RAIL Photography: PAUL BIGLAND
Ten years ago RAIL came up with a cunning plan to send me around the UK on an All Line Rover, to report on the state of the nation’s railways.
This year, for my biennial Rover journey, RAIL is sending me to retrace my steps from that first odyssey, and report on a decade of change. What has improved… and what has got worse? We’ll find out over the next three issues…
To get to my original starting point in London, I take Grand Central’s 0708 Halifax to King’s Cross, worked by one of the former First Great Western Class 180 Adelante diesel multiple units.
Ten years ago GC had its ambitions squashed by the Strategic Rail Authority, which had refused its application. Now it has two routes, and consistently receives high marks in Passenger Focus satisfaction surveys.
My train is busy in both Standard and First Class, as to many the connectivity it creates between the West Riding and London is a Godsend. It rather elegantly skewers the argument heard from some (in Yorkshire and elsewhere) that HS2’s fast links to London will act as a drain and damage the North’s economy.
The initial part of the route through Mirfield and Wakefield to Doncaster is a bit of a stagger, but on a beautiful sunny day like today I don’t mind - it gives me time to sip my coffee and enjoy the scenery.
After Doncaster the ‘180’ accelerates rapidly past the old Doncaster Carr locomotive depot (now being redeveloped for Intercity Express Programme trains), and we speed down the East Coast Main Line to London.
Arriving at King’s Cross, I don’t hang around. After answering some daft security questions to check my suitcase into left luggage (does anyone ever admit that someone has given them explosives to carry?) I go to buy a ticket.
But seeing the queues at the ‘Cross, I nip over to St Pancras International instead. Within a few minutes I have spent £478 of RAIL’s money on an All Line Rover, and head up to Crouch Hill to re-create that first journey.
The station has benefited from major improvements in a decade. Silverlink and the Class 150s have disappeared, and London Overground and Class 172s have taken over. The station is now staffed, and service frequencies have doubled.
I head to Barking on a half-empty train that trundles sedately across north and east London. The bright, clean interiors of the ‘170s’ are much nicer than the old ‘150s’, but they are too short a train in the peak. However, soon they’ll be gone, replaced by electric multiple units as the line will be electrified by 2017.