Category Archives: Trains

I’m Not Sure Harry Beck Would Believe It…

Screenshot 2014-01-25 19.55.54I’m not sure Harry Beck would believe it, but amongst the variations of his famous map of the London Underground that are now produced, this is a special version that shows the location of all the toilets on the system, including details of whether you have to pay, whether you have to find a member of staff who has the key, and even whether there are baby change facilities. It may seem a strange thing to have, but when you’re taking a little boy who doesn’t give you much notice of needing to go on his first trip to London, it’s an essential bit of kit!

Ever since he heard that there were trains that went underground, and trains without drivers, my son has wanted to see them, so since his sister was off at a party – seriously she has a busier social life than anybody else in our family – we headed off with Grandpa to go ride some trains.

We started off from the mythical Rickmansworth (Tom Phillips of Buzzfeed doesn’t seem to think the outer reaches of the Metropolitan line exist) and took the now rather slow train into London. Back in my youth the Met line from Rickmansworth ran down the other tracks from Moor Park and didn’t stop at Northwood, Northwood Hills, Pinner and North Harrow, today we saw the lot – it was only thanks to engineering work that we didn’t get Northwick Park and Preston Road too. This kept the interest for a bit, but we did get to the “are we there yet” by Harrow.

Things got more interesting beyond Wembley when we started overtaking the little trains on the Jubilee Line, and then at Finchley Road we crossed over and took a ride on one of those down into the depths of London. When we pulled into Swiss Cottage and we were still in a tunnel this was fascinating, although there was a definite concern as to whether the toilets were underground too, a fixation that continued all the way to St John’s Wood and beyond. Checking my toilet map I can see that whilst the toilets aren’t underground (or indeed anywhere) at Swiss Cottage, St John’s Wood even has baby change facilities.

We rode the Jubilee on under London, and there was another burst of interest when the platform doors appeared on the newer stretch. We jumped off when we got to Canary Wharf, and after much excitement at stairs that moved by themselves we headed onto the Docklands Light Railway for the even more exciting trains without any drivers.

Riding Up Front on the DLREven better, when we got onto the train, we got one where the seats right at the front were empty, so we could look at the track ahead.

Cue one transfixed little boy, especially when we got on the last stretch into Bank where the train is underground and there are lights along the tunnel so you can see where the train is going.

From there we headed along the Central Line to Bond Street, and picked up a bus where there was even more excitement about riding on the top deck, before ending up at Marylebone for a much faster journey back to Rickmansworth on the Chiltern Line – although much of that was missed as the excitement was all a bit too much and a nap was needed!

So we’ve now seen the trains that go underground, and the trains that have no drivers, and even had a go on a bus as well. I’ve also sampled the much maligned new trains on the Metropolitan line, which still bounce you all over the place when they run up to speed – methinks perhaps the track needs to be a bit flatter or something. I’m not sure any of them surpass Thomas and Friends for excitement, but for a first trip into London, there were certainly lots of excited descriptions for Mummy when we got home!

Pecorama Train Driving Experience

Ready for the Full RunBack before Christmas, myself and my brother were looking for a present to get our Dad, very much of a train buff. The suggestion of a driver footplate experience had come up so we started to look around.

Looking at the various preserved railways you’re looking at quite a lot of money – for example the Watercress Line charges £250 for a three hour introductory footplate experience that lasts three hours and is shared with two others. Then my brother took a look at the Pecorama experience. Although it’s on their miniature steam railway, it’s a 1:1 course, is seven hours, but is still cheaper than a full size engine. Given that we used to make an almost religious pilgrimage to Peco every year when we were in Devon, we thought we’d go for that.

It proved to be an excellent choice. We went down for the first week in May, coincidentally when my Dad’s birthday falls, and the driver experience course was booked on the Wednesday. At 9:30am Dad turned up for his briefing, when he was taken around the track, talked through the signals and line procedures. He was then taken by the instructor up to get the engine ready – this is right from cold with all the preparation. By lunchtime they were going through the basics of how to drive, and by the end of the day Dad was able to drive the train with a set of coaches around the whole route that the professional drivers use.

The staff at Peco were excellent and really friendly. We took the children down, who had a fantastic time in the exhibition, but once Dad had progressed to hauling coaches they allowed us all to ride the line with him driving – great fun riding on Grandpa’s train! Certainly if you’re looking for a driving experience course I can certainly recommend the Peco experience, the locomotives are miniature steam engines, and operate in exactly the same way as a full size locomotive, and you’ll see the whole process right from starting the locomotive in the morning through to putting it to bed at the end of the day.

I had my little video camera with me, and I’ve got two videos. The first is just Dad’s final circuit and taking the locomotive back to the depot – something you wouldn’t normally see. The other video is rather longer, and is effectively all the footage I took edited together as a memento of the day for Dad. It includes several runs around the line, one with the professional driver, the rest with Dad driving, plus various other bits with Dad learning to drive, and travelling around the line in several variations you wouldn’t usually see. Be warned, there is ninety minutes of it!