Friday, 20 January 2017

We should be proud of our railways!

This is worth a read:

Having, in recent times, used rail in many European countries I am amazed how our railways cope so well with much higher numbers of passengers per train and many more trains per network mile. I was particularly unimpressed with German Railways last summer with some trains cancelled and even the top-of-the-range ICE trains running with faults such as non-working aircon (hell on a hot day with no opening windows). We used to get that in BR days on the MK3 coaches to London, but not with the Pendolinos.

Privatisation was far and away the best thing that ever happened to our railways. Those of us who don't wear rose tinted specs, didn't work for BR, and were the unfortunate pax back in BR days know this only too well. Trains were far fewer back then, they were unreliable (if I had to be in London for a vital meeting I flew - the train just wasn't reliable enough. Now no-one flies MAN - LON). Staff were surly and the whole operation was inward-looking. One got the impression the railway was there for the staff, not the pax.

BR were also responsible for destroying much rail infrastructure, far more damaging than Beeching's 'branch line cuts'. BR took out lines like Woodhead (an electrified line between two major cities!), Buxton - Derby, and almost the Settle - Carlisle until an enterprising civil engineer called their bluff over the cost of repairing Ribblehead Viaduct and the line was saved. They 'simplified' junctions, single-lined many busy routes, and removed signalling making 'blocks' much longer so reducing line capacity. In privatisation we have seen much of that restored, and even improved on such as Trent Valley 4-tracking (even the LMS managed with only 3 tracks, which BR reduced to 2).

Rail is also much safer now, and safer than continental rail. One doesn't want to tempt fate, but it's 8 years since a passenger died as a result of a rail accident in UK. All this despite an almost threefold increase in traffic since privatisation.

The only area we lag behind in is high speed rail. We haven't got any (HS1 is really a branch of the French network). One thing my continental rail travels have revealed is the vast mileage of HS rail all over Europe, and the rate at which it is still being built. We have a smaller more crowded land mass of course, but even taking that into account it is ludicrous that we are still arguing about HS2 'in maybe 20 years from now'. We are well behind the curve on HS rail and should be cracking on with it.

That our railways deliver a (largely) on-time service with few cancellations over a Victorian infrastructure is something that I find amazing. The unions don't like the success of privatisation even though the growth due improved services has outstripped reduction in jobs due to removal of many over-manning situations (second men in cabs was one such - very similar argument to the non-safety issue of DOO).

RMT has a mission to bring UK rail to a halt to impose their demands... or worse. One of their officials on TV even said the real aim of these strikes is to bring down the government as my link below  illustrates. There is NO safety issue with DOO as the rail safety authority and 30 years experience worldwide shows, and the RMT should be put firmly back into its box.

And fares? Yes, because the government has a policy to move rail costs away from the taxpayer and onto the fare payer we do have some of the highest fares in Europe, particularly 'walk up' fares. We do also, because of our 'complex' ticketing systems, have some of the cheapest advance fares as well! Of course the Daily Mail (spit!) will compare a walk-up peak time Glasgow - London rail fare with a locost advance-booked airline seat to Majorca, but that's because the press like to pander to our beliefs not present facts. It sells more papers.

I think our railways are great. I think those who call for renationalisation are either union bigots or a certain cadre of ex-BR staff who have a great sense of 'entitlement' and want 'their' railway back!

And those strikes?

Time we called ‘time’ on these ludicrous rail strikes. As the rail safety authority and 30 years of experience here and abroad has shown, there is NO safety issue. Rather, this is what it’s about:


Monday, 19 December 2016

Last running day of 2016 at Urmston

We have been remarkably lucky with the weather this year, and I can't recall a Sunday at Urmston missed through bad weather for a long time. Today was no exception; cold, a bit misty at first, but dry.

Lovely pictures by Jason as usual. Please click on any for a larger image.

Last traces of overnight mist at Abbotsfield Park early on Sunday 

Jim prepares his Venezuelan Beyer Peacock Tank Loco as I look on. Lots of visible 'steam' in the low air temperature (steam is actually invisible; however, "steam" as seen here refers to wet steam, the visible mist or aerosol of water droplets formed as this water vapour condenses in the cold air of today). This 'wet steam' was to prove problematic (more of that later) as I drove this locomotive on passenger trains on the main track.

 The Venezuelan Tank simmers on its prep bay as Keith prepares 'The Beast' (Arthur Eve) and Alan works on his rebuilt Royal Scot

Another Beyer Peacock (they all came from Gorton of course), this one a Garrett belonging to Dave (on the right) while another Dave looks on

Keith and 'The Beast' 

George, watching the Venezuelan Tank blow off 

The Venezuelan Tank's flight deck 

The club's electric loco 'Spirit of Urmston' in festive garb 

Me and Keith 

The Venezuelan Tank began its day on the inner track with some of Jim's relatives, visiting from Australia. Later, it was transferred to the main track where I drove it on public passenger trains. 

Alan and his rebuilt Scot 

'The Beast' attracts attention from some visitors

The cold winter temperatures generate a lot of 'visible steam' as described in the caption to the second picture above. On the move this is blown back into the driver's face making him virtually blind. It's made worse if (as I do) one wears wrap-around protective glasses to prevent ash and grit from the loco's chimney going int one's eyes. The 'steam' condenses onto the cold surface of the glasses rendering them opaque.

One hurtles along driving by 'feel' while trying to peer past the steam (a crosswind helps!) and sometimes has to remove the steamed-up protective glasses to check the line ahead, upcoming signals, and vital objects in the cab such as boiler water level glass and steam pressure gauge. I managed to get a bit of painful grit in my eye on Sunday as a result!

Great fun, though!

Roll on 2017, the year of 'The Jubilee'!


Sunday, 11 December 2016

Christmas lunch today at Urmston

....But the trains were running as usual.

Pictures by Jason Lau. Please click on any for a larger image.

 An ex-member came back today - Lee, a lecturer at Salford University, and his son with a nice Great Western pannier tank loco (a 'Pansy') which he ran on the inner track

Dave and I with his Black Five on a prep bay

Malcolm (above) and me (below) give Eddie's 'Green Five' the once-over. The dome cover and dome top have been removed as work has been done on the regulator valve beneath and a hydraulic test of the boiler revealed a leak at the dome, which is in the process of being attended to. 

Felisa and Dorothy preparing the feast

And here is the feast! Lots of it, and very good it was, too.

Trevor on the left, Peter on the right, Eddie second from right, and Eddie's 'Green Five' undergoing a boiler hydraulic test

Lovely end to a great day


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

'My' Chippy in a forced landing last Sunday

dH Chipmunk Sierra Lima at Sleap, Shropshire, 4th December 2016

About 20 mins after this picture was taken (by Mark Harris) at Sleap, Shropshire, on Sunday afternoon, this de Havilland Chipmunk, the love of my life for several decades, had to force land into disused RAF Poulton airfield near Chester on its way home to Liverpool, with an engine problem (very rough running and lots of vibration - been there myself more than once - that situation I mean, not Poulton which I haven't been to!).

Pilot and aeroplane are both intact.

Another upside - the pilot now has Poulton in his log book!

Got a few unusual locations in my log books through similar circumstances in Sierra Lima.


Sunday, 27 November 2016

Alfred gets a run...

It's been a few weeks since I took Alfred to Urmston, but today he got to stretch his wheels.

Pictures by Jason Lau. Please click on any one for a larger image.

Prep bays this morning. Keith with 'The Beast', Dave with his Black Five, the Chairman's Rebuilt Scot, and me fettling Alfred. Jim and his 9F haven't arrived yet.

Before lighting up, I 'oil round' all the moving parts. The fine pipe on this oilcan reaches to the valve gear under the boiler, between the frames.

The compressed air blower is inserted in Alfred's chimney to draw the fire after 'lighting up', while I turn on his steam blower to see if there's enough boiler pressure yet to dispose of the external blower

Billy checks out Jim's lovely 9F

Out on the track

Alfred blows off as I fine-tune one of his injectors to feed more water into the boiler and calm things down. The pipe on a stick by the line side is the water supply for topping up his tender water tank.

Dave's Black Five, also blowing off. Steam from the RH injector indicates Dave is attempting to get it to 'pick up, for the same reasons as I did on Alfred, above.

Billy anxious to depart on Jim's 9F, which is also blowing off! Judging by the full load of passengers departure has been delayed while everyone gets on board, resulting in excess steam being generated during the delay, hence the safety valves lifting.

Trevor on the Rebuilt Scot. This one's blowing off as well! Trevor has ordered a Jubilee model from the same source as I have. Both will be LMS Crimson Lake, but his will be named 'Trafalgar' while mine will be 'Warspite'.

Jim tries his hand on Alfred, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Like me, Jim has a soft spot for narrow gauge locomotives.

Ex-BR loco driver Eddie with 'The Beast'

Barry on Dave's Black Five while a young enthusiast looks fascinated by the loco


Sunday, 20 November 2016

A new addition to the steam fleet is on order

Here's the next addition to the Vince steam loco stud. A brand new 5 inch gauge LMS 3-cylinder Jubilee 4-6-0 express locomotive.

The Jubilee in Crimson Lake 

Cab detail

This is the Jubilee in BR green

With tender it's about six feet long, and should arrive in April or May next year. Mine will be in LMS Crimson Lake, and named 'Warspite'.

I went down to Braunston in September to see the prototype (the Crimson Lake one in these pictures). Gave them my order on the spot! The green one is the second prototype, and there will be a maximum of 50 production locomotives.

Should be popular on passenger trains at Urmston. The kids will think it's Hogwarts Express!

Footnote 27 November: I heard today that fellow Urmston member Trevor has ordered one of these as well, also in Crimson Lake. His will be named 'Trafalgar'.


A quiet day at Urmston today

Photos by Jason Lau.

Bit bleak at Urmston this morning

These are the three locomotives that were on passenger duty today. L to R, the Chairman's Royal Scot, Jim's Venezuelan tank, and Dave's Black Five.

....While this vertical boilered 'Coffee Pot' ran round the inner track

The early rain and cold weather kept passenger numbers down, but we still ran the trains even if empty. 

Fallen leaves gather in the cuttings around the track. If they are not cleared they eventually get deep enough to impede the coaches of the trains, getting jammed under the foot boards.

Early passengers ride behind 'Spirit of Urmston' while the steam locos are being prepared fro service.

After a spot of leaf clearing (an annual autumn chore at the track) I was driving Jim Moyles' superbly capable Beyer Peacock Venezuelan tank loco on passenger trains.

Driving Jim's Venezuelan tank, with Jim standing behind 
This engine steams like there's no tomorrow. It has an ejector to power the vacuum brakes on the coaches, and even with that running (consuming steam) I had to have the firebox doors open most of the time to draw cold air through the boiler tubes to prevent the loco blowing off.

Barry driving the Beyer Peacock, while I look on musing it's not just me who had problems trying to prevent it blowing off!
Here's a reminder of warmer days, with me moving Alfred on the traverser. Alfred had a rest at home today but he might get a run at Urmston next Sunday if the weather's OK.

Alfred on the traverser back in October

16th October 2016, me driving Dave's realistically grubby Black Five