Words and photographs by Neil Scarlett
It was definitely a good idea the night before but as the alarm went off at 4.30am on a cold and windy Tuesday 11th November 2009 morning it suddenly didn’t seem all that clever. I don’t think the recumbent good lady of the house appreciated it.
Never mind, one shave, shower and large cup of coffee later things looked in a better frame of light as I tiptoed out of the house at 5.15 am and cautiously started the car in the hope that the neighbours wouldn’t think there was some sort of emergency at this unearthly hour.
The itinerary for The Big Day Out was in fact a hastily planned rail trip from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, to Cardiff Central via Manchester Piccadilly, prompted by the discovery a couple of days earlier that Arriva Trains Wales were offering to those over the age of 55 return travel anywhere on their Network for £15. Ever the one to seek a bargain and having steadfastly refused to travel far on the railways for years owing to the ridiculously expensive ticket prices, and having just had my 55th birthday a couple of weeks before, this opportunity was just too good to miss.
Which is why I found myself alone in the dark on Dewsbury station at 5.40 am contemplating the great mysteries of life --1.why does it always rain horizontally straight into your face on railway stations? and --2. does FTP really stand for First Trans Pennine or is it actually Far Too Pricey? ( £17.60 to go 34 miles to Manchester and back – you must be joking!! ).
The first train of the day - the 06.06 to Manchester Airport ex York and Leeds - arrived and I gladly boarded to get out of the cold, to find that my coach was already surprisingly full. Strewth, do all these poor folk get up at this time every day? An uneventful and a surprisingly quick journey calling at Huddersfield and Stalybridge brought us into Manchester Piccadilly at 06.50am.
Nothing to see on the way as it was still dark, although it did bring back memories of a day out in 1981 when I travelled by Deltic from Leeds to Stalybridge and then caught the single car DMU tripper to Stockport, alighting at Guide Bridge to photo the long line of Class 76 electric locos stored in the sidings there.
I still have my photo of the Class 76s at Guide Bridge in 1981
Sightings in the dark at Manchester Piccadilly were:
DMU 185140 ex Dewsbury
EMUs 323228/ 323230/ 323233 awaiting local turns to Glossop, Hadfield etc
Coradia DMU 175111 ECS for my train, the 07.30 to Carmarthen.
Leaving the already very busy Manchester Piccadilly station first impressions of the Class 175 unit were very favourable – plenty of leg room, comfortable seating, air conditioning and a train not too crowded – all promising a nice leisurely 3 and a half hour journey along the Welsh Marches line. After calling at Stockport (07.39), Wilmslow (07.47) and Crewe (08.08), the floodlighting at Gresty Lane sidings enabled me to see the following locos at 08.10am:
47853 (blue livery)
As the light slowly dawned over a dull, grey, rainy day I was reminded just how enjoyable a long rail trip away from the hustle and bustle of the main line can be as I watched the fields and houses and farms and traffic speed by from the comfort of my warm vantage point. Occupying a prime window seat with no one sat next to me I was able to spread out, get out my Rail Atlas to follow the route and chill out.
A Coradia Class 175 unit 175011 at Cardiff Central on the day of my visit 10.11.09
By the time we’d called at Nantwich (08.16), Whitchurch (08.27) and Wem (08.36) I was becoming somewhat desperate for a spot of refreshment, so I was glad to see the trolley service come on board at Shrewsbury station, which we reached at 08.48 for a 2 minute stop. A very pleasant chap served me with two Arriva Trains Wales branded cups of coffee and as we left I made a mental note that this seemed a decent area for photography with its long open platforms, several junctions and two large signalboxes. Probably a little quiet traffic wise but just the sort of station I like compared to most ECML and WCML stations.
Time seemed to pass quickly and as we travelled further south the train began to fill up with passengers at each stop. Having travelled through the rolling countryside of Shropshire and Herefordshire, calling at Ludlow (09.17), Leominster (09.28), Hereford (09.42), I realised that we must be entering Welsh territory as station nameplates like Abergavenny (10.07), Pontypool (10.17) and Cwmbran (10.22) came into view. We soon reached Newport at 10.33, having seen on the way:
150237 at Shrewsbury 08.50
66232 northbound covered wagons at Hereford 09.40
66021 eastbound coal at Newport 10.32
150239 at Newport
HST 43179/43092 at Newport
Leaving a somewhat dishevelled Newport station – it seems to be all barriers and building works at the moment, being subject to major refurbishment – we passed Newport yard at 1044 where I noted through the drizzling rain
Finally, after a very enjoyable trip it was time for some serious number crunching and photo action as we approached Cardiff Central station, a place I had never visited before. However, on the approach to the station the train came to a halt and the Guard announced that arrival would be delayed as we had to await a platform becoming available because some of the running lines were blocked owing to “a failed freight train in the station”.
Advenza Class 57 57005 in the sidings Cardiff Central 10.11.09
After a 10 minute wait we moved in to the station and the first things I noticed were a) Advenza Class 57 57005 parked up in the sidings and b) Class 60 60085 on eastbound red Murco oil tanks stood with engine running in the middle road. It turned out that this was the 6B13 05.10 Robeston – Westerleigh which had arrived at 09.43 and had been stopped owing to a suspected fault with one of the bogie tanks – apparently sparks had been seen coming from it. Excitement already!!
The failed 6B13
So, how do you describe a day at this busy mainline station? Well, basically a steady procession of Arriva liveried 142,143 and 150 units serving the Welsh Valleys, regular First Great Western HSTs from Paddington, 170 Cross Country units from Nottingham, First Great Western 158s from Taunton and Portsmouth, 175 units from Manchester to Milford Haven/Carmarthen, Class 67s on the Cardiff – Taunton run and lastly, a few freight trains. A reasonably wide variety and definitely a lot of trains. For the record I noted the following between 10.55 and 15.50.
The failed Class 60 train finally moved eastwards out of the station at 13.10 with Class 57 57613 on the rear, having stood there for three and a half hours.
Class 57 57316 moving to the rear end of the failed oil train Cardiff 10.11.09
60085 subsequently reappeared working oil tanks west bound at 14.10.
Class 67s 67022 and 67024 were on the incoming 11.02 Taunton – Cardiff and then the 14.00 Cardiff – Taunton First Great Western passenger workings.
Of particular interest was sight of single car DMU 121032 which entered the station from the West and then promptly disappeared back from whence it came two minutes later.
Single car DMU 121032 Cardiff Central 10.11.09
All in all a very decent 5 hour session marred only by frequent bouts of absolutely appalling weather and a dull grey day all day, both of which took the edge off the photography side of things. Also it is the first time I’ve been to a station that has a Platform 0, pronounced ‘zero’ by the train announcer.
Yes the weather was bad
Having had enough of the weather and starting to feel the cold I decided to make a tactical retreat and after the inevitable crowd panic and jostling for position as the train approached the platform, I managed to get a window seat on unit 175001 departing at 15.40 for Manchester Piccadilly (14.55 ex Swansea). I do like the design of these units and I did make me think how modern and stylish our DMUs and EMUS look compared to the drabness that is Class 59, 66 and 70. They don’t have any ‘class’ appearance wise and to my mind can’t compete aesthetically with styles that were designed 50 years ago such as Class 33s, 47s and 50s. Just a personal opinion folks.
The journey from Cardiff to Newport managed to produce
66025 on an eastbound Intermodal east of Cardiff 15.50
66077 on westbound flats east of Cardiff 15.55
66060 light engine east of Cardiff 15.57
66192 in Newport Yard 16.00
66145 in Newport Yard 16.00
153369 at Newport station 16.02
170117 at Newport station 16.02
After that the light began to fade so it was time to put the train books away, get another coffee ( from the same pleasant chap that served me in the morning ), try a browse through my latest read ‘The Making Of The Beatles White Album’ and catch up with the occasional snooze. This train was much more crowded than the morning one, with passengers standing in the aisles at times and a huge gang of schoolchildren boarding at Hereford for the next couple of stations. My final sighting of the day was DRS Class 37 loco 37087 in the sidings at Gresty Lane, Crewe.
Following arrival at Manchester Piccadilly at 19.15 and a quick trip to the loo - 30p to get in – has the world gone mad – I made a transfer to the Far Too Pricey 19.42 Manchester to Newcastle train, reaching Dewsbury at 20.25 relieved that a) I hadn’t fallen asleep and missed the stop b) my car was still there complete with wheels and tyres.
Twenty minutes later I was home, knackered but well pleased with a good day out.