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What is is about those nights when you know you’re going to be up at silly ‘o clock that your sleep pattern goes to pot? Instead of a restful night your mind races and refuses to rely on the alarm clock, so you end up lying there wating for the damned thing to go off? Last night was one of those nights!

Still, I may be bleary-eyed, but a couple of cups of Sumatran coffee have seen me right and I’m now sat on the 06:04 from Sowerby Bridge on the first part of my journey down to Rail Live 2021.

The weather here in the Calder Valley’s already heating up as we had a stunning evening yesterday and cloud cover overnight to keep the warmth in. Hopefully the good weather will remain the same in the Midlands, although we do have rain forecast for tomorrow morning. I’m not anticipating too many problems as there’s always a few marquees to hide in for a while if need be!

My current train is worked by a 3-car Class 158. This service is never busy at the best of times and this morning there’s just four of us sharing the front car after departing from Todmorden. I’ll be interested to see how busy the city of Manchester is later. My travels over the past couple of weeks have demonstrated how rail travel is quickly picking up again as people enjoy their re-acquired freedoms, so let’s see how today goes…


After calling at Rochdale our numbers in the front car have climbed to 15 early birds, most of whom are heading into work in Manchester.


Like most on my train, I abandoned the service at Victoria. This time of day’s too early for most ‘suits’ (many of whom are still on furlough). Instead it was tradespeople and shop workers who made up the crowds as we teemed up the bridge from platform 5. Walking across the city centrw from Vic to Picc I passed many homeless people who were starting to emerge from sleeping bags and duvets from doorways along my route. A sad sight.

Piccadilly was emerging from its slumbers too as the concourse shops prepared for business whilst passengers miled around looking for their trains. Mine wasn’t hard to find. A Class 221/220 lash-up on platform 4 forming Cross-Country’s 07:27 to Bournemouth. XC are running a reduced hourly service from Piccadilly in order that they’ve sufficent Voyagers available to double the size of their trains to aid in social distancing. It’s a wise and welcome move as – pre Covid – their trains often resembled sardine cans!

220018 leading the 07:27 Piccadilly-Bournemouth is my chariot to Birmingham..

The cheery Train Manager in the rear set’s kept passengers well briefed about the train and social distancing rules and requests (cover nose and mouth, try to only occupy window seats to keep the aisle safe). Both sets are staffed, so I expect a ticket check. There’s also a trolley service, so I can get my coffee fix!


The ticket check took place as expected but there weren’t many to examine as my coach (F – at the front of the train) has remained quiet with only half a dozen passengers using it. That said, those half dozen have changed a few times as people have joined and departed at Stockport, Macclesfield and Stoke! Cross-Country may be an intercity operator but many of the people it carries use it for short hops rather than long Journeys. I can’t imagine anyone on here will be travelling all the way from Manchester to Bournmouth!


Having half an hour to change trains at New St took any pressure off me so I was able to top up my caffeine tank without rushing. I’m staying in the Ibis here tonight so there was no need to worry about grabbing a few pictures either. I’m now on a Cardiff service to take me to Worcestershire Parkway, the new Interchange with the Cotswold line which I’ve only passed through before now.


My trip to Worcestershire Parkway went without a hitch. I even had enough time between trains to admire the new station which seems light, cool and spacious with decent facilities and landscaping.

Now I’m on my penultimate train of the journey here, a GWR class 800 to Honeybourne…


Now for something a bit different. A Vivarail Class 230 working the shuttle to the site. This one is a 3-car set (010) that will be used by Transport for Wales on Bidston – Wrexham services.


Massive apologies for the gap in the blog but the site is a massive communications black-hole! It wasn’t possible to keep a 4g signal for more than moments much less upload pictures, so I’m now playing catch-up. Plus, I kept bumping into people I knew every five minutes, and there was so much to see and do that the time flew. I’ll update this blog fully when I get back to Birmingham (I’m en-route now).

When we arrived on site the sun was absolutely cracking the flags. It was less than an ideal day to be wearing high-vis, but at least we didn’t gave to wear full PPE, just vests. The site is vast, so there’s lots of wandering around trying to find things and half the stuff I wanted to I never got to see as I kept meeting people. Real people, not just their screen image – and that was what was so lovely.


I’m at my hotel in Birmingham, spending the evening sorting out pictures from today before round 2 tomorrow. What was a special event for me and one I was proud to be part of was the naming of a GBRf locomotive after a recently departed old friend – Major John Poyntz.

The naming was carried out by representatives of John’s old regiment and his widow, Jill who was later joined on stage by members of their family.