Railway modelling miscellany

Layout with track back down

Railway modelling – a summer catch up (Part 1)

A layout refurbished

The summer to date has seen me getting back into active railway modelling. This was initially courtesy of sprucing up the train set I originally made for my daughters circa 1990 so that my grandsons could use it.  As a piece of modelling it is nothing spectacular, just a fun to operate circle and sidings, which will hopefully keep the boys interested in trains and modelling as they grow out of Brio.

Picture original layout
The train set as originally built (1989/90?). The legs, reused off an old coffee table, are even older.
Railway modelling in action - the layout with track back down
Relaid track down ready for boards to have some repainting done. Not doing badly for a 28 year old veteran.

A layout scrapped

Sadly however the summer also marked the end of my former Classic Train Set layout. The storage area used for it needs to go and without any, current, replacement area being available sadly it required dismantling. It had gone into storage originally not due to any lack of enthusiasm but because it was proving too cumbersome to move to/from exhibitions and once there, too bulky for easy assembly.

Image - part dismantled layout
Dismantling commenced on The Classic Train Set layout 15 July 2017.

As the picture above shows the final reason for its demise was the lack of anywhere at home, other than outside on the drive, as a place where it could be assembled for testing and operation. All track and other components have been saved and eventually a replacement will be built, as to timing – if/when by de-cluttering other stuff storage space for a new build can be found.

A new layout started

As described above working on refurbishing what over time had become Ellie’s layout for her two boys to use (my grandsons Ted and Matthew) has also rekindled my own interest in railway modelling. Finding the time to progress the new layout Plum Hollow (see last blog post) is, however, not proving as easy as making up my mind to start.

A layout – work in progress

The Pebbles End project will also get some more attention over the autumn and winter. Like Plum Hollow it is small enough to bring indoors to be worked on using our fold-up camping table and then put away again. Both layouts can also sit on the spare room bed in the periods between visitors coming to stay provided we keep a space free for them to go either out in to the garage or up in to the loft on a temporary basis when the beds are needed for sleeping!

Hobby burn-out

Pebbles End photo
Pebbles End at the MOMING event in 2011

With Pebbles End I learnt a valued lesson, even with something you enjoy as a hobby if you put too intense an effort into it you can become burnt out for that activity. Back in 2010 I had committed Pebbles End to the MOMING event to be held the following year and then, as consequence of unsuccessfully using too many experimental construction techniques, the build took much longer to complete than expected. The display was not of the standard I had hoped for and I became disillusioned with railway modelling as a constructor. This disappointment did not kill my interest in railways overall, only for railway modelling, but after completing the MOMING show visit the 85% completed project went into storage, and was not touched again for some time. My modelling mojo had been killed. When I eventually got over that and felt interested again in modelling I was surprised to discover that mental block on undertaking active model making had lasted five and half years!

An existing layout rediscovered

In a de-cluttering and tidying of the garage exercise recently undertaken I rediscovered the baseboards I built back in the 1990s for a layout that would have run completely around the inside of the garage. The proposed layout was to have been based on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) incline and Goathland station. The boards had actually been neatly stacked behind some other items and forgotten, not scrapped after all. Nothing has yet been done with them, nor is anything likely to be done with them in the immediate future (due to the space constraints mentioned above) but at least the baseboard build is one job saved on a future project. As for that NYMR proposal; I realised the track plan would have worked in the space available but only with use of train set curves – if I was going to put the time and effort into finishing it that a project of that size deserved those minimum curves were a compromise too far. With the benefit of hindsight the abandonment was a blessing in disguise, if I had progressed further I doubt it would have been completed.

Railways – a summer catch up (Part 2?)

The above concludes Part 1 of this summer catch up post but there will almost certainly be a second, and possibly even a third, instalment. On the research front it has been, and continues to be, a busy year and with visits to railway related venues too, there is undoubtedly more to come.

Last week I caught a train

Trains, the ticketing nightmare
Trains
Southbound Cl 185 Trans Pennine Express at Shipton by Beningbrough (Yorks). The acceptable side of train travel.
Southbound Cl 185 Trans Pennine Express at Shipton by Beningbrough (Yorks). The acceptable side of train travel.

Trains are an interest, last week I even rode on one just like that pictured above. For people who know me well, or sometimes visit this blog, that probably seems an obvious statement. I am PRO for a railway society (The SLS) and manage the website for two other rail related groups so train travel should be a norm. Unfortunately it isn’t, partly down to geography/available routes, and partly down to the nature of the rail industry today. This blog post is reflections on trying to actually plan/use the train to make three main-line trips from the major UK rail hub of York; for only one was the train actually usable!

Ticketing
Tickets and cards.
Tickets and cards.

It used to be easy, you turned up, you bought your ticket and got on the next train. These days each Train Operating Company (TOC) has its’ own range of discounts and options; woe betide the person who gets on a wrong train or thinks they can just buy one from the guard/ticket collector. On Friday I was 50:50 lucky, there was a very substantial discount to travel restricted to Trans Pennine Express but it meant leaving at a set time to get the last train back. Why was that only 50% lucky, the event over-ran so I missed the last few minutes.

Empty reservations

Even though I take advantage of it because it is there what is annoying to me as a passenger is the discount for advance payments. This is for two reasons, (1) the number of no-shows means reserved seats get left empty and (2) it is simply illogical from a passenger perspective. It may make wonderful commercial sense to travel providers, be they train or airline operators, but for the passenger it means the turn-up and go fare payer (where there is all the risk of no seats etc.,) pays the premium rate. The premium should be for the early booking guarantee of a seat. Why this observation; in my coach on Friday of the 10 reservation slips visible only 4 were actually occupied for the leg specified!

Parking and evening buses

Another issue that creates an issue for train choice is parking and lack of late evening buses. On top of the train fare you have the parking tax as the lack of evening buses means a car or taxi is needed to get you home, and if the journey is rural, that can be surprisingly early. A Park & Ride scheme is great, but useless for the inward journey if the car-park is locked after 8pm so you can’t get your car out even if you get a taxi back to the P&R site after the last bus.

Why do I write this? In a fortnight I want to go to an evening meeting. It is in a neighbouring town to York and the expected 9:40 to 10pm finish is hardly late! However, I will be staying over that weekend at a relative’s house and there is no public transport option back out of York to their village after 7pm, outcome will be a 90 mile round trip drive.

My experiences using Scotrail whilst on holiday earlier in the month were slightly better but these general principles still have validity for services north of the border too.

Seating and people types
A southbound Voyager near York
A southbound Voyager near York. The route I won’t be taking!

The final straw, to this cumulative disaster, is the Cross-Country Voyager train. My Saturday afternoon meeting in Derby shortly coming up has to be another 100 mile plus round trip car journey as everything conspires to make the train a non-starter. The first blow, no evening village bus home and the park and ride alternative would be touch and go for getting back on the last one, so dare not risk.  Car park fee at station -don’t ask! However even if I pay that fee the train has such jammed in seating that as a tall man I can only sit in First Class with a guarantee of getting enough leg room.

So another weekend another motorway journey, not from a lack of motivation to use public transport but because it isn’t available as a practical alternative.

Going back to that Friday trip last week, people watching sure is fun. What a mix. Outward it was fine despite the train being pretty full but another downer for evening travel are the parties of tipsy and drunk fellow travelers. Not fighting on this occasion but raucous and with hardly the most desirable language choice at times.

WCRC – update

34067 Tangmere at Weymouth 9 September 2015

WCRC – update

During the site update earlier tonight I noticed that the fact the operating suspension of WCRC has been lifted was not reported. Out of fairness to WCRC that omission is now rectified with this short post.  The earlier post is here.  The Crown Court and other proceedings remain live and no-comment is made regarding those other than it is believed from posts on Internet Fora they may be scheduled to commence tomorrow (27th June) at Swindon Crown Court.

The interim RAIB report is here.

 

WCRC suspended from running trains

WCRC diesel Upwey

WCRC – Legal constraints update

This legal constraints update is a follow up to my blog entry of 5th January this year regarding the West Coast Railway Company (WCRC).  At that time the company’s operations were under the spotlight due to the pending court case action arising from the Wootton Bassett incident of 7 March 2015.  That case is still proceeding and therefore although some aspects, for example the name of the driver involved, can now be reported many of the the legal constraints still apply.  The ORR report that the next hearing will be at the Swindon Crown Court on 18th March.

WCRC diesel at Weymouth
A WCRC Diesel locomotive at Weymouth 5th Sept 2015. Image: John New
West Coast Railway Company suspended.

In the earlier post an incident at Weymouth on 5th September was mentioned and as that has been an influence in another decision relating to WCRC, now published, further albeit cautious comment is appropriate.  The Office of Road and Rail (ORR) had been conducting a review during December and January of their competence to operate trains on the national network and their findings have led to a suspension notice being issued today.

Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways at ORR said:

“A decision to stop a train operator from running rail services is not taken lightly. However, my concerns about West Coast Railway Company’s lack of appreciation of the seriousness of a collective range of incidents over the last year, coupled with ORR’s concerns on the company’s governance, regrettably make this prohibition necessary. These failings create a significant risk to operations on the mainline network.

We want to encourage successful business operations on our railways and hope WCRC will be able to put in place steps to ensure fit and proper safety management with a view to resuming operations.  Our inspectors stand ready to work with the company to support and advise as it strengthens its approach to safety.”

The ORR website has a full copy of the letter sent to West Coast available for public reading and their website was also the source for the quotes included above.

The issues leading to the suspension

“The safety incidents involving WCRC over the past year include:

  • In June 2015, a WCRC train moved forward while preparing to leave Reading station, due to miscommunication between the guard and driver.
  • In September 2015, a WCRC train collided with the buffers at Weymouth, In September 2015, ORR inspectors found WCRC’s safety risk assessments for operating steam trains were out of date and that, even so, WCRC staff were not aware of their existence.
  • In October 2015, staff on a WCRC train near Doncaster turned off its Train Protection and Warning System isolation equipment, designed to apply an emergency brake if the driver makes an error.”

The quote above is from the ORR website.

The suspension in context

As West Coast are the leading provider of the crews to operate steam hauled excursions on the mainline network this suspension will leave a serious hole for the short term in the ability of tour companies to run trains. However, this does not only affect steam tours; West Coast are also the supplier of locomotives and crews for a variety of other services too including maintenance services for Network Rail.

This suspension will not totally stop all mainline steam locomotive operations as an alternative Train Operating Company (DB Schenker) also has a licence to operate steam tours. However, DBS do not currently contract to do as many and only time will tell if they have the desire and/or capacity in appropriately qualified staff to fill this (hopefully) short term void.

This suspension will, undoubtedly, have a knock on effect therefore beyond the immediate, and direct, impact on West Coast Railway Company.  We have to hope for the tourist industry’s sake that this company can sort out these ORR identified issues quickly and create the long-term safety culture, which is apparently lacking currently.

The good news to emerge is that it is at least only a repeat suspension, not a complete withdrawal of the ability to operate, there is a light visible at the end of the tunnel if the right steps are taken.

A WCRC run steam hauled rail tour
A WCRC crewed tour. 70013 near Weymouth. Image: John New.

For the sake of all concerned let us hope scenes like the one above will not be absent from the rail tour scene for long.

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Research facts – story spoilers

Primary research I have carried out suggests that journalistic staples in the Christmas build up differ from reality. Recently on Storify I published two posts, the first outlining how journalists predicted Christmas rail misery, and the second describing how shopper behaviour impacts on retailers.  In the background, I also posted two research questionnaires  surrounding those same topics.  The feedback from those is now available and suggests that citizens are in fact street-savvy, and old preconceptions require modification.  The old quote, often attributed to Mark Twain, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”, is, in this instance, perhaps being proven correct.

Rail engineering – predicted travel chaos
Research shows track maintenance accepted - photo of equipment.
Track maintenance equipment Image: John New

As identified in my earlier Storify post, chaos has in the past occurred when works have overrun, therefore some elements of the journalists predictions have validity.  This post, however, challenge to the regularly promoted expectation that travellers resent the large scale rail closures over holiday periods.  Primary research in fact suggests that travellers think holiday closures are, perhaps, the least troublesome option.

[infogram id=”rail_closure_survey”]

Those responding to the question “No they were not aware there were likely to be closures” were asked to select from five options as to the reason for their lack of awareness. However, the no response was so low that the individual answers to that question are statistically of little value. The major surprise from the survey, given that there had been considerable mainstream news coverage (in particular regarding temporary replacement of the services to Heathrow and Gatwick airports), was that there were still 10% who responded that they were unaware of such closures.

A deserted London Waterloo. Image: John New
A deserted London Waterloo. Image: John New
What shoppers think of Christmas retailing

As an independent blogger, a survey will never match the accuracy of nationwide sampling by specialists such as  IPSOS-MORI, but that does not negate its use.  My own survey was to ascertain consumer attitudes to the early arrival of Christmas in retail outlets, and whether that conflicts with the standard journalistic coverage of retailers’ announcements regarding Christmas.

What the survey showed is that, whilst shoppers feel it is OK to be able to buy Christmas goods in store at an early date, there is resentment at the modern trend for getting the rest of the Christmas trappings into stores at such early dates.

[infogram id=”christmasnew_year_retail_survery_20156″]

The fact that consumers are buying early to spread the Christmas spend over a longer period also makes a mockery of articles published quoting from retailers’ press releases regarding their poor Christmas build up.  If customers previously spent £x in December, but now spread that £x budget over September to December, the spend is the same, merely to a new pattern.  The reality may well be that by spreading the purchase time the actual spend by consumers is now £x+n. There is perhaps a situation where not only have retailers had their cake and eaten most of it, they are also anticipating delivery of a second cake!

What also emerges from the survey is that the New Year sales are perhaps no longer the big draw for consumers that retailers previously expected, as only 24.4% of respondents had deliberately withheld making a purchase until the post-Christmas sales period.  Perhaps therefore the mainstream media outlets are missing the deeper story.  When retailers release their New Year comments on the sales, journalists should perhaps be asking why are you bothering with a sale?  The January sales were, after all, originally primarily to shift winter stock to make room for the new spring ranges, not as the profit centres retailers now expect them to be.

The survey, however, does confirm that where consumers have access to the internet they are highly likely to purchase gifts on-line, including vouchers, so that the recipient will also spend on-line.

About the research

Both surveys  remain live via Google Forms, although it is unlikely that either will receive significant additional input.  The rail survey received a reasonable response rate at the original survey date, the retailing questionnaire required a further request for completion.  The retailing question regarding on-line shopping is skewed in favour of a yes answer as it was conducted on-line.  For this reason therefore, perhaps the most significant aspect is that around 9% of the respondents did not buy a gift on-line despite being IT users with internet access.

What this small research element identified is that when the 2016-17 Christmas build up occurs, the real news stories should be around changing shopping habits, not the retailers spin on short-term sales figures.

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Legal constraints on blogging

34067 Tangmere at Weymouth 9 September 2015

Legal constraints on railway bloggers

Legal constraints do not often come to mind when writing about railway matters. I am a transport historian with an interest also in modern railways.  The law rarely impacts on that interest.  Although transport photographers have occasionally had issues over interpretation of photography rights by heavy handed security officers, and there is an obvious need to follow access and trespass guidelines, generally the law is unobtrusive.  This year that has changed.

34067 Tangmere – Wootton Bassett and legal constraints

34067 Tangmere at Weymouth 9 September 2015
34067 Tangmere at Weymouth 9 September 2015 Image John New

It remains possible to talk about this locomotive in general terms and to share photographs like the one above.  It also remains possible to mention that it is operated by the West Coast Railway Company (WCRC).  However during 2013 and 2015 the combination were involved in incidents one of which is now subject to a pending court case.  The debate on the Wootton Bassett incident of 7 March 2015 is therefore now sub judice.  This court case means there are now legal constraints on what can be debated and blogged about regarding WCRC.  As a result of that I am only including the link to the public Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) page with regard to background on the matter.  The incident was heavily debated on national rail forums previously and also covered by BBC News until the related court cases were announced; however, nothing can now be added.

34067 Tangmere – Winchfield and Weymouth

Whether open debate on two other incidents involving the locomotive and WCRC is possible may now also be questionable, hence my mentioning only facts and reports.

The first was in November 2013 when a maintenance issue led to a very serious incident of equipment failure at Winchfield.  The RAIB report has now been published, and no prosecutions have been announced.

The second was at Weymouth when some internet forum reports suggest Tangmere was apparently allowed to hit the buffers on 5th September 2015.  That something did hit the buffers and move them is undeniable, as identified by the scrape mark visible in the photograph below taken four days later. The RAIB website has been checked and this incident is not on the currently under investigation list.  It appears therefore that there are no legal constraints arising due to possible court action on either of these specific incidents. Despite that, there must still be a grey area for bloggers. Can we currently debate the competence of WCRC?  This arises as an assessment of their competence will arguably form a key part of the forthcoming court cases arising from the 7th March incident.  I have chosen not to take the risk, only adding links to previously published facts and showing my own photograph of the publicly visible trace evidence.

Photo of the buffers at Weymouth showing the scrape mark from impact. Image: John New.
The buffers at Weymouth showing the scrape mark from impact. Image: John New.

Reports of disappearing society funds.

As I was preparing this post another grey area case came to light via an internet forum post.  A name was mentioned for an individual leaving a society, together with reports of a police investigation into a substantial shortfall in the funds.  In the absence of information regarding whether any arrests have been made etc., not something to debate further as it would be too easy to accidentally mention issues that have subsequently become sub judice.

As bloggers we know that fraud has happened before, for example in this 2010 case in Wimborne, but we also know that honest individuals do resign when money is found to have gone missing on their watch.  The clear difference between the current and the former scenario is that the Wimborne situation is now closed and can be debated openly, the contemporary one, arguably, should not.

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