I visited Newcastle one previous trip, and commented on the fact that the Tyne & Wear is actually very comparable to the Melbourne suburban system - same voltage, similar loading gauge, similar station spacing, similar intrusion of freight and long-distance trains on the network.
On boarding the train, the very first thing that happened was the driver accelerated too hard, cut off too fast and made the motors flash over. The popping sound and the sudden jerk of the train were pure Comeng set.
I should have mentioned that there's a new ticketing system here (and they take the view that a BritRailPass is only for main line trains). It looks very much like Metcard would if it were implemented today - touch screen ticket machines but paper tickets with a magstripe. Interestingly the magstripe is centred on the ticket which means it can be inserted in the validator either way and still validate correctly. That's pretty good. Not as good as a real smart card of course, but they cost a bomb.
The trains here are a kind of articulated two-car set, but on three bogies like a B-class tram. They're full scale trains though, with high level platforms and wide bodies on solid underframes, and obviously (because they share tracks with main line freight and passenger trains) are compatible with the rest of the system - apart from the voltage.
I found myself wondering what it would be like to throw some standard gauge Y-class loco bogies under a Tait set and run it around here. Just to show the Novocastrians what real electric trains sound like.
There's an extensive works program on at the moment, and half the system is shut down - apparently there's been very little maintenance since the network was built in the 80s, and night/weekend shutdowns won't cut it. The line to Sunderland is still open though, so I thought I'd have a look. For some reason I hadn't remembered that the driver's cab in these things is only half width, so there's a seat with a front window! This is living! This is style! THIS IS ELEGANCE BY THE MIIIIIIIIIIIIIILE!
The rail atlas I bought at York tells me why there's main line trains at Sunderland - it's a separate branch coming up from the south, the metro just happens to link the two. There seem to be lines linking lines all over the place, it can be very confusing. There's a full double page spread at the beginning of the book telling how they manage to do mile pegs in a non-radial system. I haven't read it yet, I don't have the courage. I mean, it's bad enough when we have to say Ararat to Portland is up because most trains run there from the Mallee. Or that there's an illuminated billboard at Newport telling drivers that the distance markers now jump by about 9km because the freight line runs via Brooklyn instead of Yarraville. But when it's just a few anomalies I can handle it - this is going to be another story completely. Maybe I'll tackle it tonight.
That's about it from me for now - watch for photos and videos on Facebook because I'll be pushing them through the phone as I travel. Assuming I can get a signal - it seems Sunderland is part of the third world with five bars in shopping centres and one or none in the rest of the place. The only way I found that out was by heading to a shopping centre to find a phone shop which might be able to tell me why my SIM had stopped working...
Well I've occupied this table at Cafe Nerd long enough, back to the trains.
You asked, we listened: more Android!
6 years ago