Monday, 17 November 2014

Pendolinos, Pacers & Paragon - A Weekend In Hull

It's about time I came up with a proper review of our weekend showing the layout in Hull earlier this month.

We all enjoyed ourselves, the layout behaved itself - even if the operators didn't always - and we came a close 2nd in the prize judged by our fellow exhibitors. (Oh well, never mind.)

This is number 87 snapped at Cemetery Crossing during the show.

Our accommodation provided by our hosts was some the best we have ever had on the road at the Royal Hull, the impressively renovated former railway hotel at Paragon station.

This was doubly convenient for me because not only was it within easy walking distance of the pubs in the evening but I had chosen to travel to Hull by rail.

I'd done this because it was a great excuse to take a trip on the legendary Settle to Carlisle line. In fact as the crow flies it is the most direct route from Glasgow to the Humber.

Actually making the trip, however, requires you to be very resourceful.

Internet rail ticketing sites don't bring it up as an option unless you insist that you want to travel via Appleby. (Just putting Leeds in the box is no good, it'll still only give you trans-pennine options via Manchester).

And when the website eventually admits defeat and brings up the options for your desired journey it turns out to be hideously expensive.

Fortunately I know better and by purchasing a succession of single tickets I was able to bring the price of my journey down to around only 25% more expensive than using either the WCML or ECML.

Another downside of trying to support the S&C by putting my bum on one of its seats is that the service is relatively infrequent - only once every four hours or so - and involves changing trains at Carlisle.

(Last time I travelled over the S&C a decade ago I was still able to get a direct train from Glasgow to Leeds - that's progress for you!)

This is where I almost came unstuck.

Enjoy this pretty picture of Caernarfon Castle and then I'll fill you in on my tale of woe.

The day and night before my journey it had rained. A lot. So much, in fact, that unknown to me and hundreds of other Virgin Trains passengers at Glasgow Central that morning, the WCML was under water at Beattock.

The operator decided to reveal this minor inconvenience to its customers only 10 minutes after a London-bound Pendolino was supposed to have left the station.

I was sitting on the Voyager on the platform opposite, which was due to follow it 20 minutes later, and became suspicious when I looked across and noticed all the passengers disembarking.

Never a good sign, I think you'll agree.

I found a member of VT staff who told me that the line was blocked and no one could say when it was likely to open again.

I spent a few minutes considering my options.

I could hike over to Queen Street, take a train to Edinburgh and then make my way down the East Coast to York & Hull. A walk-on fare on a Friday, however, could be ruinously expense , though, I concluded.

With me having only a hour's connection time at Carlisle for my S&C train - and four hours to wait until the next one - I was on the verge of catching a Scotrail train home to collect my car and drive to Hull when I noticed people climbing back onboard the Pendolino on Platform 2.

Once again I collared a Virgin hostess (or something like that) "So are the trains going after all?" I asked. "Yes, it would appear so." they replied.

So I hopped on for what would be my first ever trip on a Pendolino, which I was rather excited about, reasoning that as it was supposed to leave before the Voyager I was booked on it would give me my best chance of making the S&C connection.

Here's a scene a the north end on the station at Beddgelert, by the way.

A couple of minutes later and the Pendolino is swiftly pulling out of Central station and onto the bridge over the River Clyde.

It is then, and only then you will note, that the Train Manager comes on the public address system and informs us that even though we have left Glasgow (30 mins late) the line is, in fact, still closed at Beattock and they can't be at all sure when it will reopen....

It was at this point that I muttered something very rude indeed under my breath.

About a quarter of an hour later we have come to a halt at Carstairs and the tannoy informs us that the line still flooded and our train will be held here until further notice.

Oh, and by the way, we lied when we told you at Glasgow that the Network Rail engineer was on site - he's not there yet. Sorry about that.

This is not looking at all good. Why didn't they tell us before we left Glasgow? And why did I take the gamble of sticking with the train rather that going home and getting in the car??

(Answer: because I'm too tight to chuck away the £77 I spent on a rail ticket only to have to spend the same again on fuel for my car.)

Perhaps the mysterious Network Rail engineer is on board the WHR construction train Upnor Castle is in charge of?

After a few minutes we moved off and never stopped again until we pulled into Carlisle.

From my letter box sized Pendolino window I could see many of the rivers were in spate beside the line as we climbed Beattock, but I never saw any sign of engineers beside the track or any hint that 20 minutes ago the ballast was supposedly under water.

Anyway, all that really mattered was that Virgin did manage to get me to Carlisle with 15 minutes to spare until my connection departed,  and from my seat on a rather chilly class 158 I saw that the Voyager I had so very briefly been onboard in Glasgow would have got me to Carlisle in time too.

And so I passed a very pleasant two and a half hours meandering down to Leeds on England's most spectacular mainline and onwards to Hull as the last of the daylight faded.

Here's a shot of 87 on a Superpower-style freight duty with a string of B wagons.

My journey home on the Monday started most unpromising.

During the weekend in Hull, while going in and out of the hotel, I had noticed an abundance of bus-bodied 'Pacers' in the station.

I dared to hope that a Monday morning prime business-travelling time service to York would be formed of something more salubrious.

It wasn't!

Still, it was another British railway train first for me. An experience I do not hope to repeat in a hurry.

From York I was booked onto a Cross Country service to Edinburgh.

That'll be late and standing room only, I predicted confidently! In fact the ex-Virgin Voyager was bang on time and comfortably loaded.

My only previous experience of these trains was travelling first class to Plymouth on a Virgin freebie I wangled and it was very agreeable.

I find they ride very well and unlike other people I don't object to the engines being mounted beneath the floor.

But I was disappointed that the only catering was a trolly dolly service - unlike the small shop I remember on the Virgin train - and with my reserved seat being on the aisle, and with rows and rows of airline seating in front of me, I could see very little out of the windows on either side.

Frankly I might as well have been in a plane.

I appreciate that we have an acute capacity issue on the UK's mainline railways but it has got to the point that they really have taken all the pleasure out of long-distance rail journeys, for standard class passengers at least.

Back in Scotland I was in and out of Edinburgh Waverly in 10 minutes and on a shuttle to Glasgow Queen Street - noticing also that the layout of the Tubrostar was more preferable to the Arriva Voyager - and I had an equally rapid transfer in Glasgow onto my last train of the day.

Of course, none of the standard gauge trains I rode were as opulent as the WHR Pullman Bodysgallen, seen here on Bron Hebog with K1.

All the pictures you've seen here were taken by the Artistic Director on his fangled tablet thingy which was able to cope with the hideous sports hall lighting which bathed everything in a horrid yellow glow.

My pocket digital camera couldn't cope at all - this was what most of my pictures turned out like.

The sooner we can get around to building a proper lighting gantry for the layout the better.

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