Friday 26 December 2014


A few weeks ago alterations were made to the signalling at Spalding, on the direct line between Peterborough and Lincoln. The line was closed for a few days while the work was done, part of the upgrade of the line, and I was due to go to Lincoln on the second day after it reopened. My meeting was at 10:30 in Newport, north of the cathedral, and the first through train from Peterborough arrives at 09:59, in plenty of time.

The little train to Lincoln at platform 1 at Peterborough
When I arrived at Peterborough on the 08:00 train from Stamford I found the train was indicated "delayed" with no indication of how long. It turns out that something had gone wrong with the one-day-old signalling between Peterborough and Spalding, and as this unit had already been there and back, once each way, it had built up an accumulated delay. Engineers were trying to find a remedy the fault so it had been difficult to tell how late it would eventually be. If it were already fixed and no further delay was incurred it would be just 20 minutes late, much of which could be recovered on the journey and I would not inconvenienced at all, and in the worst case in would not be fixed until much later and a further 20 minutes will have been built up, potentially making me at least 30 mins late and bound to miss the start of my meeting. I had to decide whether to get the next train back to Stamford and get my car out and drive: I'd then be on time (unless there were also a problem on the roads - no less likely!) but would have done none of the jobs I had planned to accomplish on the way. I decided to wait: the crew seemed confident that they would not be very late into Lincoln, possibly only a few minutes but up to about twenty.

I boarded and got on with my jobs, whatever they were.

Never been to Lincolnshire before!
 A group of "young retired" people from Hitchin joined the train, too, on a tour by train and bus to explore Lincolnshire. They were doing the sort of thing we sometimes do, although we are less keen on the bus element and tend to use more train: they, of course, had free bus travel for which I am not old enough!

It was a misty day and the scenery of the Lincolnshire fens was fascinating through the mist. At Sleaford, Ruskington and Metheringham the usual crowds boarded the train for shopping or studying in Lincoln.

A few minutes of the delay were made up by shortening the stop at Sleaford, and we arrived in Lincoln at 10:18. If I had been going to the Cathedral I'd have stormed up the hill on foot and expect to be just in time, but I knew I'd never get as far as Newport on foot in that time, so to the taxi rank. I asked for the address and watched the meter tick up as the driver took me through the crowded streets. Now there was no hurry in terms of getting to the start of the meeting, but the quicker he did it the less expensive it would be! I know Lincoln and know he took the shortest and quickest route and I arrived in good time.

Now the interesting thing is that even with the taxi fare this journey was still a lower expenses claim than the mileage would have been had I driven. If had not had a Senior Railcard then the cost would have more-or-less the same by car; with the railcard it was a worthwhile saving. As my expenses are met by the sacrificial giving of church members I am pleased to be able to keep the costs down as much as I can; in a large rural diocese like Lincoln it is inevitable that I'll have to use the car a fair bit but I always look at train and bus options first to see if it is possible to save. It sometimes takes longer, but the time can be used when on the train or bus, and I tend to save up jobs like reading papers so that I can make use of travel time.

Passengers seated in the luggage space!
The trip home was uneventful apart from the overcrowding of the train between Lincoln and the first stop at Metheringham. I was able to board swiftly and had a seat (as did most people, of course), but a number of the students ended up standing towards the ends of the car or even sitting on the luggage rack! I Tweeted this to East Midlands Trains who responded that their franchise did not allow enough coaches to strengthen these trains. Effectively they are victim of their own success - people want to travel by train, and if you were to add those who are put off by the overcrowding and those who cannot make their plans fit round the timetable (as often mine can't) they could probably operate twice as many trains on the routes in and out of Lincoln and fill them all. The overcrowding ceased at Metheringham as a large group of students and shoppers left the train, and by the time the train left Sleaford there was plenty of empty space until more joined at Spalding. The stretch between Spalding and Sleaford has a late start and an early finish to its timetable, so the people are not accustomed to using trains for this trip and the few they do have load poorly. A good service needs to start and finish before and after the working day at least, but on this line the first train of the day was the one I used, due in Lincoln at ten o'clock! The people of Spalding will not think "train" when a day in Lincoln is needed.

The signal problems had been solved and I was in Peterborough on time and connected smoothly for Stamford and home. I hope that the upgrade of the line, which is primarily to provide a freight route away from the East Coast Main Line between Doncaster and Peterborough, will enable the passenger train companies to consider providing a better service here which would contribute to easing road traffic congestion in Lincoln as well as enabling people to make better use of their time.

Monday 22 December 2014

Two more trips to Cambridge

Recently I had to visit someone in hospital again, at Addenbrookes in Cambridge, and used the tried and tested off-peak day return train ticket with Plusbus. With my Senior Railcard this was very considerably cheaper than mileage plus parking, and it avoided driving on the dreaded A14 and the traffic in Cambridge.

View from the top deck of a bus at Cambridge rail station
Since my previous visit a year or two earlier, a vast amount of building work has taken place, transforming what had been the goods yard and some commercial and industrial buildings adjacent to the station into a pleasant residential area, with large blocks of flats (presumably many for students) in a decent quality townscape. The bus stops are now located along this street, to the left as you leave the station, and, as before, there is a frequent service to the hospital and I boarded a waiting vehicle and was soon under way along a brand-new street.

As with my last visit I returned from Addenbrookes using a Guided Bus from within the hospital grounds (other buses use a terminal adjacent to the main entrance). This took a while to weave through the grounds dropping an picking up passengers but once on the Busway sped into Cambridge and was soon at the station, neatly in time for the next train to Stamford. 

Timed carefully, this is a very quick and efficient way to and from Addenbrookes Hospital.

Last week we decided to do some of our Christmas shopping in Cambridge and set off bright and early with two off-peak day returns with Plusbus (Saturday, off-peak all day!), this time reduced by a third using our Two Together Railcard! As we were heading for the city centre this time the avoidance of traffic was just as important and although the trains were busy there was enough of space for us to sit together and again a very pleasant journey was enjoyed. The views of Ely from the train never pall. At Cambridge now our trains arrive at the new platform recently opened which takes away Cambridge station's unique arrangement of one very long platform face divided into two sections with points in the middle to allow it to take trains heading in either direction, at the same time. The points are still there and this technique can still be used but there is now much less need for it and train movements in the station are considerably eased by having two further platform faces in operation.

In Cambridge we rediscovered the Michaelhouse café/restaurant at St Michael's church and had both coffee and lunch there. A really good establishment serving "home-made" food of high quality and reasonable cost, and well-placed for the historic centre of Camridge.

When we were ready to return to the station we went to the bus stops and there were about four buses on several different routes all of which were going our way and any of which would have done, so it was time to guess which queue would move the fastest! As it turned out we were on the third bus to leave (not sure what one of the passengers wanted but she seemed to take about 20 minutes to buy her ticket from the driver - probably a gross exaggeration!) but were only a matter of seconds behind the first, and we were dropped nearer the entrance to the station anyway. The moral of this tale is that when there is a frequent enough service it really does not matter which bus you are on.

We love Cambridge. It is one of the few towns whose architecture compares with Stamford's, and it is so easy to get to by train. The shops provide all you could want but cannot buy in Stamford and the bookshops in particular are excellent, as you would expect with a world-class university. In the summer it is a great place just to be, without a reason. To picnic, to punt, to browse the shops or see the buildings, it is well worth investing a little time and money on a day in Cambridge.