Railway renaissance

The skeletal remains of the island platform’s roof has been put out of its misery, and dispatched to a scrapyard. In its place there is a resurfaced platform, a new waiting shelter, new lighting, and even steel sculptures. The subway’s roof has been replaced, and new glazed panels let in natural light to the ramp.

It’s wonderful to see new life being breathed into this Grade 2 listed station. When it’s complete, the building is planned to house a cafe, ticketing, retail and office space, and a community meeting place, as well as ‘incubation’ units for small businesses.

Wakefield has done well out of the rail regeneration stakes, as a short walk to the town’s other station (Westgate) testifies. In 2013, an £8.6m project replaced the cramped BR station with a new building, footbridge and lifts, and redeveloped the area outside to include a massive 900-space car park. It’s spacious and a pleasure to use, compared with the original.

From Wakefield Westgate I catch a local Northern EMU service to my next destination - Doncaster. The town has long been associated with the railways, and still has a major role to play. It’s a busy, congested hub, and when things go awry you’ll see passenger and freight trains queuing to get through the bottleneck it creates.

But today is a good day, and my East Coast service is on time and fairly empty. I have no problem getting a seat in the Mk 4 buffet car, although much to my chagrin, the shop is closed for the entire journey to Retford. Still, the coach is clean and comfortable, and the power sockets allow me to give my phone a welcome battery boost.

I plan to change at Retford to allow me to sample Hull Trains, and the break gives me opportunity to explore the town’s attractive station.

Although the surrounding yards have shrunk in size, and the famous flat crossing is long gone, the original station building is intact. As well as the usual ticket office and cafe, it’s the headquarters of the Bassetlaw (North Notts) Railway Society, which displays some fascinating old photos in the clubroom windows.

In another room is a plaque commemorating the sterling wartime work of the local Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS), who used it to serve a staggering 2,284,000 meals to servicemen during the Second World War!

Pondering on their Herculean efforts, I cross over to Platform 3 to catch Hull Trains’ 1109 service back to Doncaster, before then heading back south to Grantham on HT’s 1326 service.

Hull Trains must be unique, in that in the decade since 2004 it has replaced its entire train fleet three times!

Back then it had just taken delivery of its brand new three-car Class 170s, replacing the sets hired in from Anglia. By the following year, traffic growth had allowed the open access operator to replace these with four-car Class 222s. In 2008, those units were controversially transferred to Midland Mainline, and replaced with cast-off ex-First Great Western Class 180s. In the years since, the ‘180s’ have been refreshed, and I have to admit that HT has done a good job with them.

Neither service is particularly busy, so I have no problem getting a seat. FGW-style mocquette has been applied to the original seat frames, and they have been fitted with power points and received an internal repaint, leaving them bright and attractive. The staff are equally smart, as well as being friendly and efficient.

But not everything goes swimmingly. I make both trips on the same set and coach (B in 180110), which suffers from a couple of frustrating niggles. The PA is poor quality, leaving many of the announcements inaudible, and the free WiFi is very frustrating - in one direction it packs up as soon as I log on, while on the return it keeps dropping out all the time, rendering it unusable. It’s a shame really, as all the open access operators get good passenger satisfaction scores.

Swapping TOCs at Grantham, I transfer to East Coast’s 1418 to King’s Cross, for my final leg of the tour and a return to my starting point - London.

The Mk 4 set I catch is busy, but I secure a seat and settle in to enjoy the trip. And the crew (I’m guessing they are from Newcastle) are a delight, full of enthusiasm for their job. There is a lovely personal touch when one of them comes on the PA to announce that it is the First Class Trolley Host’s birthday, and asks all the passengers to wish them a happy one!

The hour-long journey flies by. We whiz through Peterborough, and only stop once - at Stevenage, where I am amused to see a very unrailway-like small plastic shed on the opposite platform. It immediately puts me in mind of Grandpa Potts’ shed in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Perhaps station staff are trying to find an attraction to rival Harry Potter’s trolley at King’s Cross?

Into London, and the next things that catch my eye are the expanding rail depots at Bounds Green and Hornsey.

After decades of dereliction, the former Up ‘Coronation’ sidings at Hornsey are being converted into a new depot for the massive new Siemens train fleet that will grace the Thameslink network.

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