FolkestoneJack's Tracks

The first trip

In July 1984, at the age of twelve, I joined my family on a journey by train from London to Helsinki. It felt like an epic adventure for a youngster whose travels had hitherto not taken him any further than Jersey. Our journey was made over land and sea, taking in four ferries and three trains for the outward leg alone.

My memories are a little patchy, but I was pleased to find that I could paint a pretty decent picture of the trip from a look back at my first attempt at a diary, a large collection of ephemera and some rather poor photographs…

19 July 1984
19:40 London Liverpool Street
As starting points go London Liverpool Street seemed rather gloomy and scary from a child’s eye perspective, though this may have reflected the subways we were being hurried along rather than anything else (or maybe there was something in the nickname of the ‘dark cathedral’ that it had acquired before its mid-1980s redevelopment). A crowded train packed with rowdy students did little to improve the experience!

British Rail Shipping Services Ticket

British Rail Shipping Services Ticket

The station we passed through that evening was the legacy of a late nineteenth century extension to the original layout – two train sheds, two concourses, a bewildering number of booking offices and a series of interconnecting walkways. The redevelopment of 1985-1991 gave the planners the chance to re-work the station layout into a coherent whole with a single concourse. I frequently pass through the light and airy concourse at the heart of today’s station and have often wondered where the nightmarish vision of my memories has gone.

21:45 Harwich Parkeston Quay
At Harwich we boarded the SMZ ferry Prinses Beatrix for the overnight crossing to Hoek van Holland. The Prinses Beatrix was a small but rather elegant ship, in a simple black and white livery, which had originally been named after H.R.H. Princess Beatrix (who became Queen of the Netherlands in 1980). We took up our seats on the top floor observation deck not long after boarding, escaping from the noisy lower decks (filled with students travelling on Transalpino tickets). I soon fell asleep in the way that only exhausted children can!

I don’t recall much of the crossing, except waking up to the rather impressive industrial setting on the approach to the port and dashing downstairs to begin the ludicrous exercise of gathering all sorts of exotic ephemera (the Stoomvaart Maatschappij “Zeeland” sugar sachet appeared to be the perfect souvenir for a twelve year old and was soon dutifully cellotaped into my trip diary!).

The Prinses Beatrix was operated by SMZ from 1978-1985, but has changed hands and been renamed a few times since then. In 1985 she was sold to Brittany Ferries and put in twenty years of service for the company as the ‘Duc de Normandie’ before her sale to Trans-Europa Ferries in 2005. The ship today plies the Straits of Gibraltar for Trasmediterranea between Algeciras (Spain) and Tangier-Med (Morocco) under the name MS Vronskiy.

Embarkation card for SMZ Prinses Beatrix

Embarkation card for SMZ Prinses Beatrix

20 July 1984
The ferry was scheduled to arrive at the Hoek v Holland at 6:15am but on this occasion was around an hour late, following a late departure from Harwich. A bit worrying given that we had less than an hour between the scheduled arrival time and the train we needed to catch for the next leg! This was compounded by incredibly slow progress through customs, leaving us with quite a dash for our train. Luckily, we made it…

07:11 Hoek v Holland
Our train was to be the Holland-Skandinavien Express (Train 231) which sounds more glamourous than the reality – with just a few coaches and a locomotive waiting for us in the platform (presumably held for the late arriving boat). Indeed, it was so short that we seriously doubted that it could be the express at first. The train was a colourful affair – a yellow Dutch locomotive matched with green West German coaches.

Once we had established that this was our train, we found our way to our seats. The only other passenger in our six-seat compartment was a young Swedish lady returning from Africa who spoke the most perfect english with an Australian-Brummie accent (this had us baffled for ages!).

Timetable, London-Kobenhavn

Timetable, London-Kobenhavn: 3/6/84-29/9/84

Seat reservation for the Holland-Skandinavien Express

Seat reservation for the Holland-Skandinavien Express

Hoek van Holland Haven no longer sees international trains today, but in the era before budget airlines it held a far greater importance as the starting point for trains to West Germany and beyond. It would have been unthinkable (and unaffordable) for us to fly at that time.

07:31 Rotterdam
In the course of the journey through the Netherlands we saw a wide variety of locomotives, all painted in the house colours of the Netherlands State Railways (yellow and grey). This included B-B electrics from the NS 1600 class (in addition to NS 1601 which I believe hauled our train), at least one diesel-electric (NS 2518) and a diesel shunter ‘goat’ (NS 348). The journey was a continual source of fascination, though the only sights that were sufficiently noteworthy to have made it into my diary were the modern electric windmills that were visible from the line.

10:13 Hengelo
At the border station at Hengelo the Dutch locomotive was replaced by a West German locomotive but frustratingly we were unable to see the switch and to this day I have no idea what hauled us across Germany. It would have been interesting to get off in Hamburg (where the train made a short stop) to take a look but my parents were understandably keen to prevent an eager young enthusiast from trying this!

Deutsche Bundesbahn Ticket

Deutsche Bundesbahn Ticket

10:43 Bad Bentheim
My notes say that more coaches were added to the train at the border station of Bad Bentheim, though a glance at the timetable makes me wonder if this was actually the joining of our coaches to the express from Amsterdam. The newly added coaches were probably of the blue and cream variety (as I saw plenty of these on our train when I poked my head out of the window at our next stop).

14:02 Hamburg
I was really impressed by the vast, bustling station at Hamburg even if I was only viewing it from our coach (and taking bad photographs of the interior). I didn’t make any notes about what we saw in the way of locos, which is a pity as Hamburg Hbf was the busiest station in West Germany. Presumably there would have been at least one class 103 electric locomotive on the scene given that this was the era it dominated as the motive power for high speed trains, but what else might have been lurking under that vast train shed!?

I am told that there was another change of locomotive for our train at Hamburg Hbf, which makes sense as we came back out of the station in the same direction that we arrived. After this, our train headed north-east towards Lübeck. I was thrilled by the sight of the sea as our train headed to the island of Fehmarn and the ferry terminal at Puttgarden.

16:00 Puttgarden
The train continued straight onto the boat at Puttgarden and my notes say that this gave us a 50 minute breather from the long rail journey (the timetable backs this up, showing that our scheduled arrival time in Rødby was 16:55) whilst the ferry made the 12 mile crossing. It was quite strange to clamber down from the train to the deck of the ferry (a not inconsiderable height) and see our carriages inside the ferry. We took the opportunity to go to the canteen on the ship and get something to eat before the next leg.

I was rather surprised to learn that some Deutsche Bahn and Danske Statsbaner trains still take this route. Indeed, there are plenty of pictures and videos online showing modern intercity trains making their way on board the train ferries of the Vogelfluglinie (such as the shot on Railfaneurope.net of an IC3 train leaving a ferry at Puttgarden). Nevertheless, the ferry link is on borrowed time – the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link will render the ferry redundant when it opens in 2021.

17:07 Rødby
On the other side of the water, at Rødby, a Danish diesel locomotive took over the train, though I don’t know which class (I have to conclude that I was a really rubbish railway enthusiast at that age!). It was now onward through the evening to the train’s final destination – København.

Railfaneurope.net has a photograph of Rødby Færge in 1989 which shows a Scandinavian Express being hauled away from the ferry. It is not too hard to imagine a similar scene five years earlier with my family on board.

19:29 København
After arriving in the gloom of København station we left the express, deposited our luggage and headed out for a wander around town. The grainy photographs that I took at the time reveal that we saw at least three classes of DSB diesel locomotives at the station (MH shunters, MZ and MX/MY) all in the standard red/black livery of that era.

21:34 København
The next leg of journey would take us from København to Stockholm by night train no. 208, sharing a six berth compartment with a German couple.

Timetable, Kobenhavn-Stockholm: 3/6/84-29/9/84

Timetable, Kobenhavn-Stockholm: 3/6/84-29/9/84

Berth reservation, Kobenhavn-Stockholm

Berth reservation, Kobenhavn-Stockholm

22:30 Helsingor
At Helsingør the coaches were shunted on to a ferry. At this point the Danish locomotive left and we made the short (20 minute) ferry crossing to Helsingborg.

The train ferry closed in 2000, following the opening of the Øresund Link which offers a much more direct route between from København and the Swedish rail network. However, the ferry still operates for vehicles and foot passengers. I re-visited the line on a trip to Helsingør in May 2010. Although the line to the ferry has long since been severed (turning Helsingør into a terminus) it was still quite easy to see the route that trains would have taken back in the day.

Railfaneurope.net has a photograph of two rail ferries at Helsingør around 1981 which surely couldn’t have changed much before we travelled in 1984 (at the very least, the livery of the ferries was the same).

23:30 Helsingborg

21 July 1984

00:33 Hassleholm
04:18 Linkoping

07:05 Stockholm
Our train arrived at Stockholm Central around 7am and we once again deposited our suitcases in the left luggage facility and set off on a day’s sightseeing before the next leg of our journey.

RC 1-1019 at Stockholm Central

RC 1-1019 at Stockholm Central

The locomotive that hauled the train for the final leg was an RC1 electric locomotive. It was almost certainly RC1-1019, which I took a photograph of at Stockholm. The locomotive was in the old orange SJ livery at this time. RC 1-1019 is still in active service, today hauling trains for Green Cargo, a state owned rail freight carrier in Sweden.

A look at some old slides uncovered a shot of a small electric shunter that we had seen on our arrival at Stockholm. It was already a loco of quite some vintage, having been manufactured in 1935. The shunter survived until 1994 when it was scrapped (according to the profile of SJ Ue 281 formerly SJ Ub 281 at Svenska-lok.se).

SJ Ub281 at Stockholm in 1984

SJ Ub281 at Stockholm in 1984

The day was a delight, beginning with a visit to the Royal Palace and the restored remains of the warship Wasa (which sank on her maiden voyage in 1628). We also managed to squeeze in a visit to a lightship and Sweden’s first ice-breaker before we had to return to the station to collect our luggage.

18:00 Stockholm
A short taxi ride across town brought us to the Viking Line terminal, where we boarded the Viking Saga and took up our cabin for the overnight crossing to Helsinki.

I was incredibly impressed with the Viking Saga, by far the largest ship I had ever been aboard. The ship had many highlights, from restaurants to swimming pools, but the most impressive feature was a lego room!

22 July 1984

09:00 Helsinki
The morning approach to Helsinki past Suomenlinna and a myriad of small islands was a wonderful first glimpse of the beautiful country we would soon discover. We had arrived!

22 July 1984 to 3 August 1984
Our family holiday in Finland was incredible from start to finish, guided by a family friend who helped make it special in so many ways.

One highlight was a trip out to the coast at Porkkala where we enjoyed the incredible wildlife (elk and deer), picked wild berries and mushrooms, relaxed at our friend’s summer house, took a motorboat out to one of the small rocky islands and got our first experience of a proper Finnish sauna (complete with a dash to the sea to cool off after each burst of heat). I don’t think I fully appreciated just how unusual the area was, having been leased to the Soviet Union for fifty years as a naval base under the terms of the Moscow armistice in 1944 but unexpectedly returned to the Finns in 1956.

The holiday included the many wonders of Helsinki, such as Korkeasaari Zoo, the Rock Church, the Sibelius monument, Olympic Stadium, Seurasaari open air museum, the beaches of Pihijasaari and my favourite, the fortress islands of Suomenlinna. We also spent a couple of farther flunng days out, at Porvoo and at Espoo. Our holiday also coincided with the Space 2000 exhibition of Soviet space technology at Dipoli and I still remember queuing for an hour for the privilege to go on board the full scale model of the Salyut-Soyuz-Progress space station.

After our long train journey, it is probably no surprise that we didn’t seek out further train adventures in Finland! However, on Monday 30th July 1984 we did visit Helsinki Central Station to watch the arrival of the overnight train from Moscow.

VR Class Sr1 electric locomotive 3091 at Helsinki Central Station, having recently arrived with a train from the Soviet Union

VR Class Sr1 electric locomotive 3091 at Helsinki Central Station, having recently arrived with a train from the Soviet Union

The Soviet sleeper train had been hauled across Finland by VR Class Sr1 electric locomotive 3091 and looked an impressive sight in the open platforms of the station (enclosed by a glass roof since 2000), although the staff on board were somewhat perturbed by the pesky photographers on the platform – shutting the curtains to stop us looking in! The carriages were hauled back out of the station at 12.45pm by Dv15 diesel no. 1979.

The first of the Sr1 class locomotives were built in 1973 and are still in service with Finnish Railways today. Although safe in the short term, the class is scheduled to be replaced by 80 Siemens Vectron locomotives between 2017 and 2026). In contrast, the first of the Dv15 class diesels was built in 1958 and the last examples were withdrawn from service in 2004.

VR Class Sr1 electric locomotive 3077 at Helsinki Central Station in July 1984

VR Class Sr1 electric locomotive 3077 at Helsinki Central Station in July 1984

3rd August 1984 to 5th August 1984

Our journey back to London largely retraced the steps of the outward leg, beginning with the overnight crossing on the Viking Saga (which should have departed at 18:00, but was delayed by half an hour due to problems loading the vehicle decks). On arrival in Stockholm we took a taxi to the station and boarded the Nord-West Express (train no. 35) from platform 10. This took us all the way from Stockholm (departing at 13:08 on 4th August) to the Hoek (arriving at 10.42am on 5th August), in good time to catch the 11.30 day sailing to Harwich (a six hour crossing).

In practice this journey was not quite as smooth as the timetable might suggest – we started the day in a Danish coach (number 182) and then had ten minutes to switch to a Deutsche Bundesbahn InterCity couchette carriage (number 185) at Kobenhavn where our passports were collected by the Dutch steward.

At this time students spent their summers working as stewards on the trains and presumably had a keen interest in the railways themselves. Our friendly steward talked to us enthusiastically about the locomotives and rolling stock of the Dutch and German railways (such as the distinctive Dutch ‘dogface’ multiple units) to our delight.

It was an incredible holiday, where the journey was as exciting as the destination, though probably only from a child’s eye perspective. I am sure that the delays and complications of the journey must have made it a fairly stressful affair for my parents. Nevertheless, it was one of the happiest and most carefree occasions in my life and one that I have never forgotten.

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  1. […] have already recounted the tale of my adventures from London to Helsinki in the first trip. On that occasion we made the entire journey by train, but so much of that is no longer possible […]


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