the 1980s, with the train shed roof being fully repaired and restored. The main roof would follow in 1987. At this time a link would be established to the Cambridge line, enabling trains to terminate at Liverpool Street instead of Broad street. The entire work was finished in 1991, and the station was officially re-opened by the Queen.

Since 2013, the site has had many excavations in preparation for the Elizabeth Line. During one of these, a mass grave was found on the site of the “Bedlam” burial ground, dating back to the 17th Century. This lead to a full excavation of the area, recovering what is believed to be 3,000 bodies.

A quick view of the station today

Due to its complex nature, you could start anywhere at Liverpool street and still get great views. Howver for the sake of this quick walkthrough, we will start at the entrance at Hope Square in Liverpool Street.

Going through the gates, you will be greeted by the ‘Kindertransport’ statue in front of the glass fronted entrance. Take time at this statue to read the plaques and appreciate this significant event in history.

The ‘New’ Kindertransport Statue in Hope Square

If we now go through the entrance, you will gain the first look at the roof, with the concourse opening out below you. You are on the mezzanine level at this point, so take some time to look around you, admiring the columns which hold up the glass roof which is allowing natural light to flood in.

Looking left, you will see some arched windows, move toward these and then turn towards the concourse, so that you are looking straight down it. It is one of the best views of any London Terminus in my opinion, and a great photo if you can get it.

Move back along the mezzanine, a row of retail is ahead and to your right, but if you carry on down into a corridor, the exit to the bus station will eventally be on your left. Keep going down here for a very good view across the platforms.

A view across the platforms, note the abundance of highly decorated columns.

Once, you have seen the the platforms, with the fantastic train shed above, head back to the mezzanine level and turn left, so that you can see the arrival and departure board ahead of you, hanging above the concourse.

Once you get to the board, turn right and go underneath it, good views can be had of the concourse left and right here. At the other side, turn right and then left, you should see a rather large marble mural which reaches up toward the roof. This great marble structure is one of the best dedications to those who lost their lives during the First World War at any railway station. Below it are dedications to Captain Charles Fryatt and Sir Henry Wilson, both of whom were decorated in the Great War. Many other dedications and wreaths are normally to be found under these.

The First World War Memorial

Go back past the memorial and then past the departure board, and you should find on your right three brick reliefs. These depict a steam train, a ship and a scene involving coal being put into a firebox.

You will now see an exit which takes you out onto Bishopsgate. The former Great Eastern Hotel is to your left, and the original ballroom ceiling can be seen if you enter this building (which is now a major chain pub). Looking back towards the station you will see a glass canopy with escalators down to concourse level. This is framed with two brick columns, one with a clock tower. Also to be found here to your right is a very unusual metal totem with a London Underground roundel and the Liverpool Street name underneath.

Totem in Bishopsgate

Take the escalators down to the main concourse. Walk forward here and again admire the roof structure. Keep to your left here as you walk along. There are lots of places to sit here, and a set of escalators will take you down to the toilets. Go past these, keeping left until you almost reach the entrance to the Underground station.

You will then see another statue dedicated to the Kindertransport. This was the original one dedicated in 2003, and used to sit in Hope Square. When it was there it contained a glass box with actual artifacts from some of the children, with the standing girl only. When it was relocated however, a sitting boy was added and the glass box removed.

Kindertransport statue near Underground entrance

Moving past the Underground entrance, there is another exit ahead of you which takes you to an area with a low veiling and retail outlets. Eventually it leads to the Bus station.

London Liverpool Street is not the largest London Terminus, but this and Marylebone do keep the charm of the old railway, and although I have detailed a few hidden gems, but there are more (but that’s for another time…)

A view from the Liverpool Street end

You can see a short video of the trains at Liverpool Street on my YouTube channel below:


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London Bridge re-signalling scheme 1970’s

Before the re-imagining of London Bridge station in the 2010’s, it was the subject of a huge re-signaling scheme in the mid 1970’s. The idea was to completely redesign the approach, especially across Borough Market Junction. This was a notorious bottleneck where trains from Charing Cross and Cannon Street, as well as approaching traffic from Kent and Sussex would almost always grind to a halt at peak times.

The solution was to create more throughput by using crossovers from Charing Cross and Cannon Street and using a new flyover at St Johns. Some terminal platforms were also connected to the Charing Cross lines in order to facilitate more throughput.

The entire area would be controlled via a massive new signal control room at London Bridge, which would mean the demise of at least 16 smaller signal boxes nearby.

Amazingly for such a large project, it was finished on time, at a cost of £21.5 million pounds in 1978. Below are some scans from a mini booklet produced by British Rail to commemorate the achievement.

I must thank Mr David Bonnett, who very kindly donated this leaflet and other materials to myself.


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London Termini – Cannon Street

The essence of a true commuter station, very quiet during the day but in the morning and evening a hive of activity. Served only by the SouthEastern Railway and serving only Kent and Sussex, this central London hub has a varied but solid history.

A Brief History

The South Eastern Railway Company started construction in 1863, from a design by Sir John Hawkshaw. The railway entered via a 706ft bridge which at this stage only carried 5 lines. This was increased to 10 during the late 1800’s. The engine shed roof was an impressive 190ft wide and more than 680ft long, with a central lantern section which ran almost the entire length.

On the bridge side, two towers sit either side of the bridge, each adorned with a square domed roof and spire. It was found during restoration in 1986, that the east tower contained a water tank, either for replenishing the locomotives or for use in powering the stations hydraulic lift systems.

A hotel was built on the front entrance of the station. At only 5 stories it was one of the smallest station hotels, but had turrets mirroring those of the main towers. Like most railway hotels however, the popularity waned in the early 1900’s and it closed to customers in 1931.

The station officially opened in September 1866, and provided additional services to and from Charing Cross via a 7 minute shuttle, considerably quicker than the 35 minute walk. However, the advent of the district railway a few years later would render these shuttles almost useless.

The trainshed roof was extensively damaged during an air raid in 1941, and engineers deemed that replacing the glass would not be possible. The structure stood in skeleton form until 1958, when it was demolished in the first re-model of the station.

The new office complex which replaced the hotel was derided by critics, and certainly wasn’t as grand as the original Hotel. It was followed in the 1980’s by a ‘floating’ office block above the station platforms, held up by a 6000 ton metal frame. The block nearest the river has a roof garden, and slightly protrudes the two towers.

A quick view of the station today

Going in via the right hand steps on Cannon Street itself, you are greeted by a British Rail Sign hanging from the roof and a blue “Welcome to Cannon Street Station” sign. Immediately at the top of the two flights of stairs to your right is the entrance to the Underground station.

The low ceiling, clad in silver stripes with bright lighting makes you feel penned in. The floor, a cream tile with grey borders almost makes it feel like a department store. This aside, you remember that this is just a “people mover” station, so modern clean almost clinical lines wont be noticed by the thousands using it each day.

View to the station entrance from platform 7

To the right is a coffee shop, then the ticketing office and finally the toilets. Straight ahead are the gatelines to platforms 4-7. Look to your left here and a statue called “The Plumbers Apprentice”, which commemorates 400 years of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. Their hall was once on the ground of the station.

The Plumbers Apprentice

Carry on past the statue and on your right will be ticketing machines and the gatelines to platforms 1-3. Directly ahead is a retail outlet and a pub/restaurant. Turning back towards the street and by the steps on your right is the lift down to the Underground Station.

Moving onto the platforms, ex Network South East overhead clocks continue to click away, and the pillars in the centre of the platform still contain the Network South East colour banding at the base.

As you move outside, to the left is a view over the River Thames to Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast and The Shard. To the Right you will see both Southwark and Blackfriars bridges, as well as the Tate Modern.

But look back towards the station and the full glory of the two original towers rise before you. A very impressive site, and totally at odds with the office block in the middle, yet somehow it does fit together. In my view it only goes to enhance the old structure.

The two towers of Cannon Street

Cannon Street with all its stark modern looks deceives you, and the small things like the Statue, Network South East reminders and of course the towers are reasons to just spend a little more time looking around you, rather than rushing to get that train home.


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London Termini – King’s Cross

Signage in the underground station

King’s Cross; for a lot of people the station symbolises two very different train services. One steeped in history – The Flying Scotsman – the other pure fantasy – The Hogwarts Express. Whilst one is real and the other fictitious, it is fair to say that if you mention Kings Cross to many of the public, they will utter either or both of them.

A brief history

A practical station for a practical railway. That is how the Great Northern Railway saw it when they opened it in 1852. A station with a modest frontage, made from yellow London bricks and a wooden roof, complimented with two 100ft roof spans over the platforms. These roofs being supported by brick pillars, today in the centre of island platform 4 and 5.

Trains enter and leave the station via the Gas Works tunnel, which passes under the Regent’s Canal. A major goods yard for coal was also contained within the station, although this does not remain.

It looked totally at odds with St Pancras next door; that station when opened 16 years later was oozing with grandeur. A clock adorned the front of the building, and quirkily was rumoured to never have the same time showing as that of its neighbour at St Pancras. King’s Cross as a railway station, however, would for the majority of the next 150 years be the more successful of the two.

For all the footfall though, the station remained unloved for a long time. Indeed in the 1960’s, the square out front was partially covered with a new travel centre for British Rail. This however obscured the lower half of the original frontage, and looked at odds with it.

A quick view of the current station

In 2007, work started on a new concourse, and what a unique structure it is. A single rising 150ft “Diagrid” roof, underpinned at its base down 50ft. It spreads out like a metal web, encapsulating the new concourse with its shops and bars. The feeling of space even during the busy periods is amazing, and differing colours are sometimes projected upon it.

The travel centre was removed, enabling the square to be reinstated and the full frontage to again be seen. To the left side of said frontage, an entrance to the new concourse can be seen. Going through this, the superb new roof opens up in all its splendour. Immediately to your right are entrance gates to the platforms, to your left are escalators up to a mezzanine level This contains a seating area and eating and drinking places.

Going back down to floor level via the escalators on the other side of the mezzanine, if you turn right, you will see arrivals and departure boards, and underneath the new travel centre. To the left of the travel centre is the Harry Potter shop, with a photo opportunity platform 9 3/4 area.

Going under the mezzanine, more shops on both sides as you are then greeted with a glazed front, from which you can see St Pancras International. Stairs down to the Underground are also here, one of many access points to the labyrinth of tunnels which form King’s Cross St Pancras underground Station.

Pictures below were taken on 22nd January 2019, and thanks goes to the station manager and Network Rail for enabling me to photograph extensively on that date:

A view to the train sheds from the end of platform 10
The view from island platform 4 and 5, showing the train shed, the centre brick column being obscured by the light fixture.
The gasworks tunnels.
A view down roads 1 and 2, notice platform 0 to the left.
Clock situated on platform 1
A view down to platform 6
The fantastic canopy over the new concourse
The canopy. Note original station building behind.
The Harry Potter shop – the photo opportunity “Platform 9 3/4” is immediately right of this, and is always busy
The fantastic exterior, with the square in the foreground

Here is a video, also taken on the day, from my YouTube site :


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Stations Near Me – 3 – Newington

One stop down east from Rainham (Kent) is the small station of Newington. Opened in 1862 by the London, Chatham and Dover railway. At this time, only a double track went through the station. Serviced by a small one storey station building, which was located on the “up” side, the station was created mainly to service the many agricultural premises in the village.

Three sidings were put in, controlled by a signal box on the “up” side. Goods traffic was supplied by the local farmers in the early years, and later when some of this land was used more industriously, coal was brought in to sustain the new industries.

This continued for many years, but it was the advent of electrification along the Chatham main line which would see significant developments. The track was quadrupled between Rainham and Newington, ending at the east of the station. This involved demolishing existing platforms, and replacing them with concrete structures. A metal bridge now spanned the platforms across the four tracks. Around 1962, the original station building was replaced by a prefab construction, which still remains today.

The following are two photographs. The first facing west, showing a DB class 66 with an engineers working coming on the “down” from Rainham.

Next, facing east, a 395 “Javelin” is passing through at speed on the inner express lines.

If you want to read more on the history of Newington Railway Station, please visit the excellent Kent Rail website.


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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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The Class 700

On Sunday 20th May 2018, new rail services were due to start between Rainham in Kent and Luton.  Unfortunately, as well publicised in the media (here) things didn’t go according to plan.  But this is not what this blog is about.  This blog looks at the workhorse of that service, the new Class 700 unit, most of which at the time of this blog were owned by Thameslink (although Great Northern will have some).

The trains were built between 2014 and 2018 by Siemens in Germany.  The initial order was for 60 Eight car trains and 55 twelve car trains.  They are scheduled to replace all the class 319s on the Thameslink Network.

Their maximum speed is 100mph, and are electrically supplied with a third rail shoe (750 V DC) as well as a pantograph for overhead operation (25 Kv AC).  They are fully fitted with air conditioning, and a regenerative braking system.

The units are capable of working as ATO (Automatic train operation), which means the train can drive itself.  This is already in operation along the “Thameslink Core” which  links the East Coast mainline to the network around St Pancras.  The usual safety AWS is installed, as well as the ability to upgrade this easily to the new Digital Railway signalling as and when it is operational.

Two shots of the exterior of the train are below, one is of the information plate :P1000809P1000811

Interior shots of the train taken by myself at Rainham are below:

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The images above show the standard configuration in standard class.  1st class carriages have slightly better seats and tables.  As you can see, the train is totally able to be walked through, although first class carriages are separated.  On the 8 car trains there are 3 toilets (1 disabled).  I believe this is increased by one each om the 12 car trains.  Luggage racks above the seats are large, plenty of space for a small case.

The new information boards show various information, including carriage loading indicators and information on the London transport network:

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They also show the time and the next station stop, as well as the usual scrolling information about the service you are on and its destinations.  Overall, these are very impressive and very informative.

As good and shiny as this train is though however, its glaring problem is the seating in standard class, which is well documented if you perform a basic internet search.  Having done a full 2 and a half hour journey from Rainham (Kent) to Luton, I can indeed say that these seats are not built for that length of journey.  They are quite hard, and realistically I see only around an hour and a half being the maximum journey time you would want on them.

This however is not a problem.  The train is really designed with the commuter in mind, so the core user would only be using it for a short journey, either up to London from Medway, or up to London from Luton.  As a modern train it really performs well, with good acceleration and the ride comfort in relation to bumps and jolts is really very smooth. All onboard announcements are clear and concise.

If the lessons from the seating can be learnt, then new variants of this train could be learnt and improvements made to what is in essence a very fine unit.  As an addition to the fleet roster in the south east it is very capable, and notwithstanding the seats, a very enjoyable ride.


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The Digital Railway

Last week (10th May 2018) , the British Government in association with Network Rail announced that it would be investing in a digital railway, but what is that?

Basically, for well over a hundred years, railway signalling in the UK is a “block” based system. That is, a pre defined area of railway ‘blocks’ divide up the network, and no two trains can occupy the same block at the same time. In recent years, if a train moves past a red signal in to an occupied block, the onboard safety system (TPWS) will apply the emergency brake. This system albeit very safe, is very inefficient. A better way would be to allow the trains to report their position, speed etc. This would allow trains to run safely at closer distances, and would increase the capacity on the network.

The cost would be high, but as many of the signalling systems in the UK are nearing an upgrade, the spend would not necessarily be in addition to works which have been already identified by Network Rail.

To better explain this, the following video from Network Rail shows the current system of signalling, and how the new digital systems would improve the UK rail network.


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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

GWR

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.

68 368 5

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

double vomit comet

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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