Settle & Carlisle Outing - 2nd & 3rd June

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Welshman

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I decided it was time to treat myself to another trip over the Settle & Carlisle, taking advantage of Virgin's diverting a few of their Birmingham-Scotland Voyagers that way this weekend.

The Double-Voyager, 1409 from Crewe on Saturday June 2nd, left a few minutes down, but thanks to recovery time was almost back on time by Wigan North Western. It was strange going from Crewe to Wigan non-stop via Manchester Piccadilly, and, surprisingly, we actually managed it, non-stop, even threading through Piccadilly and Oxford Rd stations, about 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. From then on, to Preston [reverse], through Blackburn, the Ribble Valley line to Hellifield and then S & C, it was a text-book trip, over the misty Yorkshire/Cumberland hills, into Carlisle station. I say "a text-book-trip" for I realised how useful "Open Train Times" is, as it revealed more detailed routings and passing times over the diversionary route, rather than simply "next stop, Carlisle" which is all the public TT gives. Freed from the constraints of the S & C, our driver then left Carlise with renewed gusto, and making full use of the tilt available on 221s, wasted no time in reaching Haymarket, where I alighted about 1935.

Returning this afternoon was not quite so punctual, but all the more eventful. Arriving in good time at Waverley for the 1452 to Birmingham New St, I was getting a little anxious when by 1440 the departure boards simply said "1452 Birmingham New St expected to depart on time" but still no platform had been put-up! Not being too familiar with the station layout, and finding it a bit confusing at the best of times, I started mentally preparing the way to the platforms I thought it most likely would use! Then at 1442 [note -only 10 minutes before the threatened "on time" departure], the boards gave up their great secret and revealed it would leave from platform 19. I thought Euston on Friday night takes the trophy for swift footwork from the departure boards to the platform, but a Sunday afternoon in Waverley calls for even more agility and dexterity, as there are also such obstacles as scaffolding and building-plots to negotiate. I've never seen elderly ladies towing large suitcases behind them so quickly, and woe betide if something as petty as your feet get in their way! The situation was not helped by the fact it was another 10-car Voyager, and I was booked in one of the front coaches, up near the tunnel-mouth somewhere! But, thank-you, Virgin. You got my heart beating faster than it had all weekend, and I'm sure the exercise will do me good!

We left, spot on time at 1452, and I just hope everyone made it. Another fast journey up the Clyde Valley followed, being slowed only by waiting for an engineers' train carrying rails to be looped just south of Carstairs. As we sped over Beattock almost without noticing the incline, I wondered what all the fuss was about in steam days!

Then into the different world of the S & C. We came to a full stand just out of Carlisle, and then crept for a mile or so, and the TM announced "signalling problems" Had they lost the green flag, or something? Whatever, we were 15 minutes down passing Appleby, and lost even more time in the Ribble Valley because of [according to the TM], a stopping service in front of us. My research shows that stopping service was the Dalesrail from Carlisle to Preston, which had left Carlisle some 35 minutes before us at 1535. Now OTT shows that as calling at Clitheroe platform 1 from 1749-1751, and our service overtaking it at Clitheroe at 1750.5, again on platform 1!!! So it was probably just as well it did not happen according to the book, for our lateness meant we were following it block-to-block all the way to Blackburn, where we eventually got passed. It did give a good opportunity to admire the skill of the builders of Whalley viaduct, thought, as we crept over about 10 mph.

So by Preston we were about 30 minutes down, and, after a quick reversal, and leaving about 1855, our driver sped to Wigan in the usual fashion, with every intention of making-up time. Then followed the excrutiatingly-slow negotiation of Parkside Junctions, and on to the Chat Moss line. Surely they must be planning to remodel those junctions for when the electric trains begin their regular service from Manchester-Scotland?

We then slowed for the restriction between Astley and Patricroft, but instead of gaining speed through Eccles, which I enjoy, as it shows the motorists on the parallel M602 which is the better way to travel, we crawled, and every vehicle embarrassingly shot past! And we crawled all the way to Ordsall Lane. I thought it was because we'd lost our path being so late by now, but the TM announced it was because of "signalling difficulties [again] and examining the track" [yes - I'm still trying to work-out what that meant!].

So the clock on platform 13 at Manchester Piccadilly showed 1950 as we trundled through and we were due in Crewe at 1959! But our driver hadn't given up! After treating the stretch to Slade Lane with the usual caution and respect and rounding the curve on to the Styal line, he really opened-up, and with benefit of green lights all the way, Heald Green and Styal were just a blur, and we rounded the curve at Wilmslow at 2005. Then followed another spirited dash past Jodrell Bank, and with the aid of 6 minutes recovery-time coupled with very good driving, we came to a stand in Crewe's platform 5 at 2021, to be greeted by a few surprised looks on the platform, for although we were technically 22 minutes late we were 10 minutes ahead of the advertised anticipated arrival-time of 2031!!

And Manchester-Crewe pass-to stop in 31 minutes is my personal, all-time record, and rounded-off a very good weekend's journeying.
 
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