Saturday, 3 August 2019

Journey into the fiery furnaces of hell*

* Also known as Birmingham New Street 😅

25th July 2019

It started off well. A leisurely Pret breakfast and walk down to Shrewsbury station to catch a train for home. The forecast was for rail-bending record high temperatures though so I got an earlier train than I originally intended, hoping to get well on my way before everything melted.

It didn't work out that way.

The 1103 departure to Birmingham New Street waited at the platform and I was glad to see that West Midland Trains kept it running and with the air-conditioning going because it was already very warm outside. We rolled out of Shrewsbury on time and the journey to Birmingham was pleasant and uneventful, the train lightly loaded. Arriving at New Street I could probably have run and caught the 1304 Cross Country train bound for Bournemouth to get to Reading but I had an Advance Single ticket, valid only on the 1333 departure to Reading. That was probably my first mistake. Shortly after the 1304 train departed the cancellation of the 1333 to Reading was announced.
Oh well, get the 1404 Bournemouth train then, ticket now valid on any train because the booked train was cancelled. So stooged around in the station, got tea, got a pasty, used the snazzy new seats with USB charging built in to top up the phone, and listened to the announcements and watched the screens.
They weren't a pretty sight, nearly every train delayed as the temperatures rose and speed restrictions were imposed.

1404 Bournemouth moved slowly up the list. Right up until the single garbled announcement that it would now depart from Birmingham International instead of Birmingham New Street and that passngers should go to platform 7 to get a train to there to catch it. On platform 7 there was a train to London which didn't appear to be stopping at International so no one knew they were supposed to get on it until it had gone. A poor train driver who was waiting to take over an incoming train was the only uniform present so was soon besieged by confused and irritable passengers wanting to know what to do and where to go next. Fair play to the guy he did his best with the apps on his smartphone and concluded that we should all return to platform 1. The next departure from which should have been 1433 to Reading which was mysteriously absent from the departure screens and from my Train Track app. Only by checking carefully on Cross Country's web site did I find out that all the Reading trains had been cancelled and passengers advised to use the Bournemouth trains - or to wait until the next day when they would be happy to accept tickets from today. I did consider that option but getting a hotel room in the centre of Birmingham at that short notice proved to be difficult, expensive or a combination of both. So wait, sweat, and hope the 1504 Bournemouth train wasn't cancelled or diverted as well. 
I can't say I recommend Birmingham New Street as a place to hang about in >35℃ heat. We were exhorted over the PA system to carry water when travelling in the current hot weather. I took the more sensible course of actually drinking it. What goes in has to come out though and you have to hope you don't miss an important announcement whilst having a piss.

CrossCountry Class 220
The 1504 arrived at a packed platform 1 around 20 minutes late and the desperate scramble to get aboard began. When it moved off we were packed in in conditions that would be illegal if we'd been livestock. I was in the vestibule of coach D between the bike racks. The coach in which the air-conditioning had failed.

It was fucking hot. Before long I had little fountains of sweat coming out of my lace holes 😅 Still, if anyone was going to pass out from the heat they'd have to do so standing up, there wasn't room to fall down. After Birmingham International a few people got off, whether that was their intended stop or whether they couldn't handle the sauna-like interior of the  Voyager any longer I don't know but it allowed some of us to move from the vestibule to the saloon. It was maybe a couple of degrees less hot in there. After Leamington enough passengers baled out for me to get a seat. Also the train manager announced that as soon as he could move down the the aisle he'd try to get the air-conditioning going in coach D. When he did so he got a huge round of applause 👏👏👏 and the temperature dropped to "still bloody hot but a bit more bearable". Slowly we trundled south through Oxford to Reading. We arrived 2 minutes after the train to Sandhurst departed. Train Track app showed the next was due in about 40 minutes and the two after that were cancelled, which was a bit worrying.

I found a bench, got out my Kobo reader and finished reading Kate Williams' Rival Queens until the train arrived at platform 4 then grabbed a seat on board for the last leg. After just under 9 hours I arrived at Sandhurst station having completed what should have been a three and a half hour journey, on the hottest UK day on record. It was hellish though not in fact my longest disrupted train trip, that "honour" still goes to a journey to Glasgow in June 2018.

No comments: