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.
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.
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 ====
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.
So... I went to the next platform along. Turns out it's longer and provided a better side-on view!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
...I think I'll go back to London in summer next time...