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

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