Parts of this originally formed an extensive review about Northern Rail (www.northernrail.co.uk) which I wrote for Ciao, but what follows is essentially my "Story" about travel using Northern Rail in Cumbria!
I remember my first time on a Northern rail train. Shattered having come from a day in London, I got on the train at Carlisle and drifted in and out of sleep. I awoke to the train stopping. In a panic I rushed to the door only to be told:
"It's Flimby. You really don't want to be getting off at Flimby!"
Thankfully this stopped me from getting off before the next stop, Workington.
It was the railway map which made me pick Workington as a place to live. Located between Sellafield (where hubby works) and Carlisle (where I work) it was within reasonable commuting distance of both, and since I don't really drive, this was important to me!
---A normal day---
It's 6am and I awake to the sound of a moose call. Hubby groans - he doesn't like the moose call. I don't know why, to me the sound is beautiful, it sounds of moose, calling. Initially I put my alarm on Snooze and then wake up 9 minutes later, and repeat. At 6:18am I seriously start to think about whether I am going to be able to make the early train or not and if I can afford another 9 minutes sleep. If it's a day when I am washing my hair I’ll probably sleep for another 9 minutes anyway. If I'm going for the earliest train I’ll usually leave the house just after 6:45am with wet hair (on a hair wash day) and walk (run) quickly to the station. If I’ve decided to go for the ‘normal’ train, I usually get distracted and end up leaving the house just after 7:30am - again with wet hair. Thankfully my hair hasn't ever managed to freeze to my head!
If I'm having a bad day I'll get the 8:20am train. If I'm running late it's only me who misses out as it'll take me longer before I can have a flexi-day. However, this also has the problem that if the train is late, then it's my flexi-time which I lose. I hate to stand and wait and watch my watch as my flexi-time slips away......
On arrival at Workington station I pass Dilbert (not his real name, but if you're a regular at the station you'll know who I mean) who winks at me. I don’t buy tickets off Dilbert as it’s a slow process, so I either buy them on the train (which is perfectly acceptable despite signs saying you can’t) or the day before it runs out in Carlisle (a weekly or a monthly).
I stand on the platform at Workington station and wait for the train, or if I'm running late and the train is on time get straight on. Sometimes I exchange a word with a fellow commuter, but it is early in the morning. I was told the other week that Workington station is a lovely station. I'm not sure which Workington they're talking about as lovely isn't the word I'd use. Aside from Dilbert (or whoever is working that day), a waiting room (which is rarely open - you have to request it from Dilbert) and some flower pots and a few seagulls and pigeons, there isn't really anything there. I mean, it's not like there's toilets, a shop or other such luxuries! But I suppose if we're comparing it to others then I suppose at least there is a person there, even if it is Dilbert who doesn't really have a clue what's going on. Staff seem happy to let you know if the train is going to be arriving in 2 minutes, but 5 minutes late or more and staff are nowhere to be seen - it's the same on the trains.
Ah, here is comes. It used to make me laugh. It made my sister-in-law laugh when she saw it. The one-carriage train. Those of you in the south probably won't have seen anything like it - a one-carriage train (sometimes it is two carriages, but generally not if it’s busy!)
There's lots of things to see on my journey (mainly sheep), although in winter there's nothing there as it's dark. I do sometimes wonder if the sheep actually cease to exist when I can't see them - perhaps they fly south for the winter? Talking of sheep, I once watched a sheep decompose outside Aspatria, it went on for weeks until finally it was removed. I really felt sorry for the other poor sheep in the field who had to watch this happen, it was traumatic enough for me. There's also the sea to see (although the view is best between Whitehaven and Workington) and some beautiful sun rises and sunsets at the right time of year, more sheep, some cows, and well, more sheep really.
Something which I didn't know about before I came to Cumbria was the concept of request stops although it generally stops at all stations on the busy trains. If you're on the platform you need to stick your hand out like hailing a bus - all very strange. If you are ever traveling on this line and need to get off at Flimby there is a BIG gap between the train and the platform - you will need to jump.
50 minutes later (unless there are problems) I arrive in Carlisle at platform 2. I finish reading my book and make my merry way over the bridge, through Carlisle station and off to work.
There's not a lot to say about Carlisle station really – yes there's toilets, a (very small) WHSmiths, a couple of coffee places and only recently a cash machine. There is some excitement at Carlisle station....if you look above there is a wire mesh under the roof which collects dead pigeons. If you've ever got some time to kill at Carlisle station then have a look up, and try and count the dead birds. Or, you could stand and stare at the trainspotters and get angry - after all they are choosing to stand around at Carlisle station...whereas I am doing it because my train is late.
Actually there was a bit of excitement the other year as scenes from the Bollywood movie "Mr Bhatti on Chutti" (holiday) were filmed at Carlisle station!
---Did I tell you about the time...?---
Of course there was the time that our train was slightly late (nothing new there then) and as a result it was a freight train which hit and killed 6 cows who were stood in the middle of the railway just outside Wigton. If it had been our little one carriage train we might have derailed (in fact a train very recently did derail – luckily no one was hurt). On the way home that night we saw the pile of dead cows, and I for one was most disappointed not to be compensated with a nice juicy steak! Trains are often delayed due to sheep on the line, or even "a suspected sheep" on the line!
Then there was the time the train was just cancelled due to flooding and they claimed that there would be no replacement bus as roads were impassable. Despite this we hedged our bets and walked to Carlisle bus station. That day I'd actually left my purse at home (just had my train ticket in my bag) so literally had no money or way of getting money. Thankfully a fellow commuter kindly paid my bus fare (there are some genuinely nice people out there), otherwise I don’t know what I’d have done! Incidentally the bus ran absolutely fine.
The events all roll into one after a while...the conductors also roll into one although they have their quirks. There's the skinny one who goes on and on apologises if the train is running 5 minutes late (which in my opinion constitutes normal service), but then says nothing on the occasions when it's 30 minutes late. There's the one who announces that we have reached Carlisle - our final destination (always makes me think of the films)!
I’ve complained to Northern Rail on a number of occasions. I write quite a good complaint letter, mind you they never read them and don’t seem to grasp the fact that I’m complaining about the lack of communication rather than the delays! There are many other things I could say about the Northern Rail Experience, from rain coming through the windows, disgusting toilets, dodgy heating system to the irritating passengers such as those who barge onto the train before the others have got off, and the screaming children. But I hope I’ve given you a flavour of my journey from Workington to Carlisle!