Miscellaneous railway photos

This page was updated (from its 2000 epoch) on 11 September 2007.

Britain

SR DEMU

[PHOTO: DEMU 1111: 38kB]

Above: Hampshire DEMU 1111, refurbished twice since the mid-1980s and most recently renumbered as 205 205, was known to her crews as Michelle. She is seen standing in the bay road at Hastings, awaiting departure as the 11:31 shuttle across the Romney Marsh. She will call at Ore, Three Oaks, Doleham, Winchelsea, Rye, Appledore, Ham Street and Ashford International. Like all the old SR DEMUs she has been withdrawn; like many she has been preserved — in her case, at the [North Yorkshire Moors Railway]. Photograph taken on 6 June 1998.

Wessex Electric

[PHOTO: 5WES tearing across pointwork on sunny day: 55kB]

I saw this pair of Wessex units come through Basingstoke on its non-stop run from Waterloo to Winchester, at about 10am on Saturday 9 May 1998, whilst I was waiting for the [Hastings DEMU] to run through on the same track (it’s just fluke that the position of the train on the track, and the framing of the shot, is exactly the same here as in [this] photo!).

The class 442 Wessex Electric units hold the record(1) for being the fastest third-rail electric trains in the world, at 109mph. 24 five-car units were built at Derby Litchurch Lane, and brought into use in 1989 between Waterloo and Portsmouth (via Petersfield), Poole and Weymouth (via Southampton Central). The first of the type, No. 2401 Beaulieu, was given a clear run from Waterloo to Weymouth on Thursday 11 April 1988; with some liberal interpretation of speed limits it completed the journey in 1 hour 59 minutes and 24 seconds. The 109mph maximum speed record was set during the course of the run.

(1) — Does anyone know whether the Eurostar has exceeded 109mph whilst running off the 750DC third rail on the UK railway network? I’d expect it to be a fair bet, but haven’t found any reference to it on the WWW.

These 5-WES units were overhauled in about 2000, which involved exterior repaint in a lurid orange/red/blue/white livery designed by Ray Stenning, and remodelling of the centre (motor) coach. Gone was the wonderfully-spacious guard’s van, which had room for (and regularly carried) more than ten bicycles and plenty of other luggage and parcels. The change created a bit of extra seating, which was all very well except:

In short, nobody was very happy about it, apart from those occupying one of the sixteen extra seats (and in any case these were often the cyclists and their luggage who would otherwise have been happy to travel with their bikes).

At the time, I’d gathered that there was a possibility of these changes being reversed as soon as the next management change took place.

No such reversal occurred; instead, the whole fleet of trains was withdrawn from service by SouthWestTrains in 2007. In my opinion this was an awful decision, as these trains were extremely comfortable both internally and in respect of ride comfort; the feeling of calm and quiet in any of the trailer coaches even at 100mph was something not matched today, except on the HST (125) or the Eurostar.

Of course I’m biased, as these trains travelled to and from my favourite corner of England; for me they evoke happy memories of Hampshire. That was back in BR days, before the guard’s vans were decimated. The Wessex units have been stored, not scrapped, and may yet grace our railway network at some point in the future.

Mid-Hants Railway

[PHOTO: long shot of steam loco: 37kB]

Above: The location is Medstead and Four Marks station, on the [Mid-Hants Railway], otherwise known as the Watercress Line — ten miles of preserved London & South Western Railway route in deepest Hampshire; the date is 1993. The steam locomotive, seen here about to leave the summit station and run tender-first down the 1 in 60 slope to Ropley, is Standard Class 4, No. 76017.

Built at Eastleigh Works in 1953, this engine suffered a serious derailment at Whitchurch on the sadly long-abandoned Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway: its unbraked train of bricks and timber ‘got away’ down the 1 in 106 gradient of Larksbarrow Cutting, and ran through the catch-points at the end of the Whitchurch platform loop line. 76017 ended up lying on its left side atop the embankment (beneath a mountain of bricks and timber!), but the driver and fireman jumped clear and avoided serious injury. No sign of the attendant damage to the locomotive is visible, unless you know where to look (or so I am told).

France

TGV

[PHOTO: TGV in station at night: 33kB]

Above: Moving across the channel but staying in the summer of 1993, we see a standard TGV set facing southbound at Avignon station, quite late into the evening; a train of containers (labelled "TAB") is passing northbound behind it. I had just had my first (and only, so far) truly fast run on a TGV, from Paris Gare du Lyon, down the high-speed line to Lyon-Perrache, and then round the lakes and between the hills to Avignon.

The previous summer I had travelled overnight on the couchette from Calais towards Nice: on arrival at Marseilles-St.Charles at 0730, I had taken advantage of my rail-rover ticket to nip up to Avignon and back on the TGV, just for fun… Unfortunately whilst making an enquiry at the Avignon ticket-desk I had put my passport and tickets down on the counter, and was just about to return to Marseilles when I realised I’d left them there! Leaping off the train before the doors closed, I rushed back to the guichet and was able to retrieve them. I may have had to wait an extra four hours for my Gap train (for Manosque), but at least I got my documents back!

Eurostar

[PHOTO: overall-roof modern station in France: 80kB]

Turning the clock forward to 1998, and the last weekend in October. That was the last opportunity to take advantage of Connex Rail’s coach service — via Le Shuttle — from Ashford to Calais. It was my first time through the Channel Tunnel — which is a particular fascination of mine — but it felt very strange to be being driven around on the French roads without having gone across the water or on an aeroplane: most disorientating. After we’d all been dumped outside Calais-Ville station (where I learned that Calais-Maritime had closed in 1995 — like Dover Western Docks, a great shame I feel), we decided to take a TGV-Atlantique to Lille, where we avoided the worst of the continuous all-day rainstorm by exploring the Métro (the trams were on strike, unfortunately). This view was taken at the (then) new Lille-Europe station built on the Eurostar high-speed line from Calais to Paris, and shows a Eurostar about to leave for London Waterloo. By way of stark contrast, we returned to Calais on a local train (from Lille-Flandres station) by way of Boulogne, a journey which took about three times as long!

Switzerland

[PHOTO: Swiss mountain-railway train emerging from tunnel: 49kB]

The Grischun region, close to the Italian border in south-east Switzerland, is the home of the Bernina Express. This one-metre gauge, non-rack-operated mountain railway is part of the Rhaetian Railway [Rhatische Bahn, RhB] system; it runs from Tirano, up through Poschiavo, zigzags up the valleys and winds round and round inside the mountains eventually reaching the Bernina summit, having achieved nearly 2 kilometres’ vertical ascent (maximum gradient being 1 in 14). This view, taken in spring 1993, shows the southern portal of one of the eleven tunnels: Galleria Val Varuna II (length 148m). It turns 270 degrees right and then 90 degrees left in that distance, which is why a look at either portal shows the track curving off to the right! A couple of seconds after I took the picture, the train passed me and I saw that the cab was full of passengers who had been invited in by the driver, better to admire the view…