Monthly Archives: February 2014

Replatformed by Network Rail: travel misery in Birmingham

It’s not even a word is it?


For the uninitiated, this is what happens at Birmingham New Street station with depressing regularity. Let me run you through it [pun intended as we shall see].

New Street is a subterranean railway station with a dozen physical platforms split into sectors a, b and even c. Bereft of natural light and of any lines of sight – as the tracks curl out of view – it’s a disorientating place. The effect is completed by the current – since it’s a day for made up words – retailification of the concourse.

Counterpoint: Burneside, Cumbria where I found myself several hours ago. Now there’s a station. One track, a short platform and a bus (sic) shelter. No people, no ticket machine. It’s all hills, verdant fields, brooding skies, dry stone walls, stony cottages and sheeps. When the train is coming you can tell: it honks and you can literally see it a mile off.

By contrast New Street has lots of trains and very many platforms. It’s impossible to discern your compass bearing and the tracks are not dedicated. IE: you can’t guarantee a platform for a train in a certain direction. Whilst I’m sure it’s a nightmarish logistical headache for the burghers of the signal box, at least they are being paid to deal with it.

When the (over)paying passenger arrives, they huddle and squint at the display boards before heading for the indicated platform. Once there, a nervous fervour descends. People ask each other: “are you for Bristol?”

“No. On the contrary! I think Bristol should be abolished.  Badly located airport. Too many speed cameras.”

(Obv’ didn’t say that. Tempted, but no.)

Then the dreaded “10 minute delay” is indicated. I’ve seen this movie before. The director lets you think it’s 10 minutes, but only that’s just the beginning…. The 10 becomes 18. Then 23. Then the 2nd train on the display becomes the first on the list. Anxious glances are exchanged. Then the 3rd train becomes the second and “our” train vanishes from the display.

Suddenly, it’s a tense scene. Businesspeople start stretching their hamstrings, loosen ties, lean against walls to ready their calf muscles, touch their toes, adjust the straps on bags: A sprint is in the offing.

“Way arrr sorr-ay two ann-ownce that thoi twent-ay twelve to Briz-toll Pork-Woy is baying roi-platformed to 11A.”

GO! [Cue Benny Hill music]

RunRun RunRunRunRun RunRun RunRun RunRun RunRun RunRunRunRun.
RunRunRunRun RunRunRunRun RunRun.

On 11A there is a distinct lack of trainage.

Is someone having a laugh?  I’m not.

Now we have a choice of trains that aren’t there. Eh? The delay means another service – service, ha! – is due.

A Network Rail chap points toward 11B and we’re off again! Now a train is overtaking us as it pulls into the station. I imagine it speeding up again and heading off…. We clamber aboard.

What is the point of all this? To stress out the weary traveller? To rub the nose of the paying customer in the notoriously patchy nature of our railways?

No dear reader.

It’s for the New Street signal box Christmas Party CCTV Steeplechase betting syndicate. They stage and then film these foot-races to bet on who gets the train and who doesn’t. They got the idea from Paddington where they have a similar – notorious – stampede.

Well, on the bright side we’ve a new word for the lexicon: replatformed.

Once you’ve missed your train at least you have time to appreciate the retailifacation due to your bollocksified travel plans.



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Storms, Nigel Lawson & no sign of snow


Noah would’ve said that given enough rain, pretty much everywhere is on the flood plain. (If he had existed in the first place.) Sitting smugly aboard a X-Country train speeding south through Worcestershire it’s easy to entertain the thought that boat building might be the way to go. The vale between the Malverns and the Cotswolds is a patchwork of dulled green foliage, swampy brown ploughed fields and inland seas.

Mercifully, the trains are running. Day trip to Yorkshire all running to time. Well, as far as my stretch of the journey goes. Further south? It’s a bus connection and hours of zero-value-added travel misery. The poor Exeter bound mother with two toddlers was faced with the prospect of a four hour bus ride from Bristol. I’ve merely a sodden 40 minute onward schlep from Cheltenham Spa to North Wiltshire in the least suitable hairdressers car money can buy.

Compare that to a buddy who got the train back from Paris sans hitch and then got stuck in Basingstoke due to fallen trees on the line. Nasty. (Basingstoke that is, not the trees. And my day could have been worse: I could’ve spent more time in Dewsbury.)

Largely unaffected by the floody-storminess, I speak with degrees of existential sympathy/angst for those who have been caught, caught out and – at the very least – inconvenienced. There is no such thing as bad weather, merely inappropriate clothing they say? Surely, with the unremitting onslaught of storminess this winter, we can redact that remark?

On the other hand, no prospect of snow.

Cut to grumpy little faces staring through rain streaked windows at the sodden countryside. At home there are two kids hearts that are a teeny bit broken as the sledge Grandad bought them for Crimble is pristine, unused. (Worse still it is clogging up my man cave. Quelle horreur.) Although judging by its sleek, honed runners, lack of hand-holds and high centre of gravity I am merely saving myself a trip to A&E.

[Shopping List aside: Better stock up on marker pens so their mates can sign that cast.]

Fast forward to Saturday morning. Storm is so very bad that the town market in Marlborough is reduced to the sorry sight of a sole trader plying his wares from inside his van. Even “my” flower lady – not the triple platinum priced plant seller – has thought better of it. And she makes Ranulph Fiennes look like a pansy.

Still eh, at least it’s not climate change.

How do I know for certain? Because the BBC had Lord Lawson on Today this week and he said so. And he should know. Oh, wait…

Here’s a (typically) great piece by Mark Steel on that topic:–warming-because-isnt-it-always-colder-at-night-9126449.html

Public Service Corner: Ogbourners? If you need help filling and shifting sandbags today, let me know.

Stay dry grown-ups, wish for snow kids!

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