Friday, 26 December 2014

Taxi!

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.

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