Saturday, 1 February 2020

Making an Exhibition!

The Market Deeping Model Railway Club of which I am a member often exhibits a layout at exhibitions around the East Midlands and beyond, and I volunteered to help operate its "Canons Cross" 00 gauge layout at the Festival of British Railway Modelling this month at Doncaster Racecourse. The way it worked was that four members drove to the venue on Friday with the layout packed in two cars and stayed over the exhibition weekend in a local hotel, then two more members travelled to join them on each of the two open days of the exhibition. I opted to attend on the Saturday and booked train tickets with LNER from Peterborough to Doncaster (just £5.75 each way, Advance Standard Class with my Senior Railcard) and with Cross Country from my local station to Peterborough and back.

Some dreadful weather, Storm Ciara, was threatened for the Sunday but Saturday was expected to be OK (although a cold start), and I set off from home for the 07:19 East Midlands Railway train bound for Norwich which I left at Peterborough to meet another club member to travel together on the 07:53 Leeds train as far as Doncaster. We'd had a rather scary email message a couple of days earlier from LNER saying that our booked service would be operated by a 5-coach Azuma train instead of the planned 9-coach InterCity 225 so there would be no seat reservations and it may even be that we may not be able to board at all so our tickets would be valid on the following train (just 5 minutes later, but stopping several times whereas our planned train was non-stop between Peterborough and Doncaster). In the event our little train came in from London with a couple of dozen passengers on board and just another couple of dozen waiting at Peterborough, so we found ourselves sharing a coach with about two other people! As we boarded the buffet counter was right in front of us so we bought coffee and and pastries for breakfast and took our seats, talking club business, as you do, all the way to Doncaster. I had heard many comments about the hard seats in Standard Class on these trains but I was very happy with mine and would recommend them wholeheartedly. Even in Standard I was able to keep my smartphone charged with a socket by my seat and had plenty of space to myself.

The express arrives at platform 2 at
Canons Cross, Southern Region BR
At Doncaster we walked round the corner to the bus station and asked about buses to the racecourse. While there are many service buses that would take us close to the venue, there was a service numbered 101 which was direct to the racecourse for the event and which was about to leave, so we hopped on board and were taken, the only two passengers, straight to the front door. Visitors were already queuing for the opening, still half-an-hour away, but we went straight in and explained that we were exhibitors and needed to have our passes, which our colleagues who'd arrived the previous day had ready for us. and so began a thoroughly enjoyable day of operating model trains and chatting to visitors at one of the nation's larger model railway shows. I had never operated this particular layout before and was given plenty of instruction by my more-experienced colleagues and had a really great time. When you realise what an effort it is to remove a steam locomotive from an arriving train, take to be turned, coaled and watered and then returning it to its train, compared with driving an electric multiple unit in and then just driving it out again you soon see why the full-size railway has done away with steam traction!

We had many visitors watching us and as the day wore on the numbers thinned dramatically just before closing time and this was a good opportunity to have a look at other layouts and the trade stands before it was time to head back to the station for the train home. Having an Advance ticket meant that I had to await my booked train (you have to sacrifice something to get such a cheap ticket!) so I saw two other trains to Peterborough leave before my own ... a good reason to have a pint of real ale from the neat little Draughtsman Alehouse on platform 3, sitting outside and watching the trains go by. There were many services I expected to see, to Leeds, Sheffield, the north, north Lincolnshire and south Yorkshire, but some surprises, too. One train, from York, was going to London St Pancras International, which I had not expected to see: it was an East Midlands Railway service via Sheffield and Derby and although not a quick way to London provided some useful journey possibilities on the way; another was to Southampton Central - not a destination I expected to see at Doncaster: it just goes to show how far you can get with no or just one change of train.

I used the Seatfrog app for the first time. This allows ticket-holders to bid in auction for First Class upgrades to their Standard Class tickets, and I won an upgrade for just £10. Given that the train was again lightly-loaded I am not sure I needed First Class, really, but I did once more share a coach with just a handful of other people and had very personal attention from the First Class host. This was one of the trains that stop at all the intermediate stops but never less I was soon in Peterborough where there was just a short wait for my Cross Country train to Stamford.

It had been a brilliant day in the company of some good friends and lots of appreciative strangers and I had had some great train rides as well.

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Friday, 31 January 2020

First Class from Lincoln

I do not travel to Lincoln as often as I used to do before I retired, but I have kept some interests there and occasionally have to attend meetings in the city. When I had to go this week I booked my tickets in advance so that I could use LNER’s new service between Peterborough and Lincoln, and I even managed to book First Class for the return leg, still saving money on the route I normally used to use via Spalding with East Midlands Railway. Not quite as quick, but I was hoping for rather more comfort than the single-car trains with insufficient legroom used on the other route.

On the way top Lincoln I was travelling Standard Class on one of LNER's legacy electric trains and I bought some lunch at Peterborough station while awaiting my connection. I had to change trains at Newark Northgate on this leg of the journey, so one more change that I used to have to make going the other way: through trains to and from Lincoln by LNER's route are only two-hourly, whereas the little East Midlands trains are slow but hourly. I was pleased at Newark to see that the connecting train to Lincoln, also provided by East Midlands Railway, now had two coaches and consequently was not overcrowded as they often used to be. As this train was going forward from Lincoln to provide the next service towards Peterborough via Spalding I could see that the shortage of coaches on that route was at last being addressed. I need no longer worry on that score if I chose in future to travel by that route.

My train arrived just a little early into Lincoln, as they often do, and I walked across to the bus station to ride up to the Cathedral and then walk round to my meeting, arriving nicely in time.

Early evening  at Lincoln Central
When my meetings were over and it was time to come home I walked down the hill to the station, having plenty of time before my LNER through train to Peterborough. Lincoln station was very busy with people going home from work, college and shopping, with a variety of local and regional trains going to all sorts of places, and not a single-car train in sight! Nor a "Pacer" unit with four-wheeled coaches; every train had improved beyond what we used to see here just a few weeks ago, and then, to cap it all, in came my train to Peterborough, a London-bound LNER "Azuma".

This was a brand-new class 800 5-car set operating a route which has been beefed-up from just once a day to five times, and I had a First Class ticket this time! The train cruised smoothly away from Lincoln station and into the night and I began catching up on email etc which had not received attention during my meetings, and before I knew it the train was stopping at Newark. I had been able to choose my seat reservation when I booked, and I had a single seat with table towards the end of a coach, very peaceful and convenient for the entrance, the luggage rack (which on this trip I did not actually need) and the toilet.

At Newark the diesel engines were switched off as the train was transferring to electric power for the rest of its run to London. On leaving Newark the at-seat catering trolley made its way through first class and I was served sandwiches and white wine - I was to dine at home later so I did not need any more than that, but I do hope the cooked meal was available for those going all the way to London (and I have no reason to believe it was not).

Although Azumas are no faster than the older electric trains in terms of top speed (both are capable of 140mph and restricted to 125 mph by line speed limits), the acceleration is far superior and departures are always quite a thrill; further, any delays are normally made up with very little difficulty and early arrivals are common, until the entire fleet has been updated and the timetable is rewritten to take the better performance into account, that is!

It was a good run and well worth the effort of booking in advance to grab the First Class journey home for less money than I usually pay for Standard! With East Midlands Railway promising a better timetable for its Lincolnshire services from December 2020 and the possibility of one or two more LNER services to Lincoln as well, the county is finally getting something approaching a decent train service. There will still be scope for more improvements, of course, with better trains to Scunthorpe, Grimsby and Cleethorpes badly needed, but whether anything can be done about the east Lincolnshire coast and Boston is another matter.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Exploring Cambridge

Day out by train with friends

Our friends who stay at New Year most years were able to stay a little longer than usual this time, and we were glad to have the extra time together. What to do with the extra day? I thought a day out on New Year's Eve, home in time to get ready to see in 2020 would be the best way forward and suggested a day in Cambridge: it is just over an hour away by through train so it is well-suited to a short day out and while we have not been there for a while (other than hospital appointments, but that is hardly the sort of adventure we like to plan!), our friends do not know it well at all. The suggestion was eagerly accepted and off we went mid-morning on 31st December.

We all had Senior Railcards so I had to gather us all together at the ticket office to buy the tickets. The others all needed PlusBus tickets, too, since a bus ride is almost essential in Cambridge to get from the station to most of the places we'd need to go - I have a Senior Citizen's concessionary pass and do not need to pay for my bus travel. Our outlay was reduced a bit by a rail travel voucher I had been sent in compensation for a delayed train earlier in the year, which was nice.

Our train to Cambridge turned up just about on time but was only two coaches. We did not all manage to sit together for the whole journey but we were able to sit as couples, and once passengers thinned out a bit at an intermediate stop we were able to sit around a table together - had we planned the trip a day in advance we could have reserved our seats, but even then it is a matter of whether four together would still have been available.

Arriving at Cambridge we made our way to the bus stops where a fast (i.e. non-stop; they're still subject to Cambridge's traffic queues!) service was about to leave, and we were soon at Emmanuel Street in the heart of the city. By now it was certainly time for coffee, possibly time for lunch, and we began by making our way through the Grand Arcade shopping centre towards the Michaelhouse café where we have enjoyed refreshments before. At this time of the year it was not especially busy and we did decide to have lunch in the interesting surrounds of an ancient church which is now 90% restaurant with just a small area set aside for prayer. As always the food was excellent and the prices reasonable.

We then set off to visit places which would interest our friends, mostly colleges and churches. There were, not surprisingly given the day of the year, some disappointments with places that were closed, but there was quiet a lot we did see, too, and we took a walk behind Trinity College and along The Backs. After visiting Little St Mary's church we made our way to The Eagle public house (once, like a pub we have visited in Oxford, called The Eagle and Child; interesting ...) famous for being the watering hole of those who discovered the structure of DNA.

Cambridge is one of those towns, Like Bath, Stamford, York and (of course) London, where it is a joy simply to be there and walk around the streets. And so we did! And eventually it was time to take a bus back to the station to await our train home Being New Year's Eve the service ended early, but that was fine by us; we wanted to be home to get ready to see in the new year, and in any case it is tiring visiting a city in this way. We caught a train which on most working days would have been packed but was not so bad on such a day and we all managed to sit together around a table for the whole of the trip home. It had been a great day out and the Champagne, kindly provided by our friends, was waiting in the fridge ready to toast 2020 while we watched the London fireworks on TV.

What might 2020 bring in terms of our travels? Well, we have a trip to Italy booked with Great Rail Journeys, and a tour of Scotland with Belmond Royal Scotsman (a bit extravagant, that, celebrating our fortieth wedding anniversary; we all not be spending that amount on a short break again), and so far our south coast summer holiday consists of a hotel booking in Chichester and nothing else! There is much more to plan yet, but proposed alterations to our house will keep us grounded for a few weeks. You'll just have to subscribe to this blog to follow where we go next!

Happy new year!