Monday, 29 December 2008

Good rail journeys over Christmas

Well he we are in that strange no-mans-land between Christmas and New Years Day, a time in the UK at least that always feels odd to me, a time when I have to really think about what day of the week it is, a time when I want to get the so overrated New Years Eve out of the way. I've said before on this blog that I have no interest in New Years Eve celebrations - I'm very sensitive to the seasons and the way nature changes with them but when it comes to the totally artificial construct of the start of the New Year what is the point? Other than a rather weak excuse for people to get drunk!

Anyway this wasn't going to be the subject of this blog post! I was just going to make a comment on how much I enjoyed travelling this Christmas. I don't reckon to do a vast amount of travelling outside my two counties but it's more likely to happen at Christmas, meeting family and all that. Being able to get a lift from Salisbury station to my ultimate Dorset destination I let the 'train take the strain' and was pleased with what the train companies provided.

First leg on Christmas Eve was on the Tamar Valley line. There seems to be an ever present affection for this branch and rightly so of course! In this instance I found myself sitting opposite someone I knew and we chatted all the way to Plymouth. She made the observation that "people must think I'm mad liking public transport" (although she does drive as well). "No reason to think that at all" was my rejoinder on that one. For me using the train at this time was not only better environmentally but made the trip out my area even more of a special occasion. From Plymouth it was on to the 'Cornish Riviera' express for the non stop leg of my journey to Exeter. First Great Western had a leaflet in a pocket on the back of the seat in front regarding train safety which one was invited to read. Showing diagrammatically the arrangements of the various coaches I had to chuckle seeing what would have once been 'The Guards Van' now renamed 'The Train Controllers Office'.

A change at Exeter St Davids and onto the 'South West Trains' line that ultimately goes to Waterloo. Not only was there a computerised female voice to say what station we were approaching, what station we arrived at, and what the next stop was going to be but this info was automatically shown on a couple of overhead displays in each coach. During the other 99% of the journey the current time would be on displayed. A nice system I thought. As each station was passed its name would be dropped by the voice which showed a bit of sophistication in the system. This old 'Southern Line' is single tracked in places and so the we were held up for a while (near Tisbury I think) to allow the opposite direction train to pass through. The whole journey was uneventful and mostly on time apart from a minute or two slippage at Salisbury.

The return trip on Saturday was even more straightforward as there was no change to be made at Exeter. In fact a station announcement pointed out that one could change at Exeter onto a faster train to Plymouth, ours stopped at most of the intermediate stations. This wouldn't have really helped me as it would not have made an earlier connection to Gunnislake than my scheduled one. One or two comments on this longer section of the return journey might be pertinent here. The information system on the train which I had so praised earlier seemed to be on the blink here, sometimes in evidence sometimes not. We stopped for several minutes at Dawlish Warren for the previously mentioned fast train to overtake. The reason for the delay and the fact that it wouldn't affect our arrival time at Plymouth was explained, in fact we were right on time when we got to Plymouth Station. So ten out of ten on getting that bit of communication sorted out so well. What surprised me a little though was the fact that the London bound train on Christmas Eve had a trolley service which seemed to be well patronised but that the one coming back didn't have this facility. I was OK having had sandwiches provided by my Christmas hosts but was a little bemused by this lack of trolley service on a train whose timetable spanned the normal lunch period.

About an hour wait at Plymouth for my Tamar Valley train so ample time to get a paper and a pint of milk. There had been a large time gap in services to Gunnislake in the afternoon. However the recently introduced new timetable has given us an extra train and with the times spread more evenly. It wasn't so long ago that there was real concern about the branch lines in Devon and Cornwall continuing as they were but they seem to have gained a new lease of life.

One hears fewer concerns now about reliability and punctuality on the railways. I really believe that the rail companies are getting their act together and that public confidence in the system will continue to grow.

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