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Ugh! Up at sparrowfart again getting ready to go to Birmingham. This morning I’m getting a lift to the station because I don’t want another soaking! The weather here is still what’s best described as ‘changeable’. I’m heading for the 06:44 from Halifax, so let’s see how today goes…


I’m now on my way to Manchester aboard the 06:44 which is worked by a fully-functioning CAF built Class 195. We have heating, PIS and even the wifi which I’m using to type this. They’re lovely trains when they’re like this and a real step-change from what we’re used to.

It’s a beautiful sunny morning in the Calder Valley although it’s a chilly 4 degrees according to the trains info screens. It’s a bit of a contrast to London yesterday when I basked in 14 degree sunshine!


Having crossed the Pennines and called at Littleborough we’re trundling towards Rochdale at reduced speed. Looking up from my laptop for a moment I was just in time to catch sight of a trio of deer feeding in a meadow, their white tails attracted my attention, otherwise I’d have missed them as they were standing stock-still whilst the train passed.


We’ve arrived at Rochdale where around a dozen early-bird commuters are waiting for our arrival. I was surprised to see so few, but there’s another Manchester bound service in the bay platform which seems to have a good crowd on it. No doubt it’ll be following behind shortly.


After my usual 20 minute sprint across central Manchester from Victoria to Piccadilly I’m back in the warmth aboard Cross-Country’s 08:05 to Paignton. We’ve luxury this morning as this is an 8-car formation. Even the Conductor is boasting that there’s “lots of room this morning, so make the most of it”. I assume that this must be an aberration!

There is an irony in me travelling to Birmingham to see HS2 archeological work in this fashion. This journey between two of our premier regional cities will take 1 hour 28 minutes. Voyagers – be they four or five car – are less than an ideal offering. HS2 (when it’s completed) will cut the journey time by more than half to just 40 minutes. Plus, it’ll be on a 400 metre long, modern intercity train that will make a Voyager look primitive in comparison.


We’ve just left Macclesfield. I don’t know about the rear Voyager, but this front set is filling up nicely! There’s lots of business travellers aboard. In the airline seats opposite me two young professionals have their papers spread out on the meagre backseat tables and are preparing themselves for the meeting they’re heading for. Others are using their time to catch up on the budget news in copies of the ‘Metro’ but on one table ahead I can spy an unopened bottle of Prosecco with four plastic cups atop it – so there’s business mixed with pleasure on this coach as I assume these people are race-goers!


Bugger, we’re just leaving Stoke-on-Trent and the weather’s changed dramatically. We’re now blessed with thunderously grey skies and it’s chucking it down! Please let this clear before Birmingham…


We’ve just left Wolverhampton and the penny’s finally dropped as to why this train is a double set! There were queues of well-dressed people waiting for us to arrive and I suddenly realised that we call at Cheltenham – where the races are on! Now the fact the catering crew were heavily advertising what deals they have on Prosecco or gin and tonic at this hour of the day makes sense!


Apologies for the delay in updates but it’s been a very hectic few hours. Our little group got to the HS2 site at Curzon St for 10:00, donned our PPE, had a site induction, then went to visit the site of the London & Birmingham’s locomotive roundhouse, which was built in 1837. You’ll be able to read about my full visit in the future edition of RAIL magazine, but here’s a taster of how the site looks, with the remains of the turntable pit in the middle and 15 pit roads radiating from it. Everyone was surprised just how extensive the remains are, not just of the roundhouse, but other structures as well. Thankfully, the rain we’d had earlier held off and we had sunshine interspersed with cloud – which was just as well because there was a bitter wind blowing across the exposed site that made you thankful for the layers of PPE you had to wear!

The visit took several hours as we were given an extensive tour of the site of the roundhouse and the remains of the goods shed with its wagon turntables still in situ. Afterwards we were shown round the last building standing. The grade 1 listed station building and former boardroom of the London and Birmingham railway.

A selfie with Tim Dunn and Gareth Dennis taken by Gareth (which is why I’m in the middle!)

Afterwards I went to have a look at a modern transport innovation. The extension to the Midlands Metro tram network, the first to use dual-powered trams that don’t have to use overhead lines in the heart of the city so as to preserve the architectural heritage of the area.

Look – no wires (or pantographs)! A pair of trams pass outside the new Town Hall stop.


Homeward bound! I left Birmingham on the 16:57 Cross-Country Voyager bound for Manchester. Unsurprisingly, it’s packed even though this is a 5-car. This time of day it acts as a fast commuter train between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, after which the vestibules empty out and some seats become free. With the advent of HS2 I’d like to see these trains withdrawn and the twice-hourly paths used for more commuter services for local passengers whilst long-distance passengers can transfer to a faster, more comfortable service from Curzon St so that we have an inter-city service worth its name.


I’m now on the final leg home. After abandoning the Voyager at Piccadilly I retraced my steps to Victoria to catch a train back across the Pennines. I’m now on a 2-car Class 195 heading for Halifax. It’s not as busy as I’d have expected but I honestly can’t tell if that’s due to people not travelling through fear of the Coronavirus or the fact some folks may have left work earlier.

There’s certainly plenty of panic about. I had chance to scan the media earlier and saw the news about the Tango’d Buffoon in the White House banning all travel (except via the UK) to the USA for a month. An already very weak stock market which has suffered many days of losses went into complete meltdown and shed over 10% of it’s remaining value, propelling it into its worst decline since 1987. The spectre of another global financial crash is starting to rear its ugly head…


I’m finally home in the warm and dry, having taken the sensible precaution of bringing a brolly with me today, although they’re often of little use up here in the Pennines due to the fact the wind rips ’em to shreds within a few minutes. Right now I’ve begun the task of loading some of the past two days worth of pictures to my Zenfolio website. If you follow this link, you’ll be able to see which galleries they’ve been added to.

Tomorrow I have a day working from home, trying to catch up on picture editing, paperwork and communications, although there might still be time for some blogging, it certainly won’t be rolling…

Goodnight folks!