Trapped in a coffin

16th December 2000

Are there really only fourteen short winter days left before the 37s finish on the coast? Time for a Rover ticket and thus armed, Rowan and I set off nice and early to catch the 07:54 departure from Bangor, running 20 minutes late having started at 05:25 from Birmingham. This was surprisingly busy for such an early train, with another twenty or so passengers boarding at Bangor to catch the ferry connection.

We were delighted that the locomotive was 37 429 Eisteddfod Genedlaethol, the sole remaining Regional Railways liveried member of the class and recently returned to service after a worryingly long absence. The front coach, a Mk 2, was almost full, the brake first was colonised by prostrate bodies so we opted for the Mk 1 behind it, nicely warm and almost empty. I enjoyed the run to the terminus as the weak winter light filtered through the heavy grey clouds, enjoying the unique ambience of the Mk 1 - the wooden window frames with recesses for the long vanished blinds, the heater controls and the well padded upholstery horizontally striped in hues of orange and blue. The photo above shows our train on arrival at Holyhead, the blue of the sky being a trick of the light.

With a backdrop of Christmas decorations in the ferry terminal, 37 429 squeezes into the headshunt. Similar manoevres have entertained Holyhead lads for 150 years but theirs will be the youngest generation to enjoy the spectacle.

The shunter removes the tail lamp as the rear of the train becomes the front and 1D57 becomes 1G96 while the two boys watch from a respectful distance. The efficient run-round means we can depart on time despite the late arrival of the incoming train. The sleeping railfans are now well awake and have taken up their traditional positions at the head of the front coach. We once again opt for the quiet Mk 1 behind.

After dashing across Anglesey we come to an abrupt halt in Belmont tunnel then after a short pause, proceed into platform 1 at Bangor where a large number of passengers are waiting for us. We leave a minute late, pretty good considering the tight timing of 27 minutes from Holyhead and the amount of people and luggage.

One disadvantage of the Mk 1 design is the absence of space between the seats so luggage was piled everywhere as students homeward bound for the Christmas vacation struggled to find space for their belongings. Five minutes are allowed at Llandudno Junction, as this train was intended to be a 175 and to couple with another one from Llandudno. So we left on time but lost that minute again at Rhyl due to the extra time it takes to board a full train - plenty of people were standing by now and the platform bloke at Rhyl berated the students for blocking a doorway with heaped up bags. Well he's right, but they have to put them somewhere, and this incident again shows up the unsuitability of the class 175 design for a line with a large student and ferry passenger clientele. If the stock struggles to cope, how will the units manage? It was announced that refreshments would be served in the brake van as the trolley couldn't pass through the train.

Meanwhile the students doodled on the misted windows, another simple pleasure denied by air-conditioning!

I alight at Chester where after much coming and going of passengers, 37 429 leaves four minutes behind schedule. Rowan stays on to Crewe while I dash round the shops before returning to see...

The Chester Chuffer