Fifteen random Rail Rover reflections

Saturday 4th June 2022

It’s a week since I completed my spring time seven-day All Line Rover. Here are a few random reflections on my week long travels around the country with apologies to Twitter followers who may already have read much of the following from last week.

1. Checks on first class abusers on Thameslink and Southern are nowhere near effective enough. Although I saw Thameslink revenue inspectors on two early morning London bound journeys south of East Croydon (which included the need to call for British Transport Police assistance when we arrived at East Croydon to deal with a passenger refusing to be constructively responsive) far too many other journeys are unchecked and therefore first class is pretty much universally abused especially north of East Croydon and through ‘the core’. I’d be very annoyed if I was a regular commuter paying sky high first class ticket prices only to find all seats taken by chancers.

2. Weekends are definitely the busiest days of the week for train travel. My two busiest journeys during the seven days’ travels were firstly the 08:48 LNER Kings Cross to Edinburgh on Sunday morning (full and standing) despite further journeys at 08:52 and 09:00 and secondly the 10:11 TransPennine Express Sheffield to Manchester Piccadilly journey on Saturday morning with crammed standing throughout the six coach train. The previous EMR journey had been cancelled from Sheffield which didn’t help but it would have still been busy. But still weekends are the go to time for disruption caused by necessary ‘improvement works’.

3. Manchester Piccadilly’s platforms 13 and 14 were heaving at 11:20 on Saturday morning with departing trains to Blackpool North and Liverpool Lime Street (Northern) and Glasgow Central (TPE) very busy. As a tweeter responded the priorities of the DfT are woeful when the Ordsall Chord was built at huge expense yet now only used by one train an hour but there are still no plans to increase capacity on the Castlefield corridor other than to reduce the number of trains and thereby increase the over crowding per train.

4. Industrial action by both RMT (impacting TPE) and ASLEF (impacting ScotRail) is causing more aggravation for passengers especially at weekends. ScotRail have responded with significantly reduced timetables from Monday 23rd May but was unable to implement this on Sunday 29th resulting in more last minute cancellations. This is doing nothing to install confidence in passengers returning to the railway.

5. Aside from TransPennine Express’s very comfortable seats in first class across its new Nova branded fleets (glimpsed in the above photo), Greater Anglia’s Class 745 have very comfortable seats to travel on, especially in first class. The higgledy piggledy nature of the seat layout still strikes me as odd but I do like the seating. I only travelled as far as Ipswich from Liverpool Street last week but would have given anything for that seat from Kings Cross to Edinburgh.

6. Birmingham New Street had £700 million spent on enlarging and revamping the upper concourse a few years ago and more recently has tried to make it easier for passengers to navigate through the station by highlighting colour coded zones, but it’s still confusing especially for passengers changing trains who unknowingly take the escalator up from the ‘A’ end of the platforms wanting to change from a platform numbered 1 to 5 to any numbered 6 to 12 having to pass through two gate lines as well as a walk round an obstacle course to reach the other platform.

Whereas if using the ‘B’ end of the platform passengers can avoid this by staying beyond the gateline as you change platforms. Note platform 4 is divided into three segments – A, B and C with B and C using the same escalators and stairs.

This diagram below aims to explain the layout and I think after getting lost a few times I’ve now finally understood how to navigate the station – always use the B end to change platforms.

7. Only one on board ticket checker asked to see my Senior Railcard throughout the seven days of travels. The ticket didn’t work any gate line barriers so I gave up and found most staff just waved me through without looking closely at what the ticket was. It was fun to try and use it at Tottenham Court Road (as well as the other new Elizabeth line stations).

8. Timekeeping of trains I travelled on was very good throughout the week. The only exceptions were Sunday’s late running and cancellations between Edinburgh and Dundee commented on in Thursday’s blog and late running by GWR of almost half an hour between Yeovil Pen Mill and Weymouth on Friday late morning.

9. I saw extremes of good and bad presentation of bus information when venturing outside stations. Good would include Carlisle where Stagecoach have long provided a supply of its timetable book for The Lakes in the foyer ….

…..as well as Ipswich where Suffolk Ciunty Council have installed clear timetables and maps in the bus shelters immediately outside the station ….

… and bad would be the displays outside Stafford station which were either out of date, skew whiff or missing completely….

…. and Yeovil Pen Mill where the Bus Link (to the town centre and Yeovil Junction station) is advertised on the bus stop flag but the timetable displayed below it shows the service no longer runs to Pen Mill. (Although I understand this will change shortly).

Also confusing was Gunnislake where one timetable case in the station car park had a correct timetable for route 118 (although the Dartmoor Explorer timetable was annoyingly crooked) …

… while another bus stop by the road alongside the station was displaying an incorrect out of date timetable for route 118.

But a shout out to First Wessex which has finally got its kiosk installed on Weymouth seafront with an excellent display of an attractive timetable and brochure/map showing those operators up who still can’t get the hang of the idea of attracting passengers.

And it’s good to see Weymouth station being renovated with restored platform canopies and an improved frontage where buses will be able to call right outside the station.

10. I always enjoy a ride on Devon and Cornwall’s branch lines and I managed to fit in three on this year’s Rover including Exmouth to Exeter ….

The railway runs alongside the River Exe

…. Plymouth to Gunnislake …..

A view of Calstock from the viaduct as the train passes over the River Tamar

…. and Liskeard to Looe.

East Looe River seen from the railway line just north of Looe

All were as delightful and enchanting as ever.

11. The Dirtiest trains of the Week Award as usual goes to East Midlands Railway who just don’t seem to take train exterior cleanliness seriously at all. Every time I travel on their trains it’s always the same. At least this time the windows weren’t too bad and I could see out. In the winter it’s a different story.

13. The trend to relocate ticket offices further away from station entrances is continuing. Following Newcastle which holds the record as the furthest distance you can possibly locate a ticket office to cause maximum inconvenience for passengers (which I’ve highlighted in previous blogs) I came across Ipswich last week where Greater Anglia have opened a new ticket office to the extreme left of the station building replacing the previous site right inside the centre by the gateline.

No doubt a commercial retail outlet will shortly be opening in the old location making sandwich purchasing more important than rail tickets.

14. Some train companies have improved their on board Wi-Fi offer with all now doing away with the rather outdated and penny pinching policy of charging for use, but initially I thought Northern were back in the stingy club by only offering 15 minutes of “free Wi-Fi” but thanks to Twitter it’s been pointed out that the “free Wi-Fi” lasts for “15 minutes” unless you register with all your details whereupon the “free Wi-Fi” continues, otherwise it ceases. Not sure why they use the word “free” in the screen on that basis.

15. Catering facilities on trains vary greatly from company to company but there’s too much to cover on the subject here, so tomorrow’s blog will cater for that. Meantime here’s a taster…

Roger French

Blogging timetable: TThSSu

19 thoughts on “Fifteen random Rail Rover reflections

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  1. Greater Anglia have removed First Class from all suburban services

    The company will only sell First Class tickets for customers travelling on Intercity services between Norwich, Diss, Stowmarket, Ipswich, Manningtree, Colchester, Chelmsford, Stratford and London Liverpool Street.

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  2. My 1964 full price 14-day Second Class All-Line Railrover cost £25.

    According to the CPI inflation calculator this is equivalent in purchasing power to £539.82 today – almost the exact price of a current 7-day Standard Class Railrover!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In 1964 the Beeching axe had still to fall on many lines, so that £25 rover would have taken you to many more places than today’s equivalent.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It is also possible to avoid the barriers at New Street by using the bridge at the Stephenson Street end (signposted as to Victoria Square) which is also,as a rule, rather quieter even in the mornking peak. I juse the palce about twice a month and still get baffled by the crazy barrier layout, especially if a detour to buy a coffee is involved!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Birmingham New Street – never mind the shoping develop with an empty anchor store now John Lewis is closing/closed – what about the platform level. Still dark and dingy with minimal daylight; a real missed opportunity there!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I spent twenty years of my working life travelling to/ from/ through New Street, often changing trains. I knew the station; the minute a platform alteration was announced, I was on to it, no problem. It was so simple; busy, yes but simple. Ten years later I was back, needed to change trains. I knew there had been alterations but wasn’t expecting this. Like Roger my ticket failed at the gateline (Senior Railcard holder), no staff present, a couple a little way away seemingly having a chat, I eventually got their attention so they sauntered over, still chatting, cursory check of ticket. I asked where I would catch Cross City trains, just a wave of the hand ‘over there’. Fortunately the staff there were much more helpful, unfortunately I had just missed a train. It had taken at least 10 minutes (add to which the incoming train had been held outside New Street). Previously I could have changed in a couple of minutes.
      I have to repeat the journey later in the year, it might be worthwhile giving Chiltern a try, it’s very difficult to mess Moor Street up!

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  4. They are going one better at Waterloo. The entire old Eurostar Terminal is being turned into a shopping centre

    In general we already have a large surplus of shops but I guess rail terminals are seen as a bity of a captive market. They also tend to charge higher prices because of that

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  5. Colleagues who work for EMR tell me they’re fed up of the lack of attention being paid by management to train cleanliness (internal and external) and to day-to-day operations, especially of the ex-Central local and inter-regional routes, but any staff comments are either blatantly ignored or met with snarky admonitions to “be kind” as the managers are “so stressed”.
    Oh, and the company’s internal social media pages are apparently full of requests from managers for staff to make TikTok videos showing off how fun it is to work for EMR and “showcasing the new uniform” to colleagues.

    It must be a strange company to work for. I’m glad I work for a TOC which is rather more professional.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. A “heads-up” to a GWR conductor today who checked tickets and railcards assiduously and found many travelling ticketless or on the wrong train for their ticket. He was coureous but firm and must have easily earned his wages in tickets sales. His announcements were also exemplary. And this was no country branch service with unstaffed halts but main line from Paddington to Cardiff!

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  7. Yes Newcastle ticket office is now hidden away but the nice nostalgic toilets which probably flush in Imperial Gallons are right next to it so perhaps Sir Boris Johnson and Sir Jacob Rees Smog could enjoy sitting on them if they are up that way.But take a closer look at the cast iron tanks above the toilets and you’ll notice that they are actually plastic painted like cast iron.Well with the TPE from Sheffield you where lucky it was 6 cars, really 5 if you take out first, the toilets and other empty space, about 2 years back it would have been a single 185.

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  8. Great blog. And the first class catering comments today. My own local service to London is another First company Hull Trains. Went to London first class a few weeks ago and the bacon butties going down were excellent. It is such a pity they can not / have not restored catering in second class. The facilities are there. They blame inability to recruit staff. Another bugbear is ofd course the ironing board like seats. Not comfortabel for a near 3 hour journey.

    Would love to see your full itinerary as inspiration to me to do it next year.

    Keep on blogging.

    IP

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    1. If you restrict catering to only first class how an earth are they going to make a profit from it
      It hardly helps attract customers to rail neither as the message it sends out is they don’t care about the service second class passengers get

      Does First Class even make sense. Yes they charge more for it but for most of the time First Class carriages are running around almost empty

      It is also hit and mis as to whether the catering will be available at all and if it is half the items they claim to have will not be available

      I wonder whether the long term aim is to do away with onboard catering other then on a few premium journeys

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  9. I looked this evening at the Transport for Wales which are supposd to be loco-hauled coach sets with First Class and a full meal service. One was a single Class 150 Sprinter – for a 4 1/2 hour journey! Another didn’t run at all.

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