Sadly, those insulting thetrainline.com ads have reappeared. Personally, I like the flexibility of just turning up at a train station, buying a ticket for my journey and going on my way. In fact, I like that idea so much that I am willing to pay for it most of the time (saying that, when the cost passes £60, savings are often sought). Being called an idiot for wanting to things in this way is certainly not something that I appreciate and I can next to guarantee that the said company will not be getting my custom, at least not directly.
Apart from those appalling posters, another thing that brings the whole matter of Internet bookings to mind is my travelling on a train south from Aviemore a few weeks back. Many seats were reserved but most of these weren’t occupied. That may have been just as well for sake of travelling comfort but it prompted the thought in my mind as to whether those reservations were a “just in case” measure. The next step in musings has me wondering if a world where there was more more frugality in the booking of seats might be a better one. However, there is also the possibility that a decline in seat booking would result in less frequent services and shorter trains, something that could increase seat reservations and pop things back where they were before anyway. It all makes a seat reservation less useful than it ought to be. In reality, it is probably no bad thing to sit in such a spot until disturbed by the rightful occupant. After all, you only need to move away when asked. It may not make things user friendly for those reserving seats or be the sort of practice that is encouraged but it might be a minor irritation in the broad scheme of things.
While the railways still cut some slack and that is good when it comes to convenience, other modes of travel are far from being like this and I hope that the railways don’t follow suit. For one thing, they already compensate for a less than comprehensive express coach network in England that makes seat bookings a necessity. Wales now has its Trawscambria long distance bus network with Ireland and Scotland having none too shabby networks provided by Citylink, Ulsterbus and Bus Éireann. Airlines are run on a far tighter footing and you only need to note Ryanair’s closure of airport check in desks in favour of the online option and Aer Lingus’ passenger operated baggage check in facilities to see what I mean. They also overbook their aircraft which is not so nice but the expectation is that not everyone will make a flight. If the same sort of thinking started to pervade the railways, then that would be a very disappointing development.
Saying all of that, I don’t object to there being a need for bookings on services running at busy times. In fact, if you are tied to a train by an advance purchase ticket, then reserving a seat makes sense. For more flexible tickets (Off Peak and Anytime returns come to mind), the logic of that argument may not be so strong, hence my appeal to only reserve your place when you are absolutely certain of travelling. Yes, I realise that stuff happens but there’s no need to devalue the seat booking by not turning up because it was only done just in case.
Yesterday saw me head out for a spot of walking in the countryside around Appleby, or Appleby-in-Westmorland. These days the place in the eastern end of Cumbria. My way there and away was by train, something that went off hunky dory apart from a spot of trouble on the Leeds-Appleby leg. There was nothing unusual in the coupling together of two twin carriage units and its something that happens routinely in several parts of the British railway network (the Cambrian and West Highland lines come to mind). However, as with anything, it can occasionally go awry and it just happened that this was one of them. There seemed to have been a problem with the coupling and it was slowing the train down, a major concern considering the heights it was to overcome on its passage over the Settle-Carlisle railway line. The slowdown was easily noticeable after Shipley. Decoupling and re-coupling at Bingley didn’t set things to rights so both sets were decoupled at Keighley and everyone put on the front train. It looked that it was going to be a two carriage unit for the rest of the way but the back set turned up in Skipton and coupled to the front of the one on which I was travelling. Apart from a certain reduction in the functionality of the lighting that had been the case since Leeds anyway, all went swimmingly from there north. A delay of more than thirty minutes might have been accumulated but I could cope with that and tailor my plans to fit the time that I had available. I am sure that what was encountered is rare but, as they say, stuff happens.
The powers that be must reckon that Macclesfield is full of lazybones with the first northbound train departing on Sunday mornings after 10:00. Thankfully, the first 130 of the day does leave at 09:05 but that takes an age to reach Manchester. However, there is another option: using the 130 to reach Wilmslow’s train station. That approach gets you to Manchester by 10:12 and opens up a few more travel options. Booking a taxi starts to bring earlier options from Wilmslow into the fray and there are more again if you decide to go as far as Manchester Airport. Returning to Wilmslow, it seems that Arriva Trains Wales’ apparent stabling of trains in Crewe means a good supply of Sunday morning services since their southbound timetable was expanded at this time. Add to that the fact that Northern, CrossCountry and Virgin all use the station and a good deal of choice is on offer.
It might be the size of the shopping precinct in the centre of the town but I have always been a little surprised by the level of train service that a place the size of Wilmslow enjoys. To an extent, that has always been pertinent when it comes to getting away to somewhere of a Sunday but becomes even more pointed after last December’s timetable changes left Macclesfield with three trains an hour connecting us with Manchester. Is it because Wilmslow feels a little like an extension of Greater Manchester and Macclesfield has pastoral countryside between it and Stockport? I don’t know the answer to that one but I’d much rather it if Northern Rail offered a better Sunday service to Macclesfield than they do. Hopeless is near enough the description that I’d ascribe to it and the timings of Virgin and CrossCountry trains make Sunday service next to hourly when spreading them apart would make so much more sense. As things stand, they look enough of a dog’s breakfast that using buses to get to and from the likes of Crewe and Wilmslow remains a useful addition to the travel arsenal.
The past weekend saw me fit in a short foray to Scotland and rail engineering work has started to return some thoughts to my mind that have lain dormant for a while and then developed them. The main cause of this was the non-running of trains between Lockerbie and Glasgow or Edinburgh because of work on the line. The result was that I got sent around by the more expensive East Coast mainline on a journey commencing from Macclesfield. Does going around by York add that much to the mileage?
Of itself, that escapade has prompted thoughts regarding the differences in fares between the West Coast and East Coast mainlines. Some vague recollection has left me with the impression that the former is subsidised with the latter being treated as a sort of cash cow. However, it would make for a great display of forward thinking if West Coast tickets were to made valid for journeys along the East Coast whenever engineering works took place. Going beyond this again, it might be an even better idea if fare harmonisation meant that an East Coast journey cost the same as a West Coast one. In the eyes of some, that may seem like adding a new idiosyncrasy to a system that already is illogical in parts. Others may decry the idea of fare increases while more would appreciate the decreases. All in all, having the extra flexibility could be worth it.
Saying all of that, the tide seems to be going the way of inflexibility these days so another crazy idea of mine might never see the light of day either: tickets allowing you to go via either Edinburgh or Glasgow on journeys going further north. Though it doesn’t happen so often these days, there have been occasions in the past when I wished to go via Edinburgh and return via Glasgow or vice versa but the need of single tickets for each precluded the scheme. Then, I was prone to going by coach from Scotland’s central belt so the idea of a “Central Belter” ticket allowing the use of either Edinburgh or Glasgow on inbound or return journeys often appealed.
Would either of the above wild daydreams yield an increase in visitors to Scotland using the railways? I don’t know the answer to that one but having the freedoms granted by their implementation would be no bad thing. Otherwise, the thoughts of the inconvenience induced by what I assume are very necessary rail engineering works are enough to get you wondering about the prospect of going by National Express coaches instead. Add the cost of travel into the equation and the coach option starts to look more promising, enough to make you wonder why the service level isn’t better than it is.
The changeover to the new Cheshire East and Cheshire West & Chester councils has taken place but the old county and borough council websites live on in a transitional period that’s set to last until the end of the year. That’s good news because the county council’s listing of bus timetables lives on for now and there are initial signs that its maintenance is set to continue too, even if new timetables have yet to make their appearance. it is for that reason that I have gone onto the Traveline website to extract something for the Macclesfield-Whirley-Prestbury route. The appearance may not be tidy but I hope that they have their use.
Earlier in the month, LNER announced the start of a simpler fares pilot to proceed for two years from 2024-02-05. Only three kinds of fare are available and both Off-Peak and Super Off-Peak fares are unavailable.
Flexibility continues in the form of Anytime tickets with Advance ticket being the most restricted. There is a new semi-flexible offering called 70min Flex that allows travel on any service departing within 70 minutes of the booked departure.
Thankfully, flexibility remains for walk-on passengers despite some appearing to want a book-ahead railway. Apps may be a workaround, but there is something about turning up and going that is so precious.
21:47, January 31, 2024
The RMT union has announced two two-day work stoppages for 2024-02-19 to 2024-02-20 and 2024-03-04 to 2024-03-05, respectively. Like other strikes, this again is related to pay increases that the union complains are not keeping pace with inflation.