Thursday, 3 January 2019

If Mother Nature relied on Northern Rail, we'd all be screwed


I live in Grange-over-Sands on the northern shores of Morecambe Bay.  Every year thousands of birds migrate to the bay to spend their winters paddling around the rich, shallow waters.  Collectively they travel millions of miles from all around the globe to get here.  All I had to do was travel 82 miles to Manchester in time for a 10 O’clock meeting.
My options were the 7:20 arriving at 9:11 or the 6:39 arriving at 8:11. This is Northern Rail we're dealing with. The meeting was important so I opted for the 6:39 and envisioned enjoying a nice warm bowl of porridge in Pret once I got there.
I arrived at Grange station in the dark at 6:33; plenty of time to buy a ticket.  Unfortunately the new ticket guy is lovely but Spanish and has a Spanish approach to timekeeping, meaning the ticket office usually opens at 6:30am give or take 10 minutes. Usually take.
I sat on the platform and checked the timetable display. 6:36 - train on time, good. I glance down at my phone then glance back up.  6:37 and the train is now 15 minutes late. Then 16. Then 17. I check my app; the train left Barrow 1 min late but arrived Ulverston 19 mins late with no stops in-between - how is that even possible? I have time to kill so I dig out my knitting and cast on.  The ticket office opens - yay!

The train arrives 19 minutes late sounding very unwell. I board and continue knitting.  We’re a bit broke so our families are getting home made cowls for Christmas this year.  In fact they’re getting an entire bag filled with homemade goodies – jams, sloe gin etc. – things all made with love and care so they’d better darned well appreciate them, or else there’ll be trouble!
South of Carnforth I glance up to see a stag in the reed beds near Leighton Moss; it’s rutting season so they’re often easier to spot.   I look around the carriage, everyone else has their faces firmly planted in their phones and I’m the only one to see him.  I want to shout out but realise this may not be considered appropriate early morning commuter behaviour.  I return to my knitting.
We arrive at Carnforth. We remain at Carnforth. Luckily I find knitting very calming. They need to reboot the system so they switch everything off, including the lights, but it's OK, we've been there so long the sun has come up.
I decide that if Northern Rail trains had a Performance Behaviour Framework, this train's behaviours would be "Undesirable". I reckon the scale would be:
Behaviour: Moving

Highly Desirable - Moving forwards quickly
Desirable - Moving forwards
Undesirable - Stationary
Highly Undesirable – Reversing
 Then the inevitable "everyone off" announcement and a race across the station to the train I would have got if I'd stayed in bed 30 minutes more and caught the 7:20.
We arrive at Preston. My knitting is coming along nicely; 6 rows completed (it’s 90 stitches a row and I’m a slow knitter, don’t judge me!). I check my app, the 8:24 is cancelled. Damn! I check again.  The 8:24 is not cancelled. Yay! I look along the platform.  The 8:24 is actually there but no-one's confirming anything and there are no station staff to be seen.  People jab at their phones and look around in puzzlement, searching for clues.  I’ve often noticed how the clearly labelled and sequentially numbered platforms at Preston seem to cause confusion. Geese don’t have this problem. Nominate a leader, form a V then set off.  Next stop Norway.
The platform sign says the 8:24 is going but by now we all have trust issues. We board. We hope. We depart!  Apparently (I later learn) we leave behind a collection of folks who still thought it was cancelled.
By Bolton the “tss-tss-tss” from the (clearly cheap and shoddy) noise cancelling headphones clamped to the ears of my seat-mate, cause me to pause and consider a range of alternative uses for my knitting needles...
I finally arrive at Manchester Oxford Road at 9:15, 2 ¾ hours after I left home.  Interesting fact: the Arctic Tern averages around 25mph, only slightly slower than I managed on Northern Rail, but they do migrate over 50,000 miles each year and arrive on time.  Still, I’m pretty sure they can’t knit and fly.

On my journey home the 15:26 Trans Pennine Express train is delayed into Manchester Piccadilly by 2 late running Northern Rail trains ahead of it, the guard announces this indignantly after we've boarded.  On arrival the driver only pulled halfway down the platform meaning all those of us who had listened to the endless "please move down the platform" announcements had to race back to the train and are wedged into the front carriage sardine style. Knitting standing up, I discover, is not easy. The guard helpfully announces that there are plenty of seats in the rear carriages (the ones we couldn’t get to). No shit Sherlock...
The train arrives at Preston. The train remains Preston (Definitely another "undesirable"). The relief conductor has apparently gone AWOL. Can't say I blame him. (Or her). Do geese have this problem?  “This migration is delayed because the relief leader is still paddling around that nice pond we stayed at last night.”
Everyone is turfed off the train in time to experience Preston station as twighlight falls. Bewitching...

The Virgin train arrives & we all jostle for the best standing position.  I nab a nice corner spot and resume knitting but each time I crouch down to adjust the wool in my bag the gent next to me moves meaning I collide with his elbow every time I bob back up again.  Every, single, time.  Starlings can swoop and turn in murmurations of over 100,000 without once colliding and I can’t make it from Preston to Lancaster without getting cracked on the head from the guy stood next to me.

The train finally makes it to Lancaster in time for us to race across to platform 5 for the irritatingly (and surprisingly) punctual Carlisle train.  I eventually make it back to Grange at 5:33pm. My knitting is half complete and on the basis of my journey today I’m considering making everyone a set of matching jumpers next year, and possibly socks too.

As I head along the track back to my house I hear the train hoot as it continues its Odysseyan journey towards Kents Bank.  An owl from the nearby woods answers it.  One of those hoots put a smile on my face; I’ll let you figure out which one.


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