Jack May's Trip to Gre\t Britain and Germany

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  • Member since
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Jack May's Trip to Gre\t Britain and Germany
Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, April 08, 2018 5:53 AM
Thanks to those who inquired about Clare's recovery after they read about her accident in the final episode of my previous report, and to those who encouraged me to continue writing about my travels.  Many other recipients also wrote to me with questions or corrections to particular portions of the reports, and sometimes just comments.  I hope you will enjoy this next series.


Clare's accident in Kiev during June put a dent into our plans for a trip two months later to the Baltic countries with a different German electric traction group.  We were going to join the VDVA (Verband Deutscher Verkehrs-Amateure)

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on a tour that would cover all three cities in Latvia that have tramways, plus Tallinn, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland.  We had signed up for it, but it had become clear that Clare was in no condition for further traveling, nor was she enthused about another tour with a bunch of rail enthusiasts.  Fortunately we hadn't made our air reservations for that trip.

On the other hand, Clare was improving rapidly, and she had a great group of friends and relatives supporting her and keeping her busy, so she urged me to find a replacement for her and go on the trip anyway.  I ended up doing just that, traveling and rooming with Karl-Heinz Roeber, who Clare and I met on the Intra-Express tour of North Africa some years ago, and again saw in Ukraine on our previous trip.  I had originally planned to meet Clare in Riga (she would have flown directly to there from the U. S.), after I first traveled to various cities with tramways in Hungary on my own.  She suggested I continue with those plans, but I replaced Hungary with England when I found some incredibly low air fares to the British Isles. 

Norwegian Air Shuttle was introducing non-stop service to Edinburgh from Stewart Airport, which is located on the west side of the Hudson River about 60 miles north of both New York City and our home in Montclair, N. J.  The fare was $109 one way.  With Ryanair charging a measly $25 to continue to Riga from East Midland Airport in northern England (near the light rail cities of Notthingham, Birmingham and Sheffield), I decided to travel through that area by rail to visit the tramways in the region, and I even added the Isle of Man to the itinerary (attached).  Lastly, Karl-Heinz indicated that the cheapest way for him to return home was to fly from Stockholm to Dusseldorf, and since Norwegian had a very low air fare from the capital of Sweden to JFK, we both decided to add Stockholm to our itineraries after the formal part of the traction tour ended in Helsinki.  Thus the trip stretched to almost 3 weeks.

I had to rush to make rail reservations, as fares in Britain are very high unless you buy tickets way ahead of time.  But the downside of these "Advance" purchases is that they are valid only for specific trains on specific dates, and are neither changeable nor refundable.  But I decided I could live with that, as the savings were significant and I didn't see why I couldn't meet the requirements.  And that was very easy to accomplish as the "National Rail Enquiries" website is very user-friendly and easy to navigate.  My credit card was debited the amount for each ticket and the software also allowed me to buy a discounted day pass for transit in each city on my itinerary (if I wanted to--I did for Sheffield).  When it was time to travel all I would have to do is insert my credit card into a station fare vending machine (similar to an ATM) and key in a code, and out would pop the ticket(s).  It worked perfectly. 

But I did suffer one glitch, during the reservation process.  When I was transferred to the Virgin Trains website while making my Advance rate purchase from Edinburgh to Blackpool for August 14, I added a ticket from that city to Manchester for the next day.  But I made a mistake and entered August 14 instead of the 15th.  As a result the ticket I purchased from the site had me arriving in Blackpool after I would leave there for Manchester, an impossible itinerary.  I noticed it almost immediately after I printed out the confirmation, and so I sent an email, using the form Virigin Trains provided on its site.  I don't have a copy of exactly what I wrote (as it didn't appear in my "Sent Box" because I used their form), but I think you get the gist.  After several back-and-forths, they still refused to change the date of the Blackpool-Manchester portion or to refund the ticket, even though their computer program issued a ticket that was inherently flawed.  I finally had to call them on the telephone, and at that point they admitted their software should not have allowed the ticket to be issued, and refunded its cost to me.  I then made the correct reservation (at the same rate).  All's well that ends well.

I also found it easy to make hotel reservations for both before and after the tour, as shown in the first attachment.  I soon distributed my itinerary to various friends in Great Britain with invitations to meet me, and found that as many as three railfans would accompany me for six of the days I would spend in the British Isles, and so there was no chance for me to become lonely.

Now all I had to do is purchase my film and pack.

Sunday, August 13.
  On getaway day Clare drove me up to Stewart and we had dinner en route, as meals are an added expense to unbundled Norwegian air fares.  Sue Craig, wife of the late Phil Craig, actually joined us at our favorite Chinese restaurant in Wayne, N. J., and at about 19:00, we continued driving northward while Sue returned to Montclair.  We did not encounter too much traffic as we were going opposite to the predominant flow of cars and people heading home from upstate and the Catskills at the end of this summer weekend.

Clare dropped me at the door of the rather austere Stewart Airport at 19:55 and I joined a long line of travelers, as an express bus from New York City had begun unloading just before we pulled to a stop.  Nevertheless, the check-in line moved reasonably quickly, as did the makeshift security screening, and I was at the gate by 20:40.  The arrivals board had indicated that the aircraft had landed at 20:13, and boarding for the 21:25 flight began at 20:55.  I was placed in window seat 23A in the typical 3-and-3 arrangement of a Boeing 737
(selecting your seat ahead of time is also an added expense on Norwegian).  The flight was about ¾ full and the leg room was quite adequate.  The aircraft pushed away from the gate at 21:32 (25) and left the ground at 21:42.  Meals and drinks were sold and served to those that had pre-ordered them in an efficient manner, the lights were turned off, and the flight was uneventful.  I woke up at around 2:00 and saw a beautiful sunrise. 


Dawn from my window seat on Norwegian's Boeing 737.  This was the last time I saw the sun for 24 hours.


Monday, August 14.  On our descent we passed through thick clouds and it was pouring rain when we hit the tarmac at 8:52.  We rolled to a stop at 9:00 (9:25) in an area that seemed miles away from the terminal and were then taken by bus to immigration, which I negotiated easily.  The tramway station is a bit of a walk from the international terminal, but fortunately the way was all covered, protecting me and other travelers from the barrage of various small animals bouncing off the ground.  Oddly enough (but maybe not so odd), the express bus to downtown Edinburgh was loading from a much more convenient location.

John Hayward from Burgess Hill, a town about 40 miles south of London, was coming up to join me for a day's outing on Edinburgh's trams, and he arrived at the platform at 9:45, almost exactly when I did. We first walked over to the tramway's information center and waiting room, which is inside the original mock-up of the vehicle.  It had been displayed in various locations in the city during the project's early stages, mostly to provide information to the public and garner support.  Being inside also kept us and our baggage out of the downpour and
I was able to buy a day-ticket for 9 pounds from a fare vending machine using my credit card.  The machines take only credit/debit cards and coins (no bills), and do not provide change.  (From here on in, I'll use the internationally accepted abbreviation, GBP, for pounds, which cost approximately $1.40 each--or in another terminology, sell at a premium of 40 percent.)




Above and below:  Two views at the Edinburgh Airport terminal of the tramway.  The top photo shows the mock-up built to educate the public prior to the line's construction, which has since been repurposed (only slightly) as a lounge, while the lower one shows a CAF tram on the scissors crossover leading into the stub-ended center platform station.  Note the "no pedestrians beyond this point" signs and that the line operates left handed.



Before describing our day, here are some salient facts about Edinburgh and its new tramway.  The origin of the city itself dates to ancient times, but the name that morphed into Edinburgh was applied by King David of Scotland in the 12th century.  The "burg" or fortress was first portrayed as Scotland's capital some 200 years later.  As Scotland's second largest city, with a population of about 500,000 (similar to Minneapolis), it is surpassed only by Glasgow, with slightly more than double the number of residents.  Scotland itself, occupying the northern portion of Great Britain, consists of but 30,000 square miles (almost as much as South Carolina) and contains a population of just under 5.4 million (in the ballpark of Minnesota).  The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is very tourist oriented, much like Washington, D. C., with many governmental buildings, historic structures and museums.  It is dominated by Edinburgh Castle, towering above the city on Castle Rock.  There are many arts and music festivals in the summer, and often a shortage of hotel rooms for the huge number of visitors.  The Edinburgh International Festival, a series of performances from the world of music, theater and dance, was in full swing this past August and that is why I did not stay in Edinburgh overnight, as hotel prices were incredibly scarce and high.  I would spend my first night in Blackpool. 

The modern light rail system in Edinburgh dates back to May 31, 2014, some 58 years after the last double-deck car ran on the city's legacy tramway.  It is 8
½ miles long, and runs from the airport to the city center.  A fleet of 27 CAF Urbos 3 low-floor cars operates on 7- to 10-minute headways.  The 7-section double-ended cars are 140 feet long and make 16 stops on their 37-minute trip, with three being adjacent to ScotRail stations for easy connections to the railway system.  It's a spit-and-polish operation, with the cars moving quite fast between stops for the most part.  The section west of the city center is on reserved track with protected grade crossings, while the slower portion in the built-up city center (5 stations) is in pavement, separated from motor traffic by curbing, with the tramway's signals being coordinated with traffic lights.  The line operates on new, attractive reserved track from the airport for the first 6 stations, twisting through fields and open land for the equivalent of 5 right-angle turns in a general southeastly direction to the Edinburgh Park stop, where it begins running eastward parallel to the Glasgow-Edinburgh mainline, but not actually on the railroad's right-of-way (see http://www.urbanrail.net/eu/uk/edin/edinburgh.htm for a map).  It reaches the city center 5 stations later at Haymarket, where it begins running in the center of streets, albeit segregated from motor traffic.  There are four more stops, with two on Princes Street, Edinburgh's principal shopping artery, where a large number of transit buses also operate.  In fact, much of Princes Street is open only to trams, buses and taxis, and the south side of the street borders on a park leading to and affording views of stately Edinburgh Castle and other historic buildings.  Then the line makes a sharp turn to the north and again to the east, to finally terminate at York Place.

The line had to contend with a great deal of controversy starting immediately after the inception of its planning, and finally came in both late and way over budget.  As a result, certain parts of the original plan had to be scrapped, but it seems now that there may well be a 3-mile, 8-station northeastern extension to Leith and Newhaven (on the Firth of Forth), because of the line's great success (ridership was 6.6 million in 2017).  See https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/transport/work-to-extend-edinburgh-trams-to-leith-could-start-in-2019-1-4525948.

Fares and their collection are also a bit complicated and have been somewhat controversial.  The fare system is integrated with the local bus system, Lothian Buses (GBP 1.70 one way and GBP 4 for a day ticket), but only as far as Ingliston Park-and-Ride, the last station prior to the airport.  The cost of traveling to and from the airport is sharply higher, GBP 6 one-way and GBP 9 for a day ticket.  This protects the slightly faster airport express bus, which charges only GBP 4.50, and as a result, much traffic has been diverted to the rubber-tired line.  Interestingly, one of the things that John and I observed were airport passengers rolling their baggage to the Ingliston station in order to avoid paying the surcharge (they didn't do it during the morning's inclement weather, but later we witnessed it once the precipitation let up a bit). 

The trams are operated with both a driver and a conductor, the latter checking tickets and answering questions.  If a passenger doesn't have a valid ticket when he is approached, the fare becomes GBP 10.  This is not portrayed as a Proof-of-Payment type fine, but officially as the "on-board fare."  At times we observed a third employee on board, also checking tickets.  He may have been some sort of auditor to keep the conductor in line, or just present to help out between high-volume stations--I really don't know.  Despite the large number of on-board personnel, it has been stated that the trams actually made money during 2017, with revenues exceeding operating costs.

Now to the narrative.  John and I didn't worry about the rain at the start of our journey, as we had planned to travel straight through to the next-to-the-last station, St. Andrew Square, the location of Edinburgh's bus terminal, where the price of a locker rental to store luggage is much lower than at the left luggage in the railroad station (GBP 12 per item for up to 24 hours--more than $30 since I also had what the airlines call a "personal item"). 
I certainly didn't want to be burdened by my bags for the day's activities--I mused that I could rent a car for the amount of the railroad station's left luggage charge for just the purpose of storing my bags!  As it turned out, thanks to John's advice I ended up paying only GBP 6.50 for enough locker space to stow my two items for under 12 hours. 

This ride, of course, gave me the opportunity to inspect the line and make some initial judgments, which included a recognition of how fast, smooth and comfortable the ride is.  I wondered how long, with this new, excellent mode of transportation, the line's surroundings will remain "green" before its population substantially shifts from 4-legged to 2-legged, with the current preponderance of grazing sheep and cows being replaced by the inhabitants of new residential developments.


Housekeeping accomplished (plus a stop to freshen up), we left the protection of the building and found it was still pouring.  Nevertheless we walked to the end of the line at York Place (one more stop), which was not too onerous, albeit a bit windy, and grabbed some photos.  Looking at the sky, we saw some brightness to the west, and decided to ride all the way back to Ingliston Park and Ride, before resuming our photography.


A tram approaches the York Place terminal in the center of Edinburgh.  Trams turn on a single track, but it is expected that the line will be extended further to Leith and Newhaven.  Low curbs protect the right-of-way from motor traffic along York Place and other streets in the city center.

By the time we reached Ingliston the rain had slowed to a drizzle, for which we were thankful, and were able to take some photos looking toward the curved right-of-way leading to the airport.


An inbound tram is about to take the curve leading into the Ingliston Park-and-Ride station, from which this photo was taken.  Its parking lot was filled, as this is the first station beyond the extra-fare Airport terminal.  The airfield's traffic control tower looms in the background.


We then began to work our way back toward Edinburgh's downtown, stopping here and there for photos, and eventually taking a bit of lunch at Morrisons, a large supermarket in a mall adjacent to the Gyle Center stop.  I was rapidly using up the supply of British currency I brought with me and upon John's cautioning advice, I was loath to use ATMs for more, as I would receive Scottish pounds, which could possibly present an annoyance if I were to try spending them below the border.  Meanwhile we were being teased by the possibility of sun filtering through the clouds and perhaps the appearance of light shadows.



An inbound tram stays on the mainline instead of heading into the Gogar depot and shop as it takes the curve approaching the Edinburgh Gateway stop.  Apparently the word "Gogar" derives from early Scots and means cuckoo.  I wonder if that's the appellation that Nimbys used to refer to supporters of the tramway when they fought (and lost) their attempt to prevent it from being built.



Edinburgh Gateway, an attractive and modern station shared with Scotrail, did not open until December 2016.  The glass enclosed interchange facility allows passengers from Glasgow and other parts of Scotland to access the international airport.


After being refreshed we continued toward the city, continuing to hop on and off trams at various stations along the way.


Grassed track is a feature at the Edinburgh Park Central station and at several other locations.  While it may be more expensive to maintain than a ballasted right-of-way, it provides the line with an attractive panache that is typical for French tramways (and in New Orleans).



My favorite photo of the day.  A scarce ray of sunlight bounces off the front of a tram that has scaled an overpass in front of a dark sky as it approaches the Bankhead station.  The line has a mix of grade separations and level road crossings, with the latter protected by traffic signals or stop signs.

Finally the rain stopped and we walked along Princes Street, observing both the trams and the facade of Edinburgh Castle.  We noted that there is a large amount of congestion along Edinburgh's main shopping street because of all the buses.  It would be nice is some of the lines could be rerouted onto a parallel street.



Two trams pass on the curve just west of Edinburgh Haymarket station on the west end of the city center.  The line has just left its reserved track and entered a short section of street track shared with motor traffic.



A tram heads outbound along Princes Street, at the end of a straight run through Edinburgh's principal shopping district.  It is unusual that not a single bus is blocking the view.



Edinburgh Castle from the south sidewalk of Princes Street.


Time was beginning to run short, and we soon returned to the bus terminal to pick up our luggage, and then walked the short distance to Waverley, Edinburgh's main railway station, located next to a large shopping mall.  John's train was earlier than mine, the 16:30 from Waverley to Kings Cross, and after seeing him off I had a fast "dinner" at the mall's KFC, as I knew I wouldn't have time for refreshment in Blackpool, and my train was leaving at 16:52.

My 150-mile ride to Blackpool, which included a transfer at Preston, was uneventful.  Both trains were on time and not crowded, especially the second one.  The first was in a comfortable diesel-hauled coach operated by Virgin West Coast, which was en route to Euston station in London (on a slower, longer schedule than John's Kings Cross-bound East Coast express), had an arrival time at Preston at 19:15, and the second, a very austere set of Northern DMUs from Manchester Victoria, left Preston at 19:41 for the 25-minute run to Blackpool North.  By the time I arrived it had begun raining again so I walked very fast and almost got lost heading for the Hotel Blackpool.  Luckily I ran into a group of young adults (pub crawlers?) at an unsigned intersection who directed me.  Wet, cold and tired I entered the hotel, which wasn't really that much more than a traditional Bed and Breakfast, and was heartily welcomed by the proprietors, who directed me to a roomy and comfortable accommodation via a series of stairs and passageways that made me think I was negotiating Fawlty Towers.  But where was Manuel?  I was out like a light before 21:30 after being up for some 32 hours since I had awakened in Montclair on the morning of August 13.

Just a note on the rain.  I was in the British Isles for 7 full days, and it rained in the course of every one of them.  Fortunately, unlike my experience in Edinburgh, a great deal of the bad weather occurred at night, with the precipitation clearing away soon afterward, which resulted in reasonably long periods of bright sun during most of my stay.

Part 2 of the report will cover my stay in Blackpool.

 

 
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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, April 09, 2018 3:50 AM
Tuesday, August 15.  After an excellent night's sleep I awoke to overcast skies and headed down, across and down again to the hotel's breakfast room, where the aroma of frying bacon whetted my appetite for the quintessential full English breakfast.  There were a number of couples at other tables when I took my seat next to a window and related my order to one of the proprietors--one breakfast with tea, but hold the baked beans.  The fried eggs, sausage, bacon, grilled tomato, mushrooms and hash browns were delicious (and not too greasy), and while I ate, conversing with some of the others nearby, I saw the weather begin to brighten, and then turn to rain again.  The other visitors were all on "holiday," and lived in cities not too far away and were curious about why an American would come to Blackpool.

Of course I mentioned my interest in the tramway, but also said I enjoyed the laid back ambience of British resorts, and mentioned the Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon movie "Shall We Dance," which was shot in Blackpool (by Harvey Weinstein's company).  The same atmosphere is also prominent in one of my favorite British flicks, John Osbourne's "The Entertainer" (starring Laurence Olivier), which takes place in a similar setting, but further north in the resort of Morecambe (I guess they didn't want the trams to distract moviegoers from the drama).

I soon finished, and saw the hotel had all sorts of brochures about Blackpool, including several for the historic tram operation, which I collected.  I returned to the room, washed up and packed, finally going back down to check out and leave my bags until just before train time, which was scheduled for 17:12 that afternoon.  At about 9:00 I stepped out into bright sunlight for the 6-block trek down Banks Street to the Promenade, where I would begin my day's activities on the tramway.  As I walked the sky got darker and darker.  I heard thunder and soon big drops of rain were bouncing off me.  I spied the possibility of getting some protection from the elements from the marquee of a theater and raced toward it, almost getting there before the skies opened up.  The pounding thundershower lasted about 15 minutes, and then I saw blue sky in the distance.

First, a little about this resort city.  With a population of about 150,000, Blackpool was once Britain's largest and most famous destination for vacation goers, welcoming literally millions (17 at its peak after World War II) visitors every summer to its beaches and other warm-weather amusement venues.  Located on the Irish Sea, it had a network of tramway lines into my lifetime (which I rode in 1960), but by 1963 reduced to a single route, operating parallel to the seacoast northward for
11½ miles to the town of Fleetwood, where in former years a ferry operated to the Isle of Man.  The line was especially popular in the summer, carrying large numbers of tourists, many from nearby mill cities like Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, to and from its amusement piers and bathing beaches, past Ferris wheels, roller coasters and the iconic Blackpool Tower, symbol of the city.

But time and technology have not been good for Blackpool's tourism, as the advent of low-cost jet flights and packaged vacations to resorts in countries like Spain and Portugal, where the weather is more dependable, has reduced the appeal of this community for holiday goers.  The future of the tramway, whose infrastructure and rolling stock were aging, had been in doubt, especially after a series of accidents crippled the line (including a tram catching fire), which led to a shutdown in 2007.  Fortunately the government decided to modernize the last of Britain's legacy tramways, and upgrade it to contemporary standards with new cars and a hefty reconstruction of its track and roadbed.

The resort city continues to attract famous performers to its entertainment venues and a proposal to introduce gambling a la Atlantic City was defeated (no doubt partly due to its "success" in that New Jersey seashore city).  It puts a great deal of effort into its illuminations at the end of each summer, from late August to early November, where the city (and trams) are brightly lit up with over a million lights in unusual and attractive patterns and tableaus (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackpool_Illuminations).  I witnessed it in 1960, and if I ever come back, I'd certainly bring a digital camera to record it.

The old traditional tram fleet operated for the last time on November 6, 2011, and on April 4, 2012 the new era began with 16 Bombardier Flexity-2 100-percent low-floor LRVs placed in service on the 38-stop line.  Many of the heritage cars were retained and spun off to a separate organization, Heritage Tram Tours, which runs its own vintage tram service over portions of the line.  I would ride both today.

From north to south the line operates in several milieus, starting with street running through a thriving traditional street-based commercial district of shops and services, to fast interurban-like reserved track between communities, and then along the paved seaside promenade past beaches and amusement venues to a terminal at the south end of the city.  Service runs every 10 minutes and was heavily patronized on this August day.  A branch is about to be constructed to bring trams from North Pier to the Blackpool North railroad station (basically through the neighborhood that houses the hotel I patronized) and 2 more identical Flexities have been added to the fleet for the extension.  In addition, 9 of the old Balloon double-deck cars from 1934 have been retained and modernized to handle summertime crowds (I saw one of them on the line later in the day).

Still buffeted by strong winds and the occasional raindrop I walked over to the closest stop, North Pier, and soon a northbound tram appeared.  I purchased a 24-hour ticket for GBP 5 from the conductor and rode all the way to the end of the line, Fleetwood Ferry, watching the weather improve through overcast, mostly cloudy, partly cloudy to finally clear, which it remained for the rest of the day.  I started my photography there, working my way by foot and tram to the southern end of the line.  See http://www.urbanrail.net/eu/uk/black/blackpool.htm for a map.



After stopping at their Fleetwood terminal, Blackpool trams navigate a clockwise loop through streets, passing the Pharos Lighthouse, a 93-foot structure constructed in 1840.  Despite being located on a residential street inland, it was used to guide ships safely through the treacherous sandbanks of a nearby estuary when properly lined up with a shorter lighthouse on the Irish Sea's beachfront. 




Above and below:  Two scenes along shopping streets in Fleetwood.  In the top view two Bombardier-built Flexity 2 trams pass each other on North Albert Street.  That thoroughfare feeds into Lord Street, the location of the lower photo.  Fleetwood's retailers appear to be quite prosperous.







After serving Fleetwood's business district, inbound trams are routed onto reserved track that first parallels a road, but then runs cross-country through fields and meadows like an interurban electric railway.  It traverses the village of Cleveleys on private right-of-way along the side of a road to Blackpool.  The location of this photo is the Lindel Road stop in Fleetwood.

With a Heritage Tram Tours schedule in hand (which was among the many sightseeing brochures I schrammed at the hotel), I continued toward Blackpool and saw there would be a 11:55 departure from the Cabin stop, and decided to photograph and ride it.  Even though it was a bit early, I spied a museum tram through the windshield of my LRV and got off as planned at Cabin, at approximately 11:40.  Alas, it was just a car out for a test run, and zipped past me, but I did get photos.




Above and below
:  Open-top Birkenhead tram 20, out for a test run, turns back just beyond the Cabin stop on the north side of Blackpool.  The beautifully restored four-wheeler was built by G. F. Milnes in 1900, and is on loan to Blackpool from the Wirral Transport Museum and Heritage Tramway in Merseyside (which I would visit later in the week).  Note the Irish Sea in the left background of both photos.







Blackpool Balloon 723 approaches its terminal at Cabin just before the heritage tram's 11:55 return to Pleasure Beach.  The double-decker was built as part of an order of 27 such cars by English Electric for Blackpool in 1934 and 1935.  Beloved and reliable, these trams constituted the backbone of the system's fleet until the Flexities came in 2012.  Nine of them remain on call for operation during periods of high demand, while another seven are on the Heritage Tramway Tours' roster.  A further few are in tramway museums.  Note the yellow and green Heritage Tram Stop sign.

I eventually boarded Balloon car 723 when it came along and turned back on the advertised, paying the "guard"
GBP 3½for a round trip to Pleasure Beach, the southern terminal of the heritage car service.  The schedule of the vintage tram line (see http://www.blackpoolheritage.com/httours/timetables/) varies depending on the season, day of the week, and any planned special events.  But on this typical summer weekday there were 20 scheduled round trips between North Pier and Pleasure Beach (on a 20-minute headway for the 12-minute run), with 4 extended further north to Cabin (5 more minutes).  It should be noted that the running time over the entire transit line, from Fleetwood Ferry to Starr Gate, is 55 minutes, and heritage cars operate to Fleetwood for special events.

It was most enjoyable viewing the line from the railfan seat on the top deck, and I even took a photo or two from that vantage point, followed by more at the Pleasure Beach loop.  By the way, this is Heritage Tram Tours mission, according to its website:

Heritage Tram Tours is the custodian of the unique heritage tram fleet of Blackpool Transport – the last surviving first generation British tramcar fleet still on their original tramway. In co-operation with Blackpool Transport and Blackpool Borough Council, Heritage Tram Tours aims to retain the operation of vintage tramcars in Blackpool, alongside the new light rail fleet, for the enjoyment and educational benefit of future generations, and to work towards achieving charitable status through the formation of a charitable trust, to care for the trams in perpetuity.



The view through the glass of a rear window on the upper deck of the Balloon car I rode, showing the Manchester Road stop with a northbound Flexity LRV pulling away.  Two of Blackpool's most important amusement venues are quite prominent in this photo, Blackpool Tower on the right and the "Big Wheel" on Central Pier at left.



Heritage Tram Tours' kiosk at its Pleasure Beach terminal loop.



Balloon car 715 lays over on the Pleasure Beach loop prior to its next run northward past the Tower to North Beach.


I continued on a regular car to the end of the line at Starr Gate (3 stops), returned to Pleasure Beach, and then rode another vintage car to the heart of the amusement area.  That and more will be the subjects of part 3 of this report.


 

 
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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, April 16, 2018 3:51 AM
Wednesday, August 16.  It rained heavily overnight, part of a pattern of some rain every day during my entire visit to the British Isles, but on the other hand, like my experience in Blackpool, plenty of sunshine occurred as well--in fact skies were Kodachrome blue for all of today's daylight hours.  Andrew and Richard would spend the entire day in Nottingham, but my plan was to meet up with them in the afternoon, as I would ride the Midland Metro light rail line from Wolverhampton to Birmingham in the morning, and then continue on by train to join them at about 14:00 for an afternoon of railfanning (to be covered in chapter 5).

I finished breakfast at 8:30 and then headed for Manchester Piccadilly, where I had sufficient time to collect my ticket from the fare vending machine before boarding the
9:07 Cross Country streamlined DMU.  My reserved seat faced backwards and on top of that was located in a row with a blank wall instead of a window, but no matter, there were plenty of unoccupied places and I grabbed a good one facing forward next to a large clear pane of glass.  The 62 miles to Wolverhampton were devoured in a little over an hour, and in fact the train arrived two minutes early at 10:11.



The rear of the Cross Country 220-series Voyager DMU (Bombardier 2001) that I rode from Manchester, shown leaving Wolverhampton from the elevated concourse that provides access to the platforms.

The tramway, or light rail line, between Wolverhampton (population about 250,000) and Birmingham, Britain's second largest city (with 1,100,000 souls), is called the Midland Metro.  For the most part it uses the right-of-way of a portion of the Great Western Railway that had been deemed surplus, a line whose passenger service ran between the two cities until 1972.  Apparently like many other lines that got the axe during the Beeching era, it was needed after all, and the initial 12.5-mile long replacement tramway connecting the two cities was opened in 1999.  However, instead of continuing to the former Wolverhampton (Low Level) railroad station, its outer end was routed off the railway right-of-way onto street trackage to St. Georges, a terminal near the heart of the city center. 

Unfortunately the initial ridership of 5 million per year did not live up to expectations, but a short (less than a mile) extension from Birmingham Snow Hill to the main railway station, New Street (the stop called Grand Central after the name of a shopping mall) on the lower end, which opened in 2016, has already increased patronage by 20 percent to 6 million.  A further extension into the heart of Birmingham (a little over an additional mile), scheduled to open in 2021, no doubt will attract even more passengers.  By 2020 a short branch (about a half-mile) at the outer end of the line, will be opened to the main Wolverhampton Railway station, which is where I arrived this morning from Manchester; in the old days it was
called Wolverhampton (High Level).  Both extension projects will integrate the Midland Metro into the national transportation system, as passengers will have direct access to the main railway and bus stations of the two cities (whose combined metropolitan area is the second largest in Britain, with a population of 3.7 million) at both ends.  And, of course, the LRVs will soon reach the core of Birmingham's shopping district.

Midland Metro's original rolling stock consisted of 16 AnsaldoBreda T-69 two-section 70-percent low-floor cars, but they only lasted for about 15 years, as the entire roster was replaced in 2015 with 21 CAF Urbos 3 5-section 100-percent low-floor units.  The larger number and length
of the newer cars (79 feet vs. 108 feet) take into account the expected increase in demand once the extensions are completed.  (And even further expansion is planned for the future.)

Anyway, the Wolverhampton project and its associated track renewal resulted in the tramway temporarily being temporarily cut back two stations to Priestfield, and so instead of walking to St. Georges from the rail station (about 0.2 miles), my effort was cut in half, and I headed for the city's bus terminal via a pedestrianized walkway at 10:20, just in time for a route 79 departure (from "Stand" R) for Priestfield (see http://www.urbanrail.net/eu/uk/bir/birmingham.htm for a map).  Since it was after 9:30 I was eligible for a "Day Saver" ticket, which I purchased from the driver of the double-deck coach.  The regular bus service on the 79 was supplemented by short turns for the 5 stops, where I (and a few other passengers) alighted for a short walk down a paved path to the tram stop.  The bus traveled alongside the tracks on Bilston Road and I was able to observe the construction, including the point where the line leaves the streets and enters the former railroad right-of-way.  I had ridden the entire line on two previous trips to Birmingham, but aboard the Ansaldo T-69 cars, so as I trundled down the walkway from the bus stop, I obtained my first view of the new CAF cars, which were using a crossover to turn beyond the Priestfield stop.  Thus, having ridden all the way to St. Georges before, I wasn't too disappointed that the street track was temporarily out of service.



Pretty in Pink.  CAF-built car 19 has just dropped the last of its passengers at the Midland Metro's temporary Priestfield terminal, and is shown gradually moving past the crossover, where it will change ends and head back to the inbound platform to pick up passengers.

The trams were operating every 7 minutes, and that gave me sufficient time to pause at two way stations for photos.
 


Car 30 approaches the inbound platform of the Wednesbury Parkway stop.  A third track, mostly hidden to the left of the outbound platform, is used by trams leaving the nearby carhouse and shop area (behind the photographer) to make their way to Wolverhampton.
 

The second photo stop was at The Hawthorns, a joint station with the former Great Western Railway line from Snow Hill to Stourbridge, Kidderminster and eventually Worcester.  Rail service through this station also had been discontinued in 1972, but restored again to a full schedule in 1995.  From The Hawthorns to Birmingham Snow Hill the right-of-way now consists of four tracks, two for DMU operation and two for the Midland Metro's LRVs.



A Midland Metro train approaches The Hawthorns, while the original Great Western line to Stourbridge Junction turns in from the left.




Above and below:  Two views at The Hawthorns, now a joint station and transfer point for West Midlands DMU service and Midland Metro electric trams.  Rail service on the 24-mile line to Worcester is frequent, but not often enough for me to have been able to achieve a photo of both types of cars in the same frame of my camera.  Had I been spending the entire day in the area I am sure I could have gotten the juxtaposition.  Also, I may have had the chance to ride to Stourbridge Town, on a branch where West Midlands utilizes the lightweight Parry People Mover.  The DMU is a 3-car Bombardier-built 172-series Turbostar from 2010-11.




The Midland Metro originally terminated on a pair of side tracks at Snow Hill (much like the Los Angeles Gold Line uses two tracks of Union Station), but when it was extended toward the city center, it was ramped onto a street that crosses the railroad on an overpass.  I rode all the way to the Grand Central stop at New Street, Birmingham's principal station, and then, seeing I still had adequate time before my 12:49 departure to Nottingham, walked back for some photos of the new street running section, which is mainly on pedestrianized streets.




Above and below:  Two views along the recently opened extension of the Midland Metro in an urban landscape along city streets from Snow Hill station to New Street station.  The area is very busy, so I had to wait a few headways to get photos without too many people.  The upper photo was taken on Bull Street, just east of the Bull Street stop, while the lower view shows a car that has just left the Grand Central terminal and is approaching the Corporation Street stop.




In looking back at this morning's events, I couldn't help thinking of the times I rode Pittsburgh's "Jolly Trolley" PCC 1734, which was painted in a similar shade of Midland Metro pink.  The start of my day was extremely successful, and I was soon aboard the 12:49 Cross Country DMU, which left on time and reached Nottingham, 45 miles away at 14:03, in the prescribed 74 minutes after 6 intermediate stops.  The narrative of the day's events continues in chapter 5.


 

 
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In chapter 4 about the Midland Metro, I mentioned that I wished I had enough time to get over to Stourbridge Jct. from The Hawthorns to see and ride the Parry people mover.  Correspondent Rich Taylor replied, indicating he had the experience in 2014 and sent this photo.  He stated, "Two man crew on a ¾ mile branch maintaining a 15-minute interval with one unit; could replace it with a path.




Wednesday, August 16
continued.  Arrival in Nottingham was on the advertised a few minutes after 2 o'clock, and after I bought a day ticket from a machine for GBP 4, I found Andrew and Richard waiting for me at the elevated tramway station.

Called Nottingham Express Transit, or NET, the 20-mile long tramway network in this city of roughly 275,000 residents was opened in two phases, with the two lines that run northward from the railway station through the downtown area coming first in 2004, followed by two extensions continuing south and southwestward in 2015, more than doubling the length of the now 51-station network.  Clare and I visited Nottingham in 2005, which permitted me to ride the original system, which I liked very much.  The main purpose of this visit was to cover the new branches, whose trams are through routed with the lines to the north, which makes the lines quite long (see http://www.urbanrail.net/eu/uk/nott/nottingham.htm for a map).

Nottingham's original rolling stock consisted of 15 2003-built Adtranz (now Bombardier) Incentro cars, which were followed by 22 Alstom Citadis units, built in 2013-14.  Both are double-ended 100-percent low-floor cars, and are interchanged freely between the two lines.

The system is quite successful with an annual ridership averaging 16.4 million.  Headways on both lines average 7 minutes in base periods, being increased to every 5 during rush hours, which means that on the 13 or 14-station section of joint operation through the city center, frequencies range from
2½ to 3½ minutes.

Andrew and Richard had covered the northern lines in the morning, so we were all on the same wavelength for riding and inspecting the new additions.  Thus, a
fter some photos at the station, we first rode line 1 (which also has been color coded as the Green Line) to Toton Lane.  It was a very pleasant ride, a combination of street running and reserved trackage (a poster child for the light rail mode's flexibility) that took about 30 minutes. 



Above and below:  The profile of this style of Citadis front is quite pleasant.  Colin Slater is the primary sportscaster for Nottingham's football team.  The aesthetics of the Incentro in the lower photo is much more traditional, but this view mainly features the station's furniture. 




Then we worked our way back from Toton Lane to the railway station, taking photos in areas that looked interesting.



The outer end of the line operates on reserved track that fits in well with its suburban surroundings.  An Alstom Citadis 302 approaches the Inham Road stop, one in from the terminal.



An outbound Citadis pauses at the Cator Lane stop.  NET stands for Nottingham Express Transit.



One of the most appealing sections of the Toton Lane branch is a street-running section in the town of Beeston.  Chillwell Road is the type of neighborhood shopping street that was once commonplace in the United States, with a pair of trolley tracks serving the local populace.  The lack of motor traffic is a result of the minimumization of parking and a street pattern that reroutes through traffic away from the neighborhood.  The view is at Imperial Road with the Beeston Methodist Church in the background.

Back at the station, I finally got a photo showing both types equipment in the same frame.



An Adtranz (now Bombardier) Derby (England)-built Incentro from 2003 is operating northbound, alongside a French built Citadis 302 from ten years later.  The steeple in the background is from a decommissioned church.


Then it was out line 2 (purple) to Clifton South (about 20 minutes), followed by a similar modus operandi for photos on the return.



Holy Trinity is the second station inward from the Clifton South Park and Ride terminal.  An outbound Incentro is shown.



A telephoto view along Southchurch Drive from Clifton Centre, one station further inbound.  Although much of this line operates on streets through commercial areas, parts appear quite leafy.



A wrapped Incentro is shown running outbound toward Clifton South over one of the line's two river crossings.  The Wilford Toll Bridge over the Trent River was opened in 1870.  Retired in 1974, it was renovated and then reopened for pedestrians and bicycles in 1980, with the tram line following in 2015.  As far as advertising wraps are concerned I was pleased that I saw very few on my travels in Britain, specifically only 1 in Blackpool, 3 in Edinburgh and none in Birmingham.


It had begun to cloud up, and after returning to the station, Andrew and Richard decided to go back to Manchester.  I had pre-purchased a ticket at the economical "Advance" fare for my return trip to Manchester, and realized
there was still a sufficient amount of time for me to ride the lines to the north, and so I indicated I'd join them for dinner later.

Although there was not enough time for photography, I went ahead and caught the next car to Phoenix Park and rode through the streets of hilly Nottingham.  Of note was that cars in opposite directions run on separate parallel streets at one point and there is some bi-directional single track at the outer end.  Beyond the junction at Highbury Vale the line to Hacknall is not terribly interesting, as it runs on the same right-of-way as East Midlands DMU trains to Worksop (25 miles).  This branch too is single track and it has passing sidings at each station.  One of these days I will have to position myself on an overpass and try to get photos of trams and DMUs passing each other. 

I returned to Manchester on the 18:47 train, which arrived on time at 20:36.  It was a crowded 2-car East Midlands DMU, but still impressive, showing how dependable the railways in Great Britain are--at least until they're not.  But that will be part of the story of the next day, in chapter 6.

I met Andrew and Richard at the hotel and our dinner was enjoyable.  It rained again overnight.


 

 
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  • Member since
    June, 2002
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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, April 16, 2018 9:22 AM

I was certain I had posted installment No. 3 and even used it as posted to check on an error on the book I am putting together.  Now I find it missing.  I cannot repost it at the present moment because I am back at the narrow band server.  I hope it will appear and be posted before the Moderator posts installments 4 and 5 which I posted today, 16 April, but are still being "moderated."  If it does not appear, I may be able to post it before the week is over, but without the edit button, after Installments 4 and 5.   Apologese if this is my mistake and not Kalmbach's.

  • Member since
    June, 2002
  • 13,623 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Tuesday, April 17, 2018 3:08 PM

Part 3 is still missing, even though I was certain I had posted it.   Parts 4 and 5 are above.   I've asked another poster, whom I believe has the edit button, to be the one who continues posting Jack's travel reports.  Obviously, I need the edit button to do an adequate job.  Jack has sent instllment 6 to us.   And the rest will follow.

In addition, I have no idea which photos you can see and which have vanished in the transmittal.  If photos are missing, then the edit buttono is needed to put them at the locations of their captions.

Meanwhile, for the sake of my own sanity and self-preservation, I have assembled two pdf books for Jack's Southern Euroepan tour and now am working on the one for Great Britain.

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