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The following is a trip report for a journey I took in January 2019.
After just over 24 hours travelling (and about 4 hours sleep), I arrived in London from Melbourne. The back-to-back Singapore Airlines flights from Melbourne to Singapore then on to London were comfortable enough, but felt like they went on forever. Both flights were very full A380s.
I had pre-purchased tickets for the Heathrow Express, and after clearing customs I walked through seemingly endless subterranean corridors under the airport. I finally reached the station, and the sleek Heathrow Express train was on the platform moments later.
A Paddington Bound Heathrow Express service arrives at Terminal 2&3
The train took me directly to Paddington station, which was about 2 blocks from my hotel. The next morning, I woke up unreasonably early (before 4am) with Jetlag insomnia. I managed to doze for a couple of hours and left the hotel around 7am.
A Heathrow Express service at Paddington beside a Great Western Railway Class 165 and Class 800
Back at Paddington station, I validated my rail pass for the next day, and made some seat reservations, before heading for the Underground station. I expected the Circle Line to be packed at 8am, but we were able to get seats and there were no more than about 10 people standing in the carriage at any time.
A Circle Line train arrives at Paddington station
I spent the day of sightseeing using the Underground, including the Tower of London and the wonderful Hendon RAF air museum (near Colindale station on the Northern Underground line). I had found out about the museum by accident, when I mentioned to a colleague that I was going to London, and what a hidden gem I would have missed out on if he hadn’t told me! Free entry into a huge collection of preserved military aircraft. The displays are well presented and informative, and arranged by era across 6 decommissioned aircraft hangars. After spending 2.5 hours there, I had to leave as they were ready to close.
A LU Northern line train at Colindale
The next morning I again woke up at silly o’clock (not quite as bad as the day before, but still before 5am). I attempted to doze, and left the hotel around 7am, and caught the Underground to Euston station, where I located the Virgin Trains first class lounge. The lounge was just like an airline lounge, with comfy seats, WiFi and free snacks and drinks. The lounge overlooked the main concourse from a mezzanine level, and I watched people scurrying to find their trains as I waited for my platform to be announced.
Looking down on the Euston concourse from the Virgin First Class Lounge
After about 25 minutes, I made my way down to the 08:54 Virgin Trains service to Blackpool North, operated by a Class 390 Pendolino tilting train. I found my seat in one of the first class cars, and discovered that there were only 2 others in the whole car. After departing, we were promptly offered hot and cold drinks, and presented with a breakfast menu. I picked scrambled eggs with smoked salmon.
A Virgin Trains Class 390 Pendolino at Euston
About 5 minutes after ordering, my breakfast arrived. I had expected it to be in a foil tray (like you get on an aeroplane) however I was pleasantly surprised to find that it appeared to be freshly prepared, and came on proper china plates with metal cutlery! I enjoyed my breakfast as we raced though the foggy countryside at 125mph (200 km/h).
Complimentary Breakfast on Virgin Trains West Coast
The 3 hour journey passed quickly, and we arrived at Blackpool North just before midday. The fog had not lifted, and I wandered though the gloomy town centre to the foreshore, where I found what I had come for; trams! Blackpool has the oldest continuously running tramway in the UK, and as well as a commuter service using modern Bombardier Flexity trams, a fleet of heritage trams are run a peak times on a portion of the route. Unfortunately on this dreary winter’s day, the heritage fleet was not running, so I consoled myself with a ride on one of the modern trams.
A modern Blackpool tram
Blackpool is a deserted, depressing place in winter, with few people and empty streets. After a short tram ride, I decided to leave Blackpool and head back south. I walked from the Burlington Road West tram stop to Blackpool Pleasure Beach station on the Blackpool South branch line, where I could catch a local train back to the main line at Preston.
The Blackpool South branch line is a single track line which branches off the Blackpool North line at Kirkham & Wesham. The line is operated by Northern Trains, with services running roughly hourly. Blackpool Pleasure Beach station is a tiny station with a single short platform and a small passenger shelter.
From out of the fog, a pacer appears
I didn’t have long to wait before my train trundled up, and I was delighted to find that it was a Class 142 Pacer. I wasn’t delighted because Pacers are hi-tech (far from it), I wasn’t delighted because Pacers are comfortable (not at all), I was delighted because despite their shortcomings, they are iconic English branch line trains and they are probably responsible for saving a lot of smaller lines from closure. Pacers were designed and built by Leyland Motors in the early 1980s, and are based on a bus design, using many components from buses of the time. The ride quality is… firm… due a single axle at each end of the car instead of 2 axles fixed to bogies like most modern rail vehicles. The insides are also fairly spartan, with what are essentially bus seats.
Inside a Northern pacer
I boarded the little 2 car train and found that I was the only passenger on the foggy Thursday afternoon. The guard checked my ticket, interested in the BritRail pass as he had never seen one in use before. I jokingly asked him where the first class car was. We stopped frequently at tiny halts, and in between the guard’s station duties, we had a good conversation about Pacers and the worldwide railways in general. Despite the rough ride and hard seat, I was sorry when we arrived at Preston and our journey on the valiant little Pacer ended.
The venerable Class 142 Pacer
From Preston, I traveled back south on another Virgin train. In stark contrast to the noisy little Pacer, I found my comfortable seat in the first class car and was asked what I would like for lunch from the (complimentary) menu.
We sped on through the fog, and by the time we reached Liverpool, it was dark (despite being only 4:45 in the afternoon). I changed to a Cross Country service, run by a very full 4 car Class 220 Voyager. I was glad I had reserved a seat, as even the first class section was fully booked. I traveled through to Reading, where I changed to a GWR service for Paddington, run by a Class 802 train. The Class 802 is built by Hitachi in Japan, and is a dual mode electric/diesel. When operating under 25kV overhead wires, the train collects its power from a pantograph. When no wires are available, the pantographs are lowered and power is generated by on board diesel engines and converted into electricity for the traction motors.
A Great Western Railway Class 802 at Reading
I boarded the sleek new train for the 30 minute journey to Paddington. Although the train was new, the seats were a little too firm and the lighting a little too bright. Despite these minor annoyances, the journey was comfortable and passed quickly, and I was soon back at my hotel near Paddington, having covered over 800km for the day.
This article first appeared on theraillife.wordpress.com
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