A Train From Manchester

Published on 17 August 2003 in , , ,

After travelling to Manchester on Friday, Saturday saw me travelling back to London again. This is the tale of the second of two journeys.

A different route.

One of the biggest railway projects in Britain is the West Coast Mainline upgrade. Personally I think they’d have been better starting again from scratch, but that would have cost more and nothing in the UK is done on anything other than the cheap.

Anyway, whilst all this upgrading happens, there’s a second train route open up between London and St. Pancras. The Strategic Railway Authority asked Midland Mainline to run it, in cooperation with Virgin. Indeed many of the carriages and engines are ex-Virgin trains, and still in the old Virgin livery. No flashy Pendolinos this time.

It’s also slightly longer – about half an hour during the week, at 3 hours 15 minutes during the week, as opposed to Virgin’s 2 hours 45 minutes. However at weekend, the Virgin trains take 3 hours 45 minutes, so it’s actually quicker to go Midland Mainline at weekend. Normal tickets are valid on both routes, although both companies have their own special tickets which are only valid on their own trains.

First Impressions.

If Midland Mainline wanted to impress, they didn’t get off to a good start.

We had been pretty much forced onto their trains this weekend, as engineering works meant that Virgin weren’t going beyond Milton Keynes. From there it was a coach and a Silverlink train which would take ages – over five hours in total. So the Midland Mainline direct train to London St. Pancras was a better option.

Unfortunately the 14:47 from Manchester was late, not even arriving in the station until around 15:20, with an estimated departure time of 15:37. It was a correct estimate, and we pulled out of the station around that time. Annoying it was to be late, at least they were accurate on when we’d leave.

Whilst waiting, I’d taken the opportunity to get some leaflets and found that a Weekend First upgrade was £6 each, compared to £15 on Virgin. Admittedly you don’t get any freebies with that, bar the complimentary tea and coffee every customer gets on Midland Mainline, but at that price, it was worth paying the extra for the extra space and the fact that first class is usually empty and peaceful at weekend.

On the other hand, out of the three loos in first class, only one was actually working – the others were blocked and smelt horrible… The one that did work, didn’t flush very well either.

Through the peaks.

The route is based on one that got axed by Beeching in the 1960s. It goes through the lovely bit of railway that links Manchester and Sheffield, through the Peak District, via Edale, Hope and Grindleford. Beautiful route with stunning views.

The route of the service itself is mostly one that ran before Dr Beaching came along and mascaraed Britain’s railways in the 1960s. Most of the track remains in operation on other services bar a small section.

More problems.

After going through the peaks, we stopped at Derby. This was announced as a stop despite the fact that we weren’t supposed to, according to the time table. It was not advertised on the platform so it was probably accidental. However we did have a problem.

We must have been sat for 15 minutes before we were told the reason for the delay – there was no driver, and it was another ten minutes before we finally left the station. This was not a journey that was going well. Gave me an excuse to go to the buffet car for another free coffee anyway.

To Leicester… and beyond!

Leicester is the first official stop (waiting for drivers aside) and after that, it becomes semi-fast to London.

Our delays accumulating, we arrived just in time for the train to be taken over by football fans (thankfully not rowdy ones), some of whom decided to block up the first class vestibules, until the conductor politely shunted them off to standard class. Fair play, they were offered the chance to pay the extra six quid, but they declined, and if there’s space in standard class, and you have a standard class ticket, that be where you should be. And when they’d gone, peace descended on the near empty carriage once more.

It has to be said that the staff I encountered were polite, friendly and helpful, and dealt with everything very smoothly.

And to London.

We finally arrived to the dingy, crowded monster that is St. Pancras station about an hour and 35 minutes late. It’s one very depressing looking place but could be very nice. Hopefully the refurbishment will solve that.

Hopefully next time, Midland Mainline won’t have so many problems. In this case, we’d spent the same time on the relief service as we would have done if we’d got the coach. However unlike those on the coaches, we are entitled to some money back for our delay. The lovely scenery though does make up for it in many ways, and its worth it just for going through the Peak District.