If you are anything like me, chances are that you will maintain a mental checklist of features that appeal to you when deciding on purchasing a new route for Train Simulator 2013. Is it a city based route, does it pass through gorgeous countryside? Does the route support steam, diesel or electric traction? How about fast passenger expresses, heavy freight or some yard shunting?
The unique aspect of the Woodhead Route for TS2013 is that a large tick can be placed in the box for each of those criteria. This is one of the very few routes in the simulation that really caters to everyone. In the real world too, the Woodhead line was unique.
Tunnelling Through The Pennines
The line first opened in 1845 with the aim of expediting traffic from the West of England to the East and providing a direct rail link between the cities of Manchester and Sheffield. The design of the line was both innovative and ambitious, cutting through the bleak moorland of the Pennine Range, resulting in tortuous gradients and the boring of the huge Woodhead Tunnels, twin parallel tunnels, which at the time of opening where amongst the longest in the world, stretching some 3 miles and 13 yards.
In 1953 a third parallel tunnel, designed specifically for electric traction was completed as part of an enormous electrification program spreading from Manchester London Road railway station, to Wath and Sheffield Victoria.
The developers have chosen to model the line circa late 1950's, featuring a mix of steam, diesel and electric traction. For those interested in operating the route in the 1970's and 1980s (the line closed in 1981), third party expansions are available with more modern motive power, which I will discuss in a follow-on review.
The package provides the complete route from Manchester London Road station (later renamed Manchester Piccadilly), to Penistone. At Penistone, the line forks with one branch stretching to Wath and its huge marshalling yard, whilst the other fork continues on to Sheffield Victoria station, giving an enormous Y shaped route in the simulation, totalling in excess of over 60 miles end-to-end running line.
If one takes into account the vast marshalling yard at Wath, which itself has over 35 miles of track in its sidings, numerous other freight yards, diversionary lines and loops, there are many hundreds of miles of track to explore, making this one of the largest TS2013 routes to date.
So Much To See
Yet all of this track would mean nothing if it ran through dull and lifeless scenery. Fortunately, the opposite is true. The entire route oozes with atmosphere, from beautifully modelled railway stations complete with period advertising, to trackside buildings that bring Manchester and Sheffield to life in incredible detail, to picturesque views of the Pennines.
Being the anal reviewer type, I purchased numerous photographic books, maps and videos of the Woodhead Line and I can confirm that every siding, spur and station has been recreated in accurate detail. From the hustle and bustle of the city to the serene beauty of the Pennine range and the Woodhead and Torside reservoirs, this is a scenery that grips you and never lets go!
| || |
| || |
If you are looking for a challenge then look no further, as once the route leaves the cities, it forms a series of steep gradients on the climb through the Pennines, reaching the summit at Dunford, adjacent to the Woodhead Tunnel. The gable shaped route ensures that regardless of the direction of travel, east to west, or vice versa, there is a long climb to Dunford, before an equally long descent in to both Sheffield and Manchester.
The freight line from Wath to Penistone being particularly renowned for its steep gradients, often requiring 4 electric locomotives working in tandem to haul a coal train to the summit, usually being slowed to less than 10MPH on the long slow grind.
Coal, Coal And More Coal!
Coal was certainly the staple diet of Woodhead’s freight traffic, with the primary function of the line to haul coal delivered from the collieries and assembled in the Wath marshalling yards westwards towards the power stations of North West England, feeding the electricity demand of the Manchester and Liverpool conurbation. Demand was high, with a constant procession of coal traffic and this is reflected in the included scenarios, with the opportunity to visit the Wath Branch with both steam and electric hauled coal trains forming a core part of the 7 included scenarios.
Passenger traffic also formed a backbone of operations, with steam, diesel and electrically operated services regularly shuttling between Manchester and Sheffield, with the remaining scenarios offering an opportunity to drive both express and commuter services over the line.
All of the scenarios are immersive and incredible fun, leaving me wanting more than just the 7 base scenarios. Luckily, further expansion packs from both RSC, the freeware Steam Workshop, and third party developers have pushed the available scenarios to over 50 at the time of writing.
Along with this line being "Quick Drive" compatible, there is enough content to satisfy the Woodhead addict, which is certainly what I have become since the release of this route!
| || || |
The Class 76 - The Star Performer
What of the included locomotives? Without a doubt the star performer is the Class 76 Electric loco provided in the base package. Design on the locomotive started before World War 2, in the capable hands of Sir Nigel Gresley (of Flying Scotsman fame!), with the prototype dating to 1941, before the main class entered service in 1950. Designated EM1 (electric mixed traffic 1) and later Class 76 under British Railways numbering systems, the loco was confined to the Woodhead Route.
| || || |
It was originally planned that the British network would be electrified using the 1.5KV DC system, with Woodhead being the pioneer. In actuality, Woodhead and its spurs became the only line in Britain to operate to this standard, with other electric lines adhering to the 25KV network.
This led to the fascinating situation at Manchester London Road (Piccadilly) that platforms 1 and 2 were part of the 1.5KV DC wiring, with a wired corridor out of Manchester towards the Woodhead Line, whilst the rest of the station and running lines were wired in the later system and were completely incompatible! Yes, there were embarrassing slipups when a Class 76 was routed under incompatible wires by a novice signalman at the Manchester terminus!
The TS2013 package also mirrors this layout, with the opportunity to operate Class 76 passenger services out of Manchester to Sheffield, in addition to freight workings.
Steam fans will also relish the opportunity to operate both freight and passenger operations with an included 8F steam loco, complete with appropriate scenarios. One scenario involves the 8F hauling a heavy coal train up the Wath branch, on a snowy winter's day, I found this particularly challenging and satisfying, oozing both atmosphere and a heavy workload, especially with the auto fireman disabled!
| || |
| || |
Shunting fans will delight at the inclusion of a Class 08 diesel shunter, which proves perfect for the plethora of sidings and marshalling yards that litter this busy route. It seems that you can hardly turn a corner without being confronted by a new spur or yard to explore.
There is an indefinable magic to the Woodhead Line in TS2013. I am unsure whether this is due to the excellent scenery, fascinating locomotives with their engaging scenarios, or as is more likely the blending of the three in to a route that just begs to be explored. There is one thing that is clear; I am convinced that this is a tour-de-force in Train Simulator 2013.
In my next review, I will follow up by discussing the wide range of expansion packs available for the Woodhead line, taking a look at additional locomotives that are available and their associated scenarios.
What I like About Woodhead
The sheer scale of the route and the immense variety, from driving an electric loco through the suburbs of Manchester on a passenger express to a steam hauled coal train running through the incredible Pennine scenery. There really is something for everyone.
What I don't Like About Woodhead
I just cannot get enough free hours in the day to indulge the passion that I have developed for the Woodhead Line. It has also cost me a small fortune in books, videos and paraphernalia as this is a line you just cannot help getting sucked in to and wanting to research further.
Wriiten by Jane Whittaker