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Journal of nicholas (3034)

Saturday September 02, 2006
01:54 PM

going home (via the senic route)

[ #30855 ]

I took the train back from Birmingham New Street to Euston with clkao and Tatsuhiko Miyagawa. Today seemed to be a great day for engineering works - we'd heard a rumour that trains to (at least) Birmingham International would be busses, and were prepared for a somewhat dislocated journey. As it was, our train arrived on time (ish *), but the Pendolino unit had its pantograph down and was pulled by a diesel(**)

The three of us boarded in the rear most coach and found a table. These have power outlets (for me a pleasant discovery on the way up to YAPC::EU). "Only for mobile phones and laptops" the socket warns, which we complied with the letter of, if not the spirit - 3 laptops and one phone, which seemed to be fine. Our train set off sedately through the West Midlands countryside to Nuneaton, never getting up much speed. I suspect that this wasn't so much a line speed limit, as that the poor "little" diesel has its work cut out with 10 coaches, particularly as it's also supplying electric power to everything on board. At one point the line made a suspicious S shaped kink to the north, which seemed most strange. However, Google maps has the answer - it looks like a diversion due to Shustoke Reservoir.

At Nuneaton station Tatsuhiko noticed that the power had failed. Our worries that we'd tripped something were soon put to rest when it came back, and the air conditioning came on - something which until then we'd not realised was absent - presumably the diesel is detached from the Pendelino before the pantograph is raised, and while on internal batteries all non-essential services are off (and the diesel can't supply enough power for the air conditioning). I guess that the air conditioning had been off since Wolverhampton (or maybe even Nuneaton on the previous inwards trip), as once it came on I noticed that the coach did seem rather stuffy.

We set off to Rugby at a far more respectable pace, and at Rugby station rejoined the usual, direct, route. Sadly we didn't stay on it for much more than the length of Rugby station, as we left on the line that goes via Northampton - something which adds another 15 minutes to the journey. "Eventually" we got to Euston in just over 2 hours, rather than the usual 1½, although we had power almost continuously and were all quite tired, so didn't really feel that inconvenienced. It looks like this diverted service was actually planned sufficiently in advance that it's in the regular timetable (wow!), as online timetables actually have it (for today and next Saturday only). Usually there is this irony that the Internet service is little better than the paper timetable, with an instruction to check for engineering work changes by making a phone call. Daft.

After leaving the other two at Euston, I got lucky with the trains at Charing Cross (60 second wait - much better than a 29 minute wait), and returned home to discover that my phone line has schizophrenia. It sounds like there are actually now 2 lines connected to me. Dial 1471 and I get two reports simultaneously of different last numbers to call me. Dial 151 to report the phone and I have two voice prompts offset by a fraction of a second. Program in my phone number, and one tells me that it is my line, while the other is telling me that it isn't. At which point I try to follow the prompts on the connection that does like me, which is causing the other connection to get progressively more confused, to the point that something cuts me off. So I phoned my dad, who kindly reported it via his land line. Apparently it's a fault at the exchange, and is now scheduled to be worked on on Monday. This is good, as it means that no BT engineer will be messing with anything and upsetting my perfectly functional ADSL over the weekend. One needs to keep one's priorities straight. Now why can't I just kill the landline completely (and its standing charges) and move over to VoIP and mobiles? It would be much cheaper for me...

* They keep saying "if you notice anything suspicious, please report it to a member of staff or the police". I keep thinking that I may need to report "my train was actually on time. This is highly unusual behaviour - I suspect the involvement of terrorists, intent on destroying the fabric of the nation by upsetting the status quo". Fortunately no such report has been necessary recently.

** A class 57, painted in Virgin Trains livery, with a curious attachment set into each end, that appeared to be the correct sort of autocoupler for the Pendelino, raised or lowered by hyraulics so that it could be at the correct height. Do different Pendelinos have their couplings at different heights? Do two or more sorts of unit have the same coupling, but at different heights? Most strange - what on Earth is wrong with standardisation?

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  • Someone at Virgin Trains has a sense of humour - They are employed as rescue locomotives (so called "Thunderbird" duties) ... locomotives are named after characters from the TV series "Thunderbirds" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Rail_Class_57#Virgin_Trains [wikipedia.org]

  • Usually there is this irony that the Internet service is little better than the paper timetable, with an instruction to check for engineering work changes by making a phone call. Daft.

    Furthermore, if you do phone them while waiting for somebody to answer your call you are bombarded with the suggestion that you can avoid the phonecall by checking train times online!

    Smylers