My trip began on the evening of Sunday 8th March at Warrington Bank Quay station. I had decided to do it so that I travelled down to London to spend the following day there and to get some mileage behind 90's on the GEML to Norwich. This meant that I had to get up to Glasgow Central to catch the 23:15 departure down to London Euston. Virgin Pendolino 390137 on the 18:18 service to Glasgow Central was to get me up there. This unit carries a bizarre nameplate of 'Virgin Difference', I mean what is that all about? I've never paid much attention as such to the name plates (or the pendolinos themselves) since they were introduced but having looked at some of the other names listed online for the 390's it's just utter nonsense, its probably as mad as the RES names applied to a large number of Class 47's in the 90's. Anyways, the trip up to Scotland was rather uneventful, with it dark outside there wasn't a lot to see. Whilst they might carry silly names, there is no doubt the Pendolinos have revolutionised travel on the West Coast. They also may not run at the 140mph initially intended, but even at 125mph, they have sped up journey times to and from London impressively. The reliability of these units as well is impressive, especially considering the sheer amount of mileage done on a weekly basis. However, one area were they truly do not compare to the Mark 3 carriages they replaced is passenger comfort. The layout inside the coaches is cramped, with seats not all lining up with windows. The Mark 3 coach is considered probably the best passenger coach ever made and indeed they are still used down on the GEML on front line Intercity services. With some stock refurbished to include power sockets and wifi, its hard to see what advantage the Pendolino has inside. Anyways, trying not go get bogged down in all of that, the train arrived at Glasgow 5 mins late.
I had a bit of a gap in between arriving and the sleeper train leaving, so headed for a pint. I'm not really into 'Livery Froth' as such and would have been happy as long as a 90 turned up. Saying all of that, I have struggled to see and photograph DB 'Traffic Red' liveried Class 90's so did kind of hope it would be one of those. Shown in Scotland that evening, 90029 was a possibility. Ultimately this wasn't to be as 90024 carrying 'First Scotrail' livery brought the ECS in from Polmadie. This loco was just used to get the stock to Glasgow and was detached from the train upon arrival, as EWS liveried 90035 was on the rear (which was now the front of the train) and was this evenings loco to London. After the sleepers departure from Glasgow, 90024 would run light engine to Mossend Yard.
90035, as mentioned above, carries the remnants of EWS livery. Having carried these colours for a number of years its starting to look rather tatty. But whilst externally it may not be great, internally where it counts, the loco appears sound. The service left on time at 23:15, gingerly making its way out of the Glasgow area. A little after half an hour later and the service arrived at Carstairs and here, the sleeper service from Edinburgh was joined to the train to head down south. The train was approx 4 minutes late leaving Carstairs and was behind schedule by the same amount of time up until Preston, in which case an early departure allowed it to be at one point 15 mins ahead of schedule. The service is routed via the WCML and after Stafford is routed via Birmingham and Coventry before emerging again at Rugby. At this point the service was again approx 10 mins early, something it held on to until arriving at London Euston at just after 06:30. All in all it was a pretty solid performance by the Skoda. Upon arrival at Euston the service awaits a light loco to arrive from Wembley Yard to haul the train to Wembley depot for stabling/servicing ahead of that evenings return up north. In this case 'Royal' Class 67 no 67005 ran light to perform this duty. A few years ago I was stalked by both the 'Royal' locos 67005/6 seeing either of them wherever I went. In the past couple of years I hadn't seen them as much. However, in the case of 67005, after seeing this loco at Warrington Bank Quay (coincidentally along with 90035 on a tour from Newcastle to Wembley on Saturday 07/03/2015) it was a case of twice in 48 hours, normal service resumed?
Being at Euston at that time in the morning also gave me the opportunity to photo the sleeper train down from Inverness and Aberdeen which was due in at 07:46 and arrived on time in the capable hands of 90028.
Now, with a little over 12 hours before my departure back up North, what to do with myself. The London rail scene offers so much variety with so many terminus and so many different classes to see. However with plentiful DMU/EMU classes on offer, my main intention was to get over to Liverpool St and get some mileage behind the Class 90's on the GEML on the line to Norwich. Regular loco haulage is relatively rare nowadays, but this Intercity service is scheduled for loco haulage with approx 11 sets out daily. Loco haulage seems to be slowly coming back in to fashion, with capacity issues and a shortage of units, passenger TOCS are turning to hiring in locos and stock. FOC's such as DBS and DRS have benefitted from this greatly with customers such as Abellio Greater Anglia, Arriva Trains Wales, Chiltern Railways and Northern Rail, hiring in locos and coaches.
In the case of Abellio Greater Anglia who operate the Anglia franchise, they currently hire a pair of Class 47's with coaches from DRS which top and tail the 'Short set' workings from Norwich to Great Yarmouth in place of DMU's which are away for repair/non existent. I'd booked my train from Liverpool St to Norwich as it had cost the same in advance to book to there or Ipswich. Now I would continue to Norwich if the short set was out or if the DRS Class 37's, which are shortly to take over from the 47's on the short set, were out on driver training. Sadly neither was the case on the day with only 1 serviceable 47 at Crown point and the 37's that had been at Norwich on their way back to Crewe for repairs. With this, and the not perfect for photos layout of Norwich station, I decided to get off at Ipswich. As Alan Partridge once said about Norwich, "There really isn't anything else to do around here". Joking aside, Ipswich whilst offering half hourly Class 90s in each direction has an interesting freight scene and the Freightliner yard adjacent to the station so it was a no brainer.
Waiting at Liverpool St I was booked on the 09:30 departure. Sadly this service was delayed arriving in to London. In the end the decision was making to have a quick turnaround, to scrap the usual onboard clean prior to boarding and to leave the refreshments top up, ultimately ensuring we left only 11 minutes down. Class 90 90003 which carries former National Express silver/white livery with Abellio branding was on the London end of the set meaning that it would be pushing to Norwich. I'd forgotten just what it was like to be pushed at 100mph by a locomotive led by a DVT. The performance of the loco was fantastic, by Colchester it had made up 5 minutes, which considering the busy route out of London was good going. The route itself is underrated for me, immediately leaving Liverpool st then you are soon passing Stratford Station and the Olympic stadium. What I love about London is the classic high rise building/flats,, the lines snaking there way though them. Slightly further afield and you hit fantastic countryside and some fine views. I was fortunate to have a day under the sunshine which also makes everything look 100% better. There are plenty of level crossings along this line, which from a rail photographers point of view offers some great opportunities. By arrival at Ipswich we'd slipped slightly and were now 8 mins behind. As soon as I alighted the train, the familiar face of a Freightliner Grey Class 90, 90043 could be seen in the distance awaiting clearance to pass through the station with a northbound container service which it had just been put on the front of at Ipswich Yard. Freightliner electrics work to/from Ipswich as the Felixstowe terminal is not electrified. No sooner had 90043 passed through, then another Grey 90, 90048 passed through with another northbound service. If the first 10 mins or so were anything to go by, then the 4 hours or so I had here were sure to be busy!
Ipswich Freightliner yard was fairly busy with several locos on site. the highlights for me being Powerhaul liveried 66416 and 90042. 90042 is a loco that has finally settled down to some reliability after being reinstated after a major overhaul last year. The loco is still gleaming in its Powerhaul scheme, and really looks the business. Since returning to use, the loco eluded me and I had to wait along time to be in the right place at the right time. This wasn't helped with several long spells out of traffic with warranty repairs as it suffered teething problems. Its last spell out of traffic was November-January in which repairs were reported to be in relation to electrical problems. Since release in January the loco appears to have settled in to a normal routine with stops only being for scheduled exams. Indeed as of late, I can't seem to shift the loco with it making regular appearances on services to/from Garston.
Over in the sidings on the other side of the station, veteran Class 86's 86612+86638 sat awaiting an incoming service from Felixstowe in which they would take forward to Trafford Park. Eventually they passed through the station at about 12:50
Another interesting loco to pass through the station was GBRf Class 66 66751. This loco is an ex German spec loco previously operated by Rush Rail in Germany. The loco has been heavily modified to operate in the UK and is the first of the five imported European 66's to be painted in to full GBRf Europorte livery.
66416 was stabled in the sidings and was used to run light to Felixstowe to form a service later on. The yard itself is like an ongoing conveyor belt of locos arriving in to the yard for fuelling then stabling before later working back out. In the case of the diesels most run back to Felixstowe at some point. There is also a siding where light maintenance can be undertaken, and on this day 70020/70014 were receiving fitters attention.
As interesting as the Freightliner yard was, I had come here to see the Abellio 90's on front line services. These were cascaded from the Virgin West Coast franchise back in 2004, replacing older Class 86's, when the Pendolino units started to come on stream. As well as the locos, there was a gradual upgrade of the coaching stock with Virgin Mk3 stock (including DVT's) replacing Mark 2 and DBSO carriages. The transition was rocky, with the 90's pressed straight into service and the reliability was poor. So much so that some Class 86's were retained to work alongside the 90's. Ultimately things settled down and tied in with the hiring in of 90's from freight operators, this allowed the complete withdrawal of Anglia 86's in September 2005.
So, back to the 90's, with franchise being passed over to Abellio in 2012 from National Express (previously 'ONE') there are three different liveries currently carried by the class. Firstly, there is the stripped back 'ONE' livery that has seen the rainbow stripes removed from the doors/cab sides as well as the branding, leaving the locos in base blue with a white stripe and a thicker black stripe over the grilles. The second livery is National Express Silver/White with Abellio Greater Anglia branding. And the third is the current livery of the franchise which is mostly white with black. The coaching stock again carries these different themes and you can get some interesting, if not tatty, combinations.
The services to/from London are run on a 30 minute frequency meaning that you can expect to see four 90's an hour, two in each direction.
Locos noted in use on the day included, 90001/3/4/5/6/7/8/10/13
Class 47810 owned by DRS was running light engine from Willesden Brent sidings to Norwich Crown Point depot to work on the short set workings. The loco only lasted a day by all accounts and was on its way back to Crewe, along with 47818 behind 37604 on Wednesday. Not sure what that was all about...
The journey back to London was in the capable hands of depot mascot 90001 'Crown Point' a name previously carried by 86237, the last 86 to be used by ONE in 2005. The loco carries the current Abellio White/Black/Grey scheme and looks quite smart. What was even better was that the coaching stock behind it was the majority of the former 'Pretendolino' stock that has been hired after Virgin had returned it to Porterbrook at the end of 2014. Some coaches and the DVT have been taken off and mixed in with other sets, but the bulk of the former WB64 set remain. The name WB64 comes from a combination of WB for Wembley, the depot the stock used to be based at, and the 64 actually refers to West Ham's FA Cup win against Preston in 1964! The stock, now allocated to Norwich Crown point is referred to as NC64. The journey back to London was faultless, with 90001 putting in quite a shift up top.
After arrival back in London I had a couple of hours left before my Pendolino back up North. I had a couple of things I wanted to do. Firstly I jumped the tube to London Marylebone to hopefully see more loco haulage in the form of a Class 67 or 68 on Chiltern Railways workings. I was not disappointed, as the 17:50 departure to Banbury was in the hands of Direct Rail Services 68008 'Avenger' a blue one rather than the more usual silver! These locos have quite a cult following, and I must admit for a new loco I'm really rather fond of them. Their appearance is sleek, modern and purposeful. The noise out of them is ridiculous (and that in this case is a good thing!) and the acceleration for a diesel loco is impressive. Indeed there were a few bashers out for this one, positioning themselves in the front coach behind the 'Cat'.
Another personal objective was to get over to London Kings Cross, as the East Coast franchise passed over the Virgin just a week before. This has meant that we currently have the former East Coast livery, an interim East Coast base with Virgin Logos and even a couple of sets in full Virgin East Coast colours. Indeed upon arrival, one of the two sets currently in the new full Virgin scheme was sat at the platform, the loco at the helm being 91124. Also present still in full former East Coast colours was 91116 and interim liveried 91119.
So after having travelled to London on a Mark 3 coach behind a loco, and travelling east and back in the same fashion, I felt kind of short changed on the Pendolino back home. Still, this was a very successful trip and one that I regret not having done before. With the 90's on the Anglia circuit currently being put through heavy overhauls, they are likely to be around for some time yet. I plan to head back down in the summer and try and tie in some more 90 haulage with the Class 47's (more likely to be 37's by then) on the drags. Booking in advance made this trip relatively inexpensive, even the free upgrade to a bed on the sleeper was unexpected.