Tuesday, 26 May 2009

You can’t all be the most beautiful – an update

The Settle to Carlisle line winds hands down, though I would still like to put forward the Buddleia forest that the trains sit in waiting to get into East Croydon.

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Doing the tourist thing

I’m going to put my hands up to doing the most stupid touristy thing I have done for a long time.

I made an assumption, which is never a good thing.

The largest body of water in the Lake District is called Windermere. There is a town in the Lake District called Windermere and it has a station in it. The station itself, shock, horror for a lot of English towns, is actually almost in the centre of the town.

Now it’s a natural conclusion to draw that therefore Windermere the town must be on the banks of Windermere the body of water.

It is from these same assumptions that people arrive at the Bodleian library in Oxford looking for Selfridges, and at the site of the 2012 Olympics looking for Shakespeare’s birth place.

No, Windermere, the town is nowhere near Windermere, the body of water. In fact it’s about two blooming miles away, which is a bit of a hefty walk when you only have an hour to get there and back to the station in.

Perhaps in future I should look at the guidebooks before making these rash decisions.

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Monday, 25 May 2009

You can’t all be the most beautiful

I’m starting to get a little confused by the descriptions of some of the railway lines around Carlisle.

Along with the West Coast Main Line, there are four other lines coming out of Carlisle. One heads into Scotland and can therefore be discounted from the discussion of “The most beautiful line in England”.

All three of the remaining lines, depending on where you look share this accolade.

The Tyne Valley (or as it’s now known Hadrian’s Wall) line runs across the top of the country, roughly following the line of the wall, though you can never see it.

The Cumbrian coast line runs, as it’s name suggests, down the coast of Cumbria taking in the beautiful scenery, including Europe’s largest nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield (which has never had an accident unlike that other site Windscale which it use to be called!)

The Settle to Carlisle line runs, imaginatively, from Settle to Carlisle and includes traversing the Ribblehead viaduct. (I can’t comment on any negatives at present as I haven’t been along this line yet, that’s the trip for tomorrow)

Now, there is the slight possibility that they could all be the most beautiful line as they all share a common starting point and run parallel to each other for about a quarter of a mile.

However, if the run into Carlisle station is the most beautiful train ride in England then I think my morning commute into East Croydon could be a contender to replace it.

On the other-hand, it could all be marketing spiel to try and persuade tourists to travel on lines which the train company has to run as a social service, but otherwise wouldn’t make much in the way of money, but that would just be cynical wouldn’t it.

No, perhaps beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Derelict freight yards are obviously the new beauty.

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Saturday, 23 May 2009

Where the Romans Succeed, Network Rail fails

Carlisle is the last English city before the Scottish border, in truth it’s one of the last settlements before the border. It’s been a key site on the road north for millennia. Even today it’s a major stop on the West Coast Main-Line.

So you would have thought that on the first proper summer bank holiday of the year that everything would be smooth and settled.

That’s what I thought when I booked to go to Carlisle back in the depths of December.

Then, twelve weeks ago, when the cheap tickets should have been release, I got a surprise. I couldn’t find any tickets for trains to Carlisle that didn’t involve changing. Even more surprising was that the change was in Newcastle and the journey involved travelling up the East, rather than West coast of the UK.

At the time I had an inkling as to what the issue might be, but thought that even Network Rail wouldn’t be stupid enough to close a chunk of the West Coast Main-Line during a major bank holiday weekend.

But, I wanted a cheap ticket, so I booked to go via Newcastle, and didn’t think much of it.

Then a couple of weeks ago the engineering works for the Bank Holiday Weekend were announced, and despite all logic and sense dictating that people would probably want to travel more on this weekend than any other around it, the line was partly closed.

Instead of a speedy journey of just over three hours from Euston to Carlisle direct (or other locations on the Western side of the UK), there was a not so speedy journey from Euston to Milton Keynes, then a very slow bus journey from Milton Keynes to Birmingham, before rejoining the slightly faster train journey to the North.

I was quite glad that I was going the scenic route. Though possibly not the people who booked late and didn’t have a seat reservation from Kings Cross and were still standing when the train pulled into Newcastle three hours later!

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Friday, 19 December 2008

Commuting for the fearless

45 minutes trundling through a tunnel, and then having to stand on a crowded train for half an hour. Sounds like the evening commute? Sadly it was my journey to Bruges. Following the recent fire in the Channel Tunnel the train crawled through at little more than tube train speed, and it after the speed of the journey from London to the tunnel entrance it comes as a bit of a shock at how slow the Belgium high speed line is.

Having arrived at Brussels a little late I still managed to make the connection, but only because the train to Bruges was five minutes late, and then when it arrived absolutely heaving.

I’m not certain if the Belgium’s are used to the Londoners idea of a full train, but some of the reactions from those already on the train as wave after wave of British tourists heading for Flanders poured into the carriage, merrily propping themselves up against the edge of seats, implied that this was all getting a bit too much.

Certainly, all those standing were speaking English and there were a couple of comments along the lines of “This is as bad as Southern/C2C/First/Insert favourite company as appropriate.”

Ghent is quite a large town, and I would suspect has a significant population that commutes into Brussels, though as to whether it matches the numbers who poured off the train at Ghent leaving enough space for everyone to sit down is another matter (I get the impression some had decided to get a quieter local train for the remainder of their journey).

Still, it makes a change. For the last five years my commute has always been against the flow heading out of London in the morning and back in the evening. I’d forgotten how miserable standing on a packed train for 30 minutes was!

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Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Credit Crunchies

Back in July, in my second post, I bemoaned the fact that my trip to Poland was getting more and more expensive as the credit crunch bit and the pound fell.

Perhaps I should have kept my gob shut at the time, as it’s getting worse.

I should be off to Brugge in a couple of weeks, but every day it gets more and more expensive.
I did not pay for the hotel when I booked it, just reserved it. At the time the Euro was at about 1.27 to the pound. Over the last couple of days the pound has sunk to new lows against the currency and it currently stands at 1.17, adding nearly £20 to the cost of my hotel in a little over three months, with the worst slumps happening in the last few weeks its probably only going to get worse.

Perhaps now I should be looking at the possibility of cancelling, but if I do that, I loose the cost of my Eurostar ticket. Unless of course Eurostar were unable to run the train, in which case they would have to refund me.

Eurostar managers recently voted for strike action over the run-up to Christmas (and let’s face it you can get more run-uppery than the last weekend before Christmas!). Perhaps, for once, I should be secretly hoping that the strike and inevitable chaos it brings takes place.

Obviously for people who want to get home to loved ones for Christmas it would be devastating, but for me…

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Saturday, 2 August 2008

It’s amazing how much your feet hurt after doing nothing

Over the last two days I have sat on a train for two hours, followed by sitting on another two trains for two hours (with 20 minutes standing in the middle) then walking a short distance then standing in a field for an hour, then catching various trains, funiculars and cable cars with a short 20 minutes walking in between.

Yet, despite the lack of any vigorous exercise in the above-mentioned itinerary my feet still ache.

Perhaps I should have broken in my new shoes before I headed off on my trip (I brought them the day before I flew out).

Perhaps I shouldn’t have brought £10 shoes from Tescos.

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Wednesday, 30 July 2008

If at first you don’t succeed, change the rules

Shock!, Horror!, my train from Poznan was on time. Despite having travelled all the way from Warsaw it actually pulled into the station a couple of minutes early.

Or at least it did according to the indicator boards on the platform. For this was not the delayed 10:20 service, no, no, this was the on-time 10:42 service.

Which promptly lost time and was a quarter of an hour late into Berlin.

So my final encounter with PKP was as delayed as my first. 10 out of 10 for effort, I won’t comment on achievement.

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Monday, 28 July 2008

Getting there

Well, PKP (Polish Railways) managed their best effort yet. The train for Warsaw to Poznan left on time (but then it did start at Warsaw so that wasn’t going to be so difficult!).

It did arrive into Poznan late, 20 minutes after its original due time. I wonder how much of that was down to the fact the train is a cooperation between PKP and Germany’s Deutscher Bahn.

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Friday, 25 July 2008

European Harmony, We all agree the Germans are obsessional

Whilst waiting at Gdansk station I was able to earwig a conversation that was going on between two friends.

Based on the accents, she appeared to be Polish, and he was probably French. Together they were chatting away in their shared mutual language of English (it’s a hard life being a fluent speaker of the worlds Lingua Franca).

They were discussing the inevitable delay on his train out of Gdansk (his was even more delayed than mine). She was saying the effectively anything less than 15 minutes late was on time, and that they only normally announced delays to trains once it had passed this time, but you should only worry if your train hasn’t arrived within an hour of its scheduled time.

He mused on the decline of the French railways and how their trains were always running late, and then he mentioned the Germans.

They both agreed that the Germans were obsessional with time keeping, to the point of madness, and that Germans would go nuts if their train is more than a minute late.

Having been on a German train that was running late I am happy to say that the Germans don’t go mad, they like their English counterparts, just grumble about how bad the service is, and it never used to be like this.

But it was interesting to see that even in this time of European Union and Harmony the old divisions are still there. The Poles, French and Brits united in a conviction that the Germans are obsessed with time keeping. Now where did I leave my umbrella and cricket bat, it must be time for a cup of tea!

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Aspirational, but wrong

Well, I finally arrived in Warsaw, a little bit late. Once again the Polish railways strike, and they had been doing so well. The train was to all intents and purposes on time when it arrived in Gdansk, pulling into the station just 10 minutes after it’s advertised departure time

Sadly, something (I think in Britain it would be referred to as “a-delay-on-a-preceding-train-in-the-Warsaw-area”) held the train up and we eventually pulled into Warsaw Centralny station just over 55 minutes late. I was the lucky one. I was the last to join my compartment at Gdansk, and the first to leave. As the train had started at 6am in the very North West of the country, and was continuing onto Krakow, I didn’t bear to think how late it would be by the time the final passengers got off.

To add to my fun, and in a repeat of Gdansk, albeit this time I didn’t get caught out, as I walked out of the station there was a massive clap of thunder and the heavens opened.

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Thursday, 24 July 2008

Be aspirational, even if you are wrong

It’s always good to be aspirational, aspire to what you want to achieve, not what you are currently able to achieve.

Perhaps not so good to be aspirational if you are the bloke in charge of timetabling for Polish Railways.

It could be that I’ve been using them at a bad time, or it could just be simple old misfortune, but every train that I have caught, waited for, or just seen advertised on an adjacent platform has been late mostly by over 5 minutes, sometimes more.

Yesterday my train from Hel did leave on time, but arrived in Gdynia 15 minutes late, for no apparent reason, it didn’t stop anywhere it shouldn’t have; it didn’t appear to go particularly slowly anywhere.

Today, my train to Malbork was over half an hour late, or it could have been 20 minutes late as the indicators on the platform showed a completely different time to the timetable!

I’m hoping it’s just a spot of bad luck, and that my journeys from Gdansk to Warsaw, Warsaw to Poznan and Poznan onto Berlin are all on time, but somewhere at the back of my mind I doubt it, the people waiting at Gdansk this morning had a very familiar expression… “The 8:15’s late, again, fourth time this week, what a way to run a railway, they do it better on the continent you know…”

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