Branch Line Britain - celebrating Britain's minor railways

Blog - 2020

January 2020

Aylesbury Station looking at the north end of the station 28/1/20

28/1/2020 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street and return. London Marylebone to Banbury. Banbury to Haddenham and Thame Parkway. Aylesbury to Aylesbury Vale Parkway and return. Aylesbury to Harrow-on-the-Hill.

My first train trip of 2020. I should have been going to visit the new Worcestershire Parkway station thanks to Cross Country putting tickets on sale for this week and then suddenly taking them off their wesbite again, as it's still not open! So instead I changed my plans to visit two Parkway stations in the Chilterns area for my upcoming book on Parkway Railway stations. After a brief visit to Banbury I caught a train back down the line to Haddenham and Thame Parkway, where I was able to get some decent photographs without snow in them, which is what happened when I visited the station almost a year ago. I then caught a 280 bus from the station to Aylesbury - cost £3.60. I then went up to Aylesbury Vale Parkway station to take some more photos. I had been there soon after it had first opened about ten years ago and it was like a building site. Today it was still like a building site! The station building and car park are all complete of course, but they have decided to rebuild the walkway onto the platform, so everywhere is a mess at the moment. Funnily enough the station building was all deserted - all locked up in fact, for whatever reason. Also my train was like a ghost train at first with just a handful of passengers, but all five carriages did fill up as the  journey progressed. Then it was a brief stop at Harrow-on-the-Hill to take some more photos. Then home after a quite pleasant, if cold day.



February 2020

Class 170 at Worcestershire Parkway station on 25th February 2020, two days after it opened

18/2/2020 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street and return. London Kings Cross to Leeds. Leeds to New Pudsey. New Pudsey to Bradford Interchange. Bradford Interchange to London Kings Cross via Halifax.

Went up to Yorkshire for the day primarily to take some more photos for my book on Parkway Railway stations. It was the first time that I had been on an LNER Azuma and I must say that I was quite impressed. The journey was very smooth and we arrived on time in Leeds. We had some time in Bradford where it was pouring down before coming back on the 14.50 Grand Central Adelante to Kings Cross for just £9.90! Although the train was much older it still has a lot more character than the Azuma! We saw quite a lot of flooding especially around Newark where the River Trent had burst its banks, but no problems with water. Just a hold up around Peterborough which meant we were ten minutes late getting into Kings Cross.


20/2/2020 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street and return. London Marylebone to Leamington Spa. Leamington Spa to Stratford-upon-Avon. Stratford-upon-Avon to London Marylebone

Went up to Stratford-upon-Avon with my wife for the day. The fare each way was just £7.25 each way all the way through (with a senior railcard) as Chiltern Railways had special offer on fares north of Banbury in the month of February. Well done Chiltern Railways! I wish some other train operating companies would do the same.

25/2/2020 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street and return. London Euston to Birmingham New Street. Birmingham New Street to Worcestershire Parkway. Worcestershire Parkway to Worcester Shrub Hill. Worcester Shrub Hill to London Paddington.  

Went to visit the newly opened Worcestershire Parkway station to get some photos for my upcoming book on Parkway Railway Stations. Decided to go via Euston for change and see what the new TOC of Avanti was like. Much the same as Virgin really. I was going to go to Sandwell and Dudley once I got to Birmingham New Street, but my train was almost ten minutes late and I missed the connection. Then I got a Cross Country train to the newly opened Worcestershire Parkway station. I was quite impressed and was pleased that it has finally come to fruition. The car park looked like it had over a hundred cars in it, which is promising. Coming back to London Paddington I had to go into Worcester to get the same train back as that particular service doesn’t stop at Worcestershire Parkway. I don’t know why, as it’s only a couple of minutes extra on the journey. At Oxford it was interesting to see a lot of passengers walking past my Paddington bound train to get a Chiltern Trains service to a Marylebone instead. interesting....


March 2020

No train journeys made this month for obvious reasons....


April 2020

No journeys again this month


May 2020

No journeys made this month

June 2020

Seats at Southend Central June 2020 - a sign of the times....
26/6/2020 - Benfleet to Southend Central and return
My first train journey for four months due to Lockdown restrictions. It was just a short journey into Southend and back to test the waters, plus I was desperate to travel on a train again! I made sure I had a mask and bought my trickets in advance, though I could have paid in cash at the ticket office if I wanted. I was only one of two people getting on the train. On the train there were about twenty people altogether in an eight carriage train, so everyone was fairly spaced out. I would say about 80% of the passengers were wearing masks and the majority of them were under thirty. 
Coming back the barriers were wide open at Southend Central main entrance, with no staff to be seen, so it makes you wonder just how many people were travelling for free on the railway network at this time. This time I would say only about 50% of the passangers on my train were wearinmg face masks, though it was pretty quiet. It was OK and worth doing it, though I wonder how long it will be before people start using the trains in numbers pre-Covid 19?

July 2020

Advert at London Blackfriars 12/7/20 - How to kill the railways!
12/7/2020 - Leigh-on-Sea to West Ham. London Waterloo to Putney. London Blackfriars to Finsbury Park and return. London Fenchurch Street to Leigh-on-Sea.

My first journey by train into London since before Lockdown. Again the c2c train was pretty quiet until we got to Upminster when about 50 were waiting, having come from Grays and having to change at Upminster. Even then there seemed to be plenty of room on the train, though at Barking many more got on, going just the one stop to West Ham, where I got off. I then got a Docklands Light Railway Train to the Excel Centre where a few weeks earlier the Nightingale Hospital stood. When I got there it had completely gone! It was back to being an exhibition centre with adverts for exhibitions due to take place in August.
I then went back to Canning Town and took a Jubilee Line tube to London Waterloo. The train was quite busy, but there was still room for people to sit on alternative seats. At Waterloo it seemed much quieter than for a summer saturday, apart from the number of trains using the station. I took a train to Putney which was busy, but again there was plenty of room for people to social distance. 
Coming back into Central London by the District Line, I got off at London Blackfriars where I came face to face with a large advertising board telling me not to travel by train for leisure purposes! Talk about trying to make you feel guilty! However just a few days later Lockdown restrictions were eased and this advert become redundant. I then got a through train to Finsbury Park travelling for the first time through the tunnel linking the Thameslink Line out of St Pancras with the Great Northern Line out of Kings Cross. Then it was back home on the c2c line. 
Overall I would say that at least 80% of the people were travelling by train in London for leisure purposes and most of them were young people below age 30.  
25/7/2020 - Leigh-on-Sea to Barking. Barking to Gospel Oak. Gospel Oak to Richmond. Richmond to London Waterloo. West Ham to Leigh-on-Sea. 
A couple of weeks later I again made the train journey into London from Essex. This time I got off at Barking and went on the Goblin Line to Gospel Oak for the first time since it had been electrified. Although the Class 710 Aventra trains look impressive from the outside, I really think having all the seats sideways like the Class 378 Capitalstar units is a big mistake. I, like many passengers, prefer to travel facing in the direction the train is going and found my neck aching more and more as I tried to look out of the window. Plus they haven't any toilets, which is also a big mistake as again many people want to use the toilet on a train journey, however short it is.
After taking a few photos at Gospel Oak, I caught a through train to Richmond, again another journey I hadn't made for several years. It was sad to see rows and rows of Crossrail trains lined up in sidings by Old Oak Common, waiting for business. I then went on a short river cruise with just ten other people on a vessel with a capacity for 150! So sad.
My train from Richmond back into Waterloo was quite busy and almost what you would expect for a saturday afternoon, so maybe numbers of people using the trains are starting to creep up a little. Still, it was a large majority of under 30's using them. 

August 2020

Old and new at Didcot Railway Centre. GWR 2900 Class 2999 Lady of Legend waits to depart as a GWR Class 800 passes on the Didcot by-pass line with a fast train for London Paddington.
12/8/2020 - Tenterden to Bodiam and return
My wife and I decided that we would like to go on a steam train trip at least once this year, so chose to go on the Kent & East Sussex Railway. We did go away to the Cotswolds a couple of week's earlier, but unfortunately the Goucestershire & Warwickshire Railway hadn't reopened. We did also consider the Bluebell Railway but sadly the prices they were asking priced us out of a journey with them. Their loss. So it was for a more reasonable £15 return each that we chose a trip on the Kent & East Sussex Railway on one of the hottest days of the year.
After a pleasant drive from Essex we arrived in time to have a picnic lunch in the car park. We then took our booking form to the ticket office and got our tickets. Surprisingly we weren't actually given set seats, so when it came to getting on the train it was a free for all!  They did have alternative table seats kept empty, though many of the passengers in our carriage weren't bothering to wear face masks, which was rather selfish I thought, especially when it said clearly on the tickets face masks should be worn. The other problem was that the previous train was about fifteen minutes late into the station. Once we were allowed onto the train, we were sitting there for another fifteen minutes whilst the driver had his lunch break! Not a good idea in such hot weather with no air conditioning. It would have been better if we had stayed on the platform, which was cooler.
Finally, we got going and it was nice to be riding on a train behind a steam locomotive again. The next problem however occurred when we arrived about forty five minutes late at Bodiam. There was a shop on the platform selling ice creams and as it was so hot it seemed as if the whole train wanted to buy one. The problem was that there was just one man serving, working his socks off to serve everyone. So a twenty minute break eneded up being an hour break! By the time we got back to Tenterden, we were too late to go and have a cup of tea at one the several tea shops that were open, so it spoilt the day somewhat. If only they could have had two people serving...
22/8/2020 - Leigh-on-Sea to Liverpool Street and return. London Padington to Didcot Parkway and return.
Went to Didcot Railway Centre for the day with a friend. It was the first time I'd taken a train journey out of London since February. Both times on the GWR mainline we travelled on Cotswold Line trains which were about half full, so gradually passengers are starting to come back to the trains, but for how long? The Didcot Railway Centre had given us set times to enter the grounds and then we could stay as long as we liked. Being such a large place there was plenty of room for social distancing, and face masks only had to be worn in the gift shop and on the shuttle train where each group had a carriage to themselves. Although I had only been there a few years ago, it was still a pleasant day out in lovely August sunshine and well organised. Well done Didcot Railway Centre!  

September 2020

A Western, a Deltic and an EE4 at the National Railway Museum, York on 26/9/20

16/9/2020 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street. London Paddington to Exeter St Davids. Exeter St Davids to Totnes

Went down to Devon for a few days to spend some time with my uncle who lives alone and doesn't get out much. So this was my second train journey out of  Paddington in just under a month. Once again the trains were pretty quiet - I counted 15 people in my carriage which has a 50+ capacity. there was no buffet or trolley service or seat reservations, but plenty of choice of seats. Unusually my train terminated at Exeter St Davids, but as it had stopped at quite a few stations on the way, I only had to wait fifteen minutes for the following train going to Plymouth, which was even more deserted. Sadly many people who might normally travel by train are still being put off by all the Covid 19 news and the way things are going I can't see numbers going up until well into next year now.


17/9/2020 Paignton Queen's Park to Kingswear and return


Had a day out with my uncle on the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway, which was running a pretty much regular service to Kingswear, though with no intermediate stops. I had to book in advance and the train seemed full. They had perspex screens between each set of seats, but unlike last month's trip on the Kent & East Sussex, passengers were allowed to sit either side of the aisle. Having got to Kingswear, we had a coffee in a small coffee shop hidden away behind the station, before taking the ferry across to Dartmouth. It was still like the summer holidays there with quite a large number of people visiting the town, apart from the fact that there no children. We then had a boat trip along the river Dart, which was included in the train ticket. The boat was packed with no social distancing taking place, though everyone did have a facemask on. I suppose the fact that it was open air meant that they could get away with it. Then after an open air lunch back in Dartmouth we got the ferry back to Kingswear, making it with ten minutes to spare. The train back to Paignton wasn't quite as full as coming. All credit to the P&DSR who organised everything very well and made sure eveyone wore masks. They are running a regular daily service of about five trains each way right through to the end of October.


18/9/2020 Paignton to London Paddington. London Fenchurch Street 


Got the train back to London from Paignton, as it meant no changing,  although it made tweleve stops on the way - Torquay, Torre, Newton Abbot, Teignmouth, Dawlish, Exeter St Davids, Taunton, Castle Cary, Westbury, Pewsey, Newbury and Reading - which meant a journey of well over 3 hours! There were about fifty passengers waiting to get on at Paignton which looked promising, but most of these got off at either Newton Abbot or Exeter St Davids, with just one or two getting on at most of the other stations. So again well under capacity, but no hold ups though.



26/9/2020 Leigh-on-Sea to London Fenchurch Street. London Kings Cross to York and return. London Liverpool Street to Leigh-on-Sea.

Went up to York for the day, mainly to visit the National Railway Museum with a friend. Unlike Great Western, LNER insists that everyone travelling on their trains has a seat reservation, so these were automatically booked when I boooked the tickets on line. We got a table seat both ways, though it was concerning that a group of three, (one of whom kept coughing) were sitting in the table seats just across the aisle from us. Considering that the carriage was probably less than an eighth full, I felt that it was not the best way of allocating seats by LNER, especially if they are trying to enforce social distancing. They should take a leaf out of the Kent & East Sussex Railway and do alterntive reserved seats either side of the aisle! Luckily the three of them got off at Peterborough! The train like the one from Paignton - see previous entry - seemed to stop at a lot of stations on the East Coast Mainline - well six in total, which meant a journey of almost two and half hours, when most trains can do the journey in less than two hours.
York was very busy when we left the station and after crossing the bridge into the town, we decided to give the town centre a miss and find a quiet cafe to have a cup of tea and a cake in, which we did on Bootham, leading west out of the city. The road outside the cafe seemed like a permanent traffic jam, so we were glad we'd come by train. We then made our way to the railway museum, getting in by timed ticket which we'd bought online beforehand. Although quite a few parts were closed due to Covid, we did get to see quite a lot of locomotives and carriages and have another cup of tea, before making our way back to York station. There seemed to be quite a few people waiting for our train on the platform, but like a lot of mainline routes, many were using it for one or two stops, in this case - Doncaster. Plus, as it had come from Newcastle, which at the time of writing was under local lockdown, it wasn't that full, as was to be expected. We arrived back at Kings Cross on time I'm glad to say and managed to get a train back from Liverpool Street saving us having to go round the Circle Line to Tower Hill.
I suspect that this might be the last long distance train journey I'll be making for some time...... 



October 2020

The Royal Iris Ferry rusting away by the side of the River Thames near Woolwich.

10/10/20 Leigh-on-Sea to West Ham and return. Charlton to Lewisham.


My one and only trip by rail this month, once again going into London but only as far as the East End. It was partly to do with family history research and partly to visit the shipping vessel, "The Royal Iris", pictured here. I first got a Docklands Light Railway train to Woolwich Arsenal where I took plenty of pictures of the old arsenal area for family history research as my great grandfather was both born here and stationed here as a young soldier.  
I then caught a bus past the Woolwich Ferry area about a mile west of Woolwich and walked down to the Thames where I made a visit to the old Mersey Ferry, "The Royal Iris" which is moored by the side of the Thames, neglected and rusting. I heard about it from a friend a few months ago and decided to take a look myself as I used to travel on it when I was younger between Birkenhead Woodside and Liverpool Pier Head. Sadly the present owner seems to have neglected it somewhat and from what I understand, it has been there since the early 2000's. I just wish someone would do something about it and restore her to her former glory and bring her back to Liverpool where she belongs.
Finally, I went into the Docklands area round Canary Wharf to take some pictures of the bridges there for a future book.




November 2020

The end of the line at Shoeburyness station

3/11/2020 Leigh-on-Sea to Shoeburyness and return

Again my only train journey this month, partly because of Lockdown coming  back in two days later, and partly because I am due to go into hospital for an operation which will put me out of action until Christmas at least. It's only a short train journey of just over quarter of an hour, but stops at seven stations in all. Then at Shoeburyness, apart from lots of sidings for the Electrostars, it's the end of the line from London Fenchurch Street, although there is a line which skirts round the station and goes to the Bay of Pigs or Foulness Island where there is a military installation, as well as sidings for mothballed trains.