Freedom Pass Project – Update

After all the action south of the river last week, I decided to head west along the Thames valley on Tuesday, travelling along Brunel’s billiard table to Reading. Reading is the furthest west that I can go with my Freedom Pass, and like Watford Junction and Shenfield, can only be reached if I travel on TfL Rail – I can’t use the ticket beyond West Drayton on GWR services.

Back in another life – my first period as a trainspotter – Reading was a bit of a mecca. There was a good mix of freight through the station and the cross-country passenger services along with the regular London to Wales and West Country expresses. It was the closest station outside of London with such an interesting mix of traffic, being only 36 miles away – 30 minutes on a fast service. Life’s curve balls led me on another path in the late 1980’s so the last time I visited Reading to watch trains was in 1986. If I had visited in the early 21st century, I probably wouldn’t have noticed much difference, but a major rebuilding of the station began with the project to electrify the Great Western Railway in 2010. The new station was completed in 2013 and officially opened in 2014. Of course, it was in use throughout the rebuild – you can’t just totally close one of the most important commuter stations for the capital! The work didn’t finish there though – a new flyover was built in 2014/15 to remove the conflict between trains travelling towards Didcot and those heading down the West Country.

The most popular place to stand for the spotter on the old Reading was at the end of platform 5. There was a piece of platform where you could dangle your legs over the edge in safety as in this 1975 shot taken from the old platform 4…

47101 at Reading, SEP75

…Class 47, 47101, gets a Southampton bound intermodal service going again after a crew change.

In an anomaly of the rebuilding, that platform oddity seems to have survived but without the ramp. Taken from roughly where the edge of that old photo is, here’s a Cross-Country class 221, 221132, arriving on what is now platform 8…

221132 at Reading

Apart from that, the station is almost unrecognisable on a spotting level. The old station had 12 platforms whilst the new station has 15. That may not sound like much of an increase, but believe me, the station seems much larger! There is one other surviving feature of the station I remember – the booking hall which is now a Fullers public house…

Three Guineas

The station is dominated by a massive concourse/bridge across all the platforms…

Reading Station

From the enthusiast’s point of view, photography is not as easy as it was, and you are faced with choosing whether you want to photograph the relief line platforms where you will get some freight, or the mainline platforms where you get the express services. I spent much of this first visit trying out different angles around the mainline platforms.

You can go for a simple posed 3/4’s view like this shot of GWR 800306 at the London end…

800306 at Reading

…but getting decent shots of trains approaching the station at either end is mainly thwarted by the overhead line equipment, the end of platform barriers and switchgear buildings. I did get creative through the windows of the bridge, catching this Cross-Country service arriving through the ‘steel forest’ with 220004 leading…

220004 at Reading

…but you need a long lens to pull that trick 😉

On a really bright day like this, there are deep shadows on the platforms and it’s possible to get some nice shots of the hustle and bustle as a train gets ready to depart. Here, the guard of 800011 is waiting for the dispatcher to give the ‘Right Away’…

800011 at Reading

…Again, the long lens was my friend for this shot.

Despite the limitations of the station photographically, I will certainly be giving it another visit in the not-too-distant future and hopefully add some freight to my collection of shots 👍


  1. You tell of some significant challenges in capturing the photos that you so enjoy, but you still do a great job. I’m impressed with how close you can get. I wish that years ago we took more photos of the trains that were accessible to my husband, a Southern Pacific/then Union Pacific Brakeman/Switchman. Nothing was off limits “back then,” but today it’s a lot more difficult for security reasons, I suppose. I enjoy your observations, and photos as well.

    1. Hi Debra – thanks for popping by 😎 The ‘challenges’ I face are usually caused by modern infrastructure and, sometimes, natural growth. Sometimes people are in the way too but other times they become an important aspect of the photo👍 I too wish I had taken more photos when I was younger but remember, we had the costs of film and the processing to consider and the amount of shots we could take was limited by the length of film in the camera – probably 36. Now I can go to a station and take a photo of every train going through, should I so wish, and still have loads of spare room on the memory card 😂 Security is less of an issue – Trainspotters are generally seen as being extra eyes and ears on the platform. The only real issue is those ‘spotters’ who think they can do whatever they want to get a photo and trespass on the tracks. All my shots are taken from the correct side of the fence! 😎 Finally, I think you and Jay would enjoy some of the videos on YouTube by Delay in Block Productions. Take a look –

  2. I am sorry to be so slow in commenting,Martin. I remember being thrilled to be left at Reading station for a while in the 1960s by my parents so that I could train spot! When I was there 92220 (Evening Star, I am assuming you know the significance) came through and I recall being allowed into the cab briefly. Happy memories

    1. What a wonderful memory Philip 😎👍 I can just about recall A3 60065 as being our loco for haulage north from Kings Cross on our journey to Edinburgh and 46201 Princess Elizabeth taking us from Edinburgh to Hawick in 1962 but I have no recollections of 9F’s in service. I do have one ‘photographic’ memory – ie; the photo tells me I was there😁 – Happy memories for sure 👍

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