Saturday, 7 June 2014

Robert Forsythe rides the Edinburgh Trams

On the 30th May 2014, the long awaited Edinburgh new generation trams started carrying passengers. Horrendously over budget and delayed, nearly cancelled and with a rather pro tem terminus in York Place, instead of down Leith Walk somewhere, any rail borne transport lover was bound to want to give it a go.

Last weekend was the end of a frantic half term culminating in the Prudhoe Community Fair involving all three of us, this weekend, the two ladies were doing Guide camping in the Northumberland Guide house at Whittonstall. I had to occupy myself. I went to bed Friday with no clear plan in view, just options. I have become hopeless at advance planning, still less advance ticket buying for specific trains at a bargain fare.

I wait for the day and put it together. The weather forecast was better for the north and dire, doom laden thunderstorms south. Was the Middleton Railway diesel gala so tempting? I set no alarm and when I did wake up thought: "I could make the 0737 to Newcastle, could I have an East Coast breafast?". Knowing I might be well laden and the rain could be in sheets later (it was), I took the car to Prudhoe station car park. Beautiful blue sky morning. I was still undecided, I had no idea what my budget figure was to go to Edinburgh.

Prudhoe station now has a Parkeon ticket machine and currently it is one of a select number trialing a new ticket layout. Even before I got to the machine, a 16 year old lass interupted me. Not my normal experience at the station early in the morning. She sought the time, I don't carry a watch any longer. So I referred her to the ticket machine. She seemed relieved there was a train east in 10 minutes. For my purposes I learnt that an all day any train off peak return to Edinburgh cost £50. I decided to go for it.

The barrier sirens began to sound, it was time for the train. Instead however the westbound semaphore was pulled off. A Volker Rail tamper hurried through as a diverting interest.  Seconds later and a 156 rolled in. The girl and I got on at opposite carriage doors. But she walked right down the aisle and sat behind me. Interesting thinks the 54 year old me. Do I look like a sugar daddy nowadays? I soon found out I was! The girl was the sound of demure and the picture of someone from the night before. She asked me for a quid for the train fare as the guard approached!

Ah I thought, we have all had wild nights. So I gave her a pound. She asked for a child single Prudhoe Wylam and was quoted £1.15. I agreed to stump up another 15p and as my side of the bargain, retain the ticket for my collection. C'est la vie.

Arrived in Newcastle and I saw that the next HST (important that) north was the Leeds Aberdeen at 0842 (the same time as a Cross Country set heads south). The 40 minutes flew in a feast of classic traction. The appearance of the Network Rail yellow measurement HST turned in three HST sets in three liveries. This was well capped when a top and tailed Compass Rail rake using DRS 47s rolled into Platform 2 and halted. Before my eyes were Constable and Elgar. I swiftly got to work. I need not have worried. This train was not rushing on anywhere. Supposedly it was a Saltburn Aviemore excursion. However the DRS 47 501 Craftsman had failed at the end of a similar exercise the day before. The train had started from Middlesbrough and never would get beyond Perth whilst I would see it again, still heading north, from an Edinburgh tram. Having got to Newcastle the one serviceable engine was being sent to Heaton depot for fuel.

Many photos later and the 0842 rolled in. I had already decided on First Class and headed for the Mark Three TFRB (Trailer First Restaurant Buffet). On the whole the train was fullish even in first but there were only another two gents in this car. I had an entire single person seaside window seat bay with coffee and continental breakfast for myself for a £15 supplement. How can one moan?  The next hour and half was pure delight. The sea once reached south of Alnmouth shimmered. All looked right with the world. For miles the line is a corniche ride north and south of Berwick. The manually operated gated public road crossing on the cliffs at Spital still survives. It was high tide at Berwick, the Tweed was looking full as a rower headed upstream.

The choice of an HST was important. These diesel trains built c1977-78 are real class compared with the newer electric tat with which they interwork from 1991. These are coaches which still have wood veneer. Their ride is superb compared with the clatter and bang of the 1991 Mark Fours. The rest of the blog could go on the journey, there is so much to remember. Burrell's pile (Glasgow art collection) Ayton Castle was a stunning red lump on the landscape. Passing Penmanshiel there is always a prayer for the souls of the railway workers killed here in January 1979 (I was scheduled to pass that way but instead was diverted). The bridges at Co'burnspath are an instant glimpse with so much merit. Passing Oxwellmains whose cement kiln towers into the sky confirmed how busy the railway now is. Saturday morning and four locos were in. The Lafarge industrial, two Freightliner 66s and a DBS 67 on a recent new flow bringing Manchester's rubbish for burial.

With Deltic 50 pushing behind, the train was on time at Edinburgh and I set off for the trams. Ummm. A very interesting ride, swish, brand new, still full of people fascinated at the novelty of it. But the tram costs £2 more than the bus for the ride there and back to the Airport. It does not reach the terminal and along the way it is a twisting switchback of a route despite crossing fields latterly. The layout at Ingliston Park and Ride showcases that. Buggies are not welcome unless folded and I am sure the journey is quicker in the Airport buses.

Still it was very exciting to ride and photograph a new tramway and afterwards I could indulge in my paper collecting mode. Not much exotic glossies to celebrate the launch of the trams. As ever plenty of indulgent day tour literature whether for rich Americans (Gray Line) or young travellers (Haggis and Macbackpackers). Plenty of Scottish shipping delights and being Edinburgh a rich but narrow vein for the City Tours. These produce a plethora of different liveried open tops, some of which are the old London AEC Routemasters.

Once lunch time approached, I had left a tram at York Place and was venturing down Leith Walk. A rich choice of reasonably priced food. At the corner of Antigua Street (such wonderful Imperial names) was Pomegranate for Middle Eastern/Persian style cuisine. That was a good choice: £9.50, shredded lamp, humus and a delicately flavoured rice dish.  That pleasure was swifly followed by McNaughtan's bookshop, palpably smelling of book leather and operated by two ladies. £13.53 the poorer I left with a rich haul, either for myself, Fiona or vending. However the getting down to floor level shelves to venture through laden box files is beginning to be beyond my age frame?

Leith Walk along which these places are located is a mix which  has an amount of ethnic establishments, saris, shish kebabs, sandwiched between some is Harburn Hobbies. Very obliging staff furnished the answers to all sorts of esoteric questions There were some obscure catalogues as a reward and then the pure extravagance of choosing a model Mark One coach. I finally settled for Bachmann Enparts 39-185.  All this pleasure and no gay saunas for which the city is also well known.

So as the grey clouds began to tower, it was time to turn away from gay delight. The atmosphere was becoming oppressive and as I finished off in the Waverley Gardens Visit Scotland Tourist Information Centre, the first heavy drops of doom were falling. As I happen to think a vote for Scottish independence will be exactly that it was not inappropriate. Back at the station, there was plenty of choice but the Cross Country 1508 Voyager to Plymouth was a world apart and downhill from my ride north. It matched the weather's mood, all the views and colour had been wiped out as the predicted storms and downpours rolled in. Good job there was a car back in Prudhoe's station's car park and better still, unlike some other parallel occasions, the car park was not flooded.