Posted in Railways on Saturday 3rd December 2011 at 11:12pm
My railway friends, locally at least, seem to spend a lot of time on the Southern Region. Perhaps it's because I did most of my ramblings here in the days of slam-door stock, and trains dividing and combining on route, that it sometimes feels just a little bit dull down there at times. However, recently I've begun to appreciate bits of Kent more than previously, and the magnetic pull of London with it's dense knot of lines and curious patterns of service is never far away. But, an excursion to the Southern from here means using rammed Cardiff-Portsmouth trains and getting frustrated in the process. So it's rare for me to head that way at all. But a couple of weeks back, in a search for upcoming diversions of interest, I noted that the route to Southampton was closed and that services were going via Eastleigh. I'd done this before when heading home from tours, but given that a single to Fareham could be had for the princely sum of Â£8 I decided to try to build a route using the cheapest tickets possible and see where I ended up.
Once again on arrival I saw the same staff team wandering around a closed Starbucks at Temple Meads. I'd had a reply from Customer Services only yesterday, so I fired off a new email of dismay. Given that the store is closed when I head back through in the evening, they're losing out twice given my usual levels of consumption - especially on chilly winter days. Settled for a poor substitute and headed for the platform for the 07:23 service to Portsmouth. This is one of the only trains which seems to have bearable loadings these days, and it was a little quieter too because a late arrival of the inward working meant the Bath passengers headed off to get the 07:30 HST which left a few minutes ahead of us. Had a lazy, quiet journey until a hen party boarded and cracked open the wine a little before 08:00! Still, it was entertaining, and passed the time until we took the route via Chandler's Ford and on to Fareham, with a bit of a wait for the single line section to clear. At Fareham, grabbed a coffee from a supremely disinterested shop attendant - though I suppose I'd forgive her, because for some reason the shop was full of people standing around not buying things. Very odd really, and not sorry to get out of the place and back onto the platform for the 09:56 to Hove. These Brighton services on the Coastway are pretty full nowadays too - and the service is a much busier proposition than when I first experienced it years back. Noted a number of trains in the hands of Class 313s, which I was secretly rather happy not to have to travel on. Nevertheless, the train got very full at times, including a battle-scarred young woman in university sports gear, sporting a nasty looking cut on her face. Strange folks down here!
I'd never used Hove station before, but incoming crowds heading for a football match put me off exploring in the short window I had here. Instead, found my spot on the service to London Victoria which would take the Cliftonville Spur avoiding Brighton, a bit of line I'm embarrassed to say I've never covered - certainly the last bit of passenger track around here I need I'm sure. Once through the tunnel and onto the mainline just north of Lovers Walk depot, I settled back for a doze, but soon realised that something was up. The guard, a bumbling and confused chap it seems, was trying to make announcements as we approached Haywards Heath, but seemed to be struggling to know what was happening. Eventually, by deduction, realised we were being booted off the train. It seemed to relate to some earlier delay or other, but dutifully we went over to the far platform, where another 377 soon arrived already full of passengers. He hustled us all onto the service, which was now pretty jammed with people, only to find that in fact another unit was to couple up. Our confused guard then told everyone that "the back four cars were empty". No kidding, and a bit of forward planning might have avoided a lot of discomfort and confusion. In the event, I stood for the fairly quick run up to East Croydon, noting that the rear unit which had joined us was in fact the one I'd ridden from Fareham to Hove. I'll never quite work the Southern out!
I'd planned a wander in Croydon, but settled instead for a coffee and some lunch. I'd slept very poorly the previous evening, and was still nursing the after-effects of a cold, so I just sat feeling a bit sorry for myself and watching the busy life of this station. Today wasn't quite working out as the stress-free ramble I'd hoped, and the weight of work wasn't lifting quite how I'd hoped. Nevertheless, I pressed on, catching the next Milton Keynes bound service. This route, with it's slow ramble onto the West London line and extended stops to switch voltage and so on, is now very busy indeed - in no small part due to Westfield at Shepherd's Bush. Found my seat and bunkered down for the busy stretch, then enjoyed the fly past Wembley Depot which seemed busy. Soon found myself at Watford Junction again. I seem to have been here a lot lately, and despite a lack of nearby facilities, don't mind the spot at all. Found a seat and enjoyed a bit of afternoon sunshine while watching the trains pass by. The London Midland units for Crewe and Birmingham arrived on time, and were surprisingly quiet. Watched the chaos as people ran around trying to get into the right portion for their destination before Northampton! At Birmingham International however, the train became very full - mostly with young, attractive women too! It turns out that the Clothes Show Live event was on - something I always seem to clash inadvertently with! The last ten minutes of the trip were busy, and amusing too as I eavesdropped on lots of strange conversations - a world away from the miserable chatter I endured the last time I did this route a couple of weeks back.
The crush of customers seems to be affecting New Street too, with the stairs jammed solid and people waiting in queues to leave! The works here aren't helping much - with passenger flows disrupted and quite a bit of confusion. Desperate for the toilet and for coffee I headed for the alternative exit, popping up outside the station and heading up the hill towards Starbucks. Hadn't bargained for the Christmas Market however - not only was the coffee shop very busy, but New Street was rammed with a slow moving crowd, window shopping and enjoying the market stalls. I say enjoying loosely because most of them seemed to be moaning - about the cost, the crowds, the cold, the queues...at one point I listened and heard all of the mournful Birmingham accents at once, braying their complaints. I wanted out of there as quickly as possible. Nudged and elbowed my way towards the edge of the crowd, down the slope and back into the entrance at New Street station. Not sorry to find myself squirrelled away in the waiting area at the back of the station, coffee in hand, writing my journal and watching the world go by.
Aside from some worries about an earlier cancellation of a south west bound service, all seemed to go a little smoother from here. As ever 1V65 arrived, emptied out and stayed oddly quiet. Enjoyed a relaxing, warm run back with headphones on. Perhaps today hadn't been quite so bad after all, despite having it's frustrations and complications? Most of all, the trip had been cheap - benefiting from some pretty fantastic fares and still covering well over 400 miles. And I hope Birmingham enjoyed it's market more than it sounded like...
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.