Posted in Railways on Saturday 5th December 2009 at 9:11pm
There are some unusual people in London termini first thing in the morning. I'd made my way to Victoria via an early train from Southampton Airport and a quick change at the ever busy Clapham Junction. With time to spare I stopped and purchased coffee, planning to watch the station wake up while I drank it. I've trudged around bits of London which are probably not terribly safe or secure, and I've blundered my way through enough contested territory in my time to know when I'm out of my depth. This place, however, surprised me. Oddly, it wasn't the shivering, twitching man with damp legs and an inability to insert coins into the ticket machines which finally made me slink out of the station - it was the well-turned out middle class woman who sat a few benches away reading a furniture store flyer from the newspaper. After a while spent intently studying the document, she very carefully and precisely tore it into pieces and flung them to the floor before dashing out of the station in a state of apparent distress. I decided to move on....
Today was always going to be a little odd - a replacement for another cancelled trip. This year has seen its fair share of this, and many of them have fallen seemingly at the last hurdle - victims of the economic downturn or perhaps just too many choices for too few potential travellers? Today's trip however was cancelled because the stock provider had overstretched themselves - so no Lincoln Christmas Market for me - but then again I was going for the route and the track, and not the overpriced shacks selling things people would never buy at any other time of year. Instead, made my way around a deserted underground, via the Circle to Liverpool Street. I'd allowed plenty of time for this, and strolled with a degree of leisure onto the concourse to find - in railway terms at least - all hell breaking loose! Cable thieves had been at work overnight near Chelmsford, and the entire mainline service on the Great Eastern was in disarray. Mostly, things were cancelled. The occasional train was struggling out to Shenfield, jammed with people hoping for a vaguely promised connection to points east. More coffee, and a retreat to a safe distance to watch events and asses the situation. Mildly diverted by the absent minded woman who didn't spot that the sloped fascia of an ATM wasn't a sensible place to rest a full cup of coffee! As cancellations stretched the length of the iconic Liverpool Street departure board, I began to doubt my plans...
But my generous allowance of time here eventually paid off. The 09:30 service on which I was book appeared - initially late based on an incoming working, but then on time as there were several sets already in the station from cancelled earlier services. Finally boarded after a bit of an internal debate - after all, delays were still predicted and whilst my advance ticket out would be honoured I couldn't really guess what would happen on the way back. The first train of the day to make it through to Norwich was predictably busy, but it was easy to ignore as we sped east into amazing winter sunshine which lit the Olympic Stadium in a way which almost made the folly seem impressive. Despite a couple of additional station calls, we made good progress until a little outside Chelmsford we ground to a halt. We didn't really move for around 45 minutes in fact, as a slow procession of trains slunk slowly by on the opposite line. Eventually we too began to move, carefully from signal to signal. My short stay in Norwich was getting shorter!
Eventually we made it through the affected area, and began to speed into the east once again. Amazed by the sheer variety and number of DRS locos stabled at Stowmarket as their duties on this autumn's Rail Head Treatment Trains had now finished. Eventually over the bridge at Trowse and into Norwich station with more DRS locos evident tucked away in the sidings. Any hope of getting a picture though, were dashed by another bit of stupidity - the new ticket gates at Norwich. As the entire contents of an exceptionally packed London train decanted into the area between the platforms and the gates, a single member of National Express staff manned a wide-aisle gate and a couple of bored looking British Transport Police officers looked on. The crowd became a crush, and then with other trains departing, a contest between incoming and outgoing flows. Still the gates remained closed, with just two of them dedicated to those heading out of the station. I wanted to complain, to point out how this had made a once rather grand and proud station into a glorified cattle-pen. I wanted to tell the BTP officers how irresponsible and dangerous forcing the crowds back onto working platforms was. But of course, I had absolutely no time to waste! As I burst out of the barrier, my first instinct was to dash for the gents conveniences - only to find that inexplicably they were on the railward side of the gates!
So my visit to Thorpe Station, once full of pleasant memories of exotic excursions on All-line Rovers, was brief. It lasted long enough to get a coffee and a snack, before forcing my way through the gates once again - unbelievably with some people still struggling off the incoming service over 20 minutes later! Found myself boarding the same carriage of the same train which was being hastily prepared for a return to London with a predicted delay of an ominously wide-ranging "30 to 90" minutes due to the continuing signalling problems. However, we were away on time - and as we gathered speed into the sinking sun all seemed fairly positive. It was of course a good few hours since the cable theft had been discovered, but it must have been serious as we slowed once again around Chelmsford with a sea of orange jackets working furiously beside the line. My contempt for the thieves deepened and darkened and I struggled with the competing desires either to bitterly complain about Norwich station's foolish gating, or to show solidarity with my beloved railway in this unfair situation. I wanted to correct people who were tutting about how "ridiculous" the service was...did they not understand that this wasn't some poor excuse - grasping, careless thieves had taken something provided essentially for these very passengers safety! I seethed back into London, pausing to enjoy the sunset over Bishopsgate before we plunged into Liverpool Street again.
Progress on the return had been better, and I found myself around 35 minutes down. Had I not blundered about looking for a bus stop which I knew couldn't be in the direction I walked, I could probably have avoided lots more trouble. However, I finally stumbled out into a damp, dark London to find a bus over the river to London Bridge. After a swift journey, found myself arriving on the concourse just as the train to Brighton was departing - I could have made it if I'd been sharper at Liverpool Street. Noted a following service a few minutes later, and consoled myself with more food and coffee - time lost and pounds gained perhaps, once again? Luck it seemed, had deserted me this morning at Victoria as once again my train began to show a delay. With the Thameslink service split by engineering, drivers were being taxied from St Pancras to London Bridge - and ours got stuck in traffic. Soon off, but some out of path running through the busy junctions here made for around 15 minutes delay once we were on the mainline. The train was busy, noisy and the darkness outside made the trip rather dull. I also noted that this meant reorganising my next couple of trains too - with my iPhone battery edging into the red, made hasty plans to get a Portsmouth train and find my way back to Eastleigh via a change at Cosham. Memories of the Class 31 trips of nearly six years ago flooded back at this change of plans. Back to the worn and gum-flecked seat of my railway travelling pants once again! As it happened, the Portsmouth train was late too - and once again I found myself reorganising things swiftly and hoping I could squeeze enough life out of my gradually expiring 'phone. Having toyed with various options, I decided that the best (though perhaps not strictly Routing Guide compliant) option would be to stay on the stopping service as far as Fratton, then to get a Cardiff bound service - which would be diverted to Eastleigh due to the works on Southampton Tunnel. Stepped off the train in Fratton in a deluge of cold, heavy rain. Trudged over the leaking footbridge and waited for the familiar unit. Rather pleased to see it arrive pretty much on time, and settled in for a short dark ride back to Eastleigh, with now only a very short wait on the same platform for the train back to Southampton Airport Parkway. A bit of rare track to end the day too, crossing over south of Eastleigh and runnning wrong line to the Airport.
Not sorry to see my hotel room again after an entertaining but frustrating and long day. Can't help but think the railtour would still have been a far more sociable and fruitful alternative in terms of track - but it's good to know I can still take off on these epic cross-country jaunts when I feel the need.
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.