Category Archives: Transports of Delight

North of the Gap

Great Central Railway (Nottingham):  LMS 8F 2-8-0 8274

Great Central Railway (Nottingham): LMS 8F 2-8-0 8274

The Great Central Railway (Loughborough) has a long and fortunate history since it was formed as the Main Line Project Group in 1970.

Through many struggles against all manner of setbacks, volunteers have maintained and expanded their train services and recreated much of the infrastructure of the old Great Central.

It’s fair to say, without disparagement, that their colleagues at the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) have more challenges to face.

Their line, north of Loughborough, didn’t become available until the 1990s, by which time the buildings on the only original station, East Leake, had been demolished, though track remained because of British Gypsum and Ministry of Defence freight traffic.

Initial preservation work concentrated on creating a branch and terminus, Ruddington Fields, on the former MoD site, which became the Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre.  This is currently the centre of activity, with plenty for transport enthusiasts to enjoy.

Train services run out of Ruddington Fields on to the former main line, reverse at Fifty Steps Bridge and run down the old GCR to a stop-board about a mile from the other preserved Great Central Railway at Loughborough Central.

It’s refreshing to be able to travel on a stretch of the old Great Central, but for the moment it’s also a frustrating experience because of the Gap that was severed in the 1970s.

Though the bridge across the Midland Main Line has been reinstated, there’s still a canal bridge to refurbish and a 300-metre stretch of embankment to rebuild before the GCR (Loughborough)’s depot can be swept out of the way and trains can run uninterruptedly eighteen miles from Ruddington to Leicester:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvvO9GkjtK0.

Indeed, though it can’t be high on the agenda, it seems possible that the line could be reinstated north of Ruddington to the point where the NET tramway occupies the old GCR formation at Clifton Boulevard.

This is the work of decades, if not a generation, but it’s testimony to the determination and hard work of transport enthusiasts that what was once discarded as useless infrastructure is slowly, doggedly being restored to useful amenities.

Hardly anybody would have imagined, when the Great Central main line was wound down in the 1960s that it would ever again carry trains, let alone trams.

The Great Central Railway (Nottingham) website is at http://www.gcrn.co.uk and the Great Central Railway (Loughborough) is at http://www.gcrailway.co.uk.

Both railways are included in the itinerary of the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour.  For further details please click here.

Road blocks

Grantham Canal:  Woolsthorpe Locks

Grantham Canal: Woolsthorpe Locks

The twentieth-century mismanagement of the decline of canals and railways in Britain is most obvious in the planners’ assumption that these moribund routes would never again be needed.

Essential road-developments rendered waterways practically useless for lack of foresight.  Lengthy routes could have been protected at a fraction of the cost of the reverse solutions now needed to restore canals as environmental assets.

The Grantham Canal was built in 1793-1797 to connect the Great North Road and the Vale of Belvoir to the River Trent, giving access to the coal-carrying canals of the Erewash valley and the rich manufacturing towns of the East Midlands.

Traffic was never heavy.  The highest dividend was paid in 1839, 1841 and 1842 – £13, equivalent to 8.67%, after which traffic fell away.

The company was sold in 1854 to the competing Ambergate, Nottingham, Boston & Eastern Junction Railway which promptly leased itself to the Great Northern Railway.

The Grantham Canal was formally abandoned in 1936, subject to an agreement to keep the waterway in water for agricultural use.  This guaranteed the integrity of the route but not the termini, both of which were destroyed by post-war trunk-road construction.  Furthermore 49 out of 69 hump-backed road bridges over the canal were levelled and piped.

Local resistance to filling in the canal began in 1963.  After the Inland Waterways Association defeated a British Waterways Board attempt to stop maintaining the water supply along the canal the Grantham Canal Society was formed in 1969 to work towards restoring navigation.

Slowly but surely, the Society has returned parts of the canal to navigable standard.

A railway embankment, constructed to replace a rickety timber bridge over the canal, was cleared away in 1992 as part of a project to restore the top three of the Woolsthorpe flight of locks.

Another 2¼-mile section from Hickling Basin to Hose was restored in 1994.

The subsequent rebuilding of the piped Casthorpe Bridge in 1995 restored navigation to a 4½-mile stretch of waterway.

The ongoing restoration of the bottom locks at Woolsthorpe will extend this section to ten navigable miles.

The most serious problem facing the Society is linking the canal with the River Trent.  The old alignment is blocked by the modern A52 trunk road and the plan to build a new canal on a different route doesn’t qualify for restoration funding because it’s not a restoration of an existing structure.

Yet the Trent Link is strategically crucial to the practical restoration of the whole canal and the economic benefits that would spring from it.

The Department of Transport’s flat refusal to pay for a high-level replacement for the piped Mann’s Bridge was perverse, since a short distance away a new high-level bridge crosses the A46 trunk road the canal at Cropwell Locks.

Plans for a cycle tunnel under the A1 west of Grantham could provide an opportunity to reach and redevelop the original terminal wharf, which is now a scrapyard.  A culvert could have been budgeted and built in the first place.

In the post-war boom of road building the possibility that the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century networks of canals and railways might have environmental value was largely ignored.

The huge popularity of leisure boating, the demand for marinas and waterside housing, and the economic advantages of bringing tourists to less-frequented parts of rural England are each reproaches to the narrow vision of planners and civil servants.

Future generations will salute the determination of canal enthusiasts and local people who saw possibilities in dried-up canals and ruinous wharfs and continue to work year in, year out, to bring the boats back to Grantham and many other places around the UK.

A visit to Woolsthorpe Locks is included in the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour.  For further details please click here.

Burying an excavated canal

Nottingham Canal from Carrington Street, Nottingham

Nottingham Canal from Carrington Street, Nottingham

The Great Northern Junction at Langley Mill, on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border, connects three eighteenth-century canals that were once the arteries of the local coal and iron industry.

Once a busy freight facility, it’s now a picturesque marina, renovated by the Erewash Canal & Preservation Trust from the 1970s onwards.

As you stand on the bridge, the Erewash Canal runs to the south, flourishing as a leisure waterway which was never completely closed.  Ahead to the north is the line of the Cromford Canal, of which the first three miles, including six locks, was obliterated by opencast mining in the 1960s.  To the right, the Nottingham Canal ran along the eastern side of the Erewash valley, connecting with the River Trent and the centre of Nottingham.

The Nottingham Canal is a wreck.

It opened in 1796, to the annoyance of the Erewash Canal proprietors who resented its competition though there was more than enough traffic for both.

After the Midland Railway built its Erewash Valley line in 1847 the Nottingham Canal sold out in 1854-55 to the Ambergate, Nottingham & Boston & Eastern Junction Railway & Canal Co, which was in turn leased to the Great Northern Railway in 1861.

The Great Northern, which had no interest in canals, built their own railway branch parallel to the canal and the Midland line, in 1878.

By the early twentieth century most of the traffic on the Nottingham Canal was between Nottingham and the River Trent.

Commercial traffic practically ended in 1928, and the GNR’s successor, the London & North Eastern Railway, leased the section between Nottingham and Lenton to the Trent Navigation in 1936 before abandoning the rest of the canal the following year.

Nottingham Corporation bought the length of abandoned canal within the city boundary in 1952 in order to drain and pipe the line to prevent flooding.

Between 1955 and 1966 most of the canal within the city disappeared and much has since been built over apart from a section used as a diversion for the River Leen.

A Nottingham Canal Society was formed in 1976 to conserve the remains of the canal.

After making some practical efforts the Society admitted defeat when Nottinghamshire County Council declined in 1979 to fund a navigable under-bridge as part of its plans for the Awsworth By-Pass.

Broxtowe District Council bought six miles of the canal from Eastwood to the city boundary at Bramcote and has worked with voluntary and professional organisations to develop its amenity value as a right of way and nature reserve.

When you walk out of Nottingham railway station and turn towards town you cross a bridge over the waters of the remaining length of the Nottingham Canal, a much-used amenity for boaters and gongoozlers alike.

The hopes of reviving the rest of this canal, which ran through populous suburbs and rural farmland, were dashed for the sake of a short-sighted decision over the cost of a bridge.

The Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour is based in Nottingham and includes a visit to the Great Northern Basin.  For further details please click here.

Excavating a buried canal

Derby Canal:  Sandiacre

Derby Canal: Sandiacre

The Derby Canal promises to be an unlikely triumph of canal restoration, though it may take decades to accomplish.

The canal was built at the height of Canal Mania, between 1793 and 1796, engineered by the young Benjamin Outram (1764-1805), who had worked with William Jessop (1745-1814) on the Cromford Canal (completed 1794).

There were three branches, each connecting with the River Derwent in the centre of Derby:  a line south joined the River Trent at Swarkestone;  another ran north up the Derwent valley to Little Eaton, and the third went east to join the Erewash Canal at Sandiacre.

The Derby Canal did good business.  The historian Charles Hadfield estimated that its total traffic in 1839 was around 200,000 tons annually.

Then, within a couple of years, the three branches of the Derby Canal were duplicated by the three railways that made Derby a railway town.

Somehow the Derby Canal, like its neighbour the Erewash Canal, remained independent of railway ownership, though generations of directors would have liked to unload the responsibility.

In 1872, when the company offered the canal to the Midland Railway for £90,000, the railway manager, James Allport, chose not to keep an appointment with the committee.

The canal branch to Little Eaton was formally abandoned in 1935.

Imperial Chemical Industries raised an objection to the canal company’s proposal to abandon the Sandiacre line in 1937.

Commercial traffic on the canal ended in 1945 and the following year the proprietors, anxious to avoid reopening the canal, locked the gates at Sandiacre against a commercial boat and its butty, Atlas and Vela.

As a result the canal was not included in the 1948 nationalisation that formed British Transport Commission.

A further protest cruise by the Inland Waterways Association in 1961 was thwarted when the canal company felled a tree across the lock at Sandiacre and chained the gates shut.

The canal company obtained a warrant for abandonment in 1964, and a year later a stretch of the canal bed at Breaston was sold for one shilling for the construction of the M1 motorway.

Just as the loss of the Euston Arch propelled the preservation of St Pancras Station, so the loss of the Derby Canal made local supporters of inland waterways all the more determined to preserve the Erewash Canal.

And because of the success of the Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Association (ECP&DA) the eventual restoration of the Derby remains practically possible, and thanks to the foresight and acumen of the Derby & Sandiacre Canal Trust, it looks likely that it will happen.

Apart from the M1 crossing, the only other section of the Derby Canal lost to redevelopment is in Derby city centre.  Otherwise, though most of the waterway is dry, the land is available for restoration and protected by local-authority planning policies.  Overbridges have been lowered and locks and the canal bed filled in but these changes are reversible.

Crucially, the Trust was in a position to find funds for a navigable culvert under the Derby Bypass at Swarkestone in 1996.

In 1998 the buried Borrowash Bottom Lock was excavated and partly restored, and since 2015 working parties have begun to return the lock and its adjacent half-mile pound to water.  A length of waterway will be reinstated along the so-called “Golden Mile” at Draycott, where the Trust is restoring a group of canal cottages as a residential and commercial development.

The most exciting development of all is the Derby Arm, a thirty-metre high boat lift to convey boats between the canal and the navigable River Derwent giving access to the city-centre and Silk Mill – a solution to the impracticality of restoring the original Derwent crossing at the Holmes.

Comparable to the highly successful Falkirk Wheel (2002), this structure will be visible from a new visitor centre at the Derby Triangle, adjacent to Pride Park.

Staring at the blocked waterway at the Sandiacre Lock Cottages, where the Derby Canal joins the Erewash Canal, it seems unlikely that boats could ever again float under the bridge and into the currently buried Bottom Lock.

But they will.  One day.

The Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour includes a visit to the Sandiacre Lock Cottages.  For further details please click here.

Main artery

Erewash Canal:  Great Northern Basin, Langley Mill

Erewash Canal: Great Northern Basin, Langley Mill

The valley of the River Erewash, which forms a border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, is remarkable mainly for being unremarkable – a wide flood plain with a diminutive stream meandering across the flat meadows.

Its market towns perch on the hills above – Heanor, Ilkeston and Eastwood – the last of which associates the area with the epithet “the Lawrence country”, for here the young author, David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930), known round about as “Bert”. grew up in what he later called “the country of my heart”.

Lawrence’s childhood, described in such novels as Sons and Lovers (1913), was the heyday of the local coal industry, now gone, which began when a couple of canny eighteenth-century landowners, Robert Barber and Thomas Walker, eyeing their Leicester competitors’ efforts to gain a waterway from their coalmines to the River Trent, obtained an Act of Parliament in 1777 to build the Erewash Canal from the Trent near Long Eaton to Langley Mill, which sits in the valley between Heanor and Eastwood.

They engaged the Heanor-born John Varley (1740-1809), surveyor and resident engineer of the Chesterfield Canal, but despite his achievements building the 2,850-yard Norwood Tunnel and the great flights of locks at each end of it, his reputation was questionable and after he mistook the levels at the top of the canal he was dismissed.

Construction of the canal was in fact straightforward – a waterway of fourteen broad locks with a single low aqueduct over the River Erewash near Shipley.  Despite the difficulty with the top lock, the canal cost £21,000 – a couple of thousand pounds below budget – and opened ahead of schedule.

Not only did the Erewash Canal open up the coalfield along its course, but it prompted the construction of a whole network of connecting waterways – the Cromford Canal (1794) and, with the same year, 1796, three further waterways, the Derby Canal, the short Nutbrook Canal and the Nottingham Canal, which made Langley Mill a three-way junction providing the Cromford Canal with a shorter, competing route for traffic heading downstream on the Trent.

Erewash Canal shares were worth having:  when the first railways appeared in the area in 1839-40, its dividends slumped from 64% to 45% in 1841, and remained above 21% for the following fifteen years.  Indeed, the canal remained independent until it was nationalised after the Second World War.  While the other local canals declined and closed, the Erewash Canal had the advantage that its direct connection to London by the Grand Junction and the Old Grand Union canals remained free of railway ownership.

Barge traffic eventually ceased in 1952 and British Waterways nominally closed the top section of the Erewash Canal in 1962, but had to maintain it in order to supply water from the Nottingham Canal’s Moorgreen Reservoir for navigation in the lower section and to supply Stanton Ironworks.

Members of the Inland Waterways Association, having lost the battle to keep the Derby Canal open, formed the Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Association (ECP&DA), leased the threatened lock cottages at Sandiacre and organised working parties to keep the waterway navigable.

In 1971-1973 the Association reclaimed the derelict terminal basin at Langley Mill, reinstating the connections with the moribund Cromford and Nottingham canals.

The importance of this restoration work cannot be overstated.  Apart from keeping the Erewash Canal open to pleasure craft, the Association’s work makes possible the ultimate restoration of the Cromford and Derby Canals, however many decades each might take.

But for the foresight of less than a dozen individuals in the late 1960s, the canals of the Erewash valley would have been quite literally gone and forgotten.

The Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour includes  visits to the Great Northern Basin and the Sandiacre Lock Cottages.  For further details please click here.

Stitching a canal back together

Chesterfield Canal:  Hollingwood Hub

Chesterfield Canal: Hollingwood Hub

The Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour will visit the Hollingwood Hub centre to hear about the forty-year restoration programme that has returned all but nine miles of the Chesterfield Canal to navigation.

I remember the wrecked state of this canal in the 1970s, and I’ve marvelled at the inspiring work of the Chesterfield Canal Trust in bringing water and boats back to long-abandoned stretches of waterway.

The first practical preservation project was the restoration of Tapton Lock on the outskirts of Chesterfield, completed by the Chesterfield Canal Society in 1990.  This led to the restoration of Hollingwood Lock, near Staveley, in 1993.  By 1997, when the Society became the Chesterfield Canal Trust, further locks had been restored, and the visitor centre at Tapton Lock opened.

The section between Worksop and Shireoaks reopened in 1998, and the entire length from Worksop to the east portal of Norwood Tunnel, including twenty-two listed but dismantled locks, was restored to navigation by 2003.

Major landmarks in the restoration campaign were celebrated – the opening of the Shireoaks Marina by HRH the Duke of Gloucester in 2000, the completion of navigation between Chesterfield and Staveley in 2002, the opening of the Hollingwood Hub centre in 2011 and the opening of Staveley Town Basin the following year.

Several obstacles stand in the way of connecting the two restored navigable sections of the canal – a 1970s housing development at Killamarsh, the M1 motorway and the collapsed Norwood Tunnel.  The Chesterfield Canal Partnership, a consortium of local authorities working with the Trust and others, has developed feasible plans to deal with each of these difficulties over the nine remaining miles of abandoned waterway.

Restoring navigation north of Staveley, where an 1892 mineral railway bridge left insufficient headroom for canal traffic, necessitated constructing a dropped pound between two new locks, Staveley Town Lock, no 5a, and Railway Lock, no 5b.

The intention is to restore the surviving eastern section of Norwood Tunnel, leading to three ponds, created in the landscaping of the former Kiveton Park Colliery, capable of being developed as a marina.

Beyond a 400-metre intact length, the Norwood Tunnel is irretrievable because of subsidence, infilling by the National Coal Board and the construction of the M1 motorway in the 1960s.  Instead, a new surface channel is proposed, using an existing farm-road underpass to cross beneath the motorway, with a cutting and locks to reach the level of the existing tunnel and the summit pound at Kiveton Park.

Some aspects of the restoration plans were compromised by the announcement in 2012 of the preferred route for the HS2 railway line.  Four-and-a-half years of campaigning by the Trust, strongly supported by members of the public, contributed to the decision to reroute HS2 to an alignment to the east.

Forty years of hard work have demonstrated the practicability of restoring a completely abandoned waterway, yet there is still much work to do.  Other restorations, such as the Kennet & Avon, Huddersfield Narrow and Rochdale Canals, have led the way;  other mutilated waterways in the Trent Valley – the Cromford, Derby, and Grantham Canals – will return to navigation, even if they take decades to accomplish.

Hollingwood Hub is owned by Derbyshire County Council and operated by the Chesterfield Canal Trust as a resource for members of the public to use:  http://www.chesterfield-canal-trust.org.uk/restoration/hollingwood-hub.

The coffee shop is open from Wednesday to Sunday and on Bank Holidays.

The Chesterfield Canal features in the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour.  For further details please click here.

South Yorkshire’s other transport museum

South Yorkshire Transport Trust, Eastwood, Rotherham

South Yorkshire Transport Trust, Eastwood, Rotherham

The South Yorkshire Transport Trust at Eastwood, Rotherham, is a much more hard-core enthusiasts’ affair than its companion down the road at Aldwarke.

Its occasional opening days are populated by individuals of a certain age brandishing serious cameras – a stereotype I find it remarkably easy to fit into – and these events seem to attract visiting vehicles from far and wide.

Formerly located in the former Tinsley Tram Sheds, in 2017 the collection moved to a former nut factory.  (There’s a health-warning about allergies at the entrance.)  It’s a businesslike location that already looks and smells like a bus garage – fragrant with diesel oil, rubber and sun-dried upholstery.

The core fleet is considerable and includes an immaculate village bus of 1963 from Cyprus, an American school bus dating from 1989, as well as buses that operated away from South Yorkshire – Devon General, East Kent, Eastern National, Lothian and Greater Manchester.

There is an impressive collection of South Yorkshire double-deckers mostly from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, many of them awaiting full restoration.

In some cases, their parlous condition is the result of vandal attacks when they were stored in the open.  The Eastwood site offers much better security.

Among the stars of the collection is Sheffield 874 (7874 WJ) of 1960, a tram-replacement vehicle that notched up sixteen years in public service followed by over forty years in preservation, and has run in every single one of those years.

If South Yorkshire ever instigates an authentic heritage bus service, as London has, here is the fleet.

The Trust’s website is at http://www.sytt.org.uk.

South Yorkshire’s transport museum

South Yorkshire Transport Museum, Aldwarke, Rotherham

South Yorkshire Transport Museum, Aldwarke, Rotherham

South Yorkshire has two transport museums which grew independently out of an early project to turn the former Sheffield Tramways Company’s Tinsley Tram Sheds into a museum on a nationally significant transport-history site.

At the present time the oldest purpose-built tram depot in the UK is a tile-warehouse, and there are two separate collections of buses and other transport memorabilia within a couple of miles of each other in the suburbs of Rotherham.

The South Yorkshire Transport Museum at Aldwarke is family friendly.  There’s plenty for children to do, and much to entertain kids of all ages.

If you’ve lived in South Yorkshire and are over forty this place provides the disconcerting experience of finding once-familiar objects preserved in a museum.

It has a rich collection of buses, most of them well preserved and the rest under restoration, from across South Yorkshire, as well as tower wagons, towing trucks and other vehicles including two milk floats.

Some of the buses are available for hire, and do a roaring trade in weddings and birthdays.

There’s even a matchstick model of a railway locomotive.

Tucked away in a corner is the lower saloon of a Sheffield tram, no 460 built in 1926.  It’s a rare survivor, sold rather than scrapped in 1951, and now repainted in an approximation of the authentic livery.  Step inside to look at the models and memorabilia and hear an evocative sound-recording of trams in motion that makes up for its incomplete state.

There’s also a café, serving hot and cold drinks, sandwiches and snacks, and a shop full of souvenirs and arcana to satisfy the most deep-dyed transport enthusiast.

Visitor information is at https://sytm.co.uk/visit/opening.html.

Tinsley Tramsheds

Former Tinsley Tramsheds, Sheffield

Former Tinsley Tramsheds, Sheffield

The most substantial remnant of Sheffield’s first-generation tram system is the original depot at Weedon Street, Tinsley, built in 1873 for the Sheffield Tramways Company when it opened its first horse-drawn line.

This very early tramway was founded by the railway contractor Thomas Lightfoot, who also built the Douglas horse-tramway that opened in 1876 and still operates in the Isle of Man.

When the Sheffield Corporation took over the horse-tram company, its first electric trams, inaugurated in 1899, ran between Weedon Street and Nether Edge, with a depot at each end, and for the first few years vehicles were maintained and eventually built at the two depots – mechanical parts at Tinsley, bodywork at Nether Edge – until a purpose-built works at Queen’s Road opened in 1905.

The National Tramway Museum’s photographic library shows the atmosphere of Tinsley Tramsheds up to the end of the 1950s:  http://ntm.adlibhosting.com/detail.aspx?parentpriref [insert ‘Tinsley Depot’ in search box].

A well-made film of a tram-journey from Beauchief to Weedon Street in 1960 ends with Roberts car 523 disappearing into the tramsheds:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0a28Q_78eM  [at 16:45 minutes].

Almost all Sheffield’s trams, including the very last in service and those in the final closing procession in October 1960, ended up at Weedon Street, from where they were towed across the road to Thomas W Ward’s scrapyard.

Sheffield people customarily referred to “tramsheds”, though all of them across the city were substantial brick buildings.  Apart from Tinsley, they have either disappeared or survive only as sad facades.

At one time Tinsley Tramsheds was home to Sheffield’s bus museum, until a schism led to one collection moving out to Aldwarke near Rotherham to become the South Yorkshire Bus Museum and the other, the South Yorkshire Transport Trust, eventually moving to Eastwood in a nearby part of Rotherham.

Little remains of the tram-depot interior:  the tracks, inspection pits and overhead gantries that gave exterior access to trams at upper-deck level have long gone.  Urban explorer reports show empty graffiti-covered spaces [https://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/industrial-sites/32188-attercliffe-tram-sheds-sheffield-december-2015-a.html#.WPS3tYWcGUk], and the tile-depot that occupies the first two bays looks like, well, a tile-depot:  http://www.tiledepot.com/pages.php?pageid=3.

A glass-half-empty report from the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society suggests that the building is deteriorating:  http://hhbs.org.uk/2017/07/01/trams-to-tiles.

Nevertheless, this Grade II-listed relic of transport history, located between the Meadowhall shopping centre and Sheffield’s new Ikea store, close to a retail park and the Sheffield Arena, could be smartened up by a savvy developer.

Cracks in the tarmac of the forecourt show that the track-fan and stone setts survive, at least in part, waiting to be exposed.

The interior is a flexible space with scope for adaptation, and the exterior is capable of restoration as one of the few historic sites remaining in the Lower Don Valley.

Exploring Australia: XPT trains

NSW TrainLink XPT power car 2000, Sydney Central Station

NSW TrainLink XPT power car 2000, Sydney Central Station

Three times I’ve travelled by train from Melbourne to Sydney – never, as it happens, in the opposite direction.

I wrote up the first journey in a blog article about my introduction to travel in Australia in 2010-11 [http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=851], when I was completely oblivious of the border between the states of Victoria and New South Wales.

The second time, the border was very obvious, because I took the train only as far as Albury, where until 1962 you had to change trains because the two states’ rail systems were built to different gauges:  http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=2245.

By my third trip, early in 2017, I felt I was beginning to find my way around.  I’m used to the fact that the daytime train from Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station doesn’t always leave on time.  Indeed, it often doesn’t arrive until after it’s due to depart.

There’s a good reason for this.

The New South Wales’ Railways XPT trains that operate the inter-state TrainLink service are based on the British High Speed Train.  The sound of the power cars’ Paxman engines is immediately recognisable to British ears.

These Australian workhorses have been in use since 1982, whereas the British version began operating in 1976, and with overhauls and modifications both continue to give sterling service.

The Australian-built version was adapted at the outset for the different conditions down under:  the engines are down-rated and the suspension enhanced to cope with inferior track and longer distances;  the Australian power cars have headlights at roof level to cope with the darkness of the empty rural areas at night.  The trailer cars are completely different from the British Mark III carriages, designed instead under licence from the American Budd company by the Australian builder Comeng.

The astonishing thing about these 35-year-old veterans is the intensity of their schedules.

While one unit runs seven days a week between Sydney and Dubbo and back (287 miles each way), the others run an intensive seven-day carousel between Sydney and Melbourne, Grafton (in the north of New South Wales, 432 miles each way), Melbourne again, Casino (north of Grafton, 500 miles from Sydney) and Brisbane (over the border in Queensland, 614 miles each way).

During this weekly routine each unit is serviced at Sydney only three times.

There isn’t a great deal of leeway, which explains why departures from Southern Cross are often delayed.

Until they are replaced sometime in the next few years, these tough trains earn their keep and represent outstanding value for money.