Monday 3 June 2024

No Such Thing as a Boring Train Journey

East Midlands Railway class 170 at Lincoln
A very familiar route to a very familiar destination

It all began with the Bishop of Lincoln's car being stolen ... Newly appointed, Bishop Stephen arranged to visit all the parish priests ("vicars") in his new diocese before his diary became too full, just to get to know us all, but on the day he was due to visit Stamford the programme fell apart because his car was stolen and he needed the day to sort things out regarding that. New arrangements were hastily made with him visiting some in the town as planned but several weeks later, and some others visiting him in Lincoln, as by then it was becoming hard for him to clear a whole day for visiting. Unfortunately the new dates coincided with my radiotherapy and I could not be available to visit or be visited, so ...

Eventually, long after everyone else had met the Bishop I set off to Lincoln to go and see him. We had actually met before because he had been our interim bishop for a few months during the vacancy and he had installed me as an honorary Canon of Lincoln Cathedral, but we had not had the "tell me about yourself" conversation that he wanted to have. It had been a long time since I had been to Lincoln, and I had not been on many train rides recently either, so rather than just rush off to Lincoln, see the Bishop and rush back, I decided to go in good time, look around the city for a bit, have lunch and then attend the meeting before returning late in the afternoon: I would make it a day out.

I even bought my ticket at the station. I like to do this if the ticket office is open and it is a simple enough journey. It is good to talk to the booking clerk and build a proper relationship over the years. And so I sat on the station awaiting my train to Peterborough, which, as with all the trains on this day, was on time. Changing trains at Peterborough I had a few minutes before my train left for Lincoln, and in my wallet was a free coffee-and-biscuit voucher which I had received last time I passed this way with LNER - they give them to First Class ticket-holders who ask for them, and when I was given mine the Bike Barista who honours the vouchers was not open so they said I could use them any time in future. This time I was travelling Standard Class with two other train companies but the voucher was, of course, still valid once issued. Carefully carrying my coffee and wafer to Platform 2a I waited briefly for the train doors to be opened and found a suitable seat with a table at which I could get some work done on my way to Lincoln. These trains are so much better than the ones that used to be used on this route: comfortable seats with enough legroom and tables big enough to work on.

Lincoln trains often share a platform at Peterborough
with Thameslink trains through London

It is amazing how quickly time passes when you're concentrating. In no time the train was stopping in Spalding and then slowing and stopping while awaiting a platform at the junction station in Sleaford - the timetable is so slack on this train service that the trains often run early and have to wait here and there. At Sleaford a few more passengers boarded the train. It is busiest between Sleaford and Lincoln, and emptiest between Spalding and Sleaford, neither of which is surprising, really, but now that there is a full day's service between Peterborough and Lincoln, with better trains, stopping at these large market towns the number of passengers overall seems to be on the rise and the two-coach units fill well but I have yet to see one overcrowded like the single-coach ones sometimes were north of Sleaford.

And before I knew it I was hastily packing away my things as the train approached Lincoln: I could not afford not to be ready because this train was not terminating there but going forward to Doncaster so I had to get off smartly.

And so into the city centre. I was keen to see how it had developed since I had last been there with time to look around. Almost all the shops in the redeveloped Sincil Street area were now filled with a mixture of established local traders and new upmarket shops. This really was now the place to be whereas it used to be very much a secondary street with down-market shops. The covered market hall has also now opened but was not trading on the day I was there unfortunately so I was not able to visit that. I made my way to a small Italian bar I knew just off the High Street and had my lunch there before going to the bus station to take a bus up the hill to go and meet the Bishop.

It was a lovely chat: we had both waited a long time for it, and it was good to be working together. Apart from my unpaid voluntary ministry in one of the Stamford parishes I also have one other ministry working directly for the Bishop across the diocese, so there was plenty of practical stuff to talk about as well as getting to know each other as colleagues.

I had a brief meeting afterwards with my Archdeacon who kindly drove me back to the station, and then I was on my way home.

Returning meant a very tight connection at Peterborough, so tight that it was not shown in the online journey planners; they reckon that four minutes is not enough time to change trains at Peterborough (and it probably isn't if you're not familiar with it), but as I have said, the trains on this route often run a touch early and today was such a time. The train was stopped briefly at a signal while awaiting a platform at Peterborough but arrived in good time for me to make my way over to the correct platform for my connecting train to Stamford, which was just approaching the platform when I got there, also on time. Had I missed it, there would have been the alternative of taking the bus from the nearby bus station, but that would, of course, have been very much slower. Every train was on time, everything smooth and easy, a lovely day out, and dinner at home with my wife.

When I've not been able to travel much this year it was a joy even to undertake such an ordinary trip, one that I have done multiple times before, and to see that in spite of all the criticism currently directed at our railway system, there can be times when everything just works perfectly. Nothing was late, nothing was out of order, nothing was uncomfortable or inadequate. And now, for my next trip, Switzerland. Watch this space!

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