Monday, August 22, 2011

A Buxton Blog - 21/8, last day of freedom

Note to self: the 7am Monday to Friday alarm doesn't go off on a Sunday. Furthermore, it's not possible to shower, pack gunzelling gear, breakfast and get to the station between 7:56 and 8:23. When's the next train? 9:19. Can I still get to London? Yes, in fact most timetables are clockfaced and run at least hourly - even on a Sunday. So I'm out by an hour but no more. Dat's what money can do for you folks.

Uneventful trip to Stockport. Hello Pendolino! There's a cute four year old in the seat opposite me, so making funny faces takes up whatever portion of the journey isn't spent enjoying 200km/h and tilting action.

Watford Junction - the end of the London Overground network. Quite a nice looking station, with expanses of clean concrete and natural lighting. The Overground departs from a set of four dock platforms, which must be fun in peak time - but a glance at the timetable shows it only runs every 20 minutes. As a matter of fact it runs every 20 minutes all through the day, only dropping to half-hourly after 10pm and before 6am. That's pretty good! They could almost unify their timetable and run the same times every day, but I suspect there's some operational reason they can't because on the corner of peak time the timetable varies by a couple of minutes or so.

So I take a Class 378 spark to Willesden Junction. Brand new Bombadier metro stock, with mainly longitudinal seating and a few bum racks near the doors. The carriage ends are even more open than our Siemens trains, I guess that's what happens when there's another few years of technology in the design.

Willesden Junction is a mess - upper and lower stations angled about 45 degrees apart, with walkways going in unusual directions (and on a gradient to make the station seem like it's on three and a half levels) and a bus bay buried in a corner. The main lines go past the Overground station on both sides, with a workshop for Overground trains in the mix as well. I head for the footbridge over the main lines and arm my camera for action.

The howling sound of the Pendolino actually doesn't carry upwards all that well. I get a few videos of them and a few more of Class 350s but I'm not satisfied. I try again from the bus bay but the blackberries muffle the sound. Mmmm, blackberries. And the fence is only 5 foot high so I can reach over it. The natives here must all be fairly short because there's hardly any ripe berries close to the fence but heaps just at the end of my reach. That was Lunch Mk.1.

I head back to the station and get an Underground service back towards Watford Junction. The Underground and Overground share tracks as far as Harrow & Wealdstone where the tube service terminates. Tube stock is quite something! The first thing you notice is that it's semi-circular - like the tunnels. The next thing is that from a full height platform I can look over the top of it! The doors open and it's a step DOWN into the train. Fun! The doors curve along with the body of course, which means even quite tall people can get in and out without too much trouble.

So I get on board and suddenly feel right at home. It's non-air conditioned, and the motor sound comes through quite clearly. It reminds me of a W tram or a Tait! I wonder how old this stock is...

It accelerates quite nicely too, although it's somewhat jerky. That's probably the effect of the third rail system, every set of points means a change of circuit which cuts the motors momentarily. I wonder why third rail still exists... does it have any advantage over overhead wires apart from lock-in?

So, Harrow & Wealdstone. It has platforms for all the intercity lines but there are regular announcements saying "The train now approaching Platform 3 is not scheduled to stop here. Please stand well clear." Thanks for the heads-up, I'll get my camera ready. WHOOSH! A Pendolino goes past in less than four seconds (as the camera proves). Ten cars each 20m long, do the maths. This is awesome!

After about 15 minutes a staff member comes up and says "I saw you taking photos". Oh dear here it comes... hey wait no it doesn't! She's very nice about it, and just lets the station master know that I'm not from the press, I'm a perfectly harmless transport enthusiast from Australia. The station master's fine with it too, he just tells me the rules (stay behind the yellow lines, no flash, don't obstruct passengers) and we end up chatting about the operation of a metro service. I love this!

Eventually I have enough videos of trains running at 200km/h through the platforms so I get a 378 back to Watford Junction. I get myself some Lunch Mk.2 and sit down to eat it, and then an announcement comes over the PA that there's been a power failure... or a signalling failure. One of those. But trains are disrupted and intercity passengers are recommended to take the Overground to Euston instead. Uh-oh... what's this going to do to my Cinderella Hour? I'd better find out. Talk to you soon.


Michael Angelico said...

Well I must say, when the Poms have a service interruption they sure know how to fix it! I guess it comes from the Fish & Chips philosophy - when you're used to switching trains from track to track in normal service it's no extra trouble to switch them off a track that's had a signal power failure.

First up, they had engineers on the spot within half an hour. On a Sunday afternoon. If V/Line had a failure they'd ring for buses and leave it for Monday morning.

Next, they kept the passengers informed, including offering other transport options (eg the Overground instead of the intercity services). Also, the staff had all the info at their fingertips (eg "This train has been held at Euston, this train is departing Harrow & Wealdstone and will be here in approx 5min"). None of this Metrol elitism.

The engineers opened two pairs of tracks as soon as they could, which meant most of the London Midland services could be run with a manageable delay (I reckon they'll be back on track by 8pm or so) and Virgin could start repositioning their trains to restart services.

The operators cooperated to clear the passenger backlog as quickly as possible, by accepting each other's tickets and offering passengers an exchange for travel tomorrow if that's easier. Also, Virgin stopped some of their empty movements to help clear the backlog of passengers trying to get to Euston. These were announced as "extra service to London Euston only".

When trains had last minute platform alterations, the staff made sure all the passengers had time to get there, and held the train so nobody would miss it.

The station staff were great - they knew where the passengers were going to gather and need their questions answered and looked after them. They even looked up bus timetables for those that needed it.

None of this takes revolutionary technology - it just comes down to the attitude of staff and management. That's the biggest thing that's wrong with our railways at home.

So here I am on one of London Midland's Class 350 sets - that's an unexpected bonus, I didn't expect to have a chance to catch one of these - bound for Milton Keynes Central where I can hopefully get a train to Manchester Piccadilly, either with Virgin or Cross-Country. I'll say it again - it pays to be a gunzel. Even when the staff and the Journey Planner do their best to work out options.

Michael Angelico said...

Forgot to say - four aspect signalling should help a lot when repositioning trains, but they're not using it! A string of Pendolinos went through but they waited for double-yellow or green before proceeding! What's with that?

Well I've arrived at Milton Keynes Central and the 18:48 Manchester Piccadilly hasn't been cancelled. No word yet on when it's due, but as long as it's not more than two hours late I should get home OK.

Right now I'm stealing the Pumpkin Cafe's power to charge Clippy. Their hot chocolate is pretty good too.

Michael Angelico said...

Groans! The 18:48 was cancelled at about 19:05... but then when I decided to wait for the 19:48 I saw that the 18:26 was going to run. Expected at 19:20. Never mind, it'll get me home! And being a Pendolino it'll have power to charge Clippy!

Well that was about it. I got a seat and a power point, took a snooze and got home in time for a very late dinner.

Church? Yes of course. I planned my sermon while slicing an onion (very coarse because I was using a table knife) and preached it while eating. Hananiah the false prophet who Jeremiah had to challenge on a point of doctrine. My point was that Jeremiah didn't press the issue, he told the truth then let God deal with it. Then we got onto the subject of legalising gay marriage.

After that... Mythbusters and then bed. Tomorrow I have to ship the crate of Yeomen set back home. Hopefully that happens sooner rather than later and I can go out gunzelling again in the arvo.