Totally not related to railways, but I thought I’d remind you, in case you’d forgotten (although how you can have forgotten given that there is a big ad on the right of the screen there) that Babestation favourite Camilla Quance is planning to do a skydive in aid of Help for Heroes. What in heaven’s name persuaded her to jump out of an aeroplane is a mystery, but she should be applauded for doing so. But she should also receive as much of your dosh as she can possibly get, as it’s for Help for Heroes. So please people, dig deep for this brave lady – she does the deed on the 7th July, when hopefully it won’t be tipping down with rain. All you need to do to donate is click on the picture below, or the one on the side of the screen, and follow the instructions. There’s a good chap.
Those of us that enjoy travelling by train and do it often will accept the odd bad journey in the knowledge that most of the time the rail network actually does work properly. However, if someone is only an occasional or semi-regular user of the railways, then bad journeys have a tendency to stick more in the mind, and consequently become more of a chore and less of a pleasure, which is what they should be – after all, you have a (relatively) comfortable seat, you can get up and wander about without stopping, you aren’t stuck in traffic and you don’t have to worry about the driving. Which brings me to a brief conversation I had on Twitter a couple of days ago with Kandi Kay, formerly of Babestation but now practising her trade on Red Light Central. Apparently RLC is actually based in Bristol, which, if you’re coming from a major city that isn’t London or Birmingham, can be quite difficult to reach. The lovely Kandi is from Liverpool and obviously returns to her home town quite a bit. So, if she’s either going to Bristol or coming from Bristol to Liverpool, it’s going to be something of a journey that will certainly require at least one change somewhere.
I’m not one to continually bombard someone with questions. What I do know is that the poor young lady seemed to be having one hell of a cauchemar, based on some of the things she was tweeting. For example:
Blahhhh fucking hate trains and I hate this journey
When I asked what sort of problems she was having, it was evident that 140 characters was just not long enough to explain all that was going on:
@pipsrailway lots!!!!!! It’s just taking ages for me to gt home. 3 changes!! Now there’s 2 smelly dogs sat next 2 me #ffs
Now, whether you’re travelling to London or Liverpool you shouldn’t need to change trains three times, and nor should it take you five hours, which it apparently had when she replied to me. Clearly there was something that went significantly wrong as it also appears she was stuck at a station somewhere:
Sum1 does NOT want me to gt home today am guna cry!!!! Grrrr fukkkkk
It was 20:10 before the poor girl was finally able to impart that she had returned home safely, having gotten onto the (first) train around 13:00:
finally home – pie&mash,bath bed
I think you’ll all agree Kandi deserves our sympathy for what seems to be one of those “journeys from hell” that we sometimes hear about. Of course, there are worse, such as the occasions (thankfully rare) when passenger trains have been stuck in the Channel Tunnel. But for a domestic rail journey that, if it was to London should take two hours at most, and if to Liverpool less than four with a change, this at least qualifies for the rant that she put out on Twitter. Indeed, this is not the first time that I have heard of a Babestation babe having rail difficulties – there was many a time that Daryl Morgan complained about the conditions on the Class 390 when she was travelling from London to Manchester on the train, while I have had to explain to Camilla Quance why her train was late and standing at a platform while other trains were overtaking it. Nevertheless, I do hope that this experience does not totally put Kandi off using the railway again. After all, on top of all the other benefits of travelling by train that I’ve mentioned, it’s a lot greener than using your car. Assuming she has a car that is.
As you know, in the event of a good cause, I’ll do some free advertising, and so here is some free advertising. The lovely Camilla Quance, of Babestation fame, is going to do a skydive to raise money for Help for Heroes, a worthy cause I think you’ll all agree. Now, I know that skydiving has little if anything to do with railways, but hey, I don’t care. So, if you’d like to pay money for Camilla to jump out of an aeroplane, you’ll see the link along the sidebar. Go on, give a little.
Seeing that Camilla is doing this led me to some thought as to what other things people could do to raise money that might involve railways. Of course, the most obvious one I can think of is the Tube Challenge. I reckon that Daryl Morgan would be ideal to lead a team on that little adventure? Or how about a straight race from Kennington to Euston along either branch of the Northern Line between Preeti and Priya? Well, perhaps. Still, it’s all in good fun, and I’ve no doubt that people would give generously. After all, it is for charity.
I’m hoping you all had a nice, relaxed Christmas and New Year, and didn’t have to do anything or go anywhere. Unless you were working. But of course, if you drive a London Underground train, chances are you weren’t working, at least on Boxing Day, because you were all on strike. Now, I’m not going to be debating the merits or otherwise of the Boxing Day sales and such like. The fact of the matter is, for many people, especially in the retail sector, and more especially in London, Boxing Day was a working day, as are most other public holidays in the UK – to the best of my knowledge, the only public holidays where people are encouraged not to work are Good Friday and Christmas Day. So, the question that comes to my mind is, given the number of people that HAD to work on Boxing Day, why is it that Underground drivers only have to volunteer? Indeed, why is it that they only have to volunteer to work (again to the best of my knowledge) on public holidays full stop? I think it is fair to say that the transport network is an essential service; not as essential as the emergency services, but still an essential service. By all means pay people double time for working public holidays, but to me it should be written into T&Cs that transport workers work a certain number of public holidays, and if their name comes up on the rota, tough. A lot of workers aren’t essential – for example, Daryl Morgan told me that she chooses to work at Babestation every New Year’s Eve. That’s admirable of her, and the other Babestation babes that also choose to do so, as well as working Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and the rest. But, much as it pains me to say, they aren’t essential workers providing an essential service, and so it should be up to them if they work on public holidays or not. For tube drivers, as unfair as it may sound, I don’t believe they should have that option. And they certainly shouldn’t hold the city to ransom as they have done the last two years.
I told you that you can’t trust the word of a politician. First they say one thing, then they say another. Danny Kennedy, the minister in charge of the Department for Regional Development in the Northern Ireland Executive, having announced that the work on the Belfast-Derry line was unaffordable until at least 2014, has now done a complete volte-face and now announced that work will start next year – the line north of Coleraine will close for an initial nine months until April 2013 for the first stage of the work that will allow the existing eight trains per day service to operate with improved line speeds through Derry’s year as the first UK City of Culture. Once 2013 is over, the next stage will see a complete re-laying of the line, together with the installation of a new passing point, to allow an hourly service to operate. And this has been made possible by the DRD re-allocating part of its funding, from its roads budget to the railway – specifically money that was previously intended for the A5 road expansion, a project that Wolmar has been railing against for months. I did have to chuckle when he replied to my tweet this morning about it:
The justification is that the money is available and should be used,but puts in doubt A5, hopefully
He really thinks the A5 is a total waste of time, money and effort. Well, we can at least be grateful I suppose that Mr Kennedy has seen the merits of going ahead with the work on the railway now. Further, by spending £27m now, it means that there is less that needs to be spent all in one go on the rest of the work in 2014, which I believe also counts as a good thing.
Of course, while it is grand news about the Derry line, that doesn’t put pay to the rest of the work that is needed elsewhere in Northern Ireland, perhaps most importantly upgrade work on the Belfast-Dublin line between Knockmore and Lisburn, estimated at £40m, that is needed to improve the speed of Enterprise’s services to at least 90mph. It as determined that this work was unaffordable if the money was to be spent on the Derry line. But, if money can be allocated from the A5 project for one rail project, why not the other? Especially if, as Wolmar hopes, the A5 road project doesn’t go ahead. Doing this would then see improved and faster intercity rail connections to both of the major destinations from Belfast. And that is never a bad thing for the economy. Hell, I’m sure even Preeti and Priya will be pleased.
Yesterday proved interesting in terms of statistics as I got a total of 260 hits (on a good day I usually get around 40). The vast majority of them were going straight to this article about the decision to delay the relaying of the Belfast-Derry line west of Coleraine (185 in total). While you may think this is due to an upsurge of interest in the issue, especially following the publicity it has received in the press in Northern Ireland, I can assure you that it isn’t. This I know from the fact that the vast majority of search engine terms (which are also recorded by WordPress) used to find this story used some variation that included Preeti and Priya from Babestation. If you were to read, then you’ll know that the Babestation twins have family in the area around Coleraine. Indeed, following both of them as i do on Twitter, I even asked Preeti if she’d send me any pictures of the railways that she happened to take – “maybe next time” she replied. Of course, that doesn’t explain why they should all of a sudden be so popular in terms of web searches. I wondered this, until I found out that they’d been interviewed on BBC Asian Network by DJ Nihal, as well as recently contributing to a debate on the Eddie Nestor programme on BBC London. Which may also explain why the video of a TV programme they participated in for the BBC last year was also high up of the BBC website’s most watched videos yesterday. Anyway, mystery solved. And, should either of them read this, I’m more than happy to put any photos of the railways around Coleraine and Portrush on my Flickr site. Indeed, I would consider it a feather in my cap
Hola loyal fans. This is post #500 from yours truly, and because it’s #500, I had a mind to do something special to commemorate it. The (frankly laughable now that I think it through) idea I had was to make a 500 point wishlist of everything I wanted to see done on the railways, money no object. But then of course that would probably have taken me from now until the Olympics to think of. And I don’t mean the 2012 Olympics either; I’m talking about Rio 2016. So instead, I cast my eyes around for something interesting to write about, and my gaze fell upon a story in yesterday’s London Evening Standard, which concerned a couple called Julie and Jonathan Sheppard, who both work in London, but live in Newark-on-Trent. The intention was to encapsulate in this one couple the consequences of the upcoming rise in rail fares on the very long distance commuter. Working in London but living where they do means that they are travelling 250 miles a day every working day, and between them forking over the thick end of £18,000 a year for the privilege. Not only that, but to ensure that they get to their destinations in the morning on time, they have to be on the 06.26 from Newark North Gate, while walking through the door in the evening will be pushing 8.00pm. Now, I’ve spoken of the long distance commuter before, back in the days when the lovely Daryl Morgan was coming down to London by train - nowadays she does so by car, which she explained to me in a tweet as making more sense economically; she is not at Babestation every day, or even every week, so there is no point in her buying a season ticket, and we should all be well aware of the walk-up prices Virgin charges between London and Manchester. Our commuting couple make the point that their lifestyle has some benefits:
You do get a payback at the weekend, because we spend all of it outside in these wonderful green empty spaces. If we were going home to a shitty house in a shitty area of London we just couldn’t do it. When you pay for your ticket, you do think of that lifestyle.
Now that is all well and good, especially if you like the whole empty green spaces thing. Further, we all know how expensive it is to live in London – our couple are in the process of selling a five bedroomed house in Newark for £200,000 and buying a smallholding with two acres of land (and quite likely a fairly big house) for £330,000. Now, having done a little search on rightmove.co.uk, £200,000 will be lucky to buy you a 2-bedroom apartment in New Cross or its environs, so there is certainly much to be said for living where they live in terms of buying property. Additionally, given their employment (one works for a public affairs company, the other is a legal executive for Shell UK, with their combined income at around £110,000 a year), they are both fairly well paid and can afford the cost of commuting. But is the quality of life good enough? Does the weekend, which admittedly is longer for these people as one does four days a week and the other does 4-5 days, make up for having to be up at 5.30am to catch an intercity train at 6.30, and having to be in bed by 10.00pm, and not being able to socialise with your workmates, or even have a lunch break, because to do so means you would get home even later? Again, the story doesn’t go into what their social lives are in Newark, but I’d hazard a guess (having only been there once) that Newark does not have the range of social activities that London does. Further, while £330,000 may not buy you a two acre smallholding in London, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you can only afford crap in a crap area with it. But, to each their own I guess. If they’re prepared to put up with the falling standards of East Coast (such as now stocking Walkers instead of Tyrells crisps in the buffet car, which is positively shocking I think you’ll agree!! Not to mention that they’ve only now introduced a loyalty scheme) then fair play to them. But as I said when commenting before, I certainly don’t have the energy to do that, and, thinking on it, I would miss the range of opportunity to do fun things in London too. So, it may be for you, but it isn’t for me.
Proof, were it ever needed, that the word of a politician doesn’t count for much. After all the blarney about the complete relaying of the line between Derry and Coleraine, with any luck in time for Derry’s tenure as UK City of Culture in 2013, we now learn from Translink that they don’t have the £75m needed to undertake this work, and so it is being put back at least five years, with a consequent reduction in the service level (estimated to be approximately 1/3 of the current service level). So, some passengers wanting to get to Northern Ireland’s second city will have to go by bus from Coleraine. This has led to fears that the route will eventually be closed in its entirity, something that has been loitering in the background for some time, in spite of the protestations that the route is vital to the continuing economic development of the north-west. There are some conspiracy theorists that have said that, given the new Minister for Regional Development is a unionist while Derry is a staunchly nationalist area (and the previous minister was a republican), the change in policy over the Derry line is due to political prejudices more than anything else. This is doubtful. But wasn’t it likely, once it became clear that the Northern Ireland Executive was not going to get as much money from Westminster, that certain projects would fall by the wayside, including this one? Would it not have been better to bite the bullet on it much earlier and tell us, rather than drag it out?
Again though, I come back to the fact that it is (in public spending terms) a measly £75m. Indeed, it isn’t even that, as the DRD has secured £20m for the start of the work. So all that is needed is £55m to relay the track and put in a new passing point on what is considered to be one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world, and what should be seen as a huge tourist draw for Northern Ireland, with the associated economic benefits that come with it. So, is there anyone out there with £55m in spare change? The EU? The DfT? Private investment? Bill Gates? Preeti and Priya from Babestation? Would the Northern Ireland Executive really turn the money down if it meant the work that they’ve said they want to do but can’t afford to can get done?
(Oh, and you might wonder why the Babestation twins would be interested – as it happens they have family from around the north-west of Northern Ireland, as Preeti told us all on Twitter when she went there last month)
Sitting idly this afternoon, watching the boxes pop up from Tweetdeck, one idly caught my eye:
Sat in the salon bored lol. Anyone wanna ask a question ? X
The question came from one of the well known (at least in these here parts) Babestation girls. Not my semi-regular “contributor”, the effervescent Daryl Morgan (who seems to have forsaken the joys of Penny the Pendolino for getting stuck in traffic on the M6 on a regular basis), but her equally fun and bubbly colleague Camilla Quance, the girl of a thousand hairdos. Not wanting to let a lady suffer the boredom of waiting around in the hair salon, especially given that she will be suffering the boredom of getting her hair done, I decided to ask her a question – “Where’s the nicest place you’ve ever been by train?”. Her response to this was:
Penzance, my home town x
This was something I had no idea of (but then of course, why should I?), so I followed up by asking if she was a day traveller, or splashed out on the sleeper. Naturally, in the midst of this it got me to thinking. Penzance is pretty much as far west as you can possibly go on a train in Great Britain, and therefore is a pretty long journey. Indeed, according to First Great Western’s current timetable, the train from London Paddington takes around 5 1/2 hours, which is longer than to either Edinburgh or Glasgow. So, the question one asks oneself is “would I want to do that during the day, or would it be better to take the sleeper, and wake up in the morning to find the journey nearly complete?”. Admittedly, there is some nice, bordering on spectacular scenery to be viewed, not to mention the excitement of the Dawlish sea wall. Indeed, a friend of mine is contemplating whether to go for the cheap (i.e. road) option, or splurge on the train for when she takes a trip down that way. Naturally I advised the train, as it has the scenery, but also the time element (it’s still quicker than going by road). But nevertheless, it’s still a long journey. I can barely muster the patience when I go to Edinburgh, and that’s an hour and a half less (give or take). It’s an interesting question, especially given the lengths people went to to ensure FGW didn’t scrap the sleeper. Last word goes to Camilla, who answered my second question thus:
haven’t been for years x
Now perhaps she has the encouragement to hop on a train back to her old stomping ground. Or perhaps not
A belated Happy New Year to you all. I’d like to thank everyone that has taken the time to look over my ramblings during the course of 2010, even if some of you were spammers, others were only interested in the mooning of Amtrak, and others still were looking for naked pictures of our prospective roving railway reporter. You’re all welcome. I thought that my first post of 2011 would be to look back at some of the good and the not so good of the year just gone. Obviously this won’t be all encompassing, and if there’s anything you think I’ve missed, then feel free to comment.
- Obviously the big story of the year in the UK was the General Election, which had the ultimate result (as far as we’re concerned) of seeing Lord Adonis replaced at the DfT by Philip Hammond(aka “The Roads Man”). The prospects for the railways appeared bleak in May, with the incoming coalition promising fiscal austerity to reduce the country’s deficit. So it was something of a welcome surprise when the Comprehensive Spending Review was announced that transport would receive the second highest capital spending settlement behind defence, together with commitments to a number of major and not so major projects – High Speed 2 will go ahead in at least two stages, broadly following the original plan that Lord Adonis announced at the start of the year; Crossrail and Thameslink will be completed as planned (though the completition dates have slipped as an austerity measure); TfL has been given the money to potentially complete its upgrade programme of the Underground; light rail extensions will go ahead in Nottingham and Birmingham. In the Age of Austerity, this is probably better than could have been hoped for.
- We’ve had a number of projects completed in Great Britain with, most notably for me, the reopening of the East London Line as part of London Overground. London Overground has also received new platforms at Stratford that are better integrated with the rest of the National Rail services, allowing the old low level platforms to be taken over by the DLR extension to Stratford International (which will hopefully open sometime early this year). The seemingly continuous closures of large sections of the London Overground network appear to be approaching something of a conclusion, with the service frequency improved, not to mention the introduction of the shiny new fleet of Class 378 and Class 172 units. Chiltern Railways meanwhile continue to prove the benefits of a long franchise as they continue their Evergreen programme, which has now seen new terminal platforms opened at Birmingham Moor Street, and will see improved journey times on the London-Birmingham route, not to mention the introduction of newly refurbished locomotive hauled trains.
- Both the Class 378 and Class 172 have emerged from the Bombardier plant at Derby, the country’s sole remaining train builder. In spite of the lack of current orders, Bombardier has maintained a reasonably healthy schedule. It unveiled its latest Electrostar type, the Class 379, at the end of 2010, prior to its service entry with NXEA in 2011. Further Class 172s are being assembled for both London Midland and Chiltern Railways, while London Underground are taking delivery of both the 2009 Stock for the Victoria Line and S Stock on the Metropolitan. However, it isn’t all multiple units, as the deliveries continued of Class 70 locomotives for Freightliner.
- The extension of open access continued with the start of Grand Central’s ”West Riding” service between London and Bradford. 2010 also saw the return of a famous name from the first days of the privatisation of British Rail, when Alliance Rail Holdings announced its plans for new open access services, with one of its proposals bearing the name GNER. Additionally, we have the prospect of genuine international rail travel from London to look forward to, following the Deutsche Bahn test through the tunnel and Eurostar’s service expansion plans. The announcement that Deutsche Bahn plan to bid for the East Coast franchise when it comes up potentially raises the prospect of through fares from Europe to Scotland.
- The work to improve the existing railway network in Northern Ireland continues, with the work to relay the Coleraine to Derry line due this year. Pictures were released of the first of NI Railways’ new Class 4000 units undergoing outfitting at the CAF plant in Spain, while passenger numbers continue to increase. Indeed, so successful does NI Railways seem to be now that there are complaints regarding overcrowding about some of its services. The financial crisis has hit Ireland worse than the UK, and yet Iarnród Éireann was able to reopen two major routes during 2010, with the first stage of the Western Rail Corridor between Limerick and Galway, and the commuter line connecting Clonsilla and Dunboyne both returning to the rail network. The Luas has been further extended, with the Green Line extended as far as Cherrywood. The Irish government also made a commitment to the construction of both the Interconnector and the Metro North line to further improve the connectivity of the various elements of rail infrastructure in the Greater Dublin area. Iarnród Éireann has also moved to improve the reliability of Enterprise by converting some of its redundant Mark 3 Generator Cars to operate with the Enterprise train sets, meaning that the 201 Class locomotives no longer have to operate in HEP mode.
The Not So Good
- The end of 2009 brought with it some significantly wintry weather, which, when the thaw came, led to promises that the railway operators would be prepared for the next cold snap. Which came at the end of 2010. And led to more delays, disruption, and passengers stranded on trains that couldn’t move, leading to tremendous criticism of the TOCs and the government. Which is fair enough, given that they had a year to come up with proposals that would allow the railway network to function without costing too much. It is fair to say that the measures taken in a country like Finland are not really necessary here. Yet still there was a failure on the part of those responsible. If (as seems likely) we’re in for a prolonged spell of cold and icy winters, might it not be an idea to start thinking now about how to handle them?
- The flurry of activity regarding Eurostar and Deutsche Bahn planning to go head to head led to Eurostar announcing its plans to purchase a total of ten brand new trains from Siemens. Which then led to Alstom, who had built Eurostar’s existing fleet of Class 373s, first of all throwing their toys out of the pram, and then running to Mummy to complain. Except that this is somewhat more serious than that, as Alstom has taken Eurostar to the High Court in London, a proceeding that threatens to derail Eurostar’s expansion plans, as it is likely that the tender process for the new trains will end up being reopened. You wonder what will happen if the IGC ratifies its planned rule changes regarding distributed traction (changes that will allow DB to run its Class 407 trains through the Tunnel), which was the initial basis of Alstom’s complaint. Of course we’ve moved on from that.
- The Intercity Express Programme remains in limbo, with a decision on what form it will actually take now delayed, first by a review ordered by Lord Adonis, and now over a rethink into the type of train it is intended to be. All of which has had Agility Trains fuming and Labour MPs in the North-East (where Agility’s planned assembly plant is proposed to be located) attempting to guilt the government by proclaiming that not awarding to Agility will lead to continued mass unemployment in such a depressed region. At the very least, it seems like the bi-mode fiasco has had its death knell sounded, with the sensible option of a high speed EMU pulled by a diesel locomotive away from the wires now lurking as a stalking horse. Hell, CSRE has even produced a potential design for just such an eventuality, calling it the “Potenta/Polaris E” combo.
- While Grand Central thrives, we should look sadly at the fact that Wrexham & Shropshire have had to cut their services again. Since they launched with five daily trains in 2008, the financial situation has seen them go down to four, and now three trains. Having just about seen off Virgin’s spiteful attempt to drive them out, you hope that the company is able to weather this storm, given how well regarded their service levels are. The fact that W&S is owned by Deutsche Bahn, and is now more fully integrated into the Chiltern Railways organisation will certainly help. Here’s to a better 2011.
- Although in Ireland we’ve seen reopenings, that have allowed Iarnród Éireann a fair amount of self-trumpet blowing, the vandalism of the run down and closure of the Waterford-Rosslare line leaves a stench. Running a single train per day is not a service. And timetabling it to miss any potential connection is ludicrus. Iarnród Éireann showed themselves up somewhat in this, even though they got what they wanted. The actions of SWIFFT in trying first of all to save the route, and now to find a new operator for it, could prove uncomfortable for Iarnród Éireann if they are able to end the monopoly on rail transport in Ireland.
The “Yeah…right” kind of thing
- Bringing Babestation babes (well, one of them anyway) into the railway mix has been good for my statistics, but those of you that do read me regularly may struggle to see the point, possibly beyond the obvious. But, look carefully and you’ll see that there is a point to it. The effervescent Daryl Morgan has provided me with the inspiration for a few genuine rail related posts, thanks to her commuting from Manchester to London. While she seems to have transferred to the car of late, I hope that at some point she returns to using “Penny the Pendolino” and tweets about further adventures on the train. In any case, it’s my blog and I can post what I like. So nyah!
Obviously there’s so much more that has happened in 2010, so feel free to comment on some of your good and not so good bits. Here’s to 2011 and all the fun it may bring. Let’s ride the rails!!