16 January, 2012

The long way 'round

The first traces of dawn were lighting the sky as we arrived at Waverly Station, Edinburgh. ScotRail-liveried 90019 hauled our eight-car section from Carstairs to the Scottish capitol.

Early morning commuters were huddling on the frozen platforms at Carstairs when we rolled into the station at a few minutes after six. The Edinburgh and Glasgow sections of the Caledonian Sleeper part company at Carstairs in a maneuver accomplished with remarkable efficiency. With a gentle nudge, ScotRail-liveried 90019 coupled to the back of the train, voices rose out of the darkness as brake lines and couplings were done up. Another nudge, and before I knew it, we were underway — in the opposite direction. The move quickly made sense as we clattered through Carstairs East Junction and curved onto the line to Edinburgh while the front portion of the train carried on to Glasgow with 90036 and the first eight cars. Thirty minutes later, I stepped from the comfort of the Sleeper into an icy Edinburgh dawn, and just as quickly retreated onto an East Coast train ready to leave for London.

Tracing the Channel near Berwick-upon-Tweed at sunrise.


They’re the backbone of high-speed service on the East Coast Main Line: 30 push-pull, fixed-formation trainsets composed of a 9-car rake of Mk 4 stock bracketed by a Class 91 electric on one end and a Mk 4 DVT (a cab-equipped “driving brake van”) on the other. East Coast 82201, a Metropolitan-Cammell built DVT still in Great North Eastern Railway blue, stood ready to depart with the 07.30 service to King’s Cross. There was no time for second thoughts, I boarded the first car just as the station porter’s whistle sounded. Any reservations I had about giving Edinburgh the short shrift were quickly dispatched as I enjoyed a full English breakfast with tea and apple-rhubarb juice while speeding along the ECML and watching sunrise over the Channel.

Northern Trains Class 156 Super Sprinter DMU No. 156438 waits to depart Darlington for Saltburn.

Darlington station.

Change at York. I detrained at York to explore the station, do a bit of trainspotting and change to a train scheduled to stop at Doncaster.

Hull service worked by Northern Class 142 Pacer No. 142024 pulls into York.

A study in styling, EWS 67021, a Spanish-built, EMD-design JT42HW-HS, drifts past DRS 57003, an EMD re-engined, British-built Brush Type 4, a product of the Brush Falcon Works in Loughborough.

Network Rail's New Measurement Train, converted from an HST set powered by Class 43s Nos. 43013 and 43062, calls on York.

Network Rail's New Measurement Train works southward from York.

No one has ever asked me to compose a personal top-ten list of trainspotting locations, but if they did, Doncaster, 155 miles, 77 chains north of London, King’s Cross on the East Coast Main Line, would be right at the top. “Donny,” as they call it, holds mythic status among generations of spotters. Those of a certain age recall jotting engine numbers of Gresley-design V2 "Green Arrow" 2-6-2s, Thompson B1 4-6-0s and Peppercorn Pacifics in notebooks, or underlining entries in Ian Allen Locospotters books; thrilling to the passage of the “down Elizabethan,” the up Heart of Middlothian, the Yorkshire Pullman, Flying Scotsman and Leeds-KX expresses; copping A4 “streaks” by the number, and in later years, Deltics, and English Electric and Brush Type 4s. Donny, they said, was the place to be.

The days of spotters crowding the St. James bridge and shed bashing the Doncaster Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Works (better known by railwaymen and locals as “The Plant,”) are history. But by current standards, Donny is still the place to be, and that’s precisely where I was headed.

Doncaster offers an intoxicating mix of volume, variety, and speed. From the moment my feet hit the platform, the traffic was near constant, often with two, three, four, or even more trains in sight at the same time. East Coast Class 91-hauled Mk 4/DVT trains and diesel-powered Class 43 HST sets seared through the station on express tracks and stopping trains called at Doncaster’s five platforms. Freights — intermodal, coal, cement, and engineering trains — rolled through behind Canadian-built Class 66 EMDs in the colours of EWS and DB Schenker, Freightliner, and GBRf. Class 321 EMUs shuttled back and forth to Leeds and DMUs came and went on streetcar headway: CrossCountry Voyagers with trains linking Scotland and points as far west as Penzance; Grand Central Class 180 Adelentes and HSTs working West Yorkshire services between King’s Cross and Bradford; First Group Class 185 Desiros and Class 170 Turbostars with TransPennine trains between Manchester and Cleethorpes, and a steady parade of Northern Class 142 and 144 Pacers, 150s, 156s, and 158s handling services to Adwick, Lincoln, Sheffield, Scunthorpe, Hull, Bridlington, Scarborough, and elsewhere.

Non-stop action from the moment my feet hit the platform at Doncaster: an Edinburgh-bound Class 91/Mk 4 set sears through the station at breathtaking speed while Class 158 No. 158907 calls with a Northern service to Sheffield.

Hot action and heavy frost on cold British steel.

A CrossCountry service to Sheffield worked by Voyager No. 220004 makes its stop on Platform 4, while Pacers Nos. 142057 and 144001 pause on Platform 3 with a Northern service to Lincoln.

 Lincoln-bound Northern Trains Pacers Nos. 142057 and 144001 thread the crossovers on departure from Doncaster.

Freightliner Class 66s Nos. 66596 and 66560 drift past The Plant.

Slowing for a station stop, Class 91 No. 91106 leads a northbound East Coast-liveried Mk 4 formation through the cross-overs to Platform 5.

Departing for Manchester Airport, TransPennine Express Desiro No. 185118 passes an East Coast HST stopped at Platform 4. 

Making a passenger stop on its way to King's Cross, Class 43 No. 43310 encounters Desiro No. 185149 arriving with a TransPennine service to Cleethorpes.

East Coast 43310 waits on the right away to resume its journey to King's Cross.

At sixty-sixes and sevens. EWS-liveried Class 66 No. 66027 passes Spanish-built Class 67 No. 67019 at the north end of Doncaster station.

The Class 43-powered HSTs may be getting long-in-the-tooth, but there's no indication of it as Nos. 43309 and 43300 hurtle through Doncaster, hell-bent for KX to the flat-out roar of MTU 16V4000 diesels.

Canadian-built Class 66 EMDs are a staple of freight services on the ECML. GBRf No. 66716 works a southbound coal train through Doncaster.

Low winter light catches the unmistakable Class 66 lines of GBRf 66716.

Detail: Nameplate on GBRf 66716.

Grand Central Class 180 Adelante No. 180101 exits Doncaster on its way to Bradford.

Spotters log the passage of Freightliner No. 66557 working northbound coal empties as Sheffield-bound Northern 158849 makes a station stop.

Looking more like a 1930s streamliner than a year-2000 product of Alstom Birmingham, Grand Central Adelante No. 180102 (still in the flashy livery of former operator Northern Rail) pulls into Platform 1 with a King's Cross service.

East Coast train to York awaits the right away as a CrossCountry Voyager departs.

There are those who dismiss or even scowl at DMUs in general and the little four-wheeled Class 142, 143, and 144 Pacers in particular. I am not among the detractors. I long ago learned that a train — even one that might be little more than a bus on flanged steel wheels — is better than no train at all. And anyway, the Pacers are delightful machines that scoot about to the off-beat clatter of single-axle wheel sets and the gentle purr of 2,100-rpm Cummins diesels, fulfilling timetabled services on low-density routes that might not have survived without them.

For my money, the ubiquitous Pacer DMUs are delightful machines that scoot about to the off-beat clatter of single-axle wheel sets and the gentle purr of 2,100-rpm Cummins diesels. Working to Scunthorpe, Northern No. 142018 pulls into Doncaster . In the distance, a departing Grand Central Adelante and Northern No. 158843 arriving with service to Bridlington.

Northern Class 142 No. 142018 waits to depart for Scunthorpe. A train — even one that might be little more than a bus on flanged steel wheels — is better than no train at all.

Doncaster is home to a small group of increasingly rare Class 08 0-6-0 diesel switchers that occasionally venture into the small yard adjacent to the station. They’re assigned to shunting duties at the Wabtec Rail rolling stock maintenance and repair facility that occupies part of the once-great Doncaster Works.

The birthplace of thousands of steam, diesel, and electric locomotives, and thousands more passenger carriages and goods wagons, the Doncaster shop was opened by the Great Northern Railway in 1853 and grew to become one of the main workshops of the London and North Eastern Railway. The Plant built railway locomotives for more than a century: from its first, GNR 0-4-2s completed in 1867, to its most famous, the legendary LNER Gresley A4 Pacifics, to its last, 50 British Rail Class 58 Co-Co diesel-electrics turned out in 1987. (An asterisk on the Doncaster production rolls, the shop built an industrial diesel-hydraulic locomotive for quarry operator Tilcon in 1994.)

The 08s that shunt The Plant are amongst the last old school vestiges in evidence at Doncaster. Watching the ancient beasts at work — side rods flailing, spoked drivers a-blur — offers a fascinating distraction during the time between trains. Not that there’s much of it. My notes from just over three-and-a-half hours at Donny include some 98 trains, a tally that does not include the frequent Leeds shuttles or trains that passed during the few times I stopped into the station café to warm up over a cappuccino. 

Make that 99 trains … at 14.23, a Grand Central Class 180 went ripping past as I boarded a southbound East Coast train to continue my journey.

Amongst the last old school vestiges in evidence at Doncaster, EWS Class 08 No. 08405 (turned out of Derby in 1952 as BR 3520) performs shunting duties at the Wabtec Rail facility in the famed Doncaster Works. 

Watching the ancient 08s at work — side rods flailing, spoked drivers a-blur — offers a fascinating distraction during the time between trains.

Mk 4 DVT No. 82228 heads the southbound East Coast train that will take me to Peterborough.

Bless me this is pleasant, breaking the century mark on the ECML over a hot lunch and a glass of wine.

Interlude at Peterborough, East Coast Class 91 No. 91120 shoves off for King's Cross as an HST pulls in.

Setting sun highlights the distinctive profile of EWS Class 66 No. 66143, waiting for a signal to head north from Peterborough with a WBB minerals train.

Great Northern legacy endures at Peterborough.

First Capital Connect Clas 321 EMUs arrive at Peterborough with local service from King's Cross.

A northbound East Coast train in the charge of Class 91 No. 91113 overtakes Capital Connect Class 321s on the approach to Peterborough.

Racing northward, Class 91 No. 91103 wears Great North Eastern Railway livery rebranded with East Coast decals.

In the home stretch. Led by East Coast DVT No. 82210, my ride for the last lap into King's Cross pulls into Peterborough as East Midlands Super Sprinter No. 153302 boards passengers for its run to Lincoln.

After a short interlude at Peterborough, my third East Coast train of the day eased to a stop at King’s Cross at 17.19, ending what had in effect been a 17-hour, 35-minute odyssey from one London station to another. Euston to King’s Cross via Edinburgh, York, Doncaster, and Peterborough: sometimes getting there is all the fun.

London the long way 'round. Platform 1, King's Cross, after a 17-hour, 35-minute odyssey from one London station to another, via Edinburgh, York, Doncaster and Peterborough.

 continued here