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.

August Bank Holiday 2015 services in England and Wales

The Summer Bank Holiday falls on the last weekend in August for England, Wales and Northern Ireland while it falls on the first weekend in August for Scotland and Éire. This listing of alterations to public transport services is for the former since the latter has passed a few weeks back. My mind was elsewhere then due to an elongated weekend spent in Iceland.

Cardiff Bus

Apart from road closures causing a diversion for the baycar service, it will be a Sunday service for the Welsh capital city’s main operator and industrial action sadly is set to cause disruption during next Wednesday with a special timetable in operation. It is first of several such stoppages that are planned during September and October so this dispute hopefully will get sorted sooner rather than later.

Cheshire East

Most bus services observe a Sunday timetable and some such as service 130 between Macclesfield and Manchester move over to a new timetable. That gets it useful departures from Macclesfield at 08:00 and 08:55 when the first journey used to be at 10:00. One wonders why they did not introduce this earlier in the year but that is how it is.

First Cymru

Sunday service around Swansea and areas of West Wales served by First too.

First Potteries

This again mainly is a Sunday service with a two hourly frequency on service 23 to Stone with service X32 not operating from Newcastle.

First Great Western

Industrial action is going to cause disruption so it is best to check train running times before you travel. Trains operated by other companies are going to be busier so that needs to be borne in mind.

Greater Manchester

The Manchester Pride Festival Parade is a cause of some bus service diversions during Saturday and there are others continuing over the whole weekend. Stagecoach has information on their affected services. The event affects not only buses for all modes of transport share the load.

Otherwise, a bike show in St. Petersgate in Stockport is affecting other Stagecoach bus services. There is ongoing railway engineering too and that means that some trains terminate in Manchester Victoria on Sunday and Monday instead of Manchester Piccadilly as usual. Metrolink trams return to St. Peter’s Square even if they do not stop there for a few months yet.

Merseyside

Bus services run to a Sunday timetable with journeys commencing around 08:00.

Metrobus

It is a Sunday service too for Metrobus services around Surrey, Kent, East & West Sussex.

Newport Buses

Another Welsh operator observing a Sunday timetable, exclusively this time around.

Sanders Coaches

Also operating a Sunday timetable for their bus services around Norfolk.

South Yorkshire

It is mainly a Sunday timetable for bus services with Unity Coaches service 127 and Stagecoach Nightbus services not operating at all. Trams are also are observing a Sunday service apart from disruption due to engineering works. Trains are running to a normal Monday timetable, again subject to engineering works.

Tyneside and Wearside

The Metro light rail system will be working to a Saturday timetable and. most GoNorthEast buses are running to their Sunday timetables.

West Midlands

Buses and trams are running as per their Sunday timetables. Planned engineering work is set to disrupt trains that normally travel via Stafford or Stone.

West Yorkshire

Wets Yorkshire Metro have a full summary of any differences to services over the Bank Holiday weekend. Leeds Festival is on until Sunday so that has its impact. Otherwise, most bus services observe a Sunday timetables on the Bank Holiday itself. Other bus services in operation include those making up the DalesBus network along with service 10 between Leeds and Temple Newsam, service 812 between Haworth and Stanbury, service 906 between Hardcastle Crags, Hebden Bridge and Widdop and service 951 between Huddersfield and Glossop. The extra services also run on Sunday and, of these, services 10, 906 and 951 also run on Saturday. The Elland Road park and Ride service is not working on Sunday or Monday though. Engineering work also takes its toll on train service so it is worth checking before you travel.

Yorkshire Coastliner

Again, Sunday timetables are in operation with all services in and out of Leeds are diverted via Scholes and Aberford until 16:00 and Seacroft village will not be served until then either.

Yourbus

It is a Sunday service for these too.

A weekend in need of a bank holiday

The last weekend in May usually hosts what is known as the Spring Bank Holiday in the U.K. Due to the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, this didn’t happen this year and two days were added to the first weekend in June instead. My travel on the Jubilee weekend is another tale so I’ll relate experiences from the weekend before.

As it happened, we got scorching sunny weather at the end of May and it seemed to have tempted everyone out on the evidence of my travels to and from Northumberland on the Saturday of the weekend. York was hosting horse-racing too and that ensured that the Transpennine Express service on which I was travelling was crammed with folk.

That left me wondering if a bit of forward planning would have involved booking in longer trains for the extra traffic. However, when I asked them about this on Twitter, I got no answer. That was after my asking about having longer trains on the route for those races. That was answered by saying that they only have sixty trains and they all were in use. There are new trains coming with the planned electrification of the Manchester-Bolton-Preston and Manchester-Leeds-York routes. Let’s hope that they are longer and that the overall number operated by the franchise is enlarged at the same time.

The CrossCountry train that got me from York to Alnmouth too was well used though thankfully not as busy as the one taking me from Manchester to York. The Edinburgh Marathon was the cause this time and prospective runners were chatting to one another with even complete strangers conversing. Their having a common interest must have helped.

The return journey was less frenetic, especially between Alnmouth and York. Some late racegoers still were on the way home from York with some being “well oiled” by their constant refreshment throughout the day. The chatter emanating from some had me wishing that a portable music player was in my possession but it still wasn’t overly unpleasant.

The leg between Manchester and my home town of Macclesfield was the quietest of the lot though having two Northern Rail trains timed to leave at the same time from the same platform seemed a little incompetent. The Hadfield service went first and the Macclesfield train doors were locked until that departed. Though a little inconvenient, one only need imagine the mess caused by inebriated folk catching wrong trains to realise the sense in what was done. Around Congleton, someone was struck by a train earlier on the same evening so that may explain the sub-optimal platform arrangements.

Like many, I had been out and about when so many were doing the same. That so many were using public transport was encouraging and that was at the cost of a quiet getaway. Maybe a weekend first class upgrade should have been considered even with it adding to a fare that already was not inexpensive. Travelling a little earlier in the day might have been cheaper than any upgrade.

Changes that happened while I wasn’t looking

Out of curiosity, I decided to explore the Megabus website for the U.K. and it surprised me to see how low some of their prices were. Apparently, there’s a seat sale on at the moment too so that may explain some of those less than £5. However, it’s easy to see the attraction of what aren’t so infrequent services from Manchester to places such as Leeds, Birmingham, Glasgow and London. With the recent increases in train fares, even a ticket costing less than £20 has to look tempting. Is that why the though of savouring their services to see what they’re like has entered my head?

While checking out express coach services, I also decided to take a look at what Greyhound offers to the U.K. traveller these days and it looks as if things have expanded beyond the London services to the south coast of England with which they started. For instance, regular services between Cardiff and Swansea are now on offer with the frequency making them look like the Welsh version of the Scottish Citylink service between Edinburgh and Glasgow or the National Express one between Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. It looks a good move forward and I hope that it’s attracting a good level custom. Also coming within the Greyhound fold is the overnight service between London and Scotland (Hamilton, Glasgow, Edinburgh) that First Glasgow took over from Silver Choice. All the while, it’s south of England tally of destinations increases with Winchester being a recent addition to those like Portsmouth, Poole, Southampton, Bournemouth, Fareham, Ringwood (for the New Forest) and the Isle of Wight. All in all, Greyhound is growing in Britain so there must be some success being had somewhere. Maybe the attractive prices might have something to do with it because I did glimpse a few going for £1 plus booking fee.

All in all, it looks as if express coach travel might be on the up and it would not be a bad thing if a decent network built up in England and Wales, even if it meant travelling with different operators on a single journey. The looming increases in train fares are presenting an opportunity and I wonder if anyone is out there waiting to take it. Now mightn’t be a bad time to spend a little longer travelling in order to save a little cash when it is a scarcer commodity than used to be case a few years ago.

Carrying bikes on trains

Carrying bikes on trains

Yesterday, I set down my observations and thoughts regarding carriage of bikes on buses. Perhaps naturally, my thinking has taken me into the area of carrying bikes on trains. On paper, that’s an easier proposition because most trains have some space set aside for bicycle storage. You may need to pay extra for carriage with a long distance express operator (Virgin Trains, for example) but it is included in the walk-on ticket price for most operators. The exceptions to this usual level of provision are some commuter services in the south-east of England where you have to sneak on folding bikes as luggage, a draconian state of affairs in my opinion.

Mind you, carrying any bike on a busy train is not the easiest thing to be doing. That’s what I faced when I needed to convey one from Skipton to Macclesfield in 2000. Thankfully, an obliging Northern Spirit train conductor allowed me carry it on even when there were bikes already on board and the DMU, like many, had only two spaces. Then, there was getting around Leeds station. There are lifts there now but this was before the major refurbishment that gave us what we see today and you needed a helpful station attendant to take you around use goods lifts and shop workers neglected to close the doors after them and the lift at platform level with us on the bridge! That made an already involved exploit a little more anxious than was needed. Saying that, I still caught my train to Manchester and another to Wilmslow due to rail engineering works. The Manchester changeover must have passed off with no trouble because I have no memory of it but getting from Wilmslow to Macclesfield involved a man with a very large taxi, a Ford Granada/Scorpio estate. If that wasn’t there, things would have been far more tricky.

That whole episode captures quite a few of the challenges that you have to overcome to get anywhere on the railways with a bike in tow. If there are engineering works, then you could be facing the obstacle that is the non-carriage of bicycles on buses or coaches. Even if there aren’t, there’s getting around train stations and Leeds is now both brighter and easier to get around than it use to be. Nevertheless, ticket barriers have been added and they are a new obstacle to be overcome that isn’t exclusive to Leeds since their use is spreading in the U.K. and beyond with Dublin’s Heuston Station now having them in Éire; thankfully, a certain amount of presence of mind has given us wide gates for those carrying wide articles with us. Finding space on a train is an ever enduring issue and may be one that is never resolved completely. In fact, modern trains have been getting less good at conveying luggage anyway, so much so that Virgin try to encourage you not to bring along too much; it is best not to attempt moving house by train then unless your worldly goods are none too numerous, not a situation in which I find myself anymore.

All in all, you can take a bike around with you on next parts of Britain’s railway network though there’s a spot of extra effort needed. It isn’t simply a matter of grabbing your bike and jumping on a train for a day out in the country. After a busy week of work, that may be sufficient to make you go for a walk instead and that’s partly how I got into hillwalking; the fear of punctures and mechanical failure hasn’t helped either. For a longer trip away or moving home to take up a new job like I was doing in the story above, the effort is worth it and does work. It just needs planning and patience rather than spontaneity. Saying that, the temptations of car use of bicycle hire are ever present too.