Monday, 19 October 2015

Wolverhampton to Preston by rail

I travelled to Preston by train on Saturday 17th October 2015 so that I could try out the service from Preston to Ormskirk from where Merseyrail has a good service to Liverpool. Most of my journeys by rail start from Wolverhampton which involves a journey by road first from my village to Wolverhampton. For this trip, I took the first bus to Wolverhampton which did not arrive early enough to catch the favoured 07:37 'Virgin' train northwards. Rather than wait at Wolverhampton for the next 'Virgin' service, I took the London Midland Liverpool service to Crewe, stopping at Penkridge and Stafford.

I'm only just getting used to the fact that Wolverhampton Power Box has been abolished and control is now from the West Midlands Signalling Centre at Saltley. Now, the last two signal boxes at Stafford (No. 4 and No. 5) have gone with control transferred to Rugby.

A view of the replacement cantilever signal gantry at the north end of the Station (U&D Goods/U&D Platform) after re-signalling.

There's more change on the way at Norton Bridge. A new flyover junction is being built to eliminate a notorious bottleneck where the line to Stone and Stoke-on-Trent diverges.

I left the London Midland service at Crewe and, having a while to wait, went out of the station to wander around nearby. The multistory offices at Rail House are not elegant but I'm used to them. Over the years, I've attended quite a few meetings with railway staff there. I see that at least part of the building is now occupied by Atos who claim to be 'business technologists' (they've been involved in interviewing claimants as part of the Government's welfare reform programme, attracting a fair bit of criticism).

Rail House, Crewe.

British Transport Police occupy a building opposite provided with a small 'belfry' or perhaps ventilator on the gable roof.

British Transport Police offices, Crewe.

Looking northwards over the parapet of the Nantwich Road bridge, I could see that nature is reclaiming the unused spaces, whilst the 'temporary' signalling centre remains in use.

Nature reclaims North Junction (Signalling Centre left background).

I took a couple of pictures of the historic Crewe Arms Hotel.

Crewe Arms Hotel.

Just round the corner, I recorded the rather bleak railway offices on the east of the station which are linked to the main station footbridge and formerly housed Crewe Control Office.

This building formerly housed Crewe Control Office.

The only time I visited was many years ago for a private visit to Crewe Control Office. I was very impressed by the detailed track diagram along one wall with all loops and sidings carefully recorded with their capacity. A series of holes allowed the position of freight trains to be plotted by inserting a peg which held a small card with the train details. A number of desks faced this diagram, each with a telephone concentrator. I was a bit disappointed that passenger trains did not appear on the diagram - I was told they move too quickly. Apart from regulating the traffic and making sure that wagons were available in the right places, the most important aspect of the work was keeping a check on crew hours and making sure that relief crews could be provided as necessary. I wish I'd had longer and I wish I'd photographs but I did take a shot of a similar preserved Control Office Train Board at the Midland Railway Centre, Butterley.

Control Office Train Board preserved at the Midland Railway Centre, Butterley.

I made my way back to the station, to look for what was the entrance to the Crewe Control Office from the footbridge. It is transformed! The entrance now leads to 'The Cheshire Lounge' for First Class passengers.

Entrance to 'The Cheshire Lounge'.

The sense of luxury is somewhat tempered by a the notice outside instructing customers to press a button and wait for an answer from "a very busy ticket office" after which credentials are checked by holding the appropriate First Class ticket up to a camera for inspection.

I returned to the platform, noticing the stock for 'The Northern Belle' stabled on the adjacent line which is now the Up & Down Loop (but will forever remain No.2 Down Through to me). My Edinburgh-bound 'Pendolino' arrived a few minutes late and we made good time to Warrington Bank Quay. We started to accelerate away from the station stop but, before long, the brakes came on quite hard and brought us to a stand short of Winwick Junction. I could see no obvious reason for the stop and no announcement was made but after a couple of minutes we re-started and reached Wigan North Western without further incident. A final spurt took us to Preston where we arrived still a few minutes late.

My railway pictures

West Midland Railways.
Stafford Area rail.
Crewe Area rail.