Sunday, March 22, 2009

British Public Transport is so easy, and convenient

Hmm! Well this was going to be a post on American driving habits, but instead it is going to be on the downside of relying on British public transport. (With the odd redeeming feature). After posting last night (following the delayed dinner for which I got the free wine since it took so long) I was looking forward to a gentle journey through the English countryside by train, with a single change at Carlisle, and getting into Dumfries in time for a pleasant relaxed dinner. Instead of which I had, as I told Elaine, a fellow passenger, what should be thought of as an adventure (lest we despair).

Having been brought up in the UK, and remembering the reliability of the trains under British Rail, I meandered over to the London station at Euston*, expecting that I would have to wait at most an hour, for a train North. Wrong! There were repairs to the line going on up past Lancaster, and so we would have to bus around the problem section and, as a result, I should take the 2:25 pm train and not the one just after noon, getting on the bus at Oxenholme. That was when the good luck went away.

So I grabbed a paper and waited the couple of hours and then hopped on the train. One of the nice things that the railway folks in the UK do is to allow you to upgrade to first class on the weekend for about $20, so I did (the train was full) and thus got free coffee and cookies as the train rumbled north. Until we got to Preston. This is South of Lancaster, and so I was wondering why we were staying at the station.

Then I heard the announcer with the news that a freight train had broken down between Lancaster and Preston, and there was no passage further North. We should all proceed from the train, over the bridge, and out of the station, where a bus would soon come by to pick us up and take us on our way. This is a fully loaded 11-carriage train folks! So we all got off and dutifully moved across the bridge into the cool of a British Spring afternoon (did I mention I had left my heavy coat, gloves and scarf back in the London hotel for my return). We left the train at about 4:45 pm. I passed the time outside doing a Sunday Telegraph Sudoku. No buses, I did the other Telegraph Sudoku (these ain’t easy folks so this took some time). Still no buses. (They had been waiting for us at Lancaster, and so had to drive down to Preston first). And finally they came. So did they get parked along the concourse so that they could all load at once? Er, no we queue, and load them one at a time from the front. (I got on bus four). And so we left for Lancaster.

The orderly wait for 8 buses at Preston
It was 6:10 pm when we left, and getting dark as the bus drew in to Lancaster.

7:00 pm Arrival at Lancaster

Here the train-load was split into different destinations, and fortuitously, instead of having to go up to Oxenholme, they split the group so those of us going to Carlisle could go directly there. The bus was somewhat more comfortable (I could just read my Kindle) and off we went.

7:15 pm the bus leaves Lancaster

And so North to Carlisle, where we were to change to another bus, since they were apparently repairing the line to Dumfries. So we get to Carlisle, and look for a bus to transfer to.

8:20 pm Arrival at Carlisle

However we are now back on a schedule, and the bus to Dumfries leaves at 9:12 pm. I trust you will understand if, at this point, I beat a retreat to the bar in the local hotel and had a beer! (and a sandwich – just so that I didn’t feel guilty using the loo for free, you understand). Then back out for the bus to Dumfries. . . . .bus for Dumfries . . . . bus for Dumfries. The organizer was looking harassed (they tend to make public announcements in a whisper to their closest neighbor), but eventually we gathered that the bus had arrived 3 hours earlier and gone to park in the local Car Park. . . . . . (I could have had another beer).

9:40 pm No bus, nor taxi yet at Carlisle

The company instead ordered 3 taxis, to take the 11 of us up to Dumfries. There is a long pause, Elaine reminds us that they made a movie about a trip like this, with Steve Martin. Did I mention I did not have my gloves and scarf! A while later the taxis arrived. And so I shared a taxi with 6 others (including an opera singer from Kirkcudbright) and off we set into Scotland.

9:50 pm leaving Carlisle

We arrived at Dumfries at 10:30 pm, and the restaurant was closed, etc etc
What an adventure ! Can’t wait until tomorrow!

But the rail company did provide the taxis, and the buses, and though we rarely knew what was happening until it did, they did get me here – and I probably didn’t need that dinner any way.

Even before we left London there was much complaining of the cost of the tickets in the carriage I was in, and yet, as I said, the train was full. (The fare was sensibly one hundred English pounds (about $145).

* Having been given Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere for Christmas by the Advocate and the Bishop, I couldn’t resist this link.

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