Saturday, December 31, 2011

The (Half) Year in Numbers

Summary figures for train travel in the second half of 2011 are:
  • July: 2130mi 66ch
  • August: 2002mi 26ch
  • September: 3513mi 04ch
  • October: 3824mi 76ch
  • November: 3573mi 35ch
  • December: 2683mi 59ch
This means that in the second half of 2011 I have travelled 17,728 miles 26 chains by rail, not including the London Underground.

In that time, I have spent 14 days, 5 hours and 8 minutes on trains and have been delayed by 1 day, 16 hours and 49 minutes.

I think that is quite enough of numbers for now, that is all!

December Trains

Ok, that's me done for trains for 2011.

Statistics for the month of November 2011 are as follows:

Operator
Miles Travelled
Chiltern Railways
2,657.7
South West Trains
26.0375
Total for Month
2683.75

That's the lowest in a month since August.

Sugar Rush for the End of the Year

I've had three days at work this week - as usual it was surprisingly busy (primarily because enough people were allowed to take the week between Christmas & New Year as holiday).

After work on ThursdayI had a house party to go to, which was most pleasant. So much so that I had to return yesterday evening to retrieve my car. Hic!

Tonight is off to some friends to see in the New Year. I said that I would supply the desert.

There won't be that many of us. I think I may have gone overboard.....


Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

A line that I did not want to cross

I've just checked the new price of my season ticket. £4,008! Yes over Four Thousand Pounds!

Fortunately my ticket lasts another five months, but it is still a rubicon.

Some Chiltern Railways passengers have been moaning because they are currently only offering a 5% renewal discount until 13th January.

A 5% renewal discount applies for annual tickets if peak time punctuality falls below 92% over the previous 12 months. By my way of thinking, if punctuality has been less than 92% for the last 12 months, they will have to have exceptional performance for the figures to go above 91.9% by June. Here's hoping that my mathematics is correct, anyway.

Four Thousand Pounds!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

End of holiday family evening

Tonight we had a really good (for me) end to the family Christmas.

Six of us went along to Twickenham for the Harlequins -v- Saracens rugby match.

There was a sell out 82,000 capacity crowd, a world record for a normal club rugby match. Saracens beat Harlequins 19 points to 11, breaking the Harlequins' all season unbeaten run in the Premiership. Hah! Merry Christmas!

The temperature was remarkably mild for a 1630 end of December kick-off. The ages of our party ranged from 13 to 69 and we all had a good time.

Next, we have to beat Gloucester at Vicarage Road on New Year's Day. Roll on Sunday!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How not to speak to customers

I don't do it very often, but I am going to name and shame.

This evening I went out to try to complete my usual last minute Christmas shopping.

I was in the ladies department of House of Fraser in the Eden Shopping Centre in High Wycombe.

I sought advice from a shop assistant as to style suitability for a top for my Mother. I do try not to buy vouchers every year. The response I got was:
"No, my Grandmother wouldn't like that."

Ouch!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Track Bashing the Chiltern Mainline - Again

Three months ago, Chiltern Railways launched their new 'Mainline' service and timetable, to much fanfare.

It would be fair to say that implementation was not glitch free. That is an understatement.

Since implementation of the new timetable, the Public Performance Measure ("PPM") has been below the franchise requirement of 93.75% and monthly season ticket holders have recently been receiving 5% discounts upon renewal. That is not good.

To give absolute clarity, I detail at the foot of this note the PPM measures as reported by The Office of Rail Regulation, for each of the individual 2012 industry reporting periods to date. The Moving Annual Average PPM moved up from its low of 92.6% to 92.7%, for the most recent period.

Back in September I blogged upon my experiences of the first day of the new timetable. It is probably fair to say that I stress tested the timetable and it was not a rip-roaring success.

Today Chiltern Railways had the first weekday of the new Winter Timetable. There are not many changes to the September effort, and the changes that have been made aim to improve reliability and (in the main) the passenger experience.

Today I had a couple of bimbles up and down the line and, as in September, I present the facts and figures on today's track bash.

For the record, this time my travelling today started during the morning peak and finished not long efter the end of the evening peak. The journeys were evenly spread throughout the day although, almost certainly, will not necessarily reflect a sample of every journey type.
  • Total number of individual train journeys: 11
  • Total distance travelled: 388 Miles
  • Longest train journey: 92 Miles
  • Shortest train journey: 5 miles
  • Highest individual average journey speed: 77.9 mph
  • Average speed of all journeys: 60.5 mph
  • Cumulative delay: 29 minutes
  • Number of cancellations experienced: 0
  • Number of times my train was pulled over to allow a Mainline (express) service to overtake: 0
While not perfect, a comparison with 5 September 2011, shows a considerably improved passenger experience. The 11 minute delay in the morning was caused by a track circuit failure just north of Bicester North, while the final journey delay was as a result of a late start, due to waiting for a late-running Mainline service to pass through. I do know that there were problems that did not affect me - for example I saw one Londonbound train from the West Midlands pass through High Wycombe almost half an hour late.

The evening peak service from Marylebone is clearly still not fully sorted yet. There are one or two stations in the Chilterns that are still unhappy with the impact of the new timetable, and the availability of rolling stock is clearly still an issue.

Once again, all of this was made possible thanks to the good people at Chiltern Railways. No free tea today, but altogether a more pleasurable experience than three months ago. Back to normal commuting next week.

PPM: Source Office of Rail Regulation. Extracted 13 Dec 2011.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

New Platform Allocations for Marylebone from 12 December 2011

The new Chiltern Railways timetable started today. This means that some trains will have had their allocated platform slots changed at Marylebone.

The table below shows the current planned departure platforms from London Marylebone, for the normal weekday afternoon / evening peak timetable.

A big thank you to Tom Cairns and his web based Timetables App via whom I sourced the Network Rail data. He is a very clever chap.

I cannot stress strongy enough that these platforms are not guaranteed, and are all subject to change at short notice!

You have been warned.


London Marylebone between 1600 and 1859 weekdays from 12th December 2011



Dep Departs to Platform
1600 Gerrards Cross 1
1607 Birmingham Snow Hill 3
1610 Bicester North 2
1613 High Wycombe 4
1626 Aylesbury 2
1630 Birmingham Snow Hill 4
1633 Bicester North 6
1636 High Wycombe 5
1640 Gerrards Cross 1
1643 Aylesbury Vale Parkway 5
1646 Birmingham Moor Street 3
1649 Banbury 2
1653 Aylesbury 3
1656 High Wycombe 4
1707 Kidderminster 1
1710 Stratford-upon-avon 2
1713 Aylesbury 6
1716 Aylesbury Vale Parkway 5
1719 High Wycombe 2
1723 West Ruislip 5
1727 Aylesbury 4
1737 Birmingham Snow Hill 3
1740 Bicester North 3
1743 Princes Risborough 2
1746 Aylesbury Vale Parkway 4
1750 High Wycombe 3
1756 Gerrards Cross 5
1759 Aylesbury 6
1807 Kidderminster 2
1810 Stourbridge Junction 5
1813 Banbury 3
1816 Bicester North 1
1819 Aylesbury Vale Parkway 6
1822 Aylesbury 4
1825 High Wycombe 6
1829 West Ruislip 4
1833 Aylesbury 2
1840 Birmingham Snow Hill 3
1844 Leamington Spa 2
1847 High Wycombe 5
1850 Aylesbury 4
1853 Bicester North 6
1856 Aylesbury 3
1859 High Wycombe 6

E&OE

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my homeward bound journey experiences, using the new Chiltern Railways timetable that started on 5 September 2011.

I now tend to catch the same train to work most mornings. The general view of the recent performance of Chirltern Railways is that it has been fairly poor. My own experience is that the performance of my normal morning train has been pretty good.

Because I can geek for England, I tend to record details of my train journeys. Please see below for the detail.

The train (1H03) has been short formed twice (three carriages instead of four). I have had a seat on every day, except for one of the short-formed days.

Chiltern Railways had have had a lot of stick recently from disgruntled customers. It's a real shame that I have had to start travelling at stupid o'clock in the morning to have a decent journey to work - If everyone could have my experience, then there would be lots of contented customers around.


Date Origin Destination TOPS Dep Arr
Delay
(see note)*
Av Spd
12-Sep-11 PRR MYB 168217 06:36 07:06
On time 72.6mph
14-Sep-11 PRR MYB 168217 06:36 07:10
0h 04m 64mph
15-Sep-11 PRR MYB 168107 06:34 07:05 - 0h 01m 70.2mph
16-Sep-11 PRR MYB 168005 06:37 07:18
0h 12m 53.1mph
19-Sep-11 PRR MYB 168219 06:36 07:06
On time 72.6mph
20-Sep-11 PRR MYB 168215 06:34 07:04 - 0h 02m 72.6mph
21-Sep-11 PRR MYB 168219 06:33 07:02 - 0h 04m 75.1mph
22-Sep-11 PRR MYB 168001 06:33 07:03 - 0h 03m 72.6mph
23-Sep-11 PRR MYB 168002 06:33 07:05 - 0h 01m 68mph
26-Sep-11 PRR MYB 168003 06:35 07:05 - 0h 01m 72.6mph
27-Sep-11 PRR MYB 168215 06:34 07:04 - 0h 02m 72.6mph
29-Sep-11 PRR MYB 168001 06:33 07:06
On time 66mph
30-Sep-11 PRR MYB 168106 06:35 07:05 - 0h 01m 72.6mph
03-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168003 06:38 07:09
On time 70.2mph
04-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168005 06:35 07:05 - 0h 04m 72.6mph
05-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168001 06:34 07:07 - 0h 02m 66mph
06-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168005 06:34 07:04 - 0h 05m 72.6mph
07-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168216 06:37 07:07 - 0h 02m 72.6mph
10-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168217 06:35 07:05 - 0h 04m 72.6mph
11-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168003 06:38 07:14
0h 05m 60.5mph
12-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168215 06:37 07:11
0h 02m 64mph
13-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168216 06:35 07:09
On time 64mph
14-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168106 06:37 07:09
On time 68mph
17-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168106 06:35 07:05 - 0h 04m 72.6mph
18-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168001 06:38 07:11
0h 02m 66mph
19-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168002 06:34 07:05 - 0h 04m 70.2mph
20-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168106 06:38 07:09
On time 70.2mph
25-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168005 06:35 07:15
0h 06m 54.4mph
26-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168110 06:36 07:06 - 0h 03m 72.6mph
27-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168002 06:34 07:08 - 0h 01m 64mph
28-Oct-11 PRR MYB 168216 06:35 07:05 - 0h 04m 72.6mph
01-Nov-11 PRR MYB 168002 06:33 07:05 - 0h 04m 68mph
03-Nov-11 PRR MYB 168109 06:35 07:06 - 0h 03m 70.2mph
09-Nov-11 PRR MYB 168106 06:35 07:05 - 0h 04m 72.6mph
11-Nov-11 PRR MYB 168002 06:33 07:03 - 0h 06m 72.6mph
14-Nov-11 PRR MYB 168216 06:34 07:05 - 0h 04m 70.2mph
15-Nov-11 PRR MYB 168217 06:33 07:05 - 0h 04m 68mph
17-Nov-11 PRR MYB 168003 06:34 07:05 - 0h 04m 70.2mph
18-Nov-11 PRR MYB 168216 06:34 07:04 - 0h 05m 72.6mph
21-Nov-11 PRR MYB 168217 06:33 07:05 - 0h 04m 68mph
22-Nov-11 PRR MYB 168005 06:35 07:06 - 0h 03m 70.2mph
24-Nov-11 PRR MYB 168003 06:34 07:05 - 0h 04m 70.2mph
29-Nov-11 PRR MYB 168005 06:33 07:04 - 0h 05m 70.2mph
30-Nov-11 PRR MYB 168216 06:35 07:05 - 0h 04m 72.6mph
05-Dec-11 PRR MYB 168216 06:35 07:06 - 0h 03m 70.2mph

*NB A Minus Sign (-) in the 'Delay' column indicates that the train was early.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Too Much Time on Trains - Again

Statistics for the month of November 2011:

Operator
Miles Travelled
Chiltern Railways
3,135.1875
East Midlands
252.875
South West Trains
48.675
National Express East Anglia
136.7
Total for Month
3,573.4375

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Today is a Yellow Day

Actually, in this part of rural Buckinghamshire, it is really rather a nice day. As dusk approaches the sky is a clear blue and the ground is dry. All a marked contrast to the weather up in Birmingham this morning, where it was grey, misty, damp and cold.

Yellow Day?

That refers to the leaf falls expected on the railways and indicates that specialist track treatment trains may be expected out and about today.

The Network Rail waterjet train should currently be at Marylebone... If it is, then it will be leaving (or should that be leafing?) for South Ruislip in about 20 minutes (16:15). It should be at South Ruslip just after 16.30 where it will reverse back towards Greenford, will head under the Central Line down towards Ealing, past Ealing Broadway (just after 5.00pm) before heading off to bed in the Willesden area.

Unless you are in the immediate area, not much excitement there.

Chiltern Railways do also run their own Sandite train. It was trowelling around early this morning, but was tucked up back in bed in Aylesbury before most sensible people were even aware that it was Saturday.

Thank you TC for the info. To be clear - it could be that none of the above happens, but given that there are more fresh leaves on the ground now than on any other day, it should.

Here's a really ropey video of the waterjet train passing down the Metropolitan Line late last Sunday afternoon.
video

Birmingham Christmas Market

Earlier this week I was up in Birmingham, for work, when the receptionist told me that the annual Christmas Market was setting up. She was most excited about the prospect.

The Birmingham City Council microsite certainly bigged it up so, this morning, I decided to nip up to take a look.

I was actually quite impressed.

To begin with I walked from Snow Hill station to Victoria Square where to start with I was mildly under-whelmed. However further exploration revealed that the market also stretched the full length of New Street and there really are quite a lot of stalls.

There are unsurprisingly lots of outlets selling Germanic food and drink, but there are also lots of handicraft stalls selling everything from candles through to fruit bowls, clothing and general nic-nacs. Many of the outlets and artisans are local, but there are also plenty of our continental friends who have come over to give the market a truly authentic feel.

I recommend a visit. If possible, I suggest that you arrive as early as you can - by the time I emerged from the stalls at the bottom of New Street, it was really getting rather busy.

The market is open daily from 10.00am to 9.00pm daily from now until Friday 23rd December 2011.

Travel was by Chiltern Railway. They currently have a rather spiffing weekend offer (make sure you follow the instructions and follow the terms & conditions) enabling people to travel across their network for £10.

All in all, a good way to warm up into the Christmas spirit.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto

The names of the four largest moons that orbit the planet Jupiter.

This is what they looked like when viewed through the lens of my camera last night.

I am quietly chuffed.

CU

Monday, October 31, 2011

Too Much Time on Trains

Statistics for the month of October 2011:

Operator
Miles Travelled
Chiltern Railways
3,246.5625
Great Western
549.8125
Virgin Trains
8.225
Cross Country
20.35
Total for Month
3,824.95

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Some weeks later.... The Chiltern Railways timetable

On 5th September 2011, Chiltern Railways introduced their new timetable. It marked the culmination of mega-spend on engineering work (£250m), months of weekend and late night travel disruption and a couple of weeks of blockade in August.

The result is an ambitious little train company, trying to run something approaching a four track railway on two tracks. The new timetable is bedding-in, just about, but whether it is actually fit for purpose is an entirely different matter. Since the company is no longer owned by its management, its ethos on day to day operational matters does seem to be driven a little more by the bean counters than ever used to be the case.

The view of many commuters in to London is that Chiltern Railways has de-prioritised them in favour of the longer distance (commercially lucrative and less captive) West Midlands to London market. Chiltern Railways does still however have some great staff working on the front line, trying to deliver the best possible service, often in difficult circumstances.

My train home

Since the new timetable came in, I now have a new favourite train home. I have caught it on nineteen separate occasions since 5 September. Of those 19 journeys, the train has arrived on time on 9 occasions. If one includes the generally accepted standard of three minutes or less late is 'on time', then the train has been on time on 16 of the 19 journeys.

The remaining three journeys were 14, 12 & 5 minutes late.

Every single journey was quicker than would have been the case before the new timetable was introduced.

I think I've been lucky, but in respect of my homeward journey from Marylebone, I am generally quite content. There are other things I could rant on about, but for now, I shall end on a positive note.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

A Day at the Seaside

It's been a long day today (and I still won't be home for another 2 1/2 hours).

Up bright and early for a reasonable time Chiltern Railways train into London Marylebone. Reasonable time because it was 80 minutes later than the train I usually catch during the week.

A leisurely walk along to London Paddington, and then on to a First Great Western train. The train was bound for Plymouth, though I was to get off at Exeter St Davids. Bit of a wibble on the way - a broken down train meant that at Westbury we were diverted via Bath and Bristol, eventually arriving (after a signal failure thrown in) some 50 minutes late.

After a five minute wait, I then boarded a little two car train down the branch line to Exmouth. To say that the train was packed was an understatement. Apparently it has been a little warm today, so all the world and their dog had decided to go to the seaside.Actually there were no dogs on the train, but hopefully you get the picture.

It was then off to the beach. It's really quite a nice beach.

Don't forget that today is the 1st of October. It isn't supposed to be like this.There aren't supposed to be lots of people on the beach. There aren't supposed to be massive queues at the ice cream shop on the sea front. The restaurants are not supposed to be packed. Clearly late Summer warmth is good for trade in Exmouth.

It was then back onto a train for a few minutes up the line for Digby & Sowton, the nearest train station for Sandy Park, the home to the Rugby Union side of Exeter Chiefs.

It's actually the second time I've been to Sandy Park this year. It has a nice atmosphere and the facilities for spectators are good.
Now, I do confess to being a Saracens season ticket holder, so it was quite enjoyable to see my side win by 17 points to 13. It may not have been the most technical game ever played, but it was an enjoyable afternoon and, of course, the right side won!

Due to the number of people who had been enjoying the sun and sea down in Exmouth, the train back up to Exeter was complete carnage. So much so that it was late enough for me to miss my planned 1802 train back to Paddington.

Instead, I am now sat on the 1856 train, still some considerable distance from London, while I had been hoping to be on my last train of the day by now.

Nevertheless, a good day and I've even caught a bit of colour, which is a good thing for October.

Tomorrow it's a 150 mile round trip drive for a joined-up-meat lunch.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rumour debunked - And now trains run normally

Yesterday evening I published a post based upon unconfirmed rumour and malicious gossip. Hah!

The 'unexploded bomb' turned out to be a grenade attached to a barge, believed to be for decoration.

Based upon the tiny amount of information that I have been able to piece together from different sources, I think that the barge will be on the Oxford Canal, near Fenny Compton. In that area the canal is close to the railways for quite some distance.

No further news overnight. The incident is no longer affecting Cross Country Trains or Chiltern Railways. Trains are expected to run normally through the area this morning.

Note to self: Stop scraping the barrel when it comes to finding stuff to blog about.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Unconfirmed Rumour - Unexploded Bomb?

Late night Chiltern Railways and Cross Country services have been seriously affected by the closure just now of the railway between Banbury and Leamington Spa.

The problem has variously been described as 'a serious incident near the railway' and 'Emergency services are dealing...'.

The good news is that Chiltern Railways have just said that they are able to run trains again, so hopefully the mass of late night cancellations will shortly be uncancelled.

I am hearing that an unexploded bomb (probably an old one) has been discovered somewhere in the Fenny Compton area. It is close to the railway - following a risk assessment it is likely that further action will be taken once the last scheduled trains have run through the area late tonight.

This is all hearsay and innuendo - could be complete rubbish. If it's true, you heard it here. If it isn't, you do read some complete tosh on the Internet!

Sleep well!

Edit:
Emergency services are dealing with an incident near Banbury
Because of this, there are delays of up to 40 minutes to trains between Leamington and Bicester North / Oxford . These delays will continue until approximately 23:30

Monday, September 12, 2011

Every cloud has a silver lining (or two)

Cloud

Yesterday afternoon I blogged briefly on the personal impact to me of the effect of over-running engineering works in the Leamington Spa area. Or it was also described as a 'broken down train'.

I was on what should have been the first Chiltern Railways train to venture North of Bicester North after the end of the blockade at about 14:15. The train was the first one, the problem was that it left Bicester 50 minutes late, with the following Stratford-Upon-Avon service attached to its rear end. Both services were then terminated at Banbury.

It appears that the train that broke down was an engineering train. To be precise, a tamping train. It had a major mechanical defect and had to be rescued by a locomotive sent down from Coventry. The problem was that the rescue train was apparently sent in the direction of Birmingham International first (ie the wrong direction). This meant that the line was not cleared for quite some time.

My understanding is that single line working was implemented between Banbury and Leamington Spa. This meant that many trains were cancelled and all that remained were seriously delayed for much of the afternoon.

Replacement coaches were laid on, but they were seriously deficient in number. Hardly surprising, because the engineering works should have finished and the coaches should not have been needed. The picture above shows the scene outside Banbury at 16:00. There were lots of seriously delayed people. Shortly after this picture was taken, I think Chiltern Railways managed to run a Birmingham bound service, so hopefully many of the people shown managed to get on the train before it left.

Silver Lining


After a short but seriously heavy downpour at Bicester North, on the return journey, this rainbow was spotted from the platform.

Many camera phones were brought into use by the hordes of designer shoppers, who were all as delighted as I was to see such a bright rainbow.

An otherwise dreary afternoon was considerably brightened.

Second Silver Lining

During the course of the afternoon, I managed to take this picture of a Chiltern Mainline Class 168.

The train was thundering down the new Fast Up Line (towards London), at Princes Risborough, at what would have been the line speed of 85 mph.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Blogging on the overun

This afternoon's engineering works between Banbury have not ended well.

The Chiltern Railways website currently says 'over-running engineering works'. The National Rail website says 'broken down train in the Leamington Spa area'.

The 1415 departure from BCS (the first train due to run North of Bicester North) is currently sat in Platform 1. The 1438 service from Bicester North to Stratford Upon Avon is due to be attached to the back of the 1415, where both trains will run as one train through to Banbury, where the train will terminate.

Hopefully by then, the following Birmingham service will have caught up, so passengers will maybe get to where they want to. Probably without seats and with a delay of getting on for an hour. Hopefully. Maybe.

Edit: [15:05] The Stratford Upon Avon train has now coupled to the back of the Birmingham train. We are just pulling out, 50 minutes late. Next (and currently last) stop for this elongated train is Banbury.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Someone made a boo boo

So far as trains are concerned, this post is about as technical as I can get! Sorry.

Tonight there are no Chiltern Railways trains between Bicester North and Leamington Spa, from about now. This is due to engineering work.

The 2039 arrival into Bicester North (1N56) terminated at Platform 2 and then ran into the Bicester North Siding. It was then booked to follow the 2049 Southbound service (1H67) as empty stock, to Princess Risborough, where it was to run up the Aylesbury branch line to the depot.

Tonight it all went a bit wrong.

The empty stock train was allowed to run into Platform 2 at Princes Risborough, early, at about 2115. This was a bit of a problem as the 2116 departure from Aylesbury set off, on time, down the single track branch line.

There then followed what must be the most complicated shunting move I think I have ever seen, which I have attempted to illustrate below.

  1. 1. Empty stock train ran into Platform 2 (Up Loop)
  2. 2. Train reversed across the Up Main and across onto the Down Main
  3. 3. Train reversed again back across onto the Up Main (using the new centre track as a siding)
  4. 4. Once the passenger train from Aylesbury (2H72) has left the Up Loop towards London, and when the 2133 to Banbury (1U64) had cleared the Down Main shunt to the East of the station, the train then continued on the Up Main and crossed over onto the Down Main Shunt.
  5. 5. The train will then have reversed again from the Down Main shunt, crossing back into the Up Loop (Platform 2) and continuing on to Aylesbury.

I bet the driver was cursing.

I did not actually witness moves (4) & (5), but logically that is what will have happened.

(Please click the diagram to expand it to a readable size)

Monday, September 05, 2011

Track Bashing the Chiltern Mainline

Today, I confess, has been a day of travelling on lots of trains, for no really good reason other than that I could.

Chiltern Railways today formally launched their new Mainline timetable.

Here and now I am not going to devil into the detail of what has, or has not been achieved.

What has happened is that there has been a complete recast of the train timetable, the aim being for many train journeys to be speeded up. In principle this is achieved by 'waves' of trains arriving into, and departing from, London Marylebone.

The general theory is that the fastest trains leaving (or arriving) are at the front of a wave, with progressively slower trains and those with shorter journeys following on behind. By the time the slowest train reaches its destination, the first train in the next wave is pushing up its backside. If you look at the timetable, you can see these waves.

There will no doubt be plenty of opportunity to analyse how the new timetable meets the broad base of Chiltern Railways' passengers. For today I simply present facts and figures on today's track bash.

For the record, my travelling today started well before the morning peak and finished not long before the close of service. The journeys were evenly spread throughout the day although, admittedly, may not necessarily reflect a sample of every journey type.
  • Total number of individual train journeys: 17
  • Total distance travelled: 340 Miles
  • Longest train journey: 77 Miles
  • Shortest train journey: 3 miles
  • Highest individual average journey speed: 70.1 mph
  • Average speed of all journeys:57.8 mph
  • Cumulative delay: 89 minutes *
  • Number of cancellations experienced: 1
  • Number of times my train was pulled over to allow a Mainline (express) service to overtake: 2 **
*The nature of the timetable is that there is very little slack. Some trains were early or on time, but the reality is that delays increased as the day went on. The delay status of every individual journey is shown to the right. I think that the general pattern of red will probably reflect the experience of many fellow passengers during the course of the day.

** Chiltern Railways operate a two track railway. It is important that some flexibility is built in to allow overtaking. If this manual intervention were not to happen, relatively light delays could very quickly snowball into a passenger nightmare. In times of need, Going as far as Aynho Junction, Northbound trains can overtake at South Ruislip, West Ruislip, Princes Risborough and Bicester North. Southbound trains can be overtaken at Princes Risborough, High Wycombe, Gerrards Cross and West Ruislip. I am happy to be told if this information is wrong. The fact that I was overtaken today is a good thing, but also a reflection of some late running.

My definition of 'late' is arriving after the minute of scheduled arrival - this is rather more harsh than what the railways use as their definition. However, the reality is that three trains were on time, or slightly early. Not fantastic, in fact a disappointment, but it has been Day 1.

All of this was made possible thanks to the good people at Chiltern Railways. I should also say that I was treated to a very pleasant on-board cream tea at the invitation of Adrian Shooter CBE, Chairman of Chiltern Railways. I will not let such courtesy and hospitality cloud my objectivity - I will continue to say what I see and think. What I say may be good, it may be bad, hopefully it will generally be balanced and most importantly reasonably well informed.

It's back to the normal commute tomorrow, so as used to be said, Boing....... Time for bed.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Signalling Problems on Chiltern Railways

This post is based upon personal experience, supposition and guess work. Bits of it may not be based on fact, but here goes. Sources are a combination of me, the Chiltern Railways website and the National Rail website Live Departure Boards.

Chiltern Railway soft launched their new timetable today. The little table that you can hopefully see shows my personal experience of using my friendly little railway company today.

It does not make pretty reading, when you consider that the new weekday timetable kicks in in about seven hours. These delays were all caused by railway infrastructure issues (not train breakdowns).

It would appear that, just over an hour ago, something caused the majority of trains South of Banbury to grind to a halt. Or not leave their starting stations. A few trains seem to be moving now, but some are terminating short and there have been some cancellations. The reasons are either 'Emergency Engineering Works' or 'Signalling Problems'.

A lot of people need to cross their fingers very hard that whatever has gone wrong is sorted good and proper by the morning.

Sleep well.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

High Wycombe has gone all kinky

Last week, in a post about a particular aspect of Chiltern Railways' Evergreen 3 engineering work, I made passing reference to the set of crossover points that were due to be replaced to the immediate West of High Wycombe station.

In a bi-party exchange of comments, I then drifted slightly off topic and allowed my fingers to start typing words relating to line speeds. I apologise for such a display of utter geek-dom. Regrettably I am unable to promise that there will not be a repeat of something similar.

Anyhow, here is a repeat of my comments relating specifically to the replacement crossover:
The purpose of replacing the points north of the station is to increase the Up (London bound) line speed through the station (through platform 3).

This has been done by 'de-prioritising' the points, reducing the Up to Down line line speed across the points (into Platform 2) from 40 mph to 25 mph.

This picture [click it for a larger version], taken earlier this evening shows the new points. The Up Line (towards London) is on the right, while the track on the left is going towards Princes Risborough & Birmingham, with trains traveling away from the camera.

The points were replaced at some point during the last eight days. While I do not have 'before and after' pictures, I can tell you that the previous crossover followed a straight line whereas the new points have a very obvious kink to them. That is why I described the new crossover as 'de-prioritising' the points.

Trains can now travel much faster into High Wycombe station, however to cross-over from the Up to the Down line, trains can only now travel at a maximum 25 mph.

There are literally dozens of seemingly innocuous pieces of engineering such as this built into the Evergreen 3 project. Each one is safety critical, each one probably incredibly expensive and each one contributing to the journey time savings that many passengers will hopefully see from next week.

I am not a mouth piece for Chiltern Railways. While I hope that all goes well with the launch of the new timetable, many commuters are expressing disquiet about the number of trains due to stop at their stations.

The railway company is hoping to deliver shorter journey times and more seats, this is at the cost of fewer trains at some stations. What this could mean in practise is that commuters have less flexibility as to the timing of their journeys. Only time will tell - I hope that I am being overly pessimistic as to the impact of the new timetable on Heartlands commuters.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lacey Green Windmill

Are you looking for something to do in the Chilterns? Well, you could do far worse than visit Lacey Green Windmill, which is open on Sunday and Bank Holiday afternoons (2 - 5), from the beginning of May until the end of September.

Described as England's oldest Smock Mill, the windmill has been carefully restored and preserved by members of The Chiltern Society and is staffed by volunteers. Entrance is £2 for adults and £1 for children (5 to 15).

A Smock Mill is one where the only the top bit (the "cap"), turns with the wind. The cap rotates so that the sails always face into the wind, with the fantail helping to achieve this.

Without the ability for the cap to rotate to face into the wind, the windmill could get seriously damaged in a strong gale.

The sails at Lacey Green generally only  rotate properly, with sailcloths, once a year during National Mills weekend. This year it was on 15th May and in 2012 is planned to be on on 13th May. A full description of this year's event may be found here.

The milling machinery at the Lacey Green Windmill does not work, but there is plenty of old machinery to be seen throughout the four floors of the mill.

Access to the mill is gained down three steps and then up from the ground floor to three further levels via some rather steep wooden ladders. For obvious reasons, the inside of the building is most definitely not wheelchair accessible. Indeed access will be seriously inhibited for anyone with mobility problems.

On one of the floors there is a very old workbench with some fascinating tools, adjacent to a rather cobwebbed window through which one could see fantastic views over the Northern edge of the Chiltern Hills over Buckinghamshire and on towards Oxfordshire.

I particularly liked the stack of fence sections stored on the ground floor. Clearly manufactured in a traditional manner, these are used to fence off the areas near the rotating sails on sailing days. To me, the way in which these sections of fence have been made sums up the attitude and ethos of the people that have lovingly restored and cared for this historic building over the last few decades.

The windmill is not overly commercial - the prices are refreshingly good value. There is no gaudy tea room (though there is a nice looking pub at the end of the access path) and the choice of souvenirs is rather nicely limited.

Lacey Green Windmill is about local people caring for a really rather nice piece of English heritage. Don't travel hundreds of miles to see it, but if you happen to be in the area when it is open, please do visit it - England is all the better for having fascinating buildings such as this and a short visit is thoroughly recommended.

The windmill contains a hugely informative set of displays, setting out the historical context of the building. I had never really given much thought to the location of windmills and water mills in the area. I can however guarantee that if you visit this piece of history, you will learn something.

Lacey Green is a couple of miles South of Princes Risborough. It has a reasonably good bus service and excellent travel directions are provided on the windmill's highly informative website. Recommended.