Sunday, 1 March 2015

Apologies for Missing Graphics

I have discovered today that all the pictures from the blog entries have been replaced by a grey triangle.

On investigation It turns out when Picasa and Google accounts merged, the blog pictures were stored in one of the albums and this got deleted by accident by me.

Ive re-added some pictures to the recent blogs where Ive been able to quickly. As  my blogs go back some years would be too time consuming to do.

I realise that your reading of my past blogs will not be as informative without the visuals and can only apologise for my error in not fully understand the close tie-ins between Picasa and Google blogs.

Dave Cresswell March 2015

Sunday, 2 February 2014

There should be another one in Ten Minutes

Are you sitting comfortably then I’ll begin with my first personal blog of 2014. Before I start this is my personal view and may or not represent the views of Network Rail, London Midland or passengers that use the railway. It’s just my take on a subject as a passenger as well as someone who takes a keen interest in the operation side of railways and the wider picture. 

There has been criticism concerning the punctuality, cancellation of trains or services missing out certain stations in recent months on one stretch of railway in the West Midlands. The commuter line in question is known as the “Cross City Line” which runs from Lichfield Trent Valley High Level Station in the North to Longbridge and Redditch in the South.

This is one of the busiest commuter routes in the region. London Midland ( operates the service and between Four Oaks and Longbridge in the day time there is a 10 minute frequency of scheduled services. Between Longbridge and Redditch it’s a half-hour service due to the single track between Barnt Green and Redditch (due to be doubled in places by Network Rail). Between Four Oaks and Lichfield City there are average 4 trains an hour with 2 of those extended to Trent Valley giving a half-hourly service from there depending on the time of day.

From Aston, where it joins the line passenger line from Walsall/Bescot through Proof House Junction via Birmingham New Street and then out via Church Road to Kings Norton is one of the busiest stretches of railway in the West Midlands. Between New Street and Kings Norton junction the tracks are shared with Cross Country Services as well as the hourly London Midland, Worcester & Hereford service via Bromsgrove.
It was 1978 when the Cross City line came into being as such and then there was a 15 minute frequency between Four Oaks and Longbridge. Services were extended in 1980 to serve Redditch on an hourly basis. The Redditch end became so popular services were increased to the maximum capacity of half-hourly between Longbridge and Redditch. At the northern end some of the Four Oaks services were extended to Blake Street with a cross over to facilitate turn-back. An hourly service ran to Lichfield City and later increased frequency due to demand as well as extending the service to Lichfield Trent Valley High Level in 1988. The line was electrified some 20 years ago to enable changeover to more efficient electric traction which is quieter, enables faster acceleration and economic running. At the same time it allowed more trains per hour to run on the line as passenger numbers increased and continue to increase.
All services are operated by class 323 Electric Multiple units some run as 6 coaches which is the maximum that can be accommodated at the platforms on the line. All trains run to what’s called a diagram in railway terms and that the operator, in this case London Midland, and Network Rail as the owners of the infrastructure, have to carefully plan and agree timetables. This has to take into account the timings and paths of other services on the route especially through the stretch between Aston and Kings Norton plus the cross over to Longbridge Sidings at the southern end.
During the off-peak you may see trains running half empty with 6 coaches as the trains remain out all day so the journeys have to take into account peak and off-peak passenger numbers.
Below is a typical diagram for a “Cross City” line train on a Friday running into Saturday morning. I've left out the Longbridge to Longbridge sidings & return arrival and departure times out for clarity.
Departure Origin Destination Arrival Notes Time between arr/dep for shunting/changing ends
05:08 Soho Depot Redditch 06:20 Empty stock 7 mins
06:27 Redditch Lichfield TV 07:44 6 mins
07:50 Lichfield TV Longbridge 08:54 8 mins
09:02 Longbridge Lichfield City 10:02 11 mins
10:13 Lichfield City Longbridge 11:14 8 mins
11:22 Longbridge Four Oaks 12:11 6 mins
12:17 Four Oaks Redditch 13:22 5 mins
13:27 Redditch Lichfield TV 14:45 5 mins
14:50 Lichfield TV Longbridge 15:54 8 mins
16:02 Longbridge Lichfield City 17:02 3 mins
17:05 Lichfield City Redditch 18:22 5 mins
18:27 Redditch Lichfield TV 19:45 15 mins
20:00 Lichfield TV Redditch 21:22 5 mins
21:27 Redditch Lichfield TV 22:46 5 mins
22:56 Lichfield TV Longbridge 23:54 10 mins
00:01 Longbridge sidings Birmingham New St 00:14 Empty to NS 7 mins

With a train scheduled to call at all stations between Four Oaks and Longbridge every ten minutes anything which prevents the service running on time can have major implications. A late running service whether London Midland or another Train Operating Company (TOC) into New Street, can cause a massive knock on effect. A simple one minute delay can cause a train, whichever company it is to lose its booked path and have to wait for Network Rail to slot it in which can cause more delays.

Delays can be caused by an Infrastructure problem such as signalling or points issues which Network Rail are responsible for dealing with. Trespassers on the track including unfortunately fatalities. Passengers being taken ill or being disruptive and large numbers of passengers turning up for a train which after all is a walk-on service. A simple thing like the conductor not closing doors 30 seconds before departure time which is the Industry standard across all Train operating companies (Virgin close 40 seconds before) can cause delays. All manner of things can delay a train on-route and if its delayed on the cross-city line there is a knock on effect of more passengers waiting who have come for a later service but naturally get onto the late running one.
When such delays occur the train operating company in-conjunction with Network Rail have contingency plans for service recovery so that later trains run on time where possible and inconvenience the least number of passengers. Part of the plans is to run trains fast towards their destination or turn short so that they can recover time and get back on route as near to their next station timings as possible. Without this fast running or stopping short of booked journey, trains would have to be cancelled. This is to allow for the legal physical needs breaks and is a health and Safety requirement which doesn’t permit crew especially drivers to go over their permitted work & break hours. These factors have to be taken into account by London Midland Control staff when they make the decisions to change a booked service and then consult and ask permission from Network Rail to facilitate the changes through the signalling and points control systems and not inconvenience other operators or services.
There are Network Rail signalled turn back areas on the “Cross City North” at New Street, Aston, Four Oaks, Blake Street and Lichfield City. On the “Cross City South” there is New Street, Longbridge and Barnt Green. Late running Redditch services have to terminate at Barnt Green otherwise it would severely delay the following half hourly service as no two trains can be on that single line section at a time.

 Longbridge terminating trains have to cross the main fast lines to the sidings to undertake the return working between frequent fast through trains including freight. Any delay crossing at this end will eat into the average 8 mins turnaround time and thus cause even more delays.


Whichever train company running this "Cross City Line" service at its current high operating frequency would be hard pressed I think to not have any problems from time to time especially with factors that are outside their control. It does seem however that some passengers do get very upset if their train, which on average is every ten mins is late, delayed or even cancelled which is often the last resort.

One person the other day on twitter was incensed that their train was late by 3 mins and really inconvenienced them. Ok that’s their own viewpoint and they are entitled to say what they think but is 3 minutes for a passenger that vital?

However to London Midland, other TOCs or Network Rail it is seriously important and that’s why all operators have “Delay Investigation Controllers” and have to record all such “minute delays” in accordance with a 120 page “Delay Attribution Guide”. You guessed it I have a copy of the April 2013 edition and have read through most parts of it. Not bedtime reading to most but I found it a very interesting read. All Train operating companies including Infrastructure owner Network Rail have to comply with this guide not only to highlight issues where performance and procedures can be improved for passengers but also because each company can be fined for "minute delays" which affect other TOCs or their own company. It is in the interest of all operators to reduce "minute delays" to an absolute minimum for all passengers as well as for their own company.
And with that I’ll say goodnight and hope you found my personal blog thought provoking at least.

Dave Cresswell © 2014

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Another London Midland Day Out


Well looks like summer is now over for another year and a good one we have had compared with last year. The nights are drawing in and time to reflect back on summer holidays and other nice things.

Readers of my blog will know that back in April I spent 15 hours travelling on London Midland trains with one of the compensation tickets that were supplied to season ticket holders. If you need to recall that then the link is

Well I decided on my holiday time off from work I would do the same again and this time it was for just over 12 hours. So on Tuesday 20th August I scrubbed off the appropriate date on the ticket and setoff for Walsall station to commence my first journey of the day. I decided that throughout the day I would tweet my progress using the hashtag #lmdayout and of quoting @londonmidland in tweets.




My first train was the 07:30 from Walsall to Liverpool Lime Street via Birmingham New St.



This service is usually busy with computers as it calls all stations to Birmingham and today was no exception. On leaving New Street the automated passenger information system decided we were approaching New Street and didn’t rectify itself until Smethwick Galton Bridge. This was much to the relief of a passenger who thought the train was doing a loop from NS back to itself. I reassured the older lady that it was a technical fault and the train was in fact going to Stafford where she wanted. Just after it had corrected itself the Conductor came through the train and there were a few people who looked a bit sheepish but brought tickets.

As this was one of the Project 110 trains we reached that speed at places between Stafford & Crewe when I did some speed tests. We rolled into Liverpool Lime Street on time at 09:43.

It was a brief physical needs break as they say and time to take a few pictures including this one which looked as though it had come straight out of the washer.


I was back on board the same train for its departure at 10:04. We arrived in Crewe again on time at 10:42

Now it was time to amble over to my next London Midland Chariot, the 11:02 service to London Euston via Stoke-on-Trent, the Trent Valley and onward direct to Milton Keynes.


This train does get crowded after Stafford as I understand it’s the first train that a Super Off-peak ticket can be used on.

There were a group of 7 passengers who joined at Rugby and were discussing what they would do and where they would go when they arrived in London. One of the items that came up in their conversation was buying tickets for the London Underground as the last time they queued for ages. Me being me excused myself to them and suggested when the conductor came round checking tickets they asked him/her to sell them the appropriate zonal ticket for where they wanted to go as they can do that. They wasn’t aware of this and eagerly awaited the conductor to come through. Unfortunately the conductor didn’t come through on this occasion and after Milton Keynes I suggested they go to rear of train and knock on the door to see the conductor. They wasn’t particularly keen on that so didn’t take that opportunity to purchase 7 tickets on the train. Because they were discussing famous places to go in London I gave them a few of the 2 for 1 leaflets I had in my bag and suggested they should be able to pick some up at Euston before going on their way.

This of course passed some of the time and before you knew it I had arrived at London Euston on time at 13:50. Well these London Midland 110mph trains don’t arf get a move on when the infrastructure allows them. Can you see a pattern emerging here regarding being on time but will it last. Read on to find out what happens during the rest of my #lmdayout.

My next departure was the 14:13 from London Euston to Birmingham New Street via Northampton and Coventry. My incoming service to London was 350 121 and now I was returning back towards the Midlands on 350 122 which seemed a co-incidence but I’m sure London Midland control carefully plan what sets are used where. Hence many a headache where there is disruption on the WCML and units and crew are very much out of place.


With a crew change at Northampton scheduled into the timetable we arrived at Birmingham New Street at 16:18. Was we on time, well no as we were a minute early but who is going to haggle over a minute. Again some 110mph running in places which helps to give a much quicker run between the capitals nowadays.

It was time now to move away from the Overhead Wires and Electric power to diesel power and venture out to Hereford via Bromsgrove and back via Kidderminster. It was by now a very warm day indeed and many people were feeling the heat. My train was the commuter 16:49 service which called at University then Bromsgrove and onwards to Hereford. This particular service goes into Worcester Shrub Hill first then reverses around to Foregate Street and onwards.

It was very pleasant travelling through yet another area that I know well, rail travel wise as I lived in Colwall for a while. As we arrived in Colwal I could see the water pump that Network Rail had running there due to several bouts of subsidence due to underground water movement.


We arrived in Hereford at 18:17 on platform one again on time. The unit then shunts over to platform 3 passing Hereford signal box as it does.


I told you it was a warm day as you can one of the rails staff is wearing shorts to keep cool on the job.


The only addition I’ve noticed to Hereford station since I was last there were the electronic ticket barriers which although necessary seemed a bit out of place at this station building. Nevertheless I thought you might like to see what the outside of the building looked like.


We left Hereford at 18:48 and arrived at Worcester Foregate Street where I was departing the service at 19:30. The services was continuing the way it came via Bromsgrove.


My next service at 19:46 was formed from the incoming 19:41 arrival from Stratford-upon-Avon so gave me a brief time to pop downstairs. Worcester Foregate street is undergoing refurbishment at the moment as can be seen by this picture.


No time to stand and stare though as I could hear my train coming around the curve from Worcester Tunnel junction. A swift change ends by the train crew and we were off on time at 19:46.

Now of course this is the very luxury of air conditioned travel in a Diesel units on a summers day the 172’s. I have blogged about 172’s at launch back in August 2011. I arrived back in Birmingham Moor st at 20:58 which again was on time.

I now need to dash between Moor Street and New Street if I want to catch my 21:17 train back to Walsall. The connections information says I should allow 18 mins between the two stations which gives me 1 minute spare. However I’m at New Street down on platform 2a via the currently longer route to the platform by 21:10. It does indeed help that I spent a month as Volunteer travel champ ( so I knew in my head exactly which was the quickest way to 2a. Going via the old dispersal bridge route to the A end of platforms for those who don’t know and not through the newer area.

My train goes forward to Tame Bridge & Walsall then all stations to Rugeley Trent Valley. Well I’m pleased to say although we left New Street 3 minutes late we did indeed arrive at Walsall on time. That is exactly twelve hours and 9 mins after leaving Walsall earlier in the day.

So another pleasant London Midland day out using one of the 5 compensation tickets which I had and every journey arriving on time at the destinations I had planned.

The only downer of the day wasn’t anything to do with the railway but my National Express bus which was due to leave Walsall at 22:05 didn’t arrive until 22:20 and no explanation from the driver as to why. All I could gleam out of the driver was its here now and that’s all that matters. Walsall Bus station is not the friendliest of places at night and the customer information system leaves a lot to be desired at times.

My journey plan is shown below for those who like things all collated and in one place.

07:30 Walsall Liverpool LS 09:43 via Bham New St

10:04 Liverpool LS Crewe 10:42

11:02 Crewe London Euston 13:50 via Stoke & Milton Keynes Direct

14:13 London Euston Bham New St 16:18 via Northampton

16:49 Bham New St Hereford 18:17 via Bromsgrove

18:48 Hereford Worcester FS 19:30

19:46 Worcester FS Bham Moor St 20:58 Via Kidderminster

21:17 Bham New St Walsall 21:44

© Dave Cresswell 2013

Monday, 29 July 2013

New Street – New Start – Three Months On


“Is it really three months since we started using the first half of the New station”, well yes I said to the person I was chatting to on platform 11. A familiar platform to me indeed and more about platform 10 & 11 later on. I decided at the half-time switchover time to write this blog at the end of July to give a more extended view of New Street – New Start, so I hope you enjoy it and the pictures as much as I enjoyed the volunteering and writing about it.

Three months ago on Saturday 26th April 2013 the travelling public got their first glimpse of New Street Station’s first half as a partition was removed from the wall at the southern end of the dispersal bridge. People were staring in amazement at what they could see with contractors in their Hi-viz clothing beavering away with last minute preparations. Under the overall guidance of Mark Bennett, Project manager at Network Rail, everything had to be ready to sign it off being a building site in readiness for the first train of the day on Sunday Morning.



(Viewpoint on the 26th April looking back towards old dispersal bridge)

I was at New Street Station for my official briefing and tour of the first half of the station as I was going to commence my duties as volunteer “Passenger Travel Champion” the following day and on selected days for the next month. More about that later but first my briefing visit.


Briefing Visit.

Our briefing morning started off-site at Meridian House off Small Brook Queensway where we met the other volunteers and the Birmingham City Council representative Team Leader Sue Taylor and several Network Rail Senior Staff.

First job was to master the safety device on the hot water tap to make ourselves a drink before sitting down for the New Street – New Start presentation. The video as you will see if you click the link is a fly through of how the station will look in 2015.

We were then taken through what we would wearing & the equipment to use whilst we were on duty. During this time regular Network Rail staff would be wearing a much lighter blue top so rail operating staff could differentiate between us.


We were also taken through a safety briefing & procedures we had to undertake to ensure the safety of all people at New Street Station and on trains. For obvious reasons I will not go into those details as that would be a safety breach in itself.

We then made our way to New Street station and as the first half was still designated a construction site we made our way to the clothing room which was going to also be our booking on and off point to put on our HiViz safety equipment including boots.

We were then split up into small manageable groups to have our tour of the new part of the station. I felt highly privileged as I was in the group headed by Mark Bennett, the overall project manager. Where ever we went on site I got the feeling of genuine respect from his colleagues and contractors and nothing was too much trouble to resolve. Just to add that during my stint as Travel Champ I came across Mark many times, and in every case despite the long hours and pressures of work he remained as enthusiastic and determined to make sure customers and staff alike got the very best of service he could offer to make a real difference.



(Mark Bennett – Project Manager explaining what was happening in this area above New Street station ramp as most people knew it.)

And so the tour begins and as pictures can speak louder than words I will share a few with you that I took.







All those pictures were taken the day before half-time switchover and what a transformation on the Sunday afternoon when I started my first volunteer stint. There were other volunteers who had done their duty in the morning so we were taking over from them. After we had suitably dressed we were allocated our areas of work, whether it be on the platform or on the paid or unpaid concourse. Those on concourse had the big hands indicating directions to go and those on platforms didn’t for health and safety reasons.


The real thing

My first shift was at the bottom of the new escalators on platform 10 & 11 and we had the added task of guiding people to platform 12. Because of unforeseen circumstances with the foundations relating to the new John Lewis store there was no direct access from the paid concourse down onto 12. Access was via 10 and 11 and the old dispersal bridge and for pushchairs and wheelchairs via the old lifts.


If you were one of those who asked directions at the time and was able to walk you would have heard me say “Down to the second orange customer info screen. Up the old escalator, turn right and down the stairs onto 12”. My shift went quickly and it was soon time to return home. As the next was going to be my normal work day I decided to take extra ones of the “Z card” handy New Street Station guide to distribute to my fellow commuters on my regular Walsall to Birmingham Train. By the time I arrived at New Street they had all gone.

Obviously on the first day there were many people who had just come to have a look, maybe familiarise themselves with the new layout or just spend a Sunday afternoon differently.

I quite enjoyed being down on 10 and 11 and I requested that I be placed there on my next shift if possible. Sue Beardsmore and Tom Harmon & other Network Rail – Gold Command staff) happily obliged and I spent all but one of my volunteer shifts down there.

It would have been nice to complete my last shift on 27th May down there but thankfully for passengers the new lift became operational down to platform 12 so was not needed down there. Therefore my last shift was spent on the paid concourse where it wasn’t so busy for me but I did have one memorable request from a teenager. She came up to me and asked me where “platform 9 and ¾ was”. I told her platform 2 for the London Euston Train then the London Underground to Kings Cross where she would find it clearly labelled. I think she wasn’t expecting that reply and just said thank you.



All my volunteer time was at weekends and the two Bank Holidays as I already have a full time job. Weekends of course bring in changes to the normal running with engineering work taking place and some lines closed.

The majority of questions on the platform related to “where does the train go for …” “Is this the train to…” “How do I get to platform 12” amongst many other common ones. Apart from using my knowledge gleamed from the briefing I also had each day the “Arrival and Departure shifts” which showed all the scheduled trains for the day. Passing though freight trains and there were occasional ones, and other information to guide passengers. Because of last minute changes due to train’s late running and re-platformed ones it was important to listen to the announcements so as to be accurate with passenger information. We had our radios if we were unsure and I also used my personal Samsung Galaxy Note 2 device to double check on changes.

With passengers probably spending less than 15 seconds with you it’s important that you were looking ahead to the next services on your platforms and alternative trains should a passenger miss the one they are running after.

It’s probably no surprise to regular Network Rail employees and train operating staff but to me it did prove to be an eye opener being down on the platform. My observations include some passengers not knowing what train operating companies they should be getting on, even though the display clearly shows which company it is. Tickets they have purchased at a discount online with specific trains and or restrictions that apply to them and then want to go on a different one. Passengers ignoring the advice you have given them when a ticket specifies “London Midland only” or “Virgin Trains only” etc. and getting on the wrong train. I think the best though, and I had a few, people asking how they get out of the station now the old lifts not accessible as a way out. In some cases from their responses it was very clear that they didn’t have a ticket and didn’t intend to pay.

Smoking was another issue as passengers did try to go to the end of the platform and light up and didn’t take to kindly to being asked to put it out. On one occasion a passenger refused but must have been seen by network Rail staff on CCTV as they were told over the PA system they could be seen and had to extinguish it immediately. The majority though did heed to the request and asked where the smoking area was and of course I pointed them in the right direction out of the station.

To ensure we were all doing okay various members of the Network Rail Switchover Team visited us on a regular basis and a very good retired work friend of mine persuaded one of them to stop and have a picture taken.


(Yours truly pictured with Adam, one of the volunteers I worked closely with during most of my shifts and Jag a member of the Network Rail gold command.)

I must mention that Adam was a natural in spotting potential inflammatory situations and calmed down a few incidences where there were  passengers who had a little too much to drink and upsetting other travellers. I wish you well and hope your application for the job you were seeking goes with success.

Overall my experience was a very enjoyable one and I felt I had put to good use officially my knowledge of New Street station and the railway operating infrastructure that I’ve gained over the years. I’ve also was very privileged to receive an insight into how complex the operation of running a busy railways station is. With its many strands of security, network and train operating company staff all dependent on each other to make things go as smoothly as possible whilst thousands of others are rebuilding and transforming the second half in the background.

As a result of being a regular user of London Midland services I have got to know many of their staff by sight and regularly speak to them. Therefore it was no surprise to some staff that I was a volunteer during the half-time switchover and indeed receive many complimentary comments about the service I was providing to all passengers at New Street and beyond.


Post “Travel Champion Days”

My last shift as mentioned earlier was bank Holiday Monday, 27th May and I returned to my normal unrelated to rail, day Job the following day. Since then have passed through the station and watched as it has transformed further and changing all the time. Based on passenger, staff and “Travel Champion” feedback, additional signs have been placed around New Street station.

When I’ve spotted passengers looking bemused or notice they may not be sure of which way to go, I have asked if they needed any help and pointed them in right direction or offered info to help them. I have also noticed at peak times Network Rail have had staff around the main customer information screen area (pictured below)


clip_image028(Tactile board showing the layout of the new half of New Street Station for blind and partially sighted people)

Its important to bear in mind that it is very much “work in progress” in readiness for completion towards the latter end of 2015. Meanwhile of course the flagship store John Lewis is being built and set to open next year.


Below are some pictures taken since the end of May 2013 in and around New Street Station.







I still continue to be recognised by some security staff and Network Rail employees and they stop and have a brief chat with me as they go about their work. That shows to me that somehow I did make an impression and difference to the users at the station but above all else communication is the most important asset that all staff must have at a place like this.

Everyone has to work together regardless of what part of the railway industry they work in and share one vision. That vision is that customer information has to be at the forefront of everything they do. On the whole the staff that I observed at the station worked well and some went the extra mile to show travellers they did really care about giving the best service, information and assistance that they could. It is these people that are the ambassadors of the station and hope they will be recognised as such

I do really miss my “Travel Champion” days at New Street of which I did approximate 35 hours in total but look forward to returning as a volunteer in 2015 when once again we shall be needed to show people the whole New Street station in all its intended glory. Meanwhile its business as usual for the regular passengers who are using the station.

To finish I am particularly proud of some comments that were said about me by one of the Network Rail Gold Command staff and I quote

 “David stood out during his time at New Street Station as a Travel Champion volunteer due to his constant enthusiasm and the quality of his customer service. The patience and sincerity David treated passengers with was only beaten by the his knowledge of the railway which would happily share with any passenger who required it. If we require volunteers again we would certainly hope that David would come back to assist us.”

You bet I will and so many of the other Travel champs will to, I’m sure.



For more information and be updated with the progress of New Street Station please go to the

For information on the facilities available at New Street station click here

London Midland which operates a wide network of commuter and longer distance services that pass through this station and can be found at here

The views in this article are all my own except where quoted and I am grateful for the opportunity of being part of the Network Rail’s half-time switchover team. My thanks to all those who supported me and my fellow “travel champs” during the period 26th April to 27th May 2013.

All pictures with the exception of the certificate are © Dave Cresswell 2013

Monday, 8 April 2013

15 Hours Travelling with the London Midland train company

Back in March I received my five Go-anywhere on London Midland additional compensation tickets. Not all that exciting to many but the equivalent of receiving 5 “Great Escape Tickets” for gratis but with no weekday time restrictions. And you know what happened on the last use of one of those tickets.

Well as I was on Annual Leave I decided I was going to use one of them last Thursday 4th April 2013. It took all of 20 mins to work out my travelling day as most of the timetable pattern I already knew. Of course it would only work if I could actually get to my starting station, Walsall, earlier enough on the Bus to catch the first one of the day.

The bus I had to catch was at 05:13 which meant getting up at 4:30am. Yes I know what your thinking I’m absolutely raving bonkers getting up at that time in a morning unless I have too. But think of all the people who regularly get up at that time or earlier to provide services to us. It was cold but I had an anti-spill thermos mug of coffee with me and waved at the milkman as he passed by tooting his horn on his electric float.

The bus duly arrived albeit 5 mins later than scheduled and I was in Walsall by 5:30am. Street cleaners, Window cleaners and other service people were about getting the town ready for later. At that time in a morning the Saddlers shopping centre entrance isn’t open so had to use station street. Until 5:45 I was the only one on the station platform and I had a little wander around to as I usually do. There was a few pieces of litter about left from late night reveller’s I expect so I picked that up and placed in the plastic bags a few yards away.


My train the 06:01 Walsall to Liverpool Lime Street via Birmingham New Street arrived off its incoming service from Birmingham on time at 05:55.


Walsall Power Signal Box pulled the signal off and we left on time. The train got steadily full into New Street then after a short scheduled wait we left at 06:36. Arriving in Liverpool Lime Street on time I alighted, had a little banter with the Trans-Pennine staff at the ticket barrier as they hadn’t seen a LM compensation ticket before. They read the terms and conditions and said maybe we should have something similar, smiled and let me through.

I took a few pictures and made my way to get my breakfast using my discount Bite Card.


Interesting watching people zoom by to catch their trains on a weekday morning and it felt as though I was viewing through a slow motion camera as hardly anyone stopped. A bit like the Mad March Hare in “Alice in Wonderland” saying I’m late I’m late for a very important date. Whilst sitting eating my breakfast I didn’t observe any train running late either incoming or outgoing for any of the train operating companies.

My next service was the 09:04 back to Crewe and we arrived their 5 mins down due to a delayed Virgin train in the platform. I alighted here and the train left on time as there was a short wait within the timetable. I then proceeded to platform 3, one of the Bay platforms at Crewe for my 10:02 service to London Euston. This was via Stoke-on-Trent, Stafford, Trent Valley Line down to Rugby and then fast to Milton Keynes Central and London Euston.


I always remember Stoke-on-Trent for having a large sign on one of the walls for a pie company. The name escapes me now although Wrights come to mind for some reason. I would think it must have been an important one in the past for the area. Gone are the days when company adverts appeared on brick walls and the side of houses and shops. Although in places you can see the old adverts fading away into the brickwork but couldn’t see the pie one at Stoke.

We left on time and the driver regulated his speed approaching Norton Bridge Junction as he was slightly early and I could see a freight train passing on the main line. We didn’t even stop as the driver had got it exactly right when the signal cleared. A good use of the controls and I’m sure saving wear and tear on the train and economical too since more energy is used moving off.

Several places we were running at 110mph based on my phone app (tolerances accepted of course) and we were at Euston on-time at 12:49.

A short physical needs break in Euston, top-up of discounted coffee in my thermos mug and back down on the platform for the 13:13 to Bletchley. By now it was snowing but a bit too wet to stick. The snow continued as we left Euston and arrived at Bletchley on schedule.

Now I haven’t actually got off a train a Bletchley for a long time but I noticed straight away some platform buildings had gone from Platform 6. Plenty of Network Rail staff about suffering the snow and undertaking engineering work at the North and South ends of the station. Platform 5 was out of use and the track had been lifted just the other side of the fence.


The reason I got off at Bletchley was to travel on the Marston Vale Line to Bedford which is another one of the lines and places that London Midland run to. Quite amusing that one end of the train said Semi-fast and the other end said Excursion.


It was a 150 unit similar to those that ran on the Stourbridge Snow Hill lines prior to the modern 172’s. Didn’t seem as noisy in my opinion as I remember but the sound of the engines amused a boy about 4 out with his granddad and grandma who were in the same carriage as me.

It must have been in the 1970’s before they relocated the St Johns Station on the route into what was once called Bedford Midland. The route was as I remembered it with the Railway crossing keepers cottages although now defunct as they are automatic ones. Some of the cottages still lived in and some up for sale.

Millbrook was a place I remembered as you run alongside the so called Secret vehicle testing track for a while.


Next station along is Stewartby which has definitely changed since the last time I went past. It was once the home of the London Brick Company and in the 1970’s produced about 20% of England’s bricks. It was closed around 2008 as although its owners tried to bring the site within the UK Sulphur Dioxide limits it wasn’t successful despite spending over a £1 million in an attempt to reduce them. It boasted the World’s largest Kiln and produced 18 million bricks at the height. Of its production. There are four Chimney’s remaining as they have now got listed status. Was just said seeing it all lying derelict and all those skilled workers no longer there. Some of the background history was told to me by the grandparents of that child so it was good to hear first hand.


I arrived at Bedford on time and only having ten mins quickly set about taking a few pictures of other companies trains that were there before embarking on return journey to Bletchley again.


For more information on the Marston Vale line click here

From Bletchley I caught the 15:50 to New Street via Northampton. The Customer information Screen went a bit confused for a short while showing mine as the 2nd train and another train leaving 30 mins later as the first. It was like this for about 5 mins and a fellow passenger was confused but I assured him it was a technical fault as I could see from the web our train was running to time. As I was about to send a direct message via Twitter to London Midland it rectified itself just as the train arrived passing the track circuit point to indicate it was in section..

Pleasant journey through to New Street getting fuller as we proceeded as we were now in the afternoon rush hour. A few people didn’t have tickets but the Senior Conductor soon sorted that out and most didn’t argue or claim they had lost a ticket.

Having arrived at New Street at 17:17 I sorted myself a quick bit of tea and returned to the platform for the 17:49 to Hereford via University and Worcester Shrub Hill reversing there to travel up the Malvern Line. I was only travelling to Colwall a nice little village I once lived in for a short while in the 1980’s. The Senior Conductor made the announcements and reminded folk that our service did not stop at Bromsgrove and that service was ten minutes later. There was still one passenger who ignored that and arose just before Bromsgrove. It might have helped if he hadn’t got his headphones on so loud when the announcements were being made or bothered to look at the CIS screen in the train itself.

Passing Droitwich, Worcester Tunnel Junction, Henwick Road, Newlands and Malvern Wells signal boxes we arrived having passed through the tunnel at Colwall on schedule. Colwall Tunnel had another running alongside it which stored munitions during the war as well as lots of little underground passages.


15 minute wait here to allow my train to get to Ledbury and my returning train come down the single line. I could see where Network Rail and put some piping in to clear any water that had been affecting the track and causing subsidence a last year. The garden area is still maintained and I'm sure will be blooming in the summer as usual. Hidden away are two plaques, one about the garden and the other commemorating the last Station Master. Whatever happened to them? Try the Severn Valley Line from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth if you want to see traditional stationmasters.


It also struck me that the railway bridge at Colwall which enables people to walk up to the Malvern Hills looks remarkably like the construction of the one over the mothballed South Staffs Line at Hammerwich.


At Colwall Schweppes used to bottle Malvern Spring Water by appointment to the Queen here. There was a small garage on the corner which is now a modern housing block so things have changed a bit. If you like walking you could catch a train here, climb up the Malvern Beacon or walk over the Malvern Hills back into Great Malvern to catch the train back.

Great Malvern and Colwall on the whole are unspoilt places you could spend a day or go a bit further to Ledbury or Hereford.

My 19:10 to Birmingham New Street could be heard in the distance approaching Colwall. There was nothing more pleasant when I lived there hearing in a morning the sound of the Diesel engine leaving Ledbury Tunnel and pulling what was the 6:24 from Colwall to Worcester Shrub Hill and beyond to London Paddington. If you was still walking down from “The Winnings” where I lived and heard the engine you had exactly 3 mins to run to get to the platform in time.


Anyway I digress, I climb aboard this 170 (not the same I know) and return to Birmingham up the Lickey Bank and from Kings Norton follow the local London Midland service towards Birmingham. We had to wait a few mins in the tunnel after five-ways until the 20:17 to Rugeley Trent Valley via Walsall left our arriving platform.

My last train of the day was the 20:47 to Walsall, all stations and we arrived at 21:14. No rush to leave the station as my bus was at 21:40 arriving home at 10pm, 15 hours after I left.


In summary I had been on ten train all left and arrived at my destinations on time. My travel as you might say was a bit extreme but I’m not sure what the odds are planning ten trains and they all working out. Now if I could plan my lottery numbers in the same way, I could buy the equivalent of a Gold London Midland Rail Ticket and travel every day that I wanted to.

For details of the area covered by London Midland, journeys you can make and days out click here

As in my previous London Midland Great Escape blog, I publish below the details of my journeys and hope you have enjoyed reading my words.

Liverpool via Birmingham New Street
Liverpool Lime Street
London Euston
London Euston
Birmingham New Street
Birmingham New Street
Birmingham New Street
Birmingham New Street