Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Holiday Snaps

I went to Barcelona for a few days.  Bit of sun, bit of glorious Spanish food and drink, lovely.  And a lot of Metro riding as well, of course.

Like most large Spanish cities, Barcelona is Metro obsessed.  It's a city of 1.6 million people (Merseyside runs to 1.3 million) yet there are eleven Metro lines.  Plus regular rail lines.  Plus trams.  Plus funiculars and cable cars.  Basically, it's got the kind of public transport network that makes me cry with joy and wish we had in the UK.  And it's still growing: they opened a new section of line only last month, plus there are further extensions and routes under construction and on the drawing board.  It adds to the breezy, laid back air of the city, pulling people underground and dropping them exactly where they want to be, rather than filling the streets with tense, stressed out commuters.  Traffic is someone else's problem.

Of course, I was with the BF, so my Metro riding was limited.  He's tolerant of my train-related antics but if there's a glowing sun and a glorious sky and an outdoor cafe, he can't quite get why I'd want to disappear beneath ground for hours on end.  The mad fool.  So here's a list of stations I visited, rather than an exhaustive gazetteer.

Aeroport T2 L9 Sud

And here is that brand new line, in gleaming, glorious, shiny colour.  The L9 will eventually cross Barcelona from east to west, but at the moment it's just two flailing ends, the L9 Sud and the L9 Nord, waiting for the tunnel to be built inbetween.

It's a stark, metallic, space station future, glass and steel and marble floors.  At the moment it's also surprisingly underused.  There's still a direct rail line from the main station in the city to the airport, and that seems to be attracting the traffic, but I'm a Metro-head.  How could I resist this?

Platform edge doors below ground and air-conditioned, calm, silence.  Lovely.  

The trains are comfortable, even if the Europeans remain unmoved by the charms of moquette.  Because it's the airport line, the announcements are in Spanish and English, and for some reason, they've got Lord Haw-Haw to do the English bits.  He's hilariously pompous.  Maybe this is revenge for Manuel from Fawlty Towers.

You can hear a little boy, only a toddler, making excited noises in that sound clip. He took great delight in repeating "train to" after the English announcer and giggling every time.

Collblanc L5 L9 Sud

Collblanc is the nearest station to Camp Nou, the home to FC Barcelona, or at least it is for the time being until they build a dedicated station on the L9.  Here is the stadium, if you're interested in that kind of thing:

I didn't go in.  There was a fee, and it was hammering it down with rain, and if even the BF, who likes football, couldn't get up the enthusiasm for a tour, I wasn't going to break my neck.  Instead we had a coffee in the cafe and used the toilet then got back on the Metro.  Still worked for me.

Collblanc opened in 1969 and for forty odd years was just another stop on the L5: one that had to put up with a fair amount of football traffic, yes, but still just a standard station.  The arrival of L9 has seen a whacking great interchange added onto the side.

There are six flights of escalators from the L5 level down to the L9.  It starts to get a bit Mouse Trap after a while.  Down a flight, turn round, down another one, turn round.  And because no-one's using the L9 yet, it's all played out in eerie silence.

I mean, it's lovely, but it gets a bit relentless.

Catalunya L1 L3 L6 L7

Sited underneath Barcelona's principal gathering place, the Placa de Catalunya, and at the top of La Ramblas, Catalunya's unsurprisingly an important and historic station.  Its entrance even features a chandelier:

Above ground, though, there's not much to see.  Most of Barcelona's metro stations are basically holes in the ground.  Access points, rather than stations.  Steps and escalators but not much presence.

Sagrada Familia L2 L5

Obviously there's a station right by Barcelona's most famous tourist attraction and, as it turned out, right by my hotel.  The station was originally opened in 1970 for just L5, but, in a clever piece of forward planning, they built the space for the L2 line at the same time.  Unfortunately, by the time they actually got round to connecting up the station to L2, the plans had changed and the platforms were in the wrong place.  The city had to build a whole new set for the line.  Good effort though.

The ticket hall at Sagrada Familia contains a bakery, selling all sorts of tasty warm bread goods.  This seems to happen in metro stations all over Europe, and it's something the British really should adopt.  Not a drab little Pumpkin or another Upper Crust, but a tiny spot filling the station with the smell of cakes.

Mind you if the British did adopt this idea, they'd probably end up being a Greggs and all you'd smell was Steak Bakes.

Drassanes L3

At the bottom end of La Ramblas, Drassanes is interesting for its smooth, THX-1138-style design.

The floor curves into the walls, which curve into the ceiling; it makes you feel like you should be running along the corridor, holding hands with Jenny Agutter and fleeing the Sandmen.  It's retrofuturesexy.

The signage up in the street is not so good.  There seems to be some kind of burger war going on in Barcelona, because every other street featured an ad for McDonald's or Burger King.  They were inescapable.

Barceloneta L4

I went to Barceloneta station but all the pictures turned out to be blurry so here's a picture of the tiled entrance and my stupid face.

Universitat L1 L2

There's so much space on Barcelona's metro.  Stations are built with plenty of room to get about.  Different directions of traffic are separated wherever possible.  Huge concourses are provided so you're not overcrowded.  There's space for bookstalls and bakeries and even, at Universitat, Iberian ham stalls.

Incidentally, good luck visiting the city if you don't eat ham.  It's in practically everything.  It's hard to be kosher in Barcelona.

During rush hour, all this room must be great.  At night, when I was visiting, it became a little eerie.  Cold.

Still beautiful though.  

Espanya L1 L3 L8

Sited under Barcelona's other big public space, the Placa d'Espanya, Espanya station is a sprawling complex.  It's the most London Underground-like of all the stations I visited, opening in 1926 for the International Exhibition and looking a bit rough round the edges.  Main line trains terminate here too, so you're sent scurrying up and down steps, round corners and along corridors to find exits and platforms.

Espanya was the location for one of the biggest disappointments of the whole trip.  We'd wandered down to the platform, ready for a train back to our hotel, when I suddenly noticed something glorious on the opposite side.

A bar!  A fully working bar in a metro station!  It's like the transport Gods have been listening to my prayers.  Unfortunately a train arrived at that point and whisked us away before I could get properly hammered underground.  

You know I said British stations should have a quaint bakery in them?  Ignore that.  Put a bar in them all.  I'd use Merseyrail a lot more if there was a pub at Birkenhead Park.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Democracy In Action

The mob has spoken!

Apparently I'm doing the whole Northern map as it stands, with those extra TransPennine only stations as well.  Clearly you people are sadists.  You'd have me going until my fingers bled, wouldn't you?

The question is - when?  It turns out I've got loads on right now.  When I saw which way the wind was blowing in the poll, I booked a trip to Yarm, only for life to get in the way: the builders finalised a date for our new bathroom, and so I need to be at home.  I've had to write the tickets off.  I've got some other stuff planned as well, different trips: it's all a bit hectic.

(Incidentally this is the colour scheme for the new en-suite:


The point is: thank you for your votes, your votes are much appreciated and your continuing loyalty is touching.  But the blog updates might be a little infrequent for a while.  Bear with.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Purple Haze

A new railway franchise means a new map.  The map for Northern - just Northern, not Northern Rail or Arriva Rail North - has appeared on the website, so obviously it's time for me to nitpick.

Actually, it's not a new map at all.  Arriva have taken the old Northern Rail map and converted it to their corporate colours, making it even more mauve in the process (clearly the Purple Gang were protected under TUPE legislation).  The lines are all in the same place, even the ones that were a bit problematic (ahem, Ellesmere Port).

The two biggest changes are the removal of any colour from the map; the different Passenger Transport Executives have gone.  It means that now you can't see where Greater Manchester ends and West Yorkshire begins - not a problem for Northern, as it's not like their trains stop at the border or anything, but a problem for anyone using one of the regional tickets.  A Saveaway is valid to any of the stations in Merseyside, but there's no indication of where that boundary is.  You could wander from Garswood to Bryn and not realise your ticket was now invalid.

Worse, they've got rid of the sea.  Northern's franchise is literally coast to coast, spanning the entire North of England, and now there's not a hint of water.  Ports and seaside towns have lost their front.  It's an interesting gamble.  Will people mind that, say, Grimsby is now anywhere, floating in a white void, and not on the North Sea?  I'm betting they will, and the water will return in a future update.  (We've also lost the grid lines, but that may be restored on the ones in the station where you need a key).

What else?  Well, they've changed how infrequent services are shown, from an outline to a dashed line.  It makes the infrequent services look more prominent - look at the Derby spur from a distance on the two maps:

They've removed the heritage stations at Pickering and Dalegarth.  As someone who recently schlepped all the way up to the Lake District for two days of muddy walking just because Dalegarth was on the map, I'm not best pleased.

This loss has been made up for by the addition of - yes! - new stations.  The first lot are on the Windermere branch, now handed over to Northern from Transpennine Express.  The old map didn't have to show all the stations on the line, but the new one does, so that's a purple route where it once was grey and Burneside and Staveley wedged in the gap.

Try not to let the fact that the two new stations are in the wrong font bother you too much.

Northern have also got ahead of themselves by adding stations that are under construction but haven't been opened yet - so here's Kirkstall Forge:

Low Moor:

And Ilkeston:

That last one's the biggest surprise, given that the discovery of rare newts at the site meant that it had been delayed repeatedly.  When I passed through the site last year there was no sign of any work underway.  Northern are clearly crossing their fingers and hoping here.

Even more surprisingly, we've got a load of stations that just weren't on the old map.

Yarm, Northallerton, Thirsk and Malton were all served by Transpennine Express and, while their lines were added to the map so that you didn't think the best way to get from York to Newcastle was via Leeds, they didn't bother sticking the stations in.  So now I have a quandry.  In total, the new map has added seven stations (Staveley, Burneside, Kirkstall Forge, Ilkeston, Low Moor, Yarm, Northallerton, Thirsk, and Malton, while removing Dalegarth and Pickering).  I've been to Stavely and Burneside.  The middle three aren't open yet.  The last four aren't served by Northern trains.  The question is: should I go to them?

As it stands, right now, I'm four stations away from finishing the old Northern map.  I was hanging around because there was a rumour Kirkstall Forge was going to open at Easter, so I thought I'd be able to get it.  But this takes the total back up to eleven, including one station (Ilkeston) which hasn't even been built yet and might not be open for months.  It's slipped out of my grasp, just a little.  I thought I'd be done by now, but I'm not, and now I'm even less done.  Part of me's glad it's not finished - this blog is fun.  Part of me wants it to be over with so I can do other things.

I'm in two minds.  So I need help.  Your help.

Should I visit the newly added stations?

Yes - it's on the map, and it wouldn't be complete otherwise.
No - it's a different rail company, a different map, and you deserve a break.
Do Quizzes

Let's see which way the wind blows...

Thursday, 31 March 2016


End of the line.  Closing bell.  Last call.  It's the end of Northern Rail.  Tonight, the franchise to run trains across the north of England passes to a new company.  They started the process a few weeks ago, stripping logos off the trains, covering up the name on station signs with a strip of duct tape.  The long goodbye.

It's a sad day.  Northern has become so much of my life over the last few years.  They've gone from those odd purple trains on the Manchester lines, the ones I'd see here and there but never actually use,  to familiar, comforting, beloved.  I'll see the train roll up and a smile will split my otherwise miserable face.  The mauve highlights all over some station in the middle of Yorkshire.  The face of another station supervisor.  The known of the logo, the benches, the colours.  A haven that became sort of mine in the middle of a rainstorm in Northumbria.

Northern had a terrible job when they took over.  The franchise was just to tread water; they weren't to expand, they weren't to improve, just exist and make sure the trains didn't, you know, fall off a viaduct.  They were given a bunch of Pacers and Sprinters and told, crack on, and don't make too much fuss.

Yet passenger numbers kept going up.  Services suffered more strain.  Northern didn't crumble, or fall, or hand the franchise back to the government with a "sorry, can't cope" (unlike some train operators).  They plugged on.  They made it work.

I've said it many times, but Northern Rail is a weird franchise.  It's a load of disparate routes that have been lumped together.  How can you compare a tiny halt on the edge of Cumbria with a busy commuter station on Merseyside?  How is a long line across the top of England, like Carlisle-Newcastle, the same as the quick back and forth of Leeds' city routes?  It's 600-odd places arbitrarily connected by thin purple strips, but Northern brought them together.

Not much will change, straight away.  The same staff in the same uniforms - even Alex Hynes, the sweet little managing director, will transfer to the new franchise.  Gradually, the changes will seep in, new signs, new fonts, new website; I'm not sure when a new map will turn up.  It won't be the same, though.  I'm not good with change.  I'm not good with goodbyes.  But it's still an end.

See you, Northern Rail.  I'll miss you.