Simon Calder: News flashes for UK rail travellers

The man who pays his way

The picture of the week? One that appeared on the National Rail Enquiries website on Tuesday morning. From the perspective of the traveller in Britain, it summed up the summer in a single strike. Lightning scythes through the doom-laden skies above Manchester to wreak havoc at one of the nation's most important stations.

“A signalling problem caused by lightning is disrupting trains to and from Manchester Piccadilly,” lamented the website. “It destroyed some critical pieces of railway signalling equipment.”

While Zeus was zeroing in on the North-west, other gods of thunder were busy elsewhere in the kingdom. A bolt at Dunbar did for East Coast Trains. In Essex, no passengers could change at Manningtree for the Continent. And travellers on England's loveliest railway, from Settle to Carlisle, were stopped in their tracks by a jolt “in the Kirkby Stephen area”.

Other weather-related delays were available. Bard news: while others may have stolen Stratford-upon-Avon's thunder, Shakespeare's home town was cut off from Birmingham after flooding of tempestuous proportions. And shockingly, no “Up” trains could run on the North Downs line between Redhill and Tonbridge because of “fallen electricity cables”.

How adept we are as a nation at switching from one meteorological muddle to another. Six months ago to the day, a headline in The Independent read: “Heathrow cancels 100 flights on second day of snow chaos – and one in five will be cancelled tomorrow”.

In the heatwave before this week's storm, the story was about Britain's road network turning to treacle. While Californian motorists were cheerfully crossing Death Valley on Highway 190 during the hottest spell for a century, the lovely Pembrokeshire resort of Tenby got all snarled up when the A4218 crumbled in the heat. There were reports of highways melting from Cornwall to Yorkshire. A viscous rumour? Not according to Highways magazine: “With temperatures topping 30C, the heat is causing the bitumen in some roads to soften and rise to the top,” I learn from the journal's “Highways on Fridays” column. “This makes the surface sticky and more susceptible to pressure from heavy vehicles which can make parts of it sink, resulting in a ridge-and-furrow effect.”

Some will conclude that the nation has, once again, been found out as hopelessly unprepared. But I suggest that we are rationally under-prepared. We are lucky to live in a benign climate, without the extremes that characterise many other parts of the world. Our transport infrastructure relies on moderation (augmented by sticky tape and string from time to time), and most of the time we get away with it.

No Harborough from Scarborough

While the roads warped in the heat last weekend, the trains buckled under the strain of people wanting to go to the seaside for the day. Saturday's 9am from London Paddington to the Somerset resort of Weston-super-Mare set off on time but got slower with every stop – five minutes late at Reading, 15 at Swindon, etc. Meanwhile, on the London-Brighton line, the refrain from public-address announcements was “full and standing”.

Older readers may recall that on days when a surge of extra passengers was expected, relief trains were deployed to help cope. Not in these privatised times, according to what I have found. Southern, which runs express trains between London and Brighton, does not use them. Indeed, I could find only a couple of train operators who showed some respect for those of us who seek the sea at the first sight of the sun, and actually laid on more capacity.

Arriva Trains Wales has added extra carriages to trains serving the north and south coasts, but East Midlands Trains takes the prize with a Saturday seaside special connecting stations such as Luton, Market Harborough and Chesterfield with the pearl of Yorkshire's coast, Scarborough.

The train starts out from St Pancras at 6.37am and takes four-and-a-half hours to reach Scarborough. But before you take the Midland mainline to Marine Drive, be warned that the return train takes only four hours, its acceleration achieved by speeding straight through Chesterfield, Market Harborough and Luton.

Summer inter-city is slower abroad

Before you sigh about the intricacies and inadequacies of transport in Britain, consider that Amtrak trains between Boston and Washington, as well as through Pennsylvania, were slowed down by 20 minutes last weekend because of extreme heat in the north-east United States.

The latest punctuality figures for the daily Heartland Flyer between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth in Texas show that the train ran on time on only four days last month.

Finally, a message from Lonely Planet co-founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler, who are just back from the Trans-Mongolian from Beijing to Moscow (not calling at Luton, Market Harborough or even Chesterfield).

“The trip kicked off with the Chinese government requisitioning, at the last minute, the chartered train from Beijing to the Mongolian border. We ended up on a 14-hour overnight bus trip instead.”

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Life and Style
fashionThe supermodel on her career, motherhood and Cara Delevingne
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments