I’m wearing my ACoRP judges hat again today and heading down to Devon before pitching up in London later.

The day started early and my walk down to Sowerby Bridge station was noticeably colder as the weather’s really cooled compared to temperatures of late. That said, the rain that’s finally arrived has been a Godsend for gardeners and farmers, who’ve really been struggling because of the lack of rainfall.

My first leg of the journey was to Manchester Victoria, then a brisk hike across town to Piccadilly. The city was just beginning to wake up. Commuters were flooding in and the dozens of homeless people who ‘live’ in shop doorways around the centre were also stirring. It’s so sad to see how many of them there are now. A decade of austerity and an increasingly callous Government has increased their numbers dramatically. Now with the depressing fiascos in Parliament and the increasing likelihood of us crashing out of the EU without a deal in a ‘hard Brexit’ scenario I fear we’re going to see even more people begging on the streets. The country’s heading for the political and economic abyss and no-one seems bothered. I’m beginning to understand how educated German’s must have felt in the 1930s…

As I’d left earlier than planned I just managed to catch the 08:27 Cross-country service from Picadilly. It’s a peak train, so whilst it was busy it wasn’t overly so. As soon as we pulled away the TM did a ticket check and caught a group of lads trying to wing it to Totnes on off-peak tickets. They were given the option of paying the £150 difference or get off at Stockport and wait. They (reluctantly) chose to get off!

I used to do this trip fairly regularly. Manchester to Birmingham takes 91 minutes. When you consider this is two of our major cities we’re talking about, that’s pretty slow and that’s reflected in rails tiny market share. Once Hs2 phase 2b opens in 2033, 91 minutes will be reduced to 40 and the trains will be far superior to Cross-country Voyagers! Mind you, Leeds to Brum will see a masdive improvement too, meaning I’m more likely to use that route and save the schlep across the Pennines. Times wil reduce from 1 hour 58 minutes to just 49! It’s slashex journey times like these Hs2 anti’s always ignore in favour of their old canard that only 20 mins is knocked off Euston – Birmingham (that was always a lie as it will be 35).

As I write this we’re trundling through the Wolves-Brum corridor, so I’m going to break off and pack up my kit. I’ll blog again after Birmingham.

10:23

I’ve just left Birmingham on Cross-country’s 10:17 to Plymouth. There wasn’t much chance to mooch around as I only had 20 minutes between trains. I have to admit, the city’s grown on me over the years. Like Manchester, the centre’s a refuge for far too many homeless people (a disgraceful state of affairs in such a developed nation) but there’s been a new confidence in the city in recent years and a lot of investement. It’s heartbreaking to see all that being jeapordised on the altar of blind political dogma.

My train westward’s a packed 4-car Voyager (220020 for the number crunchers) with hardly a spare seat already. After decades of passenger growth, 4 car trains on long-distance services like these really aren’t fit for purpose. When the cross-country franchise comes up for reletting I’ll be very interested to see what the successful bidder intends to do to replace them…

13:08.

After a break at Bristol I’ve met up with Paul my fellow judge and swapped my Voyager for a Cross-country HST to Exeter. I’d not been to Bristol since GWR cascaded the ‘Thames Turbo’ Class 166s to the area, so my stopover allowed me to get some new library shots.

Now we’re bowling across the Somerset levels in style.

20:00

The day’s moved on. We’re now on Brunel’s ‘billiard table’ East of Swindon. The judging visit went well and we met a group who’d never entered the awards before. Afterwards, we had time for chips and mushy peas by the seaside. Well, it would have been rude not to!

Oddly, our direct train to London from Exeter eschewed the Berks and Hants route via Newbury. Instead it passed through (non-stop) both Bristol Temple Meads and Parkway as the first stop was Swindon. I’m obviously out of touch with developments here nowadays, but then my excuse is that I can’t be everywhere all the time!

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