Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

“Have you tried turning it off and restarting it again?”  must be anyone who has worked in computer support’s favourite phrase.    To be fair, if your computer starts behaving oddly, not to mention freezing, that it a great first step to solving things.

virgin train

Virgin Train

But yesterday this was applied to a whole train.   The Virgin train from Glasgow to Euston pulled into Penrith and the ‘train manager’ announced that we would be having a ‘computer reset”.   The engine stopped, the air conditioning stopped, and all the lights went out.   Complete train darkness and silence.   Then everything fired up again, and off we went, 20 minutes late.    Well, almost everything – the power supplies at the seats for laptops never quite made it back on again, but I was not going to ask about it in case the electronics took another fit.

The man running the Shop on the train said that the problem was the alarms in the loos apparently, which all stopped working.   He said in two years of working for Virgin Trains, this was the first time it had happened!

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Heading to Edinburgh?    Lots to see and do, and shows are booking well by all accounts.   Hope the rain stays off.

But Edinburgh is a city under seige from miles and miles of Heras fencing, seas of  yellow diversion signs, diggers, men in high-vis jackets and general mess as the work for the Trams is ongoing.   

Driving between the North and South of Edinburgh is all but impossible – even for locals, as a route open one day may be suddenly closed the next.     Busses are coralled into George Street.   Clearly this is Edinburgh Council’s revenge against the electorate of Edinburgh who voted against their proposed congestion charge.    Latest encouraging news is that the Council are taking the Tram contractors to court for not fulfilling their contract.

Also, key attractions like the Royal Museum, the Portrait Gallery, the Commonwealth Pool and the City Arts Centre are all closed at the same time for months for major refurbishment.    Who planned that?

 Anyway, this is Princes Street.     Shocking.     Good luck trying to walk along it, and (even worse), cross it.    And in case you thought that you could drive North/South at Haymarket, you can’t.    It looks just like Princes Street.

Princes Street Tram Mess

Princes Street Tram Mess

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The Lady With the Whistle



The 4.00 train from London to Aberdeen was packed on Friday – trains out of London on Friday afternoon usually are, I suppose.     An open return does not guarantee a seat, but I struck lucky and found a seat which had been booked from London, but was not occupied.     I sat down and said hello to the lady beside me, as you do.

Sometimes fellow passengers are up for a bit of conversation, and sometimes not – they might be deep in a book, or on a laptop, or just hiding under a coat trying to get some sleep.     This lady was American, and had not been in the UK before – she had been at a trade show in London and was going to York for a couple of days.

We had a really interesting conversation – it is 2 hours from London to York, and we managed to fill in the time just fine.    It is always interesting to hear what first-timers to the UK think of us, and this lady liked London, and had managed to get to a couple of shows – fitted in round a hectic work schedule.    Being brought up on English children’s literature, she ‘knew’ some familiar names, and loved just walking about the city.   

And we got to talking about California (which is where she was from):    the weather, trains, wine, climate change and the ever-present threat of earthquakes.        And spotting a “Yes We Can Do It” bracelet, Obama was a safe bet as a topic, which filled in a good few miles.

And the whistle attached to her necklace?    Her simple but effective earthquake kit, carried everywhere.

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Trains, Trains, Trains

I had to go to London for a meeting last week, and went there and back in a day by train.    Edinburgh to London, city centre to city centre is about as quick as flying these days.

National Express

National Express

National Express now run the East Coast line, and when it works, it is a great service.    There is even Wifi on the trains now – except the Wifi was not working going down this time, but is was OK on the way back up.     Everything went to time, even down to the 6 minutes I had to change trains at Edinburgh onto the Scotrail service to Perth.    6 hours London to Perth is pretty good really.

But coming from the comfort of the National Express onto the Scotrail service to Perth was a bit of a jolt.    Just two carriages long, this new service through Fife was casebook old rolling stock.   The wind whistled in through the windows, the heating was not working well, and the train was filthy.   Really bogging.     The carpet where passengers got on and off near the door was worn flat and was brown – it looked like a herd of cattle had been through.   It is supposed to be the colour of purple heather that Scotrail uses (see photo).   The rubbish leftover from the last passengers was still there – sticky table with a half-eaten punnet of blueberries at mine.   I was not brave enough to finish them – like communal bowls of peanuts in a pub, you really never know where other fingers have been.   

scotrail interior - not brown

scotrail interior - not brown

We rattled across the Forth bridge and through Fife, and when I say rattled, I mean it:     the train shook,  grumbled and clanked.       And the automated signs and speech were not tallying up at all:   “This is Perth” announced the automated voice brightly …….   “Change here for stations to Inverness”.       The moving sign in my carriage was stubbornly stuck on ‘Dunkeld’ ……. where the train was not going.    

The Scotrail staff were very cheery, as always.    The lady checking tickets scribbled on mine in her biro.     “Why doesn’t Scotrail give you nice ticket punching pliers?” I asked.    ” Because if you punch holes in the tickets, the automatic ticket barriers can’t read them”, she replied rather sadly, “it’s just how it is”.

A scribble with a biro is ultimately rather disappointing.    National Express still punch neat holes in theirs.    And Perth does not have automatic barriers.

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John Swinney MSP told a meeting in Perth a couple of weeks back that the EARL project was not technically feasible.    He said that the proposed gradient for trains was not possible for existing rolling stock to negotiate, and that tunnelling under the airport runway was too risky.    I actually found that rather hard to believe, as the EARL project started in 2001 looking at the possibility of getting rail links tied into Edinburgh airport, involving years of exploratory engineering work as well as securing legislation to emable the project to go ahead.    

Ryanair are just coming into Edinburgh Airport with new routes.   This is really welcome, but how are an extra million passengers actually going to get to and from the airport?    It is probably one of the most congested areas of Scotland.    EARL would have given a direct rail link from the airport to over 60 stations.    It is a ‘no brainer’ but comes at a price.

I asked the people at EARL to comment about the feasibility of the project.    They said that the gradient was no worse than the one getting into and out of Queen Street Station in Glasgow, so no problem there.     They also said that tunnelling under the runway was perfectly feasible, and given the extra engineering precautions built into this part of the project, perfectly safe.

So where does that leave John Swinney?    He should have said that the project was simply too expensive to sanction, and that going ahead would have put other transport projects on hold.    But he didn’t.   Poor show.

And why are the Trams going ahead in Edinburgh?   I don’t see the benefit at all.    Massive expense, huge and prolonged disruption – just look at the mess in Leith Walk and Shandwick Place, unsightly overhead cables etc. – the list of downsides is long.    Who on earth is this project for?    There are  perfectly good bus services serving this route at very reasonable prices, and with bus lanes for much of the route.    I just don’t get it.

They should have spent the money on Earl which would have benefitted many more people.

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I was at a meeting over at Erskine during the big storm on Tuesday.   

The hotel was 3 star, and was struggling a bit to keep its standards up.    The ladies loos would not flush;   there was no hot water in the gents loos – in fact, if you turned on the cold tap of one basin, cold water came out of the hot tap at the basin next door.     Our meeting room was boiling, and the only way of sorting it was to open a window – not a great idea with a wind strong enough to close the Erskine Bridge battering away outside.

Thankfully the lunch and coffees and teas etc. were all fine.

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I had not come across the Glasgow City branding before, and I am very impressed with what has been going on here.    Glasgow as a city is getting things together in a way that will make Edinburgh  rather envious.      As Edinburgh quietly drops its pathetic three wavy line logo, Glasgow has moved on from the ‘miles better’ campaign and has come up with this Branding Video. 

OK, I know that there is another side to the coin in Glasgow, but this is upbeat and positive.   Coupled with the successful bid for the Commonwealth Games in 2014, this is a city going places.

Oh, and in case you are reading this and chuckling to yourselves about the old Glasgow vs. Edinburgh thing, working together with Edinburgh is very much part of where Glasgow sees itself going.

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I was supposed to get the 8.15 train from Perth to Glasgow today, but it had ‘failed’ outside Aberdeen and was therefore cancelled.

So I had to wait for the next one, which was the 8.40 to Glasgow, due to get in at 9.40, making me late for my meeting.   This train also came from Aberdeen, and was taking all the passengers it normally takes, PLUS all the passengers from the cancelled train.    So it was standing room only for the 65 miles.    Not pleasant, and there was no room to even open a paper – and no windows to open to let the fug out slightly.

Scotrail run these pathetically short trains a mere three carriages long between the cities in Scotland.    

The train back was good, and on time.    I am just so glad I don’t have to commute into a city every day.

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Carbon Offsetting is a murky world, and a tricky concept to grasp.       Every week the Sunday Times Travel section sends its journalists all over the place, but every week, they print how much they have paid to offset their carbon use.     There is a certain smugness to all of this which I find distasteful.

Many businesses are aspiring to become Carbon Neutral.    Apart from “saving the planet”, it is a great marketing tool.

So that’s OK then?

No, I don’t think so really.   On a number of counts.      Firstly, carbon offsetting should be a last resort.    Businesses should have reduced their carbon footprint to as low as possible before offsetting the rest, and I am not sure this happens.    Secondly, who regulates the projects which benefit from the carbon offsetting money?   Nobody, it seems.   Stories of treadmills in India and the rest make for a deep uneasiness in the whole concept.    Thirdly, and linked to this, is how can businesses, organisations and individuals making carbon offsetting payments be certain that their cash is being used efficiently and in genuinely carbon-beneficial ways?

In Scotland, a new scheme is being launched in November for tourism businesses called Climate Change Scotland where projects are Scottish and vetted for suitability.    Evidence of carbon reduction by businesses intersted in contributing is required.     Perhaps this is a good way forward.

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I like reading, and try to read a bit every night before I go to sleep.    It is quiet and peaceful and you get time to concentrate.

Which brings me to admire people who can seemingly read in all sorts of busy situations.    I saw people in a queue to a museum reading books the other day – if I am in a queue, then I really like to ‘people watch’.    There is actually too much going on round about to get your head down in a book.

I also discovered that I have difficulty reading a book on a plane – which is probably one of the most boring environments ever.    The thing is, I don’t like flying at the best of times, and actually avoided it for years until I got fed up of it being a problem, and just dealt with it.     I still find it an alarming way to travel, and am recovering from having been on three planes on Monday.     So, no to books on a plane – but a newspaper or magazine seems to fit the bill.

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