Robert Hampton

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23rd March 2013

Train of thought

Virgin Train at Liverpool South ParkwayOddly enough, despite being obsessed with railways, I don’t really mention trains much for the first year or so of the blog. I suspect I may have been trying to project an image of coolness, and I imagined railways would not fit in with that. One of the earliest train posts, in fact, is a fairly grim one – a brief mention of the Ufton Nervet derailment.

Railway safety (or the alleged lack thereof) is a common complaint in the media. Actually Britain’s railway is one of the safest in the world, but that tends to make the fatal accidents, such as the Greyrigg derailment, more newsworthy.

Subsequently, however, I’ve got over any lingering problems with coolness and I now blog about trains to the point of being boring. One development that excited me near the start of the blog’s life was the Liverpool South Parkway interchange, which was developed just a few stations down the line from where I live. I wrote about it in September 2005, when it was nearing completion, then a few months later in June 2006, when it opened. As was my habit at the time, the write-up of the day appeared on a separate page, rather than the blog itself. At first, the station’s usefulness was limited by the refusal of the regional operators to stop their trains there, but over the years more and more destinations have been served. The station is now a useful facility, and has been the starting point for many of my recent rail adventures.

lsp-certificateThe fractured nature of Britain’s passenger railway, with its multitude of franchises, means that every few years a new company will take over from the old. In practice this generally means that the trains are painted a different colour, staff get new uniforms and little actually changes on the ground. Such was the case with the Merseyrail network, when Arriva Trains handed over to the Serco/NedRailways consortium. Quite a few people were happy to see the end of Arriva, although subsequent events – including a damaging strike on Grand National Day in 2005 and a mysterious problem with the wheel lathe which led to days of disruption in 2007 – have dented the Dutch operator’s reputation somewhat in my eyes.

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23rd April 2012

Bare E-Central-s
Posted by at 11.59pm | Liverpool, Trains | No responses

Extract from Merseyrail map showing Central station crossed outSince moving to Aigburth, with its attendant Merseyrail station, in 2003, I’ve become quite accustomed to being whisked off into the centre of town in just 9 minutes. A total of 15 minutes door-to-door commute time? That’ll do nicely.

I think it’s the hallmark of a good service that you only notice when its not there. Over the nine years that I’ve been using the service, the problems have been rare but disruptive: a strike, a blizzard, a misbehaving sewer and, most significantly, a six week shutdown to work on the tunnel. By and large however, Merseyrail get on with it with quiet efficiency, taking me to work, the shops, days and nights out, or just delivering me to Lime Street to start a longer journey.

It’s fair to say that Merseyrail is almost as essential to me as oxygen or photos of Gareth Bale with no shirt. Now Liverpool Central has closed for six months, I feel like one of my legs has been chopped off – sure, I can still get about, but it’s not as easy as it was. I mean, come on: Moorfields is at least a five minute walk from Liverpool ONE!

At least Central went out in a blaze of glory at the weekend, with more people passing through its doors than it has ever had to cope with at any time in its existence.

Crowds at Liverpool Central station

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22nd April 2012

On y va!
Posted by at 7.43pm | Liverpool | 1 response

Photo of Sea Odyssey Banner at St George's HallWhen I first read of the plans for the Sea Odyssey Giant Spectacular, I was sceptical. These big set-piece events cost a lot of money and effort, but do they have any lasting impact?

My cynicism was increased further when Merseytravel published a list of bus diversions which ran to 12 pages, but could have been succinctly summarised as, “if you use a bus, you’re in trouble”. Was it worth causing this level of disruption to the normal life of the city?

As it turned out, yes it was.

For the uninitiated, The Sea Odyssey is a show based on the story of three giants: a little girl, her dog, and her uncle (a diver) who end up roaming the city in search of each other before finally being reunited. The giants are extremely sophisticated marionettes, animated by a squad of talented French performance artists who operate numerous ropes and pulleys to make the giants move. The show has been developed and designed specifically for Liverpool’s streets, and is a one-time-only event.

What set Sea Odyssey aside was the sheer scale of it. The Guardian previewed the event and noted that “Sea Odyssey will be – the Olympics aside – the largest outdoor event staged in the country this year.”

It started on Friday with events centred around Stanley Park in the north of the city, but I was in work so missed out. I took advantage of my lunch break, however, to stroll down to the Albert Dock, where one of the giants – the Diver Uncle – sat in the water, waiting…

Photo of Diver Giant waiting in Dock

He was due to wake up at 2pm, but I was expected back at the office by then, and to miss even a second at my desk would violate my strong work ethic (stop laughing, you).

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1st January 2012

The Day After New Year’s Eve

2012 promises more than just the collapse of global capitalism and the fulfilment of ancient Mayan prophecies as foretold in a terrible film. Here (in no particular order) is what I’m looking forward to this year.

Liverpool Central reborn

Artist's impression of new Liverpool CentralLiverpool Central was highlighted in a damning report as one of the ten worst interchange stations in the UK, news which came as a surprise to no-one who has used the station. It’s dank, dirty and overcrowded – not good for Liverpool’s busiest station and hub of the Merseyrail network.

Change is finally coming this year; the squeaky escalators, brown formica panelling and chewing gum encrusted platforms will soon be swept away in favour of something rather more modern. It remains to be seen whether the refurbishment will solve the station’s main problem – that of the Northern Line platforms being just too damn narrow – but let’s face it, it could hardly be worse than it is now. The station will be closed for up to six months this year, which will be a lot of upheaval (especially for my daily commute, as Central is by far the nearest station to work). There’s no doubt, however, that it will be worth it in the long run.

Star Trek: The Next Generation in HD

TNG is celebrating its 25th anniversary, which – as well as making me feel really old – is the perfect opportunity to launch the remastered HD version of the series, to be released on Blu-ray this year. Normally I’d be thinking “oh hurray, a chance to buy the stuff I already own on DVD all over again,” but I’m refraining from this, because the video on CBS’s web site (linked above) looks gorgeous. The big question remains: will they manage to edit the racism out of Code of Honor?

The 2012 Olympics

Yes, really. Yes, it’s a horrendously expensive event which is taking away vital funds at a time of austerity. Yes, the capital will be a nightmare to live, work and travel in for the duration. And yes, the city will be a fortress where anyone dark skinned can expect to be Tasered within an inch of their life. But the pomp and spectacle of the opening ceremony will be amazing; a once-in-a-lifetime event for this country. It’s a shame I failed to get tickets, but I now have a Freeview HD box and frankly, 1080p is just as good as being there. Hopefully it will be Ken, not Boris, who represents London as mayor at the ceremony.

I won’t be watching any of the sport, of course. Well, maybe the men’s diving. Definitely the men’s diving.

Festival Gardens opening

In 1984 the Government gave Liverpool a ton of money to create a beautiful riverside park, complete with miniature railway, Japanese gardens and futuristic dome. The International Garden Festival was a huge success, attracting visitors from all over the country and leaving a lasting legacy for the people of Merseyside. Or rather, it would have, had the Militant-controlled city council not allowed the park to close and fall into disrepair. It’s a huge embarrassment to Liverpool that this was allowed to happen, especially after the Japanese government, horrified that their gift to the city had become overgrown with weeds, threatened a diplomatic incident.

Now, after 25 years of closure (excluding the brief existence of the amusement arcade/scally magnet Pleasure Island, which closed due to being shit) the Festival Gardens are about to come to life again. The opening, originally pencilled in for Summer 2011, has been delayed by almost a year due to various issues, but is finally expected to happen in the Spring. I’ve peeked through the locked gates to the park and it looks rather special. The Liverpool Echo got a rather more close-up view.


Following my jaunt to Tallinn last year, there will hopefully be at least one overseas trip this year as well. Like Joseph Stalin in 1944, I have my sights firmly set on Berlin. I’m also planning more Station Master excursions. Altnabreac, I’m coming for you!

I promise to be more active with my blogging this year: there will be blogs, tweets and videos from me throughout 2012, I promise.

28th December 2011

Central Perk
Posted by at 1.37pm | Trains | No responses

Today was my first visit to the gym since Christmas. I’ve consumed rather a lot of mince pies in the six days since I last ventured there, and I paid for it today. On the treadmill today, I was a real Christmas sweater! (I thought of that joke four days ago, but had to wait until now to use it)

Going to the gym meant going into town, and going into town meant getting the train. Fortunately, the line and station near my house are not affected by the engineering works which have closed a big chunk of Merseyrail’s Northern Line, so I was able to get into Liverpool city centre without hassle.

I arrived at Liverpool Central for my return journey having just missed a train. This didn’t worry me – there was not long to wait until the next one and it gave me a chance to appreciate the very atypical atmosphere in the station.

Photo of near-empty Liverpool Central station

Shorn of all its trains except a shuttle to Hunts Cross, the Northern Line platform was a very different place. No crowds, no pushing and shoving, no jostling at the base of the escalators. It was quiet, peaceful, serene – like the Evergreen Forest before Bert Raccoon wakes up.

The commuter part of me almost wishes it could be like this every day. But railway stations, especially major ones in the centre of town, are not supposed to be this quiet. Seeing Central like this, almost deserted on a busy shopping day, actually made me quite sad.

1st January 2010

2009? More like Two Thousand and Fine!

July saw Merseyrail’s run of bad luck continue, as a train rolled out of the depot and derailed. To atone for their sins, they introduced a new day ranger ticket, but I wasn’t convinced. This was something of a train-y month for me, as I did my bit to help out the previous generation of Merseyrail trains. Trains were also on the Government’s mind, as they announced that the Liverpool to Manchester line would be electrified.

In London, the Police proved once again what a wonderful organisation they are. In Rome, a swimmer suffered an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.

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17th November 2009

Sitting at the railway station, got a ticket to my destination…
Posted by at 1.28pm | Trains | No responses

The Government has released a new list ranking train stations, and look at the results:-

1. Manchester Victoria

9. Liverpool Central

Yet again Liverpool trails behind its fellow city. Manchester gets everything, we’re left behind…

Oh wait, this is a survey of the worst stations in the country. I can’t really argue with Central‘s placement on the list: when you’re forced to push your way past throngs of people on a platform that’s just too narrow, it’s the worst possible advert for Merseyrail that there could be.

The amazingly-named Lord Adonis is on a whistle-stop tour of the top ten today, visiting Liverpool Central to open the new MtoGo shop there. This being the era of Web 2.0 and all that, he is blogging about his day on the Department for Transport web site. I look forward to reading his thoughts.

The good news is that the Government has committed to upgrade the worst stations, which is ironic in the case of Liverpool Central, as Merseytravel have already tried for several years to get funding and have been knocked back.

3rd May 2009

Without Walls
Posted by at 3.03pm | Trains | No responses

Another Merseyrail mystery to ponder: why are they removing the cladding along the walls of the Northern Line platform at Liverpool Central?

Liverpool Central Northern Line platform, taken on 3rd May 2009

Interesting (yes, really!) to see the actual tunnel wall exposed, but doing this has managed to achieve the seemingly-impossible feat of making Central station look even more scruffy. I’m assuming it’s a temporary measure, so let’s hope the replacement is something smarter.

12th July 2008

PC Plod
Posted by at 4.24pm | Liverpool | No responses

Merseyside Police have plastered Liverpool Central station with posters. There are several different designs, but the common theme running through them is: “watch your wallet/car/other treasured personal possessions while you’re visiting Liverpool”.

That’s really going to help tear down stereotypes. Well done to all concerned!