Felix's Unstructured Trips

Discussion in 'Trip Planning & Reports' started by FelixtheCat, 1 Nov 2018.

  1. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    Trip #18c: A Final Trundle around the North West

    A 5am alarm called me from my sleep. Annoyance gave way to excitement as I remembered I would be having fun on the Cumbrian loco-hauled sets. Armed with food and water, I took a final trip back to Haymarket. I had about 15 minutes of wait. I observed the continuing cancellations of ScotRail and managed to snap one of the Fife loco-hauled sets before my train arrived.
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    I boarded the 06:57 departure to Carlisle. It was dark, so I mainly concentrated on not being sick. Riding on a Pendolino gives me a sort of motion sickness that I don't usually get on trains. It must be the tilting.

    My advance tickets had given me nearly an hours wait at Carlisle before my train round the Cumbrian Coast. I left the station to buy some hot food and drink. Armed with a lukewarm pastry, I returned to the waiting room. I remained there for about half an hour, before the class 37 rocked up (late).
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    37409 "Lord Hinton" was to shove me all the way round the coast to Barrow-in-Furness. I settled into the very back of the rear carriage so I could enjoy the glory of a class 37. There isn't much words can do to describe an experience like this. I can only post some pictures.
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    We lost time at St Bees because of a late running service in the other direction. I had a tight (8 minute) connection to a service to Lancaster. I spoke to the guard who said that she would speak to her control and try to hold the train for a bit. After a fabulous nearly 3 hour journey, I trotted from one train to the other, swapping my class 37 for a class 185. With only a 3 minute change, I didn't have time for pictures. The Manchester Airport service left only 2 minutes late, calling at all stations to Preston. I continued to enjoy the coastal scenery all the way to Lancaster. I got off there, giving myself 20 minutes to wait before my return to Barrow.
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    I went back round to Barrow on another on-hire 185.
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    I had another wait at Barrow until a loco-hauled set arrived. I spent it milling around a waiting room.
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    The current timetable means that there are two loco-hauled departures from Barrow north to Carlisle in the space of an hour. Originally, I was going to take this set all the way to Carlisle, as it was the other diagram (therefore hopefully the 68). However, it was another 37. No complaints from me. I decided to alight at Sellafield as I had plenty of time before my booked train from Carlisle back to Haymarket.

    Sellafield serves the nuclear power station and its workers. I had managed to arrive in the peak time (which was slightly tedious). Whilst waiting for departure, I realised that nobody had actually shut some of the slam doors. I gave them an aggressive shove and got a wave from the guard. After the token was thrown (quite literally) from signal box to cab, the train departed.
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    I saw two southbound departures (both 156s) and an almost constant stream of workers from the site.

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    37409 chugged into view, almost on-time. I boarded (along with more workers) and enjoyed the same views of the Cumbrian Coast, but in the dark. I slept as well because I had been up for many hours. I was woken up by a guard at Carlisle. I left the train swiftly and apologetically, returning to retrieve my phone and tickets. I spent the next 50 minutes in the waiting room, popping out to see some freight*
    *1 intermodal

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    My train back to Edinburgh arrived (delayed) and I boarded it. Nothing really happened, except me eating some chocolate and drinking a lot of water. I arrived at Haymarket and went home.

    Tomorrow: Nothing. I have revision to do.
     
  2. Kite159

    Kite159 Veteran Member

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    Nice bit of 37 based noise :)
     
  3. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    They're fabulous beasts, especially on such a brilliant bit of railway. It'll be a shame to see them go.
     
  4. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    Trip #19: Final Day at IBM (The Closure/Mothballing of IBM (Halt) Station)
    Original Post: https://felixunstructured.weebly.com/lusblog/the-closuremothballing-of-ibm-halt-station

    Introduction
    In May of this year, I visited IBM station as part of my Least Used Stations blog. There, I found that most of the former IBM Spango Valley site had been demolished and the whole site was derelict. I observed that very few people used it, and I expected that services would be reduced to the bare minimum (in order to not have to go through expensive closure procedures). I also observed that the site would possibly be re-built at some point. I recommend that you have a read of that for a much more detailed description of the station, the surroundings and the reasons for its decline.

    Reasons for Closure

    The obvious one is that the Spango Valley site is now flat. No buildings are left. The station doesn't serve a population. But, this wasn't the catalyst for closure. The reason provided was that the Police have been having to deal with an increasing amount of anti-social behaviour at Spango Valley. The theory is that closing the station will remove the easy access to the site and therefore reduce anti-social behaviour.
    The pictures below show the state of the site as of November 2018. Since my visit in May, the fencing that prohibited people from gaining access to parts of the site had been removed.
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    Procedures Prior to Closure
    In November 2018, it was announced that ScotRail would be withdrawing all services from the station at the December 2018 timetable change. The announcement was done by posting a small banner on the information page for the station on the ScotRail website. One also appeared on the National Rail Enquires website a few days later.

    I have always understood that, in order to withdraw all train services from a station, some form of replacement transport must be provided or the station has to be closed entirely. 3 stations in the Midlands (Barlaston, Wedgwood and Norton Bridge) have been served by a “temporary” replacement bus since 2004. However, when I asked ScotRail if any alternative transport would be provided, they told me that none would be. To me, this meant that the station was being closed without following the proper procedures. Even though the withdrawal of services is temporary (the station is being kept in order to serve any future developments on the old IBM site), there is no timeline for this to happen meaning that the station will see no trains until further notice.

    There is one thing which could exempt IBM from the normal closure procedures. It was originally opened in 1978 as a private unadvertised halt for staff at the Spango Valley site. Signs at the station still state that only staff and contractors for IBM should alight at the station. As it was originally a private station, this could mean that it is a special case, and the full closure procedures do not need to be followed, nor does replacement transport need to be provided in the case of a closure. This appears to be the consensus of people who know about railway legislation.

    I made contact with both Transport Scotland and ScotRail about this when the station was first advertised as closing in mid-November. However, neither of them got back to me with answers.

    Service Level
    Another mystery was the apparent withdrawal of Glasgow-bound services in November. Previously, all but one service on the line stopped at IBM. However, RealTimeTrains, National Rail Enquires and other publicly available sources showed IBM as an unadvertised (IE: non-passenger) stop for trains travelling towards Glasgow. Trains travelling from Glasgow were still stopping as normal. I decided that I should do a quick investigation in November, which confirmed that all trains were stopping there as normal. I made sure of this by hiding out of the drivers view until they had unlocked their doors to make sure that my presence did not alter their behaviour. I asked ScotRail and Transport Scotland about this, but (again) they did not provide a response.

    The Day of Closure
    The station closed at the timetable change. That meant that the last train was the 23:48 service to Glasgow Central on the 8th of December. Having researched travel options, I found that I could do this, returning to Edinburgh on a night coach. With that information in mind, I found myself boarding a delayed train to Glasgow at Haymarket, armed only with anticipation. At Glasgow, I had plenty of time before the next train to IBM, so I got myself a chip-based takeaway and ate it before making my way to Glasgow Central station and the 21:36 departure. My ticket wasn't checked on the way to IBM. I alighted, getting a good stare from a small teenager as I snapped the departing train.
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    IBM was as desolate as ever. The darkness only amplified it.
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    I sat in the waiting room, watching as the the train I had alighted from earlier returned back to Glasgow. I had another hour before the last train. I decided not to leave the station site as I had already seen enough of the Spango Valley area in the day without spooking myself (and possibly getting questioned). I remained on the platform until the penultimate train arrived at 23:23. One man alighted. I had a quick chat with the driver and confirmed that he was stopped on the return to Glasgow. He (and his train) then departed to Wemyss Bay.
    25 minutes later, the train returned. Unit 314216 operated the 23:48 departure from IBM to Glasgow Central, the very last train to stop there for the foreseeable future. I greeted the driver again before boarding. The final train then left IBM. As the guard came through to check tickets, we had a short discussion about IBM and the reasons for closure.
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    Once back at Glasgow, I walked to Buchannan Street bus station, and spent part of the return journey on a coach, with the man next to me falling asleep against me.

    Notes
    And that's it. No ceremony for the closure of a station. I was surprised that only two people (including me) turned out to see a small part of railway history. Possibly because everyone was still crying from the closure of Old Oak Common Depot a few hours earlier.

    As observed earlier, this closure is expected to be temporary. Nobody can be sure when the station will see passenger services again. Until then, passenger services at IBM will be part of railway history. However, as class 314s are due to be withdrawn over the next year, this will be the last time one of these elderly units ever stops at IBM. It is quite fitting that the last train at the station was operated by a unit that will soon leave the railway forever.
     
  5. Kite159

    Kite159 Veteran Member

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    Farewell IBM Halt, but like you I was surprised all services were getting removed rather than having a token call (i.e. on the 22:36 Glasgow Central - Wemyss Bay service which during the week stables overnight to work the first service from Wemyss Bay back to Glasgow, basically a token service which will be pointless. [A bit like how I predicted the service frequency of Redcar British Steel to be cut back to the bare minimum only for it to double in frequency, especially on a Saturday]
     
  6. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    Trip #20: Battersby and Kildale (The Esk Valley Line)
    Original Post: https://felixunstructured.weebly.com/lusblog/the-esk-valley-battersby-and-kildale

    Introduction and a Bit of History

    The Esk Valley runs from Middlesbrough to Whitby, with a reversing point at Battersby. Originally, it was two railway lines, one running from Whitby to Picton to link up with the main network, and a branch line from Battersby to Middlesbrough. The line from Whitby to Picton closed between Battersby and Picton during the Beeching cuts, leaving the line from Whitby to Battersby and Battersby to Middlesbrough remaining. Therefore, all trains have to reverse at Battersby in order to get to/from Whitby. The North York Moors Railway runs from Grosmont to Pickering and also operates across National Rail infrastructure from Grosmont to Whitby. This is one of the few examples of a regular and timetabled heritage services across National Rail infrastructure.

    The line is now a fairly typical rural line. There are 4 trains that run the full length, with a few extras. Recent upgrades have seen the most northerly section of the line between Middlesbrough and Nunthorpe receive almost an hourly service. After Nunthorpe, the line passes through many small towns and villages between there and Whitby. However, most of these places are reasonably well-used with most getting over 6,000 passengers per year. When I booked the tickets for this trip, only Battersby and Kildale stations had low enough annual patronages to qualify for a visit, but the release of the most recent set of statistics put Commondale in that category too. I couldn't visit it this time, but I will at another point.

    I was originally supposed to visit Battersby in October as an opportunistic quick tick. I was in the area for other stuff and thought I could do a quick visit. However, Northern were on strike and my visit was scuppered by that.

    Journey #1: To Kildale
    It was the early start again for me as I needed to make a long slog down to Darlington and across to Middlesbrough before I could pick up my train to Kildale. The sparse and irregular service leaves few options which do not involve either a huge wait or a tiny gap. The prices meant that I was cheaper for me to book first class on the long distance parts of my journey.

    I sat in the lounge at Waverley station for a while with a cup of hot chocolate before my train had a platform advertised. I filled my rucksack with the complimentary biscuits (I took 2 packets) and walked over to where it was, settling down in my reserved seat opposite a man in a suit with a cup of coffee and a small laptop. He promptly moved. This meant I was able to spread out a bit across the table and enjoy a nice breakfast as we sped through the usually beautiful scenery on the northern section of the East Coast Main Line. Unfortunately, it was still dark for most of it, so only vague outlines could be seen. Sunrise and Newcastle greeted me (which was a mistake), and after nearly 2 hours on board, Darlington was announced and I alighted. The train in question was an InterCity125 which meant that the doors were manual slam doors rather than automatic. As I walked up the platform, I helped the platform staff by slamming doors closed so they could concentrate on making sure the train left on time. I sat in the Darlington lounge to charge my phone for a bit before my next train of the day arrived to take me across to Middlesbrough. After 30 minutes of quite crowded and bouncy travelling, we arrived at Middlesbrough and I got off. I had another 10 minute wait before my train to Kildale swung round into the platform.

    We trundled down through various industrial plants to Nunthorpe where we stopped to exchange a token with the man from the signal box. This gave us permission to continue as far as Battersby. There, the train reversed and exchanged tokens again so it could continue towards Whitby as far as Glaisdale (this is the only passing loop on the otherwise single track line). Because there is no signaller at Battersby, this exchange has to be done remotely using a token box situated on Battersby platform which allows communication between the signaller at Nunthorpe at the driver. We then departed. Kildale is only 4 minutes further along the line than Battersby. We slowed to a halt and I alighted.

    Kildale Station
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    The 2 coach train could barely fit onto the platform. This is one of the points where I have a great deal of respect for drivers because even half a metre out could have meant that some doors were not actually on the platform properly. As I alighted from the rear door, two people were called to the back by the guard so they could board at his door. One boarded, whilst the other waved her off. I think that they were mother and daughter, although I didn't ask and don't wish to assume. The “mother” left the station and drove off, leaving me alone to admire the station.
    Instead, I couldn't. A man in a van wandered around taking pictures for about 20 minutes before leaving. In that time, I sat in the waiting room and experienced its structural integrity. As I plonked my rucksack on the bench in the waiting room, the whole thing rattled. I then read one of the many Esk Valley Line leaflets which Northern have issued in order to boost tourist traffic on the line.

    Now alone, I could properly admire the station. The station is nestled in a cutting surrounded by farms and a rather lovely village church. The aroma is a combination of manure and the sour taste one gets with food that's just gone off, with a hint of urine. To be fair, the station is mostly surrounded by farms. Other than the smell, it is a rather good rural station. The station itself has a shelter, a number of signs, a bin, a telephone (which still works) and a selection of plant pots which I imagine look rather lovely during summer. In the car park, there is also a small brick building which houses some public toilets. This makes it the first station in this series to have its own public convenience. The piece of National Grid infrastructure right next to the station entrance slightly detracts from the rural charm. Access to the station is down a grass path from the road and through a gate.
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    I find it is possible to check a station's natural demographic by the railcard that is advertised. For example, my local London station advertises a Two Together Railcard because I live in a part of London that is becoming increasingly gentrified by 25 year olds with aspirations and more coffee beans than brain cells. Kildale has a Senior Railcard posted. You work it out.

    St Cuthbert's Church
    I mentioned the church earlier, and as I had nearly 2 hours at Kildale, I decided to explore it. Sadly, it was closed on the day in question, so I had a look around the churchyard using my “museum technique” which I developed during childhood. Essentially, it involves walking very very slowly around a place in order to prevent boredom from setting in. This was developed during various holidays to places with my family, some of whom insisted on dragging two young children around art galleries and other cultural things which, whilst historically significant and very interesting, are fairly dull to most 10 year olds.
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    The current building is Victoria, although there has been a church there since Norman times, and Viking remains have also been found in the church grounds.

    Having completed a circuit of the churchyard, including a number of stops to look at the scenery, I returned to the railway station to wait for my return train there.

    Back to Battersby
    Just under 2 hours after I had arrived at Kildale, I heard the horn of a train. Soon after, it came into view and stopped. I was called to the back to board at the guard's door and prepared myself for the 4 minute journey back to Battersby.

    Battersby Station
    I alighted and watched as the train staff exchanged tokens from the box, switched cabs and then departed north to Middlesbrough. I was then left on the platform. Battersby station has a very long platform with only the top end (closest to the points but furthest from the exit) really used. The trackbed where another platform once stood is obvious, with the second platform derelict. There is a loop which means that this second platform could be used if the platform was re-built, but this is unlikely to happen, certainly in the short-term. At the end of the station there is a level crossing. Beyond this the line continues a short distance to a set of buffers. I assume this is to allow locomotive-hauled services to be able to use the full length of the Esk Valley Line by providing a place for the locomotive to change ends of their train.
    Like the station, the facilities are spread over a fairly wide distance. The car park is on the non-station side of the track and requires a walk of about 200 metres from car park to to the platform for a straight line distance of about 10 metres. The timetable is located on the non-station side of the level crossing. Once over the crossing there is another collection of posters before one takes a long walk up the length of the platform to some benches and a waiting shelter along with the token box I mentioned earlier. Right at the end of the platform is a water tower. I'm unsure if it still works. I doubt that it does, but I could be proved wrong.
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    As I walked around the station, a man with a couple of dogs greeted me, and asked if I had just missed a train. I said that I hadn't but was waiting for another one. He continued on a small circular walk which brought him back to the other end of the platform. He had lost one of his dogs on the way round and was whistling for them to come. By this point, the rain had set in so I was sheltering in the shelter. As he passed, we exchanged greetings again and I explained that my train was late. “Great day for it” was the response. He continued down the platform occasionally whistling for his other dog.
    5 minutes later, this dog came trotting down the platform. It stopped by me. I pointed in the direction that the man had walked, and so the dog ran off in the other direction. Another whistle caused the dog to flip round and scamper towards the sound.

    The dogs were not the only animals around the station. The former station house (which is now a private property) kept chickens which were roaming freely on the platform.

    Quick Hop to Danby
    Originally, I had planned to spend a similar amount of time at Battersby as I had at Kildale: 2 hours. However, the rain meant that I was unlikely to get any more done, so I decided to board one of the additional services which doesn't run the full length of the Esk Valley Line in order to shelter for a bit. It runs to and from Danby, a station further towards Whitby. So, 30 minutes after I had arrived at Battersby, I was leaving again on a train that was 10 minutes late. Only 2 other people were on board. We scampered quickly to Danby, where I took a quick snap of the train before re-boarding and enjoying the non-stop ride back to Battersby. I was the only person on board on the return. On the return, the guard was surprised that I was on the train and shared a small joke as he ticked off my hastily purchased Battersby to Danby return ticket. I have no idea what it was.
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    Back at Battersby, I watched as the train departed before taking some more pictures of the things that I had missed the first time round. This included the festive decoration on the platform: a scarecrow with an elongated face and a Santa costume called “The Grim Sheeper”.
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    The Remainder of the Line
    Because of the beauty of the Esk Valley Line, I wanted to cover the rest of the line to Whitby. It passes through some impressive scenery which pictures taken out of a train window cannot do justice to. The line winds between the rolling hills of the North York Moors, with the river Esk joining the line around Commondale. The railway and river criss-cross all the way down to Whitby, where there is an impressive viaduct (ex-railway) over the Esk Valley Line and the river.
    IMG_20181220_154349.jpg
    The return journey was done mostly in the dark, which was slightly annoying as I had wanted to get the view from the other side of the train. It was doubly annoying because I had landed myself on the train which departed Whitby with all the schoolchildren. A train full of over-excited schoolchildren is very tedious. The guard agreed by mostly staying in his cab.

    The way the tickets worked, it was cheaper for me to buy an advance back up to Edinburgh from Battersby rather than Whitby. This meant that I had a 40 minute wait at Battersby between trains. The darkness and the weather made me re-consider my wait. A consultation of the timetable showed that I could change at the station one stop north of Battersby, and board a train there back to Battersby, which would become the train that would take me back north. So, I continued north to Great Ayton.

    Another Impromptu Visit: Great Ayton
    This is the first station that I visited on the Esk Valley Line that had a ticket machine. I bought a return from Great Ayton to Battersby from it and wandered around. It is a fairly standard station, with a waiting shelter and a smattering of plant pots. Because of the rain and darkness I didn't do much exploring.

    The Return
    After 15 minutes, my train back to Battersby arrived. I was the only one on board (save for 2 drivers and a guard). My ticket was checked. At Battersby, I took a few quick pictures of the train before sheltering in it for the remaining 10 minutes before it went back to Middlesbrough. The guard checked my ticket again, asking if I was going back to Great Ayton. I showed him my advance ticket to Haymarket, which he checked off.

    At Nunthorpe, I realised that we had a 20 minute wait in the timetable. I used it as an opportunity to stretch my legs, as did the guard. I was still the only passenger on board.
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    After 15 minutes, the guard came down the platform and told me that the train we were waiting for was 10 minutes late, so we would be too. The drivers, the guard and I continued our waiting. As it approached, we were all quickly on board. The guard closed the doors the moment the approaching train was clear of the single track line and we were soon off. Our delay was only 5 minutes. I had a change at Middlesbrough for another service to Darlington. As the guard came down the train to check tickets, I realise that it was the same guard. As he checked my ticket, he realised too. We exchanged an “oh, it's you again” thing before he continued on his rounds. I imagine Battersby to Haymarket is not a very popular ticket, even though I have bought two of them in the past few months.

    At Darlington, the usual East Coast Main Line delays had taken hold, so my train was 10 minutes late. I was looking forward to the first class food offering, but sadly none was provided. I was given a microscopic can of lemonade and about 20 paper coasters. Once at Edinburgh Waverley, I changed onto another service to take me the short distance to Haymarket. It had a first class which I took advantage of for the full 4 minutes. I left the station and went home, only pausing to buy some chips.

    Notes
    Both Kildale and Battersby are fairly typical small stations that only exist because they happen to be on a railway line that links two large places. Battersby itself only exists because the railway has to reverse there. I'm not entirely sure why Northern operates the extra services to Danby and Battersby beyond Nunthorpe, because they don't appear to be well used. I imagine they would get some additional patronage in the summer when tourism is more of a thing. But, not extending services all the way to Whitby (the main population centre on the line) is not the best idea. I imagine shortage of units is a factor in this.
    Of the stations in the least used list that I have visited, Battersby now holds the title for most journeys I have made to/from it, with a total of 10 entries/exist recorded for the next list of patronage statistics. This is made up of 2 from my failed visit a few months ago and 8 this time.
     
  7. Kite159

    Kite159 Veteran Member

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    The long platform at Battersby comes in handy on Sundays where a couple services pass at the station (the last to arrive goes out first)
     
  8. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    I didn't realise there were any timetabled crossing points there; I thought that capacity was only as contingency for late running.
     
  9. Kite159

    Kite159 Veteran Member

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  10. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    Trip #21: Norton Bridge (Without a Train since 2004, Closed since 2017) - Visited on the 4th of January 2019
    Original Post: https://felixunstructured.weebly.co...-without-a-train-since-2004-closed-since-2017

    Introduction

    Why am I visiting a station that is already close? How can I visit a closed station using a train ticket? How can I visit a train station that has no trains? What happened for 13 years between the withdrawal of trains and closure? These are just some of the questions that possibly spring to mind when reading the title and questions which I hope to answer.

    Norton Bridge railway station is located next to the village of Norton Bridge in Staffordshire. It is also located at a railway junction where the line to Manchester leaves the main West Coast Main Line. Of the stations on the West Coast Main Line, it was one of the smallest. In 2002/3 it had an annual patronage of under 5000, which dipped significantly to 341 in 2006/7 before the Office of Rail and Road stopped collecting figures for the station.

    Some History
    In 2004 as part of the upgrade of the West Coast Main Line, train services from the station were withdrawn in favour of a “temporary” replacement bus service. In December of that year, the footbridge was removed in order to allow bigger freight services to pass though.

    Bus services continued for the next decade whilst the Department for Transport decided what to do. In 2016, along with the building of a flyover in the area, it was decided that the best thing to do was to close Norton Bridge station permanently rather than continue with the current situation. This was considered much better than re-instating train services at the station. After the consultation period ended, it was decided that Norton Bridge station would close permanently on the 10th of December 2017. However, bus services would continue to be subsidised by the government until March 2019 in order to allow the local council to decide what should happen to the bus service. This is why one can still buy tickets to and from Norton Bridge despite it being closed.

    Why not re-instate Train Services?
    Norton Bridge's location meant that stopping trains there always meant a lot of “conflicting moves”. IE: trains had to cross in front of a lot of other trains in order to stop there. Rather than having one platform for each railway line, or one platform for a line in each direction (as is normal with most stations), it has a single “island” platform which serves the fast line towards London, and an additional 5th line (on an otherwise 4 track railway) which trains use when leaving the West Coast Main Line and going to Manchester.

    I mentioned that a new flyover was built at Norton Bridge at the same time that closure was proposed. This was because the new flyover would mean that trains to Manchester would take different route in order to reduce the number of conflicting moves between them and trains going south. The associated reconstruction of Norton Bridge junction would mean that the platform at Norton Bridge would only face two lines which took trains in the same direction: this direction being south to Stafford, Birmingham and London. Without reducing the overall number of services passing through the area, serving Norton Bridge in both directions would be impossible. Building new platforms was deemed too expensive.

    The Journey
    Having negotiated peak-time in London, I arrived at Euston station ready for my train north to Stafford. A platform was advertised and I aimed myself at it. The ramps from the station concourse are used by Virgin Trains staff to check tickets for Virgin Trains service. I joined a small queue of people who were inefficiently aiming themselves at one of the five people who were waiting to check tickets. I managed to dodge around a number of them and went to one of the otherwise unoccupied members of staff who made an assertive scribble on my ticket before waving me onto my train. I settled myself for the journey up to Stafford.

    Because of the tilting, I tend to feel nauseous on Virgin Trains. I dislike this because one of the many benefits I find to train travel rather than by road is because I don't feel or get sick on trains, something that can't be said for cars/buses as my family will attest with memories.

    Once at Stafford, I settled myself in the waiting room. I had quite a long time between arriving and getting the bus onwards to Norton Bridge. I ate some of my lunch and charged my phone before noticing that the departure boards had advertised the bus that I was supposed to take. Having asked a member of staff where the bus stop was, I was directed to another member of staff who in turn asked a third member of staff. I then walked the 30 seconds to the bus stop outside and to the left of the main entrance. There I found a small bus waiting to operate route 13 to Stone via Norton Bridge and other small villages in the area. 3 other people also got on the bus but I was the only person using a railway ticket.
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    After a 20 minute trundle along various country lanes, including some parts of the road network that were simply not suitable for the bus, Norton Bridge came into view. I got off along with 2 other people, leaving the bus empty.

    Norton Bridge “Station”
    Despite not technically existing, Norton Bridge does have facilities: a sign and a car park. The platforms are abandoned and mostly desolate with a few station lights scattered about the place. The shelter has been demolished. With the bus stop called Norton Bridge Station Drive, I expected there to be a bit more of a road to the station, but I was wrong. The road through the village is still called Station Road, despite there not being a station anymore. There is also a now boarded up pub which was probably called The Railway Inn before most of its letters fell off.
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    Once I had seen the station from the village side, I decided to explore the opposite side to see if I could get a better view from there. This proved to be very difficult as there was a river which ran between the road and fields and the railway line. The railway was also slightly elevated from the ground meaning that getting any reasonable picture of the station was mostly impossible.
    IMG_20190104_133611.jpg
    The bus service was at uneven intervals, meaning that I had almost 3 hours in Norton Bridge. I spent most of the third of these hours scraping mud from my shoes in the bus shelter whilst my hands slowly froze.

    Back to London
    Slightly early, the bus back to Stafford came into view. I hailed it and got on. I was the only person on board for the entire 20 minute run back to Stafford. There I spent another long period of time in the waiting room before I boarded my train back to London. The journey was mostly uneventful save for a 20 minute wait near Watford.

    Notes
    I suspect that the bus service will be withdrawn, or at least partially withdrawn come March 2019 and its review. At that point Norton Bridge should be removed from the National Rail fares database. However, the current state of limbo means that one can buy a train ticket to a station that is formally closed, and also a train ticket for a journey that involves no trains (if one buys a ticket from Norton Bridge to Stafford, it is a journey done entirely by bus). It is slightly mad that this is a thing, but situations like this is something I have got more used to since starting this blog.
     
  11. Kite159

    Kite159 Veteran Member

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    A good blog :)
     
  12. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    Trip #22: Roman Bridge, Tal-y-Cafn and North Llanrwst (Conwy Valley Journey #1)
    Original Post: https://felixunstructured.weebly.co...-1-roman-bridge-tal-y-cafn-and-north-llanrwst

    Introduction
    I haven't visited Wales for this blog yet. However, Wales has some long, rural railways which are perfect for discovering little stations with low annual patronages. Visiting most of Wales from my base in southern Scotland is quite a tough ask, and most of it is out of reach. But, there are parts which are possible to visit in the day, and the Conwy Valley Line is one of them.

    The Conwy Valley Line runs from Llandudno to Blaenau Ffestiniog, mostly following the route of the river Conwy (surprise, surprise), especially in the northern half of the railway. It links a few towns in North Wales: Llanrwst, Betws-y-Coed and Blaenau Ffestiniog to the rest of the railway network, but is a very rural railway line, with the remaining 7 stations being request stops serving much smaller populations. Half the stations (5) are small enough to justify a visit for the blog. Being able to visit a maximum of 3 at a time (with careful planning), I selected my trio for the day, booked the tickets, and turned up at Edinburgh on the correct day.

    The Journey
    Because the Conwy Valley line has roughly a train every 3 hours, there are few opportunities to connect without long waits. The first train worth getting from Edinburgh is just after 8am. I took it as far as Preston, where I had an 11 minute wait for my next service. That train was slightly late, so I risked the brisk walk out of the station to Fishersgate where I could buy something hot to eat. I returned with 1 minute to spare before the timetabled departure time, and 5 minutes before it actually turned up. As it departed, I realised that my 6 minute change at Warrington Bank Quay was looking very tight. A nervy 20 minutes passed, as I checked various open information sources in an attempt to work out if my connection was also going to be delayed. On the approach to Winwick Junction (north of Warrington Bank Quay), my connection was held to allow my train to run in-front. I whispered to myself, earning a look from a nearby tracksuit containing a person.

    Now on my third train and fourth ticket of the day, I slept for part of the journey across to Llandudno Junction, making sure that I didn't miss the scenery of the North Wales Coast once I got beyond Chester. At Llundudno Junction, I had the option to take a quick detour to Llandudno during the 40 minute wait I had for the Conwy Valley service. In fact, it was the same train that would operate the Conwy Valley service. On the return, it had a 15 minute dwell at Llandudno Junction, where I got out and observed a seagull using the train as a perch. I hope it got a good fright when the engines started firing on departure.
    IMG_20190111_131909.jpg

    Almost immediately the line skirts the River Conwy, passing through various small settlements. We stopped at every request stop, although I wasn't able to observe if anyone actually got on or off at all of them. I had already requested Roman Bridge from the conductor all the way back at Llandudno, so I didn't have to worry. We skipped Dolwyddelan, (the only request stop that the service skipped all journey) and continued to hug the hills round until the driver braked for Roman Bridge. I got off, gave a wave, and watched the train as it departed.

    Roman Bridge
    Roman Bridge doesn't serve a settlement as such, instead there are a number of farm buildings and a couple of houses dotted around the valley that are within eyesight of the station. Roman Bridge has some quite modern facilities for such a remote stop, including quite a large station shelter and an electronic departure board. There are also various pieces of history, such as an old bench (which every Conwy Valley Line station seems to have) and a wooden shelter by the former station house (which is now a private property).
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    I then walked to the station's namesake, which is an ancient stone bridge over River Lledr. Over the years it has clearly been added to; I am unsure that the Romans built metal railings in the same way that councils in central Manchester do now. The closest proper settlement is Blaenau Dolwyddelan, a tiny village of no more than a few houses.
    IMG_20190111_143232.jpg
    I had just under an hour at the station. Roman Bridge is the penultimate stop on the Conwy Valley line, meaning that the southbound and northbound services run quite close together, with a long gap before the next two trains. The nearly 1 hour gap from 14:13 to 15:07 is the longest of the day. I spent the remaining time wandering around on the platform, and experimenting with different photography positions from the platform. 4 minutes before the train was due, I jumped. There was an automatic announcement system which had just triggered, surprising me. It was possibly one of the most comically awful announcements ever. If Welsh people think English people trying to pronounce Welsh places properly is hilarious, just imagine an electronic American voice that has been poorly edited attempting to pronounce “Dolwyddelan”. It couldn't even pronounce Llandudno properly, instead opting for “Lendidnow”. It was one of the worst examples of electronic pronunciation, only being beaten by another electronic American announcement in France, which proudly announced the next bus service to Val-d'Isère (pronounced Val diz-air) as “Val dee eyes-are”. The best part about that is that the French voice pronounced Val-d'Isère properly, so the French clearly thought that English-speaking people were too stupid to understand the proper pronunciation, and had deliberately edited it to be wrong.

    The other thing about Welsh stations is that everything is meant to be bi-lingual. However, the salt bin was not. This made me sad.

    A Short Hop to Tal-y-Cafn
    The hilarity of electronic voices aside, my train arrived and I flagged it down. My next station was Tal-y-Cafn, which is not a request stop southbound, but is one northbound. This is because there is a manned level crossing which requires trains to be manually waved across. Going southbound, trains have to stop at the station anyway, so it becomes a normal stop. Northbound, trains are accelerating away from their stop just before the crossing when going past the platform, so only stop on request. I requested the stop from the conductor and got off when the train stopped.

    Tal-y-Cafn
    Tal-y-Cafn used to be a passing loop. The former platform 2 still exists and is maintained by volunteers. The former station house is mostly a holiday home, although there is still a single room that looks out onto the platform for the Network Rail crossing attendant to use. The person on-duty was a very pleasant chap who, after seeing me hanging around on the platform for a while, asked if I was OK and offered me a cup of tea in the office. Slightly taken aback and not quite being able to process things, I declined the offer. I took a quick walk to the bridge to see the river, but otherwise I stayed in the station taking photos from various different angles.
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    Shortly before the next service was due (the one I was to take to Llanrwst), he emerged from the office to close the gates. The gates are still the manual type found in many-a Thomas the Tank Engine book. Very few of these still exist in the UK. I can only think of 2 (Tal-y-Cafn and Brundall in Norfolk). After he had closed the gates, we had a quick discussion, part of which involved me talking about why I was in Tal-y-Cafn in the first place, and part was being invited back to the station to have a proper look around. I hope to take this offer up at some point.

    Another Short Hop: To Llanrwst
    The train arrived and I boarded. I showed my ticket to the guard, which was a return from Tal-y-Cafn to North Llanrwst. I asked if I could be excessed up to Llanrwst, but he was happy to let be go the additional 1 minute without buying an extra ticket. There is no different in price. I was one of a number of people to get off at Llanrwst. I didn't take any pictures, because it is one of the few mandatory stops on the Conwy Valley line and is used by over 30,000 people a year. I took a walk through the small town, debating if I should buy some fish and chips. I eventually decided against. The walk from Llanrwst to North Llanrwst is only 10 minutes, so I arrived with plenty of time before the train returned to get me to Llandudno Junction and eventually Edinburgh.

    North Llanrwst
    This is the only remaining station on the line with 2 platforms. In theory it can be used as a passing place between two trains, although this doesn't happen in practice (certainly not in normal service). Despite it being the only passing loops, it is still a request stop. This is because trains actually have to stop to exchange tokens a few metres north of the station by the signal box.
    Unfortunately, by the time I got to the station it was dark and the station lights were not working. This meant taking pictures of the station was very difficult, as the picture below demonstrates. That means a description will have to suffice.
    The station itself is situated in a bus depot, specifically Llew Jones' base in Llanrwst. There is an old stone church hall type building which used to be the station house. I am unsure what it is now. The entrance is a gate at the Llanrwst end of the station on the Llandudno/northbound platform. On this platform there is a normal departure board and bicycle racks. Along the walls of the former station building there are a few pictures which show the beautiful scenery on the Conwy Valley line, as well as a wooden canopy at the other end of the building towards the signal box.
    The only means of gaining access to the southbound/Blaenau Ffestiniog is by foot crossing at the Llanrwst end of the platform. On the southbound platform, there is a more substantial shelter, with various notices, including a plaque on the 150th anniversary of the line and some artwork from local schoolchildren. There are plant pots scattered around, including one that is shaped like a boat.

    After I had walked around the entire station area, I sat down on the correct platform for my train and ate the remainder of my pasta whilst listening to some podcasts. At this point, a group of local teenagers arrived and sprawled themselves across the shelter on the opposite platform. They proceeded to shine their phone torches around whilst they busied themselves with doing something on the station benches. This turned out to be drug-related, because soon they were smoking and the lovely smell of weed filled the night air. They then left the station, leaving me to wait for my train towards home.

    The Journey Home

    I flagged the train down and boarded. I showed my tickets to the conductor and explained where I was getting off (I had a couple of tickets which got me through to Llandudno Junction). Changing trains, I spotted a loco-hauled train and took a quick snap.
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    I then boarded my own train back to Warrington Bank Quay. It was the same unit which had taken me from Warrington to Llandudno Junction earlier in the day. On board was a friend who lived in the area (not a coincidence, I had made him aware that I was going to exist in North Wales previously). We had a pleasant conversation from there to Chester, where he got off. I continued to Warrington where I changed onto another train, before a final change at Preston got me onto my last train of the day back to Edinburgh. I slept for most of the way, finally getting home shortly before midnight.

    Notes
    The Conwy Valley line is similar to a lot of rural branch lines in that it links a few reasonably-sized settlements but also serves some very small ones that would not usually justify a railway service. I was surprised at the number of people who used the request stops, especially on my first service where all but one were used. This is a good sign, especially as it is winter, a time where the usual tourist boost does not exist.

    I would like to thank heartily the man at Tal-y-Cafn for his kindness. I'm sorry I didn't engage properly the first time, but I am grateful and would love (at some point) to return properly.
     
  13. Kite159

    Kite159 Veteran Member

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    Well done for visiting on a day the line wasn't closed due to weather related damage to either the track or the rolling stock :lol:

    Sounded like a good trip, Roman Bridge is a lovely little station
     
  14. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    It was! I wasn't that worried about closures.

    Roman Bridge is wonderful, but I think I preferred Tal-y-Cafn.
     
  15. Kite159

    Kite159 Veteran Member

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    You will love Glan Conwy for the views over the river
     
    Last edited: 14 Jan 2019
  16. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    See, Glan Conwy is used by quite a few people so I wasn't planning a visit. I did notice it's wonderful position when passing through though. I may go there once I've done the 100+ stations that I "need".
     
  17. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    Trip #23: Stromeferry and Lochluichart (Kyle Line Journey #2)
    Original Post: https://felixunstructured.weebly.com/lusblog/kyle-line-journey-2-stromeferry-and-lochluichart

    Introduction
    Winter in the Highlands is a time where the most remote areas of the country become more remote. Visitor numbers reduce and transport becomes less frequent than it already is. It can also get bitterly cold. What a perfect set of conditions to visit two railway stations there!

    Both Stromeferry and Lochluichart are located on the Kyle Line which runs from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh. Stromeferry is not a request stop, and is not technically in the proper least used stations list. Its current annual patronage is just below 1,400. Lochluichart is a remote station with an annual patronage that hovers around the 500 to 600 mark. It is a request stop, one of 6 on the Kyle Line (all of which are (or have been) in the least used stations list.

    To Stromeferry
    The normal early morning alarm greeted me, and I found myself at Haymarket about an hour later, in plenty of time for my train north. The December timetable changes mean that I now have to get an earlier train from Edinburgh to change to the first Highland Main Line service (which originates from Glasgow).

    At Haymarket, a lady came up to me and asked where the 06:20 service to Liverpool was departing from. I told her that there was no direct train to Liverpool from Edinburgh (which there isn't) and that she had to change at Preston and Wigan. This explanation did not suit her, because she remained certain that there was a direct Edinburgh to Liverpool service and that if she walked to Waverley station then she would find it. I repeated that there simply wasn't such a train and that she needed to change trains at least once. After an explanation of the route to Waverley, she decided that she wouldn't walk there. I asked her what ticket she had (it was getting dangerously close to the 06:19 departure that I thought she wanted). Her response was that she thought she had an off-peak weekender ticket which allowed her to travel at any point but that she didn't have it with her. Whilst I internally slammed my head into the floor, my mouth suggested that she should either obtain her ticket or buy a new one. At this point, she went to the ticket machines and noisily collected her pre-purchased ticket using her card and booking reference. She came back to me and showed me the ticket. Of course, she had an Advance Single (which is only valid on the service that it is booked for) for the 10:52 departure from Edinburgh Waverley, and was actually going to Runcorn rather than Liverpool (which makes a difference for changing point). After I had explained this, and that she had a 4 and a half hour wait, she decided the best thing was to go to to Waverley. “Can I get a direct train there from here? How do you spell 'Waverley'?” I took her to a ticket machine, selected the single from Haymarket to Edinburgh and let her complete the purchase. I directed her to platform 3 and she left having thanked me multiple times.

    5 paragraphs in, and I still hadn't got on a train, so I thought I should. I boarded my booked service from Haymarket to Perth and then got out my tickets. My Edinburgh to Inverness advance single came with a Mandatory Reservation Coupon which detailed the services I had to use to complete my journey. This was labelled “Mandatory Reservation Coupon 1 of 0”. “Does this ticket really exist? Do I have to use the services detailed on it if it doesn't exist?” are just some of the questions that could provoke an hour-long philosophy discussion in a university tutorial. I wasn't in one of those, so I did the second best thing, which was to take the piss out of it on Facebook.

    I had nearly half an hour at Perth, so I decided to walk to a nearby shop and buy my 2 litre bottle of water which I require for every trip. Back at the station, I boarded the service to Inverness. The scenery of the Highlands greeted me, with the frost down south giving way to snow as the train moved higher and further north. I did a journey check at this point to see how well the North Highland lines where doing. The note “major disruption” caused slight panic, which gave way to relief when it turned out to be a points failure at Ardgay that did not affect my journey to Stromeferry. Instead, there were a number of cancellations on the Far North Line.

    At Inverness, the temperature was noticeably lower and the day was only going to get colder. I purchased a hot chocolate (with a disposable cup – sorry environment) and toastie from the station Costa. I then boarded the train which would take me to Stromeferry.
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    I was one of about 10 people from Inverness. The train filled up slightly at the stations up to Dingwall, but there were noticeably fewer people on board than there were last summer. This is normal for rural railway lines such as the Kyle Line. I was the only person to get off at Stromeferry. I waved to the conductor, and the train departed.

    Stromeferry
    Stromeferry used to be a passing loop. The second platform is still visible, although it is inaccessible by the public. It is located at the end of a deep cutting which rises quite rapidly at the Kyle of Lochalsh end of the platform. The platform itself is quite long for the line, and was longer before the far end was fenced off.

    The facilities are standard, with most of them clustered around the Inverness end. The shelter is located on part of the platform which is lower than the rest of it. The noticeboards, signs, bin and bike racks are all located around the gate which acts as the entrance/exit of the station.
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    The village of Stromeferry (or South Strome as some signs refer to it) used to have a ferry connection to North Strome and Strome Castle. However, when a new bypass was built in the 70s, it negated the ferry which meant that it ceased to operated regularly. It has been revived since, mostly during road closures, but Stromeferry generally has no ferry. There was quite a famous road sign on which was written “Strome Ferry (No Ferry)” although this has been removed. The short quay which these shuttles used still exists, right next to the railway station. The quay on the other side of Loch Carron is also visible.

    I decided to walk from the station up the steep road which led out of the village. Several hairpin turns brought me to Strome Wood, which is a small part of woodland owned by Forestry Commission Scotland. I decided to have a look. With a little over half an hour to go before my train, the ¾ mile route looked doable. I walked up, looking back to see the spectacular view of the full length of Loch Carron stretching out under me. The walk continued up into actual woodland, where the view was obscured. Time was ticking, so I didn't take as much time as I would have liked to properly admire the area. After a steep ascent, the path flattened out, turned back on itself and started steeply back down some steps. These steps bent round onto quite a wide forest track, with a reasonable downward gradient. My speed increased and I got quite a rate down the track through the forest until I bowled out onto a natural viewing platform.
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    From there it was a short flat walk back to the start and the road back to Stromeferry station. I had completed the ¾ mile circuit in under 10 minutes.

    Back at the station, I sat and waited for a short time before the return train rolled into view. The line hugs the coast at this point, so the train pops in and out of view a couple of times before arriving at the station.
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    I got on, and informed the conductor that I wished to alight at Lochluichart. After just over an hours journey, the train slowed and stopped. I got off and surveyed the area as the train departed.

    Lochluichart
    Lochluichart is located on the bank of Loch Luichart (albeit very close to the western end), near the village of Lochluichart. There are a few houses on the lane which links the main road to the railway station.

    The station itself has a small wooden shelter, a series of noticeboards, a help point and a bin. The bin was surprisingly not empty. There was a particularly pointless notice at the station which targeted fare evaders by telling them to always buy a ticket before they boarded. I made sure to use the great choice of 0 ticket machines at Lochluichart to buy a ticket.
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    At the eastern end of the platform there is a level crossing which leads to a path. This path leads past a pond to the banks of Loch Luichart. I spent a while sitting on the rocks, eating some sandwiches and enjoying the fairly spectacular scenery. The moon had also appeared.
    IMG_20190119_154422.jpg
    The pond was completely iced up, although it was the sort of ice which looked like it would be the scene of an over-dramatised public information broadcast about the dangers of cold water. The sort that starts with a group of youngish boys playing about and laughing, continues with the most hesitant member of the group being dared to do something stupid, and ends with a blurry shot of an ambulance and a parent looking sad whilst holding a photograph.

    Back at the station, I still had another 2 and a half hours before my train back to Inverness came, so I decided to explore back from the Loch by walking along the main road. I came across a quaint little church and community hall of Kinlochluichart. It is a listed building dating from the early/mid 19th century. The church itself is rather small, and has a rather impressive tomb for Lady Ashburton. It shares services with another church in Contin, with services alternating each week between the two. The next day's service was to be held in Kinlochluichart church, with the service next week at Contin. IMG_20190119_163222.jpg
    Despite being a lovely little church, darkness was falling quickly (this is winter in the Highlands), and I did not want to walk along the main road in the dark. I got back to the railway station unharmed and spent the remaining hour and a half inside the shelter. It was getting very cold (approaching -7ºC as I later found out) so I experimented with how far I could get my breath away from the shelter before it became invisible and scraping the ice off the notice boards. With about 10 minutes to go before the train, I used the help point to see if it was running on time. The train had not reported for over half an hour (which isn't unusual in this part of the world) but it's last report was that it was on time. Sure enough, bang on 18:41 it swung round into view. I held my arm out in order to get the train to stop, which it did. I greeted the driver with a hello as he had popped his head out of the cab. I boarded and rested my feet on the heater in an attempt to unfreeze them.

    Back to Edinburgh
    The guard came round and marked off my ticket back to Inverness. We exchanged comments about the weather
    “What's it like outside?”
    “Really very cold.”
    “I bet you're glad to be in the warm!”
    I certainly was. Because it was dark I couldn't appreciate the scenery of the Kyle Line, so I listened to some podcasts and slept for part of the journey whilst my feet defrosted.

    At Inverness I got off and walked towards the ticket barriers in order to see what platform my 20:15 connection south would depart from. It had been cancelled because of shortage of train crew. I showed my ticket to the gate attendant who informed me that there would be a replacement bus from Inverness to Perth where there would still be trains to get me the rest of the way home. I dislike long-distance coach travel and do my best to avoid it. I spent the journey down the A9 asleep (or trying to sleep).

    Once at Perth, I walked into the station and boarded the first train south to Stirling. There, I spent half an hour in a waiting room which smelt so strongly of urine and excrement that I had to use my polo-neck thermal as a face mask. With my long, dark coat I looked very much like an assassin, albeit one who is utterly incompetent at the entire point of an assassin, which is to kill a person.

    The train to Edinburgh arrived, and I was disappointed that it was not an electric one. (The line from Stirling to Edinburgh had been recently electrified and I had hoped that this would be my first experience of an electric service on the route.) The train made steady process to Haymarket where I got off and went straight home. I was far too tired to buy chips on the way.

    Notes
    I don't mind helping people, especially on railway matters, but the lack of knowledge of some travellers is sometimes amazing. (I don't let on when I think someone has a serious lack of knowledge.) In this case, if I had not been consulted, she either would have waited at the station until May 2019 (when a direct service from Edinburgh to Liverpool is due to start), or she would have tried to board the 06:19 service thinking that she had bought a ticket that she both didn't have and wasn't valid on the service anyway. I think my intervention helped.

    One of the things that I enjoy about visiting stations with a very low patronage is the bleakness and remoteness of them. Arriving somewhere where there are no people for miles around is something that I enjoy, especially when I can do it by my favourite mode of transport (which is the train, in case anyone didn't know). Parts of the Highlands in winter are perfect for this. None of the 3 trains on the Kyle Line had many people on board, trains that I know to be reasonably full in the summer months. For others this trip will be another piece of the puzzle which says “Felix is nuts”.

    Visiting the Highlands in winter is seriously worth it, and preferable to having to deal with midges. I'd rather have to put on a couple of extra layers than be caked in those horrible little biting things.
     
    Last edited: 21 Jan 2019
  18. Kite159

    Kite159 Veteran Member

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    A bit crazy heading to rural request stops in the depths of winter, I bet the driver was shocked they had a request to stop at one of the remote stations on that line.

    BTW Electrics at Stirling you say ;)

    IMG_20190120_113913980.jpg
     
  19. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    What can I say? I'm dedicated to the cause. Plus, these rural places are at their best this time of year.

    I hope to set aside a morning/afternoon where I can just go to Dunblane and back in a Networker. Possibly when I try to do Alloa and the Dalmeny-Winchburgh chord.
     
  20. Kite159

    Kite159 Veteran Member

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    Alloa is easier to do on a Sunday as services don't hang round like they do during the week & Saturdays. Although from May I believe the turnaround is being cut back to be around 5-10 minutes so might be easier to grab without a long wait. But at least there is a nearby Asda.
     
  21. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    Trip #24: Thorpe Culvert (Poacher Line Trip #1) - Visited 9th of February 2019
    Original Post: https://felixunstructured.weebly.com/lusblog/the-poacher-line-trip-1-thorpe-culvert

    Introduction
    The Poacher Line, so called because it was the site of the UK's first great elephant poaching (that's a lie), runs from Grantham to Skegness. It links Skegness, Boston and Sleaford to the wider UK railway network. In doing so, it also passes through a number of small Lincolnshire villages whose stations have somehow survived the Beeching cuts. Thorpe Culvert serves the village of Thorpe St Peter, although it is ¾ of a mile away, a caravan park and various collections of houses which don't have a name. It gets only 2 trains per day each way, with no services at all on a Sunday. Last year, it dipped below nearby (ish) Havenhouse to claim the status as the least used station on the line, and in Lincolnshire. It was only used by 148 people that year.

    The way the trains are spaced makes arriving and departing by train very attractive. The afternoon ones depart within 1h20m of each other. The problem is that they run in reverse direction (IE: I would have to double back via Skegness). This means I couldn't get back to Edinburgh before services stopped for the night. Wainfleet is located about 3 miles south east of Thorpe Culvert, so I decided that I would walk from there and catch the first afternoon service so I could get home.

    The Journey
    I arrived at Haymarket ready for my short hop to Waverley. There were no confused people trying to get to Runcorn in sight, so I went to the ticket office and tried to sort out my tickets. I had bought an off-peak day return from Grantham to Thorpe Culvert, but had forgotten that Wainfleet was further down the line which meant my ticket would not be valid. In this situation, the ticket office can issue an excess ticket where the customer pays the difference between the two tickets. In this situation, the difference between an off peak day return from Grantham to Thorpe Culvert and one to Wainfleet was £0.00. “I'm sorry, the system doesn't allow me to issue a zero excess” explained the otherwise very helpful and friendly ticket man. He advised me to speak to the guard on the train. “If you get a good guard, he'll allow it.”

    I completed the quick hop to Waverley without incident, and crossed over to platform 8 to board my train which would take me all the way to York. On departure, the train went into emergency brake and I watched as various members of platform staff gestured to each other. 30 seconds later, the train started again. The “train manager” informed us that someone had tried to open the door whilst the train was departing. This is the technical term for being an absolute moron.

    No other incidents happened on the journey down to York, although the train did loose 4 minutes, which gave me an 8 minute change at York. This change was cross-platform, so I completed it in about 5 seconds. LNER's new electronic reservation system had messed up again, so there were no reservations on my train down to Grantham, or “free for all” as the conductor described it over the announcement system. I enjoyed a cheese sandwich as my train moved at a significantly reduced speed south to Grantham. It was explained that trains had to observe a temporary speed restriction due to high winds. This meant we lost 14 minutes by the time the train pulled into Grantham, and I just missed my connection to Wainfleet.
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    With nothing to do for an hour, I tried again at Grantham's ticket office to get a more concrete form of endorsement for my ticket so that I could actually travel to Wainfleet. The phrase “but the guy at the ticket office said I could” holds sod all credibility with guards, and rightly so. Having explained the situation to the lady, she tried to issue me the excess, but came up against the same problem. She then tried to sell me a single from Thorpe Culvert to Wainfleet, which came out at £1.80 . With my railway head screwed tightly on, I asked if that would actually be valid. The train didn't stop at Thorpe Culvert, so what was technically a ticket split at Thorpe Culvert wouldn't be valid (because the train I was getting didn't stop at Thorpe Culvert). Having asked if that would be valid, she stopped the transaction, and told me to speak to the guard. What fun.

    I spent the next hour sheltering from the wind in an overcrowded waiting room. Such phrases as “Is that the train to Nottingham?” filtered from many people, apparently confused by a train to Nottingham turning up on the platform it was supposed to 2 minutes before it was due to depart to Nottingham.

    The next service to Wainfleet arrived, and I spoke to the guard before I boarded. He was happy to let me travel onwards to Wainfleet. I spent the next 90 minutes on the train looking at the Lincolnshire countryside and finishing my cheese sandwich.

    I got off at Wainfleet, watched the train depart towards Skegness, and began the hour walk to Thorpe Culvert. This took quite a lot longer than an hour, partly because I had to stop several times to consult my map, but also because it was very windy. The storm had meant that my hood no longer adequately covered my head without getting blown off every few seconds, so I had upgrade to head covering level 4: the hat. (For a full list of head coverings in order, please see the notes section at the bottom of this post.)

    The walk itself was reasonable, save for the wind. Although the straight line distance between Wainfleet and Thorpe Culvert is under 2 miles, the walk itself is 3 miles because the roads and paths are set up in grids, meaning that instead of popping diagonally across the space like the railway does, one has to constantly walk around the grids. Pythagoras in action.
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    Another skill I developed during the walk was the ability to urinate discreetly in areas of high wind, without getting most of it on my clothing.

    Thorpe Culvert Station
    Thorpe Culvert station is located by a level crossing. On the other side is a signal box which controls said crossing as well as some others. The station has a small building on one end which is currently used partly as a waiting room, and partly as a disused building. The other platform has a standard perspex/metal/plastic hut thing. One gains access to the platforms via walkways which come out on either side of the level crossing. There is no other means to cross between the two platforms. Both platforms contain the usual assortment of signs and information posters, although the way out signs are positioned in locations where the way out is obvious (right at the end of the paths from the platform to the road). On the Grantham-bound side, there are some shipping-container-like structures which house signalling equipment and a toilet for staff.
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    There is also a help point, but this is rather unhelpfully located the wrong side of a “do not cross the line” sign, meaning that in order to use the help point one has to walk past this sign. Good planning.

    On the Skegness-bound side of the station, there is a yard which contains horses and chickens. One of these birds was a rather impressive looking cockerel, which seemed to like crowing frequently.
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    I spent quite a bit of time admiring the farmer's impressive looking cock, before realising that the chickens were prevented from gaining access to the platform by wire netting spread across the railings. Chickens on station platforms is something that happens quite a lot with small rural stations, as you may remember from my visit to the Esk Valley Line. “The chickens roam free in Battersby”, which is also the code that the secret services use to describe when the government front bench visits a marginal constituency in the run-up to a general election.

    I managed to see 3 services pass through Thorpe Culvert whilst I was there, and I even managed to take some passable pictures of them.
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    The 4th time a train came into view, it was the 16:25 service to Nottingham, one of only 4 services which stop at Thorpe Culvert in a day. The station is not a request stop, so it had to stop anyway. However, I like to make sure for these very small, rural stations that the driver is indeed stopping. I gave a small wave as the train slowed to a halt.

    The doors were unlocked, and I acknowledge the guard's existence with another wave before boarding and settling down for the journey back to Grantham and eventually Haymarket.

    There is nothing worthy of note on my journey back, instead to remark the mixture of Irish people, Scottish people and alcohol is a very loud one, as I experienced on my final train to Haymarket.

    Notes
    There has to be a way to officially issue a zero-fare excess. I've spoken to people who know far more about the ticketing system than I do, and they have said that methods for zero-excess fares exist, but they are very time consuming in terms of administration. Some train operating companies specifically have a policy not to issue them in the first place. The further problem for me is that my journey from Haymarket to Wainfleet was delayed by an hour because of that missed connection at Grantham. Although I was allowed to travel, I technically don't have valid tickets for that full journey, which means claiming for compensation that I am entitled to is going to be difficult (it is not an insubstantial amount in this case).

    Thorpe Culvert was not the best small station I have been to. There weren't that many quirks, and although Lincolnshire is beautiful, my visits to the Highlands have somewhat eclipsed the view of some fields and the occasional river. However, the continued existence of the station is good, although I wish it had a more frequent service. The limited service limits passenger numbers, and there is a good chance that the residents of Thorpe St Peter and the other nearby villages are discouraged from using the station, and instead head to Wainfleet to catch the train instead. Then again, if that is the case, any increase in patronage at Thorpe Culvert would be at the expense of Wainfleet (extractive rather than bringing in new passengers). What is clear is that the station won't be able to grow with its current service.

    List of Head Coverings (by warmth)*
    1. Hair
    2. Hood
    3. Balaclava
    4. Hat
    5. Helmet
    6. An Obedient Cat

    *Does not include religious head coverings
     
  22. Kite159

    Kite159 Veteran Member

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    Cue a shocked driver/guard that they had someone to pick up at Thorpe Culvert. Good to see that it hasn't changed in the last 2 and a bit years and that waiting room on the Skegness bound platform still exists.
     
  23. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    I didn't get any comment from the driver or guard about my existance. The only time I've ever had a "wow, you're actually going to/from there" comment was when I was going to Barry Links. I also had one with the guard on my Kildonan trip, but that was only because someone else got on too and they initiated a conversation.
     
  24. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    Trip #25: Hopton Heath and Pen-y-Bont (Heart of Wales Journey #1)
    Original Post: https://felixunstructured.weebly.com/lusblog/heart-of-wales-journey-1-hopton-heath-and-pen-y-bont

    Introduction
    The Heart of Wales Line is a 90 mile railway line which runs through rural Wales. It starts on the South West coast at Llanelli and re-joins the main line at Craven Arms in Shropshire, just south of Shrewsbury. It links a few larger villages and towns to the rest of the network (such as Llandovery and Llandrindod), but like so many of these rural railway lines, it passes through several tiny settlements which get their own halt. The majority of the stations are request stops in at least one direction. (Some stations are request in one direction only as trains in the other direction have to stop at the station anyway in order to use adjacent level crossings.) Hopton Heath and Pen-y-Bont are both on the Northern section of the line and are both request stops in both directions.

    The Journey
    Because the Heart of Wales Line only has 4 trains per day in each direction, there is a heavy constraint on what stations one can visit, especially taking into account the journey time from Edinburgh. The early morning services don't get into Crewe and Shrewsbury in time for the 2nd full run of the day, but taking the 3rd means that one can only visit one station. This is not very cost efficient. Thus, I decided to use a bus to get me from a station with a better service to one on the Heart of Wales line.

    I boarded an early morning service at Haymarket ready to go south to Crewe, where I would change onto another service. Not much happened on this train, save for a person at Preston who boarded and ate McDonald's noisily opposite me. I moved seats later when another man boarded and sat at the table.

    Slightly late, the train pulled into Crewe. Despite being one of the “homes of the UK railways” (phrases such as that being the bane of my life), I have never got out at Crewe before. I spent some time enjoying the architecture as I waited for my train to Ludlow. Trains were being delayed because of a bridge strike near Stafford, but my train from Manchester was unscathed. It arrived, and the whole platform attempted to squeeze onto the two coaches that had been provided. Despite booking an advance ticket, the system had reserved me a seat in Coach 0, Seat 000. Unable to find a coach 0 (they were numbered A and B), nor a seat 000, I plonked myself down in an unreserved seat for the half hour journey to Shrewsbury, where I moved again for the remaining half hour to Ludlow.

    At Ludlow, I spent about half an hour walking around the centre of the rather sweet market town before I ventured outside to buy myself some chips. I returned to the railway station to eat them. In that period of time, a train had caught fire at Pontrilas (south of Hereford), meaning that all trains were suspended between Cardiff and Hereford, with significant disruption on the nearby bits of network. Ludlow is the second stop north of Hereford (after Leominster), so I had been about 20 minutes on the right side of the disruption. Research and instinct told me that this would be one of those things which messed the network up for the day.

    I then walked up to the bus stop where I waited for one of three buses a day from Ludlow to Hoptonheath, where I would board a train at Hopton Heath station. (No, that isn't a typo. The station is called Hopton Heath, but the village itself is known as Hoptonheath, or at least that's what my maps tell me.) The little single-decker bus arrived, almost full. I bought my ticket and sat down next to a man who I couldn't understand due to the thickness of his accent. The pensioners around me were engaged in conversation with each other. Every time one of them got off, practically the entire bus said goodbye. There was quite a commotion at one point, where the bus went over an invisible pothole at speed and made a very unhealthy bus noise. The route of the 740, as with so many of these rural bus routes, is fairly mad. At one point, I got quite concerned that I hadn't read the timetable properly, because we appeared to make turning that took us in entirely the wrong direction. In fact, it was only a 2 mile detour to another village. By the time we had reached Hoptonheath, the bus was fairly empty. I pinged the bell and moved towards the front, watching as we bombed past the green and station entrance to the bus stop, which was inconveniently sited another few hundred metres down the road. I thanked the bus driver as I got off, walking back up the road to Hopton Heath station.

    Hopton Heath
    The station entrance is located at the top of the road bridge over the railway, with a steep set of steps down to the platform. There is a technically step-free route which involves using a path from the opposite end of the platform along the railway to the caravan park, before coming up that lane back onto the main road. However, this is quite a detour to make (~10 minute walk) and involves a section along a B road that doesn't have a pavement.

    Once one gets onto the platform, there are is a shelter, some station signs, a salt bin, some information displays and the mount for a BT payphone (but no actual phone) and a digital departure board. There is also no normal bin, which was annoying as I had just finished my chips. The former station building is now a private residence. Some of the information notices advised passengers to use the phone in order to make contact with the outside world. This was not possible as the phone no longer exists. There is also no help point.
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    The station was quite peaceful, with only the occasional car and lorry using the nearby roads breaking said peace. The sunshine was also welcome, although not from a photography point of view, as you can tell from the varying quality of the pictures above.

    A Quick Hop to Pen-y-Bont
    After about an hour, I prepared myself for the train south to Pen-y-Bont. It swung into view, I flagged it down and boarded, informing the conductor as I got on that I wanted to get off at Pen-y-Bont.
    IMG_20190215_144344_1.jpg
    I enjoyed the scenery for the 45 minute journey, although the single coach train was quite crowded, possibly full of people who would have otherwise been travelling via Hereford and Cardiff but couldn't because of the fire. Most of the request stops were served en-route, even some of the very small ones which I will be visiting later on in the series. The couple opposite me were noting down each station that was served in a notebook.

    On the approach to Pen-y-Bont, I collected my things and made my way to the rear doors. Two passengers had managed to get into an argument “she was looking at me!” exclaimed one, and were being mediated by a probably exasperated catering person. “No madam, I couldn't give less of an expletive about you, I just happened to be looking out of the window and you put your body in the way” I thought to myself as I asked to be let past. One minute later, the train arrived at Pen-y-Bont. I was one of four people to get off there. Another one was she-was-looking-at-me woman. I made sure not to look at her, instead focusing on taking a reasonable picture of the train, without the still bright sun making it look as if a bomb had gone off in the nearby village.
    IMG_20190215_152829.jpg
    Pen-y-Bont Station
    Despite the name, the station is actually located just west of Crossgates, with the village of Penybont (again, spelt one way by the railways and another by the locals) the 4th closest settlement to the station. Fron and Cefnllys are the other two villages that are closer to Pen-y-Bont station than Penybont is.

    The station is slightly weird, because one has to cross a level crossing in order to get to the platform. The former 2nd platform is visible but overgrown and out of use. There is a basic shelter, noticeboards for the Friends of Penybont station, various station signs (both old and new), a bin (bonus), a digital departure board, but a lack of station information signs, phone and help point. There is a car park, which leads up to an A road. The bridge over the station at the eastern end is inaccessible to the public (as far as I could tell).
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    Although I had nearly 1 and ¾ hours at Pen-y-Bont, I didn't do much exploring of the local area, partly because I hadn't planned to, but also because the maps that I had didn't show any decent footpaths nearby. I attempted to gain access to the bridge over the station, but it was privately owned by a nearby farm, as were the other tracks marked (as far as I could tell). Thus, I stayed mostly on the station groups for the duration of the visit.

    The Return Journey
    A few minutes late, the train which would take me back to Craven Arms on the start of my journey back to Edinburgh appeared. I held my had out for about 3 seconds when I judged that the train was close enough. I then took a couple of pictures of the train on the approach, both of which were awful. The driver slowed to about 5mph and waved at me, making gestures which I decoded (somehow) as, “do you want me to stop?” I nodded, and the train stopped instantly. I was unsure why he hadn't seen my original flag down (I'm usually very clear on the matter), but decided that I had probably done it when he was too far out. I boarded the train and settled down in a seat.

    Do you remember the train fire? Well, just before I boarded my train at Pen-y-Bont I checked online, and discovered that my train onwards from Craven Arms to Crewe had been both cancelled and delayed by 5 minutes.
    received_254649608785608.jpg

    Unsure as to what that actually meant, I went with the safe option and asked the guard if I could remain on the train from Pen-y-Bont all the way to Crewe.

    My train from Pen-y-Bont went all the way through to Crewe, but I had chosen to change at Craven Arms in order to get cheaper advance tickets. Having spoken to the guard, he gave me verbal permission to continue all the way as my original train from Craven Arms to Crewe had been cancelled. When the guards changed over at Swansea, I explained the situation to the second guard, who was fine with the situation.

    I had got rather hungry by this point, so I ordered a takeaway from a Chinese restaurant in Crewe online. That meant, when I got to Crewe, I simply had to walk the short distance to the shop, pick up my food, and return to the station. I was immensely pleased with myself.

    The rest of the journey was uneventful. Both my remaining trains were late, and I arrived home 20 minutes later than I had wanted to. I popped the takeaway into the microwave and consumed it whilst trying not to fall asleep. It had been a long day.

    Notes
    So, why was the 18:25 train from Craven Arms to Manchester both cancelled and 5 minutes late? I did some research and worked out why this was the case. Because of the fire, the trains couldn't run between Newport and Hereford, so they were cancelled at Cardiff or Hereford, depending on which way they were coming from. My train from Craven Arms originated from Carmarthen (South West Wales), so it was cancelled at Cardiff. But, because trains in both directions were being cancelled, trains could be turned back at Cardiff and Hereford. Thus, the system put in VSTP (very short term plan) workings to cover the trains that were starting at Hereford or Cardiff. My train from Carmarthen to Manchester existed twice, once from Carmarthen to Cardiff (where it was cancelled) and once from Hereford to Manchester (where it was 5 minutes late). The system can't have the same train existing twice, so a new VTSP train had to be created from where it re-started. This wasn't recognised as being the same train by the system (because it wasn't), so the train appeared in duplicate for the rest of the journey. Complicated? Yes. But it sort of makes sense.
     
  25. Kite159

    Kite159 Veteran Member

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    I was going to make a comment about being able to catch the sleeper from Inverkeithing to Crewe but even that gives a rubbish connection to the HoW services.

    A good little trip anyhow :)
     
  26. FelixtheCat

    FelixtheCat Established Member

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    Thanks!

    I could get the sleeper, but... 4 hours at Crewe. I'd be able to get down to Swansea for the 09:34!
     

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