Station Keeping

Berney Arms tracks

Welcome, watchers! Doesn’t it seem an age since the last time? Well, not for me perhaps, but you all look distinctly older.

OK, thanks Treguard, but I’ll take it from here.

It has been eight months since I gingerly ascended the steps of Bordesley station. This big gap in station visits wasn’t planned, but unfortunately that unpleasant thing known as “real life” intervened. I am working full-time and also studying at the Open University, so evenings and weekends have been increasingly taken up with school work.

There’s also the other issue that most of the easy stations – the ones I can get to via an easy day trip; the low-hanging fruit, if you will – have been ticked off. Most of my future visits are to stations where the only train service is early in the morning, or late in the evening, or otherwise unsuitably timed for a connection from Liverpool. This means hotel stays, which adds to the expense.

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Cornish Patsy

I spent much of last week in Cornwall, exploring some of the lovely branch lines and the surrounding area. It was a lovely experience: great scenery, comfortable hotels, friendly people and (of course) lots of stations.

Montage of station signs: Sandplace, Truro, Falmouth Town, Penzance, Causeland, St Ives, Coombe Junction Halt, Carbis Bay, Lelant, Penryn, Liskeard, Penmere, Perranwell, St Keyne Wishing Well Halt, St Erth, Lelant Saltings, Falmouth Docks, Looe

The good news is I have eighteen new stations to write up for this blog. I will be doing that over the coming days and weeks, but in the meantime, you might enjoy my account of my trip on the Night Riviera sleeper train, which I have written up over on my personal blog.

An exercise in democracy

Hello again! No, I haven’t been out and about any more yet, although I will be doing so soon. Last year was just a warm up – this year the real roaming of the country begins!

As is my style, I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen this year. I have vague plans to “do” the bustituted stations between Stafford and Stoke (Wedgwood, Barlaston and Norton Bridge). I also hope to spend a couple of days in Cornwall visiting the branch lines there.

Beyond that, however, I have no real plans. So I’m throwing the blog open to questions from the floor. Is there an unusual station that I should put at the top of my list? A place that gets one train a week? A station inexplicably located in the middle of nowhere? A piece of rural loveliness? Comments welcome.

Pause

I’ve decided that cold days and dark nights are not conducive to roaming the backwaters of the British railway network. Therefore there will be a hiatus until the weather becomes a bit more friendly – probably February. If you want to be the first to know when this blog springs back to life again, you can subscribe to my RSS feed in the reader of your choice. Alternatively, you can click the “Follow” button on this page to receive an e-mail the next time the site is updated.

In the meantime, here’s a shameless plug for another rail-related project I’m involved in. I am a member of the Friends of the 502 Group, a group of railway enthusiasts who have custody of two vintage electric train carriages.

Class 502
These two vehicles represent the the last surviving example of the Class 502 trains which ran on what is now Merseyrail’s Northern Line for the best part of 40 years. The 502s were built between 1939 and 1941 and were an early pioneer of features such as automatic sliding doors and the seating layout which became the de facto standard for suburban trains in the UK for the next 50 years. As such they are an important piece of British railway history and need to be saved for posterity.

Unfortunately we now find ourselves without a home as we have been asked to vacate the premises by our current landlords. The full story is over at the Friends of the 502 Group blog, but to summarise: we need money (a lot of it), and soon. We have just twelve weeks to raise £4,000.

We have an online donation page. Any amount, no matter how small, would be appreciated.

Thanks, and see you in the New Year.

This is The Age of the Train

Photo of Robert HamptonI love trains and railways. I always have and always will. There is something about even the most mundane rail journey that fills me with excitement. Even my morning commute to work is a source of joy, simply because it is by train. My fascination extends far beyond the trains themselves, however, and takes in the network of lines and stations they serve.

The British railway companies like to promote themselves as a modern, forward-looking industry: shiny high speed trains, zipping between major cities, carrying thousands of people every day to and from their work or leisure, with the utmost efficiency.

Away from Richard Branson’s shiny Pendolinos, however, are other railway services – which are unlikely to be affected by the arrival of High Speed 2 or Crossrail. On the National Rail map you will see some lines coloured white with a black outline – euphemistically described in the key as “Limited Service”. These lines and stations are easy to spot, but less easy to actually ride on. There is often no service of any practical use, while the railway companies, perhaps embarrassed by such anomalies, hide the very existence of these lines from the general public to the best of their ability.

National Rail Limited Service

As well as this, there are other delights to see: country branch lines and rural backwaters which inexplicably survived Beeching. Stations in sprawling urban centres left without a reason to exist, thanks to a sudden change in population or industry. There are lines where unwanted services hang on purely for operational convenience, and others where a useful service was ruthlessly cut.

I have decided to try and visit as many of these lines and stations as possible, and see the “other” railway that the PR people perhaps don’t want you to see. It promises to be an interesting experience.

Of course, all good projects need inspiration. The muse for me was my friend Scott Willison (aka the Mersey Tart), who is on a long-running quest to visit every station on the Merseyrail network map. It’s been a long and difficult task, not least because some of the stations on the fringes of the map receive an infrequent service.

One such station is Stanlow & Thornton, a wayside halt buried within the unforgiving environment of the Stanlow oil refinery. It is served by only four trains a day, all of which run at inconvenient times. Undeterred, we set out one sunny afternoon to travel on the line and tick the station off Scott’s list.

We alighted at the previous station, Ince & Elton, and walked to the edge of the refinery site. We sauntered along Oil Sites Road – on private Shell property – until we reached the station, where Scott, in blatant defiance of the large “NO PHOTOGRAPHY” notice we had passed a few minutes earlier, was able to get the required “tart” picture – a photo of himself posing in front of the station sign.

Scott in front of the Stanlow & Thornton station sign

Our movements attracted the attention of the CCTV cameras, and as we waited for our onward train, Kevin the Security Guard arrived. He was perfectly friendly, but as he chatted to us, it became quite clear that he was here to make sure we got on the train and got out as quickly as possible. It was an unnerving experience, but it made for a great entry on Scott’s blog.

If this blog is half as interesting as Scott’s has been, it should be a rewarding experience. I hope to visit as many stations as time and finances allow, so this blog will be updated irregularly. Please check back soon!