Friday 15 November 2019

Wet and Windy, or how we miss the East Lincs Main Line

By train to Boston, Lincs

My route across Lincolnshire! You can easily see where the
route of the East Lincs Main Line used to be
People in Louth, Lincolnshire, say that in the 1960s they could travel by train to London in about the same time as it now takes them to drive to their nearest main line station. The people of Boston may look more fortunate as they still have a railway station, but to get to London from there now involves a fifty-minute ride to Grantham before starting a main line trip of a similar length to the old direct train from Boston itself. The closure of the East Lincolnshire main line between Grimsby and Peterborough was, combined with decline in fishing and in seaside holidays, a catastrophe for the Lincolnshire coast from which it has never recovered. The roads around the area are grossly inadequate for the traffic they are now forced to take, and even the new A16 laid along the track bed of the main line between Spalding and Boston is often overloaded, especially with lorries taking agricultural produce to market, traffic once taken by rail. 

Still, Boston is on the railway and can be reached. So when I had to go there I thought I’d give the train a try. I had to attend a training session in Boston, at 9.30 in the morning in November. It is in the same county but is a difficult drive on busy roads at the best of times, and in rain the journey by road was not a pleasant prospect. To be sure of getting there for the start, I'd have to plan to arrive at 09:00 to allow time for Boston's chronic congestion (probably also a result of having inadequate railways!) and to find a parking space. This would mean leaving at about 07:30, given the slowness of traffic around Spalding and along the A16. That perspective makes the 06:57 departure required to do the trip by train seem a little less daunting, although I did have to walk to the station before then, of course! But then, had I gone by car I'd have had very little exercise that day whereas I actually walked a fair bit one way and another. and exercise matters.

A pleasant surprise. I had no idea that USB
sockets had been fitted to EMR class 158
It was a good day, broadly speaking. There were niggling little delays here and there because of the dreadful weather, but nothing to spoil things; all connections easily made. I bought my tickets in advance using the Cross Country Trains Train Tickets app and had them as electronic tickets on my iPhone, with a print-out just in case, so I did not need time even to pick up the tickets at the station and could just walk onto the train. I had reserved seats from Stamford to Peterborough and back, and between Peterborough and Grantham and back, but there are no reservations available between Grantham and Boston. The total fare, Standard Class Anytime Return was £30.65 with my Senior Railcard. (The mileage would have been £31.50, plus the cost of parking, so I have saved a bit on the expenses claim!) All the trains were warm and dry and I was able to get on with the tasks I had in mind to do on the way there and back - something which would have been out of the question if I had travelled by car. This was helped by East Midlands Railway and LNER trains having USB charging ports at all Standard Class seats: it was only at the stations and the on the section between Peterborough and Stamford on Cross Country Trains where I had to run my
iPhone and iPad on battery power, although on the other hand that was also the only stretch with free WiFi. WiFi was available at all the stations, too. With a fully-charged iPhone I never needed to use the paper tickets I had printed at home, but they were handy to keep in the pocket because they include the itinerary for the trip - very useful with two changes of train each way - and the seat reservation details, so although I never showed them to anyone, I looked at the times and seat numbers at each departure and junction station. That, too, would have been on the iPhone, but it rather more fuss to consult than a folded paper in my jacket pocket.

I had had a rather earlier-than-usual breakfast so I bought a croissant at Peterborough station before boarding the Liverpool-bound train which would take me to Grantham, and at Grantham I had a few minutes to wait for the Skegness train which took me to Boston. These were both comfortable trains with plenty of legroom, quite unlike the dreadful units that run between Peterborough and Lincoln and which I have to use much more often than these. I was on time at Boston and walked through some fairly heavy rain to my course in the town centre - a test for my new raincoat which it passed with distinction! All dried out soon enough during the day.

When it was time to come home I hurried far too quickly to the station and had to wait several minutes for the train. I don't think I had taken in just how convenient Boston station is, and I could have chatted just a little more to colleagues instead of rushing off.

The train back to Grantham stopped at Rauceby signal box (they still have them on that line!) for the signaller to warn the driver that the line was flooded ahead and that the train would have to proceed slowly. In spite of this we were only a few minutes late into Grantham, easily allowing for the connection to Peterborough. I would not be home for dinner as I was intending to go straight to a meeting when I arrived in Stamford,  so I planned to have a snack on the train to Peterborough, which was a LNER "Azuma" scheduled to have a buffet car. I was horrified on arrival at Grantham to see that my train was indicated baldly "Delayed" and with no time shown. I was soon comforted when a two-minute late departure was indicated (although the EMR train behind it was still just "Delayed" - probably yet more flooding). The train was one of the new service from Lincoln, a five-coach Azuma set ideal for this service, and I had my reserved seat. I walked through to the buffet and bought my sandwich and a can of Hop on Board ale which occupied the time to Peterborough: indeed I was still enjoying the beer on arrival there and finished it while waiting for the connection to Stamford.

And so to my evening meeting and eventually home to bed - arriving about fifteen hours after setting off from the station! But all very relaxed, with jobs done.

I was happy that I had made the correct decision to go by rail. Yes, it takes longer than driving, and it involved two changes of train. But it also gave me time to get things done, time to relax, and some exercise. I only got wet once, but then so did those who drove, for the car parks were no handier for the venue than the rail station in Boston. It was good day, a bit of an adventure. really, and as you know by now, I do like a bit of an adventure!

Tuesday 5 November 2019

An easy way to lose a pound

Having returned from my trip described in the post below, I went through the Journey History on my TfL Oyster app and found an interesting phenomenon. The trip from Kings Cross St Pancras to Orpington cost me £3.70 but the trip from Orpington to St Pancras only cost me £2.70. It took me a while to twig why that was, but it is plainly because I used the Underground between Kings Cross and London Bridge on the way there and Thameslink (which is part of the national rail network) on the way back. The change of mode involving an extra touch-out, touch-in at London Bridge cost me £1, whereas by using a rail connection the charge was as for an unbroken journey because I had not passed through any barriers.

So .... always Thameslink in future (it's a more pleasant ride anyway).

An Unexpected Adventure!

LNER Azuma train in the evening mist at Peterborough
I was a guest at a little art exhibition in a suburban chip shop in Peterborough on Sunday afternoon (it is a long story: perhaps I shall tell it one day, but that day is not now), when I received a plaintive WhatsApp message from my daughter in Orpington: she and her little boy both had stomach upsets and she would struggle to look after him when her husband went to work on Monday - could I possibly come and help?

I went home and packed and my wife drove me to Peterborough station on her way to collect another grandchild who was already due to come and stay at our home. The drive to Peterborough went very well and I was expecting to catch a LNER Azuma and be well on my way in a short time. It was tight and I had a ticket to buy, but just enough time, until we joined the queue of cars for the drop-off area at the station! I had no choice, really, but to grab my luggage from the boot and walk to the station; no time to be driven the last few metres! To my great relief the travel centre was still open and I was able to ask for the ticket I needed from a real human being; I find LNER's machines long-winded to use and was afraid of missing the train. I bought a Standard Class off-peak single for Kings Cross with the intention of buying a Weekend First upgrade on board which ever train I caught. Mercifully the one I had intended to catch was just a couple of minutes late, so I did not have to run to catch it. I found a single seat at one end and settled down, on edge, hoping I had packed all that I needed and could do all that would be asked of me in Orpington. I was expecting to stay just the one night but could just manage a second day if necessary. Those who follow this blog may remember that there is no guest accommodation at my daughter's home, but the usual fix of staying at the Premier Inn would not really work for this visit as I needed to be on site, so I had an inflatable mattress among my luggage, a brilliant pice of kit in its own backpack and with its own pump for inflating and deflating it. So easy to carry but one more thing to keep track of.

Weekend evening snack
As the train left Peterborough the First Class hosts came round offering the food and drink: I had a bacon, lettuce and tomato roll, which I do not recall having before on a LNER train, and apple juice, there being no included beer at weekends. Soon the ticket examination began and I paid £25 for the upgrade - an expensive BLT sandwich but a very smooth and comfortable ride with space to unwind, just what I needed to help me calm down after the hectic preparation and departure. Well worth it.

And so in London to the Northern Line Underground to London Bridge (yes, I remembered to bring my Oyster Card with me!) and then the next train to Orpington, a fast one in just a few minutes. I splashed out on a taxi to complete the journey as buses are thin on a Sunday evening and I wanted to get there as quickly as possible. This was probably the fastest door-to-door trip I have ever done between the two houses, and also probably the most expensive, being at short notice.

Wine already served, work on blog continues
When I came to book the return trip, once I was sure the emergency was over and it was safe to come home, by choosing a late train back and booking in advance, even on the day, I was able to secure a First Class ticket for only £15.50, much less than the cheapest possible fare on the way out  even without the upgrade! The downside was that I had to take a specific train and as it happened I could have gone half-an-hour earlier if I had known how easily I could get away and how smoothly my journey into London would go. (So much time did I have in hand that I wrote most this blog post as I awaited the train back to Peterborough.) I took a bus from my daughter's him to Orpington station where a fast train left for London Bridge just a few moments later. From there a Thameslink train took me quickly to St Pancras whence I waited in the First Class Lounge at Kings Cross until my train was ready to board. There I typed most of this blog post: much of the rest was done on the train until my meal arrived.

Monday evening's meal, with wine
I decided to try out the new electronic ticketing system and did not have to pick up a paper ticket at the station: it is held in the Apple Wallet on my iPhone. I also downloaded the optional PDF file as well so that I could show it on my iPad in case I had a problem with the phone. I still needed the Standard Class single between Peterborough and Stamford and bought this using the Cross Country Train Tickets app, again placing the ticket in my Apple Wallet. I still needed to keep my Senior Railcard to hand as I do not (yet?) have a digital version of that, although I gather they are now available.

The LNER ticket worked fine when inspected and although the Cross Country one was safely own the Apple Wallet that ticket was never inspected so it was not put to the test, although I have no reason to think it would have been otherwise. What I have not yet done is use one at a ticket barrier, and I can see that being a particular problem when travelling together with both tickets on one iPhone: there would be a delay while swapping tickets.

The Azuma arrived in Peterborough on time, allowing me plenty of time to cross to platform 7 for the connection home, also on time. Two perfect journeys giving me the opportunity to relax after my unexpected trip and to prepare for a good night's sleep before what were already expected to be a couple of busy days.