Hello all, To cut a long story short, I was on the Branch Line Society Pacer Farewell tour on the 6th October (should I be doing a trip report for the tour?) and there was a 'silent auction' for a cab ride on the Valleys network with a route of your choice. I knew I had savings for a new PC and holiday money saved up (if needed) but I decided to blow that on this auction, so I put a bid of £700 though I wasn't confident that I'd win, but in the end I won it (and apparently I won it by a few quid, as the highest bid previous to mine was £670 odd), and also it all goes to the British Heart Foundation too. When I claimed my prize on the train, the person taking my details did something similar for an ECML cab ride from Kings Cross to Inverness and back, blew the best part of a £1,000 but he assured me for a once in a lifetime opportunity, it's well worth every penny for you and for charity. Well he wasn't wrong, TfW were pleased with the donation and threw in a short session on the Training simulator as well. The date was arranged for Tuesday 29th October, we would do the training sim for 30 mins and then take a round trip to Treherbert, doing both in one day was easy for me as I could take 1 day off work (and being school holidays it was easier as all the school coaches are sitting about for a week). The arranged meeting time at Cardiff Central was 08:30, so that mean the 0604 from Trowbridge to Cardiff was the option. Getting up at 0430 to have a shave, coffee, breakfast etc I had a look on RTT to see if the train was on it's way to Westbury which was around 05:20, and it had no report times anywhere, which meant it hadn't left St Philips Marsh yet, or just was not reporting it's times. Nothing on GWR's site to suggest it's cancelled, the GWR live departures suggested it was due at 0604, but then at that time in the morning I doubt anyone on the media team is in to update cancellations, or if it reads off the system then maybe it's not been cancelled yet? (I don't know where the online departure boards get the info from to be honest) Otherwise perhaps it's coming out of Westbury DMU sidings? I took a chance and took the rough 5-10 minute walk to the station, and get there at 0550 to find indeed the 0604 is cancelled. Next Cardiff direct is at 0702 and that is showing as on time, booked to start at Frome, however I'm very doubtful of that, as this is 1B04, which works off the 2C03 Westbury to Frome, which is the 5C03 from St Philips Marsh (and carries the stock for the 1B01 Westbury Cardiff, which is the one I've gone for that's cancelled), so in theory if the ECS hasn't ran, then the 0702 to Cardiff is cancelled as well. Right well Plan B is to drive to Parkway and get an IET from there, but then the cost of parking and a return ticket, I may as well drive to Cardiff. The return from Trowbridge is £26, it'll cost me about the same in fuel and car parking to drive there really. So back home, collect keys and sat nav, fire up the car and head off to Cardiff, stopping of at Tesco to fill up the tank (topped up which cost about £20, from near empty to full it cost's me between £35 - £40). A reasonable journey up the A46 and onto the M4 at Bath, but was jammed around the Almonsbury interchange (M4/M5, as the M5 southbound was closed) and was very slow moving over the Severn Bridge, I wondered about parking at Newport and getting the train from there, but I decided to chance it and go on to Cardiff, and hope I could park and get there in time. Off the M4 and onto the A48, I took the route in to Central via the Docks road passing by Cardiff Tidal (a rake of EWS scrap box wagons seen being unloaded) which I thought might be quicker but this was rather congested with slow moving traffic. Luckily I got parked up at about 08:14, just enough time to get a parking ticket and meet the driving instructor manager at 08:30. We went straight into the training room and into the Class 150 training sim. Despite it's basic graphics and sounds this was rather surreal, having spent years of driving these on the old BVE and various models of these in Microsoft Train Sim and then the advanced version in Railworks, it was great to be using actual controls and holding down the DSD pedal, having a feel as to what it would be like (bar the motions). The different scenario's are good too when they put fog on dense and suddenly you are on a yellow and you can't see where the next red signal is. Situation's drivers deal with quite often and is where route knowledge comes in and as the instructor said 'This is where you earn your money'. Had a good 30 minutes stopping at a few stations, and having some practice running through yellows, signal checks, slowing up on gradients etc and then we went back to the station to make the 09:05 Treherbert. Thankfully this was a 142 which is what I hoped for, a 143 would have been good too. I think some where expecting me to choose the Class 37 Rhymney to Cardiff. This was something I did think about (though I believe most of the route is downhill) but having been in a Class 37 cab twice on preserved lines (OK not mainline running) I thought going on a DMU, especially a 142/143 before they disappear and a cab I've never been in before, made sense. I also like my signalling and signal sims like SimSig, so was interested to see the normal signalling and also the token working in operation, Treherbert being the only one left with token workings. 142073 was the unit on the working, and after a welcome from the driver, I sat in the secondman's seat and we set off. Already this felt unusual, looking out the front. Up the ramp to Cardiff Queen Street you could hear the wheelflat's and a bit of flange, surprisingly it didn't feel bouncy, actually for most of the trip it didn't feel that bouncy at all. Turning left after Queen Street for Radyr we were on the yellows, following a late Merthyr service. After Cathay's it was mentioned that due to the single yellow in the distant, it's easier to take this section at a steady pace (with a stop at Llandaf station too, but the long straight meant you could see the signal a long way off) as the block after the single yellow is rather long, it gives time for the train in front to get ahead, and saves racing up to the yellow. Sure enough after a slow pace to Llandaf station, the signal cleared to green. We had a yellow near Radyr though, but the signal was green on the approach signal to Radyr station. From here it was a very good run, and the scenery from the front is lovely, I do envy those that get to drive up and down the valleys every day, it looks great. It's interesting to learn drivers makers as well, using no.23's house on the left hand side as a reference point to stop at the station, and Trefforest (I believe it was) using a car park barrier as a reference to apply brake step 1 for the approach to Trefforest station. On heavily foggy days, these markers are invaluable to knowing where you are. Up to Pontypridd, we too the turn onto the Treherbert line. The first bit being double track until Porth, where we went to the token hut to pick up the token for the section to Ystrad Rhondda. 2F20 from Treherbert had just arrived clearing the single line section, and this was running 7 minutes late so was just in time coming off the line. We had to wait for this to drop the token before we could unlock the token. It didn't take long and the signaller called back giving us authority to collect the token and observe all signals. After checking the signal was off, we were on the single line, though I didn't realise the 'block' started a few meters up the line to the next, and last, signal. This is a sort of 'headshunt' so if you need to turn trains back at Porth, you can shunt a train between platforms via the single line without needing a token to Ystrad (and having to return the token once you've done the shunt) providing you only go as far as the next signal. Ystrad Rhondda is similar to the Far North lines in Scotland, in that the loop points are spring loaded and set in a normal position of facing left to enter the left hand track and platform, and at the other end the wheel's 'push' the points over. Here at the token box, the tokens are exchanged, the Porth - Ystrad is put in the machine, and then a call is made to the signaller to collect the Ystrad to Treherbert section. There is no signals here, just a Stop Board, however this has a TPWS protection, and once the Treherbert token is released the Train Protection Warning System is deactivated on a timer, so the driver has 3 minutes to get back in the cab, get the right away and pass the stop board. After 3 minutes the TWPS is activated and if you passed the board the emergency brakes would apply. Upon reaching Treherbert there was only about 4 minutes to change ends and we were on our way back to Cardiff Central this time fast via Ninian Park. It was interesting to have a brief discussion about driver turns, in that you would only do 6 round trips on the Cardiff Bay in one go due to it being repetitive, I had an assumption that drivers would be on this for a full shift. Other turns like the one we are on involves 4 round trips to Treherbert from/to Cardiff, one of the more active ones as such as you are in and out the cab doing the tokens 16 times. Coming back on the different route from Radyr down the City Line, we had 12 minutes to do a 7 minute journey. So the driver coast down the line at a steady 30mph for an on time arrival back at Cardiff. The alternative was doing the linespeed at 55mph, burning fuel and then sitting at a red outside Cardiff for probably 5 minutes. He showed me the drivers screen on the cab which showed an ETA at Cardiff based on our current speed, and the power advice given was to coast, which is what we were doing. A very useful tool which apparently was installed about 7 years ago, and sit's below the GSM-R unit. Back at Cardiff 2 hours later, it only felt like half an hour, but if anyone get's opportunities like this through charity auctions, go for it. It's well worth the experience. Some pictures: James.