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Stamp of approval

The Channel Tunnel is to be featured on a postage stamp in Britain.

Issued by the Royal Mail the stamp forms part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The special commemorative Channel Tunnel stamp has a face value of £1.00 and celebrates the historic linking of our two nations in May 1994 when the Channel Tunnel first began operations.

Says Jacques Gounon, CEO, Eurotunnel, ‘It is a great honour for us to see the Channel Tunnel on a British stamp. This is recognition of the magnificent feat of engineering that was the building of the Channel Tunnel and of the enormous impact the Tunnel has had on travel and trade for the United Kingdom over the past 18 years.’

New trams for Centro

The next generation of Centro’s tram fleet looks like its being built in Spain.

CAF has been chosen as preferred bidder for the Midland Metro’s new fleet. The new fleet of 25 Urbos 3 trams, costing approximately £40 million, will replace the current 16-strong fleet.

Extra capacity will be needed to accommodate expected growth once the extension between Snow Hill and New Street via Bull Street, Corporation Street, and Stephenson Street is open.

The new trams will start running from late 2014 on the current route from Snow Hill to Wolverhampton, with the Midland Metro extension from Birmingham Snow Hill to Birmingham New Street station coming on line in 2015.

Says Geoff Inskip, chief executive of Centro, ‘This is an important milestone in the delivery of a world class integrated transport network. Linking the £600m investment New Street station with the Jewellery Quarter, and the Black Country will stimulate our local economy.’

CAF (Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocariles) is based in Zaragoza, Spain and produces trams and trains which operate on a number of systems around the world. CAF supplies Class 332 trains for the Heathrow Express and 64 Class 333 trains for Northern Rail.

The Urbos 3 is a five section air-conditioned tram with a passenger capacity of approximately 200, compared to 156 on the current trams. The Midland Metro runs between Wolverhampton and Birmingham Snow Hill station via Bilston, Wednesbury and West Bromwich.

Says Antonio Campos CAF’s commercial director, ‘CAF is thrilled to be part of this prestigious project and believes the Urbos 3 trams will provide an enhanced travel experience for the people of Birmingham and the West Midlands.’

Frodsham makeover

The station master’s house at Frodsham in Cheshire is to be restored following agreement with the local council.

The Grade II listed building dates back to 1850. Inside all the rotten woodwork will be removed and the flooring renewed.

The roof will be renewed and the original Welsh slates relaid. The work will be done to match the Victorian original. Brickwork will be repointed using a lime based mortar.

External doors and windows will be renewed on a like-for-like basis to match the Victorian originals using materials agreed with the local conservation officer.

Work on the £400,000 project is expected to be finished by the end of May and will have no effect on the running of train services from the station. Network Rail then wants to let the building for use as a restaurant, studio or offices.

Special announcement en route to Euston

The train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston had just left Stockport when passenger, Jon Veitch, IEP director at East Coast, received a shock proposal over the tannoy.

Tina Recourt, former Holyhead customer services assistant with Virgin Trains, proposed over the public address system: ‘This is a special announcement for Jon Veitch in Coach G… yes, you Jon!’ Tina said, ‘You keep asking me a question and the answer is this; this is how much I love you..(enough) to do this publicly. Will you marry me?’

Both Jon and Tina had worked at Virgin Trains. On the train that evening Manchester-based Train Manager Tracy Lightfoot made a short introduction saying there would be a special announcement.

The romantic gesture was arranged through On-Board Managers Brett Hobson (Wolverhampton) and Lesley Comber (Manchester Piccadilly) after Tina got in touch with Brett who knew Jon from his days as Head of Fleet for Virgin Trains many years ago.

Passengers held their breaths. Then a few minutes later Tracy was back on the air saying he had accepted. The train erupted with cheers and applause.

Says Tina, ‘The idea came about because Jon has been wanting to get married since we met… but he has said I am not a romantic so I wanted to prove him wrong. It was our two-year anniversary of when we had our first date on (that) Saturday and I had a sneaky feeling he would ask me. So I decided to ask him first! I wasn’t nervous about the answer. We are made to be together.’

 

Extra train for school children

ScotRail is providing an early morning train to ensure that Plockton High pupils can get to school – free of charge – while the Stromeferry bypass remains closed.

The A 890 Lochcarron – Kyle/Plockton road has been closed since 22 December as the result of landslides and the continuing danger of further rock fall. The red eye service, the 06.12 Inverness-Kyle of Lochalsh, transports the children to Plockton before 9.00.

Other passengers can also buy tickets for the service. However to free up rolling stock the 07.26 Elgin-Inverness train is being replaced by a bus.

Says Jerry Farquharson, Scot Rail’s director of business planning, ‘We’ve worked closely with Highland Council and HITRANS to put this plan in place. It means that pupils will be able to get to school over the coming weeks with as little disruption as possible – and without incurring any extra travel costs.’

Local leaders have welcomed the rail rescue. Says Dr Michael Foxley, Highland Council leader, ‘This is great news. ScotRail’s cooperation is much appreciated, particularly as the children will get to travel for free.’

Just the Ticket

This month a total of £18.7m is being made available to fund improvements to stations.

Projects must be able to deliver a financial return over and above cost. The money is the final tranche of a £100m fund to improve stations in England and Wales. Since the idea was launched by the DfT, Network Rail and the ATOC in April 2011, more than £80m has been authorised for projects ranging from park-and-ride schemes to new shops at stations.

The latest bids to get the green light were for a café, waiting room and ticket office and other improvements at Wakefield Kirkgate – a grade II listed building – and an ambitious 710 space multi-storey car park at Bristol Parkway.

Says rail minister Norman Baker, ‘Rail travel is not only about the time spent sitting on a train. Pleasant, attractive railway stations with the right facilities encourage more people to travel by rail. This coalition government’s Station Improvement Fund has so far seen £80m awarded to 38 stations and we are now making available another £20m to renovate and rebuild even more stations left to us by our Victorian forefathers.’

Train named for Mick Winnett

Drivers past and present of First Capital Connect gathered to name a train ‘Driver Mick Winnett’ in honour of one of their number at a ceremony in Bedford station on Monday 6 February.

The widow of retired Bedford driver instructor Mick Winnett unveiled the name plate on a Class 319 unit berthed in platform 1A. Mick started his railway career in 1958 in the days of steam at Kettering as an engine cleaner before being passed out for firing duties.

He ‘fired’ on many of the turns allocated to Kettering including lodging at Toton with ironstone trains. When Kettering closed in 1969 he moved to Bedford where he was made a driver and in 1978 he became an instructor on all types of diesels that operated at that time.

He continued as an instructor until he retired in October 2007 almost 30 years later. Whenever a trainee was having difficulty it was always, ‘What’s Mick Winnett doing next week?’ This resulted in many having the benefit of his immense knowledge of both rule book and traction. He died in August 2011 after a battle with cancer.

FCC Operations Director Jackie Townsend attended Monday’s ceremony and said, ‘This was a very important occasion for First Capital Connect and colleagues and we were delighted to be able to name one of our trains after Mick. He was one of our most respected driver instructors who taught scores of trainees to a high standard. Without the likes of Mick and others who have followed in his footsteps, we would not be able to transport the 150,000 people we do every day.’

Bill Davies, a retired driver from Chapman Close, Kempston, was a close friend. ‘It was always a joy to have Mick as your instructor as he made learning a pleasure,’ says Bill.

‘He had a marvellous smile and dedicated his working life to the railway. When he died it was a spontaneous reaction of all the drivers at Bedford that we make this permanent reminder of him.

Now, when someone says ‘Where’s Mick?’ we can say, ‘He’s probably on his way to Brighton or on his way round the Wimbledon Loop.’ Mick Winnett leaves a widow Joan, son Peter, daughter Jane and grandchildren.

Crossrail casts tunnel lining

A new tunnel segment manufacturing plant has begun full operations in west London.

Construction staff are hard at work pouring the first batch of 250,000 concrete segments that will line the 26 miles of Crossrail tunnels.

The plant is at Old Oak Common and will employ about 60 people at its peak, including the first of 15 trainees. Segment production has begun ahead of the start of Crossrail tunnelling next month.

The first tunnel boring machine is currently being assembled at Westbourne Park. The concrete segments will be loaded onto the 1,000 tonne mobile underground factory. As the 140 metre long machines advance forward the precast concrete segments will be formed into rings to line the tunnels behind the TBM cutter head.

Joint venture contractors, BAM Ferrovial Kier (BFK), will manufacture more than 75,000 tunnel segments at the Old Oak Common site to be used in the 4 mile twin tunnels running between Royal Oak in west London and Farringdon.

Construction of the segment factory for the eastern running tunnels between Farringdon and Docklands is currently underway at Chatham in Kent and scheduled for completion in late April.

Says Crossrail’s Western Tunnels Project Manager Andy Alder, ‘Preparations are well underway for the start of Crossrail tunnelling next month. Ahead of that, we are stockpiling tunnel segments and have begun pouring the first batches of more than 250,000 concrete segments that will be made to line 42 kilometres of Crossrail tunnels.’

The factory will produce more than 200 segments per day at its peak and include a laboratory to test the quality of the concrete to ensure that the segments have a 120 year life. Once the tunnel is built the site will be converted for use as a train depot.

Get Ahead of the Games

Rail companies like Southeastern together with TfL, have joined forces to launch Get Ahead of the Games ‘Get Ahead of the Games’ aimed at keeping London moving during the summer Olympics.

The ‘Get Ahead of the Games’ campaign will help people in the capital check out travel hotspots with up to the minute information.

By logging on to the website or following @GAOTG on Twitter, commuters and spectators can get the latest updates, travel information and advice on how to plan ahead and avoid snarl ups.

 

 

 

Royal Railway Show

To celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Museum of the Great Western Railway, called STEAM, is putting on an exhibition devoted to royal rail travel.

‘The Royal Road’ exhibition shows the original clock from Queen Victoria’s Royal Waiting Room at Windsor Station and original fittings from Queen Victoria’s Royal Saloon, as well as documents, notices and artworks relating to royal travel.

The original notes of Queen Elizabeth II to the Royal Train inspector are among the selection of royal pieces.

Says Felicity Jones, Curator at STEAM, ‘Queen Victoria’s first journey on a train of any kind was on the Great Western Railway line, from Slough to Paddington in 1842. It is fascinating to think that STEAM has links with Queen Victoria’s first rail experience.

‘As well as the many royal items on display, our new exhibition tracks royal rail journeys and also royal visits to railway stations. These include those made to Swindon Works by King George V and Queen Mary in 1924 and by Princess Elizabeth in 1950.’

Steps spectacular

The refurbished Waverley Steps at Edinburgh Waverley Station have reopened to the public completing the first phase of a multi-million-pound project to overhaul the station’s Princes Street entrance.

The historic station steps have been rebuilt, and three banks of double escalators installed, as part of a £7m contract to improve access at the station.

Two 16-passenger lifts will be installed, connecting the top of the Princes Mall with the station platforms below. The new lifts will be completed by July 2012.

Says David Simpson, Network Rail route managing director for Scotland, ‘The new steps will vastly improve access to the station for passengers, especially less mobile travellers. The refurbishment has delivered a modern gateway to one of the country’s oldest stations which is also sensitive to the heritage and history of the building and those around it.’

Retailers get on track

The Freight Transport Association has praised Britain’s retailers for attempting to move more goods by rail.

The FTA’s report, ‘On Track!’ points out the economic and environmental benefits of using rail in supply chain logistics. Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, the Co-Op and B&Q all contributed case studies to the report, outlining the challenges of switching to rail.

The report also shows the achievements they have made so far. On Track! is the result of co-operation between the FTA and the Department for Transport and hopes to increase rail freight traffic from retailers.

Says Christopher Snelling, FTA’s Head of Supply Chain Policy, ‘Retail has shown a leading-edge attitude to innovation in the supply chain.

‘Our study shows that the volume of goods in high street stores and supermarkets being regularly moved by rail is on the rise and that the retail sector’s appetite for modal shift is stronger than ever. Our study shows that it is clearly reaping the benefits.’

Kirkgate kudos

A £1.5 million project will complete the transformation of long-neglected Wakefield Kirkgate.

Already the grade II listed station, which dates from 1854, has been tidied up and the subway and entrance lobby repaired.

Work on removing the spine wall and replacing the station canopies is expected to commence this month and be completed by May.

The station buildings have fallen into disrepair and are in urgent need of attention. Local leaders hope a rejuvenated station will catalyse the regeneration of Kirkgate.

Plans for the station have been drawn up by Groundwork Wakefield with support from Network Rail, Northern Rail, West Yorkshire PTE, Wakefield council and Railway Heritage Trust.

Railsport heralds Olympic Games

The 2012 Railsport Games will take place in Stanley Park, Blackpool, on 23rd and 24th June.

The curtain raiser for the equally prestigious London Olympics the following month will see 1000s of athletic rail staff flocking to the Lancashire coast resort to prove themselves against the verve and vigour of competitors from across the industry.

Railsport promotes and supports sporting activity by staff working in the railway industry and is run by volunteers.

This year because of the expected upsurge in Olympian interest more volunteers will be needed to organise and run events.

If you think you can help please contact Railsport Secretary, Cliff Robinson.

 

Boxing clever at Paddington

Construction of the new Crossrail station at Paddington is pressing ahead as excavation of the station box gets underway.

The new Crossrail station will be built under Eastbourne Terrace, to the left of the station facing the tracks from the concourse. To enable excavation of the 260m long station box, Westminster City Council has agreed to a full closure of Eastbourne Terrace from 12 February 2012.

This will cut costs, save time and make the site safer for construction workers. Once the box structure and excavation is complete, work will get underway to fit-out the new station.

Says Kay Buxton, Chief Executive, Paddington Waterside Partnership, ‘The Paddington area has changed beyond recognition and is now one of the fastest growing business and residential areas in the capital with significant further investment underway.

‘The new Crossrail station at Paddington will deliver improved and direct transport connections with areas to the west and east of the capital as well as with London’s other major employment centres. Crossrail has worked closely with us ahead of these major works commencing and while there will be an impact locally we are clearly focused on the long-term benefits that will be delivered.’

Cabs that use the parallel departures road will be using a new rank to the north of Paddington station, above platform 12.

Devolving Track Safety and Track Work becoming a “Hands On” activity for Alliancing for Train Operators!

Also why polished paving at stations shouldn’t be a safety concern!

Colin Wheeler writes…

Last month I focused on drugs and alcohol followed by slips, trips and falls.

One reader made the connection which was unintentional. Another wrote in praise of the use of tarmac for the new station at Ebbsfleet, suggesting that it was preferable to the use of Terrazzo flooring that becomes dangerously slippery when wet.

He suggested that Terrazzo flooring began in Scotland with Chris Green driving the idea. Sorry, but I do not share this reader’s concerns. It is surely wrong to limit choosing the most attractive materials because it is feared roofs and drainage will be inadequately maintained?

The image and ambience of all our stations needs to compare favourably with the very best airport terminals. Market forces will result in fewer internal air services as High Speed train services become more available, but only if high standards are set by rail infrastructure owners and operators.

The success of Manchester’s Metrolink is due in part to its image of modernity, comfort and efficiency (despite it having replaced a remarkably reliable train service between Manchester and Bury using some of the oldest coaching stock I have ever travelled in!) Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) are rightly setting new standards for our industry. I support their initiative, including more terrazzo floors where appropriate.

A new Asset Management Director for Network Rail

Peter Henderson was Network Rail’s first Director Asset Management. Having read the advertisements for a new post on Network Rail’s Board of “Group Asset Management Director”, reporting to the Chief Executive, it is clear that the appointed replacement will have an altered job remit.

The phrase “working in close liaison with devolved teams at route level” says it all. The job dimensions are described as “setting strategic direction through to managing delivery on 10 strategic routes and 10,000 route miles of railway”.

Last year I wrote in praise of the direct and unambiguous nature of Chief Executive David Higgins’ Safety Policy Statement. Now I am looking forward to discovering how the Route Managing Directors will each focus on specific track safety initiatives for their routes.

Alliances and even deep alliances!

Already we have heard mention of “alliances” and “deep alliances” at route level between train operating companies and Network Rail, with the employees of both working together in joint management teams. I look forward to the mutual understanding this should promote and its potential benefit for safer working.

Back in the underfunded days of British Rail I vividly recall the benefits achieved when engineers, operators and passenger or freight marketing people met to decide how best to tackle infrastructure problems. I suggest the focus of those working on a particular route should rightly be on its Route Managing Director (RMD).

If they all have individual safety policy statements which support the Chief Executive, but are meaningful to each and every person who works the route, safety will improve. If each RMD makes sufficient unannounced site visits and listens to workers concerns they will want to please him or her and both safety and productivity will benefit.

Taking the fear away from contracting

Route alliance meetings (with the timing of work and possession details on the agenda) need to involve designers and contractors at a very early stage. When work is to be tendered the relevant asset engineers and train operators must also be involved.

Safe working needs to be top of their shared agenda from the outset. Tendering and contract award processes need to involve the local engineers at all stages. Based upon my experience I would go yet further. Involving those who will both supervise shift by shift, and those who will do the physical work at the earliest possible moment, will also bring dividends.

Safer, simpler, easier and hence less costly methods of working will result. For this to happen it will be necessary for members of all the contracted team to be involved with the front line subcontractor.

They must feel confident that speaking out will not harm their chances for further subcontract work. Their bosses need to be assured that reporting incidents and problems will not stop them being considered for further contracts either.

“Lack of’s” and Improvement Notices

Any reader who believes that this sort of initiative is not needed, should research the current listing on the ORR’s website of outstanding Improvement Notices from last year.

To quote a few “lack of risk assessment for gas cutting work”, “lack of practicable arrangements for inspection, management and maintenance of permanent way”, “failure to isolate power systems when maintaining machinery”, “lack of planning for use of excavator cranes”, “lack of control of fatigue in subcontract staff with potential effects on themselves and others”, “inadequate control and management of the inspection of structures”.

Of course this list excludes the vast majority of work which is safely and satisfactorily completed. But we can all do better I am sure! Encouragingly the list of enforcement notices revealed nothing left outstanding when I examined it!

Whatever happened to that pantograph?

Of course some incidents investigated by the Rail Accident investigation Branch (RAIB) are caused by the rolling stock rather than the infrastructure.

At about 7-19 am on Thursday January 5th this year the early morning train to London from Kings Lynn suffered two shattered passenger windows whilst travelling at around 80 mph. The incident occurred during high winds when, according the preliminary RAIB report, the pantograph lost contact with the overhead contact wire and struck an overhead line structure before smashing into the two windows.

The incident happened near Littleport in Cambridgeshire. The driver sensibly continued on to the next level crossing before stopping his train. RAIB say that they will be looking into just how the pantograph came to lose contact with the wire and the effects of the high winds on that day.

I would like to ask both drivers and train maintenance staff if this incident came as a complete surprise to them; and if it did not whether they have ever raised the matter with anyone.

And that axle!

The RAIB has recently released its report into a passenger train derailment two years ago. Around 1549 hours on February 20th 2010 the 1455 London to Sheffield train derailed at 94 mph near East Langton in Leicestershire on the Midland Main Line.

The seven car Class 222 Meridian train stayed upright despite having a broken axle whilst it was brought to a stand about two miles further on (see picture). There were five train-crew and 190 passengers on board. 1,100 concrete sleepers, an AWS (automatic warning system) Magnet, a hot axle box detector and various cabling had to be replaced.

Whilst establishing the most likely causes of the broken axle has taken some time, and been carried out thoroughly with the full co-operation of all involved, surely the existence of a route alliance would have helped?

Summit tunnel, a big pile of ice and “all staff”

Returning to the importance of involving those who spend their lives physically working on the infrastructure, I would recommend reading of Network Rail’s Infrastructure Group Safety Bulletin 256 which can be found on their Safety Central website.

Summit Tunnel is just 15 miles north of Manchester. On 28th December a train was derailed there by a large pile of ice across the track. Whilst the temperatures were lower than for many years in 2010/11 I do not agree that they were “unprecedented” as stated in the Bulletin.

The lines through the tunnel had been closed for several days. Water seeping through the brickwork onto the interior faces of the air shafts froze there. Predictably, as the temperatures rose this frozen water loosened and collapsed onto the tracks below.

The Bulletin tells “all staff” to report such problems to signallers at route control so that fault control teams can be called to inspect. I question whether this is the right priority. Am I wrong to assume “all staff” implies Network Rail’s own staff only?

Secondly I would expect the local knowledge and experience of track staff responsible for the track through the tunnel to have been very aware of the potential dangers of re-opening the tunnel as temperatures rose.

At the very least I would have expected the local maintenance engineer and supervisors to have insisted on extra shaft examinations before re-opening the tunnel. This would have revealed that there were still heavy accumulations of ice clinging to the air shaft walls which could fall onto a passing train or as happened block the track. Were “they” under pressure from a train operating company to re-open the tunnel? Maybe the new “alliances” will make a recurrence less likely?

Level Crossings

Understandably Network Rail has added access to a Level Crossing Safety Hub to the Safety Central website. Apart from the recent Court case relating to a long past failure of Railtrack, there have been a number of more recent incidents including a near miss with a pedestrian and accidents involving road vehicles struck on unmanned level crossings.

The ORR seems keen to bring charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act, but I remain concerned despite television advertising etc. with the general attitude of “Joe Public”.

The thinking is often still to take a chance, and then be proud of getting away with it, but blame someone else if you don’t. That may seem harsh but although mistakes are inevitably made from time to time our level crossing (and fencing arrangements are generally the most comprehensive in Europe).

In mainland Europe the vast majority of pedestrians and drivers seem more aware of being responsible for their own safety when crossing a railway. Demarcation is provided between road and rail but generally with less provision of idiot proof systems. The Level Crossing Safety Hub gives a national 0845 helpline number. Again for the future I recommend a local one, with a named if not pictured individual.

To sum up, I support the current devolution with delegation of both responsibility and accountability to the ten Route Managing Directors. I can see potential benefits to much closer working between the train operating companies and all who work on Network Rail’s infrastructure, regardless of employer.

I remain doubtful of the value of paying lawyers large sums of money to prosecute Network Rail for the past misdemeanours of its now discredited predecessor Railtrack. The costs involved would be better used to improve and expand our railway infrastructure to meet the growing demand and the safety of those who work on it.

I am curious as to how the drive towards zero accidents etc. will be driven and co-ordinated by Network Rail’s “Safety and Sustainability Director” Gareth Llewellyn. I hope to discuss this with him very soon and give you some answers next month. If you have any questions you know how to contact me!

Light run for Lee

Lee Potter is in training for the 2012 London Marathon.

The Trust Clerk at First Capital Connect has lost an amazing 12 stone 3 pounds since he took up running and joined a weight watchers programme.

Last autumn Lee took part in the Royal Parks Marathon. ‘It was one of the best feelings I have ever experienced completing an event like that,’ says Lee who has also competed in the Stevenage Half Marathon. Encouraged he set his sights on the London Marathon.

24 year old Lee peaked at 27 stone 13 pounds. He puts his weight gain down to life style, working shifts and lack of exercise. Now Lee has put that right and walks and runs ten miles a day as well as working out in the gym and eating healthy whole foods.

‘It’s a question of taking charge of your life,’ he adds. Lee Potter was inspired by reading Charlie Walduck’s book ‘Slimmer Charlie.’ Colleagues are rallying behind the runner.

Says Neal Lawson, Managing Director of FCC, ‘Lee is an absolute inspiration. What he’s achieved is phenomenal. Everyone at FCC is right behind him and we wish him the very best in his marathon effort.’

Lee will be running the London Marathon on behalf of the children’s charity Scope. Says Lee, ‘My whole programme is leading up to the London Marathon. I began my preparation at my first running event in October last year and I have since completed a further four.

‘I chose Scope as my dedicated charity as I believe they offer a tremendous amount of support for people with Cerebral Palsy and their families. It really is a worthy cause and I would like to thank every one who has supported me so far.’

You can back Lee’s bid for the marathon by going to http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/leepotter

 

To Oslo with cello

‘Choosing to travel by train rather than flying is important to me mainly for environmental reasons,’ says music student, Caitlin Core, 19.

‘I think we should always question the impact we are having on the world. But as well as this, train travel is an adventure in itself. The journey to Norway becomes much more significant when it takes three days instead of just a couple of hours, giving you the time to enjoy the slow changes across Europe seen and heard in language and landscape,’ reports Jeanette Bowden, professional writer and PR consultant for Bombardier Transportation UK.

‘When my niece, Caitlin, decided to travel to Oslo from the UK by rail, I leapt at the opportunity to accompany her. Caitlin is studying music at the Barratt Due Institute of Music for 6 months so taking a large amount of luggage was to be expected.

‘Yet an even greater challenge was the transportation of her musical instrument – a cello. Our journey would take us two full days/nights and 24 hours of solid time on the rails, so I gained a swift education on the practicalities of transporting an instrument that is around 4 feet in length and weighing 30-40 pounds.’

Bottleneck

At London St Pancras crowds of people are making their way to the Eurostar departure gates, heading home between Christmas and New Year. With both the Paris and Brussels trains departing within 3 minutes of each other and two full trainloads of passengers arriving together for the 30 minutes recommended check-in time, the volume of people creates a bottleneck.

Consequently, with 15 minutes to go before our Brussels train is due to leave and already preparing to board, many passengers (ourselves included) are stranded behind the check-in barriers. Passengers bound for the earlier Paris train are given priority, which causes a knock-on problem for us. I’m quietly panicking as, if we miss this train, our whole itinerary is scuppered.

Finally we make it through the check-in and the cello – Caitlin has named her Mathea in deference to her German heritage – experiences a rough ride on the baggage scanner. Nudged along by an impatient passenger, it bounces awkwardly as if descending the rapids of a fast flowing river.

A mad last minute dash – in as much as a dash is possible with a cello, a suitcase, two rucksacks and a 120 litre cargo bag (just usual baggage for 2 ladies travelling!) – and we reach the Eurostar with seconds to spare before departure.

Standing room only

We bundle ourselves into our designated carriage, which happens to be adjacent to the buffet. I begin to experience first hand the challenges of transporting a cello by rail (Caitlin is a seasoned cello-carrying rail passenger and used to its foibles).

It has to be lodged upright, but somewhere that it won’t topple over – not easy to find luggage space that meets those criteria on a severely crowded Eurostar! The buffet car gives us the space we need for the cello, but unfortunately for us this means standing room only. Exhausted already, we slump onto Caitlin’s 120 litre bag.

A delayed arrival time in Brussels means a further dash for our connecting Thalys train to Cologne. Once aboard, we again find ourselves struggling for space for Mathea the cello, so we content ourselves with sitting in the vestibule on fold-out seats. Some grateful passengers without seat reservations benefit from our relocation and the atmosphere is jovial. However, after nearly four hours of squeezing ourselves into the communal areas of trains, I’m starting to feel that air travel has certain merits.

Sleeper cabin

For the 12 hour City Night Line journey from Cologne to Copenhagen, we have the luxury of a sleeper cabin just for the two of us, or three of us counting Mathea – a fact we are mightily relieved about at this stage in our journey.

However, even with our own dedicated room, finding a space for Mathea and our bulky baggage proves a challenge. There are two bunks and an en-suite bathroom in our couchette, with only a small corner of the room for luggage. The large knapsack and my case fit in at a squeeze, but leave no spare room for the cello. Eventually we settle for sliding it partially beneath the lower bunk (mine), but it still protrudes awkwardly into the room.

The en-suite bathroom is a masterpiece of ergonomic planning. The washbasin can be rotated either over the shower, or over the toilet, to ensure the available space is optimised.

In turn we decide to try out the shower. Whilst the space usage is exemplary, the same cannot be said of the water drainage system and the result is a flood, all over the floor of the couchette.

Luckily Mathea is rescued in the nick of time, but the floor of our sleeping area (fully carpeted) is saturated. We alert the guard to our plight. He reacts with a panicked expletive and rushes off in search of towels.

Despite his best efforts to dry out our cabin, we are left with a small marshland for a floor. Cellos and water do not make good bedfellows so we are back to the drawing board on where to put Mathea. The only viable option is on one of the bunks, so Caitlin spends an uncomfortable night, nose to string with her cello.

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen

Following a day’s sight-seeing, a comfortable night in a hotel in Copenhagen does a great deal to revive the jaded spirits of the travelling trio and we celebrate New Year’s Eve in the Danish capital, prior to our next leg of the journey to Gothenburg in Sweden.

We board an X2000 train bound for Gothenburg. For cello carriers, this train is sublime. Not only is there ample space for passengers, but there is also abundant luggage space, even for Mathea, so for the first time in our journey we can sit and relax in comfort.

Seal of approval

The X2000 train gets Caitlin’s definite seal of approval as the best train we have travelled on yet (the sleeper train lost the vote quickly after the flood!). She likes the wood trim and comments on the smooth ride -all of which is impressive for a train that is more than 20 years old.

The X2000 has been in service since the 1990s, originally launched as a luxury intercity service and having retained many of those defining characteristics.

When I planned this journey a prospective highlight for me was the crossing of the Oresund bridge, Europe’s longest cable stayed bridge, carrying both cars and trains. I had heard a great deal about this renowned tribute to civil engineering which converts from a bridge to a tunnel in the middle of the sea, by means of a purpose built island.

However, the Oresund bridge proves disappointing, purely because being on the bridge itself does not allow us to fully admire its engineering structure. The experience is also over quickly as the train speeds across rapidly – we cover its full 10-mile length in a matter of minutes.

From Gothenburg to Oslo, we board an equally comfortable 73 series intercity train (operated by Norwegian operator NSB and built by Strommens/Bombardier). I commend the Scandinavians for their ability to transport people comfortably with ample space for luggage and – presumably – ski equipment, although none is in evidence on this trip. A slightly wider gauge makes a big difference.

By now, it is dark outside, so we don’t get to experience a view of the beautiful Norwegian scenery, with its vast fjords and stunning frozen landscape, but these are saved for my return journey.

Just 48 minutes from Oslo we reach Rygge, the closest station to Moss airport (used by Ryanair for its flights to Oslo). With a flight time of around 2 hours, it puts into perspective the cost/time comparison for the air/rail journey. Saving the environment is not without its sacrifices.

However, if, like my younger generation niece, you believe that a journey is part of the whole rich experience of reaching an overseas destination – and better for the planet – then this particular rail journey, with its diversity of landscape and the opportunity to experience different cities en route would not fail to delight. But perhaps leave your cello at home!

Blue Train wins again

The Blue Train in South Africa has been named the best luxury train in the world.

The train runs 1,000 miles between Cape Town and Pretoria. The train which started operations in 1923 boasts butler service and en-suite compartments with full sized baths.

The Blue Train won the Luxury Train award for the third consecutive year at a ceremony held by the World Travel Awards, in Doha, Qatar.

Says Blue Train’s executive manager Hanlie Kotze, ‘It is not only a huge achievement for us as The Blue Train, but also for South Africa as a country. Further still for Transnet Freight Rail in being awarded the World’s leading luxury train says something about the company as a railway provider for having developed this product and maintaining it to world class standards.

‘The Blue Train has been blessed with a wonderful team of people who are passionate and committed. Our staff are proud ambassadors of the train but also our beautiful country. Every time we have a satisfied guest we are sure of more people that will visit our country and at the same time experience our product.’

Chicken run

Work started this month on repairing the collapsed embankment, known as ‘Chicken Curve’ just north of Winchcombe on the volunteer-run Gloucester and Warwickshire Steam Railway.

The embankment collapsed in January 2011 and severed the railway in two. Since the collapse started the embankment has continued to move.

The £670,000 project involves stabilising the embankment. The company needs another £170,000 to complete the work and re-connect the separated parts of the railway.

The work will involve digging out a substantial part of the failed earthworks and rebuilding with new material.

Other parts of the embankment will be stabilised using high-tech solutions such as ‘soil nails’ which extend through the embankment into the ground beneath, holding the embankment in place. The project also includes substantial drainage works.

Anniversary run

The Great Central Railway celebrated the 50th anniversary of one of its most popular diesels by hosting a special running weekend for Brush-built D5830, a locomotive that narrowly escaped being scrapped.

The loco was originally released into traffic from the nearby Brush works in Loughborough on 11 January, 1962.

After withdrawal D5830, by then renumbered 31563, was purchased  by the Type One Locomotive Company minus windows, batteries and radiator elements, as a source of spares for sister locomotive 31418.

Discovering that its condition was better than had first been thought, enthusiasts set about restoring D5830 to full working order.

Over 25 of the class have found their way into preservation and are a firm favourite with television producers and enthusiasts alike, having starred in shows like Top Gear, Casualty and EastEnders.

Southampton gets grip on rail

Hampshire County Council and its partners are looking at reintroducing passenger services between Southampton and the Waterside area, opening up a line currently used for freight.

The move follows the completion of a Governance for Railway Investment Projects 2 ( GRIP 2 ) study which reported a strong business case for a new passenger service serving Totton, Hounsdown, Marchwood and Hythe.

The GRIP 3 study, that will begin this spring, will examine what infrastructure would be required to restore the line for passenger use, predicted passenger demand and how to fund the project.

Says Councillor Mel Kendal, Executive Member for Environment and Transport, ‘There is no doubt that there is potential for the development of the rail network in South Hampshire and we have had some very constructive discussions with Network Rail and South West Trains on this matter.

‘Passenger services along the branch ceased in 1966 and the new service would run between Southampton Central and Hythe at hourly intervals, with a journey time of 23 minutes.’

Olympic role for ghost stations

Trying to think of somewhere romantic to take his girlfriend on Saint Valentine’s Day three years ago, Ajit Chambers hit upon the idea of opening up a disused underground station as a night club and restaurant.

Three years later his plan is edging closer to reality. Mr Chambers has won the commitment of Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Recently 60 MPs went on a visit to Old Brompton Road station which closed in 1934.

The station is owned by the Ministry of Defence and is one of 26 disused stations that could be converted.

Ajit plans to open Old Brompton Road in time for the Olympics.

Next on the list is Aldwych in the heart of London’s theatre land.

 

More disabled people travelling by train

Record numbers of people with disabilities are travelling by train.

The good news coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Disabled Persons Railcard. Taking the train may be easier but changing the public’s attitude to disabled people is still a struggle.

Says Hannah Hollingworth of the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity, ‘We hear stories from disabled people of being stepped over in train carriages, trapped in toilets, and having to wait a long time for assistance.’

Research by ATOC shows that journeys made using the railcard have more than trebled in the last 15 years, accounting for 3.5 million journeys a year. The Railcard, launched in 1981 offers passengers a third off the cost of most tickets.

The rail industry itself has endeavoured to make travel easier for disabled people. Staff receive special training and stations are in the main fully accessible. In 2009, ATOC launched Stations Made Easy, an interactive web guide showing access facilities and layouts of all 2,500 stations in Britain.

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was extended to cover the railways in 2005, leading to the removal of all trains with slam doors. The Passenger Assistance Scheme allows disabled people to book ahead as a way of ensuring that they get the assistance they need.

Says David Sindall, Head of Disability and Inclusion at ATOC, ‘Accessible public transport plays a key role in allowing disabled people to lead an independent life, so it’s good news that more and more people are taking advantage of the Railcard.

‘Over the last three decades huge progress has been made in improving rail services for disabled people, making their journeys quicker, easier and more straightforward than they used to be.

‘Train companies are committed to responding to passengers’ needs and will continue to work closely with disability charities and support groups to improve services even further.’