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|
Although the train had yet to be advertised we were allowed through the barriers to take some photos, with nothing but friendly faces in evidence. So we did, and I can't help wondering if there has ever been a more photogenic train than the HST125. Note I said train not locomotive so all you steam fans get back in your box!
|HST heaven at St Pancras|
Having finished our photographic duties we found our seats and nattered. In fact we nattered so intently we failed to notice that we continued to be the only ones on board. Until a chap came up and asked if we were travelling. "Yes", I replied, "on the 1034." Rather apologetically the chap said "erm, this is the 1134, the 1034 has just left from platform 1", the train on the right in the above pic, which had not arrived when we entered the platform. It arrived and turned round in 10 mins! That never happened at Kings Cross or Paddington! Cue some red faces and some grovelling to the rather amused Conductor on the 1105 to Nottingham, who let us travel on that instead. Which was great apart from one tiny detail...
...It wasn't an HST, which was rather the object of the exercise. But neither of us had been on a Meridian, and at least it was the right one for the year. To all intents and purposes Meridians are Voyagers, but with a different interior, and that makes a difference. I found the Meridian far more pleasant to travel on than a Voyager, certainly less cramped, and it seemed more sturdy and quiet too. I would happily travel on one again, in fact I intend to.
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|
One subject dominated our conversation, and that was why on Earth isn't there a tram system in Norwich. Like Nottingham Norwich has an airport, a thriving University, a large population, well used business areas and a popular City Centre. It's screaming out for a Nottingham style desire to rid the City Centre of traffic and build a modern, convenient, cheap transit system that will make people WANT to leave their cars at home or at the Park & Ride sites. It could be up and running in 5 years if the desire was there. But it won't be because there isn't. To further compare our combined bus, tram and train ticket cost £5.10 - a Norwich Area Fusion day ticket, which only covers the 4 main bus operators costs £7.00. Of course no one's going to leave their car at home.
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|
I had realised very quickly that you need more than 4 hours to take in what Nottingham has to offer. We never got near a bus, and that is something that needs to be put right. I'm hoping to spend a couple of days there later in the year, when it's warmer and brighter, because I have a feeling Nottingham is a City many others should use as a blueprint for the future. It made a deep impression on me.
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.|
The sharp eyed among you may have noticed something familiar in the first banana pic. Trying not to be seen at the back is one of the recently transferred Class 156 DMU's from Greater Anglia to EMR. This one was 156412, now renumbered 156912, which used to be the Sudbury branch's pride and joy.
|156912 on a local service to Newark|
Then, finally, after 45 years of waiting, Tim travelled on an HST, an experience so exciting and nerve tingling he was asleep before we left! (I was up early! T) He did manage to stay awake for most of the journey though, so he can tick it off his bucket list.
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|
It was a return journey in all senses back home, a freight train blocking the platforms at Ipswich held us up on the still impressive 745, and it was another sprint across that dratted footbridge and a run almost to Westerfield as the bi-modes still can't use the full length of Platform 1 at Ipswich in case they pull the wires down! We are getting too old for that!
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.