24 May 2009

The LEYTR Railrover: Part 5

Part 1 can be viewed by clicking here.
Part 2 can be viewed by clicking here.
Part 3 can be viewed by clicking here.
Part 4 can be viewed by clicking here.

This fifth and final part of the LEYTR Railrover, that took place at the very end of a very hot June in 2005, started on 1 July in the Highlands of Scotland.

This was our traction from Euston to Edinburgh: an electric Class 90 loco. North of Edinburgh the lines are not electrified, so diesel power is required thereafter.

Day 7: M'colleague and I had spent our third overnight journey aboard a First ScotRail sleeper train from Euston to Fort William. Initially hauled by an electric Class 90, the train's 13 carriages were split in the wee small hours at Edinburgh Waverley to form three onward services: to Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William, hauled by either Class 37 or 67.

My slightly unusual perspective of the West Highland Line. Class 37s are no longer used to haul the sleeper services in Scotland.

My private birth was the first in the leading carriage as we departed Euston - a sublime position for photos out of the carriage window, of both the loco and the seemingly endless carriages behind - but not very comfortable for sleeping since the proximity to the coupling meant I was in for a very jerky ride.

This was one of the reasons why I didn't feel like getting up too early as we progressed northbound along the West Highland Line in what can only be described as amazing scenery. I did get up and join m'colleage in "fotting" the scenery about half an hour before our arrival at Fort William. The complimentary breakfast was up to the same standard as that we'd enjoyed at the start of Day 3, though there were no complimentary news papers I seem to recall. Undertaking this type of week-long jaunt, where you aren't basing yourself to a specific location for anymore than 9 hours, means you do miss out on both local and national news stories. Admittedly, I just forked out 35p for a paper at the Tesco opposite Fort William station but the advertised complimentary copy would have been nicer touch though.

We started with 13, now we're down to 3 - carriages that is. I'm stood at the very back of our Class 37-hauled Caledonian Sleeper train as we approach the terminus, Fort William, in the rain.

This was my first visit to Fort William and it was raining. We didn't have long before we had to catch a Scottish Citylink coach service to Inverness in order to catch a ScotRail service to Aberdeen and then onto another for Edinburgh. In 2005 Citylink was a wholly-owned subsidiary of ComfortDelGro, with no input from Stagecoach and so - unlike my most recent experiences on their services - the advertised Citylink coach service was operated by just that: a Scottish Citylink-liveried vehicle with reclining seats and on board toilet. Quite a contrast to a bog-standard, toiletless, rigid-seated, Stagecoach-liveried Volvo B10M that conveyed us betwixt the two localities last February.

This was the scene in 2005; in 2009 this service (now numbered 919), despite continuing to be promoted as a Citylink service, is operated by a generic Stagecoach Volvo B10M that has fewer internal features than this ageing ex National Express Expressliner!

The coach service got very busy I seem to remember with ad hoc patronage very high. The views of Loch Ness were excellent and we'd positioned ourselves on the correct side of the coach so we could take this in. The rain had stopped by Inverness, which had been our most-used station throughout this Railrover jaunt, making three departures from here.

No sign of Nessie: we did keep a watchful eye out though!

Having travelled up to Inverness via the Highland Line, we chose to travel to Aberdeen via Elgin and the north-east coast. It was a nice enough journey though nothing like that via Kingussie and Blair Atholl! We had very little time in Aberdeen before out next service to Edinburgh departed. M'colleage, having learned that the first Volvo B7Rs purchased by Stagecoach were being deployed on Service 10 linking Inverness with Aberdeen, shot out of the station to try and catch one of these vehicles. He managed it and with a good minute to spare before our Class 170 left for Scotland's capital city. It was also at this point that I realised my memory card on my digital camera had been filled!

We were delayed upon arrival into Edinburgh and it looked as though we'd miss out connecting GNER high-speed service to Newcastle and onward connection to Sunderland. We arrived at precisely the same time the GNER service was due to leave though were happy to be informed via the public address system that those wishing to catch the GNER service to London et al had a few minutes to get to platform 1 where it would be waiting.

It wasn't waiting, it had gone. We were one of the first to leave the train and one of the first to get to platform 1 where we were greeted with just empty tracks. Of course I could now start a rant about how in good old BR days the train would have waited and we'd not have to wait 90 minutes for the next one. But, having travelled all over the country during the past week, all our connections had been met and we were still in possession of first-class Railrovers, so availed ourselves of the facilities located in the first-class lounge. We had the entire place to ourselves. After 7 days I'd become rather tired of chocolate chip cookies, complimentary tea and fruit, but nonetheless forced myself to consume even more.

When we did eventually board what was the last southbound GNER departure from Edinburgh to Newcastle, we deliberately sat in coach A. The reasoning for this was so that m'colleage could smoke. Signs had been placed throughout the train telling passengers that from the end of July that year, GNER would operate a strict no-smoking policy on all its trains. Two years later, though not known to any of us at that time, it would be extended nationally to cover any structure with two or more sides!

The last train we used our Railrovers on was a Pacer for travel from Newcastle to Sunderland. We waited an eternity for a taxi to take us from Sunderland station to the b+b we'd booked along the seafront in Roker.

To summarise our Railrover experience, it is something that anyone interested in public transport should undertake. Obviously it helps if at least one of those travelling has more than just a vague understanding of Britain's railway network, but it is not a fundamental requirement. Throughout our travels we'd been to many places in England and Scotland and honed our itinerary to take-in special workings (Class 37-hauled services to Rhymney) as well as journeys that either one or both of us had yet to made (Thurso by train, a trip on a Pendolino), not to mention sleeper services where, for the price of a reasonable b+b, travellers can get from A to B very efficiently and ensure very little time is wasted, should you be on a tight schedule.

The parallel between Lord Adonis' recent Railrover experience and ours is that we both did them to further our knowledge of the network. Be you a novice, a hard-core rail enthusiast or the Minister of State for Transport, it's something that cannot be anything other than beneficial.

The End.

The LEYTR Railrover experience has been uploaded to the LEYTRavels blog, devoid of individual parts; it can be accessed there in its entirety in one entry. (GL)

N.B. For those interested in how we returned to Lincolnshire from Roker, we spent 2 July travelling the Tyne & Wear Metro system and on 3 July I caught one of those new-fangled Megabus services from Newcastle to Meadowhall and then Transpennine Express train, while m'colleague caught a National Express Butlins special coach service direct from Sunderland to Skegness. Some photos of the T&W Metro can be seen below.

It may not look like a light rail train but the Shields Ferry plays an integral part of the Metro system, permitting travellers to travel between North and South Shields quicker than travelling around the river by Metro.