Last Monday was a long day which started in Halifax, took in both the East and West coast main lines via London and ended up in a deserted town in the Midlands famous for its public school: Rugby. What Rugby doesn't seem to be famous for is celebrating St George's day. OK, it was a wet Monday night, but honestly - I've seen more life in a tramps vest. I needed wifi access so I ventured into town to find the nearest Wetherspoons - which was deserted as barely a dozen people bothered to darken its doors. In fact, when I left at 22:00 there were just three punters. But then, it had been one of those days... I’d set off on the 0707 Grand Central service from Halifax amidst a sea of reservation labels that soon translated into live punters. Anyone who thinks the West Riding service is struggling should try travelling on it! The crew told me that it's not unusual for this first Southbound service to carry 250 plus punters. I bumped into GC’s Sean English onboard. He reckoned that the first WR service is loading better then the same one off Sunderland. It’s more profitable too as around 80% of sales are ‘GC only’ tickets. This was the easiest bit of the day’s travels. Network Rail’s Twitter postings prepared me for the fact that WCML services had turned to ratshit due to an 'incident' at Berkhampsted. London Midland staff were less coy and tweeted that it was really a fatality - so I knew what to expect at Euston. To be fair the railways did really well. Yes, there were some cancellations but information was plentiful and the vast majority of passengers jammed on the concourse were stoic. I’d no room for complaint. I’d booked online and my single ticket from Euston to Long Buckby was ridiculously cheap at £3.75.
We left London 20 minutes late which wasn’t bad considering the problems. Everything was going well until the driver announced that we’d be terminating at Northampton. I appreciated why they did it as there were other services just behind we could transfer to and the delay, whilst mildly inconvenient didn’t make a huge difference. From Long Buckby I enjoyed a bracing ‘yomp’ across to the M1 to take up position on a bridge where you can get shots of both the railway and motorway. Only the weather didn’t play ball, leaving me trying to capture Pendolino’s (which were going like shit off a shovel) under murky skies between rain showers. The light was so bad that if I hadn’t got a Nikon D3 I’d have just given up. I was also happy I’d decided to take a full set of waterproofs - otherwise the only thing I’d have caught would’ve been pneumonia!
After a few hours the weather changed from showers to a dull, dispiriting deluge which caused me to seek refuge in the canal side pub at Buckby Wharf where I dried out and downloaded all my pictures before walking back for the train to Rugby and a warm hotel room. It was a frustrating day for pictures but at least I got a good walk out of it!
Another early start with breakfast at 07:30 saw me return to Buckby Wharf. The weather had changed from dull, wet and miserable to sunny and rather pleasant – which was great for photography but the power hike out to the M1 caused me to strip down to a T-shirt and jeans to the steam rise. Striding out with a rucsac and a camera bag weighing 13 plus kilos soon burns up the calories!
The sun hung around long enough to allow me a variety of shots and shoot what I’d come to do - as well as play around with different locations as the light changed. For once the waterproofs stayed buried in my rucsac. It was a lovely day as there was no disruption, no fatalities and I didn’t get soaked, so, after a celebratory pint in the New Inn I began the trek home, firmly believing that all’s well with the world.
The world, however, had other ideas...
My cunning plan was to return to Rugby to get a few shots before heading back into London. Only fate in the shape of 37069) decided otherwise.
At Long Buckby a friendly enthusiast tipped me off that the vintage loco was heading our way and sure enough it growled its way past us in the path of my train to Rugby, allowing me to get a shot. What luck I thought! A few minutes later my train turned up and we set off to Rugby with the guard apologising for the late running which was due to the freight being given precedence. Shortly afterwards we ground to a halt within spitting distance of Rugby where we waited, and waited – until the driver announced we be stuck for some time due to a ‘broken down freight train just in front of us’
Hey, hang on a minute..?
Yep. 37069 had conked out across Hillmorton Junction, stopping the job by blocking in all northbound trains on the Northampton loop. Now my cunning plan looked anything but. As the minutes turned into hours I could see my chances of getting home slipping away. I had to be in London for the 19.48 to Halifax and there was only one train left for me to catch from Rugby. Luckily Freightliner came to the rescue and two of their engines dragged the miscreant out of the way, letting me reach Rugby with 10 minutes to spare. I began to breathe easier until I saw that Virgin’s Euston service was late and getting later by the minute. An announcement explained that it was delayed by trespassers at Coventry. Muttering dire imprecations under my breath I began to plan for an enforced night in the capital. Now, a 10 minute dash from Euston to Kings Cross is possible, but not when you’re a middle aged bloke who’s already done 12 miles carrying the sort of load a camel would spit at.
In the end I was saved by the Pendolino’s shit off a shovel performance I’d complained about yesterday. We were still late but we made up enough time to give me 15 minutes to dash to Kings Cross without danger of a rupture or worse.
I needn’t have bothered.
The East Coast route had suffered two fatalities that day with the final one delaying everything, including my train. The last fraught few hours had been unnecessary as the GC service left around 25 minutes late.Heading North (with a well-earned glass of wine in hand) I took time to think about the events of the past two days and the torrid time that the people who run our railways had ‘enjoyed’ due to breakdowns and fatalities. Breakdowns are part of everyday life; it’s the spate of fatalities that concerned me. They’re chaotic, traumatic and deeply unpleasant – and it looks like we’re seeing more of them. I can only imagine what effect they’re having on the people who have to deal with them and the families who lose someone. I just wish I knew what the answer was to prevent them.