Rail Rover part 2

In the sec­ond part of his lat­est Rail Rover, PAUL BIGLAND criss-crosses the cap­i­tal to dis­cover the chang­ing face of Lon­don’s rail­ways be­fore head­ing west over newly elec­tri­fied sec­tions to­wards Bris­tol and Cardiff

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

In the sec­ond part of his lat­est Rail Rover odyssey, PAUL BIGLAND dis­cov­ers the chang­ing face of Lon­don’s rail­ways.

Day 4 be­gins with me mak­ing a men­tal note: I will be away from home for the next few nights, so I must not for­get that I will now be car­ry­ing two bags, not one. (On a pre­vi­ous Rover, I man­aged to leave a suit­case on a train!)

My day starts on the 0912 from Hal­i­fax to Leeds via Bradford In­ter­change, an­other sec­tion of line which is be­ing res­ig­nalled this year. Un­til re­cently, there was no in­ter­me­di­ate sta­tion on the line be­tween the two - now there’s a sub­stan­tial two-plat­formed af­fair at Low Moor (opened on April 2 2017). It’s used by an hourly North­ern rail ser­vice and by Grand Cen­tral, which means the lo­cals have gone from hav­ing no sta­tion at all to hav­ing a di­rect train to Lon­don!

At Bradford In­ter­change we re­verse to gain the Leeds line, so I have a sec­ond chance to see the work that Net­work Rail has been do­ing to ex­pand ca­pac­ity here, lay­ing new track to avoid con­flict­ing move­ments. An old Lan­cashire and York­shire Rail­way sig­nal box (one of the few sur­viv­ing fea­tures of the old sta­tion, de­mol­ished in 1972) still con­trols In­ter­change, although it is due to be de­com­mis­sioned by the end of this year.

Rolling east­wards we reach Leeds, where I change trains. What­ever time of day I pass through here, the sta­tion is al­ways a hive of ac­tiv­ity. It’s also con­gested, which means it’s quite com­mon to get held on the ap­proaches wait­ing for a plat­form to be­come avail­able, de­spite the fact that the sta­tion has 17 of them!

As the third busiest sta­tion out­side of Lon­don, Leeds han­dles nearly 30 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year. Due to phys­i­cal con­straints there’s no room for ex­pan­sion, so the ar­rival of HS2 can’t come soon enough to free up ca­pac­ity for ex­panded lo­cal ser­vices. I can’t help feel­ing an ear­lier op­por­tu­nity was lost when the Leeds tram scheme was can­celled, as a tram/train-style op­er­a­tion could have been a real gain for both sta­tion and city.

Leeds is served by a wide va­ri­ety of trains - from the hum­ble Pacer right through to the East Coast race­horses in the shape of the LNER Class 91s and HSTs. Now this va­ri­ety is ex­panded by the ad­di­tion of ex-ScotRail Class 170s, cas­caded to North­ern and be­ing used on the Har­ro­gate loop.

My train for­ward is on what has been a fa­mil­iar sight since 2002: a four-car Cross­Coun­try Voy­ager. Not un­typ­i­cally, it is run­ning nine min­utes late. The rea­son given is con­ges­tion around York, a prob­lem that seems en­demic to var­i­ous sec­tions of the net­work nowa­days. Reg­u­lar trav­ellers such as my­self bear this with a weary sto­icism, but it turns plan­ning jour­neys that re­quire mak­ing con­nec­tions into a bit of a lot­tery, adding to the stress of trav­el­ling and dam­ag­ing the rail­way’s rep­u­ta­tion while beg­ging the ques­tion: “If so much money is be­ing spent on im­prov­ing and ex­pand­ing the net­work, why is punc­tu­al­ity get­ting worse”?

It’s a ques­tion I pon­der as I sip my cof­fee and win­dow-gaze en route to my next desti­na­tion: Derby, yet an­other sta­tion that is un­der­go­ing a mas­sive change due to in­vest­ment. A 79-day par­tial block­ade is in place, which means that my train is di­verted via the Ere­wash val­ley - past To­ton and the site of the HS2 sta­tion for the East Mid­lands - be­fore ap­proach­ing Derby from the south along Trent East curve and the Spon­don line.

The com­plex lo­gis­tics of blockad­ing Derby are worth an ar­ti­cle of their own. The sta­tion is a ma­jor junc­tion at the heart of the Cross­Coun­try and East Mid­lands Trains net­works, and it’s an im­por­tant freight route. It’s also a vi­tal ser­vic­ing and main­te­nance cen­tre. Be­fore the par­tial block­ade could be­gin, new sta­bling and ser­vic­ing fa­cil­i­ties had to be built or ex­panded at sev­eral lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing Bar­row Hill and Not­ting­ham. It’s a trib­ute to all in­volved that the block­ade has been run­ning smoothly and to time, with dis­rup­tion to travel min­imised.

Step­ping off my train onto a re­built plat­form, I am mo­men­tar­ily lost - the changes are that pro­found. It’s only when I wan­der along the plat­form to ad­mire the work that I re­alise I am stand­ing on what was the old bay plat­form used by Crewe trains. To my right is an en­tirely new is­land plat­form that matches per­fectly with the ‘old’ sta­tion. That’s when the scale of the in­vest­ment in to­day’s rail­way hits home. The ‘old’ sta­tion only dates from 2009!

I can’t help feel­ing an ear­lier op­por­tu­nity was lost when the Leeds tram scheme was can­celled, as a tram/train-style op­er­a­tion could have been a real gain for both sta­tion and city.

Now even the track lay­out is un­recog­nis­able.

While in Derby I pop over to Etches Park, where East Mid­lands Trains is un­veil­ing its lat­est train - a re­fur­bished HST made up of ex-Grand Cen­tral power cars and a mix of GC and Great Western Rail­way Mk 3 coaches. It looks very smart, and the mix of seat­ing should pro­vide some­thing for ev­ery­one’s tastes.

Mov­ing on from Derby, I catch an­other Cross­Coun­try ser­vice as far as Birm­ing­ham New Street. The train’s fi­nal desti­na­tion (Guild­ford) re­minds me just how far-flung the ef­fects of block­ades such as Derby can be.

I don’t know if the block­ade has per­suaded fewer peo­ple to travel, but I have no prob­lem find­ing a seat on the four-car Voy­ager and set­tle in to en­joy the trip (non-stop).

As we speed through Wa­ter Or­ton I catch a glimpse of a gag­gle of en­thu­si­asts, cam­eras held ready to cap­ture a pass­ing freight train. Pass­ing the old Fort Dun­lop on the out­skirts of the city, I am sur­prised to see that it’s now lux­ury flats, which seems an un­likely use con­sid­er­ing it’s so close to the el­e­vated M6 mo­tor­way.

Next up is Wash­wood Heath, an­other lo­ca­tion that will change for­ever with the im­mi­nent ar­rival of HS2. It’s go­ing to be the site of the Phase 1 de­pot and sta­bling sid­ings - soon, the rust­ing and rot­ting wag­ons dumped in the old yards will be re­placed by mod­ern, high-speed trains.

De­spite the claims of HS2 ‘an­tis’ that the project is ‘Lon­don-cen­tric’, it’s ob­vi­ous to any­one vis­it­ing the Mid­lands that it’s Birm­ing­ham-cen­tric! Pass­ing the old Cur­zon Street sta­tion on our ap­proach into New Street, I can see the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal work is in full swing. A huge covered area is be­ing con­structed that will pro­tect the ex­ca­va­tions and ex­huma­tions from the el­e­ments (and cu­ri­ous eyes). As con­struc­tion pro­gresses, rail pas­sen­gers will have grand­stand views of the work.

Alight­ing at New Street on the cusp of rush hour, I take a quick wan­der around the re­vamped con­course. The sta­tion seems to be one of those Mar­mite ex­pe­ri­ences - peo­ple

A nine-car Great Western Rail­way In­ter­city Ex­press Train ap­proaches Read­ing with a ser­vice to Lon­don Paddington on Septem­ber 6. The over­head line equip­ment is cur­rently en­er­gised as far as Did­cot, and has been de­scribed by Paul Bigland as “butch” in its de­sign.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.