A welcome return to travelling by train, as I head to Liverpool to catch up on progress with the new trains for Merseyrail, which we report on this month (p57) as part of a suite of features covering the North of England. From my home in the East Midlands, there are two options by rail – across to Crewe and change, or a long stint on a ‘158’ on the Norwich to Liverpool service.
I opt for the direct journey, and for convenience begin my journey a couple of junctions up the M1 at Alfreton – formerly Alfreton and Mansfield Parkway until the reopening of the Robin Hood line gave the latter its own station. There are only half a dozen cars in the car park on a fresh but gloriously sunny April morning. No sooner have I found a table seat than we are leaving the Erewash valley to join the Midland main line proper, running through Chesterfield and into Sheffield.
After reversal in the steel city, we squeeze onto the single track through Dore –a constraint to be tackled in the forthcoming Hope Valley upgrade (p68) – and after double track is restored plunge into Totley Tunnel, emerging in the splendour of the Peak District. Time to put down that book or close the laptop and admire the passing view – there’s plenty of railway interest too with the traditional signal boxes and freight sidings. After Cowburn Tunnel, we pass the junctions at Chinley used by aggregates trains accessing the quarries in the Peaks, before a third long tunnel at Disley (all three on the route are more than two miles long) brings us to the suburbs of Manchester.