I was back at Truro station the next morning ready for the 0920 departure down the Falmouth branch – or the Maritime Line, as the marketing people would like you to call it.
My goals were similar to those of the previous day’s Looe Valley roving – visit all the stations on the line. I had carefully done my research prior to coming down to Cornwall, and ascertained that the Maritime Line Ranger would suit my purposes.
Unusually, the booking office clerk did not flinch when I asked for a Day Ranger ticket. What came out of his ticket machine, however, was not a Ranger, but a normal Off Peak Return ticket to Falmouth Docks. I queried this with him.
“The Maritime Line Ranger doesn’t exist any more, but you can use the return like a Day Ranger,” he said. “Just don’t put it in the ticket barrier when you come back here, or it’ll swallow it,” he added helpfully.
A study of the Maritime Line timetable quickly revealed that I would have no issues with Parliamentary stations or uneven service frequencies today. The Truro to Falmouth Docks line is no meandering, sparsely-served branch – indeed, passengers at stations along this route are surprisingly well-provided for, thanks to recent investment by Network Rail and Cornwall County Council. After many years of an hourly or worse service, train frequency was boosted to two per hour in 2009, when a new passing loop was provided at the halfway point, enabling two trains to operate on the branch at the same time (there’ll be more on this in the next blog post).
One station that hasn’t benefited from the increase in services is the first stop on the line from Truro: Perranwell. Not only does it retain an hourly service, with half the trains on the line skipping the station, but it is a request stop to boot. It was the one awkward spot on the day’s plan, and I was glad to be getting it out of the way early.
I strolled to platform 3 at Truro to wait for my train. The turnaround times at both ends of the branch are quite tight. No chance for a leisurely chat for the train crews on this line: the inward train arrived at Truro at 9.18am and we were off back down the line again by 9.20am. After clattering over the pointwork outside Truro station and a brief run through the tunnel, we were soon back in open countryside, watching verdant hills and valleys flash past the train window.
As I mentioned earlier, Perranwell is a request stop. Request stops make me anxious. When I’m waiting on a platform I worry that the driver won’t see me and stop in time. When I’m on a train I worry that the conductor will forget to get the driver to stop. On this particular occasion, the worst possible scenario played out: after buzzing the train away at Truro, the conductor went into the rear cab and did not come out again, so I couldn’t request my stop.
As we got closer to Perranwell station I started to worry. Failing to stop at Perranwell would not be a disaster, but it would throw my plans into disarray and add at least an extra hour to my travels. In the end, however, my sweaty palms were unnecessary – we stopped at Perranwell anyway.
As I got off I took the opportunity to query the conductor about my Ranger ticket that wasn’t a Ranger ticket. She hesitantly concurred with the ticket office man. I remained unconvinced.
There isn’t really a huge amount to say about Perranwell. It has a faux-GWR shelter similar to those found on the Looe Valley stations, but as it’s painted in First Great Western corporate colours, the effect seems a bit half-hearted.
At first glance there didn’t appear to be much of interest in the immediate vicinity of the station, but the information board provided by the local community organisation begged to differ. Perranwell is a hotbed of activity. Who knew?
Whatever the charms of Perranwell, there wasn’t going to be time to see them on this visit. There was nothing left to do but get the customary picture of my ridiculously photogenic self under the station sign. This took a stupidly long time to get right, and the situation was made worse by a man on the platform staring at me as I fannied around in the station car park, which ratcheted my self-consciousness up to almost intolerable levels.
So, that was the first (and most awkward) station on the Falmouth branch ticked off. The rest of the line would be easy to do. The lack of challenge was almost disappointing.