Ffestiniog Travel announce 2022 Touring Rail Holidays
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A Ride on the Skeena
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It’s About Exceeding Expectations
London and Blackpool
Palembang LRT: DJKA to Cinde by Train
Another Royal Visit
Kew Garden’s remarkable concrete bridge
Observations While Traveling Solo
Having spent the early afternoon at the National Railway Museum and then the late afternoon wandering around York, I walked back to the station for my 6:30pm CrossCountry train to Edinburgh. The CrossCountry brand, as its name suggests, runs trains that tend to be quite long and go in strange directions, rather than the standard long mainline/short branch line services of other operators. For example,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNkO-r5vuQw, kind of running diagonally from Aberdeen to Penzance. The one I was catching had originated at Plymouth six hours earlier, and - probably due to congestion on the network around the evening peak - was quite late by the time it got to York. Because the lateness meant some rejigging around other commuter services, there was also a last-minute platform change, but only from Platform 11 to Platform 10 (ie literally two faces of the same platform) so this thankfully didn't cause any headaches.
From York we sped up the East Coast Main Line through places like Durham, Newcastle and Berwick. I booked my ticket relatively late in the piece and got stuck with an aisle seat, but whoever had booked the seat next to me didn't show up, so I got to see the North Yorkshire moors whipping by the window until the sun set and I couldn't see any more.
Trams at St Andrew Square
Edinburgh is a gorgeous old city, and I greatly enjoyed walking around it for the next few days. It is very very hilly, though, with Edinburgh Waverley being at the bottom of a valley between Old Town (with the castles and Royal Mile) and New Town. Edinburgh has quite recently started a tram network - currently there's a line through New Town that extends west to the airport, though shortly after I left construction began to extend the line eastward, to Leith. Somewhat frustratingly, the tram passes by the western entrance to Waverley but doesn't stop there - the nearest stop is a block away at Andrew Square, which doesn't indicate very good integration. Still, the city's bus network seems to be fairly comprehensive - certainly buses formed a substantial amount of the traffic around Waverley - but as is often the case when I'm exploring a new city, I was keen to do so on foot, so never really tried out the trams or buses for myself. It's worth noting that, despite the hills, and despite absolutely minimal safe cycling infrastructure, there did seem to be quite a few people cycling around.
The LNER Azuma train at Edinburgh Waverley
On Sunday morning I arrived back at Waverley to catch my LNER Azuma train down to London. The Azuma trains come in two varieties - fully electric and bi-mode. If the train is only going to travel on the electrified parts of the network, they'll use the electric trains - with just a standard pantograph to collect electricity from the overhead wires. But if they're going to be travelling partly on the electrified network and partly not, they'll use one of these bi-mode trains, which uses the pantograph on the electrified sections, then pops it down and uses diesel motors on the non-electrified sections. The ECML from London to Edinburgh is fully electrified so I'd assumed we would be using the panto the whole way, but I was in for a bit of a surprise - we weren't going down the ECML initially, we were going the long way, looping around via Carlyle to join the ECML at Newcastle.
The relatively indirect path of the Sunday morning train (via Google Maps)
When I'd booked my ticket, I'd made a point of picking a forward-facing window seat. When I boarded the train, I felt a bit ripped off - my seat was on the window side but was next to a pillar, so I wouldn't have a very good view out the window, and it was also facing backwards. Luckily, the conductor announced over the tannoy that the seat reservation system wasn't working that day, and the train was quite empty, so I just picked a better seat - one that was next to an actual window and was facing the direction the train was moving.
After a few hours of diesel-powered zooming through the misty Scottish lowlands and across the Pennines, we arrived at Newcastle Station, which exists at the top of a kind of weird loop - there are two rail bridges crossing the Tyne, to the southeast and southwest of the station. This circular track arrangement actually allows for a huge amount of flexibility, with trains being able to essentially loop back on themselves to change direction, but for whatever reason we didn't take advantage of this. (I happened to be sitting in the row behind some British trainspotters who were discussing this as we came into the station). The train stopped at the platform for a good 10 minutes as they changed drivers and crew, changed ends, and put the pantograph up, before we reversed out of the station heading back the same way we came.
Crossing the Tyne on Newcastle's King Edward Bridge
So, as it turns out, that seat I'd been allocated would have been forward-facing for the second half of the journey. Luckily the train was still only half-full and I managed to get a forward-facing club-style seat with a table for the rest of my journey south - which meant even better views out the window than before.
The train was quite well-stocked for food and drink, with a trolley that came through the carriages selling the basics, and a buffet car that had more range. I was actually really impressed with the curry roll I had, and the price was pretty reasonable compared to the food on Australian trains - it cost about 8 AUD, while comparable food would be more like $10 or more on an Australian train. Afternoon snacks like bags of chips were also around half what you'd expect to pay in Australia.
Fields with windfarms out the train window, south of Peterborough
We can learn a bit from the Azumas when designing our next fleet of regional trains, too. VLocity trains have big Accessible toilets, and to lock the door you need to press the "close" button and then press a separate "lock" button. There have been issues for years with people thinking the door is locked, sitting down to do their business, and then having the door fly open when another passenger approaches (or sometimes when the train goes around a bend at speed) because they hadn't actually locked it. Work has been done to improve this since the first VLo model - but it's still not great. The Azumas have a much better approach - there is
https://youtu.be/78eqz5Jm2QU?t=460 which is simple to use and unambiguous in its status.
I'm a big fan of the Azuma and its Hitachi AT300 brethren so I would be pretty pleased if they were chosen as the basis for Victoria's next generation of regional trains - but if we don't, there's still design lessons to be learnt.
LNER Azuma and Intercity 225s at Kings Cross Station
Shortly before 4pm I arrived into Kings Cross. With a bit over an hour until my Eurostar departed, I went and found the famous Platform 9 3/4, of Harry Potter fame. The first thing to be aware of is that at Kings Cross, tracks 8 & 9 share a platform and tracks 10 & 11 share a platform, so there is no wall between platforms 9 & 10 which young witches and wizards could run through with their trolleys. They rebadged platforms 4 & 5 to film the movies, and afterwards created an
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qx_r-dP22Ps of a luggage trolley disappearing into a random wall near platforms 9 & 10 (and right next to a store full of Harry Potter merchandise).
The Platform 9 3/4 display at Kings Cross
After heading next door to St Pancras for my Eurostar, I made the mistake of stopping for a beer outside the ticketed area, and had to rush to check in before the cutoff - under normal circumstances I would have been better off to check in early and then have a beer once I'd passed through customs, though admittedly on that evening the place was a mess because there was some massive issue on the line to Paris, leading to delays and cancellations for them. Thankfully my train to Amsterdam was only a little delayed in boarding and leaving.
After an excellent lunch on the LNER train I was expecting a pretty decent dinner on the Eurostar, but unfortunately it was pretty disappointing - only basic stuff like toasted sandwiches, prepared roughly and priced steeply. The food options in the beyond-customs waiting area at the station were also pretty limited (on this trip and on a later one) so my advice is: stock up on supplies well before you board.
Kings Cross and St Pancras Stations (and, inexplicably, a shoe on a bollard)
What had been a very full train leaving London almost entirely emptied out at Brussels, so it was nice and quiet as we sailed through Rotterdam and into Amsterdam. Despite being nearly 11pm by the time I pulled into Centraal, I still had a frequent metro train to get me back to Zuid Station, and a frequent tram from there to home - one of the things to love about Amsterdam.
Overall a great trip through mostly-northern parts of the UK, with only a few short hours spent in London. So about a month later I headed back to the UK to see London itself - keep an eye out for a future Travel Diaries post for that one.
This article first appeared on the-iron-road.blogspot.com
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