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Paris, January 2015

So, the goal was to see the TGV La Poste. I'd also been warned.. it'd be dark. Well, it was. Pitch-black. I got to Maisons Alfort-Alfortville early on two mornings and saw the TGV La Poste (two, on one morning) pass. It was too dark to get a shot with the equipment I had. Another morning, I hung around the east end of the Gare De Lyon yards. The result is as follows.

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That, my friends, is the TGV La Poste. I then proceeded to scale the yard on foot, trying to find where the train stopped. It was nowhere to be seen... I have no idea what shed it rolled in to, but it is not visible from any bridge, road or platform.

The land of the TGV

I had seriously underestimated the sheer quantity of TGV rollingstock in France. The variety, too, was much grander than I had expected. My first model train was a Lima HO TGV in orange and grey and it was good to see that this model was still running... although somewhat refurbished.

Anyway, whilst scaling the yards for the yellow one... I took photos to make sure that my entire trip wasn't going to end in a puddle of tears.

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..next time it'll be summer... it'll be southern France... it'll be at the beach ... and the TGV La Poste will have been discontinued and chopped up.

16Mar/150

Zurich, January 2015

Zurich: 1, Steven: 0. There's a standard rule for train photography: The train will come as soon as you choose to leave.

The town

Zurich is like a European version of Japan. I could not believe how prim, proper and perfect the town was. Immaculate cars, buildings, people... Everyone seemed to smell 'foreigner' on me... It occurred to me later that I was the only one with facial hair (unkempt at best) in the whole town.

I'd always wanted to visit this country... not for The Sound of Music, but for the railways. I'd heard the standard saying that you could set your Swiss watch to them. I also have a Mondaine watch which is built on the design of the Swiss Railways clock (of course, the same design that Apple 'accidentally' borrowed!)

Chasing Trains

I'd been researching prior and understood that there was a main yard to the west of the main HBF and that some freight ran south to the west of Lake Zurich. This traffic joined the line somewhere near Thalwil and I'd found great shots online around the area.

So... As that I was there two days, I'd decided to scout the first day and tackle the trains on the second (in amongst urban-exploring, shopping, eating, etc...)

The first day I made it to Thalwil (the railway ticketing system is really easy) via Tram and Train and started wandering around. Within 10 minutes the police were already chasing me and asking what I was doing. It was a bit tense as I'd left my Passport in the hotel and had wiped my camera of my previous London photos. Either way they phoned the HQ and believed my story. I don't quite know how they verified my identity from my drivers licence.

A freight train was parked in Thalwil yard the moment I got there... bonus. It then left south. After Starbucks and a little more wandering I'd decided that the best bet would be to go to the next south station the next day.

Day two: Oberriedden

The morning started pretty bleak at Thalwil... I'd jumped on the next train south which happened to be an express that would skip Oberrieden, so I had to transfer. No problems, but I kept a low profile to not entertain the police again.

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Oberrieden is a two platform station with a dual-track line running through. It seems a lot of commuter traffic and a tiny bit of freight. There's a great curve to the north to catch south-bound traffic all day...

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That last shot is the Austrian OBB Railjet.

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There was a lot waiting at the station and a lot of the passenger traffic. In fact, out of the 2-3 hours spent, two freights passed, and they both passed to the north.

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They both had the cutest little (old?) electric engines on the front... very well maintained also as they were stealth. It was getting on to home time, so I'd decided to head back to Thalwil to transfer to an express back to the hotel. Just my luck... as I approached Thalwil there was a freighter with a string of open hoppers waiting for us to clear the southbound junction.

...Why...couldn't....I....have...waited...10...more....minutes!?!?! Either way, back at Thalwil a light-engine movement bolted past me.

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Zurich main yard

This area probably has a proper name, but I haven't researched it. It's a massive staging yard for long-distance and local commuter stock. There's sheds, stored freighters and they're even building new flyovers to bypass all of the junctions.

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..what a cute little shunter.. Next time I'll do some more research and find out where the real freights are.

13Mar/150

Kyoto City Tram (WWII Era Japanese City Maps)

Did you know that Kyoto used to have an extensive street-car network? I sure-as-hell didn't and was very happy to find out. This all started due to the post: Early Showa period Kitakyushu tram on JNSForums. Yes, the post describes Kita-Kyushu... well west of Kyoto, but further down Kitayama-san posted the link to the US WWII Military Maps. My eyes then opened wider than before...

Japan City Plans 1:12,500 (U.S. Army Map Service, 1944)

First and foremost, a VERY large thanks to the Library at the University of Texas at Austin. In the archives exists a set of maps of Japanese Cities that was used for military activities against Japan during WWII. These maps are of high quality and provide a snapshot of the layout of towns in Japan during 1945-46. Specifically of interest to me was the city map of Kyoto South.

I was busy inspecting the Umekoji roundhouse to the west of the main station when I saw (what looked like) a moat ... built of railway track. A square border exists on the map, and since Kyoto was the ex-capital, I initially thought it was a fortification. It then became apparent, after looking down the very west 'wall' that it was, indeed, a tram track. There was a specific gap that had the small note: "PROJECTED CAR LINE".

Note: There's maps of a lot of different cities in Japan. Check out the index here. Some notable maps: Kyoto North, Sapporo, Sasebo, Toyama, Nagasaki, Wakayama and Ichinomiya (with good overview of Nagoya). Nagoya actually gets a lot of maps: north-east, south-east, south-west and north-west. The mines in Ogaki get a map and so does Yokkaichi... these are the areas I've visited before around Minoakasaka and Tomida.

There's a lot of data in those maps. They mainly cover industrial/factory areas so that they could've done real damage to Japan's industry. Osaka doesn't seem to get a mention! The closest the maps get are Suita (OK, that's really close), Otsu and Seta, Yokkaichi and Wakayama.. but I'm repeating myself.

Tokyo gets a whole index.

Kyoto City Tram (京都市電)

From the wikipedia article, the Kyoto Municipal Transportation Bureau ran the 京都市電 Kyōto Shiden Tram Network up until 1978. Ridership reached a peak in 1946, a second peak in 1955 and then progressively dropped towards 1978. The network was then closed in stages.

Studying the WW2 maps showed where the network was at the time. Intriguing, I had never known there was ever an 'outer loop' tram line of Kyoto. Tracing this around, I then found there were lines flowing south-east as well, down to the river adjunct with Inari Station and also south down to Station.

In the map below, you can see the alignment horizontal from the road that stops on the left. It seems there was also a bridge over the canal, but the maps I've seen show that the terminus was on the west bank (Just below the Neko Cafe TiME!!)

Inari

And down at Chūshojima, you can see where the trams veered east from their north-south direction into the station. The road indicates where the tram line was. The station building (where the blue station symbol is) was actually the tram terminus.

Chushojima

Umekoji still has a running example

At Umekoji roundhouse in Kyoto, it turns out there's still a functional example with it's own tram line. The museum is to be expanded in the near future, but I assume that the tram-line will survive.

From the shot below, you can see the line running from the south-west clockwise around to the north tip of the precinct.

Umekoji

There also seems to be a lot of preserved street cars around the museum. They're listed as "Umekoji Park", so I don't quite know if this is in the precinct or in the park to the east. I'll find out and update this when I visit the museum next. Read further down to see where the surviving rolling stock are located...

Did they ever finish that projected car line?

Check the map out here, you'll see that the US surveyors indicated that there was a strip of track that wasn't completed at the time. This map was created in 1944 from a miriad of sources. Check the bottom-right of the map to see who they used to create it.

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The line is known as Nishiōjisen (にしおおじせん) 西大路線. There are two maps referenced on the main wiki page: the first one seems to indicate that this missing track is between 4th and 7th blocks (Nishiōji Shijo - Nishiōji Shichijo) and the second one doesn't show the outer loop at all!

The wiki page for the actual line indicates that trams were running from the June 3rd, 1935. The line was then extended further north with the connection from 7th to 9th blocks operating from December 12th 1938. If the maps were created in 1944, then their intelligence could have been quite wrong?

Other surviving rolling-stock

Further References

旅鉄おとーはん has a nice gallery here: 懐かしの京都市電ギャラリー. There is also a page with a map of the Kyoto Tram network!
むーさん has a great set of pages with random tram networks from Japan (it seems to be a quiz): 宮さんの全国路面電車アトランダム № 1. "No. 4" is a shot from Kyoto. Also here (No. 3) and then a whole page with shots of the network from 1961.

Conclusions

Declining ridership saw the end of this network... just another city to lose another form of transport. Sydney, Australia is a prime example of this! Will have to check out a few of the old alignments when I'm in Kyoto next.

11Mar/150

Steamers in the UK (London 2014)

Have always loved the A4; specifically the Mallard: the fastest steam engine on record and simply put, a beautiful engine. I was over in the UK for NYE and was lucky enough to be there for The Bittern Farewell Tour to Lincoln from Kings Cross. Unfortunately, the tour was all sold out prior to me even knowing about it. In the end this didn't matter as I happily settled for a few line-side photos.

Prior research

The A4 would run on the East Coast Main Line for the start of its journey and I therefore had to find out a good position in correlation with the sun. Turns out there's a great website called SunCalc which allows you to set the date/time and then browse the map to see where the sun will be. I also found a blog post by Jake Miille which gave a little more information on how to use the site.

It seems that, for the most part of the southern end of the ECML, the line runs north-south. This really isn't advantageous as the sun wont be at a good angle. I browsed around the line and had settled on either somewhere near Welwyn or a little further north at Arlesey. The viaduct just south of Welwyn North would've been amazing, but getting there on foot would've been a challenge. Also there was a lot of potential shadow around the stations, so I therefore chose Arlesey.

As I was researching, I stumbled across Trainspots. This sight has an amazing amount of detailed information. You're able to research any location in the UK to determine what travels through, when and where the best photo spots are.

The train was to leave Kings Cross at 7:51am, so the plan was to catch it there and then take a local train to Arlesey, hopefully beating the steamer.

The timetable

7:47 AM	Old Street >> Subway Northern towards Edgware [4 min (2 stops)]
	 7:51 AM	King's Cross St. Pancras
==== VIEW STEAMER ON PLATFORM ====
8:22 AM	London King's Cross >> Great Northern towards Peterborough [35 min (4 stops)]	
	 8:28 AM	Finsbury Park
	 8:47 AM	Stevenage
	 8:52 AM	Hitchin
	 8:57 AM	Arlesey
==== VIEW STEAMER PASS Arlesey Station ====

Seems there's also a site to tell you what's actually coming through a location!?

Kings Cross

Beautiful station. Had breakfast at the Savanna Cafe on the concourse as I'd gotten there too early. Tickets were purchased to Arlesey and then I entered the platforms... good to know that you can loiter without too much trouble. Great open space too... turns out there were already a lot of fans hogging the end of the closest platform.

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So... I went to the next platform along. Turns out it's longer and provided a better side-on view!

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And then they were off... I had thought the diesel that dragged them in would have been dead-attached, but it stayed behind at the end of the platform. Always good to see steam under its own power.

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The race to Arlesey

The steamer left in a hurry... I was actually concerned it'd kick my ass and I'd not see it... turns out I was wrong. I caught the next north-bound semi-express and passed the steamer just north of London.

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At Arlesey, a lot of others had the same idea. I must've looked like a regular, as quite a few people asked for information. They were all quite surprised to hear that I'd come on the commuter and beaten the train from Kings Cross.

A few high-speed expresses came through and then we all heard the unmistakable sound of a steam engine powering north.

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The lighting was as expected... could've been better, but I was very happy to see my first ever A4... the fact that it was also pulling its own train made it even better.

Staircases

The tube was a pretty cool system. Very cramped rolling stock... felt like a rollercoaster between some stations... but nonetheless practical and efficient. I am used to escalators in Melbourne and therefore became fascinated with the staircases in most tube stations.

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Back to Welwyn North

When travelling to and from Arlesey I'd seen this station out the window of the expresses. It seemed that, because of the tunnels and viaduct on either side, the line through this station is only double-track instead of the usual 2-up/2-down. This, of course, meant that all expresses (and there are a lot of them!) have to be timetabled in-between the stoppers. It also meant that the expresses would be full-tilt right on the platform. I was not disappointed...

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Freight Trains?

I'd tried to determine the best locations to find freight trains around London by scouring flickr groups for pictures. One such group, Freight Trains in London, seemed to show quite a few pictures around the Stratford area. I tried to work out by the track layout where the trains would be, but I didn't do too well. An entire afternoon of hanging at stations around Stratford and to the east of the station resulted in zero sightings. As per usual, just as I was about to head back to the hotel a freighter came. I think it was at Canonbury, but I can't be sure anymore.

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...I think I'll go back to London in summer next time...

5Mar/150

A quick note on interfacing with JSON services via C#

I'm sure there are 100s of ways to manually create classes for JSON objects and then decipher them upon web-service response, but I've just stumbled across a fantastic site called 'json 2 csharp' that creates the classes for you. Just slap in your response (try to get a fully-fleshed out one with as fewer nulls as possible) and it'll generate the class structure.

You can then use the NewtonSoft JsonConvert deserialiser to populate it.

An example

Here's a link: jsontest 'date' example. It produces the following response:

{
   "time": "05:13:02 AM",
   "milliseconds_since_epoch": 1425532382121,
   "date": "03-05-2015"
}

From here, you just copy the entire response and paste it into the text field on the json2csharp site.
Hit 'Generate' and the site will spit out the following:

public class RootObject //rename this!
{
    public string time { get; set; }
    public long milliseconds_since_epoch { get; set; }
    public string date { get; set; }
}

Note that 'RootObject' is a little boring... rename it to 'DateResponse'

Add a helper library to your code to easily pull JSON responses (and POST):

public static class JSONUtilities
{
	public static string GetJSON(string url)
	{
		HttpWebRequest request = (HttpWebRequest)WebRequest.Create(url);
		try
		{
			WebResponse response = request.GetResponse();
			using (Stream responseStream = response.GetResponseStream())
			{
				StreamReader reader = new StreamReader(responseStream, Encoding.UTF8);
				return reader.ReadToEnd();
			}
		}
		catch (WebException ex)
		{
			WebResponse errorResponse = ex.Response;
			using (Stream responseStream = errorResponse.GetResponseStream())
			{
				StreamReader reader = new StreamReader(responseStream, Encoding.GetEncoding("utf-8"));
				Console.WriteLine(reader.ReadToEnd());
			}
			throw;
		}
	}

	public static Tuple<HttpStatusCode, String> PostJSON(string url, string jsonContent)
	{
		HttpWebRequest request = (HttpWebRequest)WebRequest.Create(url);
		request.Method = "POST";

		System.Text.UTF8Encoding encoding = new System.Text.UTF8Encoding();
		Byte[] byteArray = encoding.GetBytes(jsonContent);

		request.ContentLength = byteArray.Length;
		request.ContentType = @"application/json";

		using (Stream dataStream = request.GetRequestStream())
		{
			dataStream.Write(byteArray, 0, byteArray.Length);
		}
		long length = 0;
		try
		{
			using (HttpWebResponse response = (HttpWebResponse)request.GetResponse())
			{
				length = response.ContentLength;
				using (var reader = new System.IO.StreamReader(response.GetResponseStream(), encoding))
				{
					return new Tuple<HttpStatusCode, string>(response.StatusCode, reader.ReadToEnd());
				}
			}
		}
		catch (WebException ex)
		{
			// Log exception and throw as for GET example above
			Console.WriteLine("ERROR: " + ex.Message);
			throw ex;
		}
	}
}

And now you can bring it all together:

private bool Get()
{
    var result = JSONUtilities.GetJSON("http://date.jsontest.com/");
    var dateResponse = JsonConvert.DeserializeObject<DateResponse>(result);
    Console.WriteLine("Got Response: " + dateResponse.date + " [" + dateResponse.time + "]");
}

Too easy!