Hopefully it’s safe to come clean now, and RAIL’s postbag won’t be full of irate letters from fans of locomotive haulage.
Like in 2004, my journey ends at Westbury. Unlike in 2004, the station shop isn’t run from two sheds, and the passenger facilities are much improved. And a fortuitous connection with a late-running Paddington train gives me the opportunity to get some pictures and make up some time.
As the train pulls in I can see it is packed to the gunwales, but a large group gets off, leaving space for me. As we leave, the Guard uses the PA to apologise for the fact that the lateness is due to overcrowding. Despite this and the earlier suitcase-based excitement, I have gained an hour on my schedule, so I am able to catch an earlier train from Euston to Glasgow.
In 2004 I used the Sleeper train, but on this trip it has proved impossible to get a berth. So on the Friday afternoon, I find myself waiting at a packed Euston concourse for the 1730, which is late because the inbound working has been delayed.
Euston on Fridays is like a Le Mans racing start, as everybody who doesn’t have a reservation runs like the clappers to try and bag a seat, myself included... Winning the race and bagging a seat, I settle down for the trip by plugging in my laptop and trying to log onto the WiFi, but it isn’t playing ball. Virgin’s WiFi is clearly in need of an upgrade.
Still, I am kept occupied by my phone, as I had tweeted about how busy Euston was. This has drawn angry responses from those opposed to HS2, who are in full-on denial mode!
It is a long journey, but a pleasant one. The Pendolinos have become reliable trains with great performance. It’s always a pleasure to tilt around the sweeping curves at Wolverton in one.
Signal problems south of Weaver Junction delay us further, leaving the train 14 minutes late at Preston, but the Train Manager is good at keeping us updated. Heading through the beautiful Lune Gorge, the evening sunshine displays it at its best, while north of Carlisle the setting sun we are chasing is stunning.
The trip is thoroughly enjoyable, but it has been an eventful day, and I am keen to get to Glasgow Central and a night in the gorgeous station hotel (yet another building that has been the recipient of a stylish makeover since 2004). And yes, I have remembered to bring my suitcase!
Beginning a day at Glasgow Central is always a pleasure, as Scotland has some lovely stations and Central is one of the gems in the crown.
There’s an old joke that Glaswegians are the only people who can make hello sound like a threat, but I’ve always found it a welcoming and fun city. The city is about to host the Commonwealth Games, imbuing the place with a real buzz and a feeling of anticipation.
A sampling of ScotRail services sees me take a circular trip from the Low Level station out to Dalmuir for a change of trains, before returning via Hyndland to Queen Street Low Level. And ScotRail doesn’t fail to impress. All the trains are clean; staff are keen to check tickets; and all the stations are immaculate, with cleaners busy making sure they stay that way.
Back at Central, I am in time to catch the 1012 to Dumfries, for a trip along the Glasgow South Western route. The line through the Glasgow suburbs takes us through several attractive stations. Many, such as Barrhead, have lovely floral displays. My only complaint is that we are brought to a stand outside the station for several minutes, then set off again without any explanation offered, which is a shame.
The GSW route is a pretty line, even though it lacks the rugged grandeur of its Highland cousins. It still has sections of semaphore signalling and old signalboxes at locations such as Lugton, and there’s always something of interest at Kilmarnock, where the Wabtec Rail works attracts unusual and exotic vehicles.
My own journey becomes more ‘exotic’ at Auchinleck, where a hen party of 14, of all ages and sizes, and decked out in the obligatory sashes and skimpy tops proclaiming their rank, are waiting to catch the train. I am soon surrounded by a laughing group who immediately break out cans of strong cider, bottles of lager and cans of gin and tonic, and proceed to make merry! As the journey progresses, their heavy Scottish accents are made even more impenetrable by the alcohol.
At Kirkconnel, a group of middle-aged blokes get on, and banter soon breaks out between the two camps when it turns out the men are on a stag do! Although boisterous, the women aren’t badly behaved, and they even pose for a picture when they see my camera and hear what my mission is.
Being a weekend, the dreaded ‘bustitution’ strikes at Dumfries, and we transfer to road coaches for the final leg into Carlisle.
Leaving the coach, the unmistakable notes of a chime whistle catch my ears, announcing that a Gresley A4 Pacific is in town. Rushing into the station, I am just in time to see 60009 Union of South Africa running round the ‘Cumbrian Mountain Express’.
Carlisle is a bit of a timewarp on this day. Shortly after, two vintage British Rail diesels (a Class 20 and a ‘47’) rumble through, followed by a pair of West Coast ‘37s’. In complete contrast, one of the UK’s newest locomotives (a Colas Rail ‘70’) sits in the sidings.
My ‘gricing’ is cut short when a pair of TransPennine Express ‘350s’ arrive from Scotland to whisk me south. The diesel Desiros are comfortable trains (when you can get a seat), but the Desiro EMUs offer much needed extra capacity.
Being new trains, they are in good condition, and I enjoy the journey down to Oxenholme, which is a lovely, well maintained little station looked after by Virgin Trains. I have only a few minutes to admire the place before Pendolino 390013 arrives, packed with passengers and luggage. A vacant perch seat suffices for the short trip to Preston, where I transfer to a Northern Rail train to Burscough Junction.
This former Lancashire & Yorkshire main line to Liverpool is single-track nowadays. It’s a bit of a Cinderella line that is normally worked by single-car Class 153s, although the one I catch is both clean and very busy.
The line may be a backwater, but it has not been neglected by the locals. At Croston, for example, a local station friends groups has been busy restoring and planting out the derelict Preston-bound platform.
Arriving at Burscough, I deviate from my original route by returning to Halifax for a rare night at home, before my final two days documenting a decade of change. What would I find next?
In RAIL 759, in the third and final part of Paul’s All-Line Rover journey, he revisits the station he labelled as Britain‘s worst.
- This feature was published in RAIL 758 on 1 October 2014