Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Notes from another train journey: Euston-Piccadilly again

Monday, 14 January 2008

There's the Roundhouse, looking splendid. Why on earth did they put a concert venue right by the railway? Cuh. Tsk. Eh?

Tube train at Kilburn High Road. Interesting tube-ness generally.

Trains in new "London Overground" livery, that is, er, a sticker on the side. How good could this bold project be, if it works out? Could we have some more interchanges, please? (Answers: jolly good; probably not, no.)

Massive railway lands going for miles. Much dereliction but much activity too.

About 30 minutes out - lovely area, distant nice-looking hills to the right, orchard on the left. Where are we? Chilterns or something?

We seem to be going quite slowly. Ah that's better. Woosh. Ooh, and now even more so, wooshity woosh. How very stimulating. Yeah baby.

As we rocket northwards, those pretty and now-distant hills are outlined in silver under a dramatic painterly sky. It even has God-chutes. Wow, it's fantastic: if you saw a photograph you'd go yeah right, fake for sure.

I'd partly-forgotten what an amazingly canaloid run this is. You don't seem to be far from the canal for most of the journey: there's often some fascinating glimpse, right by the track or maybe a field or two away. Obviously there are good reasons for this frequent proximity, apart from just keeping me entertained: but I love it anyway. Have I told you how much I love canals? Yeah, probably. Well, just to be clear: I really really love canals. OK?

There's still a lot of railway engineering work going on. The line is subject to massive improvements, not least doubling some of it up to four tracks. It's major enough when you contemplate just the rails and the power but then you have to take into account all the stuff which no longer fits around the line: cuttings, embankments, bridges, stations ... It is a truly humongous project, and of course poor Network Rail caught it right in the neck for over-running with their work at Rugby over New Year so that it was days before services ran normally again. I think it's fair to say that Thomas was not happy, Percy was not happy, Annie and Clarabel and their would-be passengers were very much more than miffed, and the Fat Controller was seen around Sordor bearing a grim expression and a baseball bat. This problem, and another overrun at Liverpool Street, made Network Rail so spectacularly unpopular that you'd think it would have been a really good idea to avoid it. Obviously they somehow could not: when the investigations are done and the reports all written it will be interesting to know why, assuming that we ever do.

I had a very interesting neighbour on the way up. He's a semi- or mostly-retired marine electronics engineer who'd worked for Decca, Racal, Northrop Grumman and many others. Despite this list, he'd never actually changed jobs: the company or bits of companies had been bought and sold around him. I think he said he'd worked for nine different companies, and moved offices plenty of times, but always kept the same desk! He worked on radar as well as monitoring systems like engine temperature warnings and the like.

He was fascinating on the subject of his work. One amazing story concerned a monitoring system from a ferry: following a collision, part of the electronics were immersed, then marinaded in stinking diesel/silt gunk for months. Eventually the company was asked to restore them: this was very costly but still much cheaper than replacing all the kit and rewiring half (or more) of the ship. So they cleaned it all up, fixed or replaced some of it, and handed it back, working and fully tested, two days early. That's what I call Proper Engineering!

This nice gentleman also told me a lot about his in-laws in Yorkshire and a beautiful 16th century farmhouse with which he'd helped them on electrics, plumbing and so on. I was struck by how often he mentioned "my late wife", not in a mawkish way but just as a routine part of how he told stories and fitted things together: even down to where her ashes are buried. So she was being neither constantly sobbed over nor forgotten. but something somewhere between the extremes, in what seemed a sensible and comforting accommodation with the inconvenient fact of death.

My neighbour also shared with me his theory about the engineering overrun at Rugby. According to him they could and should have got much of the electrical installation done in advance of the major mechanical work, but chose instead to do it all at the same time, thereby making the whole thing double the hostage to fortune. We'll see - I hope.

And that's another train ride. I'm finishing writing this on the way home There's less to blog about in the dark! Night night.

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