My train left Widdrington and bounced slowly southwards. For the first time, there were actually people on board – presumably they had boarded at Alnmouth for a journey to Morpeth or Newcastle.
I was only going one stop, and a few minutes later I jumped off the train (literally; the gap between train and platform is formidable here) at Pegswood.
Pegswood has a Harrington Hump on the southbound platform. These features, designed to reduce the gap between train and platform without going to the trouble of raising the entire platform, are appearing at a number of stations across the Northern network. While I wouldn’t argue that it’s useful at Pegswood, it does a seem a bit odd to spend money installing one here, at a station which receives precisely three trains each day. Still, I’m sure the 1,650 people who use the station (according to the latest stats) will appreciate it.
Various bits of the northbound platform were cordoned off, presumably for a similar hump to be installed there. “TRAINS STOP HERE,” read the sign. “BUT NOT VERY OFTEN,” I thought.
Beyond that, the only facility on the platform was a tiny bus shelter with a bench. It didn’t even have any side walls, which seems a bit mean – this way, you’re only protected from the rain if it falls exactly vertically.
No big red BR sign here, unfortunately. I had to make do with this plain affair at the station entrance. As soon as I took the picture, my phone finally died. Luckily I had my normal digital camera with me too.
Near to the station entrance was this poster, excitedly announcing that a new poster is coming soon. EXCITING.
If the photos look a bit rushed, this was because I had about 15 minutes between my train’s arrival and the X18 bus leaving. I’d noticed this tight schedule when putting my itinerary together, but at the time I thought that missing the bus (with an hour’s wait until the next one) wouldn’t be the end of the world. Now, I was tired, after getting up at 5am for the first train, and all I wanted was to get on the bus and back to Newcastle and my bed.
There is a bus stop right outside the station. Unfortunately, the X18 doesn’t stop there, and I had to find my way to another stop a bit further on. Such was my hurry to get there, that I tripped and nearly fell over, right outside a corner shop with several teenagers loitering outside. Their laughter rang in my ears as I continued on, my remaining dignity well and truly lost.
As it turned out, I didn’t need to hurry, as the bus was running late. My fellow passengers were all heading to Newcastle, eschewing the joys of the Pegswood Social Club for a night out in the city. They talked excitedly amongst themselves, while I just slumped against a wall and tried to stay awake. The bus arrived, and again I headed up to the top deck, where for some reason the floor was coated with newspapers.
For the final time, I passed through Morpeth, and we were then heading to Newcastle. This is where the “X” bit of the X18 comes in, as we went straight down the A1 expressway.
It was a good fast run and we were soon pulling into Newcastle’s Eldon Square bus station, from where I walked back to the station hotel. The streets were full of football fans, ready to cheer England on as they faced Italy in their first world cup game. Every pub was festooned with flags and fat men wearing ill-fitting England strips. They probably would have put in a better performance, but for many reasons, it’s probably best that we don’t dwell on that.
That evening, I pondered the prospects for the Chathill service. I didn’t see many people on the trains I used, but my experience may have been different had I used the line on a weekday, when there is possibly some commuter traffic. It’s hard to justify an increase in trains when every station on the line (except Chathill itself) is served by an hourly bus service on a parallel route. The railway would have to equal that frequency to have any prospect of raising passenger numbers, and there is simply no capacity on the East Coast Main Line to fit more stopping services in amongst the expresses.
It’s sad, but it looks like these stations will remain on the “limited service” list for the foreseeable future. Still, if you’re in the area at the right time, why not catch a rare train to Chathill and pick up a postcard?