Thursday 24 February 2022

Pandemic, Storm and Strike ... Can We Travel? Yes We Can!

 Travelling Patiently by Train in Difficult Conditions

We had a granddaughter staying with us. She is very fond of her cousin who lives in London and we arranged for her to come and stay as well, for just for one night so that they could spend some time together, which does not happen very often. Her mother, our daughter-in-law, bought train tickets and planned to bring her by LNER and the Cross Country connection from London to Stamford via Peterborough on Friday morning; I bought tickets to return the little girl to London the following evening where my son, her father, would meet us at Kings Cross, having arrived from a football match in Derby just ten minutes earlier at St Pancras and take her home while I returned alone to Peterborough, from where I would need a taxi home since on Saturdays the last connection for Stamford is far too early. What could possibly go wrong?

Storm Eunice was, of course, what went wrong - coupled with a strike on Cross Country trains (although that did not seem to have a huge effect) and Cross Country's reduced timetable during the current Omicron-variant Covid-19 pandemic wave which reduced connections available at Peterborough for Stamford.

I was in touch with the London family when LNER released its "Do not travel" advice and we agreed that for such a short journey it was worth an attempt even if the attempt might have to be abandoned. I stood by to meet the child by car at Peterborough if the connection to Stamford turned out to be impossible. She and her mother turned up at Kings Cross to board their train, aware that it would be speed-restricted. In the event it not only ran slower than normal but was also stopped several times by line blockages: I think it totalled one shed, two trees and a station roof (part of one, anyway). I drove to Peterborough since they would miss the last connection before a big gap in the temporary Cross Country timetable and our daughter-in-law needed to start her journey back to London, knowing that it, too, might be an adventure. I had to change my route by car when I came across an unexpected queue, and I had to dodge bits of tree on the road and steer well clear of weaving and swaying lorries, but we made it home and the two little cousins had a great time together, well worth all the effort.

For me personally, the thing I had most looked forward to doing was taking my granddaughter back to London to meet her father. I had booked First Class LNER tickets for us both on the way up, and for myself alone for the return. My ticket back was fully funded by accumulated LNER Perks credit, so was effectively free of charge; in order to use the Perks credit I had to buy the tickets using the LNER iPhone app, which worked very well and I am pleased to have used it, although for complex journeys it would not be as easy to use for journey planning as a website. 

I also had Standard Class Cross Country tickets for the outward journey, but I had to ask for a refund on these as the train we expected to use was cancelled and I had to drive again. This actually worked to my advantage since I would then have my car in Peterborough and would not have to go to the expense of a taxi to get home. You might wonder why I had not planned this from the start, and the answer is that we try to avoid taking these children by car if we can - they are especially poor at road travel and we do have a rather nice car interior which we'd like to keep that way! In the event all went well, and as I have mentioned in a previous blog post the car park at Peterborough station is now very easy to use, with just a contactless card needed at the exit barrier to pay: no ticket, no app, no cash (although cash at the pay station is an option). I just drive in then tap my credit card and drive out, and at weekends it is not expensive.

Given the utter chaos of the previous day I was surprised and greatly impressed that our train was not only running but was on time. We took our reserved seats - the one pair of single seats facing each other across a table - and realised that we were the only people in the coach until one man sat at the end of the coach. We had a lot of personal attention from the First Class host who really looked after the little girl's needs. She had a colouring book for the journey but did not need it as the complimentary refreshments took our attention for the whole time until it was time to get our coats on and go and find Daddy, who was there to meet us at the ticket barrier. His East Midlands Railway train from Derby to St Pancras had also been on time. You would never have guessed what the country was going through and how difficult the day before had been, or on this day in other parts.

I had allowed some time before my booked train home in case there had been a problem meeting, so I went for a short walk and then waited in the First Class Lounge at Kings Cross for the 20:30 to Leeds which would take me back to Peterborough.

I had agreed with LNER to record a "video diary" of my attempts to use the on-board wi-fi on this journey so that they could look into the difficulties in using it which I had mentioned in feedback in previous correspondence. This was a very interesting exercise and it took me a little effort to work out how best to do it! I used my iPad for the actual wi-fi experiment and had been given some tasks to attempt - apart from actually connecting and logging-on - and I used my iPhone as the video camera to record my thoughts and footage of my experiments. It all went very well, although the wi-fi was a little slow at downloading a BBC Sounds podcast and completely unusable for YouTube video streaming. Now at home I discovered after several failed attempts to upload the video that the site required a very low-resolution version - job now done!

The journey back was in a coach fairly well-loaded, in contrast with the empty coach in which we had travelled to London, and indeed although the drinks trolley reached me in reasonable time, the food only just got to me before I had to alight at Peterborough - mercifully I did not need to eat as I had had enough on the first train only a short while earlier. I remembered to avoid the alcoholic drinks as I was about to drive my car home! Leaving the train at Peterborough I was soon demisting my car and preparing for the drive home, the last few miles. This takes roughly the same time as the train-plus-walk-from-station, but although it was very convenient I did miss the exercise of the walk to and from Stamford station at the start and end of this day's journeys. Door-to-door transport is all very well, but by walking and using public transport I usually get all of the exercise I need without needing gym membership and all the time that takes!

So there were definitely problems travelling, and the Do Not Travel advice was very wise: for a long trip it would have been easy to have been stranded. For our purposes it seems to have been worth the chance, starting early and being aware of the issues and with back-up plans and plenty of time in hand meant that we had a joyful weekend that it would have been a great pity to cancel. And I did get my trip to London with my eldest grandchild!

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