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After several days staring at a computer screen I’ve escaped the office for the day and headed out with the camera. Dawn gave me a lift into Huddersfield, so first stop was to catch up with the guys and gals at ACoRP towers to learn about preparations for next week’s Community Rail Awards in Glasgow. It’s a lovely day here, as this picture shows.

Now I’m on the move, heading West with Manchester Victoria first stop…

12:58.

I’m now back in the city of my birth: Liverpool. It’s a beautifully sunny day here too. I’ve had a mooch around the redeveloping Lime St station where I noticed this lash-up, an East Midlands Trains 156/158 combination working to Norwich!

If you’re foolish enough this would take 5 hours 21 minutes. The 156 is limited to 75mph, it has forced air ventilation (thus noisy open windows) and there’s no trolley service, so bring food parcels and ear-defenders! For the same price you can go via London (albeit changing 3 times) and arrive 5 minutes later!

I wish EMTs cross country option offered more than this nowadays but this is it.

14:03

Much as I love Liverpool, I’m very much on the move today so I didn’t have time to sample any of the cities fabulous pubs. Some of them are real works of art – like the Crown, right next to Lime St station. This is the pubs ornate ceiling.

What I did have time for was a spot of lunch at one of the city centre noodle bars. This one, called ‘Wok and Go’ is just outside Central station. You can get an excellent, freshly cooked Asian meal for a fiver. I rather like the wok lampshades too…

15:46.

I moved on via Merseyrail to Kirkby, one of those very odd hangovers from a different era – the 1970s. This former main line has between Liverpool and Wigan been singled in either direction and the line severed. It’s essentially two separate lines now, the electrified Merseyrail service ends, passengers detrain and walk along the platform, under a bridge, past two pairs of buffer stops and board a Northern Rail service to travel onwards. There’s only two places like this in the UK and they’re both on Merseyrail. The other’s nearby, at Ormskirk.

My Northern steed was one of a pair of Pacers. Two are provided but the rear one’s locked out of use as the platforms at the next station, Rainford, are too short for a 4-car. It’s Rainford I was heading for as it has one of the few mechanical signalboxes left in the Northwest as it’s where the single line begins/ends. Rainford was once a junction and the excellent real ale pub on the road above is still named ‘The Junction’. Here’s the view from the station footbridge today.

In this shot you can see the signalbox which used to stand in the middle of the junction, with lines curving away to the left and right just before the box. You can still see the curve on the edge of the right hand platform whilst the left hand side is completely overgrown by trees. It now a footpath. If you want to learn more about the history of the station and see a collection of old photographs, visit this website.

Here’s an old (undated) picture displayed in the pub.

It shows the Pub, signalbox and footbridge I was stood on!

Rainford’s only one of a couple of dozen locations left in the UK where the signaller physically hands over the single line token to the train driver, then collects it from them on the return.  Here he is in action yesterday.

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17:07.

I’ve stopped off again, this time at a station I’ve never visited: Orrell. The station’s been built in a deep cutting, so access isn’t the easiest. That said, the station friends group (whom I don’t know) are doing some sterling work on difficult terrain. They’ve established planters on the platforms, brought in water butts, edging and added steps to some of the steep banks to make then accessible for planting.

I had a quick wander around the town but it’s not one of those places that has a natural centre, just scattered shops and a couple of closed-down pubs. It has the feeling of a town that’s lost it’s original reason for existance, so it’s a dormitory town for elsewhere.

My next stop was quite depressing: Wigan. I know Wigan of old, since the early 1970s when I first started travelling solo as a teenager. It’s always been a bit of a depressing place. It’s no wonder George Orwell used it in some of his writing. The problem is, it hasn’t got much better. The old industries that grew the town are long gone and I’m really not sure what sustains the place anymore. In the 1990s 2000s I used to change trains here on my way to see my family in Southport. Occasionally we’d stop for a drink if we missed a connection, but there was always an undertow of menace in some of the pubs. That and the bluster of people who knew they were going nowhere. It’s worse now. I had a quick wander in between trains. The big old pub to the right of Wallgate station’s now a shop. It’s one of the few as all I saw in my stroll uphill was bars, barbers, vape shops, bookies, drunks and beggars. None of the normal economic life of a healthy town. Still, now that we’ve ‘taken back control’ thanks to Brexit, I’m sure things will improve…

Moving on I caught a train back to Manchester where I changed for a service back across the Pennines. This time of day the trains are very busy, but that’s no surprise – I’m on another old friend, a 2-car Class 150 that used to operate Gospel Oak to Barking on my local line in North London. It ended up working for Great Western around Exeter and now it’s pitched up here. Northerners complain about poor train services but if you compared loading and fares on this route with (say) a train out of London Waterloo to Basingstoke at the same time of day you can see why that has 12 cars and this doesn’t!

l’ll probably get some flak for that observation, but as someone who’s lived in both areas I know the reality.

My final port of call was Hebden Bridge, where I changed trains once more. At night the place oozes history and atmosphere, all you need is a steam engine to pass through!

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UPDATE 30.9.18
As you can see from the comment to this blog, my observations on Wigan have upset some, so I thought I’d compare Wigan (pop 103,000) and where I live now Halifax (pop 90,472) on Crime statistics UK. Each postcode is taken from the town centres. The comparisons make interesting reading.

crime 2

crime

Now here’s where I used to live, Crouch End in North London!

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