Sunday 2 July 2023



You never know what you're going to get at a Parkway station.  Sometimes they're an isolated car park just off a bypass.  Sometimes they're a gleaming piece of steel and glass incongruously erupting out of a housing estate.  And sometimes, as with Coleshill Parkway, they're a couple of platforms wedged in the middle of an industrial estate.

There was a station here for more than a hundred years until, yes, It's That Man Again, Dr Beeching closed it in 1968.  It took another forty years for them to build and open its replacement.  I'd be interested to know how much money was actually saved by closing all these stations in the Sixties and then spending ten million building another one in exactly the same spot a few years later.  I wonder if it would've been cheaper to, you know, simply keep the station going all those years.  Price of everything, value of nothing, etc.

Coleshill Parkway is standard millennial Network Rail, terracotta tiles and lift towers that look like they should be at the entrance to a Tesco somewhere in the Home Counties.  It's not ambitious or interesting and it chucks you out into a little bus gyratory with the ticket office tucked away so comprehensively I struggled to notice it.

Outside the station was a mass of industrial boxes and redbrick office blocks.  There was the sound of grinding and vehicles and... the Batman theme?  It turned out one of the trucks, instead of playing beep beep beep when it reversed, played Batman - the dinner dinner dinner dinner version from the Sixties.  It even had the little Batman! bits picked out.  As we get more of this kind of thing - we've got an electric car now, and it beeps when it reverses because it's otherwise entirely silent - I hope that different tunes will be optional extras.  I want to reverse my car to the sound of the Fast Food Rockers.

I used the cracked pavements to get to the edge of the estate.  Apparently there's a town of Coleshill too, but it was entirely invisible to me; I turned out onto a main road, and a building site.  

HS2 has been a background presence throughout my West Midlands odyssey.  Curzon Street's slow development is always fascinating to see as you pass out of the city, while every now and then you'll get a glimpse of mysterious lumps of concrete or fields stripped back to mud as worksites.  At Coleshill I got I closer look than I ever had before.  This is the spot where the branch into Birmingham city centre hits the main route, and so they're constructing a pair of enormous viaducts to carry it over the M42.  One day, it'll look like this:

Right now, it looks like this:

Such is the reality of major construction projects.  I walked past compound after compound with numbered gates and orange suited builders.  It was effectively a village, plonked in the space between Coleshill and Water Orton.  Tarmac had been laid for car parks, offices and recreation spaces put down.  The only thing missing was a place to stay, and a sign stuck to a lamp post solved that: HS2 Accommodation - rooms available in B37, with a mobile number.  

I passed under the motorway and reached the edge of Water Orton.  It must've been strange for this little village to suddenly get this influx of new people.  It's not a remote Cotswolds hamlet - more a housing estate in the elbow of a junction between two motorways - but none the less, all these new arrivals must have shifted the dynamics somewhat.  I wonder if it's like the war, when all the GI's turned up and got the women pregnant in exchange for nylons, only a 21st century version that isn't quite so dodgy.  The village has been directly impacted by HS2's construction in other ways.  The school was right on the route, so they've received a brand new one to replace it, and the rugby team was also forced to relocate to a new clubhouse.  They've also been promised a "community orchard" when all this is done under the viaduct.  It's interesting to me that there are still people advocating for HS2 to be cancelled without realising that quite a lot of it has already been built.  I guess down in London it's sight unseen in tunnels, plus a bit of chaos round Euston, but there's always a bit of chaos round Euston.  Here in the Midlands it's out in the open and tremendously exciting.

Water Orton itself was a little slice of suburbia.  Houses with neat gardens and grass verges outside.  Trees and cars and hedges.  Towards the centre of the village, the homes got older, more turn of the century (the last century).  Water Orton wasn't really much of a place until the railways arrived.  The small hamlet to the north of the line was expanded with newer developments to the south, including a new church to replace the inadequate one.  That church, meanwhile, lost its steeple in the Eighties as it was unsafe, leaving it looking stunted and odd.  You can tell there's something wrong with the design of the church; perhaps they should have a competition to design a replacement, like they did with Notre Dame.  They could put a piece of stark modern art on there and really annoy everyone.

The centre of the village was a strip of pleasing municipal shops with flats above.  Water Orton was blessed with takeaways, counting a chippy, a Chinese and a pizza delivery shop among its dozen or so businesses; I expect the HS2 workers have really helped their profits, although the proprietor of the chippy seemed to be anxiously looking out for customers as I passed.  Perhaps he'd put on a bumper batch of cod and the men in hard hats were running late.  

I crossed the railway and found the older part of the village, now a conservation area, and much more cottagey than the rest.  I assume the people over here hate the upstarts in their semis and flats, and consider themselves the true Water Ortons (Water Ortonians?).  The graveyard for the original chapel remains, its headstones still in place, meaning I couldn't do my Craig T Nelson at the end of Poltergeist impression ("You son of a bitch, you moved the bodies and you only left the headstones!").  It was also locked up so I couldn't have a mooch around looking for amusing names.

Instead I wandered down to the river Tame, where a five hundred year old bridge carries what traffic there is in single file over the water.  

I dashed onto one of the passing places and took in the view.  It wasn't exactly Niagara, but pleasing none the less.  Then I walked back into town.  

I had, I felt, "done" Water Orton.  Now all I had to do was get the train out of there, but the station only gets a train to Birmingham every two hours in the day.  This is because it exists at the point where the Leicester and Derby services diverge.  All the trains on the Derby line use one side of the island platform, and all the trains on the Leicester line - in both directions - use the other platform.  This means there's a bottleneck, with no simple way to resolve it.  You could build another platform, but that's a lot of expense for a station that only gets about sixty thousand passengers a year (and those are the pre-pandemic numbers); of course, it might get a lot more passengers if there was a more frequent service.  It's all a bit chicken and egg.

The point was, I had time to kill before my train, and you know what that means.  Pub!

Except it didn't.  It turned out that, despite what it promised online, the pub was closed.  I had a wander around in the hope that it was maybe just the front doors that were locked up but no.  It was dark.  Dejected, I wandered back into the centre.  The takeaways were just that - takeaway only, with nowhere to sit - so with nowhere I else to go I decided I'd have to go and sit on the platform for an hour.

The station building looks delightful, a proper little country halt.  When you go inside, you realise that in 2023 it's all a façade.  There's no ticket office at all; indeed, the space has all been closed off, meaning that the station is in effect an extremely elaborate corridor leading to some steps.  Welcome to the future of British Railways.

I was surprised by how busy the platform was; I assumed the nine or ten men in the shelter were all heading for Leicester.  When that train arrived and left and they didn't board it, however, I realised that they were in fact trainspotters.  The station's position makes it a great spot for collecting the various different engines that use the line.

Now I have nothing against trainspotters.  People in station collecting shaped houses shouldn't throw stones.  But I took against this group of spotters for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the way they had annexed the one shelter on the platform.  It was provided for passengers, not for you to make into your little clubhouse; when a woman later arrived for the Birmingham train as it drizzled with rain, she was forced to stand on the edge while they sat on the seats and drank their weak lemon drink out of their thermoses.  They seemed to think they owned the place.

Secondly, while they all chatted in the shelter, at the far end of the platform was a single man on his own.  He was a trainspotter too but for some reason they didn't want him in their gang.  When they all emerged for a train with their notepads and cameras and Dictaphones, they quite resolutely ignored him, and returned to their base without even acknowledging him.  I couldn't decide if they were being mean, or if he'd done something to offend them, but either way I didn't like it.

Thirdly, one of the men went to the bottom of the steps and had a piss up against the wall.  That's plain disgusting.

Eventually my train arrived and I was able to leave them to their little empire.  I hope HS2 builds a viewing platform to enable them to indulge their hobby on the brand new lines.  And then doesn't let any of them into it.

1 comment:

FreddyP said...

Nice blog Scott

Others will know more than me, but my understanding with Beeching was that he pruned a lot of the (on paper) unprofitable 'feeder' stations and lines to the main stations. But despite the cuts, didn't save that much money overall, because the feeders turned out to be loss leaders for the more profitable mainline- and once you were in your car or lorry, it was easier to just continue on the road to your destination.

Not that we've seen any similar failures of a public body to think about how cuts in one place don't produce savings due to unintended consequences since....