On weekend engineering

I should have known better. To travel on the East Coast Main Line on an autumn Saturday is to risk lengthened journeys, bus replacements or diversions.
And so it was on October 19 when I arrived at King’s Cross to travel to York and found no suitable trains on the destination board. If there was information advising passengers that the line was closed north of Peterborough then I didn’t see it.
Instead I checked National Rail’s website and it recommended taking a train to Peterborough for a bus to Newark and then a train onwards to York. I didn’t much fancy the bus option, not least because I was carrying a long but light cardboard box so I looked to see what trains might be running from St Pancras. This threw up a 1655 to Sheffield and then a connection to York.
The 153 miles to Sheffield would take 2hrs 10mins. This compares with a usual King’s Cross-York timing of 1hr 52mins for its 188 miles. It’s true that my Sheffield train stopped at Leicester, Derby and Chesterfield whereas the York time above is non-stop. But even taking that into account, the Midland Main Line remains a slow railway. There’s a programme of linespeed improvements and the bulk of the savings generated must surely go into running faster journeys.
Other similar programmes elsewhere have seen track owner Network Rail take the improvements to boost its performance figures. Certainly passengers want their trains to be punctual but they also want to arrive more quickly.
As an addendum, autumn ECML weekend work is continuing. Forewarned this time, I checked times for a Newcastle-King’s Cross journey next Sunday. This is what National Rail’s website suggested:
1528 Newcastle-1824 Stevenage
1830 Stevenage-1915 Harringay
Walk to Harringay Green Lanes
1935 Harringay Green Lanes-1941 Blackhorse Road
Then by Victoria Line to King’s Cross to arrive 2020.
I can’t help thinking that most passengers would, in this case, prefer a bus from Stevenage!

By Philip Haigh

Freelance railway writer, former deputy editor at RAIL magazine - news, views and analysis of today's railway.

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