Friday, August 2, 2013

A Meldrew Moment

Wednesday, 3rd July 2013: I had to go to Manchester for a couple of days for work and rather like the East Midlands train that runs from Norwich to Liverpool, Lime Street. Which happens to call in at Ely and Manchester Piccadilly on its way.  You can go slightly faster via London – but what I tend to do is take stuff to work on and then enjoy the journey and not having to change trains. Rather bizarrely it is also cheaper, despite having to drive out to Ely. The train ticket is marginally more expensive although the way train tickets are priced is beyond my level of patience. However the car parking at Ely is a lot cheaper and I have found it to be more certain as well.

I did toy with the idea of taking my Brompton with me, and in hindsight wish I had done so. However the accommodation was in a hotel I had not stayed in before so I didn’t. I wasn’t sure how much time there would be to look around either. There would have been time and the area I was staying in appeared to have rather an interesting loop made up of NCN60 NCN6 and NCN62 – mind you I would have had to stick it on my GPS to be sure of finding my way. According to Bike Route Toaster it is a loop of around 30Km – that was an opportunity missed.


View Larger Map

If you have to commute by train then the ideal way to get to the station just has to be a bicycle I reckon. There are issues though.  I have had a bicycle stolen from the cycle park at Cambridge Railway Station. It can also be nigh on impossible finding a space to park your bike at Cambridge railway station either.

There are several reasons I like Ely railway station, a good amount of cycle parking on the platform, no ticket barriers to struggle through with your bike and an underpass to get to the other platforms. All pretty bicycle friendly. It is also cheaper than parking a car. Also Ely is relatively compact and so the distances are good for cycling – it is a pity that there are not more dedicated and segregated cycle routes though. Mind you there is one bike up against the railings.

Cycle Parking – on the Platform Ely Railway Station

It would seem that the demand for cycle parking has grown and been met – we are still waiting for sufficient cycle parking at Cambridge Railway Station

Extensive Cycle Parking – on the Platform Ely Railway Station

It is good to see that the cycle parking has other platforms to extend to if needed.

Potential  Cycle Parking – on the Platform Ely Railway Station

You can also just about see that the last gap up to the fence has had four hoops added – so if the trend continues they will need to think about where next.

Cycle Parking – on the Platform Ely Railway Station

I presume that there a probably standards associated with the layout and spacing of cycle parking. Indeed a quick look on the web throws up a plethora of guidelines – TfL, Portsmouth, Northern Ireland and Swindon – to name but a few. (So that’s where our tax payers money goes – on creating myriad sets of documents – basically all dealing with the same issue.)

The trouble is partly that the guidelines are just that, guidelines and partly because we forget that bicycles can come in all shaped and sizes. Let’s face it when you use a bike for transport you are probably going to want to carry stuff, whether it is for an office or a workshop.  Here is a chap demonstrating you don’t need to be Lycra’d up along with his briefcase. Straw handlebar baskets seem very popular (and practical) with four in the picture.  Another bike has panniers. You can also see one of the problems of cycling here in the UK (compared with the Netherlands). Not wearing a cycle helmet is frowned upon, but then you have to put it somewhere when you switch from cycling to, in this case, the train. I can see three strapped to bicycles.

(There is a presumption that the cyclist has to wear a helmet as part of their contribution to being safe, rather than designing safer ways for cyclists to get around as in the Netherlands.)

A bicycle  - an ideal way to get to the railway station

I forgot to mention all the precious pictures were taken using my small Sony DSC W200. I switched to using my Samsung Galaxy S4 after that – it was often more conveniently to hand. I am also still learning its ins and outs.

This multi-storey car park next to Nottingham Railway Station looks rather dated now. It seems that a number or railway stations have been or are being updated at the moment. I am impressed with the changes to King’s Cross – it looks much better. Last year Edinburgh Waverly was a mass of scaffolding and I seem to remember reading the Cambridge Railway station will get a new ticket hall – it is going to triple in size!. I forgot to mention Peterborough – a new platform is being built there.

One of the problems of taking pictures through train windows is that they can be pretty dirty. You also get reflections.

Multi-storey Car Park Alongside Nottingham Railway Station

They weather was a bit grey on the way up but on my return on Friday it had taken a significant turn for the better. On the way up I walked from the railway station to the Hotel. Coming back I took a taxi, as I had cut my timing a bit fine. Now if I’d brought my Brompton it wouldn’t have been an issue. The good news was that it was Friday, the weather was good and the train was on time. Although we did have to find one of the remoter platforms. So remote it had a travelator to so we didn’t get to tired.

Whilst waiting for my train I took a picture of Manchester Piccadilly Station -  using the Panorama feature of my Galaxy S4.  The tracks don’t really bend like that.

Manchester Piccadilly – Panorama Platform

I am always slightly surprised how busy the train is – it runs from Liverpool Lime Street to Norwich and calls in on quite a few stations on the way. Stockport is one of the stops. The Friday train was longer than the Wednesday train – it splits somewhere along the way – Nottingham I think. I had gotten onto the bit that carries on. Well that’s what I thought. Unfortunately there had been a change of plan – the unit needed some maintenance and so was not going all the way.

One lady had a loud conversation on her mobile phone telling everyone how her unreliable her friend was. He had put her in this coach – because it usually is the through one – she thought he was trying to mislead her. Some people have suspicious minds. They also don’t quite seem to have grasped that you really don’t have to shout into a mobile phone.

It was good to see that Stockport Railway Station has lots of available on-platform cycle parking. You have to work quite hard to find that info on the National Rail  website for Stockport thoughLook here and hover over the cycle symbol. Talk about hiding your light under a bushel.

The mini-UFOs are because we passed through a small patch of rain (I think).

Stockport Railway Station – On-platform Cycle parking

All was going well – the train “chugged” along – through some beautiful countryside. We passed one or two fields that seemed to be mainly red poppies rather than Oil Seed rape. The train heads into Sheffield and then backs out it quite often stops for a few minutes – part of ensuring that they can hit their schedule? There is also a change of train crew – as a result you tickets get checked a few times. There is also a refreshment trolley.

As we arrived at Peterborough I was looking forward to getting home and sitting in the garden in the sun.  After Peterborough it was to be March and then my destination – Ely.

We stopped in Peterborough and the the few minutes dragged on. The best source of advice, at least for the early stages was our train driver. Apparently there was some sort of fault at Ely and no trains were going down or up. He did say that we could get off the train though as it wasn’t likely to be going anywhere in a hurry.

Passengers – stranded at Peterborough

Trains arrived and passengers milled around. Apparently the Customer Service Desk new less than our train driver.  His crew was from Norwich so they were stuck like we were. As you can see in the pictures trains stacked up along our platform. Until our train deserted us and was told to head back North.

We were then stuck on the platform, milling around, struggling to make sense of the patchy announcements.

Passengers – stranded at Peterborough

It was chaos – no-one knew what was going on – there were several possible problems – signalling was one, the other was the rails had been getting to hot. No-one seemed to be able to make a decision – passengers got more angry. Some tried to get taxis to alternate stations. By now I had been delayed by a couple of hours and then there was a garbled, from where I was message about people wanting to get to Ely get on the train now.

Whilst waiting had gotten chatting chatting with a lady who had a folding bicycle and in the panic not to miss the train I dashed off whilst she tried to find out if it would also take her to Norwich. As I ran down the platform the carriages were full and the door areas – at one point we were rudely told we couldn’t get on.

I did get on and the train pulled out and at this point I felt somewhat guilty – it turned out her brother was in the same industry and we had mutual friends so I sent my apologies through him. It turned out she could have got on the first train out – but would have then switched to a bus.

As I said the whole situation was chaos -  there was not real attempt to prioritise the boarding of trains, or really make clear quite what was happening. Most people were left to mill around. The train I caught could quite easily have take more – there were some seats available.  The good thing was that although the areas around the doors were warm in the carriages there was cold air – it was almost too cold.

The first train out is down then end somewhere

We stopped at March and seemed to take on quite a few “stranded” passengers – I can’t recall whether it was before of after, after I think. However the elation was short-lived, we stopped again.

I think we were still moving when I took this picture – there are loads of wind turbines all around it seems. It would be interested to know just how much power gets generated and the power levels vary.

I also tried to check where I was on my phone – this is when I discovered that using on-line maps with my phone was a bit hit and miss. (Thank goodness for the Cyclestreets off-line maps – which I later discovered.)

It wasn’t clear whether the delays were other trains ahead moving through or they hadn’t quite sorted the problem. Apparently there needed to be a three-way meeting between Railtrack and two of the train operators to plan a course of action. Who was it that thought the splitting British Rail up into various bits and pieces was going to improve the situation?

Wind Turbines somewhere between Peterborough and Ely

Eventually the train got to Ely, where it was announced that anyone going to Norwich would transfer to a bus to somewhere like Thetford and then back onto a train – how awful.  It turns out I was around three hours late – for which I have to thank Railtrack I believe. Although it was East Midlands Railways who took the hit.

As you can see there was a bit of chaos at Ely as well.

Arrived at Ely – eventually

When I got back I searched on-line for customer services. You have to fill in a form, print it out and then mail it along with the ticket.  I was able to look up the scheduled arrival time of my train and check the times that I had taken the various pictures to work out the delay. I ticked the greater than two hours box.

Now to my Victor Meldrew moment. Several days later I received a letter telling me that, after a bit of waffle, their data, independently audited, indicated my train was less than 30 minutes late and so no compensation was due. I also choked on my cereal. They need some new flipping auditors then as I stomped off to ring their customer relations.

I spoke with George who promised to check into it. I pointed out that I had photographic evidence of the problems. He suggested that it was probably an issue with using the wrong source for their data and promised to get back to me after speaking with his Supervisor. I pointed out that the train was so late it didn’t even reach Ely it turned around and went back again.

The good news is that he did ring back and had sorted it out so at least someone is competent.

According to the Cambridge News – “Long delays caused by Ely signal failure” it was signal failure – but their note also suggested delays up to 50 minutes – there are a lot of passengers who would dispute it was only up to 50 minutes.

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