Robert Hampton

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16th September 2015

Stuff happens
Posted by at 10.10pm | It's My Life | No responses


As August gave way to September, I found myself in something of a low mood. There were actual tears produced at one point.

It had been a stressful few weeks. Work has been difficult, I’ve had an End of Module Assignment to deliver to the Open University, and on top of that, I’ve moved into a new flat.

You may remember that, when last we met, I’d just acquired the keys. The apartment was devoid of furniture, fittings and most of the other things that are required to – ahem – “make a house a home”.

I didn’t immediately realise what I was letting myself in for, but it turns out that being a grown up is hard.

It didn’t help that there was a long list of niggles to sort out. The Virgin phone line didn’t work and required an engineer to come out. I phoned up Liverpool City Council to sort out council tax and was put on hold for nearly an hour because the telephone operator forgot his computer password. I had to phone Scottish Power on three separate occasions to actually get an account set up. United Utilities asked me for a water meter reading… and I couldn’t find the meter. The sofa I ordered failed to turn up on time.

For the first couple of weeks, I spent my evenings eating ready meals on a deckchair in the bare living room (because I had no dining furniture). I would probably have had a nervous breakdown, were it not for my amazing family and friends who rallied round with practical, financial and emotional support. Too many to mention individually (and I don’t want to forget someone and upset them) but you know who you are… and THANK YOU.

After all that, it was fortunate that September brought several events which cheered me up no end.

Read the rest of this post »

26th August 2013

A Roby Illustrator
Posted by at 11.54pm | Trains | 1 response

Under the streets of London, tunnel boring machines are slowly carving out a new east-west route across the capital. Crossrail will provide a vital new railway route, making cross-London connections easier and taking pressure off overcrowded Underground stations.

A predictable complaint from some quarters is that London’s transport infrastructure is receiving investment while the rest of the country is ignored. But a quieter revolution is taking place in the north-west of England, and for tangible evidence of it, you need look no further than Roby, a small station in the suburbs of Liverpool.

Roby Station 1

This pile of bricks and soil may not look too promising, until you consider that until a few months ago this area contained nothing but weeds. These are the remains of Roby’s third and fourth platforms, removed when the railway line here was reduced from four tracks to two in the 1970s. At the time, rail traffic was in decline and two tracks were sufficient to accommodate the remaining trains.

Now, however, the tide has turned. Passenger numbers are up and a cursory glance at Northern Rail’s Twitter feed will tell you that commuters are increasingly fed up about being crammed into small, slow trains. The powers-that-be want more trains, running more frequently, and faster. To this end, Network Rail is working to reinstate a third track between Roby and Huyton. This additional track will permit express trains to overtake local stopping services, greatly increasing the number of trains that can run on the line. Should the Northern Hub scheme go ahead in its entirety, the fourth track will also be put back.

When these works are completed, TransPennine Express will operate a Liverpool to Newcastle service via this route. It will run non-stop from Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Victoria, giving a journey time of just 30 minutes between the two cities. Compare with the current fastest journey time of 43 minutes (from Liverpool to Manchester Oxford Road). The train suddenly looks like a much more attractive proposition than the car.

More is to come: by 2015, this entire route will be electrified, and most of the old diesel trains will be gone, replaced by “new” electric trains (actually, refurbished trains from Thameslink). The Class 142 Pacers, wholly unsuited for this route, will finally be consigned to history.

Roby Station 2

There are already benefits to Liverpool from this scheme. In preparation for the revamped timetable, Northern Rail have reopened the train depot at Allerton in south Liverpool, employing local people in engineering roles. Meanwhile, TransPennine have opened a new train crew depot at Liverpool Lime Street.

It’s great to see real, tangible improvements taking place on the route once travelled by George Stephenson’s Rocket. Exciting times lie ahead…

9th August 2011


London has experienced days of rioting in various parts of the city, there was disorder in Liverpool last night, while tonight Birmingham and Manchester are under attack.

From watching the near-continuous news coverage, I have come to a terrifying conclusion: our notion of “law and order” only works if most people behave themselves without intervention. Once you have a sufficiently large group of people with no respect for authority, the system breaks down and the police are easily overwhelmed.

The chickens are coming home to roost. For decades, social issues have been left to fester, leaving us with areas of high unemployment and high crime, where many people exist without any purpose or direction in life. This situation has been perpetuated by successive Conservative governments (who simply didn’t care) and Labour governments (who cared deeply, but failed to get to grips with the problem).

Now to compound the problem the Government is pushing through vicious budget cuts: not just to front-line services like the police and fire brigade, but also to services like youth clubs and other community organisations. And then they act surprised when it blows up in their faces.

Tough-sounding soundbites from Theresa May and David Cameron won’t solve this: it requires long-term thinking. Unfortunately this sort of thinking is not favoured by politicians and their friends in the tabloid press. We will see demands for the return of National Service, calls for water cannons to be turned on the rioters, and wails about the Human Rights Act. The actual root causes will not be addressed, and the problems will be stored up again for next time. Repeat ad infinitum…

15th July 2011

Posted by at 10.27pm | Out and About, Trains | No responses

Photo of Metrolink Tram 3004 at St Werburgh's RoadWhile visiting Manchester with Scott to bag some Parliamentary railway stations (of which more later) I had a chance to ride the new Chorlton line of Metrolink.

The line opened only eight days ago and still has that new (tram)car smell – the trams are spotlessly clean. The trams were already busy, although some passengers just appeared to be riding the line for its novelty value. Even so, this bodes well for the future.

The Chorlton line is just the first of several new tram lines which will be opening in Greater Manchester over the next few years. Meanwhile, the number of tram routes in Liverpool remains firmly fixed at zero. It’s a shame that Merseytravel failed to get its network off the ground. I love Merseyrail, but there are big parts of the city which are not served and a tram system could have gone some way to filling in the gaps.

Will I ever get to ride a tram around the Liverpool City Centre Loop, which should have been up and running by 2008? Probably not for the foreseeable future, sadly.

Photo of platform and shelter at St Werburgh's Road Metrolink Station"Welcome to the Metrolink network... and your new stop"

15th September 2010

Posted by at 9.45pm | Liverpool, Trains | No responses

Happy birthday to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which opened 180 years ago today. There were other earlier attempts, but the L&M was the first proper railway as we would recognise it today, with all trains working under their own power rather than drawn by horses and using fixed stopping places and timetables.

What an adventure it must have been for the early travellers. Those first nervous passengers travelled aboard rickety four-wheeled carriages, with uncomfortable seats, low speeds and poor ride quality. We’ve come a long way since then.

The line contains several engineering marvels, including the crossing of Chat Moss and the Sankey Viaduct. The route is of course still in use today, with Earlestown station having the distinction of being the oldest railway station in the world. A few stops down the line at Rainhill, a plaque and exhibition commemorate the famous locomotive trials which proved that steam power was the way of the future.

City Line map of Liverpool and Manchester Railway

Despite some early hiccups (killing the guest of honour on launch day is the sort of PR snafu that would make even Max Clifford’s palms sweat) the L&M’s success inspired a swathe of copycat enterprises. Within a few years, a vast network of lines criss-crossed the country, opening up areas previously inaccessible without an arduous journey. Trips that previously took days were reduced to a few hours. The railways created tourism and introduced the concept of commuting.

Do many people riding the overcrowded Pacer into Lime Street in 2010 recognise the historical importance of this section of the City Line? Probably not, but the world would have been a very different place without it.

23rd July 2009

In which Robert cements his reputation as a train nerd
Posted by at 1.29pm | Trains | No responses

The Government’s announcement of electrification of parts of the rail network didn’t come as a surprise. What IS surprising (to me at least) was that one of the two lines due to be wired is the line from Liverpool to Manchester via Newton-le-Willows.

The Chat Moss route is the original Liverpool & Manchester Railway, the line of Stephenson’s Rocket and the Rainhill Trials. For many years it was the main route to Manchester, but more recently its fortunes have declined somewhat as many of the long-distance express services were diverted to run via Warrington. That’s all set to change with this announcement, however.

Once you read the DfT’s report, it’s clear that the route has been chosen because the benefits go beyond the Liverpool-Manchester corridor.

Firstly, putting wires up between Manchester and the junction with the West Coast Main Line at Parkside will provide a direct electrified route between Manchester and Preston for the first time. This means that Manchester-Scotland services will be able to use electric trains. This is better for the environment (running diesels on a route already electrified for 85% of its distance is a questionable practice). It’s also better for passengers: the Class 185 trains with their commuter-style seating layout are not really suitable for such a long run. These displaced trains will move back to the trans-Pennine route where overcrowding is becoming a problem.

Also, although it’s not mentioned in the document, the Liverpool-Earlestown section is a diversionary route for Virgin services when the route through Runcorn is unavailable for whatever reason. Electrification will permit Richard Branson’s shiny Pendolinos to continue running into Lime Street without the need for diesel-haulage or worse, complete bustitution of the service.

The new Liverpool-Manchester services will apparently be operated using refurbished Class 319 units which will become surplus to requirements on Thameslink in the next few years. I expect a flurry of indignant “second hand trains” articles in the local press over this, but ignore them: the 319s are excellent trains and have many years of life left in them.

There’s a few clouds on the horizon: The project is expected to cost £100million and will add to the mounting Government debt. And questions must be asked of the Conservative Party; they are almost certainly going to be in Government after 2010. Will they continue with the project? What about passengers served by the CLC route? Will they see their services downgraded in importance as focus turns to the shiny new electric line a few miles north?

But let’s not worry about that right now; this is a great development which will hopefully pave the way for more of the local rail network to be electrified. With the main line done, the case for smaller schemes to fill in gaps elsewhere (eg Huyton to Wigan via St Helens Central) becomes stronger.

It will obviously mean a lot of disruption over the next 4-5 years while the overhead line equipment is installed. In the meantime I will daydream about speeding through Earlestown on a Thameslink 319 and look forward to the day when the whole of the City Line is wired up.

15th May 2008

The Beautiful Game
Posted by at 10.59pm | In the News, Trains | No responses

Extracts from Network Rail’s log from Manchester Piccadilly station last night (reposted from here):-

14/05 2200 NR Call received from the TPE station staff at Manchester Piccadilly advising that football supporters are walking on the track on platforms 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14, train running stopped, BTP are in attendance, but the large volume of passengers is growing.
14/05 2242 NR Station Manager at Manchester Piccadilly advises Platform 13 & 14 are now closed due to disorder, Station staff have withdrawn from the platform.
14/05 2245 NR BT Police Control Sergeant informed of events and that the station staff are afraid to leave their office, will arrange for officers to accompany the station staff to despatch trains they also reported that GM Police are sending a Tactical Support Group to the station to assist BT Police in gaining control.
14/05 2304 NR Northern Trains Station Manager contacted and informs that the BT Poice have just arrived to accompany the station staff on their duties, also reported that several members of Northern Trains station staff have been assaulted. TPE Control Manager also reports that they have had their Operations Manager assaulted on the platform. Network Rail station manager informs no reported injuries to Network Rail employee’s.
15/05 0015 NR 1N71 2247 Manchester Airport – Blackpool North has been stood at Manchester Oxford Road station as the guard is unable to leave his cab and passengers are holding the doors open, passengers have attempted to drag the driver out of the window he is now secure and no injuries have been reported. Six BT Police officers are on the station but can not make their way through to the train.
15/05 0021 NR Northern Trains inform that 2D48 2309 Manchester Picc – Chester is cancelled after the passengers started vandalising units 142061 & 142026, the guard has left the train and the driver alighted via the window as passengers would not let him leave by the door. Train cancelled.
15/05 0045 NR Northern Trains inform 323235 has had a door badly damaged by passengers at Manchester Piccadilly (working additional service 2T11 2340 Manchester Picc – Manchester Airport), unit taken out of service. 142014 various windows smashed at Manchester Piccadilly station – taken out of service.

And there’s nobody to blame but pissed up football “fans” and a culture that indulges them.