The New Stansted Express Rolls Out of Liverpool Street

Once again, my lovely conductor friend @theflob has provided me with some fantastic photos for the blog. Here are some pictures he took of the shiny new Stansted Express before its maiden voyage. They had a red carpet and everything. I’ll have to take one of the trains to see how spectacular they truly are. Wonder where my brother flies out from at the end of the month…

Smart Uniform. Photo: @theflob

That red carpet shot…

For me? You shouldn't have. Photo: @theflob

The lucky fella even jumped aboard so we get to see inside…

Interior Shot. Photo: @theflob

Thanks Mark!

Monday 7th March 2011 | Last Week in Trains

I begin with a story I saw yesterday, when @GoldenTours tweeted it. 19 year-old mother Ulrike Kracht was taking her luggage off a Deutsche Bahn train in Germany, when the automatic doors closed. Her daughter Marie Luise was still inside.

Deutsche Bahn employees banged on the doors as Ulrike panicked, but when she asked them to radio the driver to hold the train, she was told the train ‘must run on schedule.’ The train pulled away with her daughter on board and travelled for an hour to Neurippin without Ulrike, who was in a police car racing alongside it. You can read the full story in the Telegraph here.

Over in Japan, the new Hayabusa (which translates as ‘peregrine’) bullet train has been launched. It operates at 185mph. Demand for travel on the first day was so great that one ticket sold for nearly £3,000 on the internet. For an additional charge, passengers can travel GranClass – in which there are leather seats, personal reading lights and an unlimited supply of alcoholic drinks. I’m not sure how much of a good idea the all-you-can-drink option is, but it sounds fancy. To read the full Sky News article which features an exciting video of the dolphin-esque train click here.

Southeastern Trains announced that it’s going to put 60 extra trains into service to carry passengers to London for the Virgin London Marathon, Sunday 17th April. Extra services will run from Charing Cross, Waterloo East and London Bridge to Blackheath, Greenwich and Maze Hill. To read the report click here.

February 28th 2011 | Last Week in Trains

I begin this sombre Monday morning with news that Arriva Trains Wales are striking. They’d threatened to strike during the rugby but had been criticised to the point of calling it off. The two-day strike was announced yesterday and officially began this morning. There will be disruption to the services until Tuesday, with no extra services put on.

Drivers argue that despite the offer of a 12% pay rise over two years, it’s not enough, and that they are paid less than their English counter-parts. To read the BBC report, which also has a video, click here.

On Friday there was a fire at Manchester Piccadilly station causing rush-hour delays:

© Joel Goodman. 'Police close roads around Piccadilly train station in central Manchester during the morning rush hour, after a fire in tunnels underneath the railway station, where a new tram extension is being built. Platforms at the station were also closed and trains rerouted to other stations, as smoke bellowed from the tunnels on to surrounding streets and in to the station.'

Gates and railings may be installed at Harrow and Wealdstone station to prevent people committing suicide there. There have been 10 suicides there since 2007. The Samaritans back the move to have the railings installed at the grade II listed building. Full report here.

Finally, train driver Richard Niven, who works for CrossCountry trains will be ‘swapping his driver’s seat’ for a motorbike and riding 20,000 miles for nine weeks beginning in Ushuaia, Argentina and ending in New York, passing through Alaska. I really don’t blame him. He’s doing the trip in aid of wildlife charity David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.

Read the full story here. Dream about Ushuaia here.

Monday 21st February | Last Week in Trains

It gives me great pleasure to begin with a lighter piece. This is the news that last week, a train driver was attacked by a seagull as he walked along the platform to his train. First-aiders were called to the scene. An announcement was made. Commuters standing on the platform at Tonbridge station burst out laughing. The Guardian asked readers for their own stories of excuses. Click the image below to link through to the Comment is Free page. Amongst the ridiculous comments and those from people who seem to have misunderstood the premise, are such gems as, ‘The train has been delayed due to the collapse of a Roman sewer at York,’ and

‘We apologise for the poor service this evening, this is due to the new boss of London Underground being an accountant. Thank you,’ and

‘We don’t know what we’re doing.’

Photograph: Dimitri Messinis/AP

In other news, the final stages of the £30m East Midlands Trains refurbishment has begun. When it is completed all the trains will have been refurbished. We also learn from the article, that the East Midlands Trains MD is called Tim Shoveller. I hope he drives steam trains sometimes, I really do. See full report.

Finally, East Coast Trains have announced a timetable shake-up which will free up three million extra seats a year. Changes include more trains to London from the north-east, daily services from Lincoln and a train every 30 minutes from Leeds to King’s Cross. See full report.

Monday 7th February | Last Week in Trains

Bonjour. Nothing to report about French rail, just mixing things up. So. took a rather damning view of Arriva Trains Wales ‘climbdown’ from its threat to strike on the day of the England v Wales Six Nations Rugby match. I’d provided some information about places to stay for people wanting to re-arrange to travel the day before and felt decidedly fallible as a result – though I guess you can hold onto the information, should you fancy staying in Cardiff at any point in the near future.

The site reported that the union is accused of using Welsh rugby fans as  ‘“pawns” in its industrial dispute over pay and conditions and said had the strike gone ahead it would have caused ‘major disruption to more than 30,000 fans travelling by train.’

In the end Arriva Trains Wales in fact put extra services on that day.

The second piece of news comes from the BBC, which reported that Passenger Focus thinks we need a review of train company punctuality. Interesting, I thought, not least because I recall reading a very similar article on the site last year. But also because increasingly I’m hearing that trains are getting better at arriving on time and the article even says:

‘Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: “Punctual trains equal happier passengers. The good news is that the industry’s current measure shows that punctuality is getting better with more trains running on time.”‘

Hopefully the ever increasing popularity of rail travel in the UK will raise support for continuing all round improvements to rail travel.

What else? Oh yes – an Italian kid could have died at Milan station last week after becoming too absorbed in his PSP game and falling onto the tracks. Luckily, there was a policeman there to save him. The media in Italy must have gone wild for this one, if the reaction to on-board air conditioning malfunctions in summer is anything to go by.

Monday 24th January | Last Week in Trains

There was some hilarious news in @TheFactCompiler’s blog recently, if you want to go and check it out. But I’ve got amusing angles on otherwise mildly mundane news. Yippee. Though I’m sort of glad rail news isn’t filled with headlines like ‘Godzilla tramples huge section of London to Manchester line – passengers lucky to be alive.’ It’d take away from the reassuring fact train travel is the safest means of transportation.

Anyway, I digress… Last week, the BBC reported that hundreds of station car parks have seen fares go up by twice the rate of inflation – East Midlands, First Capital Connect, First Great Western and South-West Trains all raised prices by 8% though not for all stations. They also stated that, ‘More than 50 stations operated by the South Eastern rail franchise have increased charges from £3 to £3.50 this month, an increase of 16%.’

But, do not panic yet – happily, on Saturday, The Guardian’s Travel insert had an online & mobile section which listed in its ‘quick tips.’ What a brilliant idea – you can search a location and see what parking spaces people who live nearby are offering for less – which’ll save you money a lot of the time.

The Telegraph helpfully brought us news they had found the busiest commuter train in the country. ‘The 07.42, operated by First Great Western, carried on average 326 passengers more than the train’s capacity of 533.’ The figures come from 2009, however. So I assume the numbers have probably changed, in fact the report goes on to say some of the problem has been tackled… and a ‘snapshot survey’ is unlikely to be wholly reliable. Some of the other points raised are worth a look – such as Theresa Villiers’ statement that more than 2100 additional carriages are planned to roll out at some point and not to forget the to-be-completed Thameslink and Crossrail.

Photo: PA

Finally, reported the express route from North to South Wales is to be given additional investment of  £3.5 million from the Welsh Assembly. This means services will increase to two returns a day and Arriva Trains Wales can lease additional rolling stock to operate the extra services from Cardiff to Holyhead.

Monday 10th January | Last Week in Trains

Ian Black after the accident.

A train driver who ignored the fact his neck was broken and bleeding in the name of passenger safety, is getting married. Hailed as a hero by the Lennox Herald (which I hadn’t heard of until today), Ian Black is marrying a woman he met while working for Virgin Trains. The woman he called from the scene of the 2007 Dumbarton rail accident to ask for help warning other trains. The paper excitedly reported the couple will be honeymooning in France and Spain by train (which they put in capitals ‘TRAIN’).

Jim Wilson/The New York Times | 'Traditional railroad tracks outside Borden, Calif. Near the first northern construction start point on the high-speed line.'

Manchester Evening News reported a transport minister had promised to tackle overcrowding on Manchester trains. I wrote some very witty commentary on the report which I’ve managed to delete and wonder if it’s in the quantum universe I alluded to as part of the original response. As it’s disappeared, I’ll leave you to read the article and see what you make of it. Sometimes that’s the best thing to do anyway.

Finally, a little expansion on last week’s news about high-speed rail in the US. The New York Times had an excellent article at the very beginning of the week about the location of the first northern terminus of what is intended to be a network which links San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento and other major cities in California. I thought it painted a lovely picture and the actual picture that went with it was suitably American-dream-esque.

Tuesday 4th Jan 2011 | Last Week In Trains

So it’s a New Year. Happy New Year. People with synesthesia everywhere got excited when it struck 12am and became 01.01.11. (or perhaps the lack of variety made it less exciting…) Last week was quite busy:

If I start with the reports that rail fares will rise by 6.2% then finish with a light hearted piece that’ll keep you loving trains like I do – do you promise to keep riding the rails with me? Anyways, this is the news the average price of rail is going up 6.2%. The Guardian pointed out that motorists would share the financial pain as the price of filling a tank rose by £1.75. There’s argument too that the attention on rail network improvements is always centered around wealthier London commuters who will be paying 12% more. The best advice I can give you is to check out train times and book train tickets well in advance. On *coughs.* I’m planning out all my journeys for this year as we speak. The Telegraph had more tips in their article on the subject.

Around 1,000 conductors went on strike last week, the day after Boxing Day. They wanted double pay on the extra public holidays – something anyone who’s worked in retail can identify with, especially as so many more institutions used to pay double. The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union said while Bank Holiday double pay had been traded for benefits such as higher salaries a few years ago, nothing had been agreed in respect of public holidays Boxing Day and the day after. The BBC reported that “Many trains between Manchester, Liverpool, Preston, Leeds and Newcastle did not run.”

York station - Routes between Carlisle, Sheffield and York were affected.

So finally, Obama, bless his cottons, wants to spread high-speed rail across the States. Master builder Robert Moses is quoted in TIME Magazine ; “Once you sink that first stake… they’ll never make you pull it up.” Fitting, seeing as Obama has $10.5 billion of the potential $1 trillion needed to have bullet trains traversing the country.