Saturday, 7 May 2016


A last couple of bits from my Barcelona holiday.

The principal railway station in Barcelona is Sants.  It's a rectangular concrete block, built in the 1970s, and is utterly unmemorable.  There's also Barcelona Sagrera station, under construction on the High Speed Line, which will be a kind of Catalan version of London's Stratford: a big modern building to stop people from going into town.

But the best railway station in Barcelona is Estació de França, so of course I had to go and have a look.

It's an ornate palace of a station, sited close to the Barceloneta district and away from the city centre.  It doesn't even have its own metro station. That remoteness is why Sants has taken over as the important station, but it also means that França hasn't been ruined.

The main hall is cool and beautiful.  Elegant glass and plasterwork and plenty of wood and marble.  Exactly my kind of station.

The station's restaurant is still open at one end, though it's not the fine dining experience it once was - it's far more caff than Cafe de Paris.  There's no call for it.  França's long distance services all pass through Sants first, so they're rarely full by the time they get here, leaving just a few commuter lines.  When I visited, the station was silent and echoing.

That clock didn't work though, which is always annoying.

Beyond is the train shed, two epic ironwork roofs curving into the distance.  Trains sat silent at the platforms, waiting to be called into use.  There were no passengers.

It was beautiful.  I sat on a bench and just stared at it for a while, grinning maniacally.  Just wonderful.

In the centre of the concourse was a tiny model of the actual station for you to pore over.  I wanted to tuck it under my arm and run.  In the model of the station, there was a model of the model, raising the prospect of a million tinier models going on until infinity.

There will probably come a time when this station will be closed altogether.  It'll be surplus to requirements.  It's already partly used as office space for one of the universities.  I hope not.  I hope it carries on being this beautiful relic.

Bonus: a tram!

In the UK, we're so desperate for any transport infrastructure at all, we treat trams as the holy grail.  Manchester loves them; so does Nottingham, and Birmingham's desperately hoping people will start liking them now they go somewhere useful.  Cities go scrabbling to the Government for a few quid so they can build the odd line here and there.

Barcelona has a metro.  A good, proper metro system, the kind British cities should have, but for some reason we think only London and Newcastle deserve to have.  For the Spanish, trams are the things you build out of the city centre - the transport to get people to a proper railway station.  They're alright, but Barcelona's got a proper network to play with: it doesn't need to fuss around with trams.

I'd not meant to go on the trams, but a wander along the beach had made me lose my bearings, and I ended up at a tram stop instead of a metro station (because they still have metro stations out here, because they're an incredibly civilised city).  Obviously I stood on the hinge, the best spot on the tram:

(That's the BF's foot on the right, by the way.  I'm pretty sure that's the first time he's actually appeared in a picture on this blog).

I'd love it if these new devolved City Regions meant a load of fantastic transport projects all of a sudden.  That Liverpool suddenly built a tram along Queens Drive, or Manchester put an underground line beneath Oxford Road.  It won't happen.  Liverpool's mayor getting rid of bus lanes seems to be the limit of ambitious transport ideas.  Instead I'll have to keep heading over to Europe to see how it really should be done.

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...