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.