Today’s the day the country’s starting to open up. After so long in an unprecedented ‘lockdown’ many restrictions are being lifted and we can (cautiously I’d hope) begin to enjoy some of the old freedoms that we used to take for granted. To say it’s been a tough time for many would be an understatement. A significant number of people are no longer here to see it. Hopefully now the ones of us who are won’t screw it up and may even have learned a few things.
As part of that opening up the railways switched to a new timetable from yesterday, today’s the first working day. It’s annual event but this year it has greater significance as it sees many train services restored that were curtailed by Covid as people were discouraged from travelling by public transport. I’m out and about to see how things are going and also to inspect a new (improved) service on the old Midland Main Line where investment by the Government via Network Rail has seen the line North from Bedford to Corby electrified. East Midlands Railway has gained a fleet of Siemens built Class 360s displaced from Greater Anglia to run the service.
But first, I’ve got to get there…
I’m currently on Northern’s 06:07 service from Sowerby Bridge as far as Manchester Victoria. Before the pandemic this would probably have been worked by one of the elderly 2-car ‘Pacer’ trains. Now they’re all retired we’ve been graced with a pair of 2-car Class 158s, which is clearly an improvement. At this God-forsaken hour of the day I’d hardly expect to it be crowded at the best of times, but these are hardly the best of times. We’re slowly picking up passengers as we go but right now (having just left Smithy Bridge) there’s only seven of us in the front vehicle. Still, that’s an improvement on this time last year when you’d have been lucky to have that many on the entire train!
I’ll be running a rolling blog throughout the day, so feel free to keep popping in to see my progress…
As usual, we picked up a significant number of people at Rochdale, one of the busiest stations on the line. We’ve almost doubled our complement which is good to see. I’ll be interested to see what this weeks Department of Transport figures are for passenger loadings when they come out. I suspect that by the end of the week tere’s going to be a significant increase, but time will tell.
Today’s stroll across Manchester was a real contrast to the same journey last Thursday. The increase in people who’re out and about was marked. Seeing folks sat inside coffee shops was a very noticeable change, as were busy trams. At Piccadilly station the mezzanine floor has reopened although only a few of the shops and cafes located there have doon the same. Even so, it’s a welcome sign that life’s returning. Many of the shop staff will be travelling to work by train, so there’s a knock-on effect.
I’m currently sat on the 07:55 Avanti service to Euston, which is still very quiet. Mind you, this one goes via Crewe and stops at Litchfield and Tamworth, plus there’s another (faster) direct service leaving Piccadilly just 10 minutes later, so that’s perhaps unsurprising.
Oh, Joy! Signal failure at Stockport! We sat on the viaduct outside the station for 14 minutes before being allowed in to the station. After picking up a brace of schoolkids who’re on their way to Wilmslow we crawled out of the station to make our way (in fits and starts) South. We’re now approaching Cheadle Hulme 19 minutes late.
We’ve departed Wilmslow in the the pouring rain 25 minutes late. The Train Manager’s come on the PA to announce that the problems were twofold, overhead line issues and a broken down train. This has left us running behind a local stopping service which has slowed us down even more. Ho hum!
Thankfully, it seems the rain Gods only have a thing for Wilmslow, almost as soon as we left the skies lifted to become dappled with clouds and blue skies for the rest of the trip as far as Crewe where we picked up a few more travellers. The junctions a real mix of ‘railways through the ages’ with vintage stock and locomotives stabled at the old diesel depot (now LSL) whilst at the Arriva traincare depot stood one of the brand new electric trains for West Midlands services. Now, my train’s speeding down the West Coast at full throttle, hoping to make up some minutes…
All station calls completed we’re now racing towards Euston at full tilt – literally! We’re making up the minutes as we go, having clawed back 9 so far. The weather’s brightened up somewhat and the sun’s trying to muscle its way through clouds that are retreating to greater heights. Either way, the weather in London can’t be as dank and dismal as last week, not that it really matters as I won’t be in the capital for long.
Sorry for the attack of ‘bloggus intteruptus’ there. I’ve been constantly on the move and haven’t had more than 10 mins to compose my thoughts but I’ll start to catch up with myself now.
I didn’t hang around on arrival at Euston. The weather was as consistent as Boris Johnson so I made my way to St Pancras in the hope I’d get some decent pictures somewhere along the Midland Main Line if I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. My first trip was aboard one of East Midlands Railways newly acquired class 360s. After 20 years in service on Anglia they’re in need of an internal refurbishment. One was planned but has been delayed by Covid. Even so, they make a refreshing change from heading North under diesel power with a biglump of an engine below the passenger saloon. Being electric they’re rather nippy and we reacked Luton without much ado. My arrival coincided with a thunderstorm which made life ‘interesting’ to say the least. Bedford was balmier. I actually got to use summertime settings on my camera! Wellingborough was a highlight as we had some great changes in lighting conditions over a station that’s been substantially rebuilt. Not only has it regained its fourth platform, there also a new footbridge with lifts where stone cladding’s been added to make it blend in with the original Midland Railway building. Talking of original buildings – the time-warp goods shed had had a make-over. The rail access has been converted into a walkway to solve the issue of the narrow platform whilst the old cranes and goods deck have been walled-off in glass to be used as a museum at a later date. Here’s how much things have changed. The first of the Class, 360101 calls at the re-instated and rebuilt platform four at Wellingborough with a service to London St Pancras.
The Midland Main Line’s starting to look very different from the route it has been for decades. Electrification North of Bedford, reinstating four-tracking, re-aligned and rebuilt stations, there’s been quite a shopping list. Then there’s a ‘double-take’ on the train fleets. The old High-Speed Trains (HSTs) were retired last week. In their place has appeared two ‘cast-off’ fleets. The electric Class 360s from Anglia and the diesel Class 180s which have moved between First Great Western, Hull Trains and have now pitched up with EMR. Here’s 180109 powering through Luton with a service from Nottingham to London St Pancras.
Having sampled the new services, enhanced timetable and expanded stations I have to admit to being impressed. I’ll add more detail tomorrow (including a look at Wellingborough and Kettering station improvements. It’s early days yet and Covid’s still an issue but having half-hourly trains to Corby is excellent – especially as they’re electric. The 360s are good trains and they’ll be even better after refurbishment. The enhanced long-distance services to Sheffield should prove to be a winner too – even more so when EMR get their new fleet of bi-mode trains. After being a ‘cinderella’ operation for years since the ‘Meridians’ were introduced, times are certainly changing in the East Midlands. Now, if only the Dept of Transport and politicians can be persuaded to electrify all the way to Nottingham and Sheffield…
I’ve jumped forward in time again as I’m now on the last leg home. I took my leave of the old Midland via Sheffield and the Hope Valley line to get back to Manchester. A stroll across the city saw me back at Victoria to catch a train back to Halifax. The Class 195/0 I’m on is busy – a reflection of the fact that lockdown’s easing. Many (but by no means all) of the trains I’ve travelled on displayed an increase in loadings compared to last week, but there’s still a long way to go before normality is established.
I’ll be out and about again tomorrow only closer to home as Northern finally have the bi-mode Class 769s in squadron service on the route from Alderley Edge to Southport. They’re three years late, but better late then never! Watch this space…
I’ve a favour to ask…
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