Posted in Railways on Monday 31st December 2007 at 5:04pm
I've resisted posting about the events of last Saturday so far. Partly, because I felt incompletely informed and didn't want to add to the spiralling conspiracy theories already being spun by some of the usual suspects. Also because I'm still rather angry about how things happened, I felt I'd probably end up sounding like a petulant little chap who'd had his Saturday ruined. In essence, there are several hundreds of us who all feel the same and one more bleat will be insignificant. For the record though, here is how the day developed from my perspective...
Woke early, still feeling crappy and wondered about the wisdom of doing this trip with a nasty dose of some virus which has been doing the rounds. The thought of a few hours in Glasgow soon got me moving and down to Redditch station for the 06:27 to New Street. Arrived in good time to get coffee, suppress a violent coughing attack and locate the platform with the help of customer services, since once again the charter had not made the screens here. After finishing my coffee, noted that platform 7 was looking rather empty so wandered back up to the concourse to find much confusion and many groups of gibbering enthusiasts providing entertainment for the locals. Noted the tour now on the screen and 'delayed'. Ominous, but not disastrous by any means, and a driver working to a tight schedule means a spirited run! Since talking hurt, listened in to some of the circulating gen - the stock remained at Oxley due to faults, but it was unclear whether the loco was a failure. Suddenly the cry went up "To Wolverhampton!". After checking that my medications hadn't plunged me into some delirious black country version of Braveheart, got myself together. Tried for the 07:57 to Shrewsbury which appeared to be full of frothing bashers, but my tired legs didn't make it - and since Virgin had announced that the 08:03 would connect I wasn't too concerned. So, unexpectedly continued my journey on 390024 and soon found myself on the chilly platforms at Wolverhampton only really a few minutes after the train's booked time here, which was 08:12. All seemed optimistic again. I didn't bother to get a drink - since I'd soon be on the train.
Two hours later, platform one was a sea of discontented folk milling about. The tour was on the screen, still delayed, and bits of gen were circulating - the main one being that the train was not yet cancelled. There was some problem with the stock, which was being sorted. I was convinced people would work on getting this train out - being a finale and all - and whilst the wait was inconvenient and rather painful, it would all be worth it eventually. Found myself near a group of people I took to be Spitfire employees, who remained buoyant - so why shouldn't I? Soon after, a little more positive news via one of the few announcements made regarding the train - 87022 would lead the stock south from Oxley on a test run, looping back around to Birmingham. We watched the rake pass - the loco gleaming, radiating quiet power as it purred by. The DRS stock equally resplendent behind, before giving way to some rancid purple stuff on the back. Not long now, we all thought - much encouraged to have seen the train move. Only at this point did I remember not seeing any labels on the carriages, which I took to be odd. This haunted me a bit, as we settled in to wait for the train to return, but perhaps that would be put right on the test run?
At almost departure +3 hours, people began to get restless again. The gen was that the tour was around the corner at Crane Street, that it would run, and that all being well we'd still head for Glasgow despite a much reduced stopover. It meant my symbolic wander to the Molendinar Burn would have to wait - but I wasn't really in any condition for it. By now I was aching and cold, and my nagging cough assured me of plenty of space on the otherwise packed platforms. We were going to see the 87s off in style, that's what counted. The Spitfire people seemed almost jolly, and we were all rewarded with the sound of a horn and the sight of 87022 creeping forwards into the platform. At last.
The events of the next sixty seconds remain less than clear to me now, so I apologise if I overdo the journalistic tone here. With the stock heading towards me in reverse formation, I started walking back to where First Class would end up. There were still no labels, and I didn't want a scrap for a seat or a struggle through a seething rake of Standard Class coaches doing the same. As I walked, the Customer Information System comfortingly showed the tour, it's original departure time and proudly announced the 'Farewell Electric Scot'. Relieved it was all going to happen, even if it was a little later than expected. Now out from under the canopy I saw a DRS steward in impeccable uniform leaning from the droplight of a beautifully turned out dining coach. He was shaking his head in disbelief, and waving his hands at a small group of punters. "I'm sorry" he was saying "we've been on this train getting ready since 05:30. I just don't understand". Much confusion - word was people were getting on at the front but being asked to leave. The announcer stated that the fault hadn't been rectified and that the train was not ready for boarding yet. The steward, clearly devastated insisted it was all over and how disappointed he was. Suddenly, the Spitfire people were gone - likely swamped by enquirers.
And then the announcer gave the news the train was cancelled and would return to Oxley. As the stock passed slowly out of the platform, I realised I'd not even got a picture of 87022. In one of the First Class coaches, someone sat with his head in his hands, being comforted by a colleague. As the taillight passed me, I thought I better try to find out what was happening. Platform 1 was in chaos - no tour staff, few Virgin staff and a lot of confusion about what to do or where to go. I asked a Virgin staff member about getting back to Birmingham, and he stated that unless I had a valid National Rail ticket I should now leave the station. I showed my tour ticket and he said "No good, sorry". I decided to get the tram back to Birmingham Snow Hill because arguing didn't seem like a good idea just now. I've heard that others had much more sympathetic responses from Virgin though, so perhaps I was just unlucky - or my gravelly voice and unkempt appearance worked against me!
So today, a whole host of non-OTMR fitted locomotives become stored. Some, like the 87s will go on to have useful lives elsewhere, others will of course be scrapped or move into preservation. A great deal has been written about this tour since Saturday - some of it useful insights into the stock faults which appear to have been the main reason for the failure, some of it less helpful frothing about 'the old days'. Overall though, there are a lot of unhappy people out there who feel cheated of a chance to say goodbye to a bit of railway history. We railtour passengers take the reschedulings, re-routings and changes of motive power in our stride, sometimes voting with our feet - but mostly just complaining a bit and getting on with it. I'm sure if this hadn't been such a final opportunity it would have been the same for this tour - but it can't happen again. Spitfire's conduct after the event has been exemplary. Lots of info, promised refunds, much concern and understanding - and people appear to have genuinely accepted that they hate how this has ended more than anyone. It's a shame that on the day they weren't a little more communicative, but that's not entirely down to them - and getting station staff to give explanations is never easy of course.
So that was how things were for me. Bitterly disappointing, and a rather sad end to a sparse year of travels. I won't have nearly the opportunities to get out I have in the past this coming year - and I just hope that I do get the opportunity to travel with Spitfire again sometime.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.