10 May 2007

Rail Connections

Yesterday I went to London to see a West End show. I booked in February to travel by train and mixed/matched GNER's single fares to get the best deal. Southbound I caught the 0928 Central Trains service from Grimsby Town to Newark North Gate (1049) and then onto the 1059 GNER Mallard service to London King's Cross (1426). The cost? £17 single. I really enjoy travelling from Grimsby to London this way - journey time is under 3 hours (just) yet few connections are routed this way with Grimsby - Doncaster on Transpennine Express then Doncaster - London on GNER being the preferred method. Going via Newark straightens the journey and thus allows quicker/faster journey times.

Returning I caught the 2000 GNER Mallard service from London King's Cross to Doncaster (2135) and then the 2142 Transpennine Express service to Grimsby Town (2246). The cost? £13 single - a total cost of £30 return, excellent value.

As ever Central Trains departed Grimsby on time and our class 153 "brick" arrived in Newark North Gate punctually. The GNER service departed 1 minute late but we arrived in London on time once again. My return journey was less straighforward!

Journeys departing King's Cross before 2000 tend to be more expensive (even when booked months in advance) so I opt for the 8pm train. But only a 7 minute connection exists at Doncaster. In reality on the many, many times I've caught this train the connection is missed - often by quite a margin, meaning just under an hour on "Donny" station in the pitch black waiting for the 2242 Transpennine Express train. As it's the last one it calls at ALL the stations to Cleethorpes (Kirk Sandall, Hatfield & Stainforth, Thorne South, Crowle, Althorpe, Scunthorpe, Barnetby, Habrough and Grimsby Town). Yet again due to pantograph problems just north of Huntingdon, we didn't make the connection and I didn't get home until after midnight.

Despite this I find GNER one of the better inter-city rail companies to travel on. Their re-vamped Mallard-spec carriages are excellent. Sat, bored to tears on Doncaster station, I saw a Midland Mainline 125 train pull in with a really drab, cheap-looking interior. Virgin Trains are better though they compromise on space (what were loco-hauled 8 carriage trains are now either 4 or 6 carriage Voyagers/Pendolinos. GNER trains have 9 carriages; they also interract very little with other major train lines and operators, limiting the possibility for delays and problems occured through the fault of other firms.

My problem specifically is their timing points - King's Cross to Peterborough is timed at either 44, 45 or 46 minutes. I've never, ever in all my years of travel on this service, made Peterborough in these times. Never. This then makes the service late leaving Peterborough, then late at Grantham, Retford, Newark et al to either Newcastle/Leeds/Edinburgh.

Perhaps the TOCs ought not to suggest a 7 min connection as being lengthy enough, resulting in a train 30 mins earlier being shown as possible. A 1930 ex KX does run but the option to book it with a connection for Cleethorpes is not possible. I'm doing everything the TOCs want - booking miles in advance and travelling off-peak but it's starting to get to me with persistant failures to make connections.

There are other options available - book Hull Trains between Doncaster - London and a separate ticket on TPE between Grimsby - Doncaster. I doubt I'll beat the £30 total combined return fare though. There is also the National Express coach service I drive, which would be free for me, and the car. I won't be going in the car so whichever option I choose, my carbon footprint will not be noticed.