It’s another silly o’ clock start for me. I was already up before my alarm which was set for 04:45. Now I’m putting the finishing touches to my packing before heading down to London.
Despite my best efforts to creep around the house I woke Dawn who (bless her) offered to give me a lift to the station, so here I am, waiting for the first Westbound train of the day, the 06:04 to Wigan North Western. In the week since I last caught this service the days have got noticeably shorter. The day was just beginning to break, now it’s much darker.
I joined the front car which already had half a dozen occupants which isn’t bad for this unconsciable time of day! Almost immediately on departure a rather jolly Conductor came around to check tickets and we chatted for a few minutes about the merits and demerits of shift work and early starts. Having posted this on social media a friend tweeted and trumped my early start by saying he was already leaving his front door on the South coast at 04:45 to head into London!
We’ve just left Rochdale where we picked up more than a dozen folk as well as depositing the Royal Mail workers I observed last week. My car now has 15 people aboard for the run to Manchester Victoria, not a bad number for the first train. Sunrise has finally arrived although the day’s looking gloomy.
I’m on the move again but not via my normal route across the city centre. It’s said that a change is as good as a rest, so I hung around at Victoria long enough to grab a few pictures, observe passenger numbers (continuing to build) and waited for the train that was following mine across the Pennines in the shape of a Leeds – Chester service which I’m catching as far as Warrington Bank Quay. Reliability of this service can be patchy so I hedged my bets by waiting at Manchester in order to keep my options open. As it is, it’s on time. This route’s normally worked by Class 195s so it’s a comfortable alternative option with cross platform interchange at Warrington. Admittedly, with getting a lift earlier and not schlepping across Manchester on foot my daily step count is less than stellar so far, but I’m hoping to make that up later.
The weather in Warrington was just as grey as the rest of my travels so far today – only wetter! Rain had set in which didn’t make a great backdrop for the few pictures I managed to take. The only highlight was observing a Northbound charter train from Chester to Carlisle via the Settle and Carlisle line run by West Coast railways. Whilst ‘standard’ seats were fairly quiet, Premier Dining seemed to be near full. Top and tailed by another pair of Class 47s, the train made a smoky departure North.
Shortly afterwards my service arrived in the shape of the 08:00 from Preston to London Euston. Warrington Bank Quay is its last stop. From here it runs fast to London, a distance of 182 miles, 11 chains. Capacity-busting, long- distance, non-stop services like these will transfer to High Speed 2 when it opens, freeing paths on existing lines for more regional, local and commuter services as well as freight – all the real winners from HS2.
Out of curiosity I walked through Standard just to see how many people were aboard. I counted 72 people, not a huge amount although this is a premium (full price ticket) service, so perhaps understandable. Now, if only we could persuade the Dept of Transport and the Treasury to stop trying to use the farebox as a cash-cow and start charging realistic ticket prices we could soon see this train full again.
We’re now going ‘full tilt’ (if you’ll pardon the pun) down the Trent Valley with rain streaming along the windows as the weather hasn’t improved one jot. The sky is a uniform battleship grey with no sign of any breaks. Looks like I’m just going to have to get used to getting wet…
We’ve just passed Harrow and Wealdstone in North London where the weather’s still grey and miserable, but the rain’s stopped. My event’s not far away between 11:00 -13:00. Will my luck hold?
Well, that was a busy few hours. The job I couldn’t talk about was the official opening of HS2’s new 30-acre logistics hub near Willesden Junction on the site of the former Willesden Euroterminal on the West side of the West Coast Main Line. Some of the event took place in the pouring rain when one of GB Railfreight’s Class 66s (66796) imported from Europe was named ‘The Green Progressor’, by a young HS2 fan. 15 year old Jermaine Allen from Leeds and HS2 CEO Mark Thurston.
Here’s the two locos in full.
After the naming we were treated to a tour of the control tower and given a briefing on of how the site is the hub for processing spoil from the 26 miles of London tunnelling undertaken by several tunnel boring machines and removing it to disposal sites at Barrington (Cambs) and Rugby (Warks) as well as being a future arrival site for tunnel segments that will be manufactured in Kent. The control centre’s a fascinating place because of the sheer amount of data it collects and collates on HS2 activity on the sites the SCS joint venture works on around London. As well as managing train movements in and out it also controls HGV and other road vehicle traffic. The data helps to streamline the activities to make them more efficient. This has a threefold impact. On costs, carbon and impact on the communities around the worksites. The data is displayed on two massive boards in the centre of one of the rooms. This one deals with rail traffic.
In another room were given the run-down on two other monitoring systems, but I won’t go into too much detail about them. One controls security around the site and monitors protester activity (what’s left of it) whilst the other looks at staff training and competencies and a whole range of statistics that help the JV and HS2 Ltd to assess that they’re hitting various targets and commitments. There’s also a system that monitors all HGV and LGV vehicles to ensure that they stick to agreed routes and don’t ‘stray’ plus a new system that’s being developed called ‘mudcam’. This camera system ensures that mud on the entrances/exits to HS2 compounds is monitored and dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Right now I’m back on yet another Pendolino heading Northwards towards home. The brief dry spell that enabled me to get decent pictures of the loco’s soon vanished and I’m back in the gloom and murk as we speed North. In fact, the rain seems to be getting heavier again as I pass through Staffs. There’s certainly no incentive to hang around with the camera anywhere, that’s for sure…
Home again! The weather defeated me and I’ve another busy day tomorrow so apart from getting a few shots of the dereliction and decay at Crewe station I only stayed long enough to change trains and head into Manchester before performing my usual traverse of the city centre from Piccadilly to Victoria to come home in order to have a quiet evening picture editing.
Tomorrow I’m off on a very different job compared to today. I’m heading to Norfolk with more of a Community Rail hat on to look at a project involving young artists and the redevelopment of a local station, so watch out for tomorrow’s rolling blog to see how I get on. Thankfully, the weather prospects are far better than what we had today so I’m hoping to stay dry…
I’ve a favour to ask…
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