Saturday, July 27, 2013

In Buxton: July 26, a day in Wonderland

After the mega day out yesterday I didn't feel like getting up early, so I'm on the 10:27 out of Buxton, heading for the suburbs to take lots of luvverly photos of trains going by. It's the perfect day for it. Chris will be following on the 12:29 because we're headed for Oxford to visit Alice in Wonderland and it takes four hours or more to get there. And back, which means we'll most likely miss the last train and spend a rough night on the platform at Piccadilly until the first train tomorrow morning. Good thing I'm equipped.

We stopped at Dove Holes, I haven't done that yet this year. Nobody got on or off... a two hourly service doesn't exactly encourage patronage. They should make it a request stop on all services, that would fix it.

I'm starting to realise just how hilly this line is. We go from full power with an exciting rumble from the engines and an exhibition of why hydraulic transmission is only really efficient at high speed on level ground, to long stretches of rolling down hill with the engine at idle. Couple that with the scenery and the classic architecture and you have to say that the Buxton line is an absolute dream of a train trip. It even has a nice mix of welded and non-welded rails, steel and concrete sleepers, and semaphore and colour light signals. Any tourist railway in Australia would give their right arm for it. And yet the ride is as smooth as a drop of water in zero gravity.

Incidentally, the speed restriction on the Dove Holes tunnel seems to have been lifted since I was here last. They've fixed up the track and the body roll doesn't threaten to contact the tunnel walls. Thank goodness for that.

On the up side of Hazel Grove quite a few people get on and it's like an off-peak suburban train at home. To me that says we need a two tier service, sparks every 10min (or 15 if that's really not achievable) to Hazel Grove and Buxton trains running express to Stockport. None of this hourly Hazel Grove service done with a single pair of Railbuses. Still, at least they coordinate the two so it's half hourly (approximately) from Hazel Grove to Piccadilly with all trains running the same stopping pattern.

So I've got two hours to kill, minus whatever time we need to spend finding each other again. What to do on a brilliant blue sky sunny day? Why, take photos at Heaton Chapel of course! The sun is shining almost directly along the track, which means taking photos from the down platform is approximately perfect. There's signal gantries, brick bridges and lots of greenery to provide a backdrop. And the track is dead straight for a long distance so I can see trains approaching and get myself set up for them. As a bonus, there's a train through every couple of minutes!

After a while I jump onto a passing Class 323 spark and head for Piccadilly in good time to meet Chris. We get held outside the station and I wonder if he'll get in first... especially when I see a Sprinter overhauling us. But then I notice it's coupled to a Railbus! We don't get them on the Buxton line (thank goodness). Well I knew they were capable of MU operation but I'd never seen it before.

I found Chris and we stopped for lunch. Apparently he's been using his battery quite substatially and needs a charge... and there isn't a power point in the entire station. So we basically headed straight for our train and got plugged in. Thank you Alstom, power points on 200km/h tilt trains are the crowning glory on a brilliant product.

The trip to Oxford was a longish one. Thankfully the squalling toddler across the aisle from us fell asleep after about half an hour so we were free to talk about programming, architecture, railway technology, human nature and whatever else came into our minds.

On arrival at Oxford I was slightly surprised to see that it bore a remarkable similarity to Cambridge in design - not only the station but the whole area around it. Even the buses look similar.

We walked to Alice's Shop without getting lost once. It turned out to be a tiny place, crowded with Asian tourists, so I stayed outside with the backpacks and allowed the BOFH to amuse me with his comments about inkjet printers. Eventually Chris came out, having confirmed details of the tour, and we repaired to a nearby cafe to pass the time before it started.

I'll let Chris tell you about the tour itself. I'll just mention that I managed to convince five people from three countries that I'm an expert in architectural history, merely by twice guessing the decade a bridge was built in. They were old railway bridges, you see.

At the end of the tour we headed back to the station and a train to Manchester was due in about ten minutes. NICE. It was behind another (late running) service so it was delayed a bit. I happened to look at the late one and it was a Mk.3 set - the prototype for our XPTs. Apparently now a lot of them are with First Great Western, which makes them accessories to the crime of turning Brunel's masterpiece into the worst performing railway system in Britain. We saw a sample of that today, with several late running trains and a station toilet that wouldn't look out of place in the Elizabeth Street underpass at Flinders Street.

By the next station we're back on time, there's quite a bit of slack in the timetable. Could it be that we'll actually have a chance of catching the last train to Buxton, which is timetabled five minutes before our train is timetabled in? If not, we can get the bus which is ten minutes after that.

Approaching Stockport we were all ready - packed, loins girded, in the vestibule, observing through the windows to see signs of a late running Buxton train. Nothing. Oh well.

We headed towards the bus bay and saw on the PIDS "2340 Buxton, Platform 4, On time" - does that mean there's another train that the journey planner didn't tell us about? Quick, to platform 4!

As it turned out - that PIDS was for arrivals, not departures. Disappointing. Well let's try Plan B, B for bus. Uh... where on earth is the bus bay? We got lost looking for it, timetabled time passed and we gave up and headed back. Piccadilly is a more comfortable place to be benighted than Stockport so we headed there. The shops closed one by one, the last trains arrived and the passengers left, and the place was deserted. Well not really. A couple of other passengers seemed to be benighted like us. And there were a few cleaners around, with the noisiest equipment you could imagine! Add to that the immovable armrests on all the station seats, and you can guess we spent a rough night. Chris found a power point and stayed up all night with Traal, I eventually managed to bend my body into the shape of a starting handle, lie the foam padding of my backpack on the next armrest and sleep a few hours... until the station opened for business again at 4am. Just three more hours til the first Buxton train!

So you can imagine how sarcastic my temper was (and uncertain my age, if the common saying "act your age!" works backwards) when I saw not only a mischannelled unsubscribe message on Savoynet but an invitation to a protest rally from one of the bigwigs of the Greens, who thinks I'm one of them (despite many occurrences like this in the past) just because I advocate for public transport. So I told her, publicly, that the gas energy project she was protesting about was actually one of the more environmentally clean options for Victoria's energy needs, and that by protesting she was not only on the wrong side but helping bring down the whole worldwide Greens movement in the eyes of the increasingly well-informed public. Two minutes later there was a long reply, rife with grammatical and punctuation errors and completely un-paragraphed, from one of her fanboys. Oh Michael, how on earth can you justify such claims?

Well folks, if you ever wanted to see a textbook example of the reasoning behind the rule "Don't feed the trolls", this is it. By this time I had found some liquefied artificial sweetener in order to contain the bushfire raging in my throat from the rough night, so my brain was functioning on all cylinders. Suffice it to say that I justified my claims individually, concluding each paragraph with "Strike [n]". It was all in terms of environmental impact too, so I didn't look like an Andrew Bolt-esque anti-Green either. One upset fanboy coming up, oh noes, I can't groupthink my way out of this one, groupthink is all I know how to do, now what? Now you know not to feed the trolls.

We're now on the train back to Buxton where the order of the day is likely to be hot chocolate while listening to Dan & Kel via streaming, sleep, dinner, breakfast, clean up and then go and watch the festival start. And volunteer to be extra crew members or costume carriers as required. Woohoo!

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