Friday, August 16, 2013

In Buxton: August 15, strolling casually through Sherwood Forest

It's another day out gunzelling today - that's rule of three. On today's agenda: Leeds to see the Siemens trains, Sheffield to see the Siemens trams, and Huntingdon to see how it's possible to evade Robin Hood's merrie men by sheer speed (it's very difficult to say "Harkye my good Sheriff of Nottingham, wouldst partake of an honest meal of the King's venison for the price of half of all in thy purse?" when the Sheriff is passing at 200km/h).

But first, here's how yesterday finished. When I signed off on the train home from Blackpool I didn't think it was worth reporting a blow-by-blow of the way I get from Manchester Piccadilly to Buxton as I've done it often frequently. But crowded trains tend to throw people together, which can sometimes cause a chain reaction of humour. I guess in a way that means funny people are radioactive - or at least that humour decreases with the square of the distance. Anyway, I got the last train that would get me to Buxton in time for the show, and it was the tail end of peak hour. Sardine room only on the Sprinter. The guy next to me was talking on the phone, which is considered slightly rude, except that he made it funny instead of isolating to the rest of the carriage. "You know me, I'm a perfect gentleman! Well maybe not a gentleman, but certainly perfect!" That set the tone for the trip, and soon every one of the dozen or so people crowded into the section of aisle next to the toilet were exchanging witticisms.

By the time we got to Hazel Grove the crowds had cleared, which says to me that it deserves a suburban level service instead of just an hourly Sprinter plus the Buxton trains. Trouble is they'd have to terminate them all at Piccadilly because none of the lines out to the north of Manchester are electrified. Running that many services into dead end platforms could be a challenge.

So we all got to sit down, and the family of three who were the last remaining Former Toilet Aislers sat at a table opposite me. The witticisms continued all the way to Buxton! It turned out one of them works at Cafe Nerd, and we know a barista's job is more about entertaining the customers while they wait than making coffee.

That's all about last night, if you want to know about the show ask Chris.

So, this morning. Train from Buxton. Pasty from my favourite shop at Manchester Piccadilly. Head for the Trans-Pennine Express platform to get me to Leeds.

As I glanced up and looked at the train approaching the platform it looked different. It was a 170, not a 185! Without trying to make the 185s jealous, I think the 170s are very graceful - a rare example of a fairly flat front which still looks streamlined. And internally they have all that is required to make a trip thoroughly comfortable, to wit, soundproofing and in-seat power points.

Leeds station is huge - 17 platforms, half for through-running and half for terminating. (If any smart aleck says you can't halve an odd number I'll tell them there were some dock platforms, which are half way between a through platform and a terminator.) I spent quite a bit of time just getting the layout in my head. One difficulty is that the suburban services are operated by Northern Rail, same as the middle distance ones, which makes it hard to know which is which. The rail album helped a lot though.

I got onto the nearest Class 333 spark (a Siemens Mo-Mo, same as ours but with slightly different nose styling) and there was a suburban network map inside, that helped even more. Once on board I thought I might as well go right through to Skipton. I'm glad I did - 100mph running on good track was quite exciting. This is what these trains were designed for - not trundling up and down the Sandringham line stopping every 800m.

I'm getting quite accustomed to seeing junctions to tourist railways. Pulling in to Keyleigh at the same time as we did was a short rake of Mk.1 carriages, and as we pulled out I saw an LMS steam loco at the front. It was a four-platform station laid out like Footscray with a split down the middle island, and "that side" was all done up in art deco as befits a tourist railway.

Then when we got to Skipton there was a Class 37 loco in the platform next to us. Jump out, grab camera. It's just pulling out. What's it pulling? A Class 47 and a BR steamer. My mild foaming was observed by a grandmother and grandson who were also very interested in the classics. The grandson said he'd never seen a steam train before! How, in the land of the long white plume of steam, can one reach the age of five without ever seeing live steam? That would be like being Australian and never seeing a gum tree. Or being Russian and never seeing snow. Poor kid. Hopefully Grandma takes him down the line to Kayleigh soon.

From there I went back to Shipley, which is a kind of hyperspace junction - a classic triangle but with platforms on each leg. I looked around but there was nothing really worth looking at. This is something I've observed in quite a few places - junctions and interchanges have been put in the middle of nowhere, because there isn't space to put them at population centres. That's part of being in the old world, I guess.

The next train to Leeds was a long distance service, already full so I didn't get to sit down - but that didn't matter because it wasn't far. From Leeds I had to decide what to do - could I get to Sheffield and back to Buxton without cutting my time too short to look at the trams? Probably not. How about down the East Coast Main Line to video fast trains? Doable. It's a lovely day for photography anyway. So Sheffield can happen another day.

So I got onto a Mk.4 set, plugged in to charge the batteries (which a long and very enjoyable chat from Skipton to Shipley had depleted badly) and settled down to enjoy 200km/h running. Opposite me at the table were a couple of distinguished looking gents tapping away at their iPads and talking about pushing more sales through the National Health. At the one across the aisle were a doctor and his secretary making multiple phone calls to try to arrange a delivery of some medical supplies on Saturday. I wonder if I fit in on this train?

At one point, just after we had crossed a set of points that needed some TLC, the on-train staff got on the PA which made it go ding. Sounded just like the fasten seat belts light on the plane, which goes ding when the air gets rough. Heehee!

I jumped ship at Grantham on the expectation that not all trains stop there. And boy was I rewarded! First thing that went through was a Mk.4 set. At full line speed. Trouble is by the time you see it, it's too late to scrabble around for the camera. If you're not ready all the time you lose the shot.

So I just pottered around with the camera for a bit. The station's quite nice - especially the yellow line, which is about 1.5m back from the platform edge. Nice. Incidentally Stephen, that means whenever we plan a platform with high speed trains running through it, we need it to be extra wide so we can do the same and still have the standard four meters of clear space for disability access.

Next thing that comes in is for London Kings Cross, but at the bottom of the screen it says "First Hull Trains" rather than "East Coast". This promises to be interesting. When it turns up it's a Class 180, the slightly rare class of trains with the super streamlined nose. As I'm photographing it from all angles (First Group livery always makes a good photo) the PA comes on announcing a First Hull Trains service to Hull. It's not in sight yet which means they're going to cross just outside the station! Set cameras to stun, I mean video. It came out perfectly, I'll post it when I get home.

Since I've never had a ride on a 180 I thought I'd jump on. Unlimited travel is great. First stop was Retford, which has middle roads for fast trains to run through and platforms on the east-west line which connects to the West Coast Main Line at Stockport. That means I can hang around longer, because I'm topologically closer to home. At least I think so - train frequencies might change that. And the through platforms are a very broad hint that they designed this station for high speed run-throughs.

Unfortunately I reckoned without a six foot picket fence blocking the northbound platform from the high speed tracks. For some reason they built the platform between the stopping and express tracks instead of on the outside, which means they had to fence it off to stop people staggering into the path of a high speed train. But it also means it's very difficult to take photos. The sun was out so it wasn't much use taking photos from the other side. I took a few anyway but they don't satisfy me like they should.

As predicted the best way to get home from here is via the cross-country line, which takes me through Sheffield. By taking an earlier train I can spend a bit of time there, possibly even enough time to look at the trams. That would make it three gunzelling goals in one day, as long as you count videos on the East Coast Main Line as the goal and not visiting Robin Hood territory. I don't think I've done three in a day since the time when my goals were simple (eg "Ride the Upfield line").

The Sheffield train was a Railbus, but the track was in pretty good shape so I didn't get bumped around too badly. There's no air con and it's quite a warm day so all the windows were open, which meant the sound came in properly - including one slightly square wheel. But the breeze was great - breeze on a train on a warm day is always good fun, that's why I love the Hitachis so much. The Railbuses only have hopper windows but when you're cruising at 80km/h they do the job.

Depending on the type of track and the exact speed we were going the flat in the wheel and the swaying of the body could synchronise to make a hollow clip-clop sound exactly like the sound of someone riding a pair of coconut shells along a cobblestone road. :)

Sheffield station is very easy to navigate - all the platforms run the same direction and there's clear signage. I followed the signs to the tram stop, asked a conductor about buying tickets and got on board. I asked for a ticket to Meadowhall because it was the only stop I know - and I only know it because I remember being on a long distance train one other year and seeing trams there. One of the other passengers told me which stop to change at, since I was on the wrong route. That was nice of him. I've actually had a lot of brief conversations with other passengers - normally along the lines of "Excuse me, is this the train to Huddersfield?". How DO people know to ask me that sort of thing? Maybe the glasses make me look like I know stuff.

Meadowhall looks like it's fairly new, especially since there's an old ruined station a few hundred meters down the line. I had underestimated the time it takes to get from Meadowhall to Sheffield which meant I missed by Trans-Pennine Express by one minute. Ah well. I took another train back to Sheffield and then looked at options. I could take an East Midlands Trains service to Stockport and get to Buxton just before 10pm - that sounds good, just in time to drop stuff home and then go to the Festival Club. I wonder what kind of train it'll be? The one at the other platform is a super long Meridian tilt train, which in East Midlands livery is quite a looker. That's the one for London St Pancras though, they get the best. Liverpudlians won't be so fortunate.

As it turned out we got a Class 158 DMU - basically a modern intercity interior in a vestibule body on a Sprinter underframe and drive train. It's quite as nice to ride as any of the other long distance stock, except that it doesn't have in-seat power points. Ah well, I'd charged up enough on the East Coast train that I still had enough to go on with.

The refreshment trolley went past and I was feeling in the mood for hot chocolate. Just after she started pouring I noticed it had a Starbucks logo. I don't approve of Starbucks, they're the ones that opportunistically tried to muscle in on Gloria Jeans after that stupid storm in a teacup (if you'll excuse the pun) about them supporting the Australian Christian Lobby. Also they've got that whole "supersize me" thing going, with their normal serving size being huge and their mega one being really mega. That was the one Dan and Kel used for one of their first sound bites after Cassie left - "Imagine being addicted to those and trying to give it up. You'd get the shakes so bad Bunnings would pay you to stand there and hold cans of paint!"

Well my first experience of Starbucks (outside the US anyway) wasn't a good one. I could have made a drink tasting like this for a tenth of the price, it's basically Milo, and not the proper sort made with about five spoonfuls and a bit of extra sugar either. She gave me a paddle pop stick with it, saying it'd need a bit of a stir. Nobody would say that on an Australian train, the track would do all the required stirring at no extra charge! Almost like a recovering Starbucks addict, our track is.

As I was finishing the drink we stopped for a single track section. There are quite a few on this cross-country line, I guess that's excusable since it must (by virtue of the fact that there's plenty of other lines around) be fairly lightly trafficked. Once we got the path we went over a bridge and through Hazel Grove - ah, I know where we are now! We ran express through Woodsmoor and Davenport, which I haven't done for years because now the Buxton trains stop all stations.

We got to Stockport with half an hour before the Buxton train. It was starting to get dark and there was a bit of rain so any attempt at taking photos was likely to be useless. So I just sat in the waiting room on Platform 0 stealing Virgin Group's electricity. The waiting room doors open inwards, but Susan isn't here to tell Mr Branson how unsafe that is so it's OK.

Well this was the end of my three days out on the trains - tomorrow we go to a master class to be a friendly face while two of our lovely Savoynetters sing up a storm and try to impress a G&S legend. That can't be easy. Hopefully our presence makes them feel like it's just another rehearsal and they do well. And then of course it's the beginning of the weekend so we get to carry costumes for the pros again. This will be the last weekend of the festival...

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