After a relaxing and very sociable bank holiday weekend at home, normal service is resumed and I’m back on the rails again. As is often the case, there’s a lot of travelling involved. First, I’ve got to head down to Milton Keynes for a meeting with Network Rail, then I’ll be making my way up to Glasgow ready for a job in Scotland tomorrow. I’ll update this blog throughout the day, so stay tuned…
My first train of the day’s the 10:06 from Sowerby Bridge to Southport which I’m taking as far as Manchester Victoria. It rolled in 5 minutes early, which took me by surprise as I’m more used to them being delayed! Northern have turned out a Heaton based Class 156, which makes a pleasant (and more comfortable) change to the normal Class 150s. The 156s are roomier, with deeper windows, so they’re better on scenic routes like this. Their 2×2 seating helps too.
The stormy skies seen in Yorkshire are replicated in Lancashire so I wouldn’t be surprised if I get a soaking at some point today!
As this trains only a two car it’s now rammed after calling at Rochdale, a town that always provides plenty of passengers. According to figures from the ORR (Office of Rail and Road) over 1.2 million folk use the station every year.
My Virgin Pendolino’s just pulling out of Piccadilly. Next stop for me is Milton Keynes. As is my wont I walked across a busy city centre from Victoria to Piccadilly, narrowly missing an earlier train, but as I had plenty of time I spent a profitable hour getting pictures. One thing that I noticed at Piccadilly was how the train Northern fleet’s changed in recent years due to the almost continuous cascade of second-hand stock. The ex-Thameslink Class 319s are a common sight on Manchester Airport turns now that electrification of the Bolton and Liverpool corridors has been completed. At the same time, more 2nd generation diesels have joined the fleet, such as this one which has just been transferred from the London Midland fleet now that it’s been displaced from services on the Bedford-Bletchley line by Vivarail’s Class 230 underground train conversions.
These extra units and the introduction of the Class 195s will soon spell the end of the old BR Pacers which are still plying their trade around Northern metals.
My meeting with Network Rail’s Asset Protection (ASPRO) people went well. We talked about needs and ideas plus some provisional diary dates. I even managed to make it back to the station before the heavens opened, dodging the deluge I’d predicted earlier. I dunno why but every time I’ve visited the area recently it’s co-incided with rainstorms. Now I’m sat on the 16:13 Virgin Pendolino to Glasgow Central for the next five hours! It’s a busy train despite it being the school holidays. I hate to think what this 9-car would be like if the schools weren’t out. Although I’ve managed to get an airline seat I’ve no plug sockets enabling me to keep the laptop powered up. This service goes via Birmingham New St as it’s one of the Brummie turns that was extended to Scotland in the last franchise. Hopefully I might be able to grab a table seat later but I’m not optimistic.
We’ve just pulled into Coventry and this train’s even more rammed now as well over a hundred folk have joined as this service may be long-distance, but right now it’s a commuter train on this section of the route. That these Intercity trains have to occupy rush-hour paths between places like Coventry-Birmingham-Wolverhampton’s a great advert for building HS2. Get the Euston-Glasgow on Hs2 and turn it into a proper Intercity train that can lead to modal shift from road and air through shorter journey times and use the existing path for a fast people move like the Siemens Class 700s that can absorb the commuters in comfort.
Much to my surprise, I did manage to bkag a table seat when we arrived in Birmingham. As expected, this train’s still busy, but the holiday periods clearly taken the edge off it. Right now we’re approaching Wolverhampton. We’re running late as we’re caught behind a stopping service. This really is a waste of a 125mph train as we’ve staggered most of the way through this congested corridor from Coventry. On the plus side, the weather’s brightened up so I’m hoping for a lovely run through the scenic North of England and into Scotkand. I’m afraid sunshine can’t really help Wolverhampton!
We’re now between Preston and Lancaster, running at least 18 mins late due to being stuck behind local services around Birmingham. This has meant we’ve missed our connection at Preston with the Edinburgh service which is now ahead of us. Our Train Manager’s apologised and asked control if we can be put ahead of it between Lancaster and Carlisle so that folk can make the connection in the border city.
Despite the power and performance of the Pendolino’s, we’re losing more time. We passed Carnforth 21 late. The only bright spot was literally on the horizon as the weather through Lancashire was gorgeous. I could’ve got a suntan through the train window! Now, as we get closer to leaving England, the clouds are regrouping, which meant that the spectacular Lune Gorge wasn’t seen at it’s best.
We’ve arrived into Carlisle and to everyone’s credit the TPE service to Edinburgh has been held so the the few dozen people off our train can make their connection. Who says the railway can’t be joined up when needed?
Oh joy. We’ve ground to a halt at Beattock summit and our Train Manager has just announced on the PA that this is because Network Rail have lost power to a signalling panel. That said, we’re still on the move, albeit stop and start. I have a feeling that this is going to be a loonnng day…
I should have been in Glasgow Central a minute ago. Instead, we’ve just pulled past the signal failure and a freight train stuck in the Beattock loop 43 minutes late. It’s no-one’s fault and it sounds like Network Rail had staff out to the problem PDQ, but that’s not going to placate some passengers.
I’m off to bed. We arrived an hour late into Glasgow so by the time I got to my hotel I’m more than happy to call it a day. Watch out for another rolling blog tomorrow as I’m up here testing trains with Pip Dunn for RAIL magazine.