Rail (UK)

Rail Rover pt 3

PAUL BIGLAND vis­its old haunts in South Wales, be­fore con­clud­ing his lat­est Rail Rover by trav­el­ling on routes between Lon­don and the Mid­lands that of­fer a mix­ture of fa­mil­iar land­marks, new in­fra­struc­ture and a chang­ing land­scape

- RAIL pho­tog­ra­phy: PAUL BIGLAND Railways · Travel · Transportation · Industries · Portugal · First Great Western · Liskeard · Plymouth · Exeter · National Gallery · National Gallery of Art · Network Rail Route 18 · Taunton · St Germans · Cardiff Central to Nottingham Route · Totnes · Newton Abbot · United Kingdom · Dawlish

PAUL BIGLAND heads to Wales and the Mid­lands for the fi­nal in­stal­ment of his “weird­est and wack­i­est” All-Line Rail Rover.

Hav­ing had sev­eral early starts, Day 6 be­gins in a more re­laxed fash­ion with me catch­ing Great West­ern Rail­way’s 0921 from Par to­wards Padding­ton.

I ar­rive at the sta­tion in time to snap a few pic­tures and ob­serve my fel­low pas­sen­gers. The mix of young women with prams, el­derly cou­ples and tourists with suit­cases sug­gests to me that the rail­ways aren’t seen as un­safe by many, and my view is con­firmed when I board the lead set of a pair of Class 800s. Af­ter we depart, I do a quick tour and reckon the train is at half-ca­pac­ity.

Over the PA, the Train Man­ager makes the usual an­nounce­ment about mask wear­ing, and also men­tions that the rear set is less busy if peo­ple want to swap sets. I have al­ready set­tled into an air­line seat, so am happy to stay where I am and leave the ta­ble bays for cou­ples, even though it would take sev­eral hours re­trac­ing my steps to Taun­ton.

We weave our way through Corn­wall with­out ap­par­ent ef­fort. The Class 800s are a lot qui­eter than the HSTs they’ve re­placed, due to the sealed vestibule doors and mod­ern cor­ri­dor con­nec­tions. They glide up and down the Devon and Corn­wall banks, which you wouldn’t know ex­isted.

It’s a far cry from a pre­vi­ous trip on a Class 150, where the set wheezed and vi­brated so much as it stag­gered up Dain­ton Bank that I thought it was go­ing to shake it­self to bits!

I es­chew the idea of plug­ging in my lap­top to take notes and re­sort to old-fash­ioned pen and pa­per in­stead, so that I can en­joy more of the view and not be dis­tracted by bash­ing a key­board.

In con­trast, a teenage girl op­po­site spends much of her time on her phone live-stream­ing to her friends, al­though I’m not sure how much of a mar­ket there is for sen­tences where the word ‘like’ or com­men­tary on how much bat­tery charge she has left makes up 75% of the con­tent! It’s easy to see why the ad­vent of smart­phones, 4G and mas­sive data al­lowances killed off the con­cept of the ‘ Volo’ coach!

At Liskeard, we pass a ‘Cas­tle’ Class HST which seems a lot qui­eter than my ser­vice. A hand­ful of folk join us, but not enough to make the train feel un­com­fort­able.

Hav­ing cho­sen a seat on the right-hand side of the train, I am ide­ally placed to ad­mire the views at St Ger­mans where the rivers Tiddy and Lyn­her join. The rail­way crosses the for­mer on a viaduct, which pro­vides an ex­cel­lent view­ing plat­form.

Soon af­ter­wards, we cross the more fa­mous river and bridge, the Royal Al­bert and the Ta­mar, where we take our leave of Corn­wall. The na­ture of the wa­ter­borne traf­fic also changes. Tiny yachts give way to the mas­sive grey shapes of ship­ping built for an en­tirely dif­fer­ent pur­pose - war­ships that are moored at Ply­mouth, our next stop.

Al­though it’s qui­eter than in pre-COVID days, a re­spectable num­ber of pas­sen­gers are wait­ing for us to ar­rive. De­spite the num­bers who alight, we are no­tice­ably busier on de­par­ture. As we pass, I am in­ter­ested to see how lively Laira de­pot is - many roads are full, with stored HST ve­hi­cles or ac­tive GWR and CrossCoun­try sets.

Judg­ing by the new voice over the PA, we’ve had a crew change in Ply­mouth - the warn­ing about masks and the apol­ogy for lack of cater­ing is made in a chirpy Cock­ney twang rather than a West Coun­try burr.

Our next stops at Totnes and New­ton Ab­bot add to our com­ple­ment, but the train doesn’t feel un­com­fort­able and my fel­low pas­sen­gers are well-be­haved.

The trip from here to Ex­eter is with­out doubt one of my favourite UK rail jour­neys, as the rail­way hugs the Teign es­tu­ary un­til reach­ing the sea at Dawlish, be­fore then fol­low­ing the River Exe in­land.

There’s some­thing spe­cial about tidal es­tu­ar­ies, due to the abun­dance of wildlife and the ever-chang­ing scenes as the wa­ter ebbs or rises. Throw in some moody skies and fil­tered sun­light, and the views can re­sem­ble a paint­ing by Turner - only you don’t have to go to the Na­tional Gallery to see this, it’s brought to your seat on a train.

The land­scape isn’t the only thing that changes. The sea wall at Dawlish has un­der­gone some man-made in­ter­ven­tions, with Net­work Rail in the midst of an

£ 80 mil­lion scheme to make the rail­way weath­er­proof for the fu­ture.

Work lasts from 2019-22, but the sculpted con­crete wave re­curve pan­els are al­ready in place along Marine Pa­rade, pro­tect­ing both the rail­way and the un­wary pedes­trian from the mas­sive waves that reg­u­larly break over the line at this point. The new sea wall may stop the waves from the sea, but not from the chil­dren who en­thu­si­as­ti­cally greet our train as it passes. It’s great to see this ages-old habit is still go­ing strong.

De­spite its na­ture as a busy stu­dent town and junc­tion, Ex­eter is qui­eter than Ply­mouth. As we leave, I eye the nearby Ex­eter brew­ery with its neat row of beer-gar­den benches. It

The new sea wall may stop the waves from the sea, but not from the chil­dren who en­thu­si­as­ti­cally greet our train as it passes. It’s great to see this ages-old habit is still go­ing strong.

 ??  ?? Birm­ing­ham New Street is a sight to be­hold for Paul Bigland, as Britain’s busiest sta­tion out­side Lon­don lies prac­ti­cally empty on Septem­ber 13.
Birm­ing­ham New Street is a sight to be­hold for Paul Bigland, as Britain’s busiest sta­tion out­side Lon­don lies prac­ti­cally empty on Septem­ber 13.
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Worces­ter Shrub Hill of­fers one of the best se­lec­tions of sem­a­phore sig­nals left on the net­work.
Worces­ter Shrub Hill of­fers one of the best se­lec­tions of sem­a­phore sig­nals left on the net­work.

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