Thursday, 11 September 2014

Nigel Farrage

Today Nigel Farrage is in Scotland. I am sure there will be howls of anguish. Indeed I find signing up to UKIP beyond me. However if you are concermed for fair debate, it is worth trying (if possible) to listen to this contribution broadcast on Radio 4 at 0710. I will try to summarise it. Firstly he acknowledged that UKIP's own policy has changed. He accepted they had made the Westminster mistake that every government has made since the rejection of Gladstone's Home Rule Bill for Ireland (well I lament the loss of some of Ireland to the Union). He set out his total support for devo max and for a federal settlement for the entire Union and made clear that devolution has to involve English regions (and that the numerically large number of English do need to be thought about). He then suggested that had Alex Salmond a sensible plan for an independent Scotland with its own currency there would have been a credible prospect to vote on and if the Scots wanted it, then Farrage could not stand in their way. However what is on offer is a breath-taking prospect of abandoning the core elements of independence by either allowing RUK to dictate Scottish financial policy (with no Scottish central bank or currency) or jumping over to the Euro. Switching one set of "governors" for another. And become a very minor member of Europe rather than having the negotiating force of the UK. I have to hand it to Mr Farrage. He can put the issues very clearly. He suggested that since the UK outside Europe will be just about its largest trading partner, it would be they who would have to agree a trade deal. Europe will need the UK whether the UK is being governed from Brussels or not. This whole debate is about the right level of government across nations. I remain as I have been throughout a staunch Unionist believing that our union of four nations across one geographical group of islands has been a great sucess (on balance, not perfect but Great). I am not going to buy the Anti Imperialist line and would remind everyone our Commonwealth Games came to Scotland this summer. I hope it will again whatever happens next.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Border Controls

Both Fiona and myself listened to the overnight news with some incredulity. If the next tactic of No is very late in the day to offer a "timetable", it hands the victory to the SNP. They either win outright or they can say narrow victory lads but look what we achieved, better luck next time. In the last 10 days of the campaign and No looks totally on the back foot casting around for an idea.
To both our minds, the SNP campaign has been marked by a whole string of lies and bullying (one tactic being to accuse No of bullying and lies). I hear today Sturgeon plans to campaign on the NHS! That which they have been responsible for since 1997.
It is probably a good idea we are not in any position of authority. A shock like the appearance of "trialled border controls" to emphasize how serious this might be? Or the deployment of a royal message? On my Facebook timeline  the Yes campaigners simply do not believe the reality of Fermanagh I experienced in the 1990s and which I evidence with maps and photos (Aghalane A road bridge near Belturbet 1995 is the photo).  21 Scottish border crossings would be much easier to manage.
All along Yes have said we will get our own way, we will have the EU, we will have the pound, there will be no border impediments, and now in the last length, No appears to be confirming just that with the "timetable"!  There is (as there was 300 years ago) a soft and a hard side to this. The south is a vastly larger economic entity through which most of Scotland's own economic activity has to pass or inter-relate (e.g. banking), if Scotland cannot see it needs to be within that in order to influence matters, then perhaps some evidence of the cost of separation has to be "seen".  The border controls.   However I can well imagine this will not be seen as a practical route and so as of this morning, I am very fearful ths UK is history. It is why months ago I was saying a real gamechanger is needed: Liverpool, new capital of a Federal British Isles. Leave Westminster for the English.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Gilsland Station reaches the House of Commons

It is possible that we will be able to reflect on this evening at some point in the future and say this is when it happened.  The moment when the Gilsland Station campaign went electric, literally. Transport in Northumbria (stretching Northumberland somewhat) has been a real cinderella. Campaigns like Leamside and Ashington Blyth and Tyne seem to go round and round in circles measured in decades. How can we underplay the achievement of Hexham's present Tory MP Guy Opperman  in securing an adjournment debate this evening? Many subjects were mentioned including needy road projects like the A1, A66 and A69 whose dualling I would not contest. But Ovingham and Wark Bridges also got their space.

For me I focus on trains and so tonight did the debate. These are headlines. Guy was invited to meet with the Electrification Task Force within the House of Commons and present the case for the Newcastle & Carlisle. This is potentially a huge move. Whether you have a starter project to run electric trains from Newbiggin to Metrocentre or Hexham, or whether you understand this is the only cross country railway for 100 miles each way north or south and hence its electrification is just a basic piece of national strategy, there is no underplaying that invitation.

Everyone has to grasp that opportunity. And here is an aside, only one Labour MP bothered to turn out. Thankfully he did ask about Ashington Blyth and Tyne and thankfully Guy did agree it was needed and it needed connecting to the Tyne Valley. The evidence from Merseyside, through Manchester and in Rail North is that progress comes to those who work together. Did Labour shun this debate? What a pity if they did. Luminaries like Sir Alan Beith and Rory Stewart and John Stevenson turned out. I don't take political sides, I am sure all people in Northumberland want their MPs to get together and to get transport sorted out, dual the A1, re-open the AB&T and electrify it and the Tyne Valley to form a whole. That would be progress.

In that picture Gilsland suddenly flowered. The study has been done, get the capital paid for and it will wash its face. A station actually sat on the core central section of the Hadrian's Wall World Heritage Site with major sites in easy access, and more or less on the Pennine Way. Gilsland will seem marginal to most but it literally straddles Opperman and Stewart's border. Proving that rural investment can beat borders is so important.  Now hear this, Claire Perry the Transport Minister who responded in a generally positive vein (and we all know the wriggle room her department is leaving itself over Pacers which had their space in the debate) PROMISED to visit Gilsland in 2015. That is saying to everyone involved there is all to play for here.


(the 9th of December 2013, Blaydon Labour MP David Anderson celebrates more trains calling at Blaydon Station and has to endure the Pacer, a bus on rails, a 30 year British Leyland National owing nothing to anyone mounted on a freight wagon underframe, David was not in the chamber tonight)

I have a challenge for the Labour party politicians of Northumberland. For Gilsland to go forward (since the platforms are in Northumberland) the county has to place the project high in its transport planning scores for it to work through the GRIP process. An officer called Stuart McNaughton needs political authority to push Gilsland. If the Labour party desire they can more or less kill Gilsland, small project that it really is. That would though say: this is how we do business in the North East. It is a way to get nowhere. The politicians of all colours in Northumberland should enthuse about both Gilsland and Ashington Blyth and Tyne together and not run them against each other. Do that and there is no Connected Up Northumberland let alone a connected up North. So for those who were not in the chamber last night, I very much hope they still get the message. Guy Opperman achieved a huge amount for a lot of the North this evening. He should be applauded and that includes people like Heaton depot MP Nick Brown (where was he?). And in applauding, these Labour politicians should be quite entitled to have Guy's wholehearted support and lobbying skills to take the trains back into Newbiggin.

To close: a Prudhoe station upgrade was also on the floor as an important project to undertake. Peter Nevin: be pleased!

To see the debate go to

To read a transcript of the debate go to

Saturday, 9 August 2014


“The far interior of our fate, to civilise and to create”.
The bi-sexual poet W. H. Auden wrote those words in his poem New Year Letter 1940 as the world around descended into chaos and darkness. Attached to those words was a pen portrait of his Eden, the hills and mines on my backdoor in the North Pennines.
For me this has for nearly 20 years been a seminal influence on my thinking. Just now I have been far away from the North Pennines and from Auden and lounging in some other similar and lush culture. The family spent a fortnight at Fort Belan beside the Menai Strait in North Wales. The sun smiled. A true fortnight’s delight. The Tour De France was on and we had managed to see this at the Grinton hill climb before going away. Then the Tour was followed by the Commonwealth Games. Humanity at its best, true internationalism. Humans can achieve great good. From the 1920s onwards the Welsh architect William Clough Ellis was doing this at Portmeirion. A landlord who did not spend money on a selfish display of oppressive extravagance like Penrhyn Castle at Bangor which we also visited, but one who took a Welsh hillside and estuary and created a fantasy all can visit and stay in. I’ve stayed at Portmeirion in December 1986. And whilst Clough created his fantasy, world history has come and gone. Portmeirion has seen off the Nazis and the Communists. Will it see off the atrocities of the Middle East?
For while we were away, almost cut off from Wifi and with limited 3G and with me positively not facebooking, the world was tearing itself apart in Gaza and Irak. The cradle of civilisation, the Biblical town of Nineveh, all witnessing to 21st century terror.
Clough was an atheist but more than that he was a tolerant eclectic human full of warmth. I warm to him. I bought his own text on his village (also well known to fans of Number 6). We saw his work in several other places including the Lloyd George Museum. It was there we read of Lloyd George’s views on Palestine.
Oh dear, if he were alive today would he wish to change his sentiments? He expressed the view that the inhabitants of Palestine had no reason to complain about the arrival of Jews. I wonder what made him think he was qualified to give that opinion? I wonder whether ISIS or whatever it calls itself would have had the potency and traction it has gained without the fuel the West’s engagement with the Middle East since the time of Portmeirion’s creation has provided. Hammas springs from Yassah Arafat, a secular revolutionary. It is much “safer” than the religious edge now alive in Syria and Irak.
For me Portmeirion, its creator, his friends like the Keating’s and their modest house now with the National Trust at Play yn Rhiw testify to a quiet quality which is quint essentially British. I was away from the SNP debate whilst away but have been rather relieved that in the Salmon/Darling debate, Darling won. Britishness is about unity in diversity, it is not about judgement, exclusivity. It is about Commonwealth and the Queen’s opening message for the Games was unusually forthcoming in her assertion that we are greater together than divided.
I have enjoyed our fortnight’s summer holiday, a true holiday, lots of seaside ice creams, tea room like the end of Bangor pier, beaches at Porth Dinllaen (never been there before), plenty of uses for the National Trust card, back at home and back to work. The cares of the world will impinge. What will I do? Thankfully after a couple of lean years, we have work flowing again, So I will work and I will pray, and some will laugh at that.  But short of taking up arms, agitation, advocacy, charity and prayer, stand as they always have as the most most of us will do. And to do even that we need to be inspired. Holidays help to inspire and so can faith.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

16-18 Travel in Northumberland: the Teenage Tax on 6th form & College students

Time to blog about about the Northumberland issue of the moment. 16-18 student travel costs and something I thought did not impact on me (yet), but I was wrong. I shall try for some history. Some way back under the last Liberal led admin, Northumberland enacted a new policy which said we will provide free travel to education for 16-18 year olds, both to locations in the county, and (subject to some constraints I suspect) without (that is important because Carlisle College, Newcastle College and others come into this). This presumably coupled into the idea that the norm that you go out to work at 16 has been well hammered:

Society has said
you stay in education
until you are eighteen.
Society then
had better help
pay for you
to get there!

Large rural
Shrugs them off.

The Labour party who with independent support now run Northumberland determined to undo this. They ran a consultation earlier in 2014 about making students pay up to £450 a head per year. When the finished proposals were published, this figure had become £600 p/a. Instant outrage because this was perceived as targetting rural parents. It being supposed that if you live in Guide Post and attend a high school in Ashington, the cost being nothing like four students from Berwick who want to go to the county's only agricultural college at Kirkley Hall. Somewhere into this was also injected the idea that no arrangements at all would be made if you chose 16-18 education outside the county. Additional to this is the idea that the county has conveyed that schools now have to arrange all of this through monies they have. The county in effect is totally ditching the organisation of 16-18 scholar travel.

I hope I have that right. Months of god almighty row have followed.  Try and  .

After the July county council meeting was cancelled for lack of business which does seem pretty odd bearing in mind how much non Teenage stuff came first in the meeting when it did take place, the Tory group demanded a meeting. With very bad grace, the Labour/Indy admin allowed this and the meeting took place on Friday past. The Tory motion was defeated 30/34. Along the way the two Independent councillors for Ovingham and Stocksfield (both I sense to be rather Tory places) enabled this to happen by voting with the administration. The Stocksfield councillor argues, along with the administration, that the motion as tabled by the Tories was in fact unlawful.

You can sense the difficulties in all of this. Some would say Labour were trying to score a political point by saying look what happens when we have to make all the cuts the government forces on us. Others (and the parents seem central to this) feel the south east Northumberland centred administration was trying to penalise what they perceive as the Liberal and Tory voting fringes. If so I find that quite appalling. And as this example taken from the Parents against website shows I suspect it is totally counter productive: " I live in the South east of the county in Ellington and my children travel to Ashington high. The school are informing parents to go to the NCC website to find the guidelines. I can't afford the £25 a week that it will cost for my son to go to the sixth form and I don't want him going to Northumberland college so not sure what he is going to do".

I feel the whole issue shows the funding double whammy Northumberland faces. One of England's most rural counties gets one of the worst per head inputs from government. A rural county spends more to deliver a service, this transport being a case in point. When that rural county then focusses its attention onto its urban South East core, there is a double whammy.

We got dragged into all this when just over a week before the vote, we learnt very accidentally that our 416 bus our fourteen year old uses, was being cancelled. There was an outcry and the decision has been deferred for two terms. Along that way, this categorically showed me that whatever the policy rights and wrongs, the implementation was in chaos. Downloading the implementation to the educational establishment was leaving those ill prepared, lacking in personnel and briefing.

I very much suspect the county has not done the investigations into the application of the policy prior to applying it. Instead a sense of a proxy war between providers like Northumberland College and Newcastle College is suggested. The former has announced free travel for all 16-18 year olds including those in Tyne & Wear. That will be an interesting bill to sustain. At a meeting in Prudhoe last Tuesday, I heard Councillor Paul Kelly from Ovingham explicitly say that this was all about preventing students leaving the county in order to drive up provision in the county. That is virtually Stalinist and in relation to Northumberland's geography and resource profoundly unrealistic.

In Tynedale it is almost impossible for many students to reach the Ashington campus of Northumberland college. Scores travel in by train to Newcastle College. Look at this bus timetable for the Carlisle College service. How do you think the teenagers of Halton Lea Gate are going to feel about this abandonment by the county?

I think that come the autumn the issue will be far from silent. I also prophesy that many more than just the 16-18 years olds are affected. Where-ever a bus (like our 416) had younger children sharing a service with 16-18 there is likely to be a knock on effect. At the West Area Committee Meeting last Tuesday, I raised this question. I could see eyebrows raise as people pondered it. The county senior officer could do no more than promise me that an answer would be forthcoming. Not so far, although the question was minuted.

It is really really sad and divisive that it has come to this. Northumberland faces many challenges and a them/us urban/rural split is not helpful. I really do sense an aggression and a refusal to work to productive solutions from Grant Davey, the council leader. You can make your own judgements by studying his words. One of the examples the council cited as a bad result of the existing policy leaves me open handed. It is those students in Berwick wanting to get to Kirkley Hall in the same county. What are we to do? Don't we want farmers in Northumberland from Northumberland. Have we gone completely crazy?

If you read this and can tweak my details, correcting any blatant error of fact or providing some amplication, I shall be pleased to consider same and make alterations.

SCUTINY: In various places there has been debate about why the decision was not "called in". From my perspective I found this an interesting read

This says "Hi Pamela - any one of the councillors could have called-in - not just the conservatives. There was a very good reason it was not called in though and I repeat why it was not here: Allison,

"Calling In" is when the relevant Scrutiny Committee formally ask the Policy Board to reconsider a decision. Some people have been given the misleading impression that had the decision been called in it would have been debated on and decided by Full Council this is not the case.

This decision went to the Scrutiny Committee before the Policy Board made the decision. The Conservatives voted against the Policy, Labour for and Anne Dale abstained.

We won that round and the Scrutiny advice was for them not to make the decision they did. Such a decision however is not binding upon the Policy Board and was therefore ignored.

We have lost faith with the current Scrutiny process as it is dominated by Labour (where in most councils as part of good practice the Chairmen of the Scrutiny Functions are usually opposition Councillors).

If we had called in the decision (something that can only be done by members from the Scrutiny committees) then it would have just gone back to the Policy Board and been ignored again.

It was always our intention to raise this at full Council at 2nd July as the only way to bring the opposition maximum publicity and publicly hold the Policy Board accountable for its decision.

One of the members of the Scrutiny Committee Councillor Dale could have called in the decision or voted against it at pre-scrutiny- she did neither.

Kind Regards

David Bawn County Councillor Morpeth North"

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

My personal consultation response to the Northern Trans Pennine Express consultation

Following are my responses to the Northern TPE consultation as now ongoing.
I live at Prudhoe a station with a 30 minute frequency service on the Newcastle Carlisle Tyne Valley railway line.
TO1: What are your views on increasing below-average fares over time to levels typical on the rest of the network in order to improve the frequency, capacity and quality of local services? Do you have any evidence to support your views?
This is a good idea so long as fares are comparable to neighbouring bus services and road tax is increased in line with the environmental damage road transport causes. In our case the Tyne Valley line faces intense competition from Go North East X84 and 10 routes. At present the railway is fare competitive but uses dated uncomfortable trains with no Wifi. Fares increases are only acceptable if the line is modernised with for instance a service comparable to that of ELECTRIC Class 350 Trans Pennine trains. If you raise the fares and continue to provide hand me down trains, the passengers will walk. Twice in the life of the nationalised British Railways, a totally new fleet of trains was delivered, in 1958 and 1987-88. So far 17 years of privatisation has delivered no improved rolling stock at all.

TO2: What are your views on giving priority to improving the quality of the Northern rolling stock at the expense of some reduction in lightly used services (e.g. fewer calls at low-use stations)? Do you have any evidence to support your views?
This sounds good but I struggle to see how it will be accomplished. Any new tranche of rolling stock is a major investment. The amount of money saved by "fewer calls at low-use stations)? " is small beer compared to the costs, There are ways to reduce cost in the rail industry. The bringing in house to Network Rail of all maintenance work would be one example. The abolition of the train leasing companies would remove another huge tranche of spend. It is laughable that a Pacer which is a 1980s Leyland bus on rails costs so much to lease. It owes nothing to anyone and is fully depreciated.

TO3: What are your views on allowing some reduction in the hours ticket offices are open and staffed if this is accompanied by the ability for passengers to have widespread access to ticket buying opportunities (e.g. through new and improved approaches such as smart ticketing, increased advance purchase ticketing or via mobile phones), adequate measures to ensure vulnerable passengers are not disadvantaged and more effective customer service by both station and on-train staff? Do you have any evidence to support your views?
Personally I don't mind as much cost saving as possible through demanning of stations. Purely dedicated ticket office staff are unnecessary as the example of London Underground shows. Staff can be redeployed onto platforms and to advise on the use of machines and internet options. In some circumstances a staff presence could be retained or even reinstated through multi function staff who may for instance also be representing a Community Rail Partnership or running a kiosk sellings teas and coffees. The principle of corner shop PayPoints is a good parallel. If Hexham station was demanned and some of the money saved was passed to the CRP it would be interesting to see if it could deliver the same service for less?

COM1: How can local communities, local businesses and other organisations be further stimulated to play an active part in the running of Northern and TPE rail services, including at stations?
Only by the franchise holder having a dedicated team to expand these links. It is all very well suggesting this idea, but transport is in large measure a professional activity and a business, neither of those easily thrive with amateur volunteers. Staff are required on the ground who can develop volunteer and community skills. In the Tyne Valley there has been some achievements with this. For instance websites like and its facebook . Same exist for the Community Rail Partnership. These are all high maintenance activities and to be really effective, few will be totally voluntary efforts. Will the new franchise holder be empowering organisations to run and develop relevant websites and print?

COM2: What opportunities are there for Community Rail Partnerships to expand their role and range of activities?
Dealt with above however I understand that the East Coast franchise has statements about support which I welcome to laterally connected partnerships. Our CRP functions on a shoe string, one officer for one/two days a week and the volunteers. He is the only person in the entire rail industry whose only job is to develop the BUSINESS of the Tyne Valley railway line. How does that work? How does a 60 mile double track railway line thrive with one person for business development? The answer is because a lot of other people have it as part of their work but if you really want a business to grow, you have to invest in staff time to do that.

TPF1: Are you aware of any proposals for third-party funded changes not already indicated? Please provide details.
I am aware of a growing lack of money. It is said the NELEP will provide solutions. I believe it employs 3 people and its chief executive has left for a new job in banking? I sense a tense circle. It is now acknowledged that the previous Northern franchise was let as a standstill but growth that shows no sign of abating took place. Yet the new franchise is expected to achieve growth with a lower bid. Difficult to reckon with.  People really want to use trains. The success of TPE shows this. We in practice live on a Trans Pennine route. Perhaps our line should go to that franchise? We already have through trains to Glasgow which we don't want to lose. If TPE can make a great success of Manchester Airport Glasgow/Edinburgh through as much empty moor as our line, then  Teeside-Wearside, Tyneside, Carlisle, Dumfries, Kilmarnock Glasgow is no less of a corridor. Our line has been identified in the Trans Europe network? Where is the investment in electric trains? EU money could accomplish much of this.

FID1: What factors may impact on demand for travel on the new Northern and TPE franchises? Please provide evidence.
Look at the Tyne Valley timetable. 
eastbound into Newcastle no arrivals between 0655 the first and 0807 the second. Then 0827, 0900, 0928. The first five.
westbound from Hexham, the first train is 0717, the next is 0858, how does that help commuters?
For comparison eastbound into Newcastle in 1989 the first seven arrivals were 0640 0724 0811 0831 0849 0858 0940 from Hexham or west therefore. A loss of two morning peak trains since 1989.
So in this growth cycle, the service in the peak has actually got worse since privatisation and this on a double track cross country line. We need a franchise that plugs these gaps and runs a 30 minute interval service from service start to 1900 in the evening, then hourly to 2300. We are not a branch line but a busy commuter route for a third of the run to Hexham and the only rail crossing east west across Britain for a 100 miles north or south. We're a strategic route as is shown every year when the East Coast weekend service is timetabled down our line. That uses a third train an hour path which is why John Stevenson, the Carlisle Tory MP's call for an express and a stopper service from Carlisle east is completely achievable. The tracks and timetable could deliver it, we need the trains and the committment.
However even all that is on a line where the speed limit is generally between 50-60mph. If this line was electrified and substantial lengths improved to 100mph running, and given the acceleration profile of a class 350, a complete seachange in public transport in this corridor is achievable. I understand Nexus and Northern are considering an extension of wires to the Gateshead Metrocentre on our line. This I fully support as a first step to electrifying the whole route and doing away with all the 19th century signalling infrastructure which still works here. Does the DfT understand that late 19th century signalboxes and equipment are what operate the Tyne Valley Line on a day to day basis?
If the Metrocentre Morpeth trains go electric as I hope they will, this should be a first step to a connected up Northumberland strategy in which trains on the re-opened Ashington Blyth and Tyne do not turn around at Newcastle Central station with all those issues but speed on to various locations in the Tyne Valley.

DTD1: What are your proposals for providing passengers better and safer access to different modes of transport at stations (including bus, tram, cycling and walking?)
Integrated transport is essential. A Quality Transport Contract for the North East is what is needed not just a Quality Bus Contract as Nexus is currently studying. Our local bus company does everything possible not to connect with trains. The new Prudhoe Interchange which I successfully campaigned for with others in 2007 paid for by the DfT has worked very well. Traffic figures have soared, but it is with car/train change. The bus services consistently fail to connect, there is no through ticketing, and I regularly observe the resultant frustration.
We also have an issue outlined here . Since the early 1970s an effective bus/rail interworked service linking rail to Hadrian's Wall has existed. In the last five years what was an exemplar operation has been stripped down and minimalised. Visitor numbers to the world heritage site that is Hadrian's Wall have fallen. And that they have done steadily not just in the recession. There is no One North East, no Hadrian's Wall Trust  to do the overseas promotion that is needed.
However there is a station sat on top of the wall at one of its most exciting central locations. This is Gilsland closed in 1967 and on the boundary of Cumbria and Northumberland. The two MPs want it open, the local parish and county councillors want it open. A properly resourced study by transport planners has demonstrated that allowing for LOCAL and TOURIST use re-opening this station will wash its face. We want a new franchise to commit to a fully costed priced option integrated into the GRIP process to develop this node.

OTH1: Do you have any other views on the future of the Northern and TPE franchises that you would like to set out?
The new franchise should require as an early step the provision of free on board Wifi. If this is not done many people of a younger generation will choose buses even if the journey is longer.
Over the last decade I have seen MANY instances of the bad results that follow through a lack of local rail management, very visible and accessible and based in the North East. This to handle day by day instances of trouble and to develop strategy.
I should be able to travel direct by train from Prudhoe to the two 1948 North East New Towns called Peterlee and Washington, Future Rail North East from Regional Railways North East by British Rail identified in 1993 the need and achievability to re-open these. One is on the Durham coast line our trains run on. The other is on the "Leamside" line which was lifted last year. You cannot even find "Future rail north east" 1993 on Google or Yahoo but I have the report placed in the National Railway Museum Forsythe Collection so I know how much this ground has been repeated over and over again.
I worry that the efforts myself and others go to to react to these consultations are all a complete waste of time. A sop. I shall be fascinated to measure the end outcome against my aspirations as outlined here and see if there is any connectivity.
Yours sincerely
Robert Forsythe

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Robert Forsythe rides the Edinburgh Trams

On the 30th May 2014, the long awaited Edinburgh new generation trams started carrying passengers. Horrendously over budget and delayed, nearly cancelled and with a rather pro tem terminus in York Place, instead of down Leith Walk somewhere, any rail borne transport lover was bound to want to give it a go.

Last weekend was the end of a frantic half term culminating in the Prudhoe Community Fair involving all three of us, this weekend, the two ladies were doing Guide camping in the Northumberland Guide house at Whittonstall. I had to occupy myself. I went to bed Friday with no clear plan in view, just options. I have become hopeless at advance planning, still less advance ticket buying for specific trains at a bargain fare.

I wait for the day and put it together. The weather forecast was better for the north and dire, doom laden thunderstorms south. Was the Middleton Railway diesel gala so tempting? I set no alarm and when I did wake up thought: "I could make the 0737 to Newcastle, could I have an East Coast breafast?". Knowing I might be well laden and the rain could be in sheets later (it was), I took the car to Prudhoe station car park. Beautiful blue sky morning. I was still undecided, I had no idea what my budget figure was to go to Edinburgh.

Prudhoe station now has a Parkeon ticket machine and currently it is one of a select number trialing a new ticket layout. Even before I got to the machine, a 16 year old lass interupted me. Not my normal experience at the station early in the morning. She sought the time, I don't carry a watch any longer. So I referred her to the ticket machine. She seemed relieved there was a train east in 10 minutes. For my purposes I learnt that an all day any train off peak return to Edinburgh cost £50. I decided to go for it.

The barrier sirens began to sound, it was time for the train. Instead however the westbound semaphore was pulled off. A Volker Rail tamper hurried through as a diverting interest.  Seconds later and a 156 rolled in. The girl and I got on at opposite carriage doors. But she walked right down the aisle and sat behind me. Interesting thinks the 54 year old me. Do I look like a sugar daddy nowadays? I soon found out I was! The girl was the sound of demure and the picture of someone from the night before. She asked me for a quid for the train fare as the guard approached!

Ah I thought, we have all had wild nights. So I gave her a pound. She asked for a child single Prudhoe Wylam and was quoted £1.15. I agreed to stump up another 15p and as my side of the bargain, retain the ticket for my collection. C'est la vie.

Arrived in Newcastle and I saw that the next HST (important that) north was the Leeds Aberdeen at 0842 (the same time as a Cross Country set heads south). The 40 minutes flew in a feast of classic traction. The appearance of the Network Rail yellow measurement HST turned in three HST sets in three liveries. This was well capped when a top and tailed Compass Rail rake using DRS 47s rolled into Platform 2 and halted. Before my eyes were Constable and Elgar. I swiftly got to work. I need not have worried. This train was not rushing on anywhere. Supposedly it was a Saltburn Aviemore excursion. However the DRS 47 501 Craftsman had failed at the end of a similar exercise the day before. The train had started from Middlesbrough and never would get beyond Perth whilst I would see it again, still heading north, from an Edinburgh tram. Having got to Newcastle the one serviceable engine was being sent to Heaton depot for fuel.

Many photos later and the 0842 rolled in. I had already decided on First Class and headed for the Mark Three TFRB (Trailer First Restaurant Buffet). On the whole the train was fullish even in first but there were only another two gents in this car. I had an entire single person seaside window seat bay with coffee and continental breakfast for myself for a £15 supplement. How can one moan?  The next hour and half was pure delight. The sea once reached south of Alnmouth shimmered. All looked right with the world. For miles the line is a corniche ride north and south of Berwick. The manually operated gated public road crossing on the cliffs at Spital still survives. It was high tide at Berwick, the Tweed was looking full as a rower headed upstream.

The choice of an HST was important. These diesel trains built c1977-78 are real class compared with the newer electric tat with which they interwork from 1991. These are coaches which still have wood veneer. Their ride is superb compared with the clatter and bang of the 1991 Mark Fours. The rest of the blog could go on the journey, there is so much to remember. Burrell's pile (Glasgow art collection) Ayton Castle was a stunning red lump on the landscape. Passing Penmanshiel there is always a prayer for the souls of the railway workers killed here in January 1979 (I was scheduled to pass that way but instead was diverted). The bridges at Co'burnspath are an instant glimpse with so much merit. Passing Oxwellmains whose cement kiln towers into the sky confirmed how busy the railway now is. Saturday morning and four locos were in. The Lafarge industrial, two Freightliner 66s and a DBS 67 on a recent new flow bringing Manchester's rubbish for burial.

With Deltic 50 pushing behind, the train was on time at Edinburgh and I set off for the trams. Ummm. A very interesting ride, swish, brand new, still full of people fascinated at the novelty of it. But the tram costs £2 more than the bus for the ride there and back to the Airport. It does not reach the terminal and along the way it is a twisting switchback of a route despite crossing fields latterly. The layout at Ingliston Park and Ride showcases that. Buggies are not welcome unless folded and I am sure the journey is quicker in the Airport buses.

Still it was very exciting to ride and photograph a new tramway and afterwards I could indulge in my paper collecting mode. Not much exotic glossies to celebrate the launch of the trams. As ever plenty of indulgent day tour literature whether for rich Americans (Gray Line) or young travellers (Haggis and Macbackpackers). Plenty of Scottish shipping delights and being Edinburgh a rich but narrow vein for the City Tours. These produce a plethora of different liveried open tops, some of which are the old London AEC Routemasters.

Once lunch time approached, I had left a tram at York Place and was venturing down Leith Walk. A rich choice of reasonably priced food. At the corner of Antigua Street (such wonderful Imperial names) was Pomegranate for Middle Eastern/Persian style cuisine. That was a good choice: £9.50, shredded lamp, humus and a delicately flavoured rice dish.  That pleasure was swifly followed by McNaughtan's bookshop, palpably smelling of book leather and operated by two ladies. £13.53 the poorer I left with a rich haul, either for myself, Fiona or vending. However the getting down to floor level shelves to venture through laden box files is beginning to be beyond my age frame?

Leith Walk along which these places are located is a mix which  has an amount of ethnic establishments, saris, shish kebabs, sandwiched between some is Harburn Hobbies. Very obliging staff furnished the answers to all sorts of esoteric questions There were some obscure catalogues as a reward and then the pure extravagance of choosing a model Mark One coach. I finally settled for Bachmann Enparts 39-185.  All this pleasure and no gay saunas for which the city is also well known.

So as the grey clouds began to tower, it was time to turn away from gay delight. The atmosphere was becoming oppressive and as I finished off in the Waverley Gardens Visit Scotland Tourist Information Centre, the first heavy drops of doom were falling. As I happen to think a vote for Scottish independence will be exactly that it was not inappropriate. Back at the station, there was plenty of choice but the Cross Country 1508 Voyager to Plymouth was a world apart and downhill from my ride north. It matched the weather's mood, all the views and colour had been wiped out as the predicted storms and downpours rolled in. Good job there was a car back in Prudhoe's station's car park and better still, unlike some other parallel occasions, the car park was not flooded.