24/8 11am. Darlington - another fine old English station. Brickwork with artistic bits, wrought iron, space for a lot of infrastructure that isn't here now, the usual. There was a time when these companies made a profit! As we take off we get a bit of traction motor grind, but it doesn't last long. The doors grind too, but that's a bad thing.
11:39am. Newcastle - the Metro! A Day Rover is £3.90, about right considering the size of the network. Central station is like Flagstaff in appearance but not as clean. Two platforms, one each direction. Platforms fairly short, about 3-4 cars long in our terms. PIDS shows destination and time to arrival only. Big clear text. Marketed as TUAG on PIDS but there is a printed timetable. Clockfaced between peaks, irregular in peak time and at night. Frequency is 10tph off peak (8tph on Sundays) up to 19 trains between 7 and 8am. Off peak half go to each line, in peak time lots more on St James-South Shields line (Airport-South Hylton line still gets minimum 5tph though).
11:52am. We board a train for South Shields. It pops above ground almost immediately then goes under again. Definite light metro stock - articulated like a B2 but coupled in a double set; very rapid acceleration and braking; a low squat body outline; 2+2 seats and lots of standing room (although padding is quite good, would be fine for a half hour journey or more). There is some evidence of vandalism or neglect - not as bad as home though. Infrastructure is rail grade not tram grade - although there's a number of bumpy sections. Looks like there's no sections shared with the main line so far, which is good.
12:03pm. Pelaw-Hebburn is quite a long section. Speed isn't as high as at home but for a guess it's probably about 2.5mi. Midga's ears are better than mine but the track isn't talking to either of us. There's plenty of sound coming through including a few different rhythms, but making sense of it will take time.
12:10pm. Most of the above ground stations have offset platforms like the St Kilda and Port Melbourne lines - must be a metro thing.
12:18pm. South Shields has only a single platform, long enough for its two artic cars and no more. Must be interesting in the morning when they run trains 3min apart. Stabling sidings at the down end might be the answer, which would mean they can only run that frequency during ramp-up. At the moment there's a ballast train in there - advantage of being heavy rail is that heavy rail works stock can be used. Not sure where the interface with Network Rail is though. The station is elevated (although ground level rises to meet it at some places) and has the same problems we saw at Manchester.
1:03pm. Midga decided to see what Maccas is like over here. All the same apparently, except that the soft drinks are full of artificial sweetener. Back to Central we go. These cars have a half width cab so there's a front window like Adelaide trains have!! Pity they have rules against taking photos. The service is announced as "all stations towards Newcastle". The speed limit signs are in km/h!
1:18pm. Points, which are the most talkative bits of track, are starting to talk to me. Midga reckons the bogies are talking to him too. So many aspects of this system as just like home! It's really difficult to leave the camera in the bag. :(
1:24pm. After we split off from the other line at Pelaw there's a section of single track with a non-electrified track beside, then a section of two bi-di signalled tracks with the non-spark beside. The other track runs parallel and goes behind a couple of stations and then merges with the down line. I guess that's the interface with Network Rail.
1:37pm. Haymarket station looks new - white panels, good light level, raises the average significantly. From Central to Haymarket the tunnel is completely dark except for train headlights and signals. Signals are often hidden by curves...
1:44pm. South Gosforth is the junction. Lines diverge at a simple set of points with a flat diamond - and they manage to merge 5tph + 14tph on this!