The curse of Virgin Trains East Coast 19:25 from Edinburgh to Stirling

Earlier this week, circumstance presented me with an opportunity to re-run my abortive attempt to travel on the 19:25 from Edinburgh to Stirling a few weeks ago. Little did I know that I would manage to get caught up in the palaver of a signalling fault between Polmont and Falkirk Grahamston. You can see the full series of updates from the usual suspects – and the ensuing confusion, by following the #polmont hashtag on Twitter. Suffice to say that I had the impression that the issue had been resolved by the time I set out, but this was not to be the case.

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Having learnt from last time, I left the house at 18:50 and missed the 14 I was aiming for by just a whisker. I ended up on the 2 running a few minutes behind, which enjoyed a non-stop run up the hill towards Newington. The 2 doesn’t go to Waverley, and I managed a swift change onto a 3 on South Clerk Street – unusually the stop was deserted, so I really did have to leap off and look eager for the bus behind. In the picture you can see my 2 taken from the ‘driver’s seat’ of the 3. The 3 made good progress, despite the festival crowds, and I was inside Waverley station by 19:10.

It was at this stage that it became apparent that all was not well on the signalling front. The 19:33 Scotrail service to Dunblane was cancelled – and the 19:25 to Stirling was showing as delayed to run in the 19:33 path. Not to worry – a few minutes’ delay is dealable with.

2017-08-07 19.22.45I made my way along to platform 2 and the train arrived on time at 19:20. It obviously took a while to expel the hoards of festival-goers, but I was on fairly promptly and settled down at a table. The cancelled Dunblane service had generated extra passengers, so it was busier than expected, although by no means close to full. The slightly puzzled guard mentioned the signalling issues, and also noted that Scotrail smart cards would be accepted.

We got away at around 19:35 and made very slow progress as far as Ratho/Newbridge, where we pulled into a passing loop and the guard told us the happy news that signalling in Polmont had once again failed, with no prognosis for the length of the delay. As it happened, we were only at a standstill for around ten minutes before we were back on the move – but progress as far as Falkirk was glacial – we didn’t arrive there until around 20:35! The run from Falkirk through to Stirling was as it should be – swift – and with some wonderful August evening skies.

A quick walk had me at my destination a little after nine. A definite improvement on the last time I tried this route – but still over two hours door-to-door.

On the grape vine, I gather that the 19:25 from Edinburgh to Stirling – a recent addition to the timetable to give Stirling an extra King’s Cross train each day in addition to the Highland Chieftain – is particular prone to cancellation from Edinburgh onwards. Presumably, the rake goes straight back to Edinburgh after terminating in Stirling, and when running late it is easier to let Scotrail take the strain?

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An easy journey made difficult

You would think that a journey of 41 miles by road in Scotland’s densely populated central belt, which should take no more than 55 minutes in a car, would be just as easy by public transport. On a recent, beautiful July evening this was not the case.

I left the house just after 7pm, aiming to catch the 7.33pm to Stirling. Lothian Buses put in their finest performance and no bus was forthcoming at my local stop until 7.20pm.

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Not to worry! Lothian Buses tend to be fairly swift outside of peak hours. Not on this occasion, unfortunately. Despite having arrived ‘late’ by my estimation, we dawdled all the way to North Bridge – presumably the driver’s ticker declaring that we were ‘early’ meant that we needed to waste time.

A quick trot down the Scotman’s steps brought me to the station at 7.35pm. The 7.33pm was long gone – never mind. I knew that the 7.25pm Virgin East Coast service was delayed – that would do. In the meantime, I waited on a sunny platform 8.

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It was clearly one of those evenings. The 7.25pm service was getting later and later. I fielded multiple questions from confused passengers on the platform. ‘Yes, it is okay to wait here – it will be a long train.’ ‘Yes, you can you use a GroupSave ticket on this service. No, we are not in peak hours – it’s almost 8 o’clock. Am I sure? Well I don’t work on the railway…’ Yet further delay. Eventually, it rolled into the station – almost sheepishly – at 8.10pm.

 

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Despite some reservations about the end destination being non-existent, I boarded and settled down in a deserted carriage. Excellent – a full table – forward travel by the window – to myself. Unfortunately it was not to be. At 8.20pm the service was cancelled on technical grounds, having gone nowhere. So much for that – at least I got to play with the slam doors. This gave me just enough time to trot through the station to catch the 8.33pm, where the silver lining was that the rolling stock featured a first class compartment – mine to use as Dunblane services do not feature first class meaning the compartment is derestricted.

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It wasn’t all bad. Being a full hour later than expected, Scotland’s central belt was looking rather splendid.2017-07-17 21.14.39

It was a smooth run through to Stirling, with some idling at each stop indicating we were making good time. After arriving a full minute early, a brisk walk through the quiet streets of Stirling – still beautifully light – had me at my destination by 9.45pm. Just 2 hours and 40 minutes after leaving home.2017-07-17 21.41.18

It’s fortunate I was in no hurry to get anywhere! It was clearly not Virgin’s week, given that the next morning I had planned to catch the 10.30am King’s Cross service but noted hours beforehand that it had been cancelled between Inverness and Edinburgh – leaving me to make haste to catch the preceding Scotrail service. Still, it’s the middle of July – who needs to be anywhere?