02 July 2007

...... and the North Weald Rally

Continues from the day before.

Breakfast at the LSE was a little limited: we were only entitled to a six-item breakfast, whereas when I stayed at a university campus in Camden Town, the breakfast was unlimited. The London School of Economics was really showing the reasoning behind its naming! But enough of this, my day started as soon as I'd checked out, when I'd need to take a brisk walk to Tottenham Court Road tube station for the 0902 Central Line tube to Epping. At 0858 I entered the station and to get past the gaggle of foreign students in front, followed the "stairs" sign as they were headed for the escalators. Never again will I opt to take the stairs at a tube station. A spiral staircase that descended for an eternity, down and down and down, to the point that 0902 was now here - yes, just under 4 minutes going round and round and round. The train was in, doors open, so I dived on and took a seat. I felt quite giddy. We made our way through Mile End, Bethnel Green, Stratford and Leytonstone and out into the Essex countryside. I particularly liked the station name Theydon Bois pronounced "boys" by the automated announcement. We arrived in Epping punctually at 0950.

Peter, my fellow LEYTR Editor, was already there, aboard a RM outside the station - the first of the day - to take people to the rally site. The vehicle in question was RM298 - VLT 298, owned and operated by Blue Triangle, who were providing the 'free' shuttle service to/from Epping Station, Ongar and Stapleford Tawney. I say free, but actually, on the early inbound journeys, the conductor came round and asked for the £7 rally entrance fee, which then covered unlimited journeys on all the services for the day.

It was a very enjoyable day, despite me not adding a single tie to my collection. I did purchase three back copies of the BUSES Yearbook series that I hadn't got, plus a book from the Routemaster Association, picturing a large selection of RMs attending the RM50 rally in Finsbury Park in 2004 - an event I attended, but sadly lost all the photos I'd taken in my Great Hard Drive Crash of 2005. Another fascinating book I purchased about RMs was an 11 month countdown to the last every normal stage-carriage Route Master service (159) in London (December 2005). Again, very pictoral and showed last day operation of routes 14, 22, 13, 38 etc. When I stop and think of the number of RMs I saw in normal service back in November 2003 when I started at National Express, compared to even the last 11 months where 7 routes remained, there had been an amazingly fast reduction - a little too fast to be dignified reduction in my mind.

Peter and I caught the penultimate 'free' bus back to Epping Station, in the form of Dartmaster RM85 - VLT 85. The driver was an absolute maniac, driving at incredible speeds through 30mph zones en route to the station. This did mean that I could catch an earlier tube back into central London to ensure I got my train home. Peter was planning on another overnight coach journey, this time taking him to Skegness via London and Liverpool, rather than opt for a hotel somewhere. My tube left Epping at 1750 and I alighted at Liverpool Street station at 1832, changing onto a Metropolitan Line train there at 1842 (train 5219, car working 435) arriving King's Cross St. Pancras at 1850.

In the remaining 40 minutes until my GNER left, I played around at one of the ticket machines with my Oyster Card, and checked my recent usage: The whole weekend had cost me £6.50 and a Zone 6 Travel Card costs over £6 and that would have just accounted for today's travel cost.

Due to the flooding in South Yorkshire, the normal route GNER trains take north of Doncaster, is closed as a result, and the alternate route, while not being much longer, isn't electrified, so the 225 trains cannot run to Leeds. Instead, they are placed on the Edinburgh and Newcastle journeys, meaning the old HST 125 trains - those that are spare - are being used on the Leeds services. My 1930 departure was bound for Leeds and was a HST with no coach M (it was locked and in darkness) and onlu coach L for first class passengers. There were no seat reservations either, but unlike standard class, we all found a seat and no nastiness presented itself. The Leeds train in front had been cancelled and the following Leeds train was a 225 and thus terminating at York. This meant three train loads of passengers for Leeds were on board my train. I was so thankful I wasn't in standard class!! Blood was sure to be spilt. HST trains are needed for GNER's Hull, Inverness, Aberdeen and Glasgow services, daily, meaning at minimum 7 trains are needed and the resulting spares aren't plentiful enough to cover all the Leeds journeys hence the cancelations.

During my journey I got chatting to the chap sat opposite, as it turns out the editor of Today's Railways UK magazine, Robin Sissons. We had a good chat about the rail network and moved on to other things, radio comedy being one subject. It made a slightly late running journey pass very quickly indeed and in no time at all we were at Doncaster, 20 minutes late. I said I'd email him and stay in contact and I must do this. A few days later I went out and bought the latest copy of Today's Railway UK magazine - a good read, not too deep for those like me whose main transport interest isn't trains, though deep enough not to be seen as a trainspotter publication.

My connecting bus service was a coach this time - a First Huddersfield Volvo B10M/Plaxton Expressliner, C44Ft still with National Express trim, R309 JAF. I'll have no doubt passed this at some point years ago in its NX livery. First Devon and Cornwall operated Rxxx JAF vehicles on the 339 to Cleethorpes, so at some time it may have appeared there. We left 3 mins early at 2157 and arrived in Scunthorpe a shade early too at 2240.

I now had to sit on Scunthorpe rail station platform until 2322 when the last train to Cleethorpes arrived, 185136 - my first train of the day yesterday. Again I was the only one in first class and rather than alight in Cleethorpes, I bailed out at Grimsby Town at 2352 and got a taxi home.

I felt both days had been successful, travel-wise, despite the flooding in South Yorkshire and the bomb scare in central London. Somehow I managed to make all my connections and did everything I wanted to do in my time away. I'm categorical that first class travel helped me to do this in a more calm, stress-free way. It's something that I'll definitely consider again if I can book with some certainty months in advance for a journey by train I need to make.

These and more photos can be found by visiting my fotopic gallery.