I woke up this morning and wondered what to do. There's a show I want to see tonight but nothing until then. Option A: go gunricing. Option B: hang around doing nothing. Clear winner: option A.
So I head to Manchester and decide to ride the Metrolink trams. They were down for upgrade last time so I'll be interested to see how they're going. The Metrolink station at Piccadilly hasn't changed but they have some new trams and they're working on some new lines. Must check it out.
I get to Victoria station and decide to jump off and look around. It's actually incredibly similar to London Victoria! And again it's being refurbed. Which is a good thing because it's pretty dingy. Hopefully they upgrade the exhaust extraction gear too...
I think I'd be safe guessing that Victoria and Piccadilly were built by competing rail operating companies back in the days, like Flinders Street and Spencer Street, or like the various London stations. Now it looks like Piccadilly is mainly the long distance station and Victoria is for shorter lines - but there's a Class 180 set sitting there so maybe not.
One rather cool thing is that the Metrolink stop is a platform like any other - although the main footbridge between the platforms doesn't include the Metrolink platform. Again hopefully that's something they fix.
I'm wondering what to do when a three-car Class 144 Railbus set comes in. I swore off Railbuses after the interminable trip to Rose Hill in 2007, but it'd be interesting to see what they're like with a centre car. It's a Leeds service but I don't want to go that far... hopefully there's an intermediate station within reach of town with high speed trains running through to photograph.
As we leave Victoria I notice the Metrolink is running in the rail reservation for a while. I think I'll have to ride the rest of the Bury line just to see where it goes. And wonder of wonders, there's a track linking the Metrolink with the main line!!! Odds bodikins, what can it mean? I saw ballast hoppers on the Tyne & Wear, but I also saw Sprinters running on the same track to Sunderland so that's more of a suburban rail system than a tram. On the other hand, as long as the loading gauge doesn't interfere with the overhead wires or platform facings, why not run rail-standard works trains? It makes sense.
As it happens the ride is way better than the Class 142 I had to Rose Hill. Of course that might be a lot of things - improvements in the Class 144, state of the track, or ride quality with a third car in the middle. It might even be the effect of the internal refurbishment, which to be honest is quite nice for a four wheel vehicle.
I get off at Castleton and miss out on a shot of a Class 158 set because it runs through just as I'm getting off. Argh. I cross to the up platform and take stock of the position.
This is part of the GMPTE area - services are run by Northern Rail but they're part of the Manchester suburban network. Station spacing etc is definitely suburban - a little bit long for a true metro but not really a long distance service. Service frequency is NOT metro quality though. I guess it's like the Melton line. But running suburban services through to Leeds is wrong - it would be like extending Melton services to Ballarat. If people from Rockbank want to go to Ballarat they can change trains, for goodness sake!
Now I'm on a train back to Manchester. It's a Class 150 Sprinter this time, with a fairly new-looking interior. Again not the right stock for a suburban service but like all operating companies they cascade older stock from premium long distance services onto stopping-all services once they get nicer stuff. What else could they do with it? Apart from export it to Australia to replace our H cars of course.
The ride on a Sprinter, back over the same track, is slightly better than the Railbus, which indicates that the track has more to do with the ride than the train... at least on this line where the curves are gentle. We get up some good speed too, at least 100km/h, which is better than we get anywhere on the Buxton line. Remind me to blog about the Buxton line one day soon.
Back to Victoria and it's time to pay a closer look at this Metrolink question. At the pedestrian crossing it's definitely tramway rail, with the full grooved section and all. But a little way along... bingo! It's classic railway profile rail on standard concrete sleepers, with a wear pattern that indicates tramway wheels have run on it. All is explained.
The Bury line is quite obviously an old suburban line - probably built by the company that ran Victoria station before they were all nationalised. Or maybe before that, I'm just guessing. It's a nice medium distance suburban line, sitting between metro and interurban like most of ours, except not overcrowded. All the platforms have obviously been shortened (really they've just been fenced back to the length of a tram and resurfaced between the fences). Signalling is railway-style coloured lights - only two aspects though, they obviously aren't trying to make this a super mass transit system (which is a shame because there's lots of opportunities for in-fill transit oriented development out towards Bury).
As we approach Bury I see locos... and not 66s and 57s either, old ones. And carriages, wagons and assorted stuff. When I get into the station I look around for leaflets and sure enough, East Lancashire Railway. Time to break my promise about not doing tourist railways...
Their summer weekday timetable has two trains running, a DMU and a steamer. The steamer is just arriving as I walk in, and it's the prototype for Bill and Ben! That deserves a photo or six. The DMU is unfamiliar but it gets photographed anyway.
Since I don't have time to ride the line and get back in time for the show tonight, so to support them I buy a drink from the Refreshment Room. Hey, it's a nice place to sit down and write up a blog! What a picture I must make, with my pint of Guiness, backpack, camera, clipboard... and netbook.
I have a deadline to get back to Buxton so I can't wait for the trains to come back unfortunately. I head back to the transport interchange (Metrolink station and massive bus bay) and there's a tram just about to depart. Nice.
Just as we get to Manchester Victoria the ticket inspectors tell me a BritRail Pass isn't valid for the Metrolink... either that's changed from two years ago or someone's got their wires crossed. Sighs. So I buy a ticket for the trip.
Now it's basically time to head home, but I'll drop in on the Metrolink info centre to see what there is about the upgrade. A map, that's a good start. WOAH they're intending to nearly double the size of the thing! This merits some more study later on at home!
I get to Piccadilly being an hungered, so I drop in on a place called the Pasty Shop in the station. Five quid gets me some wedges and a big meat pasty - the wedges are nothing special but the pasty is full of meat, potato and onion, with no gristle or fat. Very nice indeed. I think I'll make the Pasty Shop a regular stop on my gunzelling trips!
Double Sprinter set on the way home. It's sunny, all the windows are open, and the engines have quite a soporific note, especially in the sections where the rail isn't welded. Good thing Buxton's the end of the line.
Now I guess I'll hand you over to Chris to tell you about tonight's show. But don't worry, I'm sure there'll be something to say about the Festival Club tonight, because it's somebody's birthday and everyone will want to buy her a drink!