Tuesday 28 May 2024

Changed Travel Patterns

If no-one's travelling by train any more, what are all these people doing here?

I had to go to a meeting at Bulwell near Nottingham this week and, as usual, decided to go by train. It may have taken a little longer to get there than it would have taken to drive, but two factors made up my mind to use the train: the first is that I very much prefer rail travel, which I find more relaxing as well as interesting, and the second is that it gives me the opportunity to get things done during the journey, more than making up for any extra time it takes. I can do things on the train, and if I have more than a few moments at junction stations when changing trains, I can do things, then, too. And life in generally civilised, with tea and coffee reasonably available, toilets available, seats comfortable, and I don't have to drive.

I have started writing this in a waiting room at Leicester station while awaiting my connection home to Stamford. Some would have you believe that "owing to changed travel patterns" far fewer people are travelling by train these days, but frankly you would not get many more people, seated anyway, in this waiting room. And there are scores more waiting out on the platform. It is not crowded, but it is busy, busy enough. People are travelling, and they are travelling by train. The only reason fewer are using this route is that there are fewer trains to use! The real reason, which you seldom see quoted, is that there are not enough drivers to run the full pre-Covid timetable, at least, not without short-notice train cancellations cause by illness etc.. That's a good reason: Covid made it hard to do driver training and it will take a while to catch up, but I do wish they'd be honest. If there are changes in travel patterns it would be the reduction in travel-to-work peak travel, and yet the gaps in our local timetable are not in the morning and evening commuting times but mid-morning eastbound and mid-afternoon west bound, just at their most inconvenient for some of my usual journeys, resulting in bus and car use when I would definitely have used the train.

These issues did not affect my journey today, though, and all went very well indeed, with every train on time, no train overcrowded and all connections comfortably made. Indeed, one connection was so comfortable that I was half an hour ahead of schedule and found myself "forced" to enjoy a coffee and croissant to soak up the extra time at Nottingham ... I seem to remember exactly the same thing happening last year but I dare not rely on it and start an hour later, just in case things don't go so smoothly and I end up late! Whether I am driving or travelling by train I always travel with plenty of slack in the schedule to ensure, as far as humanly possible, a timely arrival.

And so I arrived at my meeting in good time and spent a good day with colleagues learning about the interface between psychology and theology in cases presented as "possession", but this is a travel blog and not a religion blog, so we'll skip over that! After a good lunch and a later cup of tea it was time to make my way back to the railway station for the journey home. I had about ten minutes to wait for the train at Bulwell station and in spite of it being mid-May the weather was very cold. I had only a raincoat to wrap around me for warmth and was glad when the train arrived and I could warm up on board. This train was reasonably full without being crowded and took me to Nottingham where I waited another few minutes for the next train to Leicester. This was a Midland main line London train, but unlike the one that brought me from Leicester in the morning it stopped at most of the stations in between. I was, however, engrossed in some work and was suddenly aware of arriving in Leicester and having to gather my things together quickly to change trains once more for the last train of the day, home to Stamford. 

By now it was the evening peak for travel home from work and the platform was quite full, as was the waiting room in which I began work on this blog page. When the train came in from Birmingham about the passengers already on board got off and then most of those of us on the platform got on: it is amazing how well these trains soak up huge numbers of people, for everyone had a seat and indeed there were just a few to spare. But it was busy, far from the "no-one is travelling any more" of government ministers. As with all the train this day, this one was on time and I was soon back in Stamford at the end of another good day. Not the most exciting adventure I've ever been on, rally rather workaday, but when you have travelled as little as I have been able to do this year it was good to get out and good to travel by train once again. Six trains, all comfortable, all on time, and not a bad price, either, for an Any Time Return, albeit with my Senior Railcard discount.

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