Thursday 20 April 2023

Lincolnshire is a Big County!

Train trip to Lincoln

Many years ago I happened to be passing through Kings Cross station in London and spotted the familiar figure of the then Bishop of Grimsby, the Rt Revd David Tustin, in one of the queues for a departing train. (In those days we had to queue on a crowded concourse while we waited for the platform to be announced for our train: no seat reservations, no nice mezzanine with food shops etc.) I said hello and among other things he remarked that when he came to London from his home in Grimsby he was more than half way there before he left the Diocese of Lincoln (which would be just north of Peterborough). Now that I live in Stamford I am nearer to both London and Birmingham than I am to Grimsby: Lincolnshire is a big county.  We are only about fifty miles from Lincoln, but by rail, because we have to change at Peterborough, it actually takes longer to travel to Lincoln than it does to travel to London, even using LNER's fast trains.

LNER Azuma trains take just an hour between Peterborough and Lincoln, but less than 50 minutes between Peterborough and London. So when well-priced First Class tickets are available, then it is worth choosing First Class when travelling to Lincoln. This only works if I can be confident of the times I can travel and if those times fit with the LNER timetable, for their trains only run at two-hour intervals. I was attending a meeting this week and the LNER times suited me well, and First Class tickets were available at a good enough price. I vacillated quite a bit before deciding to go for them, for Standard Class would have been cheaper still, of course. I would claim only the Standard fare on expenses, so it was a question of whether I thought it worth covering the extra for my extra comfort - the clincher was that I'd be returning on the 13:24 and so the complimentary catering would provide my lunch on the way back while the outward "second breakfast" would keep me going until what would be a rather late lunch for me.

The connecting train out from Stamford to Peterborough was on time and I had a while to wait at Peterborough. Normally I connect there into East Midlands Railway's stopping service to Lincoln which leaves a good while before the LNER fast train and is cheaper if using flexible tickets, but the LNER one arrives slightly earlier having fewer stops and a much faster route. So I sat in the waiting room and did some preparation for my meeting: recently electric sockets including USB and USB C ports have been installed in the seating in the Peterborough waiting rooms so I was able to keep my computer and smartphone topped up with charge while I worked.

The train came into the platform in very good time and caught me off-guard and I bundled up my gear and boarded in coach D to look for my seat. There were very few other passengers in this coach and I had a choice of seats: the one reserved for me, curiously, was at a table for three even though there were several single seats free, but as I had work to do I thought I'd take the table seat and be able to spread out a bit!

Arriving in Lincoln in good time I took a bus up the hill to my meeting near the Cathedral and then afterwards walked back down to the station. I had plenty of time in hand before my lunchtime departure and decided to sit in a bar rather than a café (I'd had enough coffee for now!) and start to write up my notes of the meeting and begin to carry out the tasks which had arisen from it. I wanted somewhere quiet enough, which in a city centre at lunch time can be a challenge, so I thought I'd try the Cosy Club and I am glad that I did. Not only was it a good place to get some work done but it was interesting to see what had been done inside the former corn market hall in which the bar/restaurant was placed. No real ale, unlike the Cosy Club at home in Stamford, but a nice glass of birra Moretti reminded me of Italy!

Soon it was time to walk to the station and await the train back, which again came into the platform in good time. I have learnt to ignore the signs on the platform showing where to stand for LNER trains: they were put up for the old HST units no longer used on the Lincoln service and are way out for the little five-coach Azuma sets. This time my reserved seat was a single one and that was where I sat and continued my work, interrupted, joyfully, only by my lunch - a hot sausage roll with crisps, cake and white wine.

I arrived at Peterborough on time but during the post-Covid two-hour gap in the train service to Stamford, so I walked across to the bus station and, using my pensioner's concessionary pass, took the Delaine bus 201 home. The train, if it had existed, would have arrived in Stamford just after the bus actually left Peterborough, so I was half an hour later home than I would have been by train, but still a lot sooner than if I had waited for next timetabled train. There is much said in the media about the way travel patterns have changed and that fewer people are travelling by train, but we cannot travel on trains that don't exist: cut one from the timetable and people will have to go another way: many would have driven both ways; I used a bus one way. Put on more trains and people will ride on them. Governments, who in spite of "privatisation" still have a huge say in the way railways operate, just don't get that you have to provide the service first and demand will follow. This is why they are always surprised by the popularity of new transport links, whether rail, road or air and they never make them big enough for the job: look how the Docklands Light Railway had to lengthen its trans and platforms immediately after opening, or the way new roads soon clog up. Look at the ridership of the Elizabeth Line! You would not believe there is a climate crisis when you look at government policy on transport: raising rail fares and cutting timetable while cutting air passenger duty and building roads ... but that is a whole other subject!

LNER did very well in getting me to and from Lincoln, but all my journeys start or end in Stamford, and links to and from there are critical. Lincolnshire looks like an even bigger county when you live in a tight corner of it!

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