First of all an apology - the light on Thursday was abysmal all day for taking photos, so I'm sorry that some of them aren't as clear as I'd have liked.
Last week I received a very tempting offer from East Midlands Railway - London return to anywhere on the Midland Mainline for up to 4 people at £15 each. Immediately I knew what had to be done. My blog partner and best friend, Tim, had never been on an HST. Not once. Ever. In 45 years. This could not be allowed to continue, and with the MML now the only place to find HST's out of London this was the chance I'd been waiting for. Initially I thought Sheffield - may as well go as far as you can, but it transpired EMR's old girls mainly do the St Pancras - Nottingham run so that was decided for me.
I cunningly planned the journey so Tim would also get his first rides on a Class 745 Stadler both ways from Ipswich and thus our day began bright and early on the East Suffolk Line, Tim starting from Beccles and yours truly at Darsham. It also started late, which meant squeaky bum time almost immediately as to if we'd make the connection at Ipswich onto the 745. It was much too close for comfort at our ages involving a veritable sprint over the footbridge between platforms 4 and 2 at the Suffolk terminus. However, made it we did, and were soon breezing through the North Essex countryside at 100mph heading for London. Not for the first time I was thankful that the only new trains in the country (that I've been on) I actually like are on my own patch. They are different, quirky, go like stink and I've already grown very fond of them.
We made our way from Liverpool St to St Pancras via the Farringdon Cheat - that is by switching from Underground to Thameslink at Farringdon to avoid the ridiculously long walk from Kings Cross/St Pancras Underground station to the trains at St Pancras. Get Thameslink and you emerge right opposite the EMR entrance. We got to the platform barriers, and there was our steed looking majestic. A lot of you will relate to the feeling of anticipation you get when you know what lies ahead in cases like that.
|The scene that greeted us at St Pancras|
|HST heaven at St Pancras|
We arrived on time in a very dreary and murky Nottingham. It's been many decades since I was in Nottingham, and even then not in the centre, so having bought our excellent value combined bus, tram and train tickets to give us freedom of Greater Nottingham and beyond we jumped on our first tram. I like trams. Yes, the initial set up is costly and disruptive but once in operation they are Godsends. You don't get utilities constantly digging the track up, or numpties parking on them causing delays. Some of the roads we went on were normal terraced streets that you wouldn't expect trams on. But trams there were, and the sight of two enormous Park & Ride sites on the route, full trams and no cars in the City Centre speaks for itself. Another big car park at the terminus in Hucknall.
|One of the giant Park & Ride sites served by the trams|
|Both types of tram in use in Nottingham|
|The tram we travelled on at Hucknall terminus|
|The Hucknall Park & Ride site|
We had intended to get the bus back into Nottingham, however our day of embarrassment continued when we couldn't find the bus stop, despite using Google Maps and any other aid we could access. When we did find a stop for a longer route the bus didn't turn up so we caught the train, and as it turned out that was a good decision.
It is rare these days to get a really comfortable train seat, and the EMR 158's we get at Norwich aren't the worst seats but not exactly the best either. Ok to Ely or Peterborough but I wouldn't want to go much further than that. So it was a joy to sit on the seats on 158889, which are the most comfy train seats I've sat on for years. It turns out that this unit is ex South West Trains, and the difference in comfort is striking. I don't know how many of them they have, but can we have them on the Norwich run please!
|Really, really nice seats|
|158889 at Nottingham|
Anyway back to Nottingham Station, and I had seen on Realtime Trains that Network Rail's Flying Banana HST Test Train was passing through half hour before our train to London departed. Another first for Tim, and this time the planning paid off!
|In fading light the "Flying Banana" passes through Nottingham|
|The other end of the banana with 43081.|
|156912 on a local service to Newark|
Tim: Because it was dark I didn't get the full speed feeling as the smoothness and comfort felt so good I now know what I had missed. Really grateful to Steve for the idea and our faux pas will go down in folklore but that's the joy of travel. Bonus on the Banana as it is not seen by many from our area.
|43089 back at St Pancras|
So, in conclusion, a day to remember and laugh at. Thanks to Tim for his company, thanks to the EMR staff who are friendly, very friendly. So many staff said hello to us on the platforms at Nottingham which was really nice, you don't get that everywhere. Thanks to the Conductor for letting two twits travel on a later than booked train, thanks to Phil from Modern Railways for his advance tips and advice and most of all thank you to Nottingham for making me want to return. It was like the sample of the wine the sommelier gives you for approval. I heartily approve and I want the rest of it.