Wednesday, August 14, 2013

In Buxton: August 13, part the second!

I left you in Cafe Nerd in Sunderland Central shopping centre. For this I sincerely and profusely apologise, because it's not a nice place - way too many bogan parents with bratty kids, almost like Werribee or St Albans.

I got on the next Metro service back to Newcastle, but only went one stop because near St Peters station I had seen a billboard for Monkwearmouth Station Museum. It turned out to be mostly a kid's play area, with a useful-looking sideline selling Meccano sets. One which was set up as a demo unit was a very accurate rendition of the California combination trams which we now associate with the Ballarat and Bendigo tramways but which operated just about all electric tram services until the drop-centre bogie cars (an Australian invention, incidentally) took over in the early 20th century.

The station obviously used to be quite significant. Lacking official records they had pieced together old photos and railway archeology to make an N-gauge model of the station and surrounds as at 1910, and it seems to have had one main line platform, a dock with an extra spur siding, a goods yard with about a dozen roads, and sheds for unloading. They even did a door-to-door service, with horse drawn wheelie carts to deliver everything to the shops in town and pick up anything for despatch.

They had converted the old dock platform into a demo of the early form of Motorail, done with what amounts to a normal four wheel van but with an end door instead of side doors. It also had a completely gratuitous O-gauge model on a hanging track just above head height - but a button within reach of kids from age 2 to 32 made it move. That makes a display interactive, it's not all that difficult.

From there I continued back toward Newcastle, but jumped off at Pelaw to ride the South Shields line. That meant going through Pelaw Junction, possibly one of the most complex railway junctions I've seen. Network Rail lines come in from several directions and the Metro splits into two lines. To make it even more fun there's a stack of industrial single-track lines coming off at various directions. Some is double track and some is single. Strangely they only grade separated the bits least likely to need it - the main line going through is independent of everything, but it doesn't have all that much traffic. The two metro lines split at a flat junction of two into two plus two, and the South Shields line merges down to a single track soon afterward. This carries a service every eight minutes in peak time!

I remember from last time that South Shields is a boring place unless you like looking at large, angry seagulls, so I took the same service straight back. With half the network down for maintenance I didn't see the point of hanging around any further so I went back to the main line. And just in time - with a roar like an old pre-noise-restrictions diesel locomotive a coal train thundered into the station. It was headed, believe it or not, by an old pre-noise-restrictions diesel locomotive - 56312 was the number on the cab, and the good rollingstock book tells me it's one of these "formerly preserved" locos that have been dragged out of retirement to work freight trains for small private operators. Quite a find!

It was moving at a fairly good clip but it managed to pull up at the end of the platform, which meant I could chase it down and take a few more photos. There were bearded men on the opposite platform doing the same thing... and it looked like the fireman had a very sophisticated video camera in the cab too.

That was as much excitement as I could expect at Newcastle so I decided to head home. Oh horror, that means riding the Flying Scotsman (or at least his modern electric equivalent) as far as York and then picking up a Class 185. Every day is a good day when you've got a BritRailPass.

By this time it was heading towards peak hour, so there wasn't a seat to be had. The East Coast service to London seems popular - just about every spot had a "Reserved" ticket on it. Eventually I found one that was only reserved from York to London and sat in it. On-board power? Don't mind if I do.

The East Coast Main Line is four tracks for most of its distance, so there's fast tracks in the middle and slow ones on the outside. In our 200km/h Mk.4 set we were overtaking freight trains on a regular basis. And it seemed there was a train going the other way every few minutes! Not all of them were long like the Mk.4 sets but even a two-car set is a service that's going somewhere. The Melbourne-Sydney line should be so lucky...

At York I toyed with the idea of going to Blackpool since that train was departing before the one for Manchester, but it was a Class 158 set - basically a Sprinter with a slightly upgraded interior. No in-seat power points and a lot noisier than the Trans-Pennine. Nah, I'll pass.

I got lucky at Piccadilly - the Buxton train was due to leave in just a few minutes. I'll be home by 8, do a load of washing, and have it all ready to go by the time we're due to carry costumes at 9:30!

I'm not seeing the show tonight so you'll have to rely on Chris's account. Tomorrow is another day out gunzelling - we know not where and we don't much care. Leeds maybe, to ride their Siemens trains. As always, news and updates exclusive to

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