Posted in Updates on Saturday 27th January 2007 at 10:42pm
Caught the train up to Redditch after work yesterday in order to be here for the Redditch & Bromsgrove CAMRA Beer Festival, at an old family stomping ground - the Bridley Moor and Batchley Social Club. Spent much of the morning persuading my uncle and cousin who were to accompany me that getting there for early doors would be a good idea! Finally convinced them and we were the first paying customer, soon followed by a huge crowd which I think surprised and impressed them both. A total of 43 beers on offer, with eight ciders and perrys too meant lots of choice. My cousin was lured by the promise of Harwich Charter Ale at 10% ABV, taking the plunge early! Local brewery Wetheroak had brewed an ale specially for the festival - Rubeo Fosetto (apparently Redditch in latin?) which was interesting but not a favourite.
I think both my relatives are now convinced of the merits of the beer festival, and after a steady day of tasting and discussing things took a turn for the strange. My uncle decided he could only sample beers from the lower reaches of the alphabet because the gruff Scotsman with military connections at the top of the bar was scaring him! A couple of the excellent filled rolls supplied by the Club were in order, and we set off for more tasting. A surprising number of locals appeared, interested in what caused the cancellation of the Bingo last night - but I was really pleased to see lots of people coming in by bus or train from more distant parts of the Midlands, particularly since by accident of venue availability this festival was competing with another in Burton-on-Trent.
After meeting some decent folks, talking like idiots and in total tasting or sampling 29 of the 43 beers on offer, we left in the early evening. Some opinions had definitely changed - my cousin in now a fully paid up CAMRA member and there are plans afoot for Tuckers Maltings in April. A very civillised way to spend the day!
Posted in Railways on Wednesday 10th January 2007 at 7:56pm
Exactly a month after the biggest shake up in railway timetables in the South West for many years, it's interesting to look back at what's been a fairly turbulent time. What's also clear is that despite First Great Western's disdain for it's customers views, they were uncannily accurate in their early judgements that it just wasn't going to work. Anyone who has ever complained to FGW will know how the process works - you make a reasoned and polite representation based on the aspects of the service you found deficient. In replying, a customer service advisor will scan your complaint for keywords and will cut and paste a stock paragraph - however irrelevant it might be to the context of your reply. Eventually, if you challenge these responses you'll be told politely but firmly that you are a persistent complainant and that it's better for them to get on with 'transforming travel' than to answer your queries. Well, I think there are probably an awful lot of persistent complainants out there today!
Even before the timetable started, people using Severn Tunnel Junction had some minor success in getting peak services reinstated. The timetable (which if you believe FGW was the work of the DfT and if you believe anyone else was the work of the devil) had crumbled by midday on 11th December, and the warm media glow of 'listening to customers' following the Severn Tunnel Junction reinstatements was soon replaced by stony silence from FGW. A couple of days into the farce, during which there were never less than twenty cancellations on the website at any given time, we received the infamous letter from Customer Services Director, Glenda Lamont. This is best summed up as "It's really not very good is it? But it's someone else's fault". No-one cared whether DfT or FGW was responsible for serviceable units being stored whilst the fleet limped on with a half-built maintenance facility unable to cope with repairs. In fact, we all assumed that the day-to-day tribulations of running a Train Operating Company meant that you developed contingencies for such events. What we really wanted was to get home on time.
My own experiences weren't too horrendous - my ten minute commute was frustratingly cancelled or delayed on a fair number of occasions, but I didn't suffer a great deal of hardship. But seeing people disentangling themselves from the mass of bodies getting out of short-formed trains, and hearing about the Verbal Warnings delivered to commuters for repeated lateness at work was heartbreaking for someone who actively tries to persuade people to use the railway. Still there was no response from FGW. And ultimately, perhaps it would have been better if they'd stayed quiet because the solution which was finally delivered this week left a very nasty taste. Someone somewhere described the substitution of buses for trains on the Cornish Branch Lines this week as "finally succeeding where Beeching failed". The idea was to redistribute the capacity from Cornwall around the Bristol area to strengthen trains and relieve congestion. A Cornish friend of mine, well aware of my 'persistent complainant' status with FGW simply emailed the words 'Cheers Mate, Thanks for the buses'. There was much concern that we were seeing FGW's true colours now, and they weren't the benevolent pink and blue of their barbie livery after all!
So we enter a second month of chaos, delay and overcrowding. My journey is still nothing compared to those Bristol-Bath commuters, rammed in so tight that if one of them passes out they don't hit the floor, or of the locals in Cornwall, with no service at all. At best it's erratic here - unreliable and prone to sudden, unexplained delay - much of which is the knock on effect of what's happening elsewhere. From a commuter's point of view its an imposition and an inconvenience. From an enthusiasts stance, its heartbreaking to see a railway so full of potential being run into the ground like this.
There are a number of meetings being arrange, MPs being lobbied and such - so many in fact I can't keep up and wouldn't presume to list them here. If you live in the South West, these campaigns deserve your support. You'll probably find more detail at the Save the Train Forum.
Posted in Railways on Saturday 6th January 2007 at 9:41pm
I was determined to get out today. Now that Highbridge is free of engineering works, it seems like the rest of the world has succumbed and it was impossible to find tickets anywhere really interesting. For some reason, on miserable January days I find a whizz up the West Coast comforting, but with Gloucester-Birmingham a bus full of doubtlessly fractious Virgin passengers, I decided to take advantage of some cheap tickets from One and to head eastwards to cover a couple of bits of track I'd missed. Decided to kick off with our new first train of the day, the 0554 to Bristol. It's not much use unless you're heading for London, as it doesn't seem to connect with anything else you couldn't comfortably get off the 0633 on a Saturday, but nevertheless it was good to get an early start despite the miserable weather and my persistent sniffling. Thankfully, there were only three other passengers to annoy with this!
A largely uneventful journey to Paddington via the Berks & Hants, and it seemed that First Great Western had started the day off in a better position, with few cancellations on the boards. Underground to Kings Cross and time for a coffee before boarding the fast train to Cambridge. Having been this way a couple of times in the past year or so, I had a pleasantly sleepy run once past Bounds Green, broken only briefly to speak on the phone to my little nephew who was intrigued to hear I'd been going through tunnels! Grabbed a bite to eat at Cambridge and arrived on platform 6 in time to see Anglia liveried 153335 arriving and disgorging far more passengers that it could reasonably hold. Looked at the queue for the train, and realised we'd be fairly busy too. The line between Cambridge and Ipswich via Newmarket receives an hourly service - but I'd imagine it could support more frequent trains based on this kind of business on a wet, January Saturday. I only required the line between Coldham Lane and Chippenham Junctions so the plan was to disembark at Bury St Edmunds and have a brief wander before heading back on the 11:55.
Again, a fairly uneventful trip through uninspiring scenery. Lots of evidence of the equestrian industry around Newmarket, but little else to relieve the empty and flat country around here. Remembered Bury St Edmunds station from 47813's naming in October 2005. Wandered out to the station front, but I was put off strolling into town by the rain. Moped about miserably, my dismay being complete when 66541 appeared in the distance on a well-loaded Freightliner working and I realised I'd forgotten to pack my camera. Consoled myself by remembering that the light wasn't really suitable for photography. Bang on time, a more encouraging looking 156407 appeared and the journey back to Cambridge was warm and quiet.
Next plan was to head for Cheshunt on a Liverpool Street stopper, then change for the loop via Seven Sisters. Boarded the First Class end of the unit to find two disgruntled looking Revenue Protection Inspectors lurking. They weren't pleased to see me, and were even less happy to see I had a valid First Class ticket I think! Moving on they managed to detain a pair of hoodies without tickets in the vestibule and showed rare delicacy in closing the doors to the First Class section to give them some privacy while they shouted the odds at the miscreants. I thought nothing more of this until a little before Cheshunt when I headed for the doors. The strange grinding noise the sliding doors had made was the sound of them coming off their runners. The doors were wedged with a five inch gap. Anyone who knows me in person will realise that a five inch gap is simply not sufficient for my extensive frame. After some attempted vandalism I gave up and asked for help from a couple sitting in the next First Class bay. The gentleman was in fact a fitter for One, and between us we managed to effect a temporary repair via some vigorous shoulder barging. He said if we'd not been able to do it, he'd have passed me the carriage key at Cheshunt and we'd have escaped via the cab! Rather shaken by the idea of being trapped in a dilapidated 317, I made my way to the bay platform for the next Seven Sisters bound unit. The fitter tracked me down just before I left to tell me he'd had a moan to Liverpool Street about the state of the doors. We passed the time discussing the merits of First Class offerings on the various operators, and I left promising to try the ex-Anglia Intercity services as he thought these were really top notch.
I actually enjoyed the journey to Liverpool Street, despite being warned it was a trip through the badlands. The landscape was fairly urban, and the stations a little run down it's fair to say. But the train was comfortable and busy, and there were a few interesting characters on board. Finally passed through the curiously named Turkey Street and arrived at Liverpool Street on time. A quick look at what was in the station before embarking on a slow and frustrating tube trip back to Paddington. It seemed First Great Western's day had reverted to type, with a bunch of cancellations and inexplicable lateness in evidence when I arrived. My own train, the 1615 Paignton left dead on time, but was dogged by slow running from the start. From Reading to the Westbury area we crawled at what seemed a walking pace, and ended up almost 30 late at one point heading for Bath. The guard was unable to explain this at all. In fact, all the staff seemed rather gloomy and subdued. I suppose they've suffered the wrath of far too many angry punters these past weeks. With my planned Weston connection out of the window, got off at Bristol and bumped into an acquaintance. Took the equally slow 1907 back to Highbridge, arriving 32 late after departing Bristol 7 late! A strange day...
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.