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Member Name: marymoose
Advantages: It gets me to work
Disadvantages: I don't really want to go to work
I thought I'd write something a bit different and talk to you about my journey to and from work - sounds exciting already doesn't it?!!!
I remember my first time on a Northern rail train. Shattered having come from a day at work in London, I got on the train at Carlisle and drifted in and out of sleep. I awoke to the train stopping. In a panic I rushed to the door only to be told:
"It's Flimby. You really don't want to be getting off at Flimby!"
Thankfully this stopped me from getting off before the next stop, Workington.
It was the railway map which made me pick Workington as a place to live. Located between Sellafield and Carlisle it was within reasonable commuting distance of both, and since I don't really drive, this was important to me.
Before I write my novel on Northern Rail I wonder who might end up reading this:
1. Ciao and DooYoo members who will kindly read and rate this review and either tell me what an enjoyable read it is and give it a nice rating, or say that it's 'somewhat useful' because it waffles on for too long.
2. A general member of the public who is searching for Northern Rail information. Perhaps like me you're thinking of commuting using Northern Rail and want to know more? Perhaps you are a trainspotter who wants to learn more about what goes on inside the train? (If you are a trainspotter please enlighten me - why???) Perhaps you're doing a school project on public transport? Whatever your reasons I hope you enjoy it.
3. A Northern rail employee. Perhaps since you don't listen to my letters you might listen to my public announcement about your service? I won't hold my breath!
---About Northern Rail---
Information about Northern Rail can be found at their website - www.northernrail.co.uk
To quote from the site "Northern is the largest train operator in the UK, running over 2,500 services each weekday and providing safe, reliable and comfortable local trains across the North."
The trains stop at 519 stations (20% of the rail network) which is quite a big chunk! Routes include Newcastle to Carlisle, Liverpool to Manchester, Sheffield to Lincoln, Hull to Scarborough and Leeds to Bradford - a map can be found here - www.northernrail.org/travel/networkmap
A site for finding 'up-to-date' train times and prices can be found at National Rail - www.nationalrail.co.uk
Please note neither sites are always exactly up-to-date when there are delays - this can be quite irritating.
---"Thank you for travelling with Northern Rail today"---
It's not really much of a choice is it though? I'm hardly able to use a Virgin train to get to work! Buses tend to take longer and are less frequent, so I'm not using them. Driving is not really an option because firstly I HATE driving. Secondly we only have one car and can't afford a second one, not to mention the petrol etc. And of course there's parking in Carlisle which is almost half what my train fare is anyway. Plus I like to sleep sometimes on the way to and from work, and couldn't really do this if driving. Lift share isn't really an option as I don't know of anyone who comes to Carlisle via my house in a car, and always leaves work at exactly the same time I want to leave. And no, I'm not going to walk 35 miles...
So, we've established (I hope), that's why I use the train.
Although I have been on Northern rail trains outside of Cumbria (to and from Leeds for one, and looking at the network I realise I've done Hull to Bridlington a fair few times, although I don't remember it being Northern Rail), my knowledge and experience in this review is based on the Barrow-in-Furness to Carlisle route, particularly focussing between Workington and Carlisle.
I am very aware that service is likely to vary dramatically over the areas especially since it is such a wide network, so I cannot speak for the whole service, although I'm sure that my comments on Customer Service apply everywhere.
The train timetable can be found online. It changes several times a year, but the train essentially stay the same - the 07:37 train for instance is currently 07:40, and the 06:53 is sometimes 06:54. These few minutes are quite important as I frequently have to run to the station. On the way home from work I get the 17:27 train most of the time, or the 16:34 if I fancy an early finish. Ok, I can't do 24-hour clocks; from now on it's am/pm! Please note, travel up here is not like a commute to London - miss a train, and it's almost an hour (longer when off-peak) till the next one.
---A normal day's travelling---
It's 6am and I awake to the sound of a moose call. Hubby groans - he doesn't like the moose call. I don't know why, to me the sound is beautiful, it sounds of moose, calling. Initially I put my alarm on Snooze and then wake up 9 minutes later, and repeat - then it is 6:18am. At this time I seriously start to think about whether I am going to be able to make the early train or not. If it's a day where I'm not washing my hair (every other day) and just having a shower I can afford another 9 minutes sleep. If it's a day when I am washing my hair I will probably sleep for another 9 minutes anyway. If I'm going for the earliest train I will usually leave the house just after 6:45am with wet hair (on a hair wash day) and walk quickly to the station. If I have decided to go for the normal train (as I call it), I usually get distracted by e-mails and end up leaving the house just after 7:30am - again with wet hair. Thankfully my hair hasn't ever managed to freeze to my head.
If I'm having a bad day, this usually means I've been drinking the night before. In which case I'll get the 8:20am train and phone in to say I'll be late - although since I work flexi-time it really doesn't matter. If I'm running late it's only me who misses out as it'll take me longer before I can have a flexi-day. However, this also has the problem that if the train is late, then it's still my flexi-time which I lose. I hate to stand and wait and watch my watch as my flexi-time slips away......
On arrival at Workington station I pass Dilbert (not his real name, but if you're a regular at the station you'll know who I mean) who winks at me. I do not buy tickets off Dilbert as it proves to be a slow process, so I either buy them on the train or the day before it runs out in Carlisle. I generally buy either weekly (currently £31.40) train tickets or monthly if I'm not planning to have weeks off or anything (£120.60). (Please note, although there are signs saying that if the station has an office you must purchase your ticket before boarding the train, this is not the case on this line - conductors are perfectly happy to sell you tickets on the train, and they accept credit/debit cards.)
I stand on the platform at Workington station and wait for the train, or if I'm running late and the train is on time (it is VERY occasionally slightly early) get straight on. Sometimes I exchange a word with a fellow commuter, but it is early in the morning. Once I missed the train I was intending to get, but only once - they will usually wait if they see you running over the bridge). I was told the other week that Workington station is a lovely station. I'm not sure which Workington they're talking about as lovely isn't the word I'd use. Aside from Dilbert (or whoever is working that day), a waiting room (which is rarely open - you have to request it from Dilbert) and some flower pots and a few seagulls and piegeons, there isn't really anything there. I mean, it's not like there's toilets, a shop or other such luxuries! But I suppose if we're comparing it to others then I suppose at least there is a person there, even if it is Dilbert who doesn't really have a clue what's going on. Staff seem happy to let you know if the train is going to be arriving in 2 minutes, but 5 minutes late or more and staff are nowhere to be seen - it's the same on the trains.
Ah, here is comes. It used to make me laugh. It made my sister-in-law laugh when she saw it. The one-carriage train. Those of you in the south probably won't have seen anything like it - a one-carriage train. Occasionally it does have two or even three - in fact the 8:20am has two. But this isn't usual for the early trains. I used not to like the 8:20am train (aside from the fact that it is always late) as there was an old woman with a yapping dog on the opposite platform...but thankfully I haven't seen the old woman or the dog for a year or so - tragic.
There's lots of things to see on my journey (mainly sheep), although in winter there's nothing there as it's dark. I do sometimes wonder if the sheep actually cease to exist when I can't see them - perhaps they fly south for the winter? Talking of sheep, I once watched a sheep decompose outside Aspatria, it went on for weeks (it felt like months).....every day it decomposed more until finally it was removed. I really felt sorry for the other poor sheep in the field who had to watch this happen, it was bad enough and traumatic enough for me. Of course though this cannot be blamed on Northern Rail, this is the Aspatrian farmer's responsibility. There's also the sea to see (although the view is best between Whitehaven and Workington) and some beautiful sun rises and sunsets at the right time of year, more sheep, some cows, and well, more sheep really.
Something which I didn't know about before I came to Cumbria was the concept of request stops. My train stops at Maryport and Wigton before reaching Carlisle. But it will also stop at Flimby, Aspatria and Dalston on request. It's very rare that it doesn't stop at Aspatria, and it generally stops at all stations on the busy trains. If you're on the platform you need to stick your hand out like hailing a bus - all very strange. If you are ever travelling on this line and need to get off at Flimby, in case the conductor doesn't warn you, there is a BIG gap between the train and the platform, you will need to jump.
Finally, 50 minutes later (unless there are problems) I arrive in Carlisle at platform 2. I finish reading my book, playing on my DS (or whatever I'm doing) and make my merry way over the bridge, through Carlisle station and off to work.
I haven't told you about Carlisle station. There's not a lot to say really - yes there's toilets (the ones by platform 3 are better than the others), there's also a (very small) WHSmiths, and a couple of coffee places, but they're not open all the time (very annoying). Very recently Carlisle station got a cash machine - about time. There is some excitement at Carlisle station....if you look above there is a wire mesh under the roof which collects dead pigeons. If you've ever got some time to kill at Carlisle station then have a look up, and try and count the dead birds. Or, you could stand and stare at the trainspotters and get angry - after all they are choosing to stand around at Carlisle station...whereas I am doing it because my bloody train is late.
Actually there was a bit of excitement last year as scenes from the Bollywood movie "Mr Bhatti on Chutti" (holiday) were filmed at Carlisle station - you can read about it here and see some pictures of the station - http://www.northwestvision.co.uk/page/mr-bhatti-on -chutti-production
---Did I tell you about the time...?---
Ok, so you've made it this far I hope you're enjoying the journey. You've had the excitement of Bollywood, but now I'm going to share with you some of the events which stand out from the past few years.
Of course there was the time that our train was slightly late (nothing new there then) and as a result it was a freight train which hit and killed 6 cows who were stood in the middle of the railway just outside Wigton. If it had been our little one carriage train we might have derailed. As it happens instead we were delayed an hour or so, and got a bus to Carlisle (quite impressed they didn't leave us stranded). On the way home that night we saw the pile of dead cows, and I for one was most disappointed not to be compensated with a nice juicy steak!
Earlier this year there was some flooding. Sure enough on the rail websites it said that normal service was running on my line. However, on arrival at Carlisle station at 5:15pm, the screen stated that the train was cancelled. This is not by any means the only time that something like this has happened, but I'll use this incident as an example. There are no Northern Rail staff at Carlisle station - this is very convenient for them. It means that when the train is cancelled, myself and the other commuters have to ask the Virgin staff what is happening. As nice as the Virgin staff are, unsurprisingly they don't know anything about what is happening with the Northern Rail trains. They have to put up with all the moans about Northern Rail, and this isn't fair - so my apologies to Virgin staff (on this occasion anyway!). Of course Northern Rail had no intention of putting on a replacement bus service. I met a couple of other commuters who were wondering what to do - although the rail staff had told us that the roads were impassable, we hedged our bets and walked to Carlisle bus station. On that day I'd actually left my purse at home (just had my train ticket in my bag) so literally had no money or way of getting money. Thankfully a fellow commuter kindly paid my bus fare. If it wasn't for that I'd have to have phoned hubby to come out and pick me up.
As it happens the bus had absolutely no problem driving through the floods, and I got home fine. So much for the impassable road. The next morning I checked the website which said that there was a replacement bus service. I got the train through to Maryport, but no bus was waiting. We waited and waited, and then the nice commuter who paid for my bus fare the day before drove myself and two others to Carlisle. Restored my faith in humanity that there are some genuinely nice people in the world, but not my faith in Northern Rail. On writing a LONG (yes, you know me too well!) letter of complaint to Northern Rail they refused to reimburse my £4.40 bus fare as it's not in their passenger charter. They did give me a £5 as a 'goodwill' gesture. But that is NOT the point.
Once again they did not even come close to reading my letter. For the millionth time, I am NOT complaining about the weather and I am NOT saying I'd rather be on a train which is not safe - I am NOT stupid. What I am saying is that Northern Rail need to start communicating, stop telling stupid lies about roads being impassable, and treat its customers with some respect.
To be honest the events all roll into one after a while...the conductors also roll into one although they have their quirks. There's the skinny one who goes on and on and on apologises if the train is running 5 minutes late (which in my opinion constitutes normal service really), but then says nothing on the occasions when it's 30 minutes late. There's the one who announces that we have reached Carlisle - our final destination (always makes me think of the films), although this morning he slipped up and announced that we had reached our final destination of Lancaster. There's the one who has to lean over and touch my ticket even though he must know perfectly well I'm getting off at Workington. I think I must be boring you now!
I have complained to Northern Rail on a number of occasions. I write quite a good complaint letter, even if I do say so myself (although like my reviews, they tend to be long letters).
The following though are a list of complaints which I HAVE NOT made to Northern rail - I have saved them especially for this review!What I dislike about the trains:
*When it rains and there's a wind, the rain blows in through the top of the window. Therefore I have been known to get quite wet. Not a problem when the train's not busy as you can move to another seat, but if it's full then you just have to sit and get wet. I remember once the conductor came along with toilet paper to try and fit in the leaks around the windows.
*Talking of toilet paper that brings me onto the toilet. Fortunately I have never been desperate enough to use the toilet on a Northern Rail train. I fear that one day I will have to. I'm reasonably happy to use toilets on Virgin trains (probably because I usually have a bottle of wine on a Virgin train), but would avoid Northern Rail ones unless the situation was dire. Sometimes the smell is so bad that you can smell it nearly to the other end of the carriage. To make matters worse, if there are drunk young men (it's always drunk young men I'm afraid), then they urinate on the floor - if there's a group of them then by the time the train reaches Workington then there is a great puddle which spreads across the floor. I am guilty of being drunk on a train, but I have NEVER urinated on the floor you'll be pleased to know.
*In the winter either the heating is off and it is freezing, or the heating is on really high and almost burns my legs.
*Sometimes all I want to do is get onto the train and sleep. However, every day you have to show your ticket which involves waiting for the conductor to come down and see your ticket - and you just know that he'll get to you just before the train stops at Maryport and he'll have to go and do whatever it is that they do with the doors.
*That brings me onto the doors - it's not like a normal train where the passenger can open the door on their own. Oh no, you have to wait for the conductor to do something with a key on the door - it all seems a bit primitive to me.
*Announcements from the conductor - either they are so quiet that you can't hear them, or they are so loud that even with my Ipod on full volume they deafen me. Just sort it out, please!
*Sometimes the train is one of those carriages which is more like a bus - either you'll know what I mean or you won't. Either way, these silly carriages should be banned as they are stupid. If I wanted to ride on a bus I'd get on a bus.
*Lack of forethought - Northern Rail must know it's going to be busier during school holidays, so why do they not put on an extra carriage?
*When I worked in London and forgot my season ticket I could buy a ticket and then claim the money back later. It doesn't work like this with Northern Rail. If you forget your ticket you have to buy one, and you can't claim it back, even though you're supposed to be able to (trust me, it's not worth it). Although as a result I've only forgotten it twice in 3 years.
*Screaming children - thank fully this isn't normally a problem, especially not if my Ipod is charged. And I can't blame this on Northern Rail anyway. It's not the children who annoy me though, it's the parents who scream and shout and swear at the children - is it any wonder that the poor kids are screaming?
*While I'm ranting about passengers, people who barge onto the train before letting the previous customers get off. A lot of time this is groups of teenagers who want to barge on first. But, a lot of the time it's old couples (over 70s) who literally won't let the others off first. Absolutely disgraceful if you ask me.
Moving onto what I REALLY dislike about Northern Rail, which is generally what fills my letters of complaint:
* It's NOT the fact that there are delays which bothers me. I understand that sometimes these things can't be helped. Although I think a lot could be done to improve service in the UK as a whole - it seems that there's one flake of snow and the railway grounds to a halt.
But, It's the fact that when there are delays, no one will tell us (the commuters) anything!
Actually, that is pretty much it. I think I have said just about all I can on the subject. On the positive side I don't really mind my journey to and from work most of the time, and it's fairly reasonably priced for what it is. It has been rare that I haven't got a seat, and although I do moan, I am sure I'd moan if I had to use the roads to get to work as well.
You might be amused to hear that the other week I was drunk, and for the first time I managed to sleep through Workington. I woke with a jolt as the train came to a halt at Whitehaven. Hubby was not impressed when he had to come and pick me up (the last train back had already gone). But it could have been worse - thankfully that was last stop Whitehaven - if it'd been Barrow I don't think I'd ever have been forgiven!
Summary: Bollywood, decomposing sheep and buses