Thursday 2 May 2013


Well, that was a wonderful week of travelling around in comfortable trains enjoying scenery.  I achieved many of my specific objectives, but I'll have to save the Welsh Highland for another time.

First Class

Virgin and East Coast provide decent complimentary food on some of their services, and of course Arriva's WAGs Express (Sorry, I mean "Arriva Trains Wales Premier") is something special, but otherwise what you're getting is extra space and comfort, and a much less busy carriage.

I don't think I ever failed to find a forward facing window seat in my week's travel, except on the standard class only trains, and basically that was what I was paying for.  Did I get my money's worth?  I think so.

There was a recurring theme of unclaimed reservations in first class carriages.  Towards the end of the week I was just sitting in a convenient reserved seat rather than hunting out the few "free" ones, and I was never required to move.  I wonder whether these are people buying cheap advance tickets and then not travelling, or people on open tickets choosing a different train.

Service Reliability

The last time I did anything like this in the UK was a Freedom of the North West rover back in 2006 (You can see my report here.) and in my conclusions then I complained about the large amount of late running I experienced.  This time I was pleasantly surprised, and with zero cancellations and only two trains over 5 minutes late I can't really complain.  Obviously neither occasion constitutes a statistically significant sample but nonetheless a 'well done' goes to the 2013 railway.


I travelled on 39 trains and covered a total distance of 3,725 miles and 20 chains.


Breakfast in the Highlands and dinner on the WAGs express were probably the best journeys, and the Grand Central tour of Yorkshire was great fun - The only point in the week when I needed to use a rail atlas!


My thanks to the useful RailMiles site for providing the distance information used in the tables.  Thanks also to the usenet contributors on uk.railway who provided helpful advice.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Wednesday: West of England Main Line and WAGs Express

Yet another sunny day, and a sense of deja vu as I took the same first two trains as last Thursday, getting me a fried breakfast and a ride to London.  The recurring theme of unoccupied reserved seats in first class was again apparent.  From Euston I took the absolutely jam-packed Northern Line down to Waterloo.

At Waterloo, there was plenty of time for a leisurely pint of Pride in The Beer House - Didn't this cellar bar used to be called something else?

Then, time to join my Southwestern Trains class 159 unit for the long run to Exeter.  It's many years since I did the West of England Main Line, as it's called, I think there was a Class 50 loco on the front last time, so it's well overdue for a revisit, and soon enough I was speeding along in the comfortable first class section of the 159 unit.  We left the attached class 158 unit at Salisbury.  The scenery along this line is hardly the Scottish Highlands but it's very pleasant, with mile after mile of rolling green fields under blue skies.

All too soon we'd reached Exeter St Davids, where I quickly jumped onto a Cross County Voyager (The number of which I forgot to record.) putting me fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.  Or so I thought - This one goes via Weston-super-Mare instead of whizzing up the main line, losing most of the time I'd gained.   (On the plus side, the Weston loop is some more track that I haven't done for probably thirty years, so perhaps it deserved a visit!)

Once at Bristol, there was time for a swift pint of Butcombe Bitter in the very impressive Bonapart's on platform 3 at Temple Meads before boarding an overcrowded 150 for an uncomfortable run to Cardiff.

Here I exited the station and headed to the nearest Wetherspoon's, the Great Western, for a pint of Brains SA and an update of the blog.

Soon, it was time to head back to the station for the final target of my plans, and it turned out to be something of a grand finale.  The Welsh Assembly Government have contracted Arriva Trains Wales to run this special service every day from Holyhead to Cardiff in the morning and back in the evening.  The train features a small first class section with a proper dining service included in the fare.  (The true purpose of this train is said to be to give WAG members from North Wales a comfortable way of getting to and from the assembly.  If this isn't the definition of "gravy train" I don't know what is!).  Anyway, the train consists of refurbished MkIII carriages and a class 67 loco, similar to the Chiltern set I rode on yesterday, but the catering is infinitely superior with a travelling chef cooking dinners to order.
So I joined three other lucky passengers in the short first class section and settled down to a pleasant trundle through the Welsh Marches while eating an excellent three course meal.  Here's a shot of my table with the cup of tea before the meal started.  Sorry, I should have photo'd the actual food but I was too busy enjoying it and the scenery.  Near Leomster I noted a hot air balloon in Virgin livery, near the line.
This final, and best, bit of luxury of my week ended at Chester, by which time the train was seventeen minutes late.  I couldn't really see a reason for the lateness, we just seemed to leak minutes at each stage of the journey.

First class travel over, I took a Merseyrail 507 back to Liverpool where my arrival was far too late for the Huyton service which is stopping early Sunday to Thursday during the ongoing electrification works.  So, rather than sully my pass by using it on a rail replacement bus (Which takes 40 minutes to cover the 5 miles to Huyton.) I treated myself to a taxi home.

Journey Dep.


Train Distance
Huyton - Wigan North Western 07.06 07.07 07.30 07.28 150103 14m01ch
Wigan North Western - Euston 08.09 08.11 10.12 10.07 390129 193m71ch
Euston - Waterloo 53611
Waterloo - Exeter St David's 11.20 11.21 14.42 14.41 159102+158881 172m12ch
Exeter St David's -
Bristol Temple Meads
(via Weston-super-Mare)
14.44 14.44 15.55 15.57 76m46ch
Bristol Temple Meads -
Cardiff Central
16.24 16.24 17.25 17.19 150238 38m06ch
Cardiff Central - Chester 18.21 18.21 20.58 21.15 67001 148m58ch
Chester - Liverpool Central 21.30 21.30 22.15 22.15 507018 17m65ch
Total 640m79ch

Tuesday 30 April 2013

Tuesday: Highland Chieftain and Chiltern 67

Another bright and sunny morning, and I noticed the puddles on the hotel's flat roof were frozen.  I strolled down to the station to find my High Speed Train waiting to take me to London.  (Once again, the irritation of having to stand on the platform until we were allowed to board.)  Soon the "Highland Chieftain" was rolling out of the station, bang on time.

Now, there are few things in life more enjoyable than eating a Full British Breakfast, but one such is eating a Full British Breakfast while glorious Highland scenery rolls past the window.  This is what train bashing is all about!

The train was pretty empty initially, gradually filling as we descended from the mountains and dawdled into Edinburgh Waverley, where all the train crew changed, but I stayed where I was.  Soon we were off again towards England, and it was time for another meal, a very nice fish pie washed down with some Old Speckled Hen.  At Newcastle the train suddenly filled, and I thought my chance for fame had come as I was joined at my table by a film crew making a programme for Sky about East Coast Railways, but unfortunately they were not filming on this train and they left at York for their next assignment with my anonymity intact.

A further brush with fame as the young man sitting across the aisle from me was suddenly posing for photographs with the train crew, and signing autographs.  No idea who it was, perhaps a footballer?

Eventually, after eight hours, we arrived at King's Cross.  The walk to the Victoria Line is now incredibly long - Remind me to use the Piccadilly next time!

Soon I was at Great Central, I mean Marylebone where there was time for a swift pint of London Pride in the comfortable Victoria and Albert, before moving to my next objective.

Chiltern Railways have some loco-and-coaches trains to provide more seats on their busy Birmingham services, so I was at Marylebone to have a ride on one, and 67012 "A Shropshire Lad" was ready and waiting.

Chiltern don't have first class, but they do have a "Business Zone" on these trains and I sat in a comfortable seat in the half a carriage allocated for this.  Free tea was on offer as I enjoyed the pleasant run up to Birmingham.  The coaches are British Rail Mark III, substantially refurbished, with power doors, and they've done a very nice job on them.

Once at Birmingham Moor Street I strolled over to New Street.  Good Grief!  What's happened?  The entrance is closed and I had to walk round the side to a new way in to a totally remodelled interior which was full of lost people, some of whom had probably been searching for their trains since the new layout came into operation on Monday!  Anyway, just time for swift pint of ... Drat, they've closed the pub!

My next ride was on one of Virgin's class 221 Voyagers.  The incoming working from Edinburgh was running late but a nifty reversal saw us under way only one minute down.  I enjoyed a ham and cheese toastie as I compared the comfort of this unit with the Adelante I rode in on Saturday.  The Voyager's engine noise seemed more obtrusive, but the ride was better.

Next leg, from Crewe to Liverpool, was in a very lightly loaded Pendolino, there were three of us in the first class quiet coach.  (Only Virgin could designate the pantograph coach as a Quiet Zone - The almighty bang at every neutral section is surely much more disturbing than a bit of mobile phone chatter.)

Finally, a 150 unit carried me from Liverpool to Huyton.  Home at last, albeit for only nine hours.

Journey Dep.


Train Distance
Inverness - King's Cross
(via Stirling)
07.55 07.55 15.51 15.52 43305+43274 580m62ch
King's Cross - Oxford Circus 12042
Oxford Circus - Marylebone 3549
Marylebone - Birmingham Moor Street 16.47  16.47 18.40 18.35 67012 111m56ch
Birmingham New Street - Crewe 19.20 19.21 20.07 20.09 221116 52m55ch
Crewe - Liverpool Lime Street 20.17 20.17 20.53 20.53 390154 35m49ch
Liverpool Lime Street - Huyton 21.12 21.15 21.27 21.31 150269 5m55ch
Total 785m67ch

Monday 29 April 2013

Monday: Furthest North

A grey sky with patches of blue saw me up bright and early, and at the station in plenty of time for the Wick train.

I wasn't expecting first class on this service but there was a section at the front of the Class 158.  I had also worried about getting a seat amongst all the tourists, but the train was deserted.   The clouds broke and we departed in bright sunshine, and the weather oscillated between this and heavy rain all the way.

We paused at the new Conan Bridge station which I was surprised to see is only long enough for one door of the train.

At Invergordon was this oil rig.  I assume it's under construction, unless they've struck oil here!

The journey continued through increasingly barren countryside, I saw lots of birds of prey and a few deer, but mainly sheep.  Last time I came here the train split at Georgemas Junction and a different loco hauled the Thurso portion, but nowadays the unit just nips to Thurso and back to Georgemas before finally running to Wick, which we (Maybe half a dozen passengers.) reached in gentle rain.

As I shivered in the wind and rain outside the station waiting for the bus I began to wonder if this part of the trip was a good idea or not, but by the time the bus had run through Wick and called at the Tesco on the edge of town, we were in bright sunshine once again.

It was dull and threatening rain when we arrived at the John O'Groats tourist trap, and a heavy shower almost immediately forced me into the tea room, but the weather soon passed and I had time to wander round in the cold wind and take a few photos.

There were various bus options open to me but having soon reached the "been there done that" state, I caught the first one back to Wick.  This allowed me a brief stroll through the town in what was now steady sunshine.  There was a major funeral of some sort, lots of people in dark suits or kilts heading to the ceremony.

I, on the other hand, headed for the most northerly Wetherspoon's to sample some local quisine (Scotch pie, chips and beans), some non-local real ale, and a chance to bring the blog up to date again.

Soon, it was time to stroll back to the station in the sunshine for the train back to Inverness.

The station was just as I remembered it from last time, a very long platform with a short covered section at the end.  In eighties this was reserved for the loco and a parcels van, and the mere passengers had to alight in the rain, I seem to recall. 

The incoming train arrived about fifteen minutes late, carrying five or six passengers, and was then ready to take me back to Inverness, once more sitting in the declassified first class.

After more sunshine and more downpours we reached Inverness a few minutes late, requiring the Glasgow passengers to hurry round to their waiting onward connection.

Journey Dep.


Train Distance
Inverness - Wick
(via Thurso)
07.06 07.06 11.32 11.32 158710 174m33ch
Wick - John O'Groats (Bus)
John O'Groats - Wick (Bus)
Wick - Inverness
(via Thurso)
16.00 16.00 20.10 20.14 158705 174m33ch
Total 348m66ch

Sunday 28 April 2013

Sunday: East Coast To Scotland, Pint by Pint

Yet another bright morning, with quite a significant frost in Cambridge.  A leisurely day's travel was planned, but with a hefty mileage.  My first unexpected sighting of the day was 33207 parked in the neck at King's Cross.

The terminus looked very impressive with the sun shining through the newly clean roof.

Another of the open access operators, Hull Trains, had one of their Adelantes present.

I boarded an East Coast HST to start my journey northwards.  A slight snag with the seat, I chose an unreserved one and then someone turned up with a reservation.  Usually this can be resolved by pointing out they're in the wrong carriage/on the wrong train/on the wrong date but not this time.  Fortunately there were vast numbers of reserved but unoccupied seats so she kindly sat elsewhere.

The HST soon whizzed me to York.  I could have stayed on to Edinburgh or even Aberdeen, but it was time for a proper drink - East Coast's free tea only goes so far.  Due to a quick start and a prompt taxi in Cambridge I was currently one hour ahead of plan, so at York I jumped off and headed to Coopers for a swift pint of Bombardier.  Bloody hell!  Four pounds twenty-five!!!

Time for some loco haulage of sorts, I caught a 91-hauled train to Newcastle.

The train terminated at Newcastle, here's a picture, and there was just time for a swift pint (Do you see a theme developing?) in the wonderful Centurion Bar on the station, I had Tetley's Gold this time.  There were lots of photographers about so I guessed a special was due, but I caught the next Edinburgh train, another 91 hauled set.

Soon, just as I glanced down at my sandwiches, a train passed and I looked up to see maroon coaches passing, so I'd just missed the steam special which I gather from the web was hauled by 60009 Union of South Africa.  But wait a minute, as we passed through Morpeth the photographers were still holding up their cameras, and sure enough, we soon crossed a short train with 45407 and 44871, one on each end, on their way to Grosmont.  (Says uk.railway - I didn't have time to read the numbers)

This was the latest train of the week so far, but it had caught up some of the lost time by Edinburgh, so there was just time for a swift etc. etc. so I had that famous Scottish brew: Old Speckled Hen in the station bar.  Annoyingly, a year after I was last here, Waverley is still a building site.

The final leg of today's journey was a bit of a come-down, and I had to slum it in a 170.  Still, the first class was OK and I managed to bag one of the only two forward facing window seats. 
Plenty to look at on this stage, starting with progress on the long-delayed Edinburgh trams, and there's still a lot to do before they open.  We whizzed across the Forth Bridge, the weather by now being intermittent sunshine and heavy showers, and then up to Perth and on to the Highland Main Line.  The rugged scenery was made more atmospheric by the intermittent overcast and rain.  In the clearer moments I could see snow on the higher mountains.

Eventually we descended into Inverness (A steep enough drop to make my ears pop.) and the end of my day's travel.  Needless to say, after snapping a couple of photos of the city, there was just time for a swift pint in Wetherspoon's as I updated this blog.

Journey Dep.


Train Distance
Cambridge - King's Cross 08.28 08.28 09.28 09.29 365525+365xxx 57m38ch
King's Cross - York 10.00 10.00 11.49 11.50 43318+43306 188m40ch
York - Newcastle 12.22 12.24 13.22 13.24 91125 80m16ch
Newcastle - Edinburgh 13.43 13.54 15.09 15.16 91113 124m37ch
Edinburgh - Inverness
(via Ladybank)
15.50 15.50 19.05 19.08 170450 174m68ch
Total 625m39ch

Saturday 27 April 2013

Saturday: Grand Central and Greater Anglia

Another bright sunny morning, and I started with a 156 from Huyton to Manchester Victoria.  Lots of electrification progress to spot along the line, with quite a few miles of catenary complete after Newton-le-Willows.  (For more details, see my Northwest Sparks web site.)

At Victoria I applied the 'catch the first train' rule properly and hopped on a Bradford-bound 158, 27 minutes ahead of my planned departure.

The fine weather didn't last too long, and it was raining as we passed under the new Metrolink bridge at Rochdale.

This route across the Pennines is quite scenic in its own way and also features the pretty station at Hebden Bridge, where I noticed some ceramics on the booking office walls.  At Dryclough Junction I spotted the empty stock of my next train, waiting to follow us into Bradford - Good news as the service was cancelled yesterday.

Why go to Bradford?  I wanted to try out the Grand Central service to London.  And I was pleased to see it would be another chance to sample a Class 180 Adelante.  Previously my only ride on these units was a stopping train from Preston to Manchester, which is hardly what they were designed for.  I was surprised to see half the seats in first were reserved, but I was the sole passenger in the carriage when we left Bradford.  By the way, one minor negative customer service point - The stock was ready, the refreshments had been loaded and the reservations put on seats, but passengers were kept waiting on the draughty platform while the crew chatted in the warm.  Once we got on, service in first class was friendly and frequent.

As it turned out, only about half of the first class reservations turned up, and I was the only passenger in the unreserved half of the coach throughout the run.

My goodness, they don't half use a roundabout route!  I know Yorkshire is quite large, but it shouldn't take two hours to get out of the counties!  I'm sure I spent plenty of money and effort back in the 1980s to do all these back routes.

The Adelante had a very bad wobble on pointwork and track defects, even at low speeds, but performed well on smoother track, even at 125mph.  The engine under my feet was not obtrusive, and produced impressive acceleration when necessary.

Plenty to look at on the journey as well, I was surprised to see two pairs of choppers in the yard north of Peterborough, one pair in Harry Needle livery, and also the worlds most overpowered train, three class 66s pulling one container flat!  The extra platform at Peterborough is progressing, we slowed right down on the up fast so I could take a look!

The flyover at Hitchen has masts but no wires yet, and further south, the extra platforms at Alexandra Palace (When I was young, it was called Wood Green.) and Finsbury Park are under construction. The FP platforms are on the site of the half-completed Northern Line platforms, I think - Perhaps they'll get them finished this time.

Once we reached King's Cross (It'll be nice when it's finished!) I jumped on the oldest underground railway in the world for a short ride to Liverpool Street.  I like the Metropolitan Railway diamond signs at Moorgate.

Just time for a very quick one in the spectacular Wetherspoon's before the next step on the journey, with loco haulage (Technically "propelled".) on the Greater Anglia line to Norwich, with 90012 doing the honours.

I spotted a C2C train for Fenchurch Street at Stratford - Engineering works or Saturday shopping service?  [Update: I am advised via uk.railway that the wires were down at West Ham, causing diversions.  Thanks, Peter.]

The final leg of today's trip was in a class 170 to Cambridge.  The first class pass came into its own here, as the train was quite crowded, except for the tiny first class compartment at the rear, where I settled into a comfortable corner seat.  A four minute late departure was pretty good, considering the incoming service wasn't even in sight when we were supposed to be leaving, and we were delayed a further few minutes by a faulty level crossing near Lakenheath.

Journey Dep.


Train Distance
Huyton - Manchester Victoria 07.31 07.33 08.19 08.19 156459 25m75ch
Manchester Victoria - Bradford 08.22 08.23 09.31 09.29 158 40m13ch
Bradford - King's Cross
(via most of West Yorkshire)
10.22 10.22 13.43 13.46 180107 208m16ch
King's Cross - Liverpool Street 5564
Liverpool Street - Norwich 14.30 14.30 16.27 16.27 90012 115m20ch
Norwich - Cambridge 16.38 16.42 17.59 18.02 170204 68m37ch
Total 458m01ch

Friday 26 April 2013

Friday: West Wales, and Central Wales

A bright but chilly Friday morning saw me at Pembroke Dock station in time for the 07.09, a class 158 to take me to Carmarthen.  I haven't been to West Wales since the early 80s so I decided to do all three of the branches here.  From Carmarthen a 150 took me to Fishguard Harbour, the train split at Whitland with a single car 153 going back to Pembroke.  Unlike the pretty rural scenery of the rest of this region, the harbour here is modern and industrial - and at the time of my brief visit, totally devoid of cars, lorries, and train passengers.

The sunshine and cold wind continued as I changed trains at possibly the most out of the way station I will use on this ticket, Clarbeston Road.  This is a request stop so I had to ask the guard to let me off here, and signal the driver of the next train to pick me up.  Scenic delights included kites wheeling over the fields, and a wooded valley on the approach to Milford Haven with a swan nesting on the river below.

After Milford Haven I headed east, to Swansea.  Here there was a change of plan.  The provisional schedule had me heading for Cardiff from where I could catch the loco-hauled WAG Express to Chester on my way home.  However, in view of the wonderful weather I decided more scenery was called for, so instead I boarded a single car 153 for a long ride up the Central Wales Line to Shrewsbury.  Stunning scenery kept me entertained throughout this four hour journey, although the downside of this choice was that I missed out on the luxury of first class travel via Cardiff.

Following my long ride, a change at Shrewsbury saw me on a busy 175 headed for Holyhead, but I only stayed on until Chester.

At Chester I broke one of the prime directives of bashing:  Always catch the first train.  There was a late running 158 which was 100% loaded which I could have caught to Earlestown.  I rejected this and instead took the lightly loaded 175 which was my planned train.

I got away with it, and as we approached Warrington I could see the stock for the Liverpool service waiting on the line up from Walton Old Junction.  For some reason the journey planner recommends the long walk at Earlestown instead of the same platform connection at Bank Quay for this journey.  Mind you, I've been sat on the Liverpool train before now and we pulled out just as the arrival from Chester pulled in, and then we waited for it at Winwick, so maybe the Earlestown connection is wiser.

Journey Dep.


Train Distance
Pembroke Dock - Carmarthen 07.09 07.09 08.25 08.23 158838 41m38ch
Carmarthen - Fishguard Harbour 08.46 08.46 09.47 09.44 153303 15023541m18ch
Fishguard Harbour -
Clarbeston Road
09.54 09.54 10.15 10.18 150235 15m15ch
Clarbeston Road - Milford Haven 10.28 10.27 10.57 10.54 175115 13m74ch
Milford Haven - Swansea 11.08 11.08 12.47 12.49 175115 71m45ch
Swansea - Shrewsbury 13.14 13.14 17.10 17.07 153367 121m60ch
Shrewsbury - Chester 17.24 17.26 18.20 18.20 175010 41m41ch
Chester - Warrington Bank Quay 18.49 18.52 19.18 19.18 175112 18m01ch
Warrington Bank Quay - Huyton 19.22 19.25 19.53 19.53 142032 13m75ch
Total 378m47ch