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!

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