This blog is focussed around my interests in Diesel and Electric locomotives and the modern rail freight scene. I particularly like the humble Class 08 and 09 Shunter and also anything with a pantograph, notably Class 86, 90 and 92 locomotives.

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This is my personal blog and as such, all views are those of myself and do not necessarily represent the views of my family, friends, or employers.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Hornby 2015

With starting a new job last month, the annual Hornby new releases announcement slipped my mind. This seems quite appropriate though, as the range seems somewhat forgettable this year. It seems to be another year for 'Steam Modellers' whilst the Diesel and Electric releases seem somewhat light.
In terms of  'all new' then Hornby have announced a Class 71 electric which should be available in 2016. This model of course had already announced several months back by DJ Models.

So whats good...

EWS Class 67's

It's been 2 years since Hornby released a 'Skip' in EWS livery. Sadly then the number chosen, 67001, was a loco that had since been painted into Arriva livery, therefore limiting it's period of operation. 67016 and 67024 are the choices this time around and they are certainly wise one's as both still carry the livery 15 years after introduction.

Class 08's in BR Blue and FGW Blue.

The Class 08 in BR Blue has been in short supply as of late, with both Hornby and Bachmann not having any available for sometime. Olivia's trains are likely to be pleased as well as they have suffered from the shortage of blue 08's for conversion in to Class 13's.

The FGW livery is a good choice as well, with plenty of rolling stock available to put this Gronk to use with.

Class 92 in EPS grey with EWS Beastie logo.

Perhaps the model is not up to today's standards in many ways, but the Hornby 92 isn't too bad a model and this livery choice is different but common.

Class 66 in Freightliner 'Powerhaul' livery.

Not a model I thought I'd ever recommend, the ex Lima Class 66 was a good model back in it's day. Totally eclipsed by the Bachmann model (which itself is far from perfect) released in 2005, the Lima model (which once commanded high prices on auction websites) seemed confined to the scrapheap. However with Bachmann slow to release liveries (no EWS/Freightliner 66's (Bread and Butter items) in it's latest catalogues, it is somewhat pleasing that Hornby have decided to produce this livery. It may not have today's modern features such as directional lighting and separately fitted parts, but the price of the item reflects this and offers great value for money.

Sentinel Shunters

Released last year, these small shunters have proved popular and have sparked an increase in small shunting/industrial layouts. Liveries such as Balfour Beatty and Wabtec will surely add to this.

Also pleased to see another Network Rail Class 31 appear, and although the real thing may be coming to the end of its Network Rail career in 2015, these models will provide years of pleasure for modellers. Network Rail items have generally always been strong sellers.

Not phased by the Bachmann's summer announcement of an all new Class 90 electric, the veteran Hornby tooling gets a run out in DB Schenker livery, and again I think this livery will sell well.

So whats missing?...

Class 60 in DB Schenker 'Traffic red' and Colas

The obvious omissions this year (at least for me) are no more obvious than Class 60 Diesels in both DB Schenker Red and Colas Rail Freight. Lets start with the DB example. DB Schenker is currently the UK's biggest rail freight operator and runs a large fleet of diesel and electric locomotives. Over the past couple of years it has invested heavily and put numerous Class 60's through heavy overhauls. The majority of these overhauled locomotives have been released in DB Schenkers 'Traffic Red' livery and is currently the most common livery on the active fleet. There is probably an argument for Hornby to have released a couple of different number options on this livery but I would have settled for at least 1 in this years catalogue.
Again, Colas have in 2014 become an operator of overhauled Class 60 locomotives and for modern day modellers would have seemed an obvious choice.


Where the hell is the Hornby Pendolino? Last released in a train pack about 5 years ago, it was offered both DCC ready and DCC fitted and flew off the shelves. Sure it has been released in a train set since, but people shouldn't have to fork out for a complete set when it seems perfectly obvious that Hornby would not struggle to sell them in a pack.

Class 56

Not a single one in the release programme this year. There are several liveries that could be produced still, Dutch and Transrail, two that stand out. In terms of liveries already produced, Romanian BR Blue Class 56's fetch silly prices on eBay so justification could have been given for another one. What is to come from last year is two versions of Colas Rail, one standard and one sound fitted. Also the long awaited BR large logo, on the wishlists of modellers for a few years. Despite the relatively high prices of these models, these should be popular releases for D+E modellers.

Cheap Electrics

I have to say that I believe Hornby are missing a trick slightly this year. It might sound mad to say, but I think the Hornby 86, 87 (ex Lima) and maybe a couple more versions of the 90 would have been a good move. What you have with the Hornby 86 for example is a model that is below todays standards, but has a price that reflects this. With Heljan seemingly not to give the model another run, the Hornby 86 has a market. A couple of years back, Hornby released 86637 in Freightliner Powerhaul livery (R3058) and priced around the £40 mark proved to be a good seller. From a personal point of view, a Freightliner grey liveried 86 (as far as I know never produced?) and another version of the Freightliner original green would be good.
The 90 is perhaps a bit more understandable, with the Bachmann version to be released in the near future you can understand Hornby perhaps not diving in. But again, with a relatively low RRP reflecting the limitations of the model, Hornby have a chance to produce liveries unlikely to be produced the Bachmann for a number of years at a reasonable price. Liveries off the top of my head include DRS, EWS, Freightliner Grey (again, never produced?) and RFD European.
Electrics have never perceived to be great sellers, but as I've said above, my own view is that at a reasonable price that reflects the standards of the models, there is a market there.

Intercity Swallow HST

Just saying.....


Well, every modeller is different, for some this will be a great range and seen as a good year, for others it wont. My own personal view is of disappointment. As I've pointed out, there are some good releases in there and I will certainly be buying a few of the items announced. My issues with the range are highlighted above, the omissions I have mentioned and just a general lack of 'va va voom'.

"Hopefully next year will be better...."

Monday, 12 January 2015

Warrington for Shunter Maintenance?

The first week of 2015 saw 08623 put on 'Transfer Status' on TOPS. Resident pilot at Hoo junction since arriving from Bescot in March 2014, it arrived at Arpley on a low loader. One of only 2 shunters that survived the short lived DB shunter cull of August 2014, it has joined the other original survivor, 09106. Originally thought to be replacing 09106 at Warrington, it has been said that the loco is actually here for a C exam.
The location has come as a bit of a surprise in some respects. The shed at Arpley seems kitted out for light maintenance but has also repaired and repainted their own shunters in recent years. But with increasing workloads at Crewe EMD and Toton, coupled with the recent demolitions of Bescot and Doncaster sheds (both being replaced with Arpley style Anderson shelter buildings) perhaps Warrington shouldn't be that much of a surprise. It will be interesting to see once repairs are complete, if 623 moves back to Hoo or whether it replaces another Gronk at a different location, DB usually utilising low loaders to drop off and then pick up another loco. In it's absence from Hoo, Class 66's will be used as 'Super Shunters' which is notable in itself as local manning agreements were the reason for retaining its 0-6-0 last summer.

With the railway now being run by accountants, budgets apparently wont stretch to D and E exams and a recent casualty of this is 08888 at Didcot, stored again at the end of December. The loco was only reinstated on 29th November but had come due a D exam which was not sanctioned. A decision needs to be made on the future of the shunting fleet. The trial of eliminating them proved predictably unsuccessful, with the mainline loco's deputising being pressed in to normal service leaving yards without a pilot and trains unformed. In recent times, the locos have been 'patched up' to keep costs down, time out of traffic down and most importantly to keep them running. Heavy overhauls are now needed on many examples and investing will be the only way to ensure reliability. DB seems to have a core fleet of around 10 in operational pools, perhaps the wise thing to do would be to invest in the 10? Spares are apparently getting hard to come by, however, with plenty of stored shunters in varying states around the country still on the books, DB does have options. As a shunter nut myself, I don't condone the stripping and scrapping of any loco however, if it means that several examples can live on for a number more years then it is for the greater good. Either way, a design from the 50's is still to be bettered and serious investment is needed.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

In Focus: 4L92 Ditton to Felixstowe

Fastly approaching their 50th birthday, Class 86 locomotives can still be found racing up and down the West Coast mainline. These electrics were introduced by British Rail in the 1960's following the various trials of Class 81-85 and become the standard electric locomotive. Reliable and versatile, they have adapted to every task put to them over the years. Today though, Freightliner Intermodal are the only operator of the Class on front line duties (in the UK at least). Several pairs of the locomotives are concentrated on the Coatbridge FLT in Glasgow to Crewe Basford Hall container services. There is though, one Northbound and one Southound service daily that operates on the GEML. Service 4M42 is the 22:08 Felixstowe North FLT to Garston FLT, South Liverpool. The other service, 4L92 is the 14:03 Ditton O'Connor/Stobart FLT to Felixstowe North FLT. The electrics only operate
to/from Ipswich where they are changed to/from diesel locomotives. The latter service will be the focus of a case study here, highlighting the different operational stages to get this train going.

As mentioned above, this is booked for Class 86 haulage. As of late, single Class 90's have been appearing on the service more frequently, as well as the occasional Class 66 or 70. I'm unsure exactly as to why there was a change from 86's for a short period, I assume it was down to poor availability of the Class for a period. Indeed this week, Freightliner are suffering poor availability of their Class 90 fleet. The fleet is 10 strong, and indeed as I type this, 50% of the fleet are out of service for exams/repairs.

My day starts at Garston FLT early on the morning of Monday 05/01/2015, waiting for the 4F64 service from Crewe Basford Hall. On a Monday, this service normally has a convoy of locomotives to get the weeks services started. It's a good way of getting locomotives shifted from A to B without using too many paths. Indeed this morning, the train is led by 90016, with 86632 and 86613 tucked inside as well as the train of containers. Garston has not had a dedicated Class 08/09 shunter for a number of years now, so the Class 90 is detached from the 86's and runs round the train, to shunt it in from the back. Before the 90 shunts, the 86's are detached, powered up and run in to the holding siding next to the FLT where they will remain for the morning. Stage 1 complete, getting the locomotives to Garston. On a Tuesday to Friday though, the locomotives arrive at Garston on the 4M42 return service from Felixstowe (from Ipswich) rather than arriving in convoy from Crewe. Barring failures or the need for exams, the same pair of locos normally stay on the service for the week.

Now, service 4L92 is a service that runs from Ditton, so this requires the locos to make the short trip from Garston FLT to Ditton Reception sidings. For this, the locos run light under headcode 0F72 leaving at around 13:14. With the trip only being around 7 miles, it is timetabled to take just 14 minutes.

Ditton FLT is not electrified, so the Electrics only run as far as Ditton Reception sidings. Similar to Garston, Ditton uses mainline diesels to do the shunting in the terminal and this is done by whatever Class 66 or 70 locomotive is on hand. With the 86's sitting in the sidings, the train is brought out today by 66504. One of only two UK Class 66's currently in Freightliner 'Powerhaul' livery, 66504 was the first recipient of the scheme. Originally released with an all silver buffer beam, the loco didn't look quite right.  66416 was painted in to the scheme in 2014 and had its buffer beam painted all black which sat better on the loco. 66504 was subsequently modified to this style when its next exam fell. I've been waiting to get 66504 in its modified scheme for some time, I had seen it on 2 previous occasions with its silver buffer beam.

To my delight, yesterday morning 504 was on the 4M45 Ipswich Yard to Ditton FLT arriving at around 12:00. The loco comes off the mainline at Ditton East Junction in to the Reception sidings and continues to the headshunt allowing the whole length of the train to fit in to the sidings. Then, the loco reverses back shunting its train in to the terminal. This was good news as well because it meant the likelihood was that this loco was then going to be the loco that brought 4L92 out. Sure enough, 66504 did perform the honours. I positioned myself at the headshunt, on some wasteland adjacent to it. Here the fence sits quite close to the line and despite having some overgrown weeds, can provide you with good picture opportunities up close to the locos. When the Shed arrived at the headshunt, the shunter uncouples it from the train and the driver swaps cabs. This is obviously because when the train leaves behind the 86's, the 'Super Shunter' then runs back in to the terminal. Later on, it will either run light to Crewe (if due maintenance) or form a south bound service, normally to Felixstowe.

As for the 90, 90016 returned to Crewe on the 4K64 service at midday, a solid 90 turn (when availability allows anyway)

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Return to Axiom Rail Stoke

On Friday the 02/01/2015 I revisited the Axiom Rail complex in Stoke to try and catch a glimpse of 08633. The veteran shunter was unexpectedly moved from Toton to the Staffordshire site back in October 2014. The move came as a surprise for several reasons. At the very end of August, DB withdrew all but 2 of their remaining Class 08/09 shunters in favour of using mainline locos for shunting/train forming. The loco had been in store at Toton and Stoke already had the reliable 08993 in use. As it happens, both shunters have remained at the site seemingly sharing the shunter duties, at least for now...

08633 was parked up outside the wheel shops next to the WCML whilst 08993 was nowhere to be seen, presumably locked up inside the shed.