If only East Anglia had these sort of trains...
- Credit: PA
David Clayton gets a preview of what East Anglian trains might look like - one day...
If travel broadens the mind, mine's now broader, thanks. I was doing some work in Bristol and then Oxford so bravely broke out of the Greater Anglia rail zone to find myself, excitingly, on other trains.
Because I know Liverpool Street so well and lived through that massive reconstruction a few years ago, I'm a bit blasé about it now. So, to traverse the capital and alight at Paddington tube station, then gaze at that cathedral-like space, is still a wonder to behold. I almost genuflected as I walked past Isambard Kingdom Brunel's statue. But an even bigger wonder was the train sitting there waiting to propel me to Bristol. It was brand-spanking new. Or at least it seemed to me it was, but do bear in mind what I'd travelled to London on. It was as if GWR had just unpacked a giant, modern Hornby train set from a large cardboard box and plonked it down on the tracks.
The doors opened with a swish. I'm not clever enough to know if something mechanical makes the swish or someone somewhere has added an electronically generated audio swish just for theatrical effect, but this swish was right up there. A proper Star Trek Enterprise door-opening swish. 'Warp Factor Three, Mr Sulu,' I couldn't help thinking!
The inside of the carriage was light and bright, the seats new and firm and scrolling electronic signs reassured me this was the train to Taunton and was stopping at Bristol. Goodness, the announcement, when it came, was audible. Nothing shuddered as we pulled away from the platform. I was barely aware we'd started moving. I know it was on metal rails, but I didn't feel them.
So, everyone, I've seen the future because I hear new rolling stock is coming our way. I'm know I'm over-simplifying rail economics, but I've no idea how GWR pushed in front of us to get these trains because goodness knows we've deserved them for yonks. They probably claimed their legendary rail engineering pioneer Brunel as a trump card.
I headed home courtesy of GWR then Chiltern Railways, again on lovely trains where, astonishingly, there's no need to reach out of the window to open the carriage doors.
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In time for a 'swift one' at Liverpool Street before getting the 6.10, I heard the announcement that it would terminate at Ipswich. What? I was told a bus service would get me to Norwich and given I had little alternative on a fixed ticket, I resigned myself to scrambling for a bus, in nervous sight of Portman Road, among hordes of grumpy travellers. It came clear that this was all due to a tree taking down overhead power cables near Diss. Having been out of the area I'd missed this gale-forced nugget of news. My annoyance turned to resignation, then turned to gratitude that Greater Anglia would still get me home.
Having never experienced a 'replacement bus service,' I didn't know if we'd be fighting for seats. Were there enough spare buses in the area to shuttle between Ipswich and Norwich? Presumably the fleet of coaches would follow the train route and faff around Stowmarket and Diss. Oh dear!
I got off at Ipswich, took the wrong overhead walkway and found myself on the back of a shuffling queue. Outside, the promised line of coaches was there, and I made my way to one. 'This one's for Stowmarket, the other is for Diss – Norwich passengers over there.' I looked for another luxury fleet of coaches to our Fine City. After all, I was 'Inter-City.' 'The mini bus is for Norwich,' shouted another hi-vis jacketed person. Mini bus! Thinking it was all there was left and expecting to be crammed in it, only five of us made the trip back to our Fine City. Why did I feel mildly embarrassed?