Paul Bigland

PAUL BIGLAND kicks off his lat­est bi­en­nial three-part All-Line Rail Rover trip by vis­it­ing ru­ral routes and newly elec­tri­fied sec­tions of track in the North West

Rail (UK) - - Contents - RAIL pho­tog­ra­phy: PAUL BIGLAND

“The only signs of protest are a few sad scarves tied to trees on the east side gar­dens. The na­tional StopHS2 cam­paign has col­lapsed since my 2016 Rail Rover - any protests now are lo­calised and tiny.”

Wel­come aboard the lat­est in my bi­en­nial trips around Bri­tain for RAIL. Over the next three is­sues I’ll be tak­ing you on a light­ning tour over parts of the UK’s rail net­work. I’ve trav­elled on strike and block­ades days (so you don’t have to!) to bring you a snap­shot of how our rail­ways are far­ing in 2018. En­joy the ride! My trip starts on a Sun­day, as I want to ex­pe­ri­ence what it’s like trav­el­ling when Eus­ton and the south­ern end of the West Coast Main Line is shut.

I be­gin at Sowerby Bridge in the pretty Calder Val­ley, where I catch the 0901 to Manch­ester Vic­to­ria. The Calder route is a good ex­am­ple of the changes we’re see­ing right now - it’s in the mid­dle of a £100 mil­lion in­vest­ment pro­gramme, so the 0901 is the first train of the day. There’s ev­i­dence of mod­erni­sa­tion all along the route, with sta­tions such as Sowerby hav­ing plat­forms ex­tended to fit North­ern’s (longer) new trains. The train it­self is a re­fur­bished North­ern Class 158.

First stop is Mytholm­royd, where the mas­sive sta­tion build­ing that has been derelict for decades is be­ing re­fur­bished thanks to the ef­forts of the lo­cal com­mu­nity rail ac­tivists. The Calder Val­ley line is blessed with some ac­tive groups who have made a huge dif­fer­ence to their sta­tions.

At Heb­den Bridge more changes are ev­i­dent. The Leeds-bound plat­form has al­most doubled in length, while the lovely old Lan­cashire & York­shire Railway sig­nal box is due to be de­com­mis­sioned (on Oc­to­ber 23, after this is­sue of RAIL went to press) when the new sig­nals that sur­round it go live. Only a few Lan­cashire sig­nal boxes such as Castle­ton East (which still con­trols a few sem­a­phores) will sur­vive.

Ar­riv­ing into Manch­ester Vic­to­ria, I am greeted by a very dif­fer­ent scene to a few months ago. Since the Ord­sall Chord opened, the sta­tion has be­come just as much a hub for TransPen­nine Ex­press ser­vices as for North­ern. Va­ri­ety has been en­hanced by a rag-bag of for­mer Great Western Railway diesel mul­ti­ple units adding yet an­other livery vari­a­tion.

En­gi­neer­ing work means the quick­est way to Pic­cadilly sta­tion is to walk, and as I leave the con­course my eyes are drawn to the tragic new memorial next to the ‘Sol­diers Gate’. Not to sol­diers, but to 22 civil­ians - in­no­cent adults and chil­dren - killed in last year’s sui­cide bomb at­tack at the Ari­ana Grande concert in the sta­dium above the sta­tion.

Pic­cadilly sta­tion is its usu­ally buzzy self - and no, I don’t mean be­cause of the Manch­ester bee stat­ues! Vir­gin Trains is only running an hourly ser­vice to Rugby ow­ing to the Wem­b­ley block­ade, so rather than wait for that I de­cide to head to Stock­port and cross to Sh­effield to head down the Mid­land Main Line.

My cun­ning plan falls apart as soon as I step off the train, as I hear a mes­sage be­ing

“I board Cross­Coun­try’s packed 1136 to Bournemouth, worked by a sin­gle Class 221. And when I say packed, I mean packed - even a sar­dine would have got claus­tro­pho­bia!”

re­layed to Vir­gin staff: Hope Val­ley ser­vices are sus­pended due to a bro­ken rail - inside the Dis­ley tun­nel of all places!

Sens­ing that’s ‘game over’, I chat to the very help­ful Vir­gin team on the sta­tion. They have been ad­vised to send pas­sen­gers one of two ways: via Leeds and York (!); or via Birm­ing­ham and the Chilterns, which was the route I wanted.

After kick­ing my heels for nearly an hour, I board Cross­Coun­try’s packed 1136 to Bournemouth, worked by a sin­gle Class 221. And when I say packed, I mean packed - even a sar­dine would have got claus­tro­pho­bia! I man­age to squeeze into a space by the bike stor­age area, which is my home for the next two-plus hours. Other XC ser­vices had been doubled in size, but not this one. On the bright side, it isn’t a four-car Class 220 like the ear­lier train.

De­spite the crush, most pas­sen­gers re­main stoic. Reg­u­lar trav­ellers know what to ex­pect, and the Train Man­ager does an ex­cel­lent job in apol­o­gis­ing while ex­plain­ing that Eus­ton is closed. The melee on ar­rival at Birm­ing­ham New Street re­sem­bles an Amer­i­can foot­ball game, as pas­sen­gers get­ting off with bags, ruck­sacks and suit­cases try to fight their way through the equally en­cum­bered pas­sen­gers get­ting on. My stand­ing room gets smaller. This isn’t Sar­dine space any­more, we’re into An­chovy ter­ri­tory now!

By now we are running late, so my con­nec­tion at Ban­bury is look­ing fraught. We make it with seven min­utes to spare - just long enough to grab sup­plies from the sta­tion cafe, as there’s no re­fresh­ment trol­ley on Chiltern ser­vices.

The plat­form is packed with well over 100 peo­ple when a pair of Chiltern Class 168s rolls in to take us to Maryle­bone, but no one is left be­hind. I even man­age to bag a ta­ble seat, which is wel­come after two hours stood star­ing at suit­cases.

Con­sid­er­ing that this was a Cin­derella line be­fore pri­vati­sa­tion, the trans­for­ma­tion has been amaz­ing. New trains, new ser­vices, and even new lines and sta­tions make it a very busy route.

As we speed through the Chilterns, I try to visu­alise the route of HS2 in re­la­tion to us. Right now, there’s lit­tle sign of progress, but it will be a very dif­fer­ent pic­ture when I come this way in 2020. As we rush past Princes Ris­bor­ough I catch a glimpse of the re­built Plat­form 4 that opened in Au­gust, al­low­ing the pre­served Chin­nor railway to con­nect with the main line - which can only be good for ev­ery­one.

Our ar­rival at Maryle­bone pre­cip­i­tates an­other scrum, this time to get through the ticket gates. I head to Baker Street sta­tion, only to find it isn’t just the na­tional net­work clos­ing lines. The Met­ro­pol­i­tan, Cir­cle and Ham­mer­smith & City lines are also closed, so I have to catch a bus to Eus­ton.

To say that the area around Eus­ton is chang­ing is an un­der­state­ment. Early work for build­ing HS2 has been un­der way for some time now. All the build­ings to the west side bor­der­ing Coburg Street and those fronting the sta­tion are boarded up and be­ing stripped ready for de­mo­li­tion, while ar­chae­o­log­i­cal work con­tin­ues in the for­mer St James’ gar­dens.

The area is awash with peo­ple wear­ing HS2 high-vis, while the only signs of protest are a few sad scarves tied to trees on the east side gar­dens. The na­tional StopHS2 cam­paign has col­lapsed since my 2016 Rail Rover - any

North­ern 319383 pre­pares to de­part the newly elec­tri­fied Black­pool North on Septem­ber 4. De­spite de­vel­op­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for giv­ing short shrift to pho­tog­ra­phers and railway en­thu­si­asts, sta­tion staff gave Paul Bigland a warm re­cep­tion.

A heav­ily loaded pair of Chiltern Rail­ways Class 168s dis­gorge pas­sen­gers at Lon­don Maryle­bone dur­ing an engi­neer’s pos­ses­sion at Wem­b­ley. It forced hun­dreds of ex­tra pas­sen­gers, in­clud­ing Paul Bigland, to travel from Birm­ing­ham to Manch­ester via the Chiltern Main Line.

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