In the back of Beyond? No, this is Surrey!


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I don’t often have a moan, but today’s an exception. The Platt family and I have decamped to Tilford in Surrey for a few days (for reasons I’ll explain in a blog another time). Leafy Surrey, part of the stockbroker belt, within easy reach of London and part of the affluent South-East is somewhere you’d expect to have excellent wifi and mobile phone coverage, wouldn’t you? The opposite is true. It’s universally crap.

The house where we’re staying is in a mobile phone blackspot. I’m on O2 and can get a signal much of the time. My wife and her parents are on EE and their phones are useless. They can’t get anything. It’s the same story a few miles up the road at my wife’s brothers, only there I can’t get a phone signal either!

As for wifi, what a joke. I’m currently sat in the Barley Mow pub in Tilford, trying to upload pictures to my website, but I might as well be in the Outer Hebrides. The wifi can’t cope. I only came here because I couldn’t upload them at the family home (the signal kept dropping out). It’s not just Tilford either. I’d tried to upload pictures using the wifi in a pub in Farnham earlier. I managed one picture at a time before I lost the connection.

No wonder Britain is becoming a bit of an international joke for the quality of its infrastructure. If I can’t get a decent ‘phone & wifi connection in Surrey for Chrissake! The irony is that back in West Yorkshire I have an excellent communications network and my Virgin wifi is blinding. The upshot is that I couldn’t live here and do my job. Things are better than here in the Far North of Scotland. I’ve travelled by train from Inverness to Wick on a wifi fitted train. I can’t do that here in Surrey either!

Someone, somewhere needs to get a grip…

Another day, another dollar…


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Days at home are all too rare right now, although I shouldn’t really complain. Monday – Tuesday saw me commuting to London for various jobs, Wednesday had me working out of the ACoRP office in Huddersfield, Thursday was a chance to catch up on some paperwork and picture editing at home. Today I’m back on the rails again, heading to York for another job for RAIL magazine. This afternoon I return to London as Dawn and I are spending a couple of nights in the capital to celebrate my birthday, then have a day with friends to celebrate our forthcoming wedding. I’ve eschewed the traditional stag night. Instead I’ve opened the day up to both sexes and invited friends to meet the pair of us on Saturday as we visit one or two of London’s finest hostelries!
As much as I love travelling, I’m looking forward to having more time at home. The Pennines are beautiful this time of year. Autumn brings crisp mornings, gorgeous light and a fantastic array of colours as the trees shed their leaves. I’m looking forward to being able to enjoy these sights on some weekend walks – if we can fit them in before the wedding!

Glasgow bound…

We’ve survived days of gales and torrential rain here in the Pennines, now it’s time for something different. Dawn and I are heading for Glasgow to attend the Railway Benefit Fund annual dinner which is being held at the Grand Central Hotel this evening. It’s a great night and an opportunity to help out a very worthy cause. Oh, and also have some fun – even though I will be working.

Expect a few pictures to appear later…

A blustery day…



Well, we may not be directly in the path of Hurricane Ophelia up here in the Pennines but it’s been an interesting day nevertheless. This morning the Calder valley was coated in a colourful semi-opaque red haze that made the place look like something out of the ‘Martian Chronicles’! It really was the most surreal feeling to see the atmosphere charged in such a way. A few hours later it’d cleared and we were back to a glorious summers day, with sunshine, scudding clouds and balmy temperatures hitting 19 degrees C. There was only one problem. The seasonal average for this time of year is 12 degrees C! Soon afterwards, the winds arrived. I’d nipped over to Huddersfield to visit the hotel where Dawn and I are getting married when we got hit by one enormous gust of wind that really rattled the place. Trees outside writhed like they were caught in a maelstrom. The drive back home was entertaining as leaves & twigs scudded across the roads like battalions of scalded cats.

We decided to stop off for a quick one in our local pub before heading home. When we arrived the pub sign hanging outside was doing its best to break off its hinges. Every few minutes you could hear the roar of the wind outside over the conversations & laughter inside. A few minutes after we left the lights went out. A power cut took out streetlights, traffic lights and every house within a mile of where we were. We drove to our local Sainsbury’s about a mile away to pick up some shopping but everything was in blackout. Eventually, the power came back on but the staff couldn’t serve anyone as all the tills were still down. It took them ages to reboot, leaving staff having to add up shopping lists on scraps paper. Believe it or not, Sainsbury’s are still using Windows XP on their tills – despite Microsoft stopping supporting it way back in April 2014! Rebooting XP after a sudden shutdown takes a lifetime.

If this was our experience on the edge of the hurricane, I hate to think what’s happening to people closer in…

StopHs2. Hoist by their own petard!


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You have to laugh! The anti Hs2 campaign’s in the doldrums after a terrible political party conference season, coupled with the fact that, well, they’re pretty much irrelevant nowadays. So, to try and fill space on their website and pretend that something’s happening that isn’t a disaster, Joe Rukin penned this

Here’s a screengrab.rukin, stockport

Question Time vets its audience and invites them from a wide area. This is hardly representative of Stockport, but let’s just play along with Joe’s spin for a while. ‘Stockport agrees Hs2 is a monumental waste of money’. Really?

Let’s ignore the fact that there’s not a single StopHs2 (in)action group in the whole of Greater Manchester. The nearest one is the ineffectual Mid-Cheshire group, who’ve had to pretend to be from Manchester in the past (here they are in 2014). So, what’s the hard  evidence for such a claim? Well, why don’t we have a look at the new national petition that StopHs2 started last month? Surely, Stockport will register in that as an absolute hotbed of anti Hs2 feeling – as Rukin’s claimed. Oh, wait…

Here’s a screenshot of the petition results from Stockport, taken earlier today.


A grand total of 9 constituency residents, 0.01%…

As usual, Rukin’s bullshit and bombast falls just as soon as you start looking at the truth.




Stop Hs2 never learn…


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I’ve not blogged about the anti Hs2 campaign for some time, mainly because their campaign’s collapsed. There’s nothing going on nationally, just a dwindling number of folk moaning about Hs2 on Twitter. Locally, a few campaign groups on Phase 2 continue to make a noise, but their numbers are small and there’s little in the way of co-ordination.

However, last Thursday, Joe Rukin of the sole surviving ‘national’ group (Stop Hs2) decided to start yet another anti Hs2 petition using the Governments template. What a bad idea! I’ve always said that (like social media), these petitions are a double-edged sword. They’re just as likely to show a campaign’s weaknesses as much as its strengths – as is the case here. Regular readers will know I love this petition format as it provided some very interesting numbers to crunch. Signatories are identified by constituency and a total is given as a percentage of resident constituents. So, this morning I crunched the numbers. The petition will run until March 2018, which means Stophs2 have 6 months of embarrassment to come (if they last that long).

Here’s a link to the petition itself. Hs2 petition.PNG

The map that comes with the petition’s the really useful resource as it highlights the constituents with the largest number of signs using different colours. The darker the colour, the more who’ve signed. Now, spot where Hs2 goes!

hs2 petition map

Straight away the map explodes the myth that the Stop Hs2 campaign’s national. It’s clear that it’s anything but. Folk signing the petition are mostly living on the route, with the greatest concentration on Phase 1 around the Chilterns!

Here’s the number crunching, firstly for constituencies on Hs2 Phase 1 – which is a done deal now.

hs2 numbers p1

The first figure is the number of constituents, the second is the number who’ve signed the petition and the final one is the percentage of constituents. The first fact that leaps out is how tiny the percentages are, the largest is just over half 1%! The second fact is that phase 1 signatories make up a third of the grand total of 6229. The other fact is that other constituencies on the phase 1 route aren’t on the spreadsheet as the numbers of signatories are so small.

Now let’s have a look at Phase 2. I’ve divided them between the two legs of Hs2, Manchester and Leeds. Lets look at the Manchester route first.

p2 M'cr

What’s fascinating about this is that so few constituencies Hs2 passes through feature. This proves what I’ve been saying for some time, the stop Hs2 campaign’s always been weak here (there’s never been a single anti Hs2 group in Manchester for example) but now it looks like it’s pretty much collapsed. Despite the presence of a small but noisy Mid-Cheshire ‘action’ group, Congleton constituency only has 25 signs. Stafford has 31.

Now let’s look at the Leeds leg.

hs2 leeds

The numbers show that all the noise that’s come from one or two groups in Yorkshire and elsewhere hasn’t translated into signatures and the percentages for the constituencies are well below what we see on phase 1, which suggests there’s far less outrage about Hs2 here.

It’s worth remembering that these petitions get the greatest number of signs in the first few days. Once the activists have signed, numbers drop off rapidly. To reach it’s target the petition needs over 555 signs every single day for the duration. There’s no chance of that happening. This petition’s utterly pointless. The only thing it’s doing is allowing people to monitor the pulse of the stophs2 ‘campaign’. Judging by these numbers, it won’t be long before someone turns off its life-support machine. I’ll report back monthly, just to monitor what happens.



The awards season’s here…


Having spent the past few days at home working on the cottage I’m back on the rails again, heading down to London in readiness for taking the pictures of tonight’s National Rail Awards. I’ve only just realised that this is actually the 15th year I’ve been working at it. Where the hell has the time gone? I started back in 2003, which seems like a lifetime ago. It’s always an amazing event to work at, partially because of the venue (the Grand room of the Grosvenor House hotel in Park Lane, London) but also because it’s a showcase for the best the railway industry has to offer in the way of projects and people. But it’s not all work. It’s also an opportunity for me to catch up with friends and colleagues whom I’ve met or worked with over the years. No doubt a few stories will be told in the bar afterwards!

My next awards ceremony is a little different. I’ll be working at the Community Rail awards in Derby next month. It doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of the NRA, but it’s another great showcase of a different kind – it celebrates the fantastic work of the volunteers (and some paid staff) who look after their local stations or railway lines.

Finally, I’ll be volunteering my services at a slightly different event. The Railway Benefit Fund annual charity ball in Glasgow. It’s one of those nights where the industry comes together to help members of rail staff (current and retired) in need.

Fun times ahead…





Greater Anglia’s Aventra mock-up


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As promised earlier, here’s a look at the mock up of the interior of Greater Anglia’s Aventra trains. Be aware that this isn’t exactly how they’ll appear In service (it is a mock-up after all). The model has been built to test various layouts, so it’s an amalgam of styles. Still it give you a feel for what they’ll look like in service.

GA have ordered 665 Aventra vehicles. They’ll form 22 x 10 car trains and 89 x 5 car trains. All will be standard class. 5 car trains will have 540 seats and 10 cars 1100.

Features to note include underfloor heating, air conditioning, plug sockets (with USB) and high capacity broadband. The units will be used across the GA network, including Hertford East, Kings Lynn and Ipswich to London. Also GE services including Norwich, Ipswich, Braintree, Clacton and Southend.

The first trains will enter service in 2019.




The seats are cantilevered from the body sides, creating more luggage apace and making them easier to keep clean. Note that each bay has more USB sockets than seats. 

The DG280522



Derby bound…


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After a weekend of DIY at home I’m on my travels again, heading for a job in Derby. An advantage of having a fiancé who works by Huddersfield railway station is that it’s easy for me to get a lift to a station that has a far greater selection and frequency of services than my local one. I’d a number of routes to choose from but today the best option was a Northern service to Wakefield Westgate for a connecting Cross-Country train to Derby. It nearly didn’t happen. As is often the case, Trans-Pennine Express services were running late. Today, they were very late*. My 09:31 was held to let a York through that was 50 minutes down. Despite this, quick work by the crew of our Pacer turned a 7 late departure into an on-time arrival. It wouldn’t have mattered – my onward connection was late too! A pair of Voyagers rolled in 6 down. I’m sitting in one now, scribbling this before posting it via the wifi. We’re gradually making up minutes en-route so I’m expecting a right-time arrival at Derby. The beauty of Voyagers is they’ve plenty of horsepower when needed!

To say the weather is changeable at the moment would be an understatement. It really has been a case of four seasons in one day,  I need to be carrying a brolly and waterproof sun cream in weather like this! At least today’s job is undercover. I’m heading for the Bombardier plant to shoot a mock-up of one of the new Aventra trains that’ve been ordered by Anglia, so expect a few pictures to be added this afternoon.

See you later!

* In fairness to TPE, this wasn’t their fault. Torrential rain caused the line to be flooded at Greenfield. 










There and back again.



I’ve escaped from home for the first time this week. The last few days have been spent on domestic duties, retiling our bathroom. It’s been fun but frustrating as (like most old Victorian properties) there’s not a level wall in the place!

I’m en-route to London on a flying visit to get some pictures for a magazine. It’s not ideal weather, as I write this I’m passing through the Colne valley which contains a Turneresque collection of low clouds and rainstorms. It’s not meant to be much better in London as thunderstorms are forecast. I expect I’ll be in for a soaking at some point today.
My recent absence from blogging has been due to a variety of reasons – including the fact that I’ve been writing for work, not pleasure. I’ve an article on the Heart of Wales railway line in the current issue of RAIL magazine which carried an earlier one on the ‘Three peaks by rail’ event for the charity the Railway Children. I’ve also been kept busy visiting 17 stations around the country in my role as a judge for the ACoRP awards. I thoroughly enjoy that. Not only does it give me chance to visit places I wouldn’t normally travel to – I also get to meet some amazing and inspirational community rail volunteers and Officers and see first-hand the fantastic work they’re doing. During our visits, I can talk about what other groups are doing and help spread best practice and ideas. This year the awards are being held in Derby, a town that’s at the heart of the rail industry (the awards move each year). It’s always a great event and I’m looking forward to seeing the faces of some people when they find out that they’ve won.
Part 2
Now I’m on a Virgin Pendolino, heading for Euston after a seamless connection at Manchester Piccadilly. Unusually, I managed to get a table seat on the earlier Trans-Pennine Express service from Huddersfield. They’re often packed, so the new (longer) loco hauled sets being built by CAF in Spain will be a welcome capacity increase – as well as providing something new to photograph.
My Pendolino’s busy but I’ve managed to find a seat here too. Whilst it was the school holidays I spent a lot of time sitting in vestibules as the trains were so rammed. I never bumped into Jeremy Corbyn tho…I take back my earlier comment about the unsuitability of the weather, there’s a glorious mixture of moody skies, sudden showers and outbreaks of blue sky or sunshine that would make for some great pictures if you’re in the right place at the right time. Hopefully, at some point in the day, I will be…
Right, that’s all for now folks, it’s time to stop scribbling and catch up on some reading.

Part 3
After a couple of hours back in London I’m heading back North, this time on a Virgin East Coast. Coast service. The performance between the two trains is noticeable. A tilting Pendolino irons out the twists & turns on the West Coast whilst you can really feel the curves or pointwork aboard VTECs Mk4’s. A couple of times my laptop has threatened to leap off the airline seat table its perched on. It’s POETS day (Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday) so this Leeds train is packed with people heading back to their roots for the weekend. Sadly, there was no chance for me to indulge in any moody weather shots as the capital suffered uniformly low cloud. Instead, I’m going to call in my local pub on the way home and enjoy their quiz. Friday night may seem to be a strange time to have one, but this is a bit special. It’s a small group who answer the questions printed in our local ‘Pub Paper’ read out by Mel, a woman with a booming voice and a broad Lancashire accent. She’s the only person I know who needs to come with subtitles! She won’t mind me saying this but her pronunciation of unfamiliar words can be a real source of amusement. The other week she came out with ‘Sarco Fagus’, it took a minute for the penny to drop. She meant sarcophagus!

Enjoy your weekend.