That was the reaction from the apologetic staff member at the coffee kiosk at Preston station. I found it slightly bizarre that they would start to switch off the equipment at around 3.30pm when the platforms were still teeming with passengers – especially when the server directed me to a rival café at the other end of the platform and told me to give my money to them instead. These are the sort of decisions that make sense to people in distant head office.
Having finally tracked down a chocolatey beverage, I took a moment to study the timetable for my next destination: Salwick.
I am already a compulsive nail-biter, but this section of the trip had me nervous enough to chew off my entire fist. I was about to get on board the 1602 to Blackpool South, which would drop me off at Salwick at 1609. My return journey from Salwick to Preston (the last train of the day) was due to depart at 1615. Therefore I had just six minutes to grab my pictures and get back to the train. If I dawdled, I would find myself stranded in the village, facing either a hefty taxi bill or the prospect of camping outside the British Nuclear Fuels plant overnight.
As I walked up the platform, the train guard watched me carefully. I’m fairly sure he thought I had got off by mistake and was waiting for me to realise and leap back on. I quickened my pace towards the exit and eventually he shrugged and gave the buzz-buzz signal. He looked out of the window pityingly at me as the train moved off. I can’t say I blame him.
My first small sigh of relief came when I realised that there was a long-ish length of straight track in the Blackpool direction, meaning I would be able to see my train in the distance long before it reached the station. Reassured that I would have plenty of warning of my train’s arrival, I started getting my pictures.
Salwick is as bare-bones a station as you’re likely to get – an island platform, accessed by a ramp from a road overbridge, a small shelter and (luxury!) a bench to rest on. At first glance it’s easy to assume why the station has such a restricted service – all around is nothing but fields. However, just out of sight here is the village of Salwick itself – a tiny place, but surely home to some commuters who would appreciate a train to Preston at a time suitable for nine-to-five office work? According to Wikipedia, the station provides a service for workers at the nearby nuclear reprocessing facility, but do the oddly-timed trains in the timetable above really coincide with the shifts at BNFL Springfields?
The limited time available to me meant that the station sign photo was a bit rushed. It didn’t help that the sun was in the wrong place, meaning that the close-up photo on the roadside came out too dark to be used. I had to make do with this shot taken on the station access ramp, with the sign (just about visible) in the distance.
It was now nearly 1615, but there was no sign of any train. A momentary panic took hold: what if the train had been cancelled? Would Northern Rail leave me abandoned in a remote part of rural Lancashire?
I anxiously called up the National Rail Live Departure Boards (a wondrous invention) on my iPhone (ditto). I quickly saw that there was no need to worry: the 1615 was running three minutes late, meaning I had carried out my tasks with plenty of time to spare. I was tempted to do a victory lap around the station, chanting “Eas-y!” at the top of my voice, but that would have been undignified. Instead I just stood and waited for my train, which arrived as promised at 1618. My second incredulous conductor of the day came to sell me a ticket, only to leave disappointed when I waved my Day Ranger at him.
Back at Preston, the coffee kiosk was now completely closed, just in time for the influx of Saturday shoppers heading home. I shook my head disapprovingly and wandered off to find a train to Salford Crescent. The hard part of the afternoon was over – or so I thought.