Among the N gauge rolling stock that I most enjoy operating on Runport St Nicola are the fixed formation trains with a locomotive at one end and a driving van trailer at the other – especially if all the vehicles match!
WREXHAM AND SHROPSHIRE CLASS 67 AND MARK III STOCK
Since the heyday of the Great Western auto train, diesel push-pull services have included those worked by Class 33/1 and 4-TC coach sets between Bournemouth and Weymouth and the 47/7 and Driving Brake Second Open combinations operating between Edinburgh and Glasgow. So when the opportunity came in October 2009 to invest in a Dapol “book set” of a locomotive and 3 carriages in the then latest silver Wrexham and Shropshire livery it was impossible to resist for such a dedicated push-pull and diesel multiple unit arena as the station at my then current N gauge layout Terminal 1.
In April 2008 Renaissance Trains, in a joint venture with Laing Rail and Deutsche Bahn, launched The Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway Company, the UK’s third open access rail operator after Hull Trains and Sunderland based Grand Central. Renaissance Trains shareholders owned 36% of the shares in Wrexham & Shropshire. Deutsche Bahn acquired 50% of the company in early 2008, with Laing Rail retaining 14% as an investment opportunity.
Renaissance Trains promoted and invested in “open access” passenger and freight rail businesses, as well as promoting and investing in rail industry innovation. Its aim was always to create rail businesses that attracted new customers – rather than abstracting them from existing rail businesses – stimulated the market, delivered excellent customer service and offered outstanding investment returns.
Open access operators do not receive subsidy. As a result they plan the level of capacity provided to meet demand and use an up to date approach to sales channels that ensure most capacity is sold in advance. Their experience demonstrates that utilisation will be over 80% of the seats provided on a given point to point service.
However, potential new open access operators first have to show the Rail Regulator and Network Rail that there is an unsatisfied need for passenger – or freight – services in a given area and that the route involved is not already being fully exploited by an existing franchise holder. They also have to prove that they will not simply siphon off existing passengers from the franchise holder, that their business plan is viable and that they can provide their own motive power and rolling stock.
Traditionally, rail franchise holders are dominated by large transport groups motivated just by profit, perhaps to the neglect of less profitable routes. They are awarded their franchises by proving to Government that they are the best organisations to run a reliable service in the area involved.
Wrexham & Shropshire operated up to five direct passenger services daily from Wrexham, Shrewsbury, Telford, Tame Bridge Parkway (in the West Midlands) and Banbury to London and so served a population of more than 750 000 people along the route. Fares – at £ 53.00 for a standard class anytime return ticket from Wrexham to London – were good value, and tickets were available from all National Rail outlets as well as online.
Indeed, Wrexham & Shropshire was the only long distance train operating company to offer cheap flat fares on all its services and the only one that allowed passengers to pay on board at the same price. In contrast, Virgin Train’s cheap fares were only available if booked 12 weeks in advance.
Trains in smart liveries featured on-board catering, first and standard class accommodation, and staff who took care of passengers throughout their journeys.
Tiny rail group has Virgin in retreat
The biter has been bitten. Sir Richard Branson, who virtually owns the “plucky underdog” brand, has retreated from a battle with a tiny railway company that Virgin Trains had threatened to squash. On Thursday Virgin Trains capitulated, cancelling plans for new services on a sleepy route between North Wales and London that would have killed off fledgling operator Wrexham and Shropshire.
“Mr Branson has got enough money already” opined 72 year old Welsh grandmother Violet Benson, travelling down to London that day to see her grandchildren on a thrifty £35.00 return ticket.
This was a commercial battle that Virgin Rail would easily have won. The company, which received £ 35 million in state subsidies in 2008, intended to start two new services a day between Euston and Shrewsbury with connections through to Wrexham. But it only revived the plans, shelved earlier this decade, after W&S started up last April to fill a gap in the market. For years inhabitants of North Wales and Shropshire had been asking big train operators to run more trains to London.
Virgin began to take a hammering in bad publicity. The buccaneering balloonist was morphing into a bearded bully in the eyes of the public. Newspaper editorials blasted Virgin with salvoes against anti-competitive behaviour. The Virgin empire has 47 000 staff and is run by a man who owns a Caribbean island and a space airline. Wrexham and Shropshire is managed by a six person office in Shrewsbury and employs 65 staff.
A Virgin official said ” We had to be realistic. The reaction [ to our plans ] was that we were being predatory and that we could put [ W & S ] out of business.”
Hostile media coverage was “froth” he said, but the company could not be seen “to have blood on its hands”.
Wrexham & Shropshire’s style of operation harks back to the days before Dr Beeching took an axe to branch lines in the 1960s. Its little trains meander along at speeds that, at times,
a well maintained milk float could better. Passengers can stretch their legs in comfort in the 40 year old carriages – something that only an Oompa-Loompa could manage on a Virgin Pendolino.
Reservations are not displayed via failure-prone LED screens above the seats; instead, they are printed on cards attached to the headrests. No onboard computer announces the stations as on some other cross-country train services – that job is handled bya nice lady called Jane in a smart black and claret uniform.
Nostalgic poet Sir John Betjeman would have revelled in halts with names such as Chirk and Ruabon, complete with pretty sandstone station buildings. But is this heartwarming tale of an entrepreneurial David besting a corporate Goliath as good as it seems? As Virgin Trains pointed out, Deutsche Bahn, the German state rail company, is the key backer of W&S. is the tiny business just a foot in the door of the UK rail industry for the Teutonic monolith, which also owns Chiltern Railways?
Andy Hamilton, managing director of W&S, said that 36 per cent of the business still belonged to the four British private investors that set it up.
“Investment from Deutsche Bahn is in the for of a loan that has to be paid back.” he said, adding that W&S needed to break even in its third year to stay in business.
Mr Hamilton was “delighted” by Virgin’s retreat. But, he added, W&S was still threatened by a “predatory” expansion of the services of Arriva Trains Wales. These plans were however, termed “complementary” by the larger operator.
“That is what competition is all about” said John Wylde, a retired bus company owner, riding the W&S service to Marylebone last week.
“Mrs Thatcher thought you should get companies at each other’s throats. But in the end the big boys always win.”
W&S has re-opened a cafe that closed 41 years ago at the Edwardian architectural gem that is Wrexham General station. There are two tables, a tea urn and a vase of fresh freesias. There is no station cat.
But it is still early days for W&S. Besides, the company first needs to acquire a wicker hamper for the cat to fall asleep on top of. Following Virgin’s volte face, such long term capital investment is more justifiable.
The moral of the tale is that no one messes with Welsh grannies. Not even Sir Richard Branson.
Although W&S initially used the 1960s vintage British Rail blue and grey livery for its intermediate carriages, the Dapol book set represented the final silver markings applied to Standard Class Mark 3A Open Standard vehicles 12145 and 12127. Both were built at BREL Derby between 1975 and 1977 as part of Lot 30877 to Diagram AC2G, weight 34.3 tonnes, ride on BT10 bogies, seat 76 passengers and were formerly used by Virgin Trains. They were owned by DB Schenker / DB Regio and were refurbished at the Marcroft, Stoke, works of Turners / DB Axiom Rail.
82304 – pictured and formerly numbered 82130 – was also German owned and based along with sister vehicles in the 82301 – 82305 range at Crewe International Depot. These five DVTs were modified to operate push-pull W&S trains with matching Class 67 locomotives 67 012 -15 and overall silver 67 029 “Royal Diamond”.
All the dedicated W&S Class 67s were also based at Crewe International and are owned by Angel Trains. Applied to the General Motors powered Alstom assembled 3200 bhp locomotives within Pool Code WAWN were the names
“A Shropshire Lad” ( 67 012 ) inspired by the works of poet A.E. Housman
“Dyfrbont Pontcysyllte” ( 67 013 pictured top) aka Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, carrying the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee. This name was applied on 9 July 2008 with Welsh and English versions on either side but the Shawplan etched plates supplied with the book set only have the Welsh version.
“Thomas Telford” ( 67 014 ) named after the Nineteenth Century civil engineer.
“David J. Lloyd” ( 67 015 ) applied on 15 July 2008
On Wednesday 26 January 2011 the Birmingham Post reported:
“Wrexham & Shropshire Railways is to cease operations on Friday, ending its services between North Wales and London, it has been announced.
The rail company said the move followed an investigation into all possible alternatives, citing the “unprecedented economic environment” as a contributing factor.
Trains from North Wales call in at Shrewsbury, Telford and Wolverhampton, on their way to Marylebone Station.
“Although the company has strived to increase passenger numbers, it has been determined that the business has no prospect of reaching profitability. Wrexham & Shropshire is not insolvent nor is it being placed in administration and all outstanding financial commitments will be met.
“Alternative employment opportunities within the railway industry are being sought for the 55 employees, and all staff wages and full redundancy entitlements will be paid,” the firm said in a statement.
The Rail Maritime and Transport union said the decision was a “bitter blow” to the railway industry.
The company said it had made a number of moves in a bid to make a profit, including cutting the original service of five trains a day between Wrexham and London Marylebone, to four in 2009, then to three last month.
Chairman Adrian Shooter said: “Regrettably, we have concluded that the potential for further changes to the company’s operations, including any synergy with Arriva Trains Wales, will not improve the financial position sufficiently.”
Wrexham & Shropshire launched in April 2008, restoring direct train services between Wrexham, Shropshire and London, developing a reputation for excellence in customer service, reaching a 99% customer satisfaction score in the National Passenger Survey.
Despite strong growth in passenger numbers, the business has not been able to generate sufficient revenues to cover more than 65% of the cost of operating the service and in 2010 alone suffered losses of £2.9 million, said the company, which is owned by Deutsche Bahn, the German state railway.
The last train to depart will be the 1830 from London Marylebone to Wrexham General on Friday. From Saturday January 29, all Wrexham & Shropshire tickets already purchased will be valid on alternative routes into London Euston operated by Arriva Trains Wales, London Midland and Virgin Trains, and from London Marylebone by Chiltern Railways.”
In Issue 1282 of Private Eye magazine covering 18 February to 3 March 2011 the Signal Failure column allegedly written by “Dr B Ching” also reported:
“Pontificating in the US press this month,Richard Branson said companies should respond to mishaps by being “honest about what was happening” and that good press relations would “help journalists put any bad news in context.” Really?
Branson used Virgin Trains (VT) to illustrate good practice; but VT was far from honest when reacting this month to the latest bad news – people blaming Virgin for the sudden demise of Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway. Passengers on WSMR’s London-Wrexham trains liked the standard class leg room, friendly staff, buffet car and not being browbeaten or fined when buying tickets on board. WSMR’s demise shows such sentimentality is out of place in today’s greed system (shurely “customer focused rail system”? Ed)
“We did not prevent them dropping off passengers at Wolverhampton, as has been stated by politicians,” VT told the Birmingham Post. In fact VT executive Charles Belcher reminded rail regulators in April 2007 of VT’s unique “moderation of competition” clause, banning rivals from most of VT’s territory. He told them WSMR’s proposed services “calling at Wolverhampton and Birmingham International” would have “closed rights” – ie WSMR must carry no passengers between London and Wolverhampton or Birmingham International. Belcher said there was “no record as to how WSMR will ensure that customers will not use their services” and regulators must get “clarification regarding these matters”.
The regulator duly shackled WSMR, which never had enough passengers to break even. But VT wanted to make doubly sure: after showing no interest in Wrexham or Shrewsbury for a decade, VT started a rival Wrexham-London train and applied to compete on Shrewsbury -London (Eye 1235). Beardie’s all for free market enterprise until it threatens his own income; then he loves regulation and market restriction ( see also Eye 923, when Virgin asked regulators to block new Manchester-Penzance trains in 1997)”
However, Wrexham and Shropshire will live on in N gauge at Runport St Nicola and I hope in the hearts of many enthusiasts who applauded this plucky little company, whose former trains have, since 2012, been operating between Marylebone and Birmingham Snow Hill on the Chiltern Railways Mainline service.
VIRGIN TRAINS CLASS 57 AND MARK III PRETENDOLINO
Also from Chirk came Virgin Train’s Mark III DVT (82126), two First Opens (11007 and 11048) and 57 301 “Scott Tracy”: acquired by way of my good friend Paul Elliot. Matching Trailer Standard Opens numbered 12078 and 12133 were also available separately from Dapol. The majority of Virgin Train’s services on the West Coast Main Line are operated by its fleet of 54 nine-car Class 390 Pendolino EMUs but to supplement these services at busy times or to replace failed tilting trains, a set of nine Porterbrook owned Mark III carriages was upgraded to Pendolino standards by Wabtec Rail at Doncaster in July 2009.
Including spare vehicles, the WB64 “Pretendolino” set comprised Driving Van Trailers 82126 and 82101, First Opens 11007, 11018 and 11048, catering vehicles 10212 and 10217, Trailer Standard Opens 12011, 12078, 12133 and 12138 and Trailer Standard Open (Disabled Toilet) 12122.
In practical terms, the three First Class vehicles provided seating for 143 with another 18 First Class seats available in the Kitchen Buffet First and 374 seats in the remaining five Standard Class vehicles.
As well as an silver external livery and LED central door locking indicators very similar to the Class 390s, the WB64 carriages were given new internal doors, carpets, laminated glazing, more reliable air conditioning, re-upholstered seating, power points and wi-fi access.
The hard-to-obtain 125 mph capable rolling stock was also made available for charter work and was even used for the final sequences of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II” where it appeared on the big screen at Kings Cross station.
As such, its presence at Runport St Nicola would be entirely believable with 57 301 although a hired-in Freightliner Class 90 was initially used by Virgin Trains on its Friday night relief workings out of Euston. As more fully described in the feature on 57 315, increasing Pendolino reliability from 2008 allowed Virgin’s original 16 “Thunderbird” Class 57s to be reduced to just six with half a dozen GM engined locomotives going to Network Rail for Southern Region de-icing trains and a further four – 57 313 to 57 316 – being sub let to Arriva Trains Wales and rebranded for use on Holyhead-Crewe-Cwmbran-Cardiff “Gerald of Wales” services subsidised by the Welsh Assembly Government.
NETWORK STRUCTURE GAUGING TRAIN
Although a good deal slower than Network Rail’s “Doctor Yellow” New Measurement Train converted from an InterCity 125 set, my Network Rail Structure Gauging Train is conveniently much shorter and powered by two venerable diesel electric locomotives. These are Class 37 97 302 and Class 31 31602. 97 302 was released from English Electric Vulcan Foundry at Newton Le Willows Lancashire with Works Number EE/VF3348/D834 1963 as D6870. First allocated to Swansea Landore depot, the Co-Co was later renumbered 37 170 but retained much of its original equipment. Renumbering in the 97/3 series however signified the addition of European Railway Traffic Management System equipment for use on the Cambrian Lines to Aberystwyth.
31 602, also fitted with a twelve cylinder English Electric engine working at 850 rpm but built by Brush of Loughborough, is one of the 31/6 subclass, being a standard 31/1 not fitted with Electric Train Heat apparatus but through wired for ETH. Introduced as D5614, the 1 470 bhp A1A A1A was later renumbered 31 191 and had been named “Chimeara” before acquiring the title “Driver Dave Green 19B”. The two intermediate Mark 1 carriages of the train are DB975081 and DB975280, which in reality would have sandwiched a four wheel structure-gauging optical (then laser) vehicle used to accurately measure the distance to bridge and tunnel walls. The SGT represented in the models was in service from 1986 to 2013 and has now been replaced by more modern equipment aboard an ex Scotrail Mark 2 DBSO
DB975081 with its distinctive brown end was formerly Railway Technical Centre Test Coach Hermes. This was initially converted to a driving trailer vehicle but had been modified into a non-driving trailer car by 2008. RDB975280 (formerly Test Coach Mercury) meanwhile became DB975280 and housed computer data collection and staff facilities.
GB RAILFREIGHT 66 709 “SORRENTO”
In 2012 Europorte Great British Rail Freight celebrated ten years of partnership with the Mediterranean Shipping Company by repainting General Motors Class 66 Co-Co 66 709 in a blue livery with a broadside image of the Container Ship ‘MSC Sorrento’ after which it was named. As MSC could easily also stand for Manchester Ship Canal and even Marine Stewardship Council and as Eversholt owned 66 709 was based at Roberts Road Depot, Doncaster it was a natural choice to move 100 ton bogie oil wagons in and out of the We Three Kings refinery at Runport St Nicola. 66 709 was one of five similar 3 200 bhp two stroke locomotives diesel electrics built for GBRf in 2002 at the General Motors Electro-Motive Division works at London, Ontario, Canada. The sub class 66/7 are mechanically very similar to the first Class 66/0 delivered in 1998 while more powerful variants have been outshopped by GM EMD / Progress Rail at Muncie, Indiana, USA from 2013 to 2016.
On the subject of freight, the non- powered display line on Runport St Nicola can, among other vehicles, display a grey GBRf liveried HYA bogie coal wagon and a red DB Schenker marked BRA steel strip carrier. As well as having interesting design histories – as outlined below – they form a series of visual jokes in the context of Runport St Nicola – Girls Aloud having comprised Cheryl Cole ( nee Tweedy) and Nadine Coyle, steel coil being one of the possible loads for the BRA.
What I would really like now is for a bogie well wagon to become available in N Gauge on which I could place a railcar from the French Chemin de Fer Vivrais: CFV also standing for Cheryl Fernandez Versini, Bear’s mummy’s second married name. There is also a link with the 2012 edition of Celebrity Big Brother which featured bra model Danica Thrall, who to my knowledge has never visited a model railway exhibition and stood next to a model Thrall BRA. But I am willing to be proved wrong!
The Romanian built high capacity HYA wagons are able to move anywhere on Britain’s rail system thanks to their low track force wheelsets. In April 2011, VTG Rail UK increased its presence in the biomass market when it signed a further long term agreement with GB Railfreight for the supply of an additional fleet of 21 HYA hoppers to support the freight haulier’s biomass delivery contract. The wagons supplemented the existing GBRf fleet of 25 wagons which transport pelletised biomass from Port of Tyne to Drax Power Station near Selby, North Yorkshire.
In July 1997 meanwhile, the still relatively newly formed English Welsh and Scottish Railway (EWS) announced that it was to have 2,500 new wagons built by Thrall Europa at the former carriage works in York. The first design to appear was a bogie covered steel wagon, given TOPS code BYA, the first of which were delivered in August 1998. These followed the trend established with private owner wagons in the early 1990s (and first used on some RIV wagons in the late 1970s) of having a metal cover with three telescopic sliding sections. Unlike the earlier wagons, the BYAs had covers with round tops (the ends being shaped to match) and were formed from pressed and crimped metal to give a curious corrugated appearance. Beneath the cover was a relatively high floor, which could be removed to allow access to a well in which steel coils could be carried. The design also had substantial solebars, on which a very large brake control was mounted, and American-type swing motion bogies. Another reflection of EWS policy was the fitting of swing-head couplings, with the intention being to use the AAR buckeye coupling for routine use. This could however be swung to one side to reveal standard drawgear, ensuring compatability with other stock. The wagons were painted in overall EWS dark red, including the solebars and buffers.
The BYAs (full code BYA-A) were numbered in the air-braked series as 966001 to 966260 and were initially to design code BY006A. Before deliveries were complete, problems were found with the swing-head couplings, and most of the wagons were quickly modified to design code BY006B. It was reported that this involved the replacement of the AAR coupling with a standard screw coupling. By the end of the year, wagons were in operation from Port Talbot, Immingham, Lackenby and the West Midlands and trains of the type, often mixed with the earlier JSA wagons, were becoming a common sight. Delivery of the batch of 260 BYAs was completed by the start of 1999, after which construction turned to a second variant which was assigned the code BRA, previously used for Borail wagons and later to BBAs modified to carry reinforcing bars. The new BRAs were also intended for steel bar traffic and, although largely identical to the BYAs, had fixed loading racks inside. 50 wagons were ordered, numbered 964001 to 964050. The first to appear (964002) was officially recorded as a BYA-D to design code BY006F, but had the BRA code applied externally. The remainder were BRA-Bs to design code BR008A. The whole batch was delivered in the first few months of 1999 but was slow to enter service. Problems with loaded bars fouling the sliding hoods lead to the entire fleet being recalled to works for modifications. They eventually entered service working from the Allied Steel and Wire works in Cardiff.
FIRST GREAT WESTERN TRAINS INTER CITY 125
British Rail’s InterCity 125 High Speed Trains ( HST ) of the 1970s were based on the power-car-at-each-end format of the Metro-Cammell Blue Pullman sets introduced in 1960, but used 2750 bhp Paxman Valenta engines to sandwich either seven or eight of the new 75 feet long Mark 3 carriages. These were some of the longest passenger vehicles ever seen on British railways but were criticised for using old fashioned slam doors instead of sliding or swinging plug doors. The name “High Speed Train” was first used in Britain by the London & North Eastern Railway for its Silver Jubilee and Coronation services from 1935. These featured streamlined carriages with – in the latter case – an observation car at the end, hauled by streamlined pacifics like the famous speed record holder “Mallard”.
The success of the 1970s HSTs was based not so much on the trains themselves as in the way they were used. After trials with the prototype 252 001 (the power car of which was designated Class 42) the gently graded Western Region line from Paddington to Bristol was modified so that level crossings were replaced by bridges and curves made less sharp. This allowed all major passenger trains to be worked by production HSTs at a constant speed close to 125mph, thus creating a high speed railway rather than just a few prestige expresses that would have slowed down other trains to make way for them. 252 001 was outshopped from Derby in July 1972 but the drivers trade union ASLEF was unhappy about the central driving position in the fully glazed cabs. As a result the production trains – Class 253 with Class 43 power cars – had more conventional driving positions and windscreens and also lacked buffers, which were found to be unnecessary at the time. Later modifications included aerodynamic roof spoilers to keep exhaust fumes off the back windscreen while the guard was moved from the rear of the noisy power car into his own compartment in the next carriage (then known as a Trailer Guard Second).
From their introduction on 4 October 1976, the new HSTs were a great success and spread to the Kings Cross -York and the Bristol-Gloucester-Birmingham-York line by 1982. Although there was less scope for 125 mph running in the latter case, the high power to weight ratio meant that delays and hills could be more easily overcome. Arguably the most successful long distance diesel multiple units ever built, the HSTs were the trains that saved the British railway network when it was severely under threat in the 1980s. They also bridged the gap between the older diesel-locomotive-pulling-carriages type of train and the semi fixed and DMU trains of the 1990s onward. The original yellow and blue HST livery changed to dark grey and blue and then to the red striped “Executive” livery by 1983 with swallow motif and new typeface being added in 1987. After privatisation in 1994 however liveries of the new operators – Virgin, Midland Main Line and Great North Eastern – were applied. A new Great Western company also acquired HSTs and on being taken over by bus and train firm First Group a new livery of thin gold and brown stripes was added to original green and white scheme. However, the 38 First Great Western HST sets were, from 2002, painted purple and white to match the new Class 180 Adelantes and a further nine IC125 were set to be transferred to the FGW fleet from other Train Operating Companies (TOCs)
VIRGIN TRAINS BOMBARDIER VOYAGER
My first-generation Dapol model of 220 002 “Forth Voyager” in its original Virgin Trains Cross Country livery was acquired through the kindness of my good friend Paul Elliott. Although making more noise under way than later Dapol representations, this is a finely detailed item with the four vehicles being closely coupled by magnets in place of the bar couplings used on the 12″ to the foot version. As a result, the train has to be assembled in the right order or the magnets will repel instead of attracting one another.
Since 8 December 2007 diesel electric multiple unit 220 002 – comprising Driving Motor Second 60302, Motor Second Restaurant Buffet 60202, Motor Second 60702 and Driving Motor First 60402 – has been operated without a name by Arriva Trains Cross Country. It is pictured here at Manchester Piccadilly station.
And since the first Voyager designs left the Bombardier works in Bruges, Belgium, in 2000 very similar Meridian and Pioneer sets have also begun service for East Midlands and Hull Trains while tilting Super Voyagers continue in both Arriva and Virgin Trains West Coast service.
In their many forms, Voyager units are now a common sight all over Britain and their design philosophy and deployment history tell us much about the privatized railways of the early 21st Century.
In 1998 Bombardier Transportation received an order to supply and maintain 34 four-car diesel electric multiple units (DEMUs) for Cross Country services in the UK which would then replace the InterCity 125 diesel multiple units and conventional Class 47/8 hauled trains operated at the time by Virgin Trains Cross Country.
Bombardier was to be the total Train Service Provider throughout the life of CrossCountry franchise, up to the year 2012. With a maximum speed of 125 mph, these Class 220 trains were designed for ease of maintenance and a high level of passenger comfort with very quiet interiors. The high power to weight ratio and electric transmission were also designed to allow high acceleration resulting in improved journey times.
Indeed, being a diesel electric rather than diesel hydraulic or diesel mechanical set train allowed the 750 bhp 1800 rpm Cummins QSK 19 engine under each carriage to turn an alternator and so contribute to the electrical current available to each longitudinally body mounted Alstom Onix 800 three phase traction motor, one of which powered one axle on each bogie through a cardan shaft and axle-mounted final drive gearbox. In the event of one diesel engine failing in service there would still be another three to power the eight traction motors of the train.
My first impression on seeing a brand new Voyager 220 009 at Preston station on 11 September 2001 was the thick black cables between each vehicle and the warning sign “Shut down engines, isolate 110v batteries and wait 3 minutes before proceeding
beyond this cover”
This design feature also harked back to the 1959 vintage Blue Pullman diesel trains which comprised both trailer and non-driving motor cars between driving motor brake vehicles. The driving motor brakes were fitted with North British MAN 1 000 bhp prime movers in engine rooms behind semi-streamlined driving cabs. Electric transmission then energised GEC traction motors under the driving motor brakes and motor parlour and motor kitchen cars. Sadly all Blue Pullman units were scrapped from 1972 so the only way to directly compare them would be in model form..
The provision of Dellner couplings at the outer ends of each Voyager set also allowed two four car sets to work in multiple or be rescued in an emergency by a Class 221 or 222 DEMU or by a suitably Dellner coupling fitted Class 57/3 “Thunderbird” locomotive.
Each unit additionally featured at-seat entertainment, sockets for laptop computers and mobile telephones and efficient external and internal passenger information displays, as well as the convenience of wheelchair-accessible toilets with baby changing facilities.
The wheelchair-accessible toilets, dominating one end of each vehicle except for the MSRB, were certainly the largest and most comfortable ever fitted on a British train and the utilisation of the 34 units at a purpose built depot at Central Rivers near Burton upon Trent proved the ease of maintenance designed into them.
In addition to Central Rivers, English Welsh and Scottish Railways sub-contracted operations in 14 smaller overnight servicing depots for Virgin Class 220 Voyagers and 221 Super Voyagers including Three Bridges, Sussex, Eastleigh, Old Oak Common and Barton Hill, Bristol.
Each Voyager unit has an unrefueled range of 1 350 miles and Class 220 Voyagers and Class 222 Meridian units can be distinguished from the tilting Class 221 Super Voyagers by their 2 250mm wheelbase Bombardier B5005 bogies in which the hollow axles are supported by bearings between the wheels, thus leaving the outer wheel faces exposed.
Built at Crespin in France, the disc-braked B5005 is a development of the B5000 bogie produced in 1991 by RFS Specialist Rail Products in collaboration with British Rail Research for the Networker EMUs and DMUs then being ordered in quantity by Network SouthEast. Initially used under trailers, a powered version with AC motors and 25 tonne pivot load followed in 1994.
In contrast Class 221 Super Voyagers have heavier Bombardier HVP bogies with the wheels obscured by tilting apparatus. Although Virgin Trains West Coast Class 221 Super Voyagers continue to tilt at up to 6 degrees those now operated by Arriva Trains Cross Country have their tilt functions isolated.
The lightweight B5005 bogies also give the Class 220 Voyagers a Route Availability Index of 2, allowing them over most parts of the British railway network and also radically lowering the amount of damage that each Voyager does to the track it runs over compared to locomotive hauled trains or InterCity 125s.
Along with the use of inboard journals and shorter axles, the B5005 also offers a 60% reduction in frame mass with primary suspension achieved by a simple free-rubber Metacone, with longitudinal traction rod, that sits directly on top of the axleboxes and eliminates the need for hydraulic dampers. For speeds of up to 125mph, the B5005s on the Class 220s also feature a secondary air suspension although rubber Metacones with an emergency vertical damper permit degraded operation if an air-spring deflates.
As trackside hotbox detectors are set to scan outboard journals, fusible plugs melt if the axleboxes overheat. This results in a loss of air pressure that triggers a warning light in the cab.
As well as Bruges, Class 220 Voyagers were also assembled by Bombardier at Horbury near Wakefield and tested during 2001 and 2002 on the Monk Bretton branch, also near Wakefield, and on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) Serco undertook all the formal Acceptance Testing and a multitude of train operations on the class 220 fleet including commissioning runs on every unit and the train maintenance depot created at Crofton for these trials still remains to service Voyager, Meridian, Class 170 and Class 180 units.
220 009 “Gatwick Voyager” made history on 28 September 2001 by becoming the first of its class to operate on a preserved railway with testing and training carried out on the Bo’ness & Kinneil line in Scotland. On the same day 220 018 bucked the trend of including “Voyager” in any name by being christened “Central News” at Birmingham New Street. However, the event was not broadcast on its namesake BBC TV show ( which still airs nightly at 1800 ) until 1 October and the 2003 Platform 5 Combined Motive Power recorded 220 018 as being named “Dorset Voyager”.
220 006 subsequently became “Clyde Voyager” at Carstairs on 25 October 2001, just after it had run south from Edinburgh Waverley coupled to 220 002 which had just been named “Forth Voyager”. This marked the first passenger carrying Voyager journey north of the Border and Railtrack certification of all Scottish routes for Voyager operation.
220 034 “Yorkshire Voyager” meanwhile became the last of the Class 220 Voyager sets to leave Bombardier’s Wakefield factory on 13 December 2001, leaving both Wakefield and Bruges plants free to concentrate on the production of 44 tilting Super Voyager trains.
However, beyond the mid Noughties the at-seat audio entertainment – accessed via headphones purchased from the shop replacing the toilet in the MSRB – was at best patchy and often completely inoperative. By 2017 however, a more pressing concern was the provision of reliable WiFI internet connection. Similarly, building the basic four car Voyager with the option of later design development into the tilting Super Voyager gave the vehicle bodies a narrow roof and no room for large items of luggage in overhead racks – a step backwards from the InterCity 125 and hauled Mark III coaching stock
Even more importantly, the desire for a high power to weight ratio – to facilitate good acceleration – was to result in an under-floor engine configuration at odds with noise levels being kept low in the passenger accommodation. A conventional train – with a twin cabbed diesel locomotive at one end – or an InterCity 125, with a streamlined one-cab locomotive at each end – both tend to concentrate engine noise at the ends of the train. Similarly, having four engines per train instead of two or one has increased the risk of fires in the exhaust systems if these units are not properly re-assembled after maintenance.
Another design feature which caused some teething troubles in service was the rheostatic braking with roof mounted resistors. Debris such as lumps of wood from trees or small birds on occasions became lodged in these hot grids and started fires while inundation with sea water whilst running through Dawlish on the South Devon coast caused control software to shut down the whole train.
Luckily this software issue was soon addressed, but the Class 220 Voyagers remained in four car sets whilst replacing seven or eight car InterCity 125s. Although the idea behind the new four car trains was to use them on more frequent services the upsurge in rail travel and transportation since the early 1990s has had the effect of making timetable pathways more scarce than ever. Additionally, because the Voyager units are only internally gangwayed a train manager cannot access more than one unit at a time if two units are coupled together to make an 8 car train.
Another debatable feature common to the Voyagers and many modern multiple unit trains is the reliance on powered air conditioning. This creates a pleasant environment when working correctly but in the event of failure the air in the carriage soon becomes difficult to breathe and, unlike the Mark III carriages on the InterCity 125s, there is no possibility of opening a door droplight.
Even before Virgin Trains lost the Cross Country franchise to Arriva, it had become apparent that the shops located in the Class 220 Voyager’s Motor Second Restaurant Buffets were not popular with passengers who feared losing their seats and/or belongings if they ventured along the narrow train to make purchases.
As a result, now that Arriva rather than Virgin Trains are the sole operators of the 34 Class 220 Voyagers, the shop has been deleted and replaced with extra luggage and bicycle stowage space. Each four car set now comprises:
Coach A with 26 First Class seats in 2+1 arrangement.
Coach C with 70 Standard Class seats in 2+2 arrangement.
Coach D with 68 Standard Class seats, luggage space and reservable space for three bicycles.
Coach F with 44 Standard Class seats in a quiet zone, disabled seating and stowage area for the catering service trolley – replacing the shop – just behind the driving cab.
WESSEX TRAINS ALPHALINE 158 746 “SPIRIT OF THE SOUTH WEST”
Wessex Trains was created on 14 October 2001 when the former Wales and West and Valley Line franchises were reorganised. Wales and West Passenger Trains Ltd took on the trading name of Wessex Trains and the operation of services in southwest England. Their geographic area being bounded by Penzance Cardiff, Gloucester, Worcester and Brighton although this stretched to Great Malvern in 2004.
Cardiff Railway Company Ltd, which changed its trading name from Valley Lines to Wales and Borders Trains, operated most trains in Wales and the adjoining parts of England. Both franchises were owned by the National Express Group until Arriva took over a slightly modified Wales and Borders franchise in 2003.
Originally it was planned for Wessex to take over the diesel services of South West Trains. However, this would have left most services from the South West to London under the control of one operator and a change of government policy led to the decision to merge Wessex and First Great Western into the new First group owned Greater Western franchise on 1 April 2006.
Alphaline was a brand used by the Regional Railways sector of British Rail to identify certain provincial express trains in the Midlands, Wales and South West operated by then-new 1990 vintage Class 158 diesel hydraulic multiple units from services operated by older rolling stock. Alphaline trains thus formed a layer of service between the prestigious Inter-City sector and Regional Railway’s local and commuter trains, and applying such branding to just one DMU class was a move not seen since the introduction of the InterCity 125 trains in the 1970s.
More specifically, Alphaline services offered passengers reservable seats, an at-seat trolley service of cold snacks, sandwiches and hot and cold drinks available for all or part of the journey, a British Telecom card phone and air conditioning. Although such card phones are seen as old technology when almost everyone has a mobile telephone in 2010, only the Class 158s had these – and air conditioning – in the Regional Railways fleet of the early 1990s.
After Privatization in 1994, both Central and Wales and West Trains continued with the Alphaline brand although by 2003 it was unique to Wessex Trains, which continued the use of a silver livery although with purple rather than maroon or navy blue doors to distance itself from Wales and West markings. The Alphaline concept did not survive the 2006 merger of Wessex Trains with First Great Western.
The two car set numbered 158 746 and named “Spirit of the South West” in Wessex Trains Alphaline livery was made by Bachmann. 158 746 – comprising A and B type Driving Motor Second Lavatories 52746 and 57746 – first appeared as a set in the 1992 Platform 5 Combined Motive Power volume and were allocated to Neville Hill Depot in Leeds. 158 746 was re-allocated to Edinburgh Haymarket in 1993 where it was to stay until 2000 and also remain in pre-Privatization Regional Railways livery. However, the accomodation was to be changed to Driving Motor Composite Lavatory – DMSL in 1994.
This picture was taken by John Chalcraft on 29 April 2000 at the mouth of Parsons Tunnel, Teignmouth and appeared in the 2001 Platform 5 Combined Motive Power. It shows 158 746 in the Wales and West version of silver Alphaline livery. By this time 158 746 was allocated to Cardiff Canton depot where it would be based until 2003.
By 2004 some Wessex Trains Alphaline liveries were simpler but still very different from Wales and Border Alphaline markings which had evolved directly from those of Regional Railways. In 2002 158 746 was named “Spirit of the South West” and repainted into a red promotional Heart of Wessex Line livery with yellow doors.
In 2003 however the unit was back in silver Alphaline markings, this time with the maroon doors as represented in the Bachmann model along with the name – in purple lettering on 57746 – which would continue until 2004. In 2004 158 746 was allocated to Exeter depot but in 2005 it was missing from the Platform 5 book. 158 746 re-appeared in 2006 based once again at Cardiff and still retaining its Alphaline livery and was to continue with these markings at St Philip’s Marsh, Bristol, in 2007 and 2008. However, 158 746 did not appear in the Platform 5 books for 2009 and 2010.
ARRIVA TRAINS WALES 150 156
A total of 137 Class 150 Sprinter diesel hydraulic multiple units were built by British Rail Engineering Limited between 1984 and 1987, the 1986 vintage 150/2 subclass – numbered 150 201 – 285 – being distinguished from the prototype 150/0 and early production 150/1 examples by the provision of end gangway connections, allowing passengers and railway staff to move between all vehicles of trains coupled in multiple.
The two car production Sprinters were based on the body shell of the locomotive hauled Mark III carriage and were ordered to replace non-standard and unreliable diesel mechanical multiple units designed in the 1950s. These second generation multiple units – riding on bogies – were designed for medium and long distance journeys while cheaper but less popular Class 142 Pacers – essentially Leyland National bus bodies on freight wagon chassis – were introduced for short journeys.
As well as returning to the Voith torque converters last seen on the Western and Warship locomotives in the 1970s, each Sprinter vehicle had both innermost axles powered by an onboard Cummins NT855R5 285 bhp prime mover, yielding better acceleration performance than the power-trailer combinations that they often replaced.
However, new three car Class 150/0 trains formed by adding a Class 150/2 vehicle to the centre of an existing Centro Class 150/1 set were banned from the Lickey Incline as they lacked the power to climb the 1 in 37 gradient. Cheltenham to Birmingham New Street services were then taken over by Class 170 dhmus while the three car Class 150/0s were concentrated on less arduous routes from Birmingham Snow Hill station to Great Malvern and Stratford Upon Avon. In 2010 these trains are operated by London Midland.
The Class 150/2s were built from steel by BREL York with powered BP38 and pure load carrying BT38 bogies cleared for 75 mph working. Their BSI couplers also allowed them to work in multiple with most Second Generation dhmus including Classes 170 and 172.
Following Privatization in 1994, many Class 150/2s transferred to Wales and West which then split into Wessex Trains and Wales and Borders ( later Arriva Trains Wales ) from 2001. The 25 Wessex trains Class 150/2s worked on a number of local lines in South West England including services between Cheltenham and Swindon.
Refurbishment by Wessex Trains of its Class 150/2 fleet during 2006 featured the addition of DPTAC ‘easy to see, easy to press’ tactile passenger door control buttons, non slip vinyl flooring, high backed Primarius seats in a 2+2 arrangement and upgraded toilet areas. Ex Scotrail and Regional Railways Class 150/2 sets including former Edinburgh Haymarket based 150 256 were also re-liveried into Arriva Trains Wales turquoise and cream livery: a common sight on trains working from Cheltenham to Maesteg and Cardiff.
During subsequent First Great Western ownership CCTV was also fitted and in November 2007 Arriva Trains Wales acquired ten more Class 150/2s when the Central Trains franchise ended.
At the start of 2010 set 150 256 – comprising Driving Motor Second Lavatory 52256 and Driving Motor Second 57256 – was one of 72 Class 150/2 two car units leased to Arriva Trains Wales by Porterbrook and was based at Cardiff Canton depot.
LONDON MIDLAND TRAINS 153 371
The Class 153 railcars were converted by Hunslet-Barclay in Kilmarnock in 1991-1992 from Class 155 two car units originally built by British Leyland at Workington, Cumbria during 1987 to 1988. Envisaged as part of the build of “Super Sprinters” – along with the Metro Cammell assembled Class 156 – to replace First Generation dmus, each 23 metre Class 155 carriage was constructed with techniques similar to those previously used on two-axle Pacer units. Avdel rivets held pre-formed panels together to create a lightweight body on a welded floor assembly although the length of such a light body and the number of large windows did create a tendency for the carriages to sag and – initially – for the new sliding plug automatic doors to either not work or open while the Class 155 was moving. Although this problem was eventually solved, the inability of four wheeled Pacer units to cope with steeply graded and sharply curved branch lines previously worked by Class 121 and 122 “Bubblecars” gave rise to the need for a modern Regional Railways replacement with bogies. The West Yorkshire PTE units excepted, the Class 155s were thus selected for conversion but although this did not require any external doors to be moved, the No.2 cab was unusually cramped, despite being extended into the vestibule area. The Red Star parcels lockers originally fitted to the Class 153s have also now been converted into bicycle and luggage storage spaces. Class 153 railcars can link their Bergische Stahl Industrie (BSI) couplers with Classes 142, 143, 144, 150, 155 156, 158, 159, 170 and 172. However, the maximum benefits of multiple unit working are only realised when two Classes which are gangwayed throughout are coupled together – thus allowing passengers and guards to walk the full length of the train.