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Not dropped off the face of the earth

Apologies for not blogging so much recently, I’ve got a lot on my plate with work and home life at the moment. The Margobarge is off the road because she failed the MOT and needs work to correct it (specifically, the LCD dashboard display needs to be replaced so I can read the mileage, I need the mileage to get an MOT certificate, and I need the MOT certificate to tax it and get it back on the road). So I’m walking and training it to work at the moment and for a couple of month which has doubled my commuting time but since i’m going to be walking 4km each day it’s not going to do me any harm. Would have been better if it was still summer though, obviously!

Ignore this is you are not a train geek: I’m back on the Class 323s which I was on when I was living in Manchester and worked in Cheadle Hulme, They’re packed every morning and the uphosterly’s a horrible green. The Class 323 is the one with the really whiny gearbox. In this area they’re run by London Midland.

I did make it to Manchester Pride 2010 but only for a couple of days, it’s kind of hard to make a whole weekend of it when you don’t live 300 yards down the road from it any more, but for the time I was there I did enjoy myself. I especially enjoyed the debut Cubstars perfomance, which stars (amongst others) my friend Brian.

I will get photos onto this site once I’ve fixed the plugin that sucks them up from Facebook but which has stopped working properly since the WordPress 3.0 rollout. If you’re friends with me on Facebook you’ll be able to see them in my photo albums.

It wasn’t the best of Prides I’ve ever had but I did make the best of it. I’m a bit skint and stressed at the moment and I’m chalking it up to my head not being in the right space for it. Perhaps next year when I can save up for it and do it properly, who knows. I shall be trying Birmingham Pride for the first time first, next summer.

It was a little strange being back in Manchester for the first time in a number of months. I still do miss the place, and I think one day I would like to move back. But I’ve got a lot of hard work to do and shit to sort out before I can even consider it. We’ll see. Manchester has been such a big part of my life and had I been given the choice I would not have left. My current surroundings are by no means unpleasant but they are, basically, alien to me given my limited knowledge of the area, although in fairness that knowledge is improving every day.

I’ve got a lot of hard work to do between now and the end of the and I’ve no choice but to grit my teeth and bear it. I’m still looking for a few side consultancy projects that I can do in my spare time, so if you think you can take advantage of my skillset please get in touch.

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HST cab ride treat

A few weeks ago my friend John, who’s been a train driver since he left school, took me for a ride in the cab of an HST (InterCity 125 type trains). I’ve always wanted a ride in the cab of a train and John’s been promising to take me for years, so this was a real treat. We drove down from Manchester to Birmingham in a class 220 “Voyager” DMU, which was exciting enough, but those trains are cheap and nasty and really not a patch on the classic HST, which have been going for 30 years or so now. Nothing they make new these days even comes close to them, in my opinion. We drove back to Manchester in an HST set on loan from National Express East Coast (John works for CrossCountry).

Riding in the cab, as opposed to riding as a passenger, gives you a completely different perspective on rail travel. Obviously there’s the unusual visual aspect of riding in the front, but you also get a very sincere understanding of how train driving works. John explained everything he was doing to me as he drove the trains, and you get to understand exactly why the train has to travel slowly sometimes, or why it has to stop; things that seem random, arbitrary and annoying when you’re a passenger.

Indeed, John was so busy explaining the intricacies of train driving to me that he forgot to open the train doors when he pulled into a station on one occasion. A shout and a bang on the door from the staff soon jolted his memory though!

National Express HST power car

National Express HST power car

Inside the cab of the power car

Inside the cab of the power car

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Public to decide Manchester C-charge future

BBC NEWS | England | Manchester | Public to decide C-charge future – I received the public consultation documents regarding this a couple of weeks ago and, rather than dismiss them out of hand, I actually sat down and carefully read through them with an open mind, suspecting that one day I might be asked to vote on the issue. The pack had a comments form, which invited residents to anonymously submit their opinions on the proposals.

The proposals themselves are actually very reasonable. The planned improvements in public transport are widespread and comprehensive and I can see that they would be very effective. In an ideal world it would be difficult to argue against raising the money to pay for them from a congestion charge, especially since the proposed congestion charges are extremely reasonable, both in their cost and their application, when compared to the ludicrous and punitive charges levied against those who dare to have business in the centre of London on a weekday. It is, however, not an ideal world.

Unfortunately for the proponents of the proposed charging scheme and those who have planned how to spend its potential financial yield, we live in a country whose government has deliberately and consistently raped and pillaged both the car driving and public transport using public for over eleven years now. Every year the cost of both forms of transport has increased well beyond the rate of inflation and service and performance in both regards has consistently and dramatically decreased. The traveling public is constantly promised improvements in return for price increases and such improvements are rarely, if ever, delivered.

It is regretful, therefore, that no matter how good the proposals for improving public transport in Manchester are, I simply cannot advocate or support the introduction of a congestion charge to pay for them. I need to see the rewards for this scheme first, because too many times I feel I have been stiffed by being made to pay for promised improvements up front and then being let down. I’m quite willing to pay for improvements to public transport, but this time I need to see the goods before I’m going to get my wallet out. I insist on paying in arrears, this time, not in advance, because whenever I pay in advance the government just takes my money and runs, shouting vague promises and throwing hastily written IOUs over its shoulder as it trousers my cash. Enough is enough.

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British Airways replace knackered suitcase

So on my way out to Gran Canaria (full blog on that coming soon, promise), British Airways knackered the retractable handle on my suitcase, presumably in Terminal 5’s infamous baggage handling system. I was left carrying it for the rest of the journey (a further two flights) to Gran Canaria, and obviously all the way back too (another two flights).

When we returned to Terminal 1 on Monday I went up to the customer service desk, fully prepared for the mother of all fights with a jobsworth hiding behind the company’s terms and conditions and stating categorically that British Airways couldn’t possibly be held responsible for damage to personal property caused by uncaring staff and/or malfunctioning machinery and that it’s left at the owner’s risk, yadda yadda yadda. But it never came, and I was all geared up for it too!

Instead, a very nice gentleman took the details of the suitcase, produced a catalogue of luggage from under his desk and asked us to identify the suitcase in it, filled in a form in front of us and then without even looking at (much less actually examining) the suitcase, stated (without any sort of fanfare) that he was very sorry for the damage and that a replacement suitcase would be delivered to me in three to four days.

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. The same was true on Wednesday, when, sure enough, the replacement suitcase was delivered to my apartment. Not some cheap knockoff, the real Samsonite deal, a direct replacement.

Everyone loves to slag off British Airways but on this occasion I really can’t fault them. Good for them. Bigup.

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It must be great living in Railway World

What is it with train companies? Like banks, they seem to live on a completely different planet to the rest of us. Last night Chris and I were booking transport from Heathrow to Manchester for when we return from Gran Canaria and, on failing to book a domestic flight because we get into Heathrow too late in the evening, we were left with no alternative other than a train. This is fine, trains from London to Manchester are fast and frequent and usually very well priced, not to mention the fact that they’re way more environmentally friendly than domestic flights.

So I went onto thetrainline.com, which is apparently the only national rail booking service (so it’s not like they have any competition to be price-conscious with), and searched for trains from Heathrow terminal 1 to Manchester on the evening of Monday 12th May. I specified standard class and two adults. The minimum price quoted was £159. First class tickets were in excess of £400.

This, as you will agree, is quite ridiculous. I know that trains to Manchester, off peak, in standard class and booked far enough in advance can be booked for as little as £13.00 per person. I also know that the Heathrow Express and the tube, which the quoted price included, cost £15.50 and £3.50 per person respectively. So I did another search, this time for the last train from London Euston to Manchester, and sure enough it came up as £26.00 for both of us (£13.00 each). This means that the previously quoted price included £133 for 2 adults to travel from Heathrow T1 to London Euston, when I know that the actual price will be £38, buying walk-up tickets.

Where the hell are they getting this extra £95.00 from? For the privilege of not having to buy separate tickets for the various legs of the journey? We could buy the walk-up tickets, throw them in the bin and take a cab to Euston and still have a decent number of notes in our pocket out of that £133 that they wanted me to pay to get 20 miles from the airport to Euston. What the fuck?

Incidentally, were we able to take a carbon-belching domestic flight from Heathrow to Manchester it would have been £88 for the two of us, including all the taxes. Go figure.

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Railair links

What is it about these “Railair links”. They are neither rail nor air; they’re frigging bus services, nothing more, stop trying to dress it up. Buses are shit and not a viable form of transport unless you’re poor, a murderer, or a combination thereof. Don’t make bus services out to be anything more glamourous than they actually are with poncy names like “Railair”, it’s not fooling anyone. It’s a bus; a cheap and inadequate substitute for proper public transport.

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Record £14m fine for rail company

BBC NEWS | UK | Record £14m fine for rail company – I’m sorry, but I must’ve missed something here. Are you actually trying to tell me that a government-funded agency has fined a government-funded firm £14 million quid? Where the fuck do they expect they will get the money from to pay it? Who funds the government that funds this government-funded company, in addition to paying a portion of their rail fares directly to this government-funded company? That’s right. Most people are at least one of taxpayer and rail passenger, many are both.

There will be no penalty that might actually mean something to those responsible. Network Rail directors will not only keep their jobs but they’ll likely keep their bonuses too, safe in the knowledge that someone else will clear up their mess and bail them out of their incompetence. The entire board should be fired. That would hit them where it hurts.

I also notice that no form of compensation has been awarded to the affected passengers, who now face a £14m fine for their trouble. It’s just pointless money recycling, with suitably inflated administrative fees being creamed off where it’s deemed appropriate. Stupidity and shortsightedness compounded on top of stupidity and shortsightedness. I’ve come to expect little else from 11 years of the New Labour regime, which seems to prioritise some sort of war on common sense. The scary thing is that it’s winning it, hands-down.

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Railway robbery

My rail fare was increased by 5.3% yesterday along with above-inflation fare hikes from most train operating companies. This amounts to an extra £60 per year for me, assuming daily tickets and traveling 47 out of 52 weeks, which equates to about 12 days’ worth of travel at the previous rates. This is quite annoying, and although it doesn’t quite make rail travel unworkable for me, another price increase and I will have to seriously question it. This would be a shame, because I’m one of the few people in the country for whom rail travel is physically convenient.

The rail companies claim that they “need” this extra money in order to fund improvements in the railway system, which is the same excuse we’ve had for year upon year upon year with little return on the promises made. In fact, the only major railway infrastructure development that’s taken place since privatisation is the electrification of the West Coast Mainline, which is currently the subject of another fiasco, which, thankfully, does not affect me. I’d be pretty fucking annoyed if it did though, especially considering the fare hikes.

However, what does rile me is when, on the day when the fare hikes came into effect, my train home was six minutes late, leaving me and my fellow passengers freezing our tits off on the platform. What provision in the Passenger Charter is made for this sort of delay? None. I’d have to freeze my tits off for an hour before Northern Rail would even think about giving a proportion of my extortionate fare back.

Then this morning, the guard on the 08:32 watched me buy my ticket from his colleague, then closed the doors of the train as I was approaching it. He just shrugged at me through the window, in the fully knowledge that I intended to board the train and that I was being held up by his incompetent ticket-vending mate. Fucking unacceptable, they’re just taking the fucking piss.

Like I say, rail travel still just about suits me, but another fare increase and further examples of this sort of contempt for their customers will probably put me back in a car. That would definitely be a shame.

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