Wednesday, 27 February 2013

My London Midland Great Escape Day 23rd February 2013

Normally when I’m writing about railways matters I do it on my other blog site but as this doesn’t directly relate to South Staffs rail and covers a wider area I’m doing it here. Last time I wrote here it was July 2012 at the height of both floods and higher than normal temperatures. Well we are in the winter months and very much the day temperature has been around freezing point. When you think of cold temperatures what do you think of? Do penguins come to mind or escaping to warmer climes or both. Well put the two things together and you might come up with the Winter Great Escape.

geleafletLondon Midland my local commuter rail company who serve the West Midlands but also run regular services to Northampton, London Euston, Liverpool and Hereford to name a few areas (click her to see where they run) regularly have special promotions. Sometimes it’s “half-price” online sale of advance tickets, special discounts or from what I understand the most popular promotion of all “the Great Escape” voucher. Usually during selective school half-terms, the “Great Escape” promotion allows you to download a voucher in advance to enable you to buy a special day rover ticket to go on any London Midland service on their network. Both First and Standard Class vouchers are available for you as the London and Liverpool services do have first class areas on their trains. They are very popular and there is a limited number of vouchers allocated for each day of the promotion. There are restrictions attached weekdays but none at weekends.

ticketI decided on this recent promotion I was going to have a day out “on the trains” on Saturday 23rd February and use my “Delay-repay” vouchers as part payment so travelled First Class instead of standard. First class has the bonus of power sockets to charge my devices on the way.

2013-02-23 07.18.20I wasn’t planning on stopping anywhere too long just to get about the network for most of the day and make some personal notes about certain areas less familiar and also visit a line I’d never been on before. To maximise my time I chose not to start at my local station Walsall but to travel to Wolverhampton where my journey would begin on the 06:52 to Liverpool Lime Street. Unfortunately the train departed 15 mins late due to infrastructure problems earlier. I made my way to the first class section in the centre of the train and made myself at home. As we went round the tight curves at Edge Hill station we had regained lost time and arrived at Liverpool Lime Street Station on Time.

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Whilst I was there I noticed a class 150 unit which was similar to the ones that ran on the Snow Hill Lines prior to the air-conditioned 172’s that London Midland had invested in to run on those lines.

After a refreshment stop using my Discount bite card I was ready to start my journey southwards to Crewe. This was the 09:04 service due at Crewe at 09:49. We arrived in Crewe just as a Private charter train was leaving and I crossed to the platform for my Crewe to London Euston via Stoke-on-Trent service due to leave at 10:02.

My train was awaiting in the platform but I chose to take a few pictures first. As you will see in the background of the picture above there is a Direct Rail Services locomotive which came off that private charter. A few minutes later it roared into life and powered off down towards Kidsgrove and onwards to Derby. I’d forgotten how much some locomotive’s sounded as they moved off.

wp_ss_20130223_0002The unit pictured above was going to be my home for the next 2 hours 47 minutes. This unit has been modified to run at 110mph on selected parts of the route and goes via the direct route between Rugby and Milton Keynes and not via Northampton. When the new timetable came in in December an hourly faster service came into being and was actually officially launched today 27th February by the company. I was looking forward to this increased speed and direct route as I used an application on my phone called GPS Speedometer to keep an eye on our speed. You can see why I needed the charging socket on the train now. Given that consideration has to be given for tolerances with this sort of device when you are inside a metal box it did give a good idea of the speed. Down the Trent Valley line and prior to Tamworth Low Level we achieved 110mph.

wp_ss_20130223_0004Further down the line around Weedon my GPS Speedometer showed even faster but this could well be due to the tolerances previously mentioned.
When you think back to the days of British Rail and the 312 units (Also known as AM12s) which rattled down this line and where capable if you were lucky of 90mph then you can see the difference these units make to the journey. That is apart from the very bouncy sprung seats that were on 312's.
The train was quite full by the time arrived at Milton Keynes. Some passengers came into first class and sat down but were soon moved by teh conductor when he checked the tickets. Some of the passengers said they didnt realise it was first class. Funny really with the big letters First Class on the seats must surely have given them a clue. We arrived in Euston on time and a short photo stop again.

A short while after we arrived at 12:49 a Virgin Train arrived and snuggled up alongside our unit but for some reason seemed to want to get its nose a bit further forward I thought to make a point.

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An hour later I was leaving Euston on a service to Watford Junction which I’d only ever passed through before but I was on a mission to sample the Abbey Line. This line is a single section that runs from platform 11 at Watford junction to St Albans Abbey. This is one of two branch lines that London Midland run services off the West Coast main line. The other being the Marston Vale line from Bletchley to Bedford. More details of that line can be found here which Ive travelled on many times in the past.


I arrived at platform 11 after negotiating a subway to the outer area of the station for the 14:16 service. One of the passengers waiting said to me "is that "where they wash this train" them having spotted a wash shed area. I pointed out politely that I was certain it wasnt as there were no overhead wires there. They thought about it and then said "hasnt it got any emergency engines then?" How do you answer that without making them feel a bit silly.

On getting on the train I was surprised to see some 18 first class seats. I have been told since through twitter by a railwayman that they are in fact declassified but I took advantage anyway with my first class rover. There was only a 5 minute turn around there but just enough time to take a picture of the 321/4 unit that was operating on this electrified single line section service. Then I was on my way back from whence I came. More details on the Abbey line can be found here.  I am told again through a twitter railway friend that there are some very good drinknig establishments up the hill in St Albans. May be another time when Im not doing a lot of travelling around.


My next service was the 15:03 service that started at London Euston and was terminating at Birmingham at 17:01. This service goes via Northampton and does have a 15 minute break there so you can get refreshments and the crew changeover. No 110mph running on this service though but a steady 100 in many places. We arrived at Birmingham New Street exactly on time where I made my way to my next service.


Although I could have gone up to Hereford and back on a later service I decided to travel to Worcester Shrub Hill on the 17:19 service with first calling point Bromsgrove. Bromsgrove station is to be moved slightly further down the line and also to be electrified. This will enable extra services to serve this valuable commuter route. Once in Worcester we disembarked and I crossed to platform 1 to take some pictures with my Nokia Lumia 920 which was to test how good it was with low light photography. This was my unit after it had been brought into the centre road awaiting for the First Great Western Service to London Paddington to come through and subsequently my train back to Birmingham where it would then go into the depot.


The above is the aforementioned First Great Western Service and as you can see the stairs to the other platform and more importantly the old circular signal still in use. I recall this back signal being in use the 1970’s when I used to have a 7 day rover called a Midland Rail rover ticket and caught the 21:49 mail train back to Birmingham and onwards as the 22:50 to Derby. The other one is the Semaphore Signals still in use and will be until the area is re-signalled in the near future. Of course they have been in use longer than my memory and age no doubt.

At 18:17 it was time to leave Worcester Shrub Hill and travel by one of the air-conditioned 172’s that replaced the 150’s I mentioned earlier to Birmingham Moor Street via Kidderminster.


As there were quite a few people on I didn’t want to have to go around and ask each of them permission to take a picture so I share the one I took on the 172 Launch day 2nd August 2011 so you can see what they look like inside if you haven’t been on one.

I arrived at Birmingham Moor street at 19:19 and headed across to New Street for my final train of the day then 19:47 to Walsall.

In all I travelled on ten trains on my Great Escape Day and apart from the late departure from Wolverhampton every train left on time and arrived on time at my destinations.

It was a pleasurable day and during my travels I communicated at various points with the London Midland ( @londonmidland ) team who are live on the award winning social media account between 7am and 10pm weekdays and 8am till 10pm weekends. I think I probably used the #greatescape hashtag quite a bit that day.

I would like to thank the London Midland marketing Team and person who came up with the Great Escape idea and allowed me and many thousands of other passengers take advantage of great days out on the London Midland network. Ok my journey’s last Saturday could be classed as a bit excessive by some but that’s what it’s all about escaping anywhere and on any London Midland Service for the whole day.
Thank you for reading and hope you like my narrative account of the day and I will leave you with the details below of the services taken in chronological order.

06:52 Wolverhampton Liverpool Lime Street 08:22 Left 15mins late but arrived on time
09:04 Liverpool Lime Street Crewe 09:49
10:02 Crewe London Euston 12:49 Via Stoke & avoiding Northampton
13:49 London Euston Watford Junction 14:03
14:16 Watford Junction St Albans Abbey 14:32
14:37 St Albans Abbey Watford Junction 14:53
15:03 Watford Junction Birmingham New St 17:01 Via Northampton
17:19 Birmingham NS Worcester Shrub Hill 17:58 Via Bromsgrove
18:17 Worcester Shrub Hill Birmingham Moor St 19:19 Via Kidderminster
19:47 Birmingham NS Walsall 20:14

Details of the latest promotions can be found at

© London Midland for the Great Escape Leaflet Illustration & National Rail (assumed) for the Ticket.
© Dave Cresswell 2011/2013 for the photographs in this blog section.