A train journey in need of air conditioning

Last month, I embarked on a day trip to Barmouth from where I went on an out and back hike that reacquainted me with sights along the Mawddach estuary. This summer, as I have remarked elsewhere, has been exceptional and you could say that 2018 only has had two seasons thus far: winter and summer. Spring scarcely came at all.

The day of my Welsh outing came warm so I was glad of any shade while out walking. Being inside of a train should have helped but for one or more class 158 units without functioning air conditioning. There are not enough windows to compensate for this as I also found on a Transpennine Express journey between Leeds and Manchester in the days before the current class 185 units.

There were other problems too and the arrival of a two carriage train in Wolverhampton was a foretaste of a less than full train schedule. Two additional carriages were added in Shrewsbury, resolving the previous crush. At Machnylleth, those extra carriages were taken off before the train continued to Aberystwyth with passengers for Barmouth and beyond needing to change to a train and there was a coach going directly to Barmouth too.

That onward connection was on a train without working air conditioning so it was just as well that I was not going all the way to Pwllheli on it. It may have been that this also was the train that took me all of the way from Barmouth to Shrewsbury. The two car unit was not augmented with an additional two carriages in Machynlleth because of a cancellation. That made for a very crowded journey in a hot train with less than happy folk on board.

Still, the situation got people talking and I was lucky enough to have a seat given that the single track railway made for delays when a passing train was running late. That happened on both legs of the journey but people were more bothered by the stop in a crowded warm train on the way to Shrewsbury where we transferred onto a better ventilated one. It was a trip to the seaside for many and some presence of mind may have made such an outing more pleasant for them.

Arriva is finished with its Welsh franchise in October so you have to wonder if the company is as focussed on the operation as it could be, especially when staff shortages cause train cancellations on a sunny Saturday when many are travelling. In contrast, the CrossCountry trains that I used between Macclesfield and Wolverhampton were kept cool with even messages celebrating England’s World Cup quarter final victory appearing on matrix displays in the evening. Virgin too were doing the same but any celebratory notions were tempered soon enough by subsequent semi-final and third place play-off defeats.

Returning to Welsh railway matters, Abellio takes over in the autumn and is promising a lot of much-needed investment after Arriva’s steady state franchise. After all, better trains are needed in many places and long distance journeys need longer trains too. There is much to improve so I hope that promises can be kept.

All it takes is a fatality

In February, I was travelling by train from Oxford to Macclesfield and got held up in Oxford for longer than was planned. The cause was a familiar one: someone was struck by a train and died of their injuries. In cases like these, investigations are needed and it takes an hour or more to complete those and reopen the line. My only complaint about that was that we weren’t told sooner what was going on. Of course, when there fatalities, you have to think about those who are left after the deceased. Compared to their lot, disruption to a journey seems trivial.

Tonight, something very similar has happened on the East Coast Mainline around Alexandra Palace in North London. There is no account as to whether the person struck by a train has died or not though it clearly is a concern. Having witnessed a suicide attempt in front a First Transpennine Express train at Oxenholme after a day spent walking in the Lake District, I do realise that these can be survived. That incident may have left me feeling shaken but the vigilance of railway staff meant that all was under control very quickly though that train from Scotland to Manchester Airport got cancelled if my memory serves me correctly. Police investigations always are needed when things like these happen.

Returning to the present, there is no doubt that this evening’s incident has been the cause of disruption for many commuters and other travellers who were headed north from London. In the middle of this, First Capital Connect made available useful maps showing alternative routes for those caught up in the disruption. Hopefully, that information got put into the hands of those who need it because this precisely is what’s needed for onward travel when railway lines are closed like this. Compounding that, a train broke down around Shepreth too so passenger travelling between Hitchin and Cambridge were inconvenienced too though the reason is a less worrying one.

Near the end of September, I too walked into similar disruption at King’s Cross Station while bound for Hatfield. Then, that kind of information was scarce and there was an hour’s wait before I got to know that travelling to St. Albans and taking a bus from there would get me where I wanted to go that night. The cause then was less tragic: rats had eaten cable near Finsbury Park and caused a signal failure that made journeys for everyone so rough that it got into BBC London news bulletins.

For me, it came at the end of a month spent commuting from home to work on site at a client and it brought me face to face with other delays too. Even without fatalities, Virgin Trains were struggling to keep trains running to schedule. A signalling mistake was all it took to delay me between Macclesfield and London one evening, the very same one that I have described above as it happens. Friday night departures from Euston hardly ran on time for me though I have done better with earlier Wednesday and Thursday evening ones since then. Signalling problems around Wembley were to blame one evening so it does look as if railways in the north of London are a little on the fragile and criminality in the form of cable theft does not help either.

While my thoughts starting with persons being struck by trains on Britain’s railway, they seem to have meandering to other causes of railway disruption. Nevertheless, fatalities are the most tragic of all these and thoughts to be with those left behind by such incidents regardless of the amount of disruption that is caused.

Update 2011-12-13: There seem to be two such casualties tonight, one around East Croydon and another near Brighton. Of course, disruption ensues but it’s the families of those struck by trains who should be uppermost in anyone’s mind. Hopefully, everyone gets home O.K.

More ways of delaying trains

On Saturday, I embarked on a trip to Wales and I happened to have the misfortune to travel when there were problems with a set of signals in the Trent valley. That meant that a connection from Stoke-on-Trent to Crewe was late because it was a London Midland service from London to Crewe. That meant that my planned journey from Macclesfield to Bangor no longer was possible.

The 13:13 London Midland service turned up after the 13:34 East Midlands service from Derby so I was travelling on that instead. The result was that the 13:49 Virgin train to Chester left without me even with its being delayed too. It was the 14:23 Arriva Trains Wales service that got me there where I caught a train to Llandudno Junction from where I took another to Bangor, where I arrived at 16:35 and not at 15:28 as I had hoped. Even so, no serious damage was done to my plans and I enjoyed a lovely sunny evening regardless.

That last outbound train spent longer in Conwy than expected. A train conductor had not warned cyclists that they needed to be at the centre of the train to disembark. The result was that the rest of us were left waiting while the cyclists realised where they needed to be and made their way there. Only for having the man staffing the refreshments trolley in our carriage, quite a few of us would been ignorant of what was going on. It was another example of a day when trains were in no hurry.

On the return journey the next day, there was only one delay and that was due to train coupling in Llandudno Junction. The sunny weather had lured a fair few folk to the north Wales coast so Arriva Trains Wales were making sure at least one of their services was long enough to convey all who came to catch it, something from which other operators would do well to learn. Six minutes may have been lost but that was no perturbation to my journey home because there was enough slack to cope with it. My arrival time in Macclesfield didn’t have to change like that in Bangor the day before.

Subject to delay

From what I have seen this morning, buses are running around Macclesfield though there are delays. For one thing, I had a longer than expected wait for my bus to work but the 130 (Manchester) is running as are the 4 (Upton Priory), 10 (Bollington), 11 (Kerridge) and 27 (Knutsford). All of them were sighted around Churchill Way while I was waiting. As I write this, fog is cutting down on visibility and the air is cold enough to freeze the ears off you but you can move about with a spot of due care and attention. Saying that, it seems that the A537 between Macclesfield and Buxton is impassable with the 58 being redirected to connect with the 60 at Whaley Bridge, even though the road around by Kettleshulme and Rainow has its own problems according to the information that I have.

Update 1: You’ll find updates on Bowers bus services and the same for other Centrebus operations on Twitter and Facebook. Seeing the effectiveness of this, it might be an idea for Arriva to do the same with the current sluggishness of their bus company website. Being a multi-regional operator means that they are under siege from all directions when we the sort of weather than we are having.

Update 2: On the way home, things seem to be going like the sort of weekday with no snow about. Yes, there were delays with the 130 but the 27 ran near enough to time so travelling was no ordeal.

Blame it on the Happy Mondays…

Not wanting to waste a weekend that promised some decent weather had me out on a Sunday trip to Edale. All was going swimmingly until the driver of the Northern Rail service that was to take me the last stretch of the outbound journey had to tell us that there was a delay due to not having a conductor. For safety reasons, one has to be present and I suppose that it helps with revenue protection too. That delay was to be 15 minutes and all passengers that were on board had to disembark until a train conductor arrived. Overheard conversations revealed that there had been a night out and that someone was feeling rough after it. Was that the reason for the delay? That question remains unanswered but there is another: how do railways staff have lives involving going to live gigs at the same time as having a job that involves weekend working? Well, it doesn’t make getting out to see the Happy Mondays and their like any easier.