Monday, 6 April 2015

Pre-electrification Work at Walsall

As some of you will know the Chase Line that Runs from Walsall, through Ryecroft Junction, Bloxwich, Cannock, Hednesford to Rugeley TV is undergoing pre-electrification work. Some bridges have been rebuild and in places track is being lowered to enable the Overhead Wire structures to be put into place. All work is due to be completed by 2017.
The chase line was constructed and was part of the South Staffs rail line and although outside the general scope of the South Staff Rail website thought Id post some pictures of the work being undertaken this Easter. More can be found at my Flickr account by clicking here

The main work this Easter included lowering the track through platform one and Park Street Bridge Walsall and under bridges at Bloxwich rd, Forest Lane and the Viaduct across the canal to enable sufficient clearance for the wires.
© Dave Cresswell 2015

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Apologies for Missing Graphics

I have discovered today that all the pictures from the blog entries have been replaced by a grey triangle.

On investigation It turns out when Picasa and Google accounts merged, the blog pictures were stored in one of the albums and this got deleted by accident by me.

Ive re-added some pictures to the recent blogs where Ive been able to quickly. As  my blogs go back some years would be too time consuming to do.

I realise that your reading of my past blogs will not be as informative without the visuals and can only apologise for my error in not fully understand the close tie-ins between Picasa and Google blogs.

Dave Cresswell March 2015


Saturday, 1 February 2014

February 2014 - Diverting Times


My last blog was written after a stroll down the old South Staffs Rail line towards Brownhills. That was June 2014 and since then we have had autumn and winter pass by and today as I write this it’s starting to feel like spring.

As spring brings new life to plants and nature we all start to get excited in planning for summer holidays, the warmer weather (hopefully!) and days out.

Rail enthusiasts are also getting excited in our area and beyond because during half-term week this month (February) there are engineering work diversions for Cross Country Trains between Birmingham and Burton and Birmingham and Nuneaton.

During the weekdays Cross Country will be running some of their Birmingham – Burton – Derby & onwards service along the Cross City line via Lichfield City and Alrewas. Network Rail have asked and consulted with London Midland to reduce the frequency of services on the cross city line to accommodate these diverted services on what is already a very busy route. The revised Cross City time-table can be found here . So that’s one diversion over the former South Staffs line between Lichfield City and Burton upon Trent.

The really more exciting route for enthusiasts and others alike is that passenger trains to and from Nuneaton are to run via the Sutton Park line through Ryecroft Junction, Aldridge towards Water Orton and Castle Bromwich. Some Cross Country Nottingham – Cardiff services as well as Birmingham – Leicester (and onwards) passenger trains will mix in between the regular freight trains on this route. You may well be lucky to travel through platform 3 at Walsall going north now the link has been re-opened and re-signalled although I suspect most will be through platform 1. On the return you could be through what was platform 4 or platform 2 which is the most likely route.

Driver route knowledge updates have been under way for some time and indeed our friends of the Sutton Park line have witnessed this and the railcar in use. Click here to see their report

Overall I think many people are going to buy a rail ticket just to travel on this area of the rail network that doesn’t see passenger diverted services often.

Whilst its not easy to give you a complete run-down here of what passengers services will use the diverted Sutton park Route here is a link to Realtime Trains website that many people use, showing some services through Park Lane Jn West Mids.

I’m away in Dublin the first part of the week but hope to traverse it both ways later in that week.

For those who like taking pictures you can get close to the Sutton Park line via the Streetly Gate at Sutton Park and walk down to the public crossing across the line. However whilst it’s a public right of way across the line please observe the usual safety precautions. I know its common sense but have seen people in the past standing in the middle of the four foot taking a picture without any due care or attention to approaching traffic on the line from other direction.

Enjoy this unique opportunity whilst you can but remember safety first for you, passengers and crew of these diverted trains as the line is going to be busier than normal.

Dave Cresswell – February 2014

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Summer 2013–A pleasant stroll

Officially we are in the Summer Season but the weather lately has not been very good. But today it was one of those rare days where it is warm and dry. Therefore I decided have a walk again along the southern end of our South Staffs railway line between Rycroft Cemetery and almost Brownhills. From Brownhills Newtown Bridge (Anglesey sidings) is still mothballed and the responsibly of Network Rail but this area is just a public footpath these days.

It was a bit muddy due to the monsoon type rain we have had lately but I managed to avoid many of the slippery patches. Nature as it does when it has the chance is starting to overwhelm the well-trodden path of the many dog walkers and horse riders that regularly use the track bed.

It’s still hard to believe that it’s about 30 years since freight trains regularly came this way towards Brownhills and on to Lichfield and of course half a century since passenger trains ran. I was just thinking as I walked along the railway line about the Lichfield Bower which takes place each May and how as a child I used to go to it on the train. This May Bank Holiday if you wanted to go to it you had no choice but to use the car. There were no buses from Walsall to Lichfield and no easy way to get there from Brownhills.

Anyway I digress, as I progressed along I passed a view dog walkers, a horse rider and a young couple strolling hand in hand. Out of those I should think only the elderly couple I passed would have any inkling of what it was like with steam trains then the diesel locomotives going along here.

The only easily identified relic along this line is the old signalling post which I took a picture and tweeted and got a nice response back from @gpreston58 which said “Ah, an old signal post, remember having to climb the ladder, refill the lamp after trimming the wick. BR days. I’m sure there are many other older railway folks remember doing the same. Below is a collage of some of the pictures I took.


From my observation most people walked their dogs along the track and then down onto the canal where it passes underneath the line.

The  view across the canal navigation.
As I said earlier almost to Brownhills as you cannot go much further as the area is blocked with trees and swamp like footings.

I had to turn right here which leads onto the Watermead Housing estate which runs along-side the railway line. I was tempted to take some pictures as there were many houses with excellent foliage and flowers growing around them but didn’t want to upset someone's privacy. As you are going towards the exit of Watermead you aware of the canal on the right hand side passing by. I couldn’t resist going over and taking a few pictures of the very old railway bridge on the other side of the canal .


I finished the walk off then by popping into the Hussey Arms near Brownhills Common (pictured below) for Cheese & Potato Pie (in pie pastry) and a pint.


Details about the South Staffs Railway can be seen at where you will find fascinating facts and more pictures past and present.  

Comments are welcome on this or any of my blogs but please do not include links to other  sites as they are automatically treated as spam and may get deleted.

Dave Cresswell – Summer 2013

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Spring 2013

Most young lads when I was young wanted to be an engine driver or a signalman on the railway. Many took up train spotting so they could get nearer to their passion. Train spotting wasn’t really an interest for me but how the railway operated was.
I was lucky when my step-father wasn’t around as my mother used to allow me to go up to our local park in Brownhills. I was a bit of a naughty one though as I used to linger on Brownhills Bridge and watch the freight trains go by the signal box.

The line of course was the South Staffs Line that ran from Lichfield City to Walsall via Brownhills. I then continued to Holland Park but the swings and roundabouts didn’t really interest me. One day I was bored and didn’t want to go home until due time so bypassed the park and decided to wander down the path alongside the railway line. I found an opening in the railings and went through it. Now I knew even then it’s dangerous to venture onto the railway track so I sat on top of the bank in line of site of the Signal towards Newtown Bridge where Anglesey sidings were and just listening and watched. 

I started doing this frequently when allowed and realised that some trains went up at specific times and the same train came back a little later in a different formation. I think this was the very start of my interest in railway operations and specifically getting to know the routes including junctions and their names.

In the 1970’s I even sent off an application to be a station Announcer at Wolverhampton Station based in the power signal box their so I could be part of it. Unfortunately to my disappointment I had to be 18 to be considered and I was only 17. Instead I got a job working in an unemployment office which was supposed to be temporary for six months. In fact I did the job in various roles including supplying ministerial briefing information for almost 22 years. My interest in operations continues to this day and although not always travelling make use of the information available to help others if I can.

If a train is delayed passengers assume rightly or wrongly it’s the cause of the train operating company (TOC) they are travelling with. It is a fair assumption as unlike in the 1960’s it was all British Rail now its individual TOCs who run trains but Network Rail are responsible for the railway infrastructure which includes all that goes to allow the trains to run on the tracks. Anything that affects the infrastructure can result in delays for any TOC that is using that particular line. Most of our West Midlands lines are heavily used so as soon as there is an incident trains can be stacked up one signal behind the other. Trespass and signal issues are just two of such incidents which can cause untold delays for all concerned.

When there are incidents the various TOCs and Network Rail liaise with each other using established working practices and pre-determined guidelines to get things sorted as quickly as humanly possible. Invariably trains and crew are displaced which means services that are formed after by delayed trains could well be delayed themselves. There are times built into the timetables to allow for temporary speed restrictions and junction cross-over points known as recovery and path-ing time. I know this as I used to collect, when they were available in paper form, old Railway Working Timetables which showed these times built into the public timetable. Hence sometimes you may arrive at your destination station before the time shown in your passenger timetable.

When there are incidents leading to delays, a train may be stopped short of its booked destination or runs fast missing out stations on route so that it can catch up time and be as close to time as possible for its next scheduled journey. This is done not for the convenience of the train company concerned but to limit the amount of passenger inconvenience on later journeys. If this wasn’t done it is possible that train crews may be out of their working time under Health and Safety regulations or not available to take their next booked train out resulting in a possible cancellation.
It’s not only passenger trains that suffer by delay but also freight trains that are an integral part of Great Britain’s railway and these trains cannot just park up at a station or stop short if they are delayed. All this means that Network Rail and the TOCs have to work very closely together to resolve issues and make decisions often at very short notice which we as the general public might not fully appreciate or understand locally but are essential in the wider picture.
And one final thought in the whole scheme of things in life is a five or ten minute delay arriving at a station important to us as passengers? It certainly is for Network Rail and the TOC’s and that’s why they strive to do all they can to ensure the train you are expecting to board or alight from is where it should be at the time it should be. Incidents do happen and cause delays but they don’t deliberately set-out to do this.

These views expressed here are my own as I see things and not those of the South Staffs Rail Group, Network Rail or any Train Operating Company. The images used are for illustrative purposes only and may be subject to copyright restrictions.

Dave Cresswell  January 2013

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Winter 2012

Back in the 1970’s before Virgin Trains, Cross Country, London Midland and all the other multitude of train operating companies (TOCs) we had an organisation called British Rail. This organisation ran the trains, maintained the track and signalling and all the employees belongs to one organisation, had road learned all the routes around the area they were based in etc.

Sundays was always known as disruption day as passengers knew that journey times would be extended due to diversions caused by “Engineering work”. To the passengers it was a nuisance but to rail enthusiasts it was a day of delight and going over  railway routes not normally traversed. In the 1970’s when British Rail had the Midland “Railtourer Ticket” i also “rail bashed”. By having the ticket for the week it covered me to places Like Crewe, Derby (but not via Uttoxeter), Nottingham, Gloucester, Hereford and Shrewsbury. I lived in Birmingham then and made several “diverted due to engineering work” trips in the region. One was from Birmingham to Crewe via Soho Junction , Perry Barr, Walsall, through what we know has the Chase line which was freight only and onwards up to Rugeley Trent Valley. Then Onwards via Colwich Junction, Stone, Stoke and onwards to Crewe. A long journey as you can see but both Wolverhampton and Stafford were undergoing Engineering work. Other Journeys have been involved Birmingham to Rugby being diesel hauled via Water Orton to Nuneaton. Now some diversions mean the trains Go up to Stafford to come back down the Trent Valley Line what a difference.
Engineering work on a Sunday, traditionally the quietest day on our railways, is nothing new as this picture from 1957 shows

Why am I mentioned all this about engineering work you might ask? Well when I noticed that their was Engineering work Scheduled on Sunday 18th November resulting in a Rail Replacement Bus Service between Rugeley, Walsall and Tame Bridge and that some preparation work had been done between Pleck Junction, Walsall and the former Dudley arm of the South Staffs Rail line towards the M6 Bridge and Bescot curve I put two and two together. Network Rail staff and contractors had full possession of the line in this area.
Only rail enthusiasts will understand this when I say I got a bit excited thinking that there just might be work being done on this section of the mothballed line. Readers from the website will know that Freightliner Heavy Haul are bringing back this section between Pleck Junction and Bescot Curve as a turn back siding for their coal trains to avoid going onto the mainline at Bescot.
I duly arrived at Wallows Lane which was the best vantage point for my first visit of the day and I wasn't disappointed and neither was my fellow SSR member Rob Taylor who I informed straight away.Positioned on the line was an engineering train top and tailed by a 66 Locomotive (don't ask numbers I don't spot) with wagons full of ballast and also track infrastructure. Staff were cleaning and replacing ballast at one end and at the Pleck Junction end rails were being positioned.


It was a cold and frosty morning as this picture depicts but when you see even an engineering train on the line which last had a train on in 1993 you can understand the feeling of a new birth of a railway even though a very limiting one.

I returned later in the day and took more pictures which you can see at
More engineering work is scheduled on that line but not sure when but it is all in conjunction with the Re-signalling work in the area which culminates next August Bank Holiday (2013) when the line will be shut whilst that transfer everything to the West Midlands Signalling Centre at Saltley. When that happens many signal boxes along the Chase line together with Walsall Power Signal Box will close. The re-signalling work has taken into account the possible re-opening of the South Staffs Rail line between Ryecroft Junction, Walsall through Brownhills and onwards to Lichfield City for freight and possible passenger services in the future as well as a chord between the Chase and Sutton Lines

The work on this stretch of line will still allow for the extension of the Midland Metro should the plans on running it over the Dudley Area of the South Staffs line to Walsall not be pushed back even further. The current working making this a turn back siding will cause less disruption to traffic movement through the lines at Bescot but also enable quicker turnaround of coal trains between the Sutton and Chasse lines.
These views expressed here are my own as I see things and not those of the South Staffs Rail Group in general Dave Cresswell

Monday, 1 October 2012

Late Summer 2012

During September many of you have either signed the Epetition or voiced your opinion on the franchise of the West Coast Mainline currently being run by Virgin Trains.  From 9th December this should be the First Group as they were awarded the franchise by the government. Due to a challenge by the incumbent this now looks doubtful and will have to be run by the government just like the East Coast Trains franchise at present.
This of course causes uncertainty for the people who work for Virgin trains as well as staff in First Group. However from the public point of view does it really matter as long as the trains run as advertised, on time and at a reasonable price? Both Virgin and First group in their bids promise various things some in great detail, other parts of the bids just an overall commitment but no firm promises. Even some people are calling on the government to nationalise the railway again and save money in the long term. I don’t think that will ever happen and whoever bids for future franchises will have to think carefully of what they promise.

Stop press - West Coast Main Line Franchise Competition Cancelled  - 

Whatever happens on the West Coast route for a while the trains and staff will be the same, go to same destinations and charge an ever increasing price per ticket. But what about the existing franchises that have still some years to run are they delivering on the service they promised.
In our region the main commuter train operating company is London Midland. London Midland operates train services through the heart of England from London in the south, to Birmingham in the Midlands and Liverpool in the north west. London Midland began operating on 11 November 2007.


Just lately London Midland have had a situation where trains are being cancelled across its service due to shortage of train crew. Rail replacement bus services to fill the gaps or passengers just having to wait for the next available service.
The social media as you would expect has a hive of lively debate on the subject and many people comment as though they know how to run a railway operation.
© London Midland
Some have even take the  opportunity to have a go at the person who is operating the twitter account ( ) as if it was their fault personally of the shortage of train crew. I am aware that the people who are manning the London Midland twitter account do not do it as their main job but as an aside because they wish to help their customers get the information required during times of disruption. I don't know of many training operating companies who have staff who man twitter until the early hours of the morning and also really engage with the users as well as this company. But i digress as much as the twitter rapport is great I know that without trains passengers cannot travel and that's what frustrates some people. Personally I find I am more delayed by the buses being more unreliable in my area of the West Midlands than the trains but that's another story
Now I don’t run a railway or profess to have an in-depth knowledge of railway operations but do take a keen interest in the behind the scenes areas. I have never worked directly within the industry but through my working life I have helped people get from A to B with my knowledge gleaned more as an enthusiast and to promote public transport.
I know a long time ago under the old British Rail regime there were staff sitting around New Street station or on “rest day relief” just in case someone didn't turn up for work or cover was needed. No employer these days likes staff sitting around being unproductive. Today things are very different I know and there are not as many staff to do these cover duties. There are all sorts of things that cause difficulties and cancellations including disruption on the line through cable theft or signal failure which displaces train crew, sickness, planned staff training and as we hear for more often in the news unfortunately people deciding to take their life or play dangerously on a railway line. These are just a few incidents I know which can have a major impact on providing a service and I’m sure you can think of more beside the wrong kind snow, leaves etc.
Just like in other industries staff apply for jobs with other companies and if successful wish to move as soon as their contract allows them to. I believe this has been the case with London Midland where quite a few staff have got jobs with the longer distance train operating companies and subsequent increase in salary and I don’t blame them. Most companies have forward planning for the average turnover of staff and to ensure that they have qualified staff to take their place. But training takes time and if a lot go in a short space of time there is most definitely a shortfall.
I’m told to qualify as a driver takes between 9 and 18 months and to illustrate what a driver has to do I will refer you to the ASLEF website
Its not surprising in my opinion how long it takes to become qualified given the responsibility and the safety requirements. In contrast from my brief online research it takes a person around 9 years to become a GP. An airplane pilot up to 10 years and I could go on but am sure you see the point that replacing staff cant happen in a short time.
London Midland have stated through twitter that they will soon have more drivers who are nearing the end of their training and will come on stream soon. Of course in the early stages they will not be driving solo but be being observed by experienced drivers. Vacancies for Senior conductors are also being filled and successful applicants will be undertaking the required training. Its a slow process I know and can be very frustrating for us passengers at times but if there aint qualified staff available other than recruit more and train them what can be done.
If London Midland lost their franchise tomorrow  and another company took over what would happen?  Well like the ending Virgin Trains Franchise the existing staff would transfer to the new company (whoever it would be) and their would still be cancellations as the new company couldn't suddenly find qualified staff I’m sure.
These views expressed here are my own as I see things and not those of the South Staffs Rail Group in general
Dave Cresswell 1st October 2012

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

August 2012 Guest Writer Rob Taylor

Life at Fossway Crossing
This month’s blog is all about the life and work of a crossing keeper who worked and lived at Fossway Crossing on the South Staffs Line, just south of Lichfield.
We met up with her Grandson, Iain who lives in Scotland, to talk about his childhood memories of when he used to spend the summer holidays at his Gran’s helping her out at Fossway.
Thursday 26th July 2012. 6.30pm Location: Fossway Crossing/ Signal Box
Iain contacted us through the SSR website last year, after his son in law, who lives in the Black Country, spotted the Bescot to Lichfield video footage on the main home page. Iain, who was born in Kilmarnock Scotland, was overwhelmed when he saw the video on South Staffordshire Railway website. This was especially so, because as the Bescot men passed Fossway crossing, they can be heard clearly talking about Iain's Gran being the crossing keeper. Iain contacted us in mid July, saying that he was coming down to Lichfield to attend a wedding, and arranged to meet up to talk about his times at Fossway as a young boy at his Gran’s.
 Crossing Keepers Cottage
It was in 1946 when Emily moved into the crossing keeper’s cottage at Fossway. The small cottage was railway owned, so came as part of the job for the crossing keeper. Iain explained that the railway cottage had no hot water, just a single cold tap in the Kitchen, this was also were the tin bath was located. The toilet was located outside. There was a cellar down some stone steps Emily had to boil water for Iain to have a bath. There was obviously no central heating and no double glazing. It felt very damp, but Iain loved it.
The cottage was painted black or as Iain always says, it was the soot from all the steam engines going by which gave it its black appearance. The up line was only about 1.5 metres from the side of the cottage, this meant that each time a train went by the whole house used to shake. Iain used to run outside when a train came, he would run through the veranda and into the garden of the cottage. There was a gate in the fence at one end of the garden. Here he would stand and hang outside on the gate. He was so close to the moving train, he could nearly touch it.
In the hot dry summers, the steam trains use to set fire to the grass in the cutting, as well as leaving soot all over Emily’s washing she used to peg out in the narrow garden.
Iain used to visit his Gran from 1958 when he came as a six month old baby to the cottage for the first time. In 1973 Iain left school, but still had every holiday down at Fossway for many years.
At work at Fossway
At around 6pm, Emily would have her tea and spend the summer evenings in the Signal Box. The instruments would go quite, but on the odd occasions the needles on the instruments above the levers would move on either the up or down line, then she knew she had to get the two huge keys (Annett Keys) ready to open the gates. These were like two heavy cast iron rifles used to secure the gates and unlock the levers for the crossing signals. She would swing the gates across the road, as the gates were permanently across the tracks. Once the gates had been opened the next step was to put them the keys into the floor panel and turn them to allow the operation of the levers to set the signals to clear. Emily’s hours were long, 6pm to 8am, 7 days a week.
Fossway Signal Box Explained
Iain explained the layout of the Signal Box in which he helped his Gran pull the levers for the signals.
There used to be steps straight up to the door from ground level outside. As you walk through the door, on the left hand side there was a wooden stool, and a sloped desk for the train register. In the middle on the back wall there was a fire place, and to the right of that there was a comfy chair. Just above the chair in the corner was the phone secured to the wall. The levers and instruments were located in front of the large track facing window. Iain could never pull the levers nor could his dad, but his Gran was very strong and could pull the levers with no effort. During the day the signal man would sit in the Box and as it was a quiet line, in between trains, the signalman would make paper models.
Plan of Fossway Signal Box – How Iain remembers it (not to scale)
Iain explained that he was always very curious on what was hidden away underneath the Signal box, as Ian became older he would ask his Gran what lay beneath and eventually on occasions she would get a big key to open the door. There use to be a big hammer hanging on the wall to fix the wooden blocks which held the rails in place on the sleepers (this was before the iron clips). Iain would pick up the big hammer and help to bash in the blocks in between the tracks. He always remembered that he went so far down the track and he always remembered his Gran shouting, “Don’t go too far you will be run over”.
Every Friday Iain and his Gran would go shopping into Lichfield, this would be also a visit to Lichfield city station to pick up Emily’s wages from Station Master. The Station Master would give Iain a little brown envelope, and once opened he would find half a crown. Iain explained that he was made up that the railway was paying him a wage for hammering the blocks in, but he later found out it was taken out of his Gran’s wages, which was a bit of a letdown.
Fossway was Iain’s six weeks school holiday, 6 wonderful weeks with the best Gran in the world. For the last two weeks Iain’s parents would come down for their holiday. Iain never had a toy train set, mainly because he had a real one! Iain was never bored; he used to play up and down beside the railway and the old canal which used to be beside the railway. Iain still clearly remembers the year 1825 inscribed on the brickwork of the canal. It was an adventure playground. Iain comments “It was probably the happiest time of my life as a youngster, I would love to re-live a day with my Gran with the trains rolling by again”. Emilys Life “Fossway Crossing Keeper” Emily was born in 1905 and became crossing keeper in 1946 Emily lost her first husband after the war and in 1957 she married again to a Norman Baker, he was a plate layer/ track maintenance on the Fossway section of the South Staffordshire line, that’s how they met each other, but sadly Norman died in 1963. Soon after Emily fell over and broke her hip; her relatives in Burntwood felt she couldn’t cope by herself, so she moved in with them. Emily who also only had only one eye through cataracts stayed the rest of her life with relatives in the Burntwood area. Meanwhile British Rail did not replace the crossing keeper and the house fell into disrepair. Emily died in 1994 age 89, Iain always visit’s her grave in Wall each time he’s down from Scotland. A local farmer/ contractor who lives at Fossway farm bought the cottage and land off British Rail, he had it for a number of years before he sold it to a developer. Iain had a phone call from he’s relatives in Burntwood saying it a sad day, as they are knocking down Gran’s house. Iain managed to get down to Fossway before all the house was taken away. He managed to take a brick from the house as a memorial.
Iain’s cousin (Rob Evans) painted a picture of the Railway Cottage and Signal Box as a wedding gift for Iain back in the 1970’s. Iain took a copy of the painting of his Gran’s house to the new house on the site of Emily’s cottage, to the occupiers, who proudly have it framed in there hallway today.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Summer Blog 2012

I will be taking a break from writing a blog for August so thought I’d do a summer blog that is right up my street, in terms of Food and Railways.

Railway catering has in the past been the butt of many comedians jokes. The British Rail Sandwich had a bad reputation but in the last year of British Operating 8 Million sandwiches were sold. See here for information Even “The Goons” a popular British Comedy Series dedicated a whole show to the subject of “The collapse of the British Railway Sandwich System”

In the early days of the railway system the various companies prided themselves in providing an at the table service in their dining cars. The Pullman Trains in particular boasted about having a full freshly cooked nutritious breakfast for Businessmen.

For the general travelling public it was either food from the various railway catering outlets usually just called the “Buffet” or later under the branded “Travellers Fare” banner. On the trains either a trolley service of snacks and light refreshments or a Buffet car selling various items which at times were neither appetising or cheap but if you were hungry that was it.


Times have changed and when the government in 1994 de-nationalised the railways and British Rail was no more the same happened with Travellers Fare.

Since then individual train operating companies have provided a variety of food for their customers either on-board or by means of contracts with external companies to provide a trolley service. With more and more outlets appearing at stations the catering and trolley services on some routes has diminished or finished altogether. In fact in our own region, London Midland withdraw catering services on trains altogether from the August Bank Holiday last year stating the following which is taken from their website.

“Following an extensive review, we're sorry to announce there will be no catering on board our trains from 27 August 2011

Over the past 3 years we have trialled catering on a number of routes -  Birmingham to Liverpool, Birmingham to London, and Crewe to London - and recently increased the number of services with catering facilities to assess demand at different times of day.
Whilst a small proportion of passengers appreciate the option to buy on the train, the greater range of products at station outlets means that the majority choose to purchase food and drink before boarding. On this basis we regret that we can no longer justify the high cost of providing on-train catering.”

On-train catering is not cheap to run whether from a trolley or a Buffet so hard decisions have to be made and in London Midlands Case I can see their point.

There are many new outlets springing up at stations across the country and nearby to stations so the public can whatever they need. On many railway stations you see the same companies selling their food and if your canny you will get yourself a free Bite Card which gets you 20% discount at the establishments mentioned on their website that are based in the railway stations. Quite a choice but there are some independent operators who offer something different not only in the food and drink they supply but also the surroundings in which you can purchase and consume


Those passing through Birmingham Moor Street station will know it has an air of yesteryear and may well have visited an establishment I can highly recommend having been there a few times. Its called Centenary Lounge ( The internal d├ęcor is inspired by the 1930’s Art Deco Bistro and on entering you will have a feel of luxury and warmth as well as noticing that it has all the features of a 1930s Great Western Railway Facility. Its licenced as well so if you almost all if not all your catering needs are sorted whether you are travelling or not. It’s a great meeting place as well.

Take a long at their website to get the feel of the place and now they have introduced a takeaway outlet at Birmingham Snow Hill Station which I had the privilege of being there at the official opening on Tuesday 17th July, when the Chocolate and cream ribbon was cut by non-other than Mr Phil Tonks ( and on twitter as @philtonks2 who is renowned in these parts for being partial to a quality bacon roll.

Whilst station outlets and on board catering has changed there is an open market for delivering good quality food and drink at a reasonable price to the travelling public. And if it can offer something different like Moor Streets “Centenary Lounge” and at Snow Hill “Refreshments by Centenary Lounge” then that can only be good for business as well as the discerning public who like to be treated special. The manager of Centenary Lounge tells me that plans are far ahead for opening an establishment at Stourbridge Junction Station in the very near future and of course that was part of the Great Western Railway who knew how to do things in style.

Railway refreshment facilities may have changed over the years as well as our requirements in this fast moving world of ours but its good to know some people are taking refreshment facilities to much new heights and I think the Centenary Lounge Branding and Art Deco style with real wood (Its Walnut) s their unique selling point and worthy of a visit. And if that wasn't enough for themselves they have been shortlisted for the “National Architecture Award” together with a B.A Award from “Business Today”

See you back here in September
Dave Cresswell

Sunday, 24 June 2012

June 2012–Blog

We purchase a ticket which is an authority to travel between selected stations or within an area based on the terms and conditions of the issued ticket.
I am aware that terms and conditions can be complex and sometimes people fall foul of some rule or complication. Rules tend to get relaxed a bit when there is disruption as all Train Operating Companies have an agreed system in place to accept each others permits to travel as announced to help each to get to the destination the customer has paid for. However there are general National Carriage rules that apply irrespective of which train operating company you use. Full terms of conditions can be downloaded here if you are interested
The problem is I think that customers don’t always explain fully their travel needs to the ticket seller or mis-advice is given as the staff member isn't fully aware of the conditions themselves. Many customers now purchase their tickets online but don't read the terms and conditions before purchase so find themselves out of pocket when they have to purchase a new ticket from the train manager. Now is this the fault of the customer or the ticket seller? Of course it depends on how clear things are at the point of sale.
I was amused on my recent visit to Edinburgh via the East Coast Mainline on Cross Country Trains from Birmingham New Street when a group of passengers wanted to upgrade their tickets purchased online from a company to first class under a special offer so they could get first class hospitality. They had brought the cheapest tickets possible online which didn't allow them to be able to upgrade as they wasn't standard tickets but they still claimed that the train manager was being unfair. I think the train manager would have been unfair if he had turned a blind eye to the ticket they held and sold them an upgrade when First Class passengers had paid either the upgrade for purchased standard tickets or the full price.
Now we can all moan if a train is late or cancelled as it can be a big inconvenience to us or others who rely on us as the train operating company has not met our expectation of service. Sometimes its within their control and in many cases its down to the Railway infrastructure, whether it be signalling, track, overhead wires etc. which is all managed by Network Rail. Or it could be other factors like vandalism through cable theft or trespassers on the line. However the bottom line as I understand it is that train operating companies have to get you to where it states on your ticket by any means possible and that's it apart from under National Rules the onus is on you to make a compensation claim under “Delay Repay” rules. Not everyone bothers to do this as it seems complicated to them but its important that they do.
The above relates to people who do actually purchase but then there are  people I do not have any sympathy for. These are the ones who aren't really customers because they board trains without having any intention of paying for the journey they are undertaking. These people do not have an authority to travel so they are in effect trespassing on the railway as well as committing an offence of theft of service. The consequences of “Rail Fare Evasion” can be read on this Solicitors site at
Back in September 2011 the mail Online highlighted the Top ten answers given to revenue protection inspectors (RPI) when asking into why the person didn't have a ticket or in many cases means to pay and therefore a clear intention of fare evasion.
It’s always good to see ticket checks being made on a train and the look on some peoples faces when then become aware of ticket inspections. Some move coincidently to the opposite end of the train and alight at the very next station or pretend to be asleep. I’m sure the RPIs have heard them all before and the ones I’ve seen working for London Midland are polite, listen to the passenger (as they haven't paid they are not customers) to determine whether a genuine reason for not having an authority to travel and the what the persons intentions are. Where they do issue a penalty notice having gone through a few identity procedure checks explain fully why and what that person has to do. The RPI’s know their patch and can spot regular offenders even before the offenders themselves are aware.
Remember the onus is on the traveller to prove they have attempted to purchase a ticket for their journey at the earliest opportunity not at their destination so buying one online, at the booking office (if open or machine if available) or from the conductor on the train or follow their advice if they cant sell you one for any reason.
We may not agree with the fares, the charging structure, the regular increases but we pay so why should the fare evaders get away with it and deprive the Train Operating Companies of the revenue which in turn can affect our level of service and the companies re-investment.
Dave Cresswell

Sunday, 13 May 2012

May 2012

This month my blog is slightly different than normal as I want to mention the current campaign by Network Rail who manage the infrastructure of our railway lines in the UK and at the end the “Safer Travel Partnership

If you follow any of the Train Operating Companies on Twitter you will know hardly a day goes by without one of them reporting that a person has been hit by a train or there are trespassers on the line. At least it causes inconvenience to passengers, disruption to services and in a lot of cases a unnecessary waste of emergency services resources .

There are unfortunate times when a railway worker is killed and that's why Network Rail insist that everyone working or have a requirement to go on the permanent way at times have to have a “Personal Track Safety Certificate” to prove they have undergone the appropriate training and examination to be fit to be trackside and this has to be done every two years. For non railway workers hit by a train it is not the train or the drivers fault and certainly not the train operating companies fault but the person who is hit.

However some passengers really have a go at the companies without thinking it through. Some maybe through frustration at yet another delay on our heavily used railway lines and some because they just don’t think. And many just do not even think about the train driver or the people who have to deal with the situation at ground level in dealing with the aftermath.

In my personal opinion there are two types people who get hit by a train. Those who deliberately do it as a way out from their troubles or unfortunately their mind is not what it used to be and those who are so downright stupid or do not think of the consequences of trains bearing down at them at speeds up to 125mph or more and the distance they travel in that time. If you haven’t seen the new video Network Rail video you can by clicking the image below


There is also some footage from a BBC news story from the Oxfordshire area

Is it really worth risking your own life and those of others if you drop something onto the railway or taking a shortcut across the tracks? I think not but as you can see from the clips some people think it is.

The railway today is a whole lot different to when the South Staffs Railway line was open, speeds are higher, more dangers about but the same can be said for the roads. Would these idiots suddenly run in front of a heavy truck coming towards them? Probably.

People can take responsibility for their actions but animals can’t and as you know only last week a Cross Country train on its way to Manchester from the South hit a dozen cows that had stampeded apparently onto the railway line through a damaged fence. Remarkably as the media and social media reports go the robustness of the train and the drivers swift actions prevented things from being worse than they were. Unfortunately there were some twitter users who kept saying it was a Virgin train that hit the cows without checking the facts but most people on twitter did spare a thought for the driver, crew and passengers.

British Transport Police who are responsible for policing the railway are regularly out in schools up and down the country highlighting the dangers of the modern high-speed railway and trying to get the message across to our younger people about the dangers of trespassing or taking risks on the rail. But there will be some who do not take heed or take leave of their senses for a short time endangering themselves or others.

And finally in the West Midlands if you didn't know already we have a “first of its kind” partnership between Centro, West Midlands Police, British Transport Police and Transport Operators make up the Safer Travel Partnership, which exists to make public transport in the West Midlands even safer. The partnership is called “Safer Travel Partnership” and the website gives more details of what their aims are.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

“Rail travel reaches 90-year high” – That’s the headline in the industry newspaper “Railnews April 2012”

It goes on to say that “New figures show that the number of railway passengers in Britain has reached a level not seen for more than 90 years, and may be close to setting an all-time record”.

In another article in the same “Railnews” it tells us that the West Midlands has seen the number of rail journeys almost doubled since 2001 and that in 2010/11 42.8 million journeys were made.

Impressive figures and from the overcrowding on some trains you will be well aware of the increases. 

Levels not seen for more than 90 years, I wonder why? And what has been the real increase for the years of Dr Beeching assessment of the railways where the motor car was taking over a lot of journeys and the very high cost of motoring today and therefore the number of people returning to the railways because of this.

I’m one of those who for over a year now have most days commuted to work instead of driving for the very reason of cost. As I live in the West Midlands area I’m lucky enough to be able to purchase a Bus and Rail monthly season ticket by direct debit which costs only £81.50. This entitles me to travel on all the Bus operating companies buses within the West Midlands county boundary and also all trains within the same area. Simple and convenient, one card that covers all that for less than one posh coffee per day. My costs to and from work before I shifted travel mode was on average £180 per month excluding car tax and insurance which I still of course pay. I am sure many more people have done the same to stretch whatever income they have. If your outside the West Midlands then I am aware public transport costs are higher but there are add-on tickets to the Centro card which can still save you money.

These season tickets were not available in their present form in 1963 or was as many bus companies or regular buses but still the railway network was savagely cut. Many people worked and lived locally to their employment so it wasn’t always necessary to travel by public transport to work.

People now work further away from where they live, fuel prices have rocketed as well as motor insurance. People are working longer hours, working on the go via mobile devices so railway travel is looking more and more inviting to a lot of people who wouldn’t have dreamt of it five or ten years ago.

Whilst there are many more train operating companies than there were in 1963 there are all operating to have our custom and make money. Each of them have their own promotions and the one that covers all local services within the West Midlands County is London Midland. With Cross Country and Arriva operating out to Leicester, Derby, Shrewsbury etc. Cross Country together with Virgin Trains undertake more long distance services. At one time before government deregulation we had one company that undertook to do all and was called British Rail.
(A London Midland Class 172 Unit approaches Smethwick Galton Bridge on the Snow Hill Lines)

The railways these days is far from British but we all want to get from A to B on time at reasonable cost if possible but do we really care what the train company is called that tries to fulfil our requirements?

In 1963 we had Dr Beeching reporting on our railways, in 2011 we had Sir Roy McNulty's. We was charged with giving an ” independent Rail Value for Money” Using their words “The review, which was jointly sponsored by the Department for Transport and the Office of Rail Regulation, recommended ways in which the whole industry can work towards delivering a safe and efficient railway which represents value-for-money for customers and taxpayers.”
Without commenting directly on that review as there are more expert people than me on that, isn’t it possibly another case of Dr Beeching mark 2 to some extent?

I am sure all the Train Operating Companies (TOC’s) are like any business reviewing the services they deliver, save on costs but not lose customers. However as I’ve said before you cannot run trains to places that the railway no longer has tracks. In many parts of the country there are reports and studies being done at the cost of many thousands of pounds. What happens to these reports once they have been published? All local authorities and businesses say yes re-openings are a good idea and then like many of them get dusty on the shelf only to be used for yet another study 5 or ten years down the line.

Mary Portas who has reported recently on the state of the high Street has said its no use commissioning reports and findings if people don’t get off their backsides and do something about them afterwards.

Yes I know its all about finances but also about social need. Our present Prime Minister David Cameron is encouraging the Big Society and working together and whatever your politics its makes sense if people do actually work together.

Recently I was asked at Walsall station by a stranger how they could get to Lichfield  and they were appalled when I told them that the Bus service was every 90 minutes and there best way was to go to Aston or better still Dudeston so avoid the steps and change their for a Cross City service. At the best of times this would take them about 50 mins to an hour. Or travel to Rugeley Trent Valley and then travel down the West Coast Main Line to Lichfield Trent Valley and change for Lichfield City. I asked them the reason they wanted to go to Lichfield from Walsall and they said only recently moved into the area and they had been offered a interview and the Job was ideal for them. On hearing the tortuous way round they would have to go they said “might as well forget it”

Another person asked me best way of getting to Wolverhampton from Walsall and sadly I had to say “By Bus” as there is only one direct train a day to Wolverhampton at 19:36 the rest via New Street which takes almost an hour.

The above is are only two examples that I've come across but am sure there are many more not only for the South Staffs line but many more up and down the Country where services have been curtailed or lines torn up through lack of foresight or other priorities.
Isn't it time to take the Mary Portas line and take action on some of the Local Transport reports that have been undertaken in recent years, local and public positive partnership and funding to re-instate new transport links and upgrade others.

 (Former South Staffs Rail Line near Brownhills April 2012 (c) Dave Cresswell)

But of course if we do that the Treasury surely will lose out on monies because people wouldn’t be paying high taxes in fuel duties or tax on insurance premiums? If they travel by more economic public transport means.

This Blog are my own views and not those necessarily of the South Staffs Rail Group. For more on the South Staffs Line please go to

Thursday, 2 February 2012

February 2012 Blog

I write this blog (still left handed) on the day my plaster came of my right arm following a fracture in early December. It was such a joy when it was taken off even though I'm far from recovered and I shall have a lot of physio to do. I was such a joy to put on a sleeved shirt again in this freezing cold weather, simple things but very pleasurable.
The same can be true of the South Staffordshire Rail website at as i looked at it this evening and noticed that Rob had posted pictures up that Quattro have sauntered up the line a bit and cleared some of foliage. See the pictures here at this link
As Rob mentioned it was December 2010 that the came as far as Hammerwich and removed some track (still not back in-situ) for their training exercises. Training exercises or not its good to see that an effort is being made using their skills to clear some of the line.
I haven’t been down to Hammerwich since my accident so miss visiting but Rob took up the mantle and has kept the monthly update of pictures going.
Centro,on the other hand has been asking the public as part of the local transport plan for our thoughts on various aspects of transport in the West Midlands region and in particular re-opening the line for Freight between Stourbridge and Walsall. As many of you know that was part of the South Staffordshire railway and would form a good shared freight/Midland Metro corridor. This would also help to reduce the amount of freight trains avoiding passing through the Birmingham area. Centro are also interested in creating a Freight Depot at Bescot which is currently underused. The re-opening of a passenger service to Aldridge extending some services from Birmingham through Walsall. Its early days yet but its quite clear from their plan that they wish to see these developments happen.
The other arm of what used to be part of the SSR now called the Chase Line is going from strength to strength with passenger loadings. Many of these trains that I've been on from Walsall to Birmingham are   heavily loaded and standing room only on many of the Saturday trains as they arrive in Walsall from Rugeley, Hednesford, Cannock etc. London Midland have strengthened some of the trains but passengers need to remember only three coaches can fit on to the platforms beyond Walsall. The reliability and timings can be a problem at the moment with maximum line speed of 45mph but even with the problems the passengers seem to want the service.
With freight movements increasing and passenger growth in the region it can only be a good thing and although we shall never have the heyday of yesteryear with loads stations etc with the steady growth that's taking place in the area its good to know that Centro are more positive in the current transport plan than they have ever been.
Below is a picture showing Birmingham and surrounding district as it looked in 1961with the many passenger and freight lines.

And finally I’ll leave you with a link from British Pathe News showing some footage in the opening sequence of our line as part of a panoramic view of the mining areas in 1972
Dave Cresswell

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year - 2012

Well as I write this the last hours of 2011 are ticking away and soon we will be into a New Year. A year of hope for those taking part in the Olympics as well as those organising such a mammoth task. Its going to be a testing year for all public transport as operators gear themselves up for what will be one of the biggest movements of people from home and abroad since the war.

I’m sure that there will be problems along the way as we have seen during 2011 when we have had more disruption on the railways due to metal theft, breakdowns, staffing difficulties and all manor of things that has caused considerable disruption to passenger services her in the Midlands and elsewhere.

2011 has seen the re-introduction of faster passenger services from Birmingham Snow Hill and Moor St to London Marylebone due to heavy investment by Chiltern Railways. New investment and introduction of  Class 172 trains by London Midland on the Leamington – Snow Hill – Worcester Lines. £10,000 raised through the Farewell 150 Railway Tour organised between London Midland, Severn Valley Railway and Network Rail. The 150 units being the ones replaced by 172’s

We have seen the continuing work being done to modernise New Street Station and over Christmas 2011  a footbridge replaced in readiness for expansion work and new entrances and lifts.

And only this week Network Rail/London Midland have announced work to improve the line speed on the chase line (between Walsall and Rugeley TV) and Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury.  (more details here)

So a lot is going on around us on our railway networks at a time when road traffic is ever increasing as well as the increased cost of fuel. Which brings me to the cost of price rises in rail fares and season tickets. Is it justified or not in this economic climate. There are arguments for and against but personally for local travel in the West Midlands area compared to motoring  I am far better off continuing to use public transport and in particular our railway network. Not always convenient  especially when delays occur but i have found i have been more held up overall in the car in traffic jams than on the train. It also has the advantage of not worrying about parking charges which are always rising.

For longer distant commuters things may be different but you cannot easily compare road with rail as railway passengers bear the brunt of the cost of the rail infrastructure whereas roads and motorists in general don’t

If the South Staffs Railway line between Stourbridge and Alrewas via Walsall, Brownhills and Lichfield was open today I’m sure we would see the amount of growth that has been witnessed on the Walsall RugeleyTV recently and that the trains would be very crowded and would benefit the whole of the West Midlands Economy. But alas at the moment we can only hope the powers that be will become more than a talking shop and take action to ensure passenger growth across the whole of our area with new investment in infrastructure as without it no one wins.

Wish all who have an interest in railways and specifically the future of the South Staffs Line a Happy, healthy and fruitful 2012 and beyond

For more on the South Staffs Railway line and group go to

PS - For those of you who have asked, the picture for my background is Brownhills station. This station closed in the Beeching era and Brownhills was where i first lived

Monday, 5 December 2011

Mainline trains on South Staffs Rail and Cross City Line

On Saturday 26th November the northern part of the Cross City Line (Aston to Lichfield City) and South Staffs line (Lichfield City to Wichnor Junction) was busier than ever.

Due to engineering work elsewhere Cross Country trains between Birmingham and Derby and beyond were diverted over the line. London Midland who are currently running a special leaf fall timetable ran a modified service to enable the diverted trains a suitable timing path through.


Some Cross Country services ran late and therefore caused delays to London Midland services. London Midland had to issue special instructions to its drivers to not stop at some of the stations on the route so that they could get back to time once arriving in New Street. I know as I was videoing  at various stations and several London Midland services were shown as cancelled en-route. It was not the best of weather with biting winds and many passengers including myself had to wait 20 mins or longer for a service.


A compilation of video footage that myself and Rob Taylor took can be found at
It was a peculiar sight seeing mainline trains going through the Junction at Aston on and off the cross city line interspersed with London Midland trains. Incidentally London Midland trains looked a lot cleaner than the Cross Country Services.

Some freight trains were even diverted over the route which I’m sure hasn't seen a lot of freight through there since the steam days (unless of course you know different)

Of course it could have been a very different story up until the early 1980’s when the lines between Walsall (Ryecroft Junction) and Brownhills (Anglesey Sidings – Newtown Bridge) were lifted on the South Staffordshire line.

If the lines had been there then London Midland wouldn't have had to create a special timetable or delay or cancel some train stopping points.

Cross Country and freight trains could have used the South Staffs line between Birmingham and Lichfield City to good effect. Again in hindsight I wonder if the powers that be in the 1980’s had considered that freight traffic would grow again as the latest statistics show and that people would return to the railway.

There’s no more a telling point on this than the ever increasing amount of passengers on the Rugeley Trent Valley to Birmingham via Walsall Services. Again a Line that John Robinson McClean created under the South Staffs Railway Banner to move Coal from the various pits.

And its a bit ironic that the former South Staffordshire line from Pleck Junction to towards Dudley is going to be used as a turn back siding as far as the M6 Bridge for Freightliner Coal trains from Rugeley which will then go onto the Sutton Park line and Vice-versa

Travel West Midlands run a very frequent Bus Service between Walsall and Brownhills every ten minutes during the day and some run through to Burntwood. The number of people I hear these days saying they wish that the railway line was open to Brownhills and Lichfield and I bet London Midland the current main local train operating company in the West Midlands wishes so two.

As for the passengers who wish to get to Lichfield from Walsall  its probably quicker and more reliable to catch the train from Walsall to Lichfield changing at Aston or Birmingham New Street than catch that bus which runs roughly every 90 mins if your lucky.

For more info on the South Staffs Railway please click here