The announcement made it sound like a hostage situation: “We will be held here at Luton for the foreseeable future.”
In Bedfordshire last Sunday, afternoon dwindled rapidly into darkness. But any sense of menace lifted when the guard on the train from Bedford to London St Pancras explained why no one had moved for some time.
“A trampoline is caught in the overhead wires.”
When I had begun my journey from Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coast to London eight hours previously, Luton (and incarceration therein) did not feature in my plans. But with Storm Ciara screaming in from the Atlantic, the entire rail industry had urged passengers not to travel on Sunday – with the subtext: “If you go against our advice, don’t blame us if it goes wrong.”
To try to avoid a train tangle, I immediately booked a flight from Leeds Bradford to Heathrow, but that was soon one of the 200-plus British Airways cancellations. Back to plan A.
The 8.35am train from Scarborough to York must be counted as a success, since it arrived on time – taking the promised 50 minutes. (Later services were axed because of fallen tree outside Malton.)
Waiting promisingly within the handsome curve of York station was one of the few uncancelled services. CrossCountry had tempered its ambitions and was going no further north, but this train was pointing in the general direction of Birmingham. Those familiar with the West Midlands city will know there are three possible escape routes to London, so it made sense to maximise the options.
Tim-berrr: a tree somewhere in Staffordshire had other ideas. Fortunately it fell across the line while the train was paused at Derby station. With no sign of when it might be cleared, I forsook the cross CrossCountry passengers and sought a southbound service to Market Harborough.
Long-planned engineering work meant that the East Midlands line to the capital was severed south of the Leicestershire town. Goodness knows how much useful engineering could be completed last Sunday, but once a railway “possession” is prescribed it is a difficult thing to unravel.
There were just enough seats on the waiting coach for all of us. The driver delivered us safely and swiftly to Bedford. But “rail replacement bus” is never a happy phrase, especially when it arrives outside the destination station exactly 10 seconds before the southbound train leaves.
Eventually another one showed up and restarted the slow journey south, with the normal 125mph service capped at 50mph. The idea is to allow the driver time to stop safely if anything were to block the track.
The trees that flank the train tracks around the nation comprise a natural hazard; recreational garden equipment does not. Besides the Bedfordshire bouncer, two lines in Kent were closed by airborne playthings last Sunday, until long-suffering Network Rail staff sprang into action.
In theory the owners could be forced to pay for the costs of the hold ups they create. So, residents near railways: with Storm Dennis gathering force on the horizon, tie down errant exercise equipment until spring. Travel is tricky enough without wayward trampolines.