August 11th - This is something I knew about, but had never seen in use. It’s a bit geeky, but I find it a fascinating demonstration of simple solutions being best.
As New Street Station is gradually turd-polished and sprinkled with cheap glitter, platforms are periodically closed to the public. At the moment it’s the turn of platform 3.
When the platform is closed, so is the adjacent track so that work can be undertaken in safety. The track is blocked, the overhead wires are grounded and these detonators are placed on the line.
Should a train get down here, the yellow disc, which contains a small but effective explosive charge, will be crushed by the wheels, activating the explosive. This makes a sound like a gunshot, alerting nearby workers and the driver.
This technology has been in use for decades, but I didn’t know it was still employed today.
May22nd - I left Leicester early in the afternoon, when it was still a pleasant day; I’d set off in light morning rain, which had cleared. I did what I had to, then nipped over to Spinney Hills to pick up Indian snacks, and headed home. As the train pulled from Leicester, the rains came.
I had an inkling from passenger information that there was disruption to northbound local services out of Brum, and changed trains at Nuneaton for a service to Lichfield Trent Valley, which was also heavily delayed. It was the right decision though, which was a relief.
I alighted at Lichfield in a thunderstorm and torrential rain. Waiting it out, I gave up, and cut a run for it.
I got soaked. The roads home were like rivers, and progress was slow. I hadn’t been that glad to get in, and have a hot shower for a very long time.
January 6th - I was caught in a sudden shower at Blake Street, and it formed an almost imperceptible rainbow and the sun shone throughout. It was happenstance that I found myself on Moor Street just as another shower ended. In both instances, I caught trains arriving.
The train service has been lousy of late, and doesn’t look like getting any better. I know the weather’s been bad, and I wouldn’t complain if that were the cause. London Midland still seem to be suffering from preventable problems - train failures, crew shortages. I’ve only been back three days and have only caught a couple of trains on time.
My return journey from Birmingham this evening was cancelled. It made for a horrid journey home.
Every year the prices go up, we get the wearily ‘maintaining high service’ line; it’s rubbish, it really is.
February 6th - At the other end of the day, at Walsall, delightfully in the half-light at 5:30pm, the sunset was beautiful, and it was dry. I loved the lights, and the sky, and yet again, the exaggerated vanishing point the elongated geometry formed.
I don’t know where my love of railways at night comes from. It’s not about trains, or the experience of travel. But the light, the signals, the dark and the interaction of machinery and landscape. The windy sweep of trains passing through, and often the solitude. I think it’s from my childhood but can’t place why, exactly.
Back in the 1970s there was a record label called Late Night Feelings. One of it’s logos was a beautiful, childlike crayon drawing of the then new Intercity 125 speeding through a darkened station at night, with a pair of children watching on the platform. That’s exactly how I feel.
February 4th - It’s the start of a transient period, and it didn’t start well. Over the next few weeks, I’m all over the place, and today, I had to go to Telford. Leaving early, I pointed the bike at Shenstone, and went for it. Checking the train information before I went out, I was happy my train was on schedule. Getting to the station, I found it had been cancelled. To add insult to injury, the train that usually makes an extra stop in such circumstances didn’t, and thundered through the station leaving me forlorn for 30 minutes as it got light. This meant I’d miss my connection to Telford and be an hour late.
Fortunately, I got to New Street just as the late-running Aberystwyth train pulled in - a Benny Hill style dash through the station ensued, and I just caught the train, meaning I was only 15 minutes late after all.
I had plenty of time at Shenstone to muse on the dawn, Monday mornings and the skyline. There’s something about that tower and it’s gargoyles that fascinate me.
Hopefully, tomorrow will be less stressful.
November 13th - As I waited for yet another late train at Blake Street this morning, I gazed at the rails. The train service has been lousy of late - continual staff shortages and equipment failures have made the system terribly unreliable. This particular service hasn’t been on time for a fortnight at least. Normally at this time of year, London Midland, the local train operator, would institute a ‘Leaf fall timetable’. This is a much derided, but little understood thing. Falling leaves lie on the rails and get pulped by the train wheels, creating a slippery, sappy lubricant the causes wheels to slip and brakes to become ineffective. The pulp also forms an insulator which prevents signal detection functioning.
A leaf-fall timetable allows drivers to go more slowly and allows rail cleaning trains to operate in-between passenger services. The cleaning trains spray gelatinous substance on the rails called Sandite, which as it’s name suggests, contains sand to counter the grease. The rails I was looking at had clearly just been treated, and the residue could be seen. This is a huge problem for trains worldwide and not unique to the UK.
I’m unclear why there’s no leaf fall timetable this year, and the services on the Cross City line are woeful. Combined with cancellations due to staff shortages, bad signals and train breakdowns, I bet they’re losing punters hand over fist.
October 26th - Most of this week I’d be lucky, but on Friday it finally caught up with me. The rash of delays and cancellations to local train services ‘operated’ by London Midland - currently running at 411 lost services in three weeks - had caused me no end of grief the week before, but so far, I’d missed them. That was until I had to come back from Birmingham New Street to Walsall in a hurry at peak time. Great. Half an hour longer I had to wait, and even then the train barely limped in. Over the past few weeks I’l lost hours of time this way. It would be nice to think the train company actually gave a toss, but to be quite honest, I don’t think they do. A terrible situation for all who rely on local trains.
September 24th - The bad evening predicated a bad morning; it was one of the worst commutes weather-wise I’d had for years. Thanks to a tipoff early on twitter by Aiden MacHaffie, I knew before I left that trains on the Cross City were shafted, and my journey would therefore have to start at Walsall. Heading to Tyseley in heavy rain, the usually assortment of bad weather bad drivers made themselves painfully evident. The trains were rammed, and by the time I found myself waiting at Moor Street, I was wet, chilly and down in the dumps. I don’t know so much about autumn, someone seems to have left the door open and winter wandered in. Ugh.