One thing I like about Birmingham New Street is that they display platform information well ahead of a train’s departure allowing you to get away from the shopping centre concourse and wait on the correct platform whilst watching the trains to pass the time. Given the timings of my day, and my advanced ticket allowing travel only on the 2025 service, this is exactly what I did and also gave me the opportunity to observe what I can only describe as a “Train Hokey Cokey”! Unfortunately, something I only realised when editing this post was that I completely forgot to take many photos on this trip and so the few dotted through the post will mostly be relevant ones from previous trips…
On the day I travelled, CrossCountry had unfortunately experienced issues on both their Birmingham – Nottingham route and the Birmingham – Stansted route, which as you can imagine left the working timetable in disarray. Whilst on the whole the timetabled passenger departures were leaving on time, the actual units operating them were being swapped to try and accommodate this. Add in the mid-evening trains that terminate and head to a depot for over-night stabling and I can honestly say I have never seen so many class 170s in the same place at once! Unfortunately for one driver this meant playing a key part in the Train Hokey Cokey and changing ends 6 or more times and uncoupling and re-coupling his train before he finally departed 35 minutes later with both of the units he had brought in.
Although the unit forming my train was delayed and didn’t arrive the scheduled 25 minutes before our departure, it arrived in the platform with about 10 minutes to go and I was able to quickly board and grab my reserved seat. Whilst the wait for this train was frustrating (although having looked at the timetable again, I don’t think I’d have made the one before), one advantage of my advance single was this journey cost me a grand total of £4.80 with my railcard, over £20 less than the off-peak single fare. As with my journey to Birmingham from London (which you can read about here!) this shows the benefit of buying an advanced ticket if you can be fairly certain of the times you are going to travel. Obviously if you miss your train it’ll then cost you a whole new full fare ticket as well!
Departing Birmingham on time, I settled in for my almost 2-hour journey across to Peterborough and set up ready to get on writing this blog and a couple of others that are in the pipeline. Unfortunately, although CrossCountry provide free Wifi (which is a great plus), the class 170 I was travelling on did not have any power sockets, leaving me limited to about half the journeys worth of battery life and cursing for not plugging my laptop in on the train up! (If you have any opportunity to use a power socket, do so, as you don’t know for certain when the next chance you get will be).
As I’ve mentioned before (here I think), the class 170 is personally one of the most comfortable trains I’ve travelled on across the UK due to the armchair like seats provided throughout. Although there are well known capacity problems across CrossCountry’s network due to the rolling stock handicap it has been given, there is nothing wrong with the class 170s themselves apart from them being a bit short! Generally, I’ve found them reliable with a smooth ride and comfortable seats, and as mentioned above the free Wi-Fi is always a bonus. As if to prove the point about capacity, given that this train was about half full from Birmingham to Leicester at half past 8 on a Tuesday evening, I can imagine a peak time or Friday evening service being full and standing for most of the journey. I shared a set of 4 table seats with one other person for most of my journey.
Arriving into Nuneaton after half an hour, I was reminded of my time at university in Loughborough and my frequent journeys across to Stafford to visit the lady that is now my wife! Although going across on a Friday evening was painless (well as painless as three trains can be on a Friday evening), the journey back on a Sunday was always frustrating due to the poor connection at Nuneaton. With an hourly service on the Nuneaton – Leicester route, the train from Stafford would arrive usually about 2 minutes after that had departed, leaving a wait of almost an hour at a station with very limited facilities on a Sunday night! Although I can’t comment on the current Sunday night connections at Nuneaton, I can thankfully say that I no longer have to do that journey and can write blogs about (generally) much more pleasant ones.
Unfortunately, there was no catering on this train with the CrossCountry’s trolley service on this route finishing with the 14:22 departure from Birmingham (yes, really, 14:22!) Luckily, I had had been able to grab some food during my wait at the station, although a cup of tea would have been greatly appreciated approaching Leicester as I started to realise how tired I actually was.
Just north of Leicester station is Leicester depot, homer to UK Rail Leasing (UKRL) and a number of old class 37 and 56 locomotives. UKRL leased the formerly disused Leicester depot from DB Schenker in 2013 and have created a number of railway engineering jobs in Leicester in locomotive overhaul and innovation. Diverging away from the Midland Mainline again, the journey continues on towards Melton Mowbray (famous for it’s Pork Pies), Oakham and Stamford, both of which I have visited a couple of times.
Oakham is home to Oakham Castle, one of the finest remaining examples of a Norman Great Hall in Europe. Constructed in the late 1100s it is now known for its collection of massive horseshoes (a Rutland tradition) and is free to visit and explore. The castle is also home to the longest running seat of justice in England, with the first assize being held in 1229 and a crown court continuing to be held in the hall every two years. Closer to the railway line, Oakham is famous for another reason as the signal box that controls the level crossing to the south of the station is the signal box used as a template for the Airfix model signal box.
The increasing number of illuminated buildings adjacent to the railway indicates our approach towards Peterborough from the north and we race an LNER service from Leeds towards the station. Whilst this train continues on to Cambridge, our arrival into platform 7 marks the end of my journey for the day. In conclusion, my journey with CrossCountry from Birmingham to Peterborough was comfortable and most importantly punctual. Although the lack of plug sockets and trolley service were slight negatives, free Wi-Fi and the cheap ticket price were both positive factors for the journey.
Overall Score 4*
Route: BHM – PBO
Date: Tuesday 8th April 2019H