Industrial East London

July 1, 2009

I spent an enjoyable, if very hot, day looking at a couple of sites in East London on Sunday. Both sites were involved – rather tenuously – with the ill fated “Story of London” festival.

The Story of Three Mills Island

I only found out about this by chance. An open day which included both the House Mill and the new Three Mills Lock was too good to miss. Not least as I spent a lot of time with colleagues working up a very complicated funding deal for the new lock.

The event was not very well attended. But the tours around the wonderful House Mill were popular, and a coffee in the Miller’s Garden was delightful.

House Mill tour

House Mill tour

The Miller's Garden

The Miller's Garden

The new lock is complete and open – but public access to the footpath over the end of the lock is not available yet – hopefully it will be in the next few weeks.

The lock will allow barges of up to 350 tonnes capacity to access the Olympic Park construction site, and is already being used to take construction waste away from the site.

The new Three Mills Lock

The new Three Mills Lock

Three Mills island is a genuine hidden treasure. It includes two mills, some open land, the lock, and the 3 Mills TV and film studios. Among the usual sightings of coots and ducks, I noticed that Sand Martins are nesting in disused drainage pipes next to the River Lea.

Crossness Engines

A tube trip, two DLR trains, and a short rail hop took me to Abbey Wood station where a free minibus completed my journey to Crossness for one of the infrequent steaming days of their huge beam engine. This was a very welcome insight into a major restoration project. The well supervised visitors are allowed to enter the bowels of this incredible machine.  Bowler hatted engineers were on hand to answer questions, and some interesting displays and exhibitions completed the event.

Detail of Crossness engine room

Detail of Crossness engine room

Crossness Engine

Crossness Engine

The engine operates without any accompanying crashes and bangs or blasts of steam. But in its way the smooth operation of the massive beam and flywheel, with the spinning and shifting of various well oiled bits of kit, was even more spectacular for its peace and elegance.

Interesting to overhear at the entrance (£5) some visitors insisting that the event should be free as it was part of the Story of London festival. Only one of the volunteers seemed to even have heard of the Story of London – and he admitted that the engine open day was planned before the Story of London and had just been included to provide some additional publicity!

More Photos

Here, on Smugmug


Wrexham and Shropshire Rail Trip

March 8, 2009

Yesterday I went on a trip to Shrewsbury with my Dad on the independent Wrexham and Shropshire service. This is an open access non franchised rail service. It is owned by Renaissance Trains  (Including BR diehards and highly respected railway managers Mike Jones and John Nelson, both of whom I remember well from my management trainee days), and DB Regio – the German state railway – who now own Chiltern Trains / Laing Rail. So most of this private open access railway is actually a state owned company.

Class 67 at Marylebone

Class 67 at Marylebone

What we experienced was a glimpse of how rail travel should be. Mark 3 coaches, comfortable spacious seats, and excellent service throughout.

Mark 3 Coach on hire from Cargo-D Rail

Mark 3 Coach on hire from Cargo-D Rail

At Marylebone we showed the ticket which was a bar code on my mobile phone. We then found our train which consisted of 3 coaches, lead by a Driving Van Trailer and pushed by a powerful class 67 diesel locomotive. The coaches were chartered and were in classic British Rail InterCity blue and grey. Soon the W&S will be introducing their own fleet of refurbished Mark 3 coaches.

Our 11:24 departure was only a third full so we got a choice of seats with tables. The journey to Shrewsbury uses the Chiltern line through High Wycombe (we spotted 8 red kites in the Chilterns), then joins the Cross Country main line through Banbury before skirting round Birmingham via Leamington Spa, Coventry, Tame Parkway, Bescot, and Wolverhampton. This is very much a back street route and avoids the congested New Street Station. The W&S is severely limited in the stations it can serve due to rules brought in to protect the investment by Virgin and Network Rail in the West Coast Main Line upgrade. As a result the journey is not quick – 3h 18m to Shrewsbury – and that really explains why the train was not particularly busy.

We had about four hours in Shrewsbury. Enough for a bracing walk around the historic town and a few pints in the Three Fishes with my old chum and colleague Allen Marsden.

On the return journey we travelled first class. This is where the excellence of the Mark 3 coach really shows through. It also entitled us to a full freshly cooked meal. This was to a very high standard, and in my case was accompanied by a good bottle of locally brewed beer. It was the high quality of service that really stood out, with friendly and highly committed staff.

The W&S is cutting its daily services from 5 to 4 eaqch way this month. While his could be seen as a backward step for a new operator, it is probably a sensible reaction to the credit crunch hitting in their inaugural year. It is very hard for me to see how an operation using a modern loco and trailer to haul just three coaches can possibly be economic – let alone afford to offer meals and high quality service to its passengers. On the trip home there were only 23 passengers in standard class and 5 in first. And the crew were staying overnight in London to operate the morning train back to Shrewsbury.

But the guys running the W&S know what they are doing. And the main shareholder presumably has very big pockets and a long term view. The lesson from other independent operators seems to be that they can build profitable businesses, and the W&S seems to be doing everything right. But soon Virgin will start direct services to Wrexham which will be faster, if less frequent.

If you want to experience the railways as they once were, and as they should be, then I suggest you take a trip on the W&S. The cost, by the way, was £10 outbound in standard, and £55 back in first class. I think that’s a bargain.


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