Railway Engineering Work

Published on 20 November 2007 in , , , ,

One of the issues of trying to work out my travel arrangements for Christmas, is always trying to get the right information about what’s going on. To be fair, it’s not just as Christmas either.

In this case, the differences between the engineering works pages on Virgin Trains’s website and National Rail Enquires is just one prime example of that. For starters, you have to ask why there are two separately maintained pages on the internet which detail engineering work, although both pages having identical information would be a start. As it is, Virgin’s data is worded and presented very differently to that of National Rail Enquires. Neither was worded in a particularly clear way. Although the fact that both gave completely different information is another matter entirely.

Still at least I found out in the end.

All of which reminded me of travelling up to Horton-in-Ribblesdale in October this year, for some days walking on the Pennine Way. I’d found out that there was engineering work on the Settle to Carlisle line way in advance – it’s a not insubstantial amount of work over many months, so we couldn’t avoid it.

There were some very cheap GNER tickets to Leeds available, however because the timetable for the bit from Leeds onwards wasn’t available, we couldn’t get through tickets online – The Trainline kept telling us that we simply couldn’t travel that day and we’d have to wait until Monday. It’s a failing that affects every online ticket booking service I’ve come across in the UK, because The Trainline’s systems are used by almost every rail company.

Now we could have popped to our local railway station and booked them there, but this being the wonderful world of privatised railways, this particular ticket was only available online from GNER’s own website. In the end, I just booked London to Leeds, plus tickets for the return journey (Penrith to London via Virgin Trains) and left it at that.

About a week before travelling, the final details of rail replacement bus services were made available. Deciding to be efficient, I booked our singles from Leeds to Horton-in-Ribblesdale via The Trainline website, and opted to pick them up at London Kings Cross (which confused the website no end and prompted a flurry of “Are you sure you wish to pick your ticket up at a station you’re not going to?” messages).

We were actually affected by two lots of engineering work, and the timetable told us we’d have to get the train to Keighly, then a bus from Keighly to Skipton. At Skipton we’d then have to get a train one stop to Settle, then get another bus from Settle to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. Hope you’re following this – there will be questions later.

We get to Leeds in time for an earlier train to Keighly than planned, and duly got our coach to Skipton, driving uneventfully through Yorkshire until Skipton town centre when the coach driver duly got lost, couldn’t find the railway station and left us at the bus station instead, leaving us to stumple around and try and find our way to the right place.

When we finally made it, Skipton station’s car park was rammed with buses and coaches, but we were going by train (obviously) so popped to the tracks. On our way up we’d spotted a forlorn train sat on the platform, and headed towards it.

Getting in the station, a lone whiteboard blocked the entrance to the platforms, and told people to go outside for buses to Keighly. So we did what any self-respecting confused passenger would do. We went into the ticket office and asked. There was no shortage of staff – despite the fact that there were no trains, a huge number of guards were milling around.

The bloke in the ticket office (and a random guard who was floating around) told us that there was a bus all the way down the line to Carlisle. Which confused us enough to show him our timetable. He stared at it bemused for a while, then proclaimed it was “completely wrong” whilst shaking his head. He’d never seen anything like what our timetable said. I didn’t like to point out that there was a poster right behind him with the exact same timetable on it!

We popped outside to check the bus times, and with a while to wait, stared at the closed-down café, the piles of dead flies on the window ledge and the other posters which gave copies of timetables which no one knew about.

Throughout the automated announcements proclaimed there was no trains. Right that is, until time for our “train” when suddenly, as far as Northern Rail’s computers were concerned, the railways were about to leap into action. Sadly the lone engine on the platform remained resolutely unmoved by the proclamations, and not long after we popped outside and found the correct bus.

There then followed a brief trip through more of Yorkshire, and a confused bus driver who couldn’t find the station at Horton on his map. Eventually we made it to the pub, and did some walking on the Pennine Way. A few people had a slightly longer journey to wherever they were going, and a train didn’t leave Shipley station. But that’s another story. And a slightly less convoluted one.