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.

Couldn't be bothered - The Chesham Shuttle lives again

Here in the UK it's a lazy long bank holiday weekend.

That means over-running engineering works (courtesy of Chiltern Railways) and normal engineering works (courtesy lots of others).

The bonus is that for today and tomorrow, the four car Chesham Shuttle is running between Chalfont & Latimer and Chesham on the Metropolitan Line.

It is quite difficult to get to as Chiltern Railways are only running trains between Aylesbury Vale Parkway and Amersham once an hour, the Metropolitan Line has a bus break between Wembley Park and Northwood, and the shuttle itself is only running every forty minutes.

This all conspires to mean that it would have taken me forever to get to Chalfont & Latimer and to have actually managed to get on the train. To be frank, I was in Amersham and couldn't be bothered to go the one last stop once I'd realised how un-joined up the timetable was.

Instead, you'll have to make do with these pictures I took on the 'Last Day' of the shuttle, in December 2010.

I did like the way that somebody took the trouble to make a commemorative headboard.

Friday, August 26, 2011

It looks as though I was overly optimistic

Last night I posted as to how well advanced the Chiltern Railways track replacement work was, out in my part of rural Buckinghamshire.

I spoke too soon, for it seems as though the commissioning of the new signalling system is taking rather longer than was hoped. The actually engineering work seems pretty much done - nobody wants a train to crash into the back of another because the driver saw a green light when it should really have been red.

Chiltern Railways have dusted off a contingency plan for Sunday (when trains were supposed to have started running again on the line through High Wycombe). Those planned trains will no longer run.

So far as I can see, this is a summary of what will be happening this Sunday (28th August 2011):

  •  Hourly train service from Aylesbury Vale Parkway to Amersham. Passengers will have to transfer to London Underground services there which will be train to Northwood, bus to Wembley Park and train again to Baker Street;
  • Hourly train services from Birmingham to each of Bicester North and Oxford;
  • Bus services from Bicester North to West Ruislip (for connection to the Central Line*)

* Don't forget, it's the Notting Hill Carnival this weekend.
Details of the changes, along with timetables, may be found on the 'Changes' page of the Chiltern Railways website.

That's messed up my plans for Sunday!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Princes Risborough appears on track

This week there are no trains at all on Chiltern Railways, between Bicester North and London Marylebone.

One of the major pieces of infrastructure being completed is at Princes Risborough. Here a new London bound line has been built, several sets of new points installed along with a new signalling system.

Tonight I wandered along to the station at Princes Risborough to see how they are getting on. It was getting dark, and the pictures were taken on my phone, but it seems that the work in and around the station is pretty much done.

The other major pieces of track work this week are at High Wycombe ( a replacement crossover at the Western end of the station) and in the Northolt Park / Ruislip Gardens area, where the track layout will be totally different than was hitherto the case.

New signals at the north end of Princes Risborough station.

A view from the platform at Princes Risborough, showing the Fast Up Line (in the middle).
Only two days to go before we have trains running again - it's looking good!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Actually, it wasn't too bad

Actually my blog post of Monday evening was probably a tad unfair.

Yes, my train home on Monday evening was cancelled (and I had a further late night delay on Tuesday), but overall my train journeys this week have not been too bad.

Marylebone station has been closed and two Chiltern Railways trains an hour have gone in to Paddington (on the High Wycombe Line) and two on that line have turned around at West Ruslip.

By all accounts not many people chose to face the Central Line in from West Ruislip. However my experience was that the six or seven car trains laid on from Paddington were adequate.

As you can hopefully see from the table to the right, significant leeway was built into the timetables (every train arrived into Paddington early). The red lined journeys indicate the trains I actually caught rather than the delays incurred.

Door to door, my journeys too and from work were about ten minutes longer than normal, so really I have little cause to complain.

For some people the glass is always half empty - they will always find something to moan about. Some people will have had horrible journeys.

I like to look forward (aaarrrggh - next week may be bad!) - I look forward to the new train timetable on 5th September. I will hopefully be able to gain 70 minutes a day at home, spending 10 minutes a day less in the office. I think I may be one of the lucky ones, but here's hoping.

So far so good. Well done Chiltern Railways!

Monday, August 15, 2011

A bad start to two weeks of travel carnage

This week Marylebone station is shut, to enable the points and track layout at Neadsden Junction to be remodelled. Next week the track layouts at Princes Risborough and South Ruislip / Northolt Junction are getting similar treatment.

This means that all Chiltern railways trains from Aylesbury are terminating at either Harrow-on-the-Hill or Amersham. Trains on the High Wycombe Line are either diverted to Paddington (or Didcot), or terminate at West Ruislip, for the Central Line.

Tonight the 1645 departure from Paddington was cancelled, due to a member of staff being unavailable.

I saw no Chiltern Staff at Paddington (I am not saying that there were none, I just didn't see any).

The next train, the 1718, was formed of 7 carriages and was completely rammed.

My journey home took over two hours.

Next week will be worse, with no trains at all on the High Wycombe line.

I do hope that Chiltern Railways get their act together. The occasional cancellation is understood, but to cancel a peak time train when there are only two an hour smacks of a lack of contingency planning.

Many passengers tonight have reason to be grumpy.