I’m back in the road (or rather, rails) again for the next few days as I’m heading South to check out work on building our new high-speed railway, HS2. It’s been an unconscionably early start as I’ve a lot of ground to cover before I end up in Banbury this evening where I’ve a hotel booked for the night before taking part in a morning media visit to a nearby HS2 site, but more of that tomorrow. Feel free to keep popping back to see where and what I get up to today…
Right now I’m on the 06:00 train from Halifax to Leeds to begin my journey South to London. This morning’s walk to the station was one of the quietest I’ve known for some time, despite it being a lovely morning – although the amount of broken branches lying on the roads suggests we had anything but a calm night. Even the dog walkers seemed to have taken the day off as the only people I passed were a handful of people cocooned in their metal boxes as they drove to/from work.
The 06:00’s not normally a busy train but this mornings loadings are looking good, especially now that it’s left Bradford Interchange. It’s between 25-30% full, mostly with early shift workers.
My journey to Leeds was quick and easy as was my transfer to LNER’s 07:00 to London. The service originates at Bradford Forster Square and reverses at Leeds before calling at Wakefield Westgate, then running non-stop to London Kings Cross. It consists of two 5-car Class 801/1 ‘Azuma’ units which are normally busy with a mix of business travellers and families who’ve secured cheap tickets for a day out in London. Today’s no exception. The beauty of this service is that it’s times to arrive at Kings Cross at 08:59, which is ideal if you’ve an early meeting in London. Despite all the fuss made in some quarters about ‘Zoom’ meetings it’s obvious that a lot of business people still want face-to-face meetings.
My trip South has been (so far) hassle-free. The change in the seasons is made obvious by the amount of hay bales in the fields we’ve flashed past as farmers are busy bringing in the harvest. Something else that’s noticeable is how dry the land looks the further I get towards London. We’ve had many days of rain up in the Pennines which has left the landscape lookin very lush, which is a marked contrast to the scorched landscape of Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire. The weather’s clouded up ‘darn sarf’ but there’s no sign of rain…
As we’re within spitting distance of London I’m making sure all by gadgets and gizmos are charged up using the multitude of available sockets on the train. One gadget I don’t have to worry about anymore is my Fitbit. I’ve talked about how the new Charge 5 has an excerable battery life. It it went for 48 hours without needing recharging it was a miracle. Well, recently Fitbit did a software update which appears to have cured the problem. I’ve not charged the thing since (3-4 days ago) and I’ve still got 48% left. I’m going to see how long it lasts before I need to plug it in again.
I’ve been in London less than an hour. My inbound service from Leeds was 3 minutes early – as it often is. Say what you like about the Azumas but they can’t half shift! At King’s Cross an earlier East Coast racehorse was waiting for me. 91127 in its revised BR livery with an LNER twist…
Staying long enough to grab a picture I scuttled off to Marylebone via a quiet Metropolitan line. It may be one of the capital’s smallest mainline termini but it’s buzzing nowadays. A far cry from BR days when it was dead outside of rush-hours. Now there’s trains departing every few minutes and a constant stream of passe gers using its expanded services to the likes of Oxford and Bicester shopping village (a favourite of foreign tourists).
I caught the 09:44 to Gerrards Cross worked by this old ‘Thames Turbo’.
Phew! The weather may be cloudy but it’s certainly warm down here. I’m currently in Denham having a look at sites associated with what will be one of the most visible and iconic structures on HS2, the Colne Valley viaduct which will stretch for 3.5km. The viaduct will cross a series of lakes (former quarries) which makes construction interesting as haul roads have to be built across the lakes to the site of each pier to enable construction vehicles to get to from the sites. I’ll add pictures later. I did visit one contentious site. According to local anti HS2 activist Sarah Green the Hs2 haul road is blocking the grand Union canal as the engineers are “incompetent” and build the road too low. There’s only one problem with her claim. It’s a complete fabrication. Here’s where HS2 viaduct will cross the Grand Union canal. The canal isn’t blocked by any haul road – because there isn’t one. Green knows the truth because she only lives a few minutes away along the canal. She lied.
Double phew! Having spent time exploring the route of the Colne Valley viaduct I wandered up to the Northern end which is where construction has been launched from. The massive South Hyde site contains two temporary factories. One names the tunnel segments for the Chiltern tunnels pushing North whilst the other makes the viaduct sections heading South. So meet ‘Dominique’, an expat from Hong Kong who’s now at work building the Colne Valley viaduct.
Here’s more up close and personal…
Oops! I stopped off to get some pictures and a spot of lunch but soon regretted it as my next Banbury bound train turned out to be an absolutely rammed 2 car set working to Birmingham. 2 cars all the way to Brum, seriously? Yes, sadly so…
The vestibule I’m stood in at the front of the train contains me, a pram, a woman with a suitcase and a chap looking after 2 bikes as his partner’s found a seat. No-one’s complaining, even though the bikes are blocking off the front compartment and have to be juggled every time we stop.
Time to bring today’s rolling blog to a close. I’ve had a long day and walking 15 miles with a fully laden camera bag has certainly given me a bit of a workout. When I arrived in Banbury the first thing I did was make a beeline for my hotel which was on the opposite side of town and and enjoy a nice warm shower! Suitably refreshed I went for a wander around the town which I’ve not visited for over 20 years. I was quite a depressing experience. Banbury should be a thriving market town in an affluent part of the country but the reality is rather different. I was amazed at the numbers of street homeless and vagrants panhandling around the town centre. There’s some lovely buildings here, but many of the shops are derelict. When you see that even ‘Burger King’ has closed its doors you can start to appreciate the problem. On the plus side, there’s some excellent Eastern European supermarkets – and quite upmarket ones at that. I’d be interested to know what the demographic is around here as they’re obviously catering for someone, and the Slavic languages are often heard in the street. In contrast, the vagrants are nearly all white English. Maybe I need to do some digging as it’s not what I expected. Still, I have a great room in a family run B&B and tomorrow I’ll be meeting up with various friends and colleagues to be given a tour of the HS2 cut and cover green tunnel at Chipping Warden, so expect another rolling blog tomorrow as I’ll be checking out a few other HS2 construction sites as I make my way back up North. But, for now – goodnight…
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