Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Letting the train take even more strain

I like trains, I am convinced that I can remember seeing steam engines running on the railways when I was young, which just about ties up with Wikipedia’s take on the matter (see British decline) which indicates that steam-hauled service trains ran until 1968.

It is also interesting to note that fuel sales have dropped by 1 billion litres this years according to the AA (as reported in the Daily mail).  The article goes on to quote AA President Edmund King (in his role as economist?) as saying that this was terrible news for the British economy. The article also states that the “15% in petrol sales and the 6% fall in diesel sales were caused by higher fuel prices and consumers tightening their belts”. it also says that this drop was “good for the environment but appalling for families, business, rural communities and the treasury”. 

Funny that – it taps into the emotive issues. Yet ignores the effect of sound and air pollution on the nation’s health. It also ignores the appalling waste that the car engenders with so many single person journeys being made and so much time wasted and also the issues of accidents and fatalities on the roads. It is precisely this dogma that prevents us from genuinely investing in a more appropriate transport and communication systems for the 21st century. I for one switch to other means of transport because I prefer them. I took the train because it meant I could work (and sleep) and eat.

Talking about dogma the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) put out a press release complaining that “Motoring Tax is Highway Robbery”.  Does that make VAT a form of shop-lifting. The I Pay Road Tax website has an interesting take on this. There is no such thing as Road Tax but just imagine if we could start demanding out taxes only fund our own special projects.  Where does this take us – tax I pay on beer should go to subsidise pubs and should smokers should decent smoking shelters.

The same I Pay Road tax article also points out the work of Ecologist Kim Harding which shows that farm from motorists subsiding everything else the real costs of motoring. Some of the “hidden” costs (yes that’s right only some):

  • Noise pollution - £3.1bn
  • Air pollution - £8.5bn – £20.2bn (not including Co2 and its effect on global warming)
  • Water pollution – between £1bn and £16bn

A later comment indicates that the Cabinet Office estimate the costs to society of poor air quality, ill-health and road accidents alone to be greater than £40Bn.

These are not all of the costs – but show that actually the motorist is being heavily subsidised.  (Also the real cost of running a car is 18% cheaper now than 20 years ago).

For me though the issue is not one of being greener, or a better citizen, I like to take the train and really do not find driving that appealing any more. Why? Well I worries me that the standard of driving has deteriorated and that the the level of courtesy on the roads has also decreased.

What do I mean well, over the last few days here are a few of the news items that have accumulated on my browser.

I (as we all do really) have to share the roads (whether as a car driver or cyclist) with other people and I am getting less keen on their standard of driving.  The recent statistics suggest it is getting safer (except for cyclists) and I drive a Land Rover Discovery, which has quite a substantial chunk of metal to protect me, but even so. I don’t know about you but the last headline seems somehow to blame the train for the collision, I know maybe I am over-sensitive but at least the article itself does say that the camper van hit the train. After all the train was just going about its business and the van was in the way.

Also the third headline which indicates the road was closed is where the NCN51 runs close to Stow cum Quy, there is a shared-used path there. It does seem to be the scene of a few accidents recently though. Ten between 2008 and 2010 on the stretch between the Quy Roundabout and the turn of to Bottisham according to the Cambridgeshire County Council Accident Map.  I really am pleased that there is a shared-use path.

Before I get onto the pictures I was also amused that a Cambridge man who had forgotten his house keys was reported as a possible burglar and that the Police Helicopter was called out. I am glad that didn’t happen to me the other day when when I had to break into my house. Apparently the helicopter just happened to be in the area rather than got scrambled for this one thing.

For a variety of reasons I tend to take the slow train to Manchester (Oxford Road). The fast route is via London and take around 4 (10minutes or 28mins) hours.  The slow route goes from Ely and takes a little under four hours (3hours 58mins). Which isn’t slower but does mean I have to get to Ely. The car parking is cheaper there as well. So despite all my moaning about motorists I did actually drive to Ely and leave my car there for a few days. Why well the lower cost did not compensate for the price of diesel, but the certainty of actually finding a car space I felt was much higher.

I did think about cycling to Cambridge Station and taking my Brompton, the trouble was I had just enough stuff to make carrying it on a bike tedious and all my travel in Manchester was within walking distance and there wouldn’t be much spare time to do any cycling when I got there.

Whilst on my travels I did look at cycling facilities on an ad-hoc basis.  If I had my camera to hand I took pictures!  I have long considered the train-bike pairing for convenient travel to be a match made in heaven, or rather one that should be oh so good, but is in fact often hateful.  Well it seems to be OK at Ely. I have caught (and departed) the train at Ely with my bike before and it is fine. There are no electronic ticket barriers and there is a convenient tunnel to get through to the other platforms. There also appears to be reasonable cycle-parking which does not suffer from insufficient provision like Cambridge Railway Station. Or perhaps not according to this picture from Cyclestreets.

This cyclist certainly looks relaxed wheeling her bike through the station after getting off the train. There are cycle restrictions though, even as far as Ely so beware. Even when you think it is OK, if there is a replacement bus service or even if they just tell you then you can’t take your bike.  I once cycled to Sheringham from Cambridge, on an unplanned ride. Relying on the fact that I could catch the train back. When we got to Norwich to change to the Norwich Cambridge train there was a replacement bus service . Fortunately for me and another cyclist our bus was a coach and the driver was happy enough to put the bikes in the luggage area along with no luggage!

As it happened I had to take the tunnel to one of the other platforms and this is the bit where the railway line both crosses over the main road and has a level crossing. The route under is not large enough for lorries and large vans, they have to wait or not in the case of this van or this van.

This is the view up the other way, towards Cambridge. Although the platform looks deserted there were quite a few other people around and by the time the train came in it was impressively busy. The tracks to the right are used by passing freight trains.

I liked this lamp on Ely platform.

The NCN11 cycle route runs roughly parallel with the railway line and the River Great Ouse. The cycle path is in the middle distance before the trees on the far “ridge”. The river is between the two ridges. This cyclist has not somehow gotten lost. That is a school sports field and one teacher has chosen to cycle. There were several cars there as well.

This “close-up” shows a cyclist on the ride and someone walking their dog. I only had my small Sony pocket camera (DSC W200 – no longer available – or to use their euphemism a “previous model”.) with me otherwise I could have zoomed in a bit more.

I stayed at the Palace Hotel in Manchester and was visiting the University all on Oxford Road, along with one of the smaller Manchester railway stations. This is walking away from the centre up Oxford Road. There was one cyclist coming the other way and also a bike and helmet locked to the railings.

Here is that cyclist as he went passed. It was not a bright day and he was going sufficiently fast to be blurred in the picture.  There is also a Mandatory Cycle Lane (MCL) there on the other side, although they don’t seem to colour them up here.

For some reason there is an MCL for those coming into Manchester but not for those travelling out. Perhaps there is the Manchester triangle and people who cycle in disappear so they don’t need to worry about them cycling out again. So far two cyclists, one wearing a helmet and the other not.

On-street cycle parking is good to see, although judging by the bike perhaps it is better not to leave your best bike locked up?

I mentioned that I stayed in the Palace Hotel. A quick web search brings up this Palace Hotel Manchester website which looks more official than the actual website for the company. If the first one had not got a disclaimer I wouldn’t have realised. I would also be more likely to book an unknown hotel from a website which leads with pictures than the corporate style of the official one. I also had to look further afield for its history. The first wing was built 1890 – 1895 for the ‘Refuge Friend in Deed life Assurance and Sick Fund Friendly Society’ and designed by Alfred Waterhouse. the second wing was design by his on Paul. It was Paul who designed the clock tower – 217 feet tall with a four face clock. As you walk through the hotel you can see differing styles. Here is one of the windows which lights one of  the stairways. 

And here is the 217feet tall clock tower. Seen from across the road just by Manchester Oxford Road Station – convenient eh.

As I waited for my train there was time for a few more picture – the Percy Brothers also seemed to run the Hotspur Press over on Cambridge Street.

This is a small but quite busy station. They have installed ticket barriers and my ticket didn’t work and I had to wait for ages as a train emptied people out who used the open gate next to the ticket inspector as an extra way out. eventually I got to him and got in. Technology – great when it works – not so great when it doesn’t. At that point I was glad I was not also pushing a bike with me.

the station cycle park was not full, but somehow I don’t think that cycling is as commonplace here as in Cambridge.

When the train turned up it was larger than the one I arrived in. Lots of seats were reserved though – for parts of the journey. When we arrived in Sheffield the guard said we would lose some carriages although actually I think it was Nottingham when they actually did get disconnected. On the way back from Peterborough I kept an eye out for NCN63 from Peterborough to March.

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