AZUMA reaches Lincoln

Monday 21st October 2019

IMG_1373.jpg

LNER’s flagship AZUMA trains started running between Lincoln and London Kings Cross today. They’re journeys which previously just ran between Newark North Gate and Kings Cross now projected back to start at Lincoln, so they’re not new journeys on the actual East Coast Main Line (ECML).

They provide a significant boost for people living, working or visiting Lincoln who now have four daytime journeys direct to and from London in addition to long standing peak hour journeys (07:30 from Lincoln and 19:06 return from Kings Cross) which LNER continue to run for now with an HST.

There’s also a peak hour direct train from Lincoln (07:05) to St Pancras via Nottingham and return (at 18:05) operated by East Midlands Railways but this takes almost three hours – an hour longer than via the ECML.

As you can imagine LNER rolled out the Azuma PR and marketing launch machine in Lincoln this morning to mark the occasion but it was noticeably low key compared to Azuma roll outs seen elsewhere during the summer. IMG_1369.jpgIn fact although some razzmatazz was laid on for the first Azuma departure bound for Kings Cross at 11:18, this was all being quickly packed away at midday when I arrived on the first Azuma into Lincoln from the south (the 10:06 from Kings Cross). Twitter commentators also observed that only invited guests had been able to get close to the goodie bag action too.

IMG_1382.jpgI looked around for some colourful leaflets promoting the exciting new journeys that now leave Lincoln for London at 11:18, 13:23, 15:26 and 17:14 but all I could find in Lincoln station’s ticket office was the standard LNER timetable and a leaflet about the Azuma trains themselves.

IMG_E1385.jpgIMG_1383.jpgThe extra London journeys are shown in LNER’s May timetable booklet and they’re coded to show they’ll start at a date in the future to be confirmed on the website.

And thinking about the timings of the new southbound direct journeys, that first one at 11:18 doesn’t arrive into Kings Cross until 13:23 which is a bit late for a day out especially if you want to get the last new Azuma direct train back which leaves Kings Cross at 16:06.

It seems to me the new timetable is more geared to bringing people into Lincoln for a day out than taking people down to London. As said, my 10:06 train from London arrived into Lincoln at midday and there’s a new return at 17:14 giving a nice five and a bit hours to ‘do Lincoln’.

Southbound passengers do have earlier train options than 11:18 by either changing at Newark North Gate or via Sleaford and change at Peterborough – for example, there are options at 10:16 via the former (arrives Kings Cross at 12:22) or 10:18 via the latter (arrives Kings Cross 12:40).

It would seem a good idea if EMR and LNER could collaborate and produce a nice attractive leaflet showing all the Lincoln London travel options.

IMG_1289.jpgThe plan is to run five coach Azumas on these new direct Lincoln journeys and this morning my train left from the north end of Kings Cross platform 0 where a ten coach train that had arrived earlier had been split.

IMG_1287.jpgWe left exactly on time at 10:06 as the 10:03 to Leeds was also leaving slightly late and it was interesting to see us both enter the two bidirectional tracks together through the middle portal of Gasworks Tunnel especially as the Leeds train was unusually an HST and another HST was leaving through the western portal at the same time bound for sidings; and all this just six minutes after an HST left on the 10:00 to Inverness.

By the time we were north of Copenhagen Tunnel we were in the correct order behind the Leeds train as we were stopping at Stevenage but that wasn’t.

One odd thing was our formation was in reverse form with first class (coaches D – half of – and E) at the front, so as we pulled into Stevenage, Peterborough and Grantham passengers had to make a mad scramble up and down the platform as they were waiting at the lettered signs marked for the normal formation with A/B at the front.

IMG_1293.jpgIt was also noticeable that despite being only five coaches we stoped at the extreme north ends of the platforms (as a ten coach train would) to line up with the letters (had they been correct) so passengers had much further to walk back to the station buildings and exits which are generally in the middle platforms.

The first class catering offer and menu is the same as on all LNER trains but sadly no hot food was available on my journey ‘due to a problem in the kitchen’. Luckily the ‘problem’ didn’t include the toaster and the usual biscuits, crisps and fruit were handed out.

The catering team alighted at Newark North Gate, the pantograph came down and the driver turned the diesel engine on as we headed off around the curve by the infamous Newark flat crossing (with an orange army platoon on hand) …IMG_1296.jpg… and on to the tracks towards Lincoln where we passed the southbound 11:18 from Lincoln held at a signal until we cleared the single track curve.

IMG_1327.jpgThat train then headed into Newark North Gate where it would wait from 11:45 until the long standing scheduled path with departure at 11:56, adding eleven minutes to the overall journey time.

IMG_1357.jpgMy midday arrival into Lincoln was four minutes ahead of the 12:04 scheduled time and there were 92 of us on board as we pulled in; so not bad for a first journey.

IMG_1370.jpgI’m sure these new direct journeys will prove popular as people do prefer direct travel over changing trains on journeys of this kind. It’s just a shame there’s not an earlier southbound off-peak departure before 11:18 for now.

It’s interesting to receive a comment below that perhaps LNER are not fully committed to the Lincoln Azuma project – that would certainly explain the somewhat limp launch – and the franchise commitment to further enhancements.

Roger French

A south Suffolk saunter

Friday 26th July 2019

I incorporated Wednesday’s ride on Buckland Buses’ splendid 1929 Dennis on route 250 between Aldeburgh and Thropeness into an enjoyable couple of days saunter around the lovely countryside in south Suffolk.

IMG_4394.jpgOn Tuesday morning I caught the stopping train to Ipswich out of Liverpool Street at 11:04 as far as Marks Tey. It’s impressive to see the efficient use of track capacity on the fast lines out of Liverpool Street since May with a flotilla of trains pathed within minutes including the new ‘Norwich in 90’ only stopping at Ipswich leaving at 11:00; the normal hourly Norwich leaving at 11:02 with stops at Colchester, Manningtree, Ipswich and Diss then the train I caught with calls at Stratford, Shenfield, Chelmsford, Hatfield Peverel, Witham and Kelvedon. This train is followed out of Liverpool Street by a Southend Victoria train and then one to Clacton-on-Sea.

IMG_4392.jpg

Added to this efficiency is a three minute connection at Marks Tey to an hourly train on the single track branch line to Sudbury, which I easily made along with about a dozen other passengers.IMG_4395.jpgThis is a lovely branch line which I ranked 85th in my Hundred Best Train Journeys not least because it passes the quirky East Anglian Railway Museum at Chappel and Wakes Colne station with the Museum’s trains occupying the southbound platform which hasn’t been used for many years. The other station on the branch is at Bures just outside Sudbury.

IMG_5886.jpgGreater Anglia have sensibly placed a poster at Marks Tey explaining its policy on maintaining connections – the ten minutes allowance covers the stand time of the train on the branch within its hour’s cycle and obviously prevents knock on delays for further passengers – it was good to see this being stated even if the absolute background detail wasn’t fully explained.

IMG_4396.jpg

In Sudbury I wandered over to what is called a bus station (at least there are toilets) and three stops with shelters (albeit very grubby) and timetables showing departures. It’s a Go-Ahead Group bus hand-me-down spotters delight with former front line buses from around the Group now enjoying a second life at Group owned Chambers and the independent Beestons.IMG_4399.jpgIMG_4405I enjoyed a ride on a former Scania demonstrator on Beestons operated route 91 to Ipswich and noted it had oddly been fitted with a farebox alongside the driver for exact fares.IMG_4407.jpg This puzzled me for an inter-urban route and as contactless wasn’t yet in operation despite the Ticketer ticket machine displaying the symbol I handed my £5 for the single fare over to the driver who issued a ticket in the traditional way. Beestons didn’t reply to my tweet asking about the farebox and contacless so I am still mystified what the policy is.

IMG_4408.jpgRoute 91 takes 75 minutes for the 21 mile journey via Hadleigh to Ipswich; buses currently run every 90 minutes, but will be changing to two-hourly from the beginning of September, although an improved hourly frequency will be incorporated into the new timetable between Hadleigh and Ipswich.

It’s one of those routes where the first fifteen minutes is spent wandering around the town’s residential streets heading away from the direction of travel, presumably at one time covered by a separate town service of sorts. We dropped about a dozen passengers off with their shopping and sped on to Ipswich with a handful of us left on board. This driver wasn’t hanging around. Once the bus leaves the environs of Sudbury it’s a pleasant run eastwards through the Suffolk countryside. I was particularly impressed with the village of Boxford which looked very attractive and quintessential rural England.

Arriving into Ipswich’s Old Cattle Market bus station at 14:00 a First Bus single decker was just leaving proclaiming it to be a ‘Felixstowe Flyers’ with a high profile promotional flash on the side and in a striking non First Bus corporate livery, which just goes to prove such marketing works, as it encouraged me to change my original plans and seek the service out for a ride.

The attractive timetable leaflet for the 75, 76, 77 and X7 which runs between Ipswich and Felixstowe has helpful maps explaining the route variations at the Felixstowe end and the timetable shows a twenty minute frequency is overlaid with an hourly fast (pretty much non-stop) X7 via the A14 giving a journey time to central Felixstowe of just 35/36 minutes – comparing favourably with 46/48 minutes on the stopping routes.

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 20.25.43.png

Having missed the 14:00 X7 departure I caught the 14:20 all-stops 75 and was impressed with the good load of passengers throughout the route.IMG_4449.jpgWe were a bit late into Felixstowe’s Great Eastern Square, due at 15:06, so I just missed being able to photograph that branded X7 I’d seen at 14:00 in Ipswich heading back at 15:10.

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 20.26.12.pngIt gave me a chance to have a look around Felixstowe and particularly the greatly slimmed down rail station, now a shadow of its former past glory.

Great Eastern Square is actually the former station building now converted into small independent retail units with a car park out the back where once trains would have arrived on the tracks. The one platform now left is on the other side of the car park meaning passengers have to walk a fair distance to the main road outside.

IMG_4451.jpgThere’s an hourly train that shuttles up and down between Felixstowe and Ipswich timetabled to take 26 minutes. The 15:24 arrival brought a good load of passengers in and left at 15:28 with another busy train load.

IMG_4455.jpgThere’s plenty of people travelling between Ipswich and Felixstowe – I popped down to the seafront and reminded myself how attractive this coastal resort is.

IMG_4483.jpgIt was approaching 16:10 and I eagerly waited the next X7 back to Ipswich. I was waiting outside the cinema, the stop before Great Eastern Square, and the slightly late 16:00 route 77 picked up most of the dozen or so waiting passengers just as the X7 arrived with just four of us getting on board – not very impressive – and while I was pleased to have a top deck view on the journey back I was a bit surprised not to see the branded ‘Felixstowe Flyers’ bus on any of the other X7 journeys observed later that afternoon.

IMG_4549.jpg

One journey was operated by one of the rather smart looking Ipswich Reds branded buses which should now operate route 60….

IMG_4534.jpg… and another by a standard liveried bus…..

IMG_4601.jpgI can only assume vehicles on the X7 interwork with other routes across the late afternoon and evening peak which is a shame to lose the bespoke brand promoting what could be a decent alternative to the train and the all-stops bus routes. And I regret not being able to include a photo of a Flexistowe Flyers branded bus here despite trying to track it down, but I’m indebeted to the Central Suffolk Bus Blog (worth checking out) who included an explanation and recent report that the one vehicle so branded does appear on other routes around the network…

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 20.34.03.png

As a slight digression, it was observed on Twitter after I posted a photo of the Ipswich Reds livery correctly on route 60 that it resembles the livery now being used by First Cymru in Swansea. Here’s an Ipswich reds…

IMG_4430.jpg…and here’s a First Cymru….IMG_3282.jpg…. which only goes to show you can’t keep a good livery down and it makes sense for the First Ipswich/Eastern Counties marketing people to copy and adapt a smart livery from a sister company (for now) in the same Group.

Back to the Ipswich to Felixstowe market … an off-peak day return on the train without a Railcard is £6.10 while a return on First Ipswich is just 30p cheaper at £5.80. The peak train fare is only 20p more at £6.30 with a weekly season at £24.90. On First Ipswich it’s £22 (£21 on an mTicket) for a weekly ticket I’m not sure these savings are enough to tempt rail users to give the X7 Felixstowe Flyers a go. Perhaps some more attractive fare offers and better fleet allocation and branding would help?

 

Wednesday morning was the day to travel to Aldeburgh for my vintage bus ride and I planned catching the First Ipswich route 800 which connects the town’s two Park & Ride sites from the west (Copdock, London Road) through the town centre to the east (Martlesham) every 15 minutes. One journey an hour is extended further east via Woodbridge to Rendlesham adding a half hour trip which effectively means an out of town route is efficiently dovetailed into the Park & Ride service by adding just one extra peak vehicle.

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 20.45.43.png

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 20.43.32.png

My 800 left Ipswich town centre at 08:21 and was due in Rendlesham at 09:16 allowing a very comfortable 19 minute connection with the vintage bus leaving at 09:35 to begin its day’s operation with a positioning journey to Aldeburgh.

IMG_4656.jpgHowever despite a modest load our journey got progressively behind schedule and after we hit crawling traffic by Kesgrave High School were over 15 minutes late when we reached the Park & Ride site at Martlesham.

My driver seemed oblivious to the lateness of the journey continuing to drive in a fashion I would describe as ultra cautious and he even left the cab at the Park & Ride bus stop to have a chat with the driver on the bus waiting to return to Ipswich and then wentv to check no one was waiting in the waiting room – even though we were heading away from town, so the chances were extremely remote – he was obviously a very thorough employee and I decided the risk of getting even more late as the journey continued (and getting stranded in Rendlesham) was too great and so decided on a Plan B by bailing out at Melton Station to catch a Greater Anglia train on the East Suffolk line two stations north to Saxmundham where there was a good connection to a First Ipswich 64 to Aldeburgh.

IMG_4659.jpgIMG_4661.jpg

IMG_4662.jpgMelton is a small station with nothing much to comment on, other than it’s in need of a makeover with all its station name boards looking distinctly faded and unloved. They were barely legible. I’m sure Greater Anglia have it in hand as Saxmundham was sporting smarter signs even though the former station building was still behind barriers following fire damage eighteen months ago.IMG_4669 (1).jpg

IMG_4667.jpgTo cut what’s becoming a long story short, I was waiting for the bus on route 64 in Saxmundham High Street and started to get twitchy that it hadn’t arrived…

IMG_4671.jpg….when I spotted a tweet from First Ipswich advising of a breakdown on the 64. Although there’s no timing point of 09:05 on the journey I was waiting for (it left Ipswich at 08:50), I deduced (correctly) the tweet was referring to my bus, especially as it was now around ten minutes after it’s scheduled arrival, so I took the nuclear option of sourcing a taxi to take me the last twenty minute ride over to Aldeburgh in time to pick up the vintage bus at 11:10.

IMG_E4683.jpg

And as you may have read I arived in Aldeburgh in time to enjoy a lovely ride on Buckland Buses 1929 vintage Dennis bus and just as we were about to leave an empty First Ipswich bus screened for route 64 arrived which was obviously a replacement for the broken down bus showing how route branded buses can sometimes end up on wrong routes for sensible reasons. And good to see First Ipswich doing their best to recover from the breakdown. But it had been a morning of unplanned events and regretfully missing that forty minute ride on the Dennis from Rendlesham to Aldeburgh.

IMG_4682.jpg

After enjoying the vintage ride I headed back to Saxmundham on Border Bus route 521, which takes a circuitous and very pleasant route, (and which I wrote about back in March) …

IMG_1624.jpg… and then to Ipswich on a nice air conditioned Class 170 which made a nice change for the East Suffolk line and a welcome respite from the hot weather.

IMG_4710.jpg

Roger French

Three Staffordshire bus rides

Tuesday 9th July 2019

IMG_3432.jpg Welcome to a fourth day of travelling to tick off various ‘to do’ routes, destinations, new buses and trains which began with an early start from Llandrindod Wells on the first 06:18 journey which starts its journey at this lovely station and continues beyond Shrewsbury as a stopping train through to Crewe arriving at 08:50.

It’s quite a trek on a one coach Class 153 and I was expecting we’d get inundated with commuters heading into Shrewsbury and then Crewe for nine o’clock.IMG_3433.jpgIt turned out to be a quiet journey. We’d only collected ten passengers by the time we reached the main line at Craven Arms and picked up just a few more both there and the next station, Church Stretton, before arriving in Shrewsbury for 07:57 so a bit early for commuters; but that’s all you get in the Heart of Wales Line’s limited timetable until a 10:14 arrival (and then 13:32) which is probably too late for being at work. One passenger, along with myself, went all the way from Llandrindod Wells to Crewe but otherwise everyone got off at Shrewsbury and we collected a new cohort from there and the next six stations heading to Crewe.

The Heart of Wales Line is a wonderful experience; I ranked it eleventh in my Hundred Best Train Journeys compiled at the end of last year, and it certainly deserves that placing offering spectacular views, lovely quirky well kept request stop stations, and, as I found yesterday, great bus routes which parallel part of it.

IMG_3439.jpgFrom Crewe I headed south easterly on the line via Stoke-on-Trent to Derby alighting at Uttoxeter as I wanted to travel on three Staffordshire bus routes on my ‘to do’ list: First Potteries route 32 from Uttoxeter back to Hanley bus station in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, followed by route 18 across to Leek, and finally a route operated by Aimée’s, the 109, up to Macclesfield.

This three and a half hour zig-zag trip worked well with good connections and offered interesting contrasts between bus companies, routes, scenery and bus stations.

Taking the latter first, Uttoxeter has a functional bus station with ample room for the four stands around a parking area for the principal departures operated by Midland Classic, D&G Bus, Trentbarton and First Potteries. But I couldn’t help noticing the bus parking area seemed to be commandeered by crews of refuse trucks meeting up for a chat and a break. First there was one, then two and then a third joined in.IMG_3533.jpgHanley has a very impressive bus station with around twenty-five stands in a head-on semi-circular layout with some parking bays for buses laying over on the apron. IMG_3541.jpgIt’s obvious much careful thought has gone into the architectural design of the structure, the practical bus manoeuvring area and the passenger circulating area which is an extremely pleasant space to wait.IMG_3540.jpgIMG_3546.jpg Toilets had changed to being on ‘free vend’ since my last visit and were clean and presentable. There’s a small convenience store/coffee shop, but I noticed a lack of timetables posted on the wall although each departure stand had a screen showing the next three departures, and there were lists posted showing which service departed from each bay in service number order.IMG_3545.jpgThere’s a lovely large and airy unmarked travel office with two members of First Bus staff behind the counter and a display of timetable leaflets including both First Potteries and the D&G Bus booklet.IMG_3544.jpgThere seems to be a good relationship between First and D&G Bus throughout the Potteries. IMG_3613.jpgFinally, Leek bus station; well, let’s correct that from the start, it’s not a bus station, more a collection of poorly marked bus stops or stands along a depressing looking side street (stands are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, then a gap, and then 8).IMG_3615.jpg

Stands 5, 6 and 7 have disappeared as has the waiting room where they once stood outside; that’s been bricked up, but just to tantalise waiting passengers, the sign’s been left in place.IMG_3612.jpg

To finish off the poor image, the timetable displays in a poorly lit, dirty and almost unreadable case aren’t even posted straight. I haven’t seen such poor bus station presentation since, well, um, yesterday as it happens, in Merthyr Tydfil.IMG_3607.jpg

And some people clamour for more public authority control of public transport!

I didn’t get to Macclesfield bus station on this visit as I bailed out at the rail station noticing a late running Cross Country train for Manchester was just arriving, so managed to just catch it, but I’ve experienced the bus station on previous visits and I’d just say it’s a poor, a very poor, imitation of what Hanley has achieved – and much smaller at that too.

IMG_3494.jpgThe 32, 18 and 109 bus routes are very pleasant ones to travel along with some great views across the Staffordshire countryside.IMG_3538.jpgThe 32 wasn’t very busy out of Uttoxeter but we picked up a good load as we approached Hanley.IMG_3537.jpg

Cheadle, the halfway point, looked a very nice town to explore; I must return some time.IMG_3557.jpg

The 18 is one of First Potteries key inter-urban routes running every 20 minutes to Leek with single deck Scanias. Sadly the seats, bizarrely and for no discernible reason, are all branded ‘Scania’ (I can’t imagine any passengers thinking “you know what; I must go out and buy a Scania truck”) ….IMG_3602.jpg…. and must rank even more uncomfortable than the ironing boards in Thameslink trains, and that’s saying something.IMG_3603.jpgWe had a reasonable load as we headed to Leek on the thirty-five minute journey, and although much of the route is built up, there were some great views to see as well.

Finally to route 109, Leek to Macclesfield.

Aimée’s had the makings of a friendly image when I first spotted a bus in the company’s two-tone pink/crimson livery ….IMG_3610.jpg… before spotting the nearside skirt panels.

IMG_3611.jpgThen I thought Leek had a variety of different small independent bus companies…

IMG_3608.jpguntil I noticed all the legal lettering was for the same Aimée’s …IMG_3609.jpg… and most displaying the same advert for taxi drivers for an obviously associated company.IMG_3616.jpgAs you can see Aimée’s timetables for the four routes it runs from Leek were posted behind the driver on the bus I travelled on …

IMG_3617.jpg… and it was a step back in time to see the ticket machine ….

IMG_3621.jpg

…. and my driver proudly showed me his original cash bag too.

IMG_3623.jpg

We left on time at 13:35 for the fifty minute run to Macclesfield with six on board, aside from me.

There’s a nice direct route north on the A523 between Leek and Macclesfield and I was a bit surprised to see it took fifty minutes for the thirteen miles. A poor average speed of 15 mph on a fast A road.

But to my consternation we headed south, rather than north, out of Leek. It turns out we do a twenty minute tour of the town’s residential areas before heading towards Macclesfield, but tellingly none of the six on board alighted, and we picked no one up except almost at the end of the circuit, within walking distance of the ‘bus station’, two passengers boarded – obviously sensibly avoiding the round-the-houses tour and walking the short distance from the town centre where we’d been twenty odd minutes previously!

This is just the kind of compromise local authorities have been forced to indulge in (mixing town routes with inter-urban routes) to try and save money in their plummeting tendered bus budgets but they end up pleasing no one and upsetting everyone – it just puts off longer distance passengers, and in this case, attracted no local passengers either. This coupled with the appalling bus station really makes all the positivity from well meaning groups such as the bus industry sponsored Greener Journeys and Catch The Bus Week wheezes ring hollow to me.

Shortly outside Leek we deviated on another dog leg to serve the village of Rudyard which cost us another five minutes, but at least two of our eight passengers alighted. Everyone else went to Macclesfield and no one else boarded.

IMG_3627.jpgBut I enjoyed the journey and once again saw some lovely Staffordshire scenery.

From Macclesfield my late running Cross Country train (“20 minutes late due to a late running South Western Railway train in Bournemouth”!!) got me into Manchester Piccadilly just in time to catch one of Northern’s brand new Class 195 trains introduced into service only last week, but I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

Roger French

Devon’s top circular bus and train tour is back

Sunday 7th July 2019

IMG_2834.jpg

Here’s a great way to spend five hours on a summer Sunday: enjoy one of the best circular journeys in Devon, if not the whole of Britain. It takes in three top rail lines and a brilliant bus route skirting a National Park.

The circular route can be based on either Exeter or Plymouth with the three train journeys in the circuit being the summer Sunday only route between Exeter and Okehampton (known as the GWR Dartmoor Line); the Tamar Valley Line from Gunnislake to Plymouth and the West Country main line from Plymouth back to Exeter including the infamous Dawlish Wall. The missing bit between Okehampton and Gunnislake is filled with the Sunday only 279 bus route, which after an absence of three years, I’m delighted to say, is back up and running again this summer thanks to funding from the Devon and Cornwall Community Rail Partnership. I couldn’t resist taking a ride around the circuit today to celebrate the 279’s return.

Even better this 125 mile circular route can be enjoyed for the price of a Devon Day Ranger at £13 for the trains (£8.20 Railcards) plus a bargain £3 for the 279 bus as a special concession rate for passengers holding rail tickets. Like the 271 yesterday, this route is deemed a ‘tourist route’ by Devon County Council and National Concessionary Passes are not valid (even though they are valid on routes 79 and 118 which cover the same route on Mondays to Saturdays).

IMG_E2762.jpgSadly the old Dartmoor Sunday Rover ticket which gave extra value by combining both bus and rail travel on journeys around and across Dartmoor was withdrawn after 2015 and hasn’t reappeared – and even better, in 2014 and 2015 it even included trains on the main line.

IMG_2760.jpg

If you want a Sunday morning lie-in take the 11:08 GWR departure from Exeter St Davids to Okehampton which arrives at 11:54 giving plenty of time to connect with the only departure on the 279 at 12:20 which continues beyond Tavistock through to Gunnislake.Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 10.29.03.pngBut it’s well worth taking the first train of the morning from Exeter St Davids to Okehampton at 09:04 arriving at 09:50 giving plenty of time to take a ride on the Dartmoor Railway heritage line where they often run a former Thumper train (on my previous visit) ….

IMG_7520.jpg…..or an eclectic mix of locomotive and carriages including a Brake Van which you can travel on with a great forward view when being pushed from behind and an amazingly friendly guard called Don who gave a running commentary as happened this morning on the 10:15 from Okehampton….IMG_2688.jpgIMG_2691.jpg ….and takes you to Meldon Viaduct and which is well worth a visit.

IMG_7526.jpg

IMG_7527.jpg

IMG_2731.jpgAlternatively the Exeter to Okehampton train stops at Crediton and Sampford Courtenay stations along the way both of which are interesting stop-offs to explore.

Crediton station is on the Barnstaple line and has some lovely heritage signs and posters and is lovingly maintained.

IMG_E2998.jpgIMG_3010.jpgSampford Courtenay is one of Britain’s quirkiest stations; only open in the summer; sees just the four trains each way, each Sunday; has a grass covered platform; has no facilities whatsoever other than a bench seat; has a locked gate to the platform which the guard on the first train of the day unlocks and the guard on the last train of the day locks up. (Interestingly two passengers were waiting to access the station and board the train when we arrived this morning.)

IMG_2684.jpgAnd that’s about it for facilities. It’s about a four mile walk to Okehampton if you choose to get off at Sampford Courtenay – the photo below was from a previous visit.

IMG_7510Okehampton station itself is about a ten minute walk from the town centre but there’s a popular cafe in the station which does a brisk trade on a Sunday with rail enthusiasts, walkers and cyclists and there are stalls selling railway memorabilia for the heritage Dartmoor Railway.

It was great to see the GWR trains busy today – 30 passengers were on the first train and a good load was waiting to board the return journey to Exeter.IMG_2686.jpg

IMG_2810.jpgThe return of the 279 bus route after its three year absence is very welcome as not only does it make this circular tour possible but it’s a great scenic route in its own right.

IMG_2832.jpgThe timetable is fairly limited but the 12:20 journey to Gunnislake is ideal with train connections at both ends if you’re doing the circuit anti-clockwise from Exeter as are the two journeys from Gunnislake at 10:05 and 14:00, for a clockwise circuit, which connect with trains from Plymouth as well as at Okehampton (see timetable below).

Screen Shot 2019-07-14 at 19.03.57.pngGo-ahead owned Plymouth Citybus operates the route from its small depot in Callington. It follows the A386 from Okehampton towards Tavistock all along the western perimeter of Dartmoor save for a couple of deviations to the west to serve Bridestowe and Lydford.

The last time I travelled on this route (when it was numbered 187 rather than 279) was in the summer of 2015, when it was operated by First Bus and they still had a presence in this part of Devon. It wasn’t First Bus at their finest and not surprisingly they quit Devon soon affter this uninviting, unkept and filthy Dennis Dart appeared on what should be a lovely tourist route! An appropriate epitaph to the old style First Bus in Devon.

DSCF8076.jpg

DSCF8080.jpgIMG_3291.jpgThere were nine of us on the 12:20 journey this afternoon all doing the same round trip, which was quite an impressive turn out. Another passenger boarded just outside Okehampton and travelled to Tavistock. Our driver observed it’s the most he’s seen as no one travelled last time he did the trip. He’s based at Liskeard depot as no-one from Callington wants to do the Sunday rest day work containing the 279!

The former route 187 included a diversion to serve the tourist attraction of Morwellham Quay between Tavistock and Gunnislake. It’s a former copper mine, which is now a “working” museum (along the Beamish lines) including a fascinating train ride into one of the old mines. Sadly the updated 279 no longer serves this attraction but continues direct to Gunnislake arriving at 13:45 for the GWR train departure at 13:58 for Plymouth.

We made good time on the journey this afternoon and arrived into Tavistock with enough slack for a fifteen minute leg stretch pause in the bus station and even leaving there on time arrived Gunnislake five minutes early so there’s plenty of time to include Morwellham Quay on the way if desired.

IMG_2836.jpgOn a previous visit to Gunnislake station in Spring 2018 I noticed the old 187 timetable for Summer 2015 (its last year of operation) with its more frequent service was still on display in the bus shelter and I tweeted Plymouth CityBus to let them know. Frustratingly it was still there this afternoon and sadly there was no mention of the new 279 timetable.

IMG_2838.jpgIMG_2840.jpgThis is very unfortunate particularly as there was superb information at Okehampton in both the station and the authentic bus stop outside.

IMG_2687.jpgIMG_2771.jpgThe contrast couldn’t be more stark.

The Tamar Valley Line between Gunnislake and Plymouth is my favourite Devon branch line with its narrow twists and turns as it follows the valley down through the delightful villages of Calstock and Bere Alston. This section of the line was originally built as a narrow gauge railway to serve the extensive copper mines in the area so when it was upgraded to standard gauge it wasn’t surprising the train brushed against trees and bushes lining the tracks, and still does in places.

IMG_2237.jpgThe viaduct over the River Tamar at Calstock is just one of the spectacular sights on the journey….

IMG_2934.jpg….and it’s also worth looking out for the two ungated level crossings which are very unusual for a full size passenger rail line in regular use.

IMG_2918.jpgAt Bere Alston the train reverses back from the stub of the line (which used to continue to Tavistock and Okehampton) before continuing south down the valley to the wonderful Bere Ferrers (and note the ‘Beer Ferris’ spelling on the former signal box in the photograph below!).

IMG_2220.jpgNow here’s a station well worth stopping off at and having a look around if you have time.IMG_2222.jpg

IMG_2221.jpgNot only is the station itself done out in splendid heritage signs and posters but Chris Grove who lives in the former booking office owns the neighbouring land which he’s turned into a Heritage Centre with an eclectic mix of railway carriages, diesel locomotives, a yard crane, turntable, a fully working signal box controlling the adjacent track which although only 300 yards long can accommodate three engines running at the same time, as well as a model railway layout, exhibitions, memorabilia, paraphernalia and more.IMG_2223.jpgIt’s a fascinating place and if you’re really keen, Chris offers accommodation and meals in some of the carriages.IMG_2209.jpgI didn’t have time to visit today but I thoroughly enjoyed my visit when passing through last weekend and Chris was a great host.

IMG_2204.jpgCarrying on down the Tamar Valley the River becomes impressively wider as it’s joined by the River Tavy with the rail line bridging over the latter just before the rivers join.

IMG_2938.jpgThe line then continues under the Great Western main line with restricted views of the famous Royal Albert bridge behind the not so famous road bridge ….

IMG_2943.jpg….before the branch joins the main line itself just after St Budeaux Victoria Road (alongside St Budeaux Ferry Road on the main line). Continuing into Plymouth there are magnificent views of the Dockyard as this section of the tour comes to an end.

IMG_2946.jpgIt’s a summer Sunday afternoon, so expect the last leg of this circular trip to be busy; the main line ride from Plymouth to Exeter. I’ve taken many journeys back from the West Country on a Sunday afternoon and the train is invariably packed even before it leaves Cornwall. The Gunnislake train arrives into Plymouth at 14:43 with a handy fifteen minute connection on to the 14:58 GWR train back to Exeter St Davids arriving there at 15:57. However, this train comes up from Penzance and is notorious for being ‘rammed’.

This afternoon, I instead opted to take the next eastbound departure from Plymouth at 15:12 which is a GWR train crucially starting its London bound journey there so a much better chance of a decent seat.

IMG_2948.jpgIt arrived into Exeter at 16:07 just ten minutes later than the Penzance originating train did.

IMG_4722This final leg of the circular tour provides a lovely hour’s scenic ride through Ivybridge, Totnes, Newton Abbot and Teignmouth before the crème de la crème, the gorgeous section of line through Dawlish.

After that it’s back into Exeter after a wonderful day in Devon.

However, I’m now heading on to Bristol and Cardiff for more bus and train travels tomorrow.

Roger French

PS It was great to meet blog reader David also doing this round trip today as well as Phil from Modern Railways magazine who was enjoying a return ride on the Gunnislake branch this afternoon.

PPS Just to let you know the great lengths I go to capture photographs for this blog included last weekend’s visit to Bere Ferrers Heritage Centre when Chris kindly offered for me to capture the GWR train coming into the station from a vantage point high up on one of his heritage signals – note the high viz, so it was perfectly safe for me to do that – indeed it was a great honour as Chris said no-one other than him had climbed up before!

New sleeper turns into a bad dream

Tuesday 25th June 2019

IMG_6371There’s something seriously amiss with Caledonian Sleeper’s train service.

I’ve blogged about the new Mark 5 coaches a couple of times recently (here and here) highlighting the teething problems I encountered, in particular no water in the en-suite shower in my supposedly swanky new ‘Club’ room on two of the three journeys as well as a number of other niggles.

These included an emergency stop and losing all the electrics when heading south around Preston in the early hours of Tuesday 4th June. The sharpness of the braking followed by an eerie silence and two or three attempts to reboot the train’s control systems over the next ten minutes was enough to wake most of us up and a consequential disturbed night.

We got going again on that occasion and thankfully arrived into Euston with no further incidents. Not that trip anyway, but a much more serious fault necessitating another emergency stop happened a week later on Tuesday 11th June as the Lowlander service headed north to Glasgow and Edinburgh coming to a sudden halt in Stafford. This resulted in serious damage to the train’s wheels such the train couldn’t continue and coaches had to be summoned in the early hours to take passengers on to Glasgow and Edinburgh by road. Not a particularly edifying or attractive proposition when you’re probably already dressed for bed and maybe even nodding off.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.35.12.png

Every night since that incident two weeks ago Caledonian Sleeper have been cancelling one of the journeys, either northbound or southbound between either Glasgow or Edinburgh and London. Alternative options for booked passengers offered by Caledonian Sleeper are either taking a daytime Virgin Trains journey or a replacement overnight coach on the motorway; neither option being particularly acceptable when it’s likely you’ve already made onward travel plans or have other commitments necessitating overnight travel.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.38.37.png

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.39.49.png

An overnight coach on the motorway is hardly an acceptable alternative when you might have paid £230 for a new en-suite single room or even £335 for a double room, albeit Caledonian Sleeper are giving full refunds, but it’s likely many passengers would prefer flying as an alternative with a night in a hotel, I know I would, but that doesn’t seem to be on offer as a alternative.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.42.26.pngCaledonian Sleeper have been making much of the luxury offered by their new deluxe sleeper coaches, offering a “timeless experience”; it’s just a pity “timeless” is turning out to be “trainless”. The problem being expectations have been seriously raised with Caledonian Sleeper hyping up their new ‘hotel-on-wheels’ at five star prices – it’s £395 for a Club double room on the Highlander between London and Fort William/Aberdeen/Inverness for a single night journey (and no Railcard discounts are available), that’s just shy of £800 for a return journey or ‘two nights stay’ – and for that you expect five star service, not ‘replacement road transport’.

Even if everything is running smoothly you’d think paying £395 for a night’s sleep, albeit coupled with a 570 mile journey, would include more than just one complimentary hot drink with a measly breakfast. I was taken aback to find a few coffee granules, a cup of hot water and UHT milk sachets came at a charge of £2.70 on top of that £395 fare – what an absolute rip-off. You even get unlimited complimentary coffee in the cheapest Travelodge deal.

With the ongoing teething problems it obviously made sense for Caledonian Sleeper to pull the planned introduction of Mark 5 coaches on to the Highlander service which had been scheduled for the beginning of this month (and which was already well delayed from the planned 2018 launch). It’s now been pushed back to “early July”, (update… Wednesday 26th June – just announced now put back to September) but for some time passengers have been booking their journeys assuming new en-suite rooms at the significantly enhanced prices as advertised on the glossy Caledonian Sleeper website only to later receive a refund on the difference between new and old pricing as disappointed passengers are told it’s the old coaches for them, for now.

Mind you that’s better than having the disaster that is the new rolling stock at the moment, but even those trusty old coaches are showing signs of age and lack of investment making it feel like very poor value for money as well as unreliable.

On my LEJOG trip with Geoff and Vicki last week our Inverness train had standard toilets out of action while the accessible toilet next to the lounge coach had no water making it unhygienic and unacceptable. At about 6pm prior to the train leaving Euston a text was received advising there’d be no lounge car that evening thereby meaning no refreshments available, but when we got wind from other sources that may not be the case, I rang Caledonian Sleeper to query it only to be told the email had been sent out in error and there would be a lounge coach after all. There was no explanation when I asked why a corrected email hadn’t been sent leaving a feeling of shambolic incompetence.

Even worse the Fort William section of the train that evening developed an engine fault in the West Highlands meaning passengers arrived into Fort William over three and a half hours late after 13:30.

There was then a hiatus for Friday night’s southbound journey from Fort William when it was announced the train was cancelled due to “staff having insufficient rest” following the late arrival that morning so “guests” (Caledonian Sleeper’s corporate spin is still insisting on calling us all ‘guests’ despite clearly not being able to run a hotel) were told on social media they’d have to travel by coach (“replacement road transport”) over to Edinburgh, arriving in the middle of the night, with a transfer on to the train from there.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.19.23.png

A further tweet advised arrangements had been made for refreshments to be available at the Jury’s Inn in Edinburgh where “guests” could also wait before boarding the train, but twitter was awash with disgruntled passengers saying coach drivers dropped them off at Edinburgh Waverley station with no mention of hotel refreshments.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.20.21.pngScreen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.20.35.pngAgain, it gives the impression of total incompetence.

Meanwhile it wasn’t much better on the southbound service on Friday night either with new coaches on the Lowlander service coming to a halt at Acton Bridge just south of Crewe with passengers having to make their way down to London once Virgin Trains and West Midlands Trains got going in the morning.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 11.07.03.png

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 11.07.16.pngThese latest disasters on Friday came just twenty hour hours after there was confidence on Thursday wheel problems on the damaged train from 11th June would finally be fixed for the weekend …

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 10.58.24.png

…. with Caledonian Sleeper tweeting things “are due to return to normal”.

It’s turned out not to be the case with the Glasgow bound journey cancelled last night yet again.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 11.00.01.png

This raises the question of why other sets of new coaches are not being introduced into service. Somewhere sidings must be full of new coaches bearing in mind the new trains were due into service on both the Lowlander and Highlander services from 2nd June. This implies there are still issues with the new trains yet to be resolved beyond problems with wheels damaged on 11th June.

I can’t help thinking Serco – the company running the Caledonian Sleeper franchise – are completely out of their outsourcing depth running this specialist type of train service. It’s all very well hyping up running a luxury ‘hotel on wheels’ but is it practical? Is the business model charging exhorbitant five star prices, raising expectations for a high standard of service, achievable on an overnight train between London and Scotland? Sadly Caledonian Sleeper is rapidly gaining a reputation worse than Fawlty Towers.

Serco must be losing a fortune over the present shenanigans (although I’m sure there’ll be some contingent liability passed on to the Spanish manufacturer CAF too) but it shouldn’t be forgotten the sleeper service attracts massive public subsidy to keep it going. OK, there are far fewer passengers impacted than in the GTR or Northern Rail fiasco last May but proportionately the disruption per journey is far worse. A 25% failure rate on the Lowlander service at the moment.

Yet taking a look at the Caledonian Sleeper website it’s as though nothing is wrong and it’s all sweetness and light. Where’s the contrite apology from the managing director at what has become a complete shambles of a service? Not a word, just the same continued hype. Quite extraordinary head-in-the-sand PR.

I feel sorry for the stressed out staff on the trains and in customer service, sorry, “Guest Service Centre” where “Guest Ambassadors” work. Word of advice Serco. Ditch the ridiculous corporate hype and get back to basics of delivering a proper service. And you really have got to do much better at letting passengers know what’s happening more in advance than you’re doing; it’s not like catching a commuter train home; canacelling an overnight sleeper means huge distruption to people’s travel plans possibly including ruined holidays.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 11.21.18.png

Unsurprisingly Caledonian Sleeper’s reputation is currently being trashed every day on Twitter.

Tuesday 25th June, midday update: as I publish this blog, there’s no word from Caledonian Sleeper whether tonight’s Lowlander service will run as normal or which of the four portions (Glasgow/Edinburgh – northbound/southbound) will once again be cancelled. A quite extraordinary way to run a train service, let alone a sleeper service.

Roger French

LEJOG: As it happened

This is the story of how a journey on the Longest Day of the year from Lands End to John O’Groats by ground public transport (that’s bus and train) unfolded in real time.

The original plan, as described in Wednesday’s (19th June) blog was to complete the end-to-end journey in just under 24 hours.

Except, that plan was so last month. Literally.

This adventure has been a long time in the making and on the way down to Penzance last night I realised First Kernow’s updated timetable for route A1, introduced for the summer on 26th May, means the planned departure from Lands End at 1334 has been retimed to depart six minutes later at 1340 which, together with an added six minutes running time to allow for summer traffic delays, makes for an arrival into Penzance at 1445 instead of the original time of 1433.

This gives an almost impossible tight four minute connection between bus and train at Penzance with our GWR train leaving for Plymouth at 1449.

Team LEJOG had a bit of a conflab late into the night on the Sleeper from Paddington …. at least as far as passing Swindon around 0130 this morning …. and we decided to forget about achieving any sub 24 hour timings with inherent risks of a missed connection even before we’d left Cornwall and enjoy a more relaxed travel lifestyle by taking advantage of the now more frequent hourly summer A1 timetable (it was two-hourly) and start our adventure an hour earlier this morning on the 1240 from Lands End rather than the risky 1340, and be happy with a 24 hour 45 minute end-to-end journey time.

So here we are…….it’s now….

Thursday 20th June

0755 And all’s well.

GWR’s Night Riviera brought us to Penzance spot on time having left Paddington last night at 2345.

IMG_1263.jpg

IMG_1265.jpgIt’s a really lovely refurbished sleeper too. It may not have the en-suite options now offered by Caledonian Sleeper (together with their troublesome teething problems), but it’s still a very pleasant ambiance both in the berths and the lounge car.

IMG_1266.jpgI thought it a bit odd the window blind above the hidden sink had been replaced by a sticky cover over the window which I didn’t like to peel off so was unaware where we were on the journey especially in Cornwall in daylight but apparently its a temporary fix for a broken blind.

IMG_1271.jpgThe lounge car is very nice and I must say I prefer it to the new Caledonian Mark 5 lounge car. This one also has a mix of seating layouts ….

IMG_1273.jpgIMG_1269.jpg…. as well as impossible to sit on bar stools …

IMG_1268.jpgwhich apparently are perch places ‘to lean against’ rather than sit on – pleased that was clarified for me in time!

IMG_1274.jpgEnough chit chat about Sleeper trains, it’s now ‘Breakfast in Penzance’ with a few hours spare before beginning our travel adventure proper in Lands End at 1240.

It was lovely to meet up and have breakfast with Karen and Phil who are All The Stations supporters and are currently on holiday in Cornwall and kindly gave us a lift down to Lands End in their hire car.

IMG_1275.jpg

1240 Lands End

After the obligatory photographs to prove we are here ….

IMG_1319.jpg

IMG_E1328.jpg… it’s time to begin the adventure on our first bus the 1240 First Kernow A1 to Penzance. We left a couple of minutes late but no worries as our revised schedule gives us more time in Penzance.

IMG_1374.jpgIMG_1381.jpgAnd we also met the lovely Tony who coincidentally is also heading to John O’Groats raising money for Guide Dogs. He’s taking a route via London and the Caledonian ‘Highlander’ Sleeper to Inverness (as we’re catching that same train but from Crewe) and then he’s taking the (later) train to Thurso tomorrow morning rather than the Stagecoach X98 bus.

IMG_1380.jpgAll good so far as we enjoy the lovely Cornish countryside and the narrow roads (Porthcurno below!).

IMG_1398.jpg

1315

Word of advice for any LEJOGers … allow plenty of time for delays on the A1 bus route especially through Treen….

IMG_1400.jpgIMG_1406.jpg

1400 Penzance

We finally made it into Penzance fifteen minutes late at 1359 and 30 seconds due to all the traffic delays and as Tony with his guide dog Gaynor are booked on the 1400 to Paddington, our bus driver kindly stopped right by the entrance to the station and Geoff jumped off to sprint ahead to try and hold the train for a few seconds with Tony, Gaynor, Vicki and I rushing along behind…

IMG_1410.jpgThe train was just leaving ….

IMG_1411.jpgbut then came to a halt so we chased up the platform thinking the train manager in the rear cab had seen us ..

IMG_1414.jpg…. but to no avail, it was a brief emergency stop and the train headed out again leaving Tony behind.

IMG_1415.jpgLuckily he has now arranged a Plan B to catch the 1449 to Plymouth with us and then jump on the next train from there to Paddington arriving 2039 so he should just make it to Euston for the Highlander leaving at 2115 to Inverness.

We’ll see him again when we board that train ourselves in Crewe so for now we have a little time to relax……

IMG_1419.jpg

….before our smartened up Class 150 takes us via ‘all the stations’ to Plymouth leaving at 1449 as per our original plan.

IMG_1420.jpg

And Tony and the lovely Gaynor are with us…

IMG_1422.jpg

1725 Plymouth

First a big shout out to Dominic at the Rail Delivery Group. who is monitoring our progress on social media, and GWR who held Tony’s train to Paddington at 1657 as our stopping train from Penzance was running four minutes late and arrived tantalisingly close at 1655. Pleased to say Tony and Gaynor and all the other connecting passengers easily made it.

IMG_1429.jpgWe had a more sedate connection on to the 1725 Cross Country train to Leeds which we’re with as far as Tamworth at 2119.

IMG_1431.jpg

2135 Tamworth

A great on time journey with Cross Country to Tamworth where we’ve changed from the upper level to the lower level on to the West Coast Main Line.

Four kind hearted well wishers have met us with plentiful provisions, including Martin who’s driven up from south London – what a lovely surprise.

IMG_1437.jpgJust time for some selfies with Geoff and Vicki as our next Virgin Trains arrives to take us on to Crewe.

IMG_1441.jpg2220 Crewe

There’s something a little eerie about waiting on a deserted Crewe station from 2217 to 2350 with everything closed but as well as the Tamworth provisions we now have more food delivered by another well wisher, Serf, alerted by Sarah, who lives nearby to Crewe.

It’s amazing and heartening to see the widespread admiration for Geoff and Vicki’s fantastic work documenting their travels on YouTube from supporters literally all across the country.

IMG_1443.jpgI’m still not sure what the point of these info-screens are, but at least they brighten up the platform.

IMG_1445.jpgI pressed the green ‘i’ button but nothing happened.

At least we know the Caledonian Sleeper to take us overnight to Inverness is on its way and, importantly, on time.

2350 and here it arrives, all sixteen coaches….

IMG_1475.jpg

Friday 21st June 2019

0000 Good night

0412 Good morning as that reassuring clunk and jolt, when you’re asleep on the Caledonian ‘Highlander’ Sleeper, lets you know it’s train split time in Edinburgh. This time I resisted the temptation to look out through the window blind in my berth at the deserted platform, save for high-viz wearing railway staff working hard to separate the train into its three separate portions to head north, and just carried on drifting in sleep until ….

0420 I was conscious we’d left Edinburgh and were moving but now we’ve stopped and my mind woke up and also clicked into gear thinking – why have we stopped, we mustn’t be delayed into Inverness. Luckily the pause was only for a short while and the wonderful ‘Real Time Trains’ website is showing us as waiting at a red signal at Haynarket junction for about eight minutes just now and a consequential four minutes late running as we’re now back on the move again and thankfully with a predicted on time arrival into Inverness.

0440 Good night.

0540 Perth

One minute early arriving into Perth. All looking good.

0700 The Cairngorms

I know they’re now getting on a bit but I love these old style lounge cars and there’s no better way of seeing the beautiful scenery Scotland offers.

IMG_1520.jpg

IMG_1527.jpgMore importantly Tony and Gaynor are now awake and up …

IMG_1524.jpg

0814 Tomatin passing loop

We’ve made it to the passing loop at Tomatin on time and great to see the LNER Kings Cross bound train pass by just now also on time so now we have a clear track ahead into Inverness and are confident we’ll make our vital connection on to the X98 at 0850.

0840 Inverness

Our Sleeper is arriving into Inverness on time so it’s all good for the connection on to the Stagecoach X98 to Wick at 0850.

IMG_1530.jpgNot only that but a big surprise to be met off the train by Sir Peter Hendy, Chairman Network Rail (who was attending the AGM of the Friends of the Far North Line that morning) – thanks so much Peter for taking the trouble to meet us – even though we were dashing through for the bus it was a delight to stop and have a quick chat.

IMG_1375.jpgThen it was fond farewells to Tony and Gaynor and that dash to the X98 at the nearby bus station.

IMG_1532.jpgAnd another thanks – to Daniel and David, top bosses at Stagecoach North Scotland, for making sure our connection was made …

IMG_1541.jpg… and the right ticket was issued – a through ticket right to John O’Groats.

IMG_1610.jpg

So now it’s the penultimate leg to Wick.

1130 Berridale Braes on the A9

In good news the expected delay at the long term roadworks on the A9 at Berridale Braes didn’t materialise as we passed through just now…

IMG_1614.jpg

… catching a green phase not long after arriving …

IMG_1619.jpg

…. but in not so good news we’re almost 15 minutes behind schedule anyway making that 15 minute connection in Wick looking tight.

However we’ve just arrived at ….

1135 Dunbeath

Where there’s a driver changeover and a little bit of stand time ….

IMG_1620.jpg

….and its now 1140 and we’re off again now only ten minutes down so looking good again.

1220 Wick

IMG_1623.jpg

Yes! We’ve arrived in Wick on time after all the delays on route and so now it’s on to the final leg – the 1235 route 177 to John O’Groats – it’s a Friday only school kids special – apparently a 66 seater with 64 kids on the ‘manifest’ so we’re banking on some kids not turning up today as there’s three of us and another passenger waiting!

1240 The Last Leg

In Wick our 177 has arrived with plenty of room and we’re off on the final leg to John O’Groats with the stop watch showing 23 hours and 57 minutes.IMG_6843.jpgIMG_1634.jpg

And there’s plenty of room on board too.

Nearly there!

1313

Tantalising close.

IMG_E1638.jpg

But we’re doing a figure of eight type route to drop the school kids off!

IMG_E1639.jpg

1325

John O’Groats

Made it.

24 hours 41 minutes 41 seconds

IMG_1652.jpg

IMG_E1721.jpgIt’s been an epic journey and in such great company. Huge thanks to Vicki and Geoff for joining me…

… and so pleased they managed to get both hats bringing an 874 mile journey to a celebratory end.

IMG_1676.jpg

Having done the usual touristy stuff we’re now heading down to Thurso in a taxi to meet up with Tony and Gaynor and make sure they get safely on the route 80 bus up to John O’Groats for the end of their journey.

Here they are arriving at Thurso station….

IMG_1682.jpg …..and catching the 80 on their final journey leg to John O’Groats.

IMG_1684.jpg1630 Thurso

A welcome bite to eat has gone down well and we’re taking the late afternoon train from Thurso back to Inverness which brings this story to an end.

Thanks for reading.

Roger French

LEJOG: The plan

Wednesday 19th June 2019

IMG_7207.jpgTo celebrate a year of blogging and the upcoming Longest Day of the year I’m heading down to Cornwall on GWR’s Night Riviera sleeper train tonight to begin an epic 24-hour Lands End to John O’Groats trip by bus and train beginning tomorrow, Thursday, afternoon.

Scotland - June 2014 079.jpgOn most weekdays, this famous journey can be accomplished in exactly 24 hours using ground based public transport; leaving Lands End at 13:34 on a First Kernow bus on route A1 and arriving John O’Groats excactly twenty-four hours later, coincidentally also at 13:34 on the Stagecoach route 77 arrival from Wick.

Over that twenty-four hours the journey involves taking the A1 bus to Penzance then a GWR train to Plymouth followed by a Cross Country train to Tamworth, a Virgin Train to Crewe and then the Caledonian Sleeper overnight to Inverness from where the Stagecoach X98 bus takes you to Wick to connect with that bus on route 77 to John O’Groats.

The timings are tight in places and it will be touch and go whether everything works out as planned along the way; but there’s no Plan B.

IMG_7210.jpgThe A1 arrives Penzance at 14:33 giving a fairly comfotable 16 minute connection to the GWR train leaving at 14:49. This arrives Plymouth at 16:51 and the Cross Country departure is at 17:25 through to Tamworth arriving there at 21:18. Another comfortable 17 minute connection there on to the Virgin train at 21:35 and into Crewe at 22:17 for the Caledonian Sleeper at 23:50.

The crunch connection comes in Inverness with the Sleeper due to arrive at 08:39 on Friday morning while the Stagecoach X98 is scheduled to leave the nearby bus station for Wick at 08:50 allowing just 11 minutes. Fingers will be kept firmly crossed that this connection works, as a late arrival by the Sleeper will scuppour the schedule completely.

On arrival into Wick on the X98 at 12:20, the 77 which normally leaves at 1305 doesn’t run on a Friday schoolday at that time, as schools in the Highlands finish at lunch time on Fridays. so instead there’s a 177 schooldays only journey from Wick Community Campus at 12:35 which will arrive John O’Groats at 13:25 shaving nine minutes off the 24 hour timing making for a LEJOG attempt at 23 hours and 51 minutes.

DSCF8142.jpgExcept another crunch point will come on that X98 journey as there are currently frustrating delays on the route at the infamous scenic Barriedale Braes coastal hairpin bends with road re-aligning works in full swing. Here’s hoping there’ll be no more than a fifteen minute hold up on the three hour thirty minute journey from Inverness and that vital connection to the 177 isn’t missed.

There is an official Guinness World Record held for this journey. Roy Bromet made it in 24 hours and 4 minutes in June 2016, so although this adventure is just for fun, it’ll be interesting to see if thirteen minutes can be shaved off this timing and a new record of 23 hours and 51 minutes achieved.

First Kernow, GWR, Cross Country, Virgin Trains, Caledonian Sleeper, Stagecoach North Scotland – is down to you!

I’ll be posting a live updated blog during the journey and for those who subscribe by email, you’re welcome to check out progress along the way by visiting either this blog’s home page or Twitter. A full blog will be posted out to subsribers at the end of the journey.

And it’s not just me; the lovely All The Stations couple Geoff and Vicki are coming along too, which must be a good omen for success. A brilliant Longest Day lies ahead.

Roger French

 

All steamed up in Ongar

Sunday 9th June 2019

IMG_0065.jpgThe Epping Ongar Railway is having one of its popular steam weekends this weekend and I took a ride to the end of the Central Line to have a look.

IMG_E0098.jpgThanks to Roger Wright’s ownership interests, you can always count on decent bus connections from right outside Epping Station to North Weald using Roger’s extensive London Bus Company fleet of heritage London buses.

IMG_0096.jpgRTs and an RMA were among the vehicles out today providing a half hourly service between Epping and North Weald with some journeys continuing to Ongar and even Shenfield and they were all as busy as usual.

IMG_0056.jpgOn the railway EOR had three steam engines providing an hourly service from North Weald east to Ongar as well as west to Coopersale where the line currently terminates in the middle of a forest but with no alighting or boarding facilities. It takes fifteen minutes to travel from North Weald to Ongar and around half that time to Coopersale along the single track line.

IMG_0066.jpgThe three steam engines on parade yesterday included Met 1 (photographed above) famous for the honour of working the last steam-hauled London Transport passenger train in 1961 and now a regular attender at steam events in the London area from its base at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre ; 4270 (photographed below) a GWR 2-8-OT which spent its entire career hauling heavy coal trains in South Wales and now resides at the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway; and 5197 (phoptographed further down the page) USA S160 a 2-8-0 locomotive designed for heavy freight work across Europe but spent much of its career in China before a life of preservation normally based on the Churnet Valley Railway.

IMG_0060.jpgOngar is the original ‘start-of-the-line’ of the Central Line; the shuttle ‘Tube’ service between Epping and Ongar closed twenty-five years ago in 1994. It’s a nice Underground quirk that despite this all distances on the system are still measured from the zero mileage post situated literally at the end of the line at Ongar station.

IMG_0079.jpg

IMG_0080.jpgBlake Hall station (between North Weald and Ongar), renowned for only having six passengers a day, closed back in 1981 when it was converted into a private residence and very nice it looks too as you steam by on the train.

IMG_E0088.jpg

IMG_0067.jpgThere’s a great surprise inside the station building at Ongar this weekend as the brilliant railway painter Malcolm Root has a small exhibition displaying some of his original paintings in the ‘Penny Salon’, and how lovely it was to meet Malcolm there too.

IMG_0077.jpgHis paintings are renowned for capturing an amazing level of detail not only of the locomotive and train itself but the whole atmosphere of the wider setting including people and other vehicles all in the period style.

IMG_0072.jpg

IMG_0076.jpg

IMG_0075.jpgThe whole atmosphere on the Epping Ongar Railway yesterday was also brilliant helped by the dedicated staff and volunteers who take their roles impressively seriously as well as a great mixture of fine engines and old carriages reminding of a time when seats really felt grand to sit in and always lined up with windows.

IMG_0069.jpgThere are aspirations to extend the EOR beyond Coopersale to terminate just before the current Epping Underground station at a new platform and station called Epping Glade. This would be a great addition and be a tremendous boost for the railway but it will be sad to see route 339 lose its raisin d’être.

IMG_0094.jpg

IMG_0089.jpg

Well done to Roger Wright and everyone involved at Epping Ongar Railway and London Bus Company for putting on a great event once again.

The three day steam weekend continues today, so depending on when you read this and where you live, why not pop along, or make a note of the next ‘1940s Steam Weekend’ on 22/23 June.

Roger French

A day in Stranraer and The Rhins

Thursday 6th June 2019

IMG_9889.jpgIt may not rank as high as the West Highland Line, the Kyle of Lochalsh Line or the Far North Line in the great Scottish Scenic Rail Lines stakes but ScotRail have rightly designated the line down to Stranraer as a Scenic Rail Journey and very justifiably so too.

Screen Shot 2019-06-06 at 09.51.10.pngWhile I was in Glasgow on Monday in between consecutive night sleeper train travels I took the opportunity to take another ride down to Stranraer and remind myself why I ranked it thirteenth in My Hundred Best Train Journeys when compiling that list at the end of last year.

IMG_9883.jpgIt’s not that Stranraer itself is a must-visit destination, sadly the town is well past its prime now the Belfast ferry has moved further up the coast, leaving desolation where lorries and cars once formed their orderly queues before boarding.

IMG_9887 (1).jpgIt’s also not that the first part of the journey south from Glasgow is particularly scenic either. It’s not.

It’s not that the trains are spectacular either; they’re unrefurbished Class 156s similar to those that could be found on the top rated scenic lines in the West Highlands and Far North prior to those being revamped and improved. But they do offer tables and great window views, so I’m not complaining.

IMG_9894.jpgThe line’s scenic reputation comes from the eighty minute ride south of Ayr on the single track section through the lovely stations at Maybole, Girvan, and Barhill.

IMG_9896.jpgIt’s not that there are lochs. Nor mountains. Nor huge spectacular valleys.

IMG_9898.jpgIt’s just mile after mile of stunning Scottish countryside with rolling hills, rivers and plenty of lush green landscape.

IMG_9892.jpgThe Stranraer timetable is not particularly attractive either. It’s an approximate two-hourly frequency but only three journeys start in Glasgow (six hours apart at 0808, 1413 and 1813) with most of the other journeys starting in Kilmarnock. Even those Glasgow journeys are bettered by taking a later train on the more direct route to Ayr, saving twenty minutes, and having a handy 6 minute connection in Ayr to the earlier leaving Stranraer train that went the slower route via Kilmarnock.

As my sleeper arrived late into Glasgow at 0815 on Monday morning I had no option but to catch the 0830 to Ayr and connect there with the Stranraer train that had left Glasgow earlier at 0808 via Kilmarnock.

Sadly though, Monday morning was not a good start to the week for ScotRail with a number of incidents including cows on the line to Ayr necessitating slow cautionary progress resulting in a 16 minute late arrival in Ayr thereby missing the Stranraer train which hadn’t been held for the sake of leaving ten minutes later if it had waited for us.

IMG_9815.jpgStill, on the upside I had a bit of time to look at the major work now in progress to renovate and make safe the hotel above Ayr station which began as an emergency measure a few months ago when the building was suddenly declared dangerous necessitating the complete closure of the station and rail lines in the area at great inconvenience.

IMG_9813.jpgIt turned out eight of us bound for Stranraer were left stranded in Ayr and in view of the two hour wait until the next train staff summoned an eight seater taxi which arrived in twenty minutes and we set off for the eighty minute drive down to Stranraer, which aside from the wait, took about the same journey time as the train.

IMG_9816.jpgI’d travelled this route before on Stagecoach’s route 60/360 and it’s a great scenic ride with some lovely coastal views contrasting with the more inland route taken by the train, so it made for an interesting and welcome variation.

I’d never ventured west of Stranraer before and decided to put that right on this visit and explore the hammer head shape every geography student is familiar with when drawing the coastline of Great Britain.

screen-shot-2019-05-31-at-15.41.57This headland peninsular is officially called The Rhins but apparently the locals don’t call it that. It protrudes out towards Belfast in the south western corner of Dumfries and Galloway.

IMG_E9821.jpgLuckily when I was in Dumfries earlier this year I took a photograph of a bus map displayed in bus shelters in the town as in the frustrating absence of finding a bus map online to refer to, this proved invaluable in working out which bus routes to travel on to explore both ends and both sides of The Rhins. Update is I found the online map after publishing this post thanks to a helpful reader – see below for more explanation.

IMG_0360.jpgThe timing worked perfectly to travel on the 1155 one-return-journey four-day-a-week departure on the McCullochs Coaches operated circular route 412 from Stranraer to Leswalt, Envie and Galdenoch (see map above).

IMG_9825.jpgThis was a lovely thirty-five minute run with just me and one other passenger who alighted in Leswalt leaving just me to enjoy the trip round. The route was slightly curtailed due to a road closure but it was still an enjoyable and quiet rural ride.

IMG_9827.jpgThe Fiat minibus has an interesting staggered 2+1 seat layout ….

IMG_9826.jpg…. and a livery which seems to be the base colours for the ‘south west of Scotland transport partnership’ brand as I saw another bus wearing similar colours and sporting a logo to that effect on route 500 to Dumfries operated by Stagecoach.

IMG_9886.jpgWhen I’d investigated the SWesttrans.org.uk website previously it just linked to a collection of minutes and agendas of Partnership Board Meetings. Most odd. However, I’m pleased to update following publishing this report someone has kindly pointed out the link to “Service Information” on the website which has a further link to Dumfries & Galloway timetables as well as a link under “Sustainable Travel” to the bus map referred to above. Why do authorities make it so hard to find these things?!

Back in Stranraer I switched to one of Stagecoach’s routes in the area, the 407, which runs all the way down to the southern end of The Rhines at Drummore.

IMG_9879.jpgThis eight journey a day route is shared with McCullochs Coaches who operate two school journeys and Wigtownshire Community Transport who operate a journey at 1700. We took nine passengers as far as Sandhead which is half way along the 44 minute journey (see map above) but the second half was just me on board although we brought two back from Drummore and another half dozen from Sandhead on the return.

IMG_9881.jpgStagecoach also operate route 408 up to Kirkolm to the north of The Rhines but sadly the 1410 departure didn’t arrive, or more possibly the driver of the 407 when he got back to Stranraer st 1402 didn’t change the blind. There’s one other route, the 387 to Portpatrick on the west coast which is shared between Stagecoach, DGC Buses and Wigtown Community Transport and a convoluted town route in Stranraer, the 365, which Stagecoach also operate.

Another quirky bus feature of Stranraer is the Ulsterbus garage a long way from its normal Northern Ireland territory but historically here for the Glasgow to Belfast service via the ferry, which as highlighted already, has moved further north.

IMG_9820.jpgHaving enjoyed the scenic rides up and down the ‘hammer head’ I decided to head back to Glasgow on the 1500 ScotRail departure from Stranraer; the scenery as far as Ayr was as gorgeous as ever and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

IMG_9891.jpgFrustratingly this train arrives Ayr at exactly the same time a fast train leaves for Glasgow making a connection impossible so I continued to Kilmarnock (photographed below) where there’s a more convenient three minute connection across adjacent platforms to a train passing through from Carlisle and which gets into Glasgow at 1737, whereas if the connection had been possible in Ayr it would have meant an earlier 1710 arrival into Glasgow.

IMG_9906If ScotRail are serious about promoting the scenic delights of the Stranraer line I would strongly recommend reviewing those tight and missed connections and promoting the timetable better – for example whereas the Ayr trains which offer either tight or missed connections are shown in the Stranraer leaflet; the Kilmarnock connections aren’t.

Back in Glasgow I was impressed that Caledonian Sleeper was ready and waiting to board passengers at 2200, the promised time, and it wasn’t long before I was in bed and only vaguely aware we were on our way at the scheduled departure at 2340 back to London Euston. Everything went well until around 0300 when we made a wakening emergency stop in the Preston area. It turned out we’d lost power but after five minutes or so everything had been successfully rebooted and we were on our way again arriving into Euston slightly ahead of schedule .IMG_9944.jpgAnnoyingly my shower didn’t work (again) along with the toilet flush packing up during the night and only a trickle of water from the basin tap in the morning. I experienced the same plumbing problems on my inaugural journey at the beginning of last month which indicates snagging issues are still very much to the fore on the new sleeper carriages.

In fact chatting to staff, they confirmed all is not going well, with continuing porblems and staff consequently taking flack from disgruntled passengers who’ve paid a handsome price for these en-suite extras. Sadly some staff are apparently having to go off sick due to the level of stress. It’s obviously a trying time for a Serco and Caledonian Sleeper and although disappointing, it’s a sensible decision to postpone converting the Highlander route to the new coaches until these problems are ironed out. I hear 7th July is the latest date envisgaed for their introduction.

Someone must be seriously losing out financially due to these delays and problems as the uptake in revenue to justify the new coaches must be well below budget as well as compensation being paid out for failing to deliver. Let’s hope all is resolved soon.

Roger French

PS: yes that timetable case in Stranraer, captured in a photo above, was a bit disheveled…!

IMG_9822.jpg

IMG_9823.jpg

 

Sleeping Beauty (not quite yet)

Monday 3rd June 2019

IMG_9765.jpgIt was meant to be the grand launch night, last night.

Serco owned Caledonian Sleeper had planned to begin running their much delayed smart new Mark 5 trains on the Lowland route between London’s Euston station and Edinburgh and Glasgow from Sunday 2nd June so I bought a ticket to Glasgow a few months ago and planned an interesting day’s travels in Scotland before planning to return the following night (tonight) back to Euston.

Then Caledonian Sleeper announced the Highlander to Inverness/Aberdeen/Fort William would also launch with new coaches from the same date, 2nd June, which was really good news and with hindsight I wished I’d got a ticket on one of those journeys – Fort William on a Mark 5, just imagine.

But in the lottery that is trying to travel on Serco’s new Sleeper coaches Caledonian Sleeper brought forward the Lowlander launch with no public notice to Sunday 28th April even though bookings on their website were still for the old carriages right through until 2nd June.

As readers will know I managed to book a ticket during that first week on 3rd May and wrote about the experience in an earlier blog.

I looked into changing my tickets for 2nd/3rd June from Glasgow to a Highlander destination but decided to stick with another trip to Glasgow. This was just as well as a fortnight ago continuing teething problems with the new coaches led Caledonian Sleeper to postpone the launch of the upgraded Highlander route to ‘some time later in the summer’ with refunds now being offered to those who’d booked the super new ensuite rooms and now relegated back to old style berths.

Meanwhile I rolled up at Euston for my second new Mark 5 Sleeper experience last night ready for an earlier departure at 2134 – a couple of hours earlier than the normal 2350 departure time as we were heading up the East Coast Main Line due to ‘improvement works’ shutting the West Coast Main Line.

The Highlander was similarly affected with an earlier departure at 2028 than its usual 2115 set off time.

It’s not that the ECML is inherently longer or slower it’s that we have to still leave from Euston due to our 16 coach length needing long platforms that Kings Cross can’t offer so trains have to spend the first hour of the journey shunting up to Wembley sidings (or to give it’s official name – Wembley European Freight Operations Centre – known as ‘WMBYFET’ in the trade which incongruously even earns a place in the station listings – not that you can alight there!).

IMG_E9782.jpg

Having arrived at WMBYFET, and after a fairly lengthy pause, the train retraces its tracks back towards Euston again but branches off at Primrose Hill to reach the Overground’s North London Line at Camden Road and then an hour after leaving Euston you find yourself taking the curve on to the East Coast line at Copenhagen Junction just in front of Kings Cross station.

Except last night it all went pear shaped.

The omens were not good when I noticed the Highlander showing ‘Delayed’ but it did leave only 16 minutes late at 2144 which is in the ‘easy to make up’ bracket on such a slackly timed route.

We’d been reminded of our earlier departure by tweet and passengers arrived at Platform 15 ready for the promised 2100 access to rooms.

Except nothing happened at 2100 and the new style check in lecterns remained empty.

IMG_9764.jpgAfter a while a member of staff with a clipboard came and advised us he was waiting for the Train Manager to authorise boarding but we weren’t given any reason for the delay among much mobile phone call making by this key staff member.

To everyone’s relief at 2115 the necessary authorisation was given, the train doors were unlocked and check in began.

That late start put paid to a timely departure as check in was still underway at 2134 and not finished until 2145.

IMG_9773.jpgBack on board while passengers were settling in and grabbing a seat in the new and expanded lounge coach with its new and expensive (but obviously ‘locally sourced’) menu I was wondering why after a further hour had passed we were still sat in Platform 15 going nowhere.

I wandered down to the lounge car but the staff there explained they were too busy serving to even think about a reason why we hadn’t yet moved and nor did a member of staff in my carriage busily collecting up breakfast menus (still not updated for the new look Mark 5 menus) know of any reason for the delay.

I’m not sure whether the individual intercom/help buttons in each berth facilitate a general PA announcement throughout the train but none came and I decided not to disturb our obviously busy Train Manager with such a trivial enquiry as to why an hour after our scheduled departure we’d gone nowhere.

I checked the Caledonian Sleeper twitter feed but no news there either.

Just at that moment a whistle blew, the doors beeped and closed and I was relieved I hadn’t chosen that moment to wander back on to the platform as we were off.

With the benefit of hindsight I’m wondering why we were off as the 2044 departing Highlander had reached the Wembley sidings complex ten minutes later at 2055 but all was not well due to overhead power problems.

Indeed that train wasn’t on the move again for around three hours after a rescue engine had to be dispatched and there were also apparently further problems with one of the locos.

So it’s a mystery why we left when we did as presumably someone had a plan for how we wound circumnavigate the dud power cables. In the event we stopped further south than Wembley at Kilburn Park after just ten minutes into our journey at 2245 and sat there for the next two hours watching the occasional Virgin and LNWR train pass by, until finally at 0030 the Highlander passed us having been rescued and making its way south again and over to Camden Road, and we finally got going at 0051.

I’m sure it was a nightmare to sort out but it does seem to me there must have been poor communications between the ‘industry partners’ about what to do for the best and then communicate on to passengers in a timely fashion.

Following the above tweet at 2244 as we were departing, after the first hour’s delay, no more news came until 0115…

IMG_E9780.jpgIn the event, unlike the Highlander, we had the benefit of a lot of slack in our schedule and made up much of the delay. As we approached Edinburgh our expected arrival into Glasgow was given as a respectable 0730 – not too much delayed from our scheduled 0718.

Unfortunately we got held up again outside Edinburgh and then had to wait for staff to come and split the train as we continued on to Glasgow and further slow progress around Motherwell finally arriving into Glasgow Central just now at 0829 this morning – around an hour late – having had to wait for a platform as a late departing Virgin train left.

Not bad considering the three hours and more we were delayed earlier at Euston and Kilburn subsequently spoilt by slow progress since Edinburgh. But the fact we made up a lot of the delay is even more reason to give much more definitive reassurance to passengers (sorry, guests) on board about the delay – rather than nothing being said and a couple of tweets sometime later.

Finally for this post a few observations about the new Mark 5 coaches further to my report on 3rd May:

The keycard worked this time but only because I remembered how to programme it. There were no instructions accompanying or in the plain white envelope. I also asked a member of staff in the lounge car but he had no knowledge. I’m not sure how guests are supposed to know the ‘two tap’ secret – I asked another guest if they had instructions and she said her keycard too was just in a plain envelope.

IMG_E9771.jpgThe side destination panels were wrongly showing our train would be calling at stations on the West Coast Main Line – bit of a basic error that one!IMG_9777.jpgIMG_9778.jpg

IMG_9774.jpg

The en-suite toilet flush is very noisy for your next door neighbour.

The intercom/help line is also very noisy – I heard my neighbours ringing tone and conversation very clearly.

The ‘bar stools’ in the lounge car are not very comfortable – more like perch stools.

IMG_9804.jpg

On the plus side, my shower worked a treat this time and with nice hot water too.

And you just can’t beat waking up to a sunrise over the east coast as you travel towards Edinburgh…

IMG_9802.jpg

… it’s a good job last night wasn’t the grand launch night. There may still be teething problems but I’m sure these will soon settle down and the service will become a Sleeping Beauty and be much admired – if not quite yet.

IMG_9803.jpg

Roger French

PS: I’m sure there’s a good reason but I do wonder why trains can’t ‘turn’ at Kilburn Park whenever using the ECML instead of continuing to Wembley; also seemed to me no reason to add all that extra time into the schedule. We could have left almost at the normal time last night … because we effectively did!

PPS: As we approached Glasgow just now there was an onboard announcement made apologising for the delay (’caused by a broken down train in the Wembley area last night’) but this was inaudible in the cabins.