That trip to Edinburgh (see last-but-one post) was by rail.
Out by Virgin Trains up the West Coast Main Line. Back by the East Coast line. One way the shiny new-ish Pendolino; the other Mark 3 coaches powered by Class 43 HSTs. That is a straight comparison of “new”, post-privatisation, technology versus thirty-year-old British Rail nationalised stock. Indeed, it’s Sir Richard the Bearded’s capitalism versus the renationalised (if only as a temporary expedient, picking up the pieces from the National Express Group’s failure) operation.
An outbound anorack writes:
The detailed schedule “in-house” probably differs from the “rounded” times published for passengers. There certainly was a constant discrepancy between the observed times and those the Pert Young Piece was accessing by her iPhone (and consistently tending towards the “official” point of view, often by several minutes of optimism). Anyway, here are the timings for the 30th December outward journey:
- London Euston dep 0843 ; actual departure 14 secs late.
- Milton Keynes timetabled 0913; actual departure 4 min 20 sec late.
- Coventry timetabled 0942; actual departure 3 min 40 sec late.
- Birmingham International timetabled 0953; actual departure 3 min 25 sec late.
- Birmingham New Street timetabled arrival 1008; actual arrival 2 min 10 sec late.
- Birmingham New Street timetabled departure 1020; actual departure 45 sec early.
- Wolverhampton timetabled 1037; actual departure 1 min 40 sec late.
- Crewe timetabled 1109; actual departure 2 min 5 sec late.
- Warrington Bank Quay timetabled 1127; actual departure 2 min 5 sec late.
- Wigan North-Western timetabled 1138; actual departure 4 min 25 sec late.
- Preston timetabled 1151; actual departure 7 min 10 sec late.
- Lancaster timetabled 1208; actual departure 8 min 50 sec late.
- Oxenholme Lake District timetabled 1222; actual departure 11 min 40 sec late.
- Carlisle timetabled 1301; actual departure 10 min 50 sec late.
- Edinburgh Haymarket timetabled 1415; actual departure 7 min late.
- Edinburgh Waverley timetabled 1421; actual arrival 5 min 5 sec late.
That suggests an odd conclusion or three:
- There’s quite a lot of slack built into that schedule. The long wait at New Street allows Virgin to imply they are not running a direct end-to-end service: try to query the Virgin site and one finds “there is no direct service”. Yet, at Euston the indicators show Waverley as the destination; and through tickets and seat-bookings are happily available. Surely something odd.
- The Class 390s (this was 390-041 City of Chester) are well fit for the job: notice how a fully-loaded train is taken over the 1 in 75 incline of Shap and even makes up some time.
- The Class 390s, however, are less than ideal for the stopping service that is run here between the Midlands and the North West (Birmingham to Carlisle). That was where the delays occurred; and for a very precise reason. Entry to and exit from the carriages is inconvenient, even near-impossible when the train is over-loaded, and passengers are carrying a substantial amount of baggage. Since this was a holiday weekend, the problem was at its worst. And that indicates a defect in the Pendolinos.
Because the geometry of the train is designed to tilt within the existing loading gauge, the passenger accommodation tapers at roof-height. The result is much restricted overhead storage. The seating lay-out makes things worse by having a tight seat-pitch, and limited luggage storage at lower levels.
And inbound, Mr Anorack?
Much more comfortable, thank you very much. Here the timings for 3rd January were:
- Edinburgh Waverley dep 0930; actual departure 53 secs late.
- Berwick timetabled 1010; actual arrival 1012, departure 4 min.
- Newcastle timetabled 1059; actual arrival 1058, departure 1 min 56 secs late.
- Darlington timetabled 1128; actual arrival 1128, departure 2 min late.
- York timetabled 1158; actual arrival ten seconds early, departure 2 min 25 secs late.
- Newark timetabled 1243; actual arrival 17 seconds late, departure 2 min 15 secs late.
- Peterborough timetabled 1312; actual arrival 8 mins 35 secs late , departure 10 min 22 secs late.
- Kings Cross arrival timetabled 1410; actual stop (at Platform 1) 25 secs late.
Again, one might draw some fairly routine conclusions.
Compared to the outward journey, this one was much more unfrequented. There was certainly no shortage of seating. The loading must have been substantially lighter.
- The East Coast Line, compared to the West, is a doddle: half the intermediate stops and long racing stretches.
- The extended slack south of Newark was apparently because of a track repair: there certainly were a couple of severe jolts at the start and end of the slow-running. Yet, the aging HST could still make up all the loss, and even a bit more, before the approach through the “throat” at King’s Cross.
Those Mark 3 coaches are, by Pendolino standards, spacious and well-padded. There is ample storage space, overhead, at carriage end, and between seats. Toilet provision, however, is somewhat worn and “primitive”.
According to that well-drummed-in “method” of school report-writing, Malcolm concludes:
Edinburgh Waverley has to qualify as one of the great railway stations of the world. Despite its size (second only to Waterloo in the whole of Britain) it sits snugly between Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns (see top image). It has immediate access to the premier shopping street in Scotland, and is adjacent (use the slope, not the stairs) to Edinburgh’s tourist attractions. It is, at last, being up-graded to some reflection of its former glory.
The East Coast route is by far the more pleasant. It has an “old-school” flavour to it: when Virgin Trains refers to “aircraft-type” seating, it actually means cramped, cattle-class, for self-loading freight.
It is also undoubtedly the more scenic, especially the classic stretch along the Northumbrian coast. Be prepared for the few moments when Lindisfarne (above, right) is in view.
All in all, neither route was as dismal an experience as Malcolm’s previous Pendolino outing, changing at Chester from the Holyhead ferry crossing, on a Sunday evening, with a vastly over-stuffed passenger load.