Transatlantic Tribulations & Tea Train Trips

It’s fair to say that the last month has been fairly eventful, with trips both to the USA and around the UK. However, the best laid plans always seem to go astray!

Magic & Malady in Florida

Just over a week after my trip to Exeter, Andrea and I were boarding a plane for Orlando, Florida.
Our main reason for going was the biennial NOAH conference and were really looking forward to catching up with some of our friends from the USA and Canada.
The conference hotel also happened to be located right next door to Disney World, so we decided to make a longer trip of it and visit all 4 Disney theme parks, plus the Typhoon Lagoon water park.

Train related interest on this trip was rather limited. There is a a 3ft gauge railroad around the Magic Kingdom Park, operated by oil fired Baldwin steam locos, however, it is currently closed to allow a new ride to be constructed over the top of it.
Instead we had to make do with the monorails that link Magic Kingdom, Epcot, the Transportation & Ticket Centre and several Disney resorts, as well as numerous roller coasters.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom also has a short railroad operated with a steam-outline diesel locos, built by Severn Lamb. Allegedly, they are supposed to be based on Lancashire & Yorkshire Class 5 2-4-2Ts (as modelled by Bachmann).

Unfortunately, half way though the holiday, tragedy struck and we both came down with Covid. We ended up spending 5 days isolating in our hotel room, and having to move our return flight by a few days to ensure we would not be infecting other passengers on the plane. (British Airways, in their usual customer-friendly way, insisted on relieving us of a large sum of money for the privilege!)

Sadly, this meant we missed half the conference and didn’t get to spend as much time as planned with our friends.
However, overall, it was still a good holiday and we’ll definitely be heading back to Florida again, though probably not in the middle of July next time!

Happy Hundredth

On Saturday 30th July, I had the pleasure of visiting my Grandad Harold on his 100th Birthday.

Grandad was one of the key inspirations behind me becoming a rail enthusiast.
As a child, he regularly took me along with him to Didcot Railway Centre, where he was an active volunteer taking school groups around the site.
He also took me on many other train trips across the UK, both on the national network and heritage railways.
He had a knack for sweet-talking us into engine sheds and workshops not normally open to the public, and even got us a few cab rides!
As a life-long Great Western fan, his cake was very appropriately decorated!

The Tea Capitals Tour

As I have mentioned in the past on these pages, last Summer I won a competition for a year’s free unlimited rail travel across the UK rail network, my so-called ‘Golden Ticket’.
However, all good things must come to an end, and the ticket expired on Sunday 7th August.

Wanting to get one ‘last hurrah’ out of the ticket, I came up with a slightly mad trip idea:
The premise was simple; starting from Banbury, try and get to each of the GB capital cities (Cardiff, Edinburgh and London), purchase a cup of tea in each and then return back to Banbury in time for bed. This I nicknamed the ‘Tea Capitals Tour’

Planning showed that it should be just about possible, with a little bit of contingency, but only if the rail network was mostly running smoothly.
The date was set for Tuesday 2nd August and an alarm was duly set for 5:30am!

Attempt 1

Attempt 1 started well. Although it took 3 trains to get to Cardiff (changing at Didcot and Swindon), I arrived dead on time at 0839, with plenty of time to grab a cup of tea on the concourse, before jumping on the 0850 to Manchester via the Welsh Marches.

Approaching Crewe, I was faced with a dilemma. I could either stay on the train through to Manchester and try to catch the (somewhat unreliable) Transpennine Express service to Edinburgh, or I could alight at Crewe for an Avanti service to Preston, picking up the same TPE service there (if it was running), or with a backup Avanti service to Edinburgh an hour later if not.
I opted for the change at Crewe (and a 30min leg stretch), which turned out to be the wrong decision!

A few minutes after leaving Crewe on the train towards Preston, we ground to a halt. The announcement came over the tannoy ‘Trespassers on the line near Winsford, no trains running through’.
A later announcement told us that the trespasser was on a viaduct and the BTP and Network Rail had been summoned to move them, but they wouldn’t be on site for at least an hour.
Eventually, after an hour (and after all hope in reaching Preston in time for the TPE had long vanished) the decision was made to run the train back to Crewe, finally arriving about 1h30min after we left!

The only hope for reaching Edinburgh in time for the last train that would get me home was now my backup plan; the direct Avanti servicae.
However, this was already shown as heavily delayed and would have to be diverted via Manchester to avoid the trespasser.

Weighing up my options, I decided that it wasn’t worth risking being stranded in Edinburgh or London overnight and made the difficult decision to abandon my trip and head home via a local train to Stafford, then CrossCountry back to Banbury.
This turned out to be the right choice, as the Edinburgh service arrived at Carlisle 106 minutes late and was terminated there!

The day’s drama didn’t end there, as upon arriving back home, I discovered that some cows had escaped into our lane and had to work with Andrea and the neighbours to corral them and prevent them escaping onto the main road until the farmer could arrive and persuade them back into their field!

Attempt 2

After the disappointment of Attempt 1, I had one more ‘window’ to try again, on Thursday 4th August.
Although I really didn’t fancy another early start, I decided that it was worth another shot.

To give a bit of variety, I altered my plan to do the route in the opposite direction (Banbury-London-Edinburgh-Cardiff-Banbury).
However, this was not to be! Checking my phone after getting out of bed, I discovered that Kings Cross was essentially closed due to overhead wire damage, so it was back to the same plan as attempt 1, hoping that the issue would be resolved later in the day.

The first part of the trip didn’t go quite as smoothly as Tuesday:
Everything was going well until just outside Newport, when my train was cautioned due to an emergency speed restriction that hadn’t been there two days previously.
I arrived at Cardiff 6 minutes late, just as the Manchester train was rolling in on the opposite platform… barely enough time to make the connection but no time to get a cup of tea!

Thankfully I was able to purchase one from the onboard trolley shortly afterwards, so I’m not considering this too big a let-down.
As it turns out, if I’d got the tea and waited for the following connection, I’d have been stranded in Cardiff as that train was cancelled.

This time I opted not to alight at Crewe and instead headed all the way through to Manchester Piccadilly. Thankfully the Transpennine Express service to Edinburgh was running and I even had time to grab a sandwich whilst waiting for it!

The Transpennine service departed Manchester a few minutes late and continued to lose time all the way to Edinburgh, eventually arriving 17 minutes late.
Thankfully this was one of the longer connections on my plan and I still had plenty of time to buy a tea and snack before catching the LNER train to London along the East Coast Main Line.

From there the journey ran very smoothly, with the LNER train arriving at Kings Cross a few minutes early. Plenty of time to grab a tea and Cornish Pasty and take the Tube to Marylebone for my train home to Banbury.

I finally walked back in the front door just before midnight to be greeted by a an excited dog and a lovely home-made cup of tea from Andrea (far better than anything available on a railway station)!

Although it took two attempts, and I didn’t quite meet all my objectives on the second attempt, it was still a fun way to say goodbye to the Golden Ticket, as well as seeing a large swathe of the country and travelling on a few routes that I wouldn’t normally use.

For the real geeks, here is the final itinerary for the successful attempt. Total time was 17 hours and 5 minutes and the total distance covered works out just short of 982 miles!

FromToExpected DepActual DepExpected ArrActual ArrOperatorUnit
BanburyDidcot Parkway0606060606560654GWR165112
Didcot ParkwaySwindon0707070707240727GWR800031
SwindonCardiff Central0741074108390845GWR802004+802014
Cardiff CentralManchester Piccadilly0850085012131208TfW175004
Manchester PiccadillyEdinburgh Waverley1226123015371554TPE802214
Edinburgh WaverleyLondon Kings Cross1630163020552050LNER801129
Kings Cross St PancrasBaker StreetLondon UndergroundS8 Stock
London MaryleboneBanbury2208220823112311Chiltern Railways168219

If you want to see how the journey played out in real time, check out the #TeaCapitalsTour hashtag on Twitter.

Rail Golden Ticket – The Final Results

I have also produced a map showing all of the rail routes I have covered in the last year using the ‘Golden Ticket’ free travel (so railtours and heritage railways not included). Not bad going I’d say!

I did consider calculating the total mileage and how much money I had saved, but with the complexity of the GB rail fares system, it would be impossible!

Model News

Having been away for most of July, there haven’t been any recent model arrivals.
However, with the dexterity continuing to improve in my right hand, I’ve been able to start thinking about modelling again.
I have now cleared the test track off and test run some of the recent arrivals, including my ‘North Wales Coast in the 90s’ rake (Bachmann Regional Railways class 37 with matching Mk1 and Mk2 coaches).

Meanwhile, on the G Scale track, another new arrival; a Bachmann ‘Percy’ purchased at an absolute bargain price from The Model Centre.
Although mainly just bought for a bit of fun, it’ll also be a suitable model for younger kids to run on the garden railway… once it’s built of course.

Although the Golden Ticket has expired, we still have several railway trips lined up. As usual, stay tuned to this website and Twitter to see how we get on.