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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