Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Electric Trains Hit The North

I’m on the first of two days of having to sit in a hospital coffee shop waiting for those closest to me have scans of one sort of another. However, today, once the scan was complete, we could escape and decided to head into Manchester. Nothing notable about that. It’s on the same train line and it has the best restaurant and bookshop in the form of Waterstones on Deansgate where I’m typing this, rather blissfully, if the truth be told.

Perhaps the most notable thing about the day was my first voyage on an electric train. Well, perhaps not my first if the Tube trains are electric and I suspect they are. However, for the North West, electric trains have been a long time coming. For years we’ve been putting up with engineering work on our main line between Liverpool and Manchester, all in the promise of a better service.

The better service arrived this morning and it felt largely horrible. Not that there wasn’t plenty of room because there was. As a taller than average bloke, I appreciated the legroom. The seats seemed oddly low but that’s a minor thing. Yet the train stank like an old radio that had overheated. It’s hard to describe except as ‘ cooked electrics’. What was worse was the noise. Jesus on a moped! It was like having your ears drilled by the Highland regiment of bagpipes and cat stranglers. I suppose the positives were more acceleration out of every station and once the speed was up, the horrible whine disappeared. But was it worth the years of waiting? Was it really work being unable to get into or out of the cities at night except by a slow plodding replacement coach service?

Well, I suppose it was. It’s cleaner and it felt quicker. Yet it also felt refurbished. I believe these new trains are refurbished, with ‘new’ for the North meaning what was too old for the south. London always seems to get new trains. We get something that looks a bit bolted together. In our carriage, there was an ugly post stuck right in the centre of the carriage. I guess it was conducting something (perhaps the juice from the overead lines) down into the undercarriage but really not that good on the eye. The whole thing felt second rate.

On a better note, Manchester Victoria station looks amazing. It’s long been considered one of the worst stations in the country but it’s had an almost complete rebuild and it’s breaktaking. Open, light, elegant. Just a shame about the bloody trains...

[Update: Too knackered to write anything polished but thought I should add that the train home changed my opinion somewhat. This time there was no smell of burnt radios. The new electric trains seem to be much longer and therefore have many more seats. Made for a pleasant change from the usual cattle trucks I've been used to in the past. They're also *fast*. The acceleration is a bit of a punch in the kidneys and once they get going they seem to really fly. However, there's still that 'whine'. Perhaps I'll get use to it.

The bad part is still the interiors which are pretty shoddy for 'new' trains. They're not a patch on the supposedly 'old' trains being run by Arriva on the North Wales line. Given a choice, I'd probably choose Arriva but it's tighter than it used to be. I like the new Victoria station (I think it will be genuinely spectacular when finished) and I might be tempted to take the electric line simply to get there quicker and to be closer to Waterstones when I arrive. Yet I still think that after years of promises, the new electric trains are a bit of a disappointment.]


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