Tag Archives: rail travel

The New Northern Railway Timetable

December 15th saw the twice-yearly reshuffle of the rail timetables. Among the changes, Northern Railway promised more frequent and longer trains. This was welcome, as most of the trains on the Hope Valley line through Reddish North are two or four carriage long Pacers from the 1980s, some of which are still complete with the original repurposed bus seats.

It was a bit of a joke with a colleague in the office that the 08:46 was due into Piccadilly at 08:58, but never arrived before 09:00am. In the new timetable the train is rescheduled to 08:47 with a 09:02 arrival, which is probably a better reflection of reality.

Now it’s difficult to know how long the trains are scheduled to be for each service, but given the trains during peak hours were largely four carriages before the timetable change, I was naively hoping that at least the same would be true afterwards.

Come Monday morning, I headed down to the station with Lucy for the 08:11. We were there a few minutes early and the delayed 08:04 pulled in. Two carriages, and when the doors opened there wasn’t enough room to get on. We waited for the train we’d been planning to get, which was four carriages and we even had a seat.

Heading home was a different matter. The Northern Railway Journeycheck showed no problems, but my own scripts that query the Network Rail ‘Live Departure Board’ service showed that most of the peak hour services were two carriages. We put it down to teething troubles, had a drink, and caught the 18:49, which was two carriages, but not unexpectedly so. Out of curiosity, I asked @northernassist what was going on, and their reply was:

This was a slightly confusing answer, and my interpretation of it was that a peak hour train can be two carriages and not be “short formed” as long as that was the plan when the diagrams were created that morning.

Tuesday the pattern repeated. Lucy caught the four carriage 08:11, after a crammed two-carriage 08:04 left the station, and I went for my more usual train, the 08:47. The departure board (both my script and the display at the station) claimed this was a four carriage train, but when it turned up, we had to shuffle to the centre of the platform to squeeze onto a two carriage Sprinter.

The evening was a repeat performance, all the peak hour (17:00 to 19:00) trains from Piccadilly to Reddish North were listed as two carriages, and the sample of Lucy (17:19) and myself (17:49) suggested that was accurate. Again I asked @northernassist, and the answer was identical.

I tried to clarify whether “all available” meant there was a shortage of carriages, or that the ‘increase’ in service had redirected them from the Hope Valley Line to somewhere else, but there was no further reply.

Wednesday has been an exact repeat in the morning. Delayed, overcrowded, 08:04 leaving people on the platform. Delayed 08:11 eventually leaving at 08:19, and a two carriage 08:47. The evening was a bit of a farce. Prior to leaving the office I looked at Journeycheck which claimed that 16:49 was short-formed, but the rest was as normal.

My script to query the Network Rail departure boards claimed the opposite. A four-coach 16:49, and two coaches everywhere else.

Lucy travelled on the 17:19, which was indeed two coaches. I aimed for the 17:49, boarded, and waited. It was soon crowded and 17:49 came and went. There was a driver in the cab, but no guard, and no announcements. I could overhear platform staff saying there was no guard, and eventually going to the driver and asking him to make an announcement.

More time passed. About a quarter of the people on the train got tired of being crammed on and headed off to see what else they could get. Eventually the platform staff (not the driver) announced that the train would be going fast to New Mills Central, and we should cross over the platform for the 18:19 for earlier stops.

The 18:19 ended up just as crowded, but there was a bit of friendly banter on board and departed fairly close to time. (For info, I lived in London and commuted on both the Central Line and South West Trains / South Western Railway for nigh on 30 years, so I do know what crowded trains are!)

After three days of the new timetable, I’m wondering what’s going to happen between now and next May when the timetable changes again. Are we stuck with the current formations, or will the delivery of new trains on other lines (I don’t think we’re getting any on the Hope Valley Line, but I’d be happy to learn otherwise) free up Sprinters and Super Sprinters for us?

I have no idea whether taking the franchise from Arriva would change the service, but the sentiment on the train this evening was “anything would be better.” I’d just like a better idea about how long this (presumably) short-term pain is going to last, and what the plans are for longer trains on the Hope Valley Line — not only over the coming days, but over the next few weeks, months and years.

I think I’ll work from home tomorrow.

Manchester to South Wales (via the Welsh Marches Route)

There are two main routes between Manchester and South Wales. There is the “Heart of Wales” line, which is the very scenic route, and the Welsh Marches line, merely quite scenic. A few (ahem) times over the last couple of months my wife and I have taken the train from Manchester towards South Wales, and back again, and this is about the Welsh Marches line, not quite as scenic as the Heart of Wales line, but still an interesting journey.

The route runs through Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Leominster, Hereford, Abergavenny, Newport, Cardiff, Swansea and then through to Milford Haven or Carmarthen. It isn’t, however, all that quick — over three hours to Cardiff, over four to Swansea (which might test even Michael Portillo’s patience), and it could certainly do with a few upgrades.

Most of the times we have travelled on it, we’ve booked Advance tickets, which require that you travel on a specific service and usually come with seat reservations. Each time the booking form has asked for seat preferences (table / airline; aisle / window). However, each time we’ve picked the tickets up, they’ve been “Coach *, Seat ***”. However, I’ve seen “reserved” tickets in the back of some seats, so there must be some magic we’re missing.

You keep using that word (reservation), I do not think it means what you think it means.

Getting on at one of the major stations (e.g. Manchester Piccadilly or Cardiff), you need to be at the right part of the platform to be by the doors when the train arrives, or you’re likely to be standing. One time we got lucky and bagged a seat whilst others stood, another time we were standing for 30-40 minutes until the train reached Crewe and a few people got off. I’ve also seen people standing at Hereford just as the local college finishes (and presumably just before it starts), which makes the lack of definite seat reservations a worry if you really want to sit down, and particularly, sit down together.

The time we weren’t lucky.

The trains are “Class 175“, and it has varied as to whether the trains are two coach (175 0nn) or three (175 1nn). On one journey to Swansea there were people standing for quite a bit of time, and it wasn’t helped when we reached Shrewsbury to find another train had been cancelled and they were shuffled onto the train we were on to get down to Newport and change for another service.

I have to feel a bit sorry for these little trains, they run for almost six hours from Milford Haven or Carmarthen up to Manchester, then have about 15 minutes before they’re on the way back for another six hours. This does mean they don’t get a proper clean for twelve hours other than the Transport for Wales staff doing their best to clear loose items into rubbish bags. Which means, fellow passengers, when you leave the train, please take your rubbish with you, as someone else will almost certainly be sitting in your seat within a few minutes!

At a couple of points through the journey, as long as there’s room, a trolley service will pass through the train offering tea, coffee, snacks, beer, wine, gin, tonic, you know the drill. Sometimes they may ask you to pay cash if the machine isn’t working — or if the reception is bad.

Speaking of reception, there is free WiFi on the train, but the uplink speed isn’t great, and some sites, including Google Drive, are blocked, which might make working on the train a bit of a challenge. If you’ve got a signal and a generous data plan on your phone, you might be better off tethering to that.

Getting the negatives out of the way, the route itself passes through some historic towns on the borders between Wales and England.

Regardless of history, according to Wikipedia Ludlow apparently once featured three Michelin-starred restaurants in the not too distance past, but now has none. Leominster was the site of “one of” the last ordeals by ducking stool in England. The stool itself is on display in Leominster Priory and depicted on the town clock.

Leominster Town Clock, image from Likeaword at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leominster_Town_Clock.jpg

Not forgetting larger towns of Shrewsbury, curiously twinned with the Royal Navy submarine of HMS Talent, which would have some trouble getting anywhere near the town, and Hereford, birthplace of King Charles II’s mistress Nell Gwynne (I wonder if my new MP Andrew Gwynne is a descendent?).

Whilst we’ve been using this route for trips for work or family of late, we’ll have to use it to explore some of the historic towns on the route soon, and some of the scenery it passes through is really quite beautiful. Some longer trains, though, please TfW?