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Author Topic: A trip on The Mule - 7th March 2020  (Read 400 times)
grahame
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« on: March 07, 2020, 05:01:24 pm »

10:47 from Salisbury ... 6 car class 159



Well - thank goodness it survived at all ... a trip on the old South West Railway main line from Salisbury to Exeter - "The Mule". Gone, many years ago, the class 33 Brighton to Exeter train and its replacement in the form of a Saturday only Hastings demu service.  Gone, many years ago, the class 50 loco hauled services from Exeter to Waterloo - all traffic now in the hands of class 159s which run every hour, with extras at each end of the line.  The service frequency is more or less to line capacity as it is single with passing places, and many of the trains are filled to capacity too.

Over the years, many intermediate stations have been lost.  As we start from Salisbury, we pass Wilton, Dinton, Semley ... and I gave up counting. Some closed and have re-opened - Templecombe and Feniton, and a completely new station at Cranbrook.



Passing loops away from current stations can add to an increased end to end running time - Tisbury loop cost us five minutes, passengers waiting patiently in the train for the London train to go through. And indeed trains in both directions are timetabled to spend 3 minutes in the loop - make that an extra running time of 5 minutes if you add an extra slow down and speed up.  15 / day each way = 30 services. 150 minutes per day, 360 days per annum =  54,000 minutes.  Average 50 passengers per train = 2.7 million wasted minutes!


The land on the south side at Tisbury - sold; a loop cannot be restored at the station

Double track from just outside TempleCombe Station right though Sherborne allowed us to pass the next London-bound train.  A good number of people got off; the train thinning out. I recall many years ago trying to use Sherborne as a railhead for a day trip to Exeter; in those days, Melksham had a near-zero service, but I found the car park as Sherborne full and - with time tight - ended up driving all the way to Exeter for (!) a transport hearing.  Looks like the parking may still be oversubscribed - even on a Saturday.




Sherborne - full car park even on a Saturday

"The Mule" headed east - west crossed several north-south lines on its way. At Templecombe, the old Somerset and Dorset trackbed can just about be spotted in the undergrowth (and almost impossible to photograph).  The Heart of Wessex line just short of Yeovil Junction is spotted, but gone in a flash. Oh for an interchange platform; services between Yeovil Junction and Yeovil Pen Mill, though restored in recent years, are sporadic. They give the feeling of not being timed for connectional purposes.  Look carefully, and you ca spot long-disused earthworks from beside Yeovil Junction towards the Weymouth line headed off south.



Wot - no station here? Somersetshire and Dorsetshire Parkway wanted


Treeline and track towards the south at Yeovil Junction

Back on single track as we head west.  Unlike Templecombe, where the new platform is on the trackbed, or Tisbury where the old south side of the station has been sold off, the next station at Crewkerne looks like it could be redoubled; not sure about accessible footbridges, mind you. And so - another climb, another tunnel as we cross over into the next valley. 



I didn't spot the previous site of Chard Junction - suggested by some as a potential re-opening, and slammed by others as being primarily abstractive from Crewkerne and Axminster, rural and difficult to access from the surrounding area including Chard itself, and slowing on the single line such that calls would impact the resilience of the hourly service.  Certainly we passed the next London train soon after we got onto the double track section on the approach to Axminster, which we would have help up had we stopped at Chard Junction.

Crowds at Axminster .. the train's filling again as it starts to double up as a regional service into Exeter as well as a long distance service.

And so - single track - to Honiton where there's another loop. Though in the hourly service, all trains call at one platform, and wheelchair access to the "far side" looks a long way round via a car park - reminiscent of Trowbridge and Bradford-on-Avon.   The loop is a short one and we're soon back on the single track.

Feniton - single track - looks like it could be redoubled;  lots more getting on the train. Seats remain, but people travelling together are hunting for seats together.  Train manager in "does anyone want any tickets" rather than "check all tickets" mode.  Whimple skipped ... Feniton and Whimple are alternate stops on the single line.  But we did call at Cranbrook. As yet, it feels like a utilitarian modern construct, with countryside around - though houses visible over the hill.  Big car park, plenty of free space, but not realistic to pass any judgement on  Saturday.

And so onwards - now some standing, though of their choice as seats remain open too. More the metro train now; only a tiny proposition have been on from Salisbury.  As we arrive into Pinhoe with two platforms, the next London train pulls out - it has been waiting for us as we run in 6 minutes late.



6 carriages ... the majority off at Exeter Central. "Six accidents so far this year on these stairs" says the advert, and I'm not surprised as the gate line blocks them - people standing on there, including those not headed for the gate line, but the other platform.

I got off at Central ... the line drops away and turns sharp right towards St. David's.  Headed for Exmouth - I think the last line in the SW I have not travelled on.




Queuing to get onto the bridge at Exeter Central.
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bradshaw
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« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2020, 07:18:22 pm »

Doubling the line at Crewkerne would be difficult. The platform continues beyond the road bridge and was originally very narrow at that point. In 1992, in preparation for the 159s the line was skewed to the middle of the formation and the platform extended and raised.
On top of that, as your photo shows, the down goods yard has been sold off for housing. This would probably prevent the construction of a new loop line without a significant cost. The road bridge would also need replacing to allow a new line through.
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SandTEngineer
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« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2020, 07:51:36 pm »

Doubling the line at Crewkerne would be difficult. The platform continues beyond the road bridge and was originally very narrow at that point. In 1992, in preparation for the 159s the line was skewed to the middle of the formation and the platform extended and raised.
On top of that, as your photo shows, the down goods yard has been sold off for housing. This would probably prevent the construction of a new loop line without a significant cost. The road bridge would also need replacing to allow a new line through.

Another example of how a PENRYN passing loop solution could solve the problem without building an additional platform.
« Last Edit: March 07, 2020, 08:41:30 pm by SandTEngineer » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2020, 07:58:49 pm »

I travelled along this line in the late eighties from Crewkerne, where my auntie lived, to Exeter. I remember being fascinated by it being a class 50 pulling corridor stock, rather than the DMU I was expecting to turn up for a single track railway (at this point I had no idea it was a mainline). Years later, me and Dad travelled on it from Basingstoke on the current rolling stock and it was such a popular train that we had to vestibule dwell. My other memory of this line is the Royals away to Yeovil when they were in the Championship for the first time. Fifty confused Reading lads wondering where the town actually was after getting off at Yeovil Junction, then several local people turning up with transit dormobiles, pick ups and trailers to give them a lift to the town centre! Royston Drenthe came on as a sub that day and looked the most disinterested I have ever seen a player.
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JontyMort
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« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2020, 08:27:59 pm »

I travelled along this line in the late eighties from Crewkerne, where my auntie lived, to Exeter. I remember being fascinated by it being a class 50 pulling corridor stock, rather than the DMU I was expecting to turn up for a single track railway (at this point I had no idea it was a mainline). Years later, me and Dad travelled on it from Basingstoke on the current rolling stock and it was such a popular train that we had to vestibule dwell. My other memory of this line is the Royals away...

I couldn’t think who you meant - but clearly the Biscuitmen in disguise  Smiley

Reading Graham’s very interesting account, you can’t help but wonder whether much of the vandalism that makes re-doubling and similar improvements more difficult was deliberate. It’s as if the mentality was “we’re damned well going to do this and to make sure we don’t look like idiots in ten years we’ll have a W scorched earth policy so that it can’t be reversed cheaply”. North Cotswold was a case in point - cabling troughs put where the other line had been, stupid little bits of land sold off. The LSWR main line looks even worse, compounded of course by former rivalries which continued long after they should have been ditched in 1948. Another example was the removal of the Down Slow between Huntingdon and Peterborough, where the electrification masts for the Down Fast were placed... well, you can guess.
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bignosemac
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« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2020, 08:36:40 pm »

4. Templecombe.  Tongue

Should have said you were passing through grahame, Finn and I could've walked down to the station to give you a wave!

Unusual to see an Archbishop at Exeter Central.  Grin
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« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2020, 08:43:40 pm »


I couldn’t think who you meant - but clearly the Biscuitmen in disguise  Smiley


I'm a product of the 70's so they were Royals to me but Biccie men to my Dad.

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PhilWakely
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« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2020, 08:47:08 pm »

4. Templecombe.  Tongue

Should have said you were passing through grahame, Finn and I could've walked down to the station to give you a wave!

Likewise at Pinhoe - If I'd known, I would have hung around and saluted you as I'd just alighted from the London-bound service!
« Last Edit: March 07, 2020, 09:30:37 pm by PhilWakely » Logged
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« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2020, 08:47:32 pm »



Reading Graham’s very interesting account, you can’t help but wonder whether much of the vandalism that makes re-doubling and similar improvements more difficult was deliberate. It’s as if the mentality was “we’re damned well going to do this and to make sure we don’t look like idiots in ten years we’ll have a W scorched earth policy so that it can’t be reversed cheaply”. North Cotswold was a case in point - cabling troughs put where the other line had been, stupid little bits of land sold off. The LSWR main line looks even worse, compounded of course by former rivalries which continued long after they should have been ditched in 1948. Another example was the removal of the Down Slow between Huntingdon and Peterborough, where the electrification masts for the Down Fast were placed... well, you can guess.

This does seem like it isn't far from the truth. It does seem odd how post beeching cuts un-engineered situations rather than just removing one line and continuing, at the time it must have cost money to make the railway so unusable.
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bradshaw
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« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2020, 08:59:14 pm »

The road bridge at Crewkerne would prevent the loop starting on the west. It would have to mean the platform would have to be extended to the east. Another problem is that the ruling gradient is 1:80, from it crossing the R Parrett a mile to the east of the station all the way to Crewkerne tunnel. The gradient does ease off through the station but any eastward extension would be on the gradient.
The attached photo, from Google Street View, shows the station.
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JontyMort
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« Reply #10 on: March 08, 2020, 01:59:28 pm »

The road bridge at Crewkerne would prevent the loop starting on the west. It would have to mean the platform would have to be extended to the east. Another problem is that the ruling gradient is 1:80, from it crossing the R Parrett a mile to the east of the station all the way to Crewkerne tunnel. The gradient does ease off through the station but any eastward extension would be on the gradient.
The attached photo, from Google Street View, shows the station.

That needn’t be an impediment. As recent a station as Warwick Parkway has the platforms on a significant gradient and a curve.
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rogerpatenall
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« Reply #11 on: March 08, 2020, 02:33:45 pm »



Reading Graham’s very interesting account, you can’t help but wonder whether much of the vandalism that makes re-doubling and similar improvements more difficult was deliberate. It’s as if the mentality was “we’re damned well going to do this and to make sure we don’t look like idiots in ten years we’ll have a W scorched earth policy so that it can’t be reversed cheaply”.

I couldn't agree more with that reading of the scenario. Just look at the immediate destruction of the relatively modern and spacious station at Templecombe. Corporate Vandalism in my view. Much of what Beeching proposed was probably merited in the economic situation of the time. But they went out of their way to destroy any option of creating a land bank to protect future growth.
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ellendune
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« Reply #12 on: March 08, 2020, 07:15:02 pm »

The problem was a mind set that saw railways as continuing to decline and therefore there was no forward thinking. It was just assumed that any modern developments would only need roads (for cars or perhaps grudgingly buses) not railways.   

In many cases stations were closed based on current traffic when massive expansion of those towns was already planned or in progress. Wantage Road between Didcot and Swindon is just one example I know of. Wantage and Grove had a population of about 8000 in the early 1960's. They have now joined up and spread as far as the railway.  They now have a combined population just short of 20,000. 

I am sure there were more examples on the mule. 
« Last Edit: March 08, 2020, 07:23:32 pm by ellendune » Logged
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« Reply #13 on: March 08, 2020, 08:15:26 pm »

A journey I enjoyed on a regular basis from 1989 to 1994, originating at Umberleigh and then changing at Salisbury for Southampton and then Brockenhurst for Lymington or change/stay on to Sway then a (bit of walk from both).

I expect I’ve posted this before, but initial Southampton to Salisbury trips were on Thumpers before then taken over by Sprinters. Almost always class 50s on the “Mule”, although the occasional class 47. It was not an especially punctual route at that time, and the buffet service varied from a counter, through a trolley in the luggage compartment to an extended stop at Yeovil to hit the cafe there..! There was a real sense of ‘old railway’  about the locos and rolling stock and I more than once overhead passengers saying they chose this experience over the Paddington line fo that very reason.

Most memorable journey was during the swan song of the 50s when a heavily delayed Exeter bound service turned up at Salisbury with a defunct 50 being hailed by a 33. That Crompton had its work cut out and the driver played a salute on the horn as we crested Honiton bank at under 20mph (Good job it was a dry day).

My first experience of the 159s was a trip between Southampton and Salisbury on a brand new unit . I was impressed with the newness but thought it a bit excessive for the short journey. The following month one arrived at Salisbury for Exeter and my first impression after about 30 minutes was that it was a bit cramped and how narrow the sears were. But, the reliability of these units (coupled with improvements to the line) has proven their pedigree.
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