Friday, 24 March 2017

Diversions Aplenty

Our longest route does not serve London. While this is not particularly an unknown phenomenon, as my company also runs trains to/from the Capital, it is a little unusual that these London services don't cover the most miles end-to-end.

Norwich to Liverpool is our longest route, though no driver or guard works any journey in its entirety; a crew change takes place at Nottingham.

Our guards and drivers based at Norwich and Nottingham sign the Norwich - Nottingham section (around 50%), while guards at Derby and Nottingham and Nottingham-based drivers sign Nottingham - Liverpool.

There are a number of diversionary routes that trains can take at various times of day. They can be really useful if there is a problem on the main route somewhere, especially when you're returning 'home'. Only last month, my driver and I made good use of one such diversion when we were delayed departing Liverpool Lime Street owing to a suicidal person threatening to jump on the electrified third rail at Hunts Cross. Had we not signed the diversionary route, we'd have remained in Liverpool until the incident had ended, which could have taken well in excess of an hour.

The diversionary routes for such a lengthy main route are many in number and are as follows:

Ely West Curve - avoids having to call at Ely
Manton - avoids having to travel along the ECML and via Grantham
Toton - avoids operating via Radford Junction
Derby - avoids the Erewash Line completely
Beighton - avoids the MML north of Chesterfield, operating into Sheffield from the east
Dore South Curve - avoids having to call at Sheffield
Romiley - avoids the Stockport area
Chat Moss - avoids having to call at the Cheshire Line stations (Warrington & Widnes)

A driver's eye view DVD exists for signing the Ely West Curve. One train is booked to operate in passenger service over this route in the direction of Liverpool on Sundays only. Drivers and guards effectively sign this diversion by watching the DVD as many times as they wish.

The Manton diversion sees a number of booked passenger services in both directions. Two early morning Norwich-bound trains and one evening Nottingham-bound service (ex Spalding) use the route, as well as CrossCountry's hourly Birmingham - Stansted Airport service. Trains will operate this way if there are problems on the ECML, such as the wires coming down or signalling issues in Grantham, for example.

The Toton diversion is probably the least needed route as operating via Derby is an option if the main route is blocked; however, this would mean omitting Alfreton and if a train was already operating along the Erewash Line, returning north to Chesterfield or south to Nottingham and then operating via Derby could add a considerable delay. One early morning Liverpool-bound train is booked to travel via Toton in order to retain route familiarisation for crews.

The Derby diversion itself isn't too much of a problem, since virtually everyone at Nottingham and Derby sign this route, except on the MML between Ambergate Junction and Clay Cross South Junction, and so travelling on the London services between Sheffield - London is a good way to retain the route familiarisation here as no Liverpool - Norwich train is booked to operate this way under normal conditions.

The Beighton diversion (also referred to as 'Old Road' or 'Barrow Hill') leaves the MML at Tapton Junction, north of Chesterfield and links to the Worksop - Sheffield line at Woodhouse Junction. It's a freight-only route, though the first and last trains in each direction between Nottingham - Liverpool are booked this way and the advantage is that, coming into Sheffield from the east, you don't have to swap ends there.

Dore South Curve is probably the most effective diversion for catching up lost time. Omitting Sheffield can save around 20 minutes. Plenty of notice is given and guards on Liverpool-bound trains ask Sheffield passengers to leave at Chesterfield and board a following EMT or XC service for Sheffield. Towards Norwich, it's not always possible for the Sheffield omission to be decided before you've left Manchester or Stockport, so a large percentage of the train is usually disadvantaged when using Dore South Curve as they need to leave at Chesterfield and use the underpass to reach the opposite platform for an EMT or XC northbound train to Sheffield. In either direction, a delay of 20 minutes can usually be recovered although the decision to operate via the Dore South Curve is not taken lightly due to the numbers of people who actually want to reach Sheffield. The early morning empty coaching stock between Nottingham - Liverpool is booked to run this way.

The Romiley diversion leaves the Hope Valley Line at New Mills South Junction and operates a parallel route to the main line but omits Stockport and Edgeley Junction. Signalling problems here are commonplace and omitting Stockport inconveniences few, as a change at Manchester Piccadilly is straightforward enough. Those with connections at Stockport can make virtually all of them at Manchester Piccadilly, though they may be on later trains. The early morning empty coaching stock between Nottingham - Liverpool is booked to run this way.

The Chat Moss diversion is fast, more linear and a more direct route between Manchester and Liverpool. The section between Manchester and Newton-le-Willows is the world's oldest stretch of railway, as it was between these two points that the first train service ran. The route omits Warrington Central, Widnes and Liverpool South Parkway stations - a trio containing around 50% of our loadings on Liverpool-bound trains, so using the Chat Moss diversion is only taken in the most desperate circumstances as passengers for those affected stations need to leave the train at Manchester, which takes time and causes a considerable bottle-neck. The early morning empty coaching stock between Nottingham - Liverpool is booked to run this way. The early morning empty coaching stock between Nottingham - Liverpool is booked to run this way.

Since signing all the routes off, I've travelled over most of them at least once now, either 'in service' or as empty coaching stock (ECS). Toton is a favourite for returning ECS from Worksop or Mansfield Woodhouse; Manton sees booked trains anyway; I've worked the last Liverpool - Nottingham train on a number of occasions now, which makes use of Beighton and as detailed at the top, I've used Chat Moss as a get-out-of-jail-free card recently. Derby, Romiley & Ely West Curve at the remaining three that elude me.

Due to engineering works on the Erewash Line this week, our last Liverpool - Nottingham service has been routed via Beighton (as normal) and then via the MML and Derby all week and yesterday I worked the train. So that's another diversion ticked off. Whether my passengers saw the significance of passing through Derby non-stop at 0020 I do not know, but it was a first for me.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

BTP in Attendance

During our training, we are told about circumstances when we may wish to call upon the services of the British Transport Police (BTP), whose job it is to exclusively police the railway. BTP are trained to attend all manner of incidents, disturbances and such like on the rail network.

In my relatively embryonic 2 years working on the rails, I've had cause to call the BTP on three occasions - the third being yesterday, when I had the first taste of success.

The first occasion was when I was told that under no circumstances would this lady who was travelling on my train between Nottingham and Newark Castle be paying a fare and why don't I "go into the back cab there and call the Police". This I did, though the internal numbers we have for the various local BTP offices in our area don't work, so I had to call the Non-Emergency number and was put on hold for 15 minutes, at which point I decided to give up.

The second occasion was due to youths congregating on the platform at Boston station in the evening. They cause a particular nuisance to the point that an instruction has been pinned up in the mess room at Boston station informing train crews to contact BTP should youths congregate on the platforms in the evening and have no intention of travelling. I got through on this occasion, though regrettably the nearest officer was 80 miles away and would pay a visit at some point soon. On my return from Skegness some 90 minutes later, I noticed the youths still there.

Thus far, as you'll no doubt have seen, my success level was poor. Yesterday would change that.

Having departed Manchester Piccadilly, working a train towards Sheffield, I started to check all passengers' tickets. In the fourth and final coach, from where I started, I came across three young lads without tickets. They spoke in a different language between themselves before one of them asking for "three child singles to the next stop". I asked if they knew where the next stop was, assuming they had no intention of travelling such a short distance, and they answered correctly: Chinley.

They were no doubt aided in their knowledge of the Hope Valley thanks to the Public Information Screens (PIS) on the train which was emblazoned with "the next stop is Chinley". However, one of the lads paid the three child single fares to Chinley. As I was giving them their change I made sure they were aware that I wanted to see them leave at Chinley. I said: "I don't want you staying on to Sheffield!" They said they wouldn't.

As we arrived at Chinley, I was near the front of the train, from where I worked the doors. The youths didn't leave the train. Upon departure I completed my ticket checks in the front coach and then made my way to the back cab, passing the three youths who were all 'asleep'.

The phone reception in the Hope Valley - some of Derbyshire's most rugged scenery - is patchy at best and so it was with some optimism that I attempted to call the BTP's Non-Emergency number. An operator answered immediately and after initially informing her of my name and position, told her about the poor reception so would rattle off my issue. I felt this was best as I'm sure they have procedures to follow which could restrict my ability to relay my issue in the time I had.

The lady who dealt with my call was first rate; absolutely spot on. I told her my headcode, my arrival time in Sheffield and the scenario concerning the three lads and how they'd not left the train at Chinley. At that point we passed through Grindleford and I had to end the call as we entered the Totley Tunnel - England's longest mainline tunnel. Emerging some minutes later into urban South Yorkshire, we called at Dore & Totley station and I was here that I was able to phone BTP back and see if my initial call was being acted upon.

To my surprise, an officer had been assigned 6 minutes ago. Upon departure from Dore & Totley, we headed into Sheffield. I acted no differently, so as not to arouse suspicion. As we pulled into Sheffield station, I stuck my head out of the cab window and saw no fewer than 2 BTP officers awaiting my arrival. The message about the youths being in the rear cab had been passed on accurately as it was here where they were headed.

I released my door first and due to the volume of people wanting to the leave the train here I couldn't see the youths and so with no other doors open I instructed one of the BTP officers to wait by the door at the other end of the fourth coach. This he did. I then released all the doors on the train and people started to leave.

There was then something of a frenzy on my part trying to identify this youthful trio amid the many other commuters leaving the train. Before long I realised they hadn't left - or had moved forward into the third or second carriage, suspicious of being met by Police, and evaded capture. I then noticed that they were still on board the train. One BTP officer boarded the train and with the second one stood next to me on the platform I blatantly pointed out the offenders. They were ushered off the train by the officer who boarded, who then took them to oneside on the platform.

While this was going on, the other officer asked me what I'd like to see happen to them. I instinctively wanted to say that I didn't want to cause the officers any trouble, but then that is their job. I also queried that there was a chance, albeit slim, that they were of child age, so would that limit the possibilities?

The officer suggested he get them to pay the fare from Chinley to Sheffield but if they were under 16 and had no money on them, he would instruct me at a later time, thorough my company channels, to issue Unpaid Fares Notices to their parents, for the fare they needed to pay. This would come with a £20 admin fee as it was being brokered by the BTP.

I said I'd leave it with them as I needed to swap ends of the train at this point as we were due to leave and the train departs from Sheffield in the direction from where we'd come and my driver was 'chomping at the bit' to get in what was my back cab. We departed punctually and I felt rather elated as I continued my journey to Nottingham, where I'd leave the train for my break.

It was during my break that one of the officers called me back to say that they were all over 16 and were intending on travelling to Nottingham. They'd left there this morning with single tickets for Manchester and were intending to return from whence they'd come for diddly-squat. The BTP officers escorted them to the Sheffield ticket office and witnessed them purchase single tickets from Chinley to Nottingham and they'd put them on the following service, provided by another operator, to Nottingham. An obvious consolation was that they had paid significantly more than they would have done had they purchased a return ticket that morning.

The officer said that the matter was now closed and that he would write this up on the file that had been opened when I first telephoned the BTP in the Hope Valley.

The system really worked well. However the BTP central office alert available officers to potential issues that require their attendance clearly works provided the resources are available. Sheffield does have a BTP office - as do, to be fair, most major main line railway stations - but for officers to be able to down tools and attend a train with just 15 minutes' notice is pretty impressive, especially for one of the more minor offences that can be committed on the rail network.