London to Newcastle via St Ives, Windermere and Aviemore
by Stephen Parascandolo
My Rail Rover Ticket
One of my ambitions is to travel on every UK passenger rail route. About three years ago, having got fed up of doing the same routes whenever I did a trip, I decided to get a Baker Rail Atlas and highlight those routes I had travelled on. The result was that I'd done a lot but had some way to go, especially the many branch lines around the country.
I also had large gaps in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and the east coastal lines. Having done several trips to fill holes, it was time to attack the big ones. In November 2004, I travelled with a friend, Clifford Reed on the sleeper to Fort William, spent two days in the north of Scotland, including the Far North line to Wick and Thurso, and returned via Aberdeen. In February, a whole week was spent doing Essex branches, the Cotswolds, Weymouth, West Wales and then several days in the Glasgow suburbs.
The atlas still had holes dotted around the country. So another trip was planned and I decided to use my PDA to keep an account of my journey. The plan is to cover Cornish branches, Cardiff valleys , the Heart of Wales line, outstanding lines in Scotland and cover the north east.
Thursday 16th June
458002 - London Waterloo
The first train is 376013 departing West Wickham at 2002 for the short journey to Clock House for a brief visit to the Beckenham and West Wickham Model Railway Club. Continuing on to London at 2140, I take 376025 to London Waterloo East.
A quick walk over to Waterloo Main and I have to buy a CDS Boundary Zone 6 to Reading. The rover doesn't start until midnight and technically it isn't valid on the sleeper from Paddington at 2350 (I have a Gold Card covering the Travelcard area). 458002 does the honours on the 2220 taking the slow route to Reading via Richmond and Staines.
Friday 17th June
153355 - Truro
150247 - Newquay
158747 - Par
Liskeard Signal Box
150243 - Gunnislake
57603 arrived about 10 early with the 0035 Penzance sleepers. The sleeper berths were full so we had arranged 4 seat reservations in the seated accommodation. However, none were displayed on the train; "they didn't print any" according to the Train Manager. Having evicted a rather rude and possibly drugged up woman from our seats, I'm now settling down to a hot chocolate and a bacon roll as we head off down the Berks & Hants route towards the first stop at Taunton.
We sign a staff petition to save the Great Western sleeper which is under threat from the SRA. The train is diverted from Westbury via Trowbridge, Bath and Bristol Temple Meads. Despite this the train arrives 48 minutes early into Taunton and is waiting for its 0330 departure time. Its 0320 and I still can't get comfortable. I've tried the floor, I've tried two seats and Kelly (the woman from earlier), has been arguing/crying/chatting with her boyfriend in the vestibule/ toilet since Westbury!
We reach Plymouth shortly after 0500. Still haven't got much sleep but we spot a Voyager due to work an 0545 to Penzance which departs ahead of the sleeper at 0605. So, just for a change of scenery and a slightly faster run, we take 221114 down to Truro.
We have 30 minutes to view the signal box and GW lower quadrant signals which look rather odd against a Virgin Voyager. 57603 catches up with us on the following sleeper as we board 153355 with Heart of Wessex branding, forming the 0732 to Falmouth Docks. First required line highlighted in the atlas! This returned at 0757 back to Truro. The single car 153 was busy with commuters and school children with much talk on the train of a suicide at a foot crossing on the branch the previous day.
A short 7 minute connection at Truro saw us board 158747 on the 0827 Wessex Trains service to Bristol back as far as Par. 150247 formed the 0924 to Newquay with a fine array of mechanical signals to view at Par. The return journey at 1017 was busy with tourists although I didn't see any surfboards. The branch contains numerous automatic open crossings.
Arrival back into Par was on time to connect with 150251 on the 1119 to Penzance. A crowded 150 squashed into airline seating was far from ideal for the one hour run to St Erth. The train had actually originated in Gloucester at 0630 stopping all stations via Bristol. Thankfully, we didn't have to endure the full 6 hour run and got a bay of four seats to stretch out in at St Austell. Neither of us needed Penzance so St Erth is as far west as we would get.
This is just as well. We arrive on time at 1215 but due to two failed trains at Penzance, the unit is held in the down platform. It is now 1254, no sign of the branch shuttle to St Ives due out at 1241. Our 150 is still in the down platform. A suggestion was made to move it via the London end crossover to the Up platform to clear the way for a following HST. However, having reversed the points, the shunt signal wouldn't clear. Driver and signalman took a look but they've now put the points back Normal. It is 1200 and still no movement. Apparently the signaller won't allow the branch train into the bay because of the now aborted shunting on the mainline, despite the fact it is not conflicting at all. The 150 has been emptied but they've now decided to run it through to Penzance. However the driver has been up the box for ten minutes and the passengers are still on the platform. At least it has the signal now and finally departs at 1304, 49 late. Another enthusiast made the point to staff that we were making privately - "I'm glad they are only running St Erth and not London Bridge in the peak!"
The delays are now being put down to a signalling power failure at St Erth and Penzance but all is now well. 150238 arrives 30 minutes late having missed its 1241 trip but just in time for the 1311. It looks like our schedule will drop an hour, meaning we drop the Exmouth branch this evening. We'll see what trains are on offer back east when we return to St Erth. We return on time at 1325 from St Ives where the station overlooks the bay and a wonderful sandy beach.
Back to St Erth and after lunch at the local petrol station, we take the 1417 HST to Liskeard, led by 43127. I got a decent snooze on board and on arrival photographed an unusual suspended semaphore signal, still with a wooden arm. The Looe branch platform is at 90 degrees to the GW mainline, connected by a tightly curved link line around the back of the car park. 153377 did the honours on the 1615 to Looe and return. En route, the service turns through almost 360 degrees as it descends, passing under the mainline, and butting up to it again afterwards. The train then reverses at Coombe Junction towards Looe, with the train crew operating the ground frame and exchanging the tokens. The line then skirts the East Looe estuary before crossing it.
Back at Liskeard, we join 153382 on the 1714 to Plymouth, crossing the River Taymar into Devon on Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash. At Plymouth, it is time for the Gunnislake branch on the 1811 train formed of 150243. An interesting selection of old coaches and other rolling stock and memorabilia formed a visitor centre at Bere Ferrers station. As we progressed, we notice that the mileage was decreasing, reflecting the lines status as the former LSWR mainline to Waterloo, which was shorter than Plymouth's GW mileage measured via Bristol. The train reverses with another train crew operated Ground Frame at Bere Alston before it crosses the spectacular Calstock viaduct and climbs very steeply to Gunnislake. We return immediately on the 1900 back to Plymouth.
As expected, we fail to make a minus four minute connection to Exeter so we were expecting a wait for an all stations 150 at 2040. However, due to an earlier HST failing at Plymouth (we saw the 57 rescuing it), the 1930 from Plymouth was being started there, and held awaiting connecting coaches from Penzance. It departed at 2031, one hour late with 43177 leading. It would get us back slightly quicker and was much more comfortable.
After checking into the Great Western hotel and having some food, we were back out again. This time on the 2311 service to Exmouth via Exeter Central with 150240, returning into Exeter St Davids at 0008.
Saturday 18th June
37425 - Cardiff Central
143624 - Barry Island
We decided to ditch the 0630 return to Barnstaple in favour of sleep and breakfast. However, we were off to a bad start as our intended 0930 to Pembroke Dock / Manchester is only a single car 153 unit as a Pembroke Dock service. The Manchester portion is cancelled with buses from Bristol. We get seats on 153326 so choose to take it anyway into Bristol via Weston-super-Mere (Clifford needed the Weston loop).
The train was booked 25 minutes in Bristol. The bus for Abergaveny was cancelled too and provided from Newport instead. The single 153 proved wholly inadequate for the passengers who had to reboard. We continued in the packed train to Cardiff, to find the 1259 Rhymney service failed at Canton and replaced with a late running unit. We finally got on the move with 142074 on the 1320 Treherbert; late again. It seems Arriva are unable to operate anything approaching a reasonable service and this is without a major event at the Millennium Stadium taking place.
We got back to Pontypridd at 1508 for the 1510 to Merthyr Tydfil. It is currently expected at 1538 but it was showing 1534 when we arrived. Things are not being helped by the weather being really hot with the trains like saunas. All trains also seem full of screaming kids and their teenage mothers.
1520 and we've given up waiting. All the trains are getting later so we take 142077 back to Cardiff Queen Street. The delays are being attributed to a points failure at Cardiff Central. Many Valley Line services are being diverted to Radyr via Ninian Park. 143625 arrives with the 1556 to Penarth which we board. However at 1610 it has still not moved. We transfer to 143608, going to Penarth from an adjacent platform. It seems there is single line working in place through Cardiff Central and up to Queen Street on the Valley Lines. However, this train is cancelled at Central. 143625 catches us up and this forms the Penarth service, now running non-stop which suits us but I'm glad we're not actually going anywhere. We make it to Penarth and head back to Cardiff, choosing to alight at Grangetown to avoid a signal to signal run into Cardiff. We then board the 1702 Barry Island service with 143624.
Amazingly, on return to Barry, the connection over the newly reopened Vale of Glamorgan line was 20 minutes late and arrived within 2 minutes with 142082.
Arriving at Bridgend, 158823 was waiting for a brisk cross-platform connection onto a Milford Haven service to get us to Swansea. This was the first train of the day with Air Conditioning and very pleasant it was too!
Sunday 19th June
150011 - Birmingham New Street
Smashed Window on 150011 at Walsall
Voyager and Pendolino at Wolverhampton
158844 - Wolverhampton
Things are going from Bad to Worse on Arriva Trains Wales. Arriving after a leisurely start for the 1106 Heart of Wales service to Shrewsbury, we find it is on the screens as a bus! I speak to the ATW staff who tell me the bus is all the way to Shrewsbury and due to engineering work. We're suspicious so scour the station for notices. We find an advert for Sunday Lunch in a hotel on the line starting with the 1106 but no engineering notice. I call National Rail Enquiries who advise it is on their system as a train and no engineering work is planned. Back to the ATW staff who admit the Guards are on strike; clearly the engineering work story was a fabrication. I phone ATW Customer Services to find the extent of the strike. It is only affecting West Wales. I'm told this was called at the last minute about 3-4 days ago. What was unacceptable was the information - not a single poster or explanation at Swansea and nothing on the internet when we left home (or later that day when I checked). The service was quietly bustituted with no regard to passengers. Needless to say, a complaint requesting refund on the wasted day has been forwarded to ATW.
Attention turns to what we do next, remembering that Bristol Parkway - Westerleigh junction is shut, as is Newport to Hereford. A bus Carmarthen to Aberystwyth was dismissed, as was the bus (actually a Transit Van Minibus) replacement to Shrewsbury. We take the 1122 HST led by 43091 to Newport, planning to head to Birmingham on a diverted Voyager or Central trains 170 via Chepstow. The plan is to head via Wolverhampton and get back on schedule at Shrewsbury (this would also complete Telford - Shrewsbury that I need but hadn't planned to cover).
221132 departs Newport on time at 1313, well loaded but with seats to spare. Infamous Voyager toilets are working fine, however the Train Manager apologises for engine and electrical faults, resulting in reduced power, no on train sockets working, reduced lighting and reduced air conditioning; some passengers looked slightly concerned at the list of faults! NRES have confirmed no engineering work on the Birmingham - Shrewsbury - Chester corridor but we will have time to kill in the West Midlands and won't have time for the planned run to Llandudno and back. In stark contrast to the abysmal information, and bare faced lies offered by Arriva, the Train Manager on the Voyager was excellent offering advice and connection assistance to all passengers, even though the train was running to time. He phoned ahead to try and ensure a wheelchair user made an eight minute connection at New Street to get them home earlier. I feel Virgin is unfairly targeted by both mainstream and specialist media much of the time.
I'm delighted that we turn right at Kings Norton and take the Camp Hill route into Birmingham from the east, one of the last routes I need in the area.
As we had some time, we looked at what suburban routes could be done. We opted for the 1542 to Walsall with 150011. This service runs to Walsall, before forming the 1620 Wolverhampton train using the Pleck Junction to Darlaston Junction line which I needed, while Clifford needed the whole route. As with my previous visit to Walsall, there was a shattered window on the train. On arrival at Wolverhampton, we found Thunderbird 57306 Jeff Tracey attempting without much success to couple to Pendolino 390029 for a drag to Nuneaton.
Our next service was the 1655 to Chester via Shrewsbury. However, this is an Arriva Trains Wales service, and in keeping with every other service of theirs we tried to catch, it was delayed. Its 1657 and the train hasn't left New Street "due to a delay on its previous journey". A pair of 158s led by 158844 departs at 1726; 31 late. The air conditioning had failed and the train was filthy and strewn with litter but at least it was running. It is now raining, both outside, and inside because the emergency ventilation windows are open, and require a carriage key to shut. No sign of course of any ATW staff.
The train finally arrives at Chester, 40 minutes late, just in time to make the 1916 to Warrington Bank Quay. 175006 running as a two car unit was appreciated, for its comfort, cleanliness and air conditioning. This is an hour earlier than planned but we had to cut the run to Llandudno. We retired to a hotel in Warrington to prepare for an early start.
Monday 20th June
507001 - Hooton
221 - Oxenholme Lake District
We return to the station shortly before 0600 to catch 142039 on the 0602 service to Ellesmere Port, one of only a handful of direct services using the line from Helsby. We are joined by some local commuters.
After passing through the massive complex of Oil refineries and chemical works, we reach our destination and transfer to refurbished 508120 on the 0634 to Liverpool Central. We alight at Hooton to head south to Chester but the 0657 is cancelled as it has failed at Hamilton Square, resulting in all Hooton line trains being delayed and turned back at Birkenhead Central, rather than using the Mersey loop. The timetable allows us to delay our plan by 30 minutes and cut a detour via Stalybridge when we reach Manchester to regain our schedule. Merseyrail have done a great job at keeping passengers informed and reforming the service by turning trains and 507021 arrives on time with the 0727 to Chester. 142012 departs slightly late with the 0805 to Manchester Piccadilly via Altrincham, another required route.
We arrive 10 late a Piccadilly, seeing revised Northern liveried 156461 and descend into the dark hole of Piccadilly's Metrolink platforms. I just miss the Bury tram that will take me to Victoria so board 2003 on an Eccles service to Piccadilly Gardens. A short walk round the corner to Market Street, gets me on board 1012 working Altrincham to Bury to take me to Victoria.
From here, we board the 1001 Liverpool Lime Street service formed of 142038. We arrive 3 minutes early after a faultless run with Northern Rail and another helpful and friendly conductor. 508143 took us on the short hop to Liverpool Central before changing onto the 1125 Merseyrail Northern Line service to Ormsirk with 507007. Another on time arrival, coupled with an earlier train than planned from Liverpool results in a 28 minute wait at Ormskirk, an unusual split station with opposing buffer stops between the two parts of the platform. Kirkby (Merseyside) and Wimbledon (platform 10 with Tramlink) being the only other examples. A clean and tidy 153316 arrives in good time for the 1225 service to Preston.
Preston station was busy and looking superb and bright. 175109 took us to Windermere on Transpennine's 1331 service. The 175 provided a fast comfortable run along the main line in ideal weather. Whilst on the train, some idle studying of timetables reveal that if we drop a couple of Glasgow suburban lines, we can return to Lancaster and travel north via the Cumbrian coast which is required. This would go some way to making up for the loss of the Heart of Wales yesterday. The scenery gets even more spectacular as we progress towards the lakes with blue sky overhead.
We take the 1508 south from Oxenholme on 390018 working from Carlisle to London Euston. First liveried 156428 departs Lancaster on time at 1607 with numerous schoolchildren on board heading for Carlisle via Barrow and Workington. We grab a table on the west side for the best views. The scenery turns from sand and mud estuaries, to mountains and the Irish sea, spoilt only by the occasional town and Selafield nuclear power station, where a variety of DRS traction was viewed. It was good to see the train well used throughout by both tourists and commuters.
Numerous mechanical signal boxes remain, some original Furness Railway structures, with mostly semaphore signals. The line also has many crossings, including some with crossing keepers with their own small ground frames and modern huts. Arrival into Carlisle was slightly early at 1933, not the quickest route from Lancaster, but certainly worth doing if you get the chance.
Despite arriving in time for it, the 2039 Pendolino to Glasgow was delayed and the first train north was the delayed 1952 Voyager from Plymouth with 220024. This departed at 2020 and was almost empty. The sun was still shining for a pleasant evening run over Beatock. Arrival into Glasgow Central was at 2144 and we headed off to the hotel after a long day which was certainly not the most direct route from Warrington!
Tuesday 21st June
158720 - Haymarket
Queensferry from the Forth Rail Bridge
Our rest was disturbed by the hotel fire alarm and evacuation at 0300, resulting in a slightly later start. We dropped plans for Springburn, and didn't have time for Paisley Canal, so caught 156514 on the 0915 to Edinburgh via Shotts, an hour ahead of the plan. On arrival into Haymarket, we change onto 158720 with the 1052 to Bathgate which departs 6 minutes late. The return service departs four late as we study timetables for the most efficient way to cover remaining lines in the area and make our sleeper connection in Aviemore (I require the Highland mainline south of there) this evening.
Opting to stay on the train through to Newcraighall, we are thrown off the train to allow it to go forward to a turn back siding for the crew to change ends. This is required due to absurd HSE requirements relating to changing ends on the slight gradient in the platform, although this rule is dispensed with if running late and the same friendly crew change ends on a steeper gradient at Dunblane later in the diagram. We re-board and depart one minute late at 1220. We will attempt a 3 minute connection at Edinburgh Waverley for a North Berwick train, but will have an hour to take photos if we miss it. Our train has a clear run in and arrives a couple of minutes early, enabling our 1234 departure. Despite some reports on the web the previous week, EWS 90031 pushing Scotrail branded ex Virgin Mark IIIs form the service. The 90 made light work of the schedule and we arrive in the well kept gardens of North Berwick station a couple of minutes early, returning towards Edinburgh at 1317.
We locate 170452 working the 1450 Fife Circle service via Dunfermline amid the ever confusing layout of Edinburgh Waverley. The dull weather has given way to sunshine and blue sky as we head out towards the massive Forth Rail Bridge. Spectacular views are had over the bridge in both directions and of the coast south of Kirkcaldy. The train is back in Waverley on time at 1646. We then retrace our route to Thornton aboard 170412, the 1740 Inverness service as far as Aviemore. The scenery changes as we get fantastic views of the Tay getting smaller as it approaches Perth. The station here is a shadow of its former grand status. We are held for a few minutes to enable connections to be made from Glasgow. We climb to the summit of the Highland Mainline at Druimuachdar with the evening sun lighting the wooded mountainous landscape. Alighting at Aviemore to the sound of the bagpipes from a local hotel, we take a look around the town. It is fairly busy with tourists and backpackers.
67009 arrives a couple of minutes down at 2122 with the London sleeper and we settle down for dinner in the lounge car as we return south. The couple opposite are returning from a day trip (including two sleeper journeys) to Wick and Thurso from London!
Wednesday 22nd June
37602 - Crewe
211 - Wilkinson Street
View from Front of Train on the Tyne and Wear Metro
90020 takes over at Edinburgh after combining with the Fort William and Aberdeen portions. We awake around Preston and eat First Scotrails revised breakfast snack box before alighting at Crewe at 0510. Crewe at this time is surprisingly busy with at least five freight trains and numerous passenger and ECS workings passing in the hour, including DRS flasks led by a pair of 37s and new WCML Desiro EMU 350112.
Central Trains 170502 working the 0606 Skegness service takes us to Nottingham via Stoke, Uttoxeter and Derby. We arrive 10 minutes late into Nottingham after some congestion in Derby and make our way over the footbridge to the NET terminus at Station Street. Tram 211 working to Phoenix Park takes us to Wilkinson Street, beside the NET depot. We return on tram 201 and just make the 0842 Central Trains service to Liverpool Lime Street as far as Sheffield.
To my surprise, 158785 is on time despite originating from Norwich. This train runs via the Erewash valley, which Clifford requires. After the customary crawl from Dore, we arrive in Sheffield at 0940. This is to be a brief visit, as we depart on 150203 with the 0951 'fast' service to Leeds via Barnsley and Wakefield Kirkgate. This unit is still in the long defunct North Western Trains livery.
Arrival into Leeds is on time but Transpennine Express has cancelled our intended train, the 1049 to Middlesbrough. Virgin's 1005 to Edinburgh is expected at 1124, and the 1105 Edinburgh at 1127. These should get us connections at Darlington; The direct route via Yarm is planned again for tomorrow anyway. We take the first train, 221123 which is the 1105 and is now to be terminated at Newcastle with passengers forward on the delayed train, now 5 minutes behind us.
The sun is still shining as we speed north on the ECML, but this didn't stop the robotic announcer at Leeds from warning us to take care on slippery platforms following today's wet weather! We arrive in Darlington at 1218 and catch 142019 on the 1253 to Bishop Auckland. This passes the remnants of the original Stockton and Darlington Railway terminus at North Road, and the new NRM outpost at Shildon en route.
The return journey through Darlington to Middlesbrough and Saltburn departs at 1340. It is getting hot on our Pacer and it gets busy from Middlesbrough as we head through the heavy industry of the north east. A number of enthusiasts are at the line side to view and photograph the freight traffic in the area. Arrival into Saltburn is slightly late at 1502 for a 1504 departure back to Darlington. 221141 takes us north to Newcastle.
This is my first visit to the Tyne and Wear Metro and we've booked a hotel at the Airport. 4051 takes us from Central Station to Airport. We check in and head out to complete the system, 4038 Airport to South Gosforth where the depot and Control Centre are located, followed by 4087 and 4028 to St James' via the coast, and back to Monument. 4025 leads as we head to South Shields and back to Pelaw. An interesting flying junction takes us on 4028 and 4087 down onto Network Rail tracks towards Sunderland as we head to South Hylton.
We return to Monument observing the flashing aspect sequence at Pelaw junction, and change to 4064 for the run up to the Airport. It was noticeable that the track quality was poor in a number of locations, resulting in speed restrictions and a Weed Killing train was long overdue. Bi-lingual Latin signs were a little unusual at Wallsend, to mark its roman history. I was very impressed by the simple, clear, yet comprehensive timetable posters at each stop and up to date Fare Dodger prosecution posters, listing names (with their street) and how much they were fined in court.
Thursday 23rd June
Bridges over the Tyne, Newcastle-upon-Tyne from the High Level Rail Bridge
333002 - Leeds
Our final day and we just have to get home, via another typically indirect route. 4011 takes us into Newcastle Central Station, where we take 156468 forming the 0900 to Middlesbrough via Sunderland and the coast. Whilst at Central we see that the 0900 to London has 67001 on the front with 91129 dead on the rear. The sun reflects off the calm North Sea as we head down the Durham coast, but the picturesque landscape quickly descends into the industrial wastelands of Hartlepool and Teesside. Arrival into Middlesbrough is on time at 1015, enabling connection onto 158799 working the 1050 Transpennine Express service to Manchester Airport via Yarm. This should be our last 158 and in keeping with most of the others travelled on this week, the Air Conditioning has failed.
We travel to Leeds where we take the suburb 333002 on the 1310 to Bradford Forster Square and on to Skipton with the 1342 from Bradford. We pass through our second triangular station at Shipley, having passed Earlestown on Monday. The train comes to a stand outside Cononley due to a failed unit ahead. After 25 minutes, we progress under caution for a couple of miles and reach Skipton 35 minutes late. Our connection via Clapham and Carnforth however, is following us and we have some time in Lancaster, assuming it still runs through. 153352 and 156470 form the 1427 service to Morecombe, departing Skipton 40 minutes late. It maintains this delay as we head out through the moors, leaving the Settle and Carlisle route at Settle Junction. We arrive with 12 minutes to spare for the 1624 to London Euston.
However, we needn't have worried as the inward working had not yet arrived from London. We departed for London at 1648, 24 late with a Pendolino. This was due to various hot weather speed restrictions being implemented throughout the WCML and further delay was expected. As it happened, we had a reasonable run, making up two minutes despite severe speed restrictions or congestion at Norton Bridge, Bletchley, and Ledburn. Arrival into London Euston was at 1945, 22 minutes late. I return home on the 2017 from London Bridge, after a transfer on the Northern Line, another class 376 working. Seeing reports of the chaos on the ECML with wires down at Huntingdon, I'm glad we used the West Coast route.
66196 - Warrington Bank Quay
In 165 hours, we had travelled 3033 miles at an overall average speed, including non-travelling time of 18mph, both excluding Light Rail and transfers to/from London.
The travel cost worked out at 8p per mile demonstrating the superb value of the underused Rover tickets.
A version of this article appeared in the October 2005 issue of Entrain Magazine.
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Last Revised: 26 June 2005
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