Sundown at Sandown

Brading stationBrading has two platforms, although only one has track these days. The passing loop here was removed in 1988. Ever since then, the positioning of the remaining double track sections has left the line with a lopsided service pattern of 2 trains per hour, separated by a gap of 20 or 40 minutes.

The disused platform and signal box have been reopened as a small visitor centre, although I arrived after it closed at 4pm, so had to content myself with photos taken from a distance. It took me a few minutes to work out that the man in the signal box was, in fact, a dummy. Dummy.

Brading Visitors CentreBrading Signalbox

The station is well looked after, and it was good to see the canopy still intact. Its ornate ironwork incorporates the monogram of the Isle of Wight Railway, the pre-Grouping company which operated this line.

isle-of-wight-railway-monogram

Continue reading

Ryde-ing High

Welcome to LakeAs outlined in my previous post, the Isle of Wight Steam Railway had proved more taxing than expected. I was back on Island Line now, consulting the timetable to work out the best way to get all the stations. I barely noticed the schoolchildren who invaded the train at Sandown, boisterous in the way that schoolchildren generally are.

I was still feeling a bit miserable, and Lake, the next station I visited, did little to cheer me up. It’s a relatively new station, opened in 1987. Of course, that means it’s as perfunctory a structure as you can imagine, with just a single wooden platform and a tiny bus shelter to provide protection from the elements.

Lake station

In an attempt to cheer the place up, the South East Wight Rangers had painted a mural in the adjacent underpass. It was a valiant effort, but it’s a shame to see that it has been damaged by scorch marks and rust stains. It also couldn’t disguise that unique eau de latrine that pervades railway underpasses all over the country.

Continue reading

It’ll be Isle of Wight on the Night

Ticket to ShanklinExams. They suck, don’t they? You study like crazy for weeks beforehand, spending long evenings cramming as much knowledge into your brain as possible. Then you get to the exam hall and find, on opening the paper, that the one subject area you’re not too confident on is responsible for about 10% of the total mark. Gahhh.

That happened to me last week, but the horrible experience is behind me now. What better way to reward myself for all my “hard” “work” over the past few months, than a trip to a far-flung part of the UK for a Station Master trip? Well, it was either that or run naked through Liverpool city centre, screaming primally at the top of my voice. On reflection, I think I made the right decision.

So it came to pass that, on the morning of Wednesday 5th June, I found myself setting off on a long journey via London to Portsmouth, to reach the Isle of Wight and its eight-and-a-half mile railway: the Island Line.

Isle of Wight Historic Rail Map

The Isle of Wight had a comprehensive network of railway lines until the mid-1960s, as seen in the map above. The Beeching cuts hit the island hard, however, and by the end of that decade only a single line survived down the east coast, linking the seaside towns of Ryde and Shanklin.

Continue reading

Less is Moor

In central Birmingham, on opposite sides of the Bullring Shopping Centre, you will find two stations.

One is New Street, a depressing hole of a station that epitomises all that is wrong with 1960s planning. It’s dark, confusing to navigate and filled with diesel fumes from idling Voyagers. It’s so bad that Arriva Cross Country’s winning franchise bid, in 2007, included a promise to encourage passengers to change trains elsewhere if possible. A long-overdue refurbishment is in progress, but it will be several more years before tangible results are delivered.

Birmingham Moor StreetFortunately, the railway landscape in Birmingham is not quite as bleak as it might appear. Just a short walk away from the hellish underworld of New Street is a shining example of how it should be done.

This is Moor Street, Birmingham’s second station in terms of importance, but definitely first in terms of architecture.

Moor Street has had a chequered history. It was singled out for for closure in the 1960s but ultimately reprieved when it was realised that there was insufficient capacity at New Street to handle all of the diverted trains. The station was therefore retained as a terminus for local services. However, the original station buildings were allowed to fall into disrepair and ultimately taken out of use in 1987.

Birmingham Moor Street EntranceFifteen years later, however, the station’s fortunes were somewhat reversed. Chiltern Railways was keen to develop its service from London Marylebone to Birmingham as a rival to Virgin’s services from New Street. However, the existing terminus for these services, at Snow Hill, was somewhat inadequate, lacking both capacity and ambience.

The solution? Redevelop Moor Street, bringing the original station buildings back into use and reinstating the disused terminal platforms.

The station is Grade II listed, so a modern redevelopment was thankfully out of the question. Instead, the powers-that-be went for an extreme retro look, returning the station to its 1930s appearance (albeit a slightly romanticised, Brief Encounter version of it). You’ll find a lot of replica embossed metal signs, pointing finger icons and GWR logos indiscriminately placed anywhere.

Birmingham Moor Street

I should emphasise that I’m not a fan of nostalgia for the sake of it. Railway stations are, above all, places to catch trains. Any steps to improve the ambience are welcome, but should not get in the way of the primary function. Moor Street gets the balance more or less right. It just about avoids the “1930s theme park” feel of many a preserved railway line, and works as a functioning 21st-century station. There are concessions to modernity, in the form of electronic information displays and ticket barriers, but they are tastefully incorporated into the station layout.

The “old-meets-new” feel is accentuated by the presence of an old GWR steam loco, standing as a static display in platform 5 (which is, at the moment, still disused). A few metres away, one of Chiltern’s modern trains sat waiting to depart for London Marylebone.

Chiltern DMU at Moor StreetGWR steam loco at Moor Street

I popped back outside to get my sign photo. Standing on a busy street trying to get a decent self-portrait while ignoring the strange looks from passers-by never gets any easier.

Hampo at Moor Street

If I look annoyed in this picture, that is accurate. My original plan for this trip had been to visit Bordesley, a desolate station in inner-city Birmingham, served by one weekly Parliamentary service and the occasional football special. However, a wires-down incident at Crewe put paid to that – I arrived in Birmingham 90 minutes later than planned, far too late to reach Bordesley.

Fortunately, I was able to salvage the rest of my itinerary, and Moor Street was a more than satisfactory consolation prize. I needed to catch a train towards Stourbridge, so I headed for the through platforms.

Birmingham Moor Street

I was somewhat cheered up by now, and the arrival of a brand-new Class 172 train to take me through the Snow Hill tunnel lifted my mood even further. To Stourbridge, then, and a chance to experience an odd little railway curiosity.

Morecambe and… just Morecambe

Morecambe StationI had a week’s holiday in Morecambe in 1993 with my family. We stayed at Middleton Towers holiday camp, just outside the town. Even then, the signs of decline were there. The camp had been stripped of Pontins branding, as the owners were preparing to sell or close it. Instead of Captain Croc we got Percy Parrot – boo.

Indeed, the camp did close after that season. I later saw a news article suggesting that it could be turned into a prison. Having stayed there, I knew how appropriate this was.

Morecambe StationThat was nearly 20 years ago – what had changed in the intervening decades? Morecambe is rarely mentioned these days as a vital holiday destination; what does it have to offer the discerning holidaymaker? These were questions I hoped to answer, as the train doors swished open and I emerged onto the platform at Morecambe.

Aficionados of Victoria Wood may be surprised to find a station here at all. Wood took part in the BBC’s Great Railway Journeys series, where she did a grand tour of the North of England and Scotland by train. One place she didn’t visit was Morecambe. “They’ve made it into the museum of comedy,” she observed, “they’ve taken the platform away.”

Continue reading

The End at St Erth

St Erth station nameboardAfter a short journey back up the St Ives branch, my train came to a stand in the bay platform at St Erth.

No through journey to Penzance this time – this train, like most of the St Ives branch trains, finishes here. To get back to Penzance, I needed to wait for a main line service. This suited me just fine, as it gave me about 20 minutes to get some pictures of the station.

Continue reading

St Ives and Kicking

St Ives beaches seen from the trainAs I already mentioned, the weather was not particularly brilliant. Cool, overcast conditions gave way to rain as I departed Lelant Saltings. However, as we trundled along the branch line, I caught sight of some of St Ives’ famous beaches, which even grey skies could not spoil. Soon enough we were gently braking to a halt at St Ives station.

As an aside, if you buy a ticket to here, it will say ST IVES CORNWALL on it, to avoid confusion with St Ives in Cambridgeshire… which closed in 1970. Hmm.

St Ives Station

St Ives, like most branch termini these days, is a basic but adequate station. There’s a single platform, a waiting shelter, and a basic vending machine which sells tickets for stations on the branch only. Bizarrely, it appeared to be a modified car park pay & display machine. Again, this is not the original station. A larger structure once existed closer to the town centre but, like Looe, the line was cut back slightly and the site of the original station is now – you guessed it – a car park.

Continue reading