Commuting Hell

There’s been a great deal on the news and in the press about just how rubbish the trains are in the UK, especially Northern Rail. So I thought that I would blog about my experiences. Last month the company that I work for moved offices from Leigh to Horwich, which I no longer have an cycling on my commute, but I know have to use Northern Rail instead of Virgin.

My wife and I share a car so I don’t have to use the train every day, in fact yesterday was only the fifth time that I’ve used the train to get to my new office. Four of those days I’ve ended up applying online for a refund using the ‘delay repay’ system. The other day the train was ‘only’ 25 minutes late, so no refund.

It gets worse, the trains are old, very old. Buses on rails. There aren’t enough carriages, so it’s not uncommon for them to be cattle truck busy.


The photo from Preston doesn’t really show just how many people were waiting at the station, but it was  too cramped for me to get my phone out of my pocket once I was on the train.

There’s more. It’s 45 miles from Lancaster to Horwich, for which I have to pay £22.60 per day. Someone is making a fortune. Northern Rail are owned by Arriva, who in turn are owned by the German National Railway, so the hundreds of millions of pounds in profits are used to subsidise the German railways. This should make you really angry, and is probably why over 70% of people in the UK want the rail network to be nationalised again.

The end of an era

Yesterday was my last commute by bike, probably. The company I work for is moving office at the weekend to Horwich, which is less than 10 minutes walk from Horwich Parkway, so no more lugging my old bike on and off trains (here). No more will I worry about the dangerously close passes (here) and I won’t have to wear the brightest jacket you’ve ever seen (here).

My old commuting bike has seen some miles, especially as it’s done over 1,000 rides (here).


The last few weeks haven’t been too bad as it is the school holidays, but come September and it will start to get cold and dark, and the roads would be busy once again. I’m pleased to have survived as there were times when the traffic was so dangerous I almost quit. I should also probably buy a new pair of Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres as they are nearly worn out, although I didn’t get a single puncture.

I’m sure this won’t be the end of my old faithful bike, but for now, he’s hanging up in the cellar waiting for when he’s next called upon.

999 Rides

This isn’t about phoning 999 for help (911 if you’re in America). No, it’s the number of rides that my trusty commuting bike has done.


It wasn’t intended to be a commuting bike. I bought a cheap frame to replace my old Cannondale, using the groupset and wheels. Unfortunately the Forme doesn’t have much va-va-forme, so I started to use it for touring. When I moved to Hull it became my long distance commuting bike, 18 miles each way. Back in Lancaster and I upgraded the groupset to 10 speed tiagra, and then started to commute between Wigan and Leigh.

Any commuting bike will soon rack up loads of rides, hence why I have no completed 999 rides.

Some stats for you: Distance – 17,000 km. Climbing – 115,000 m. Kudos – 18,000. Ave distance – 10.7 miles per ride. Climbing – 6.7 m per km. Climbing – 115m per ride.

Distance per ride, climbing per ride and climbing per km are all shrinking as my current commute is only 11 km each way, with only 50 m of climbing.

I’ve had this old beast for 5 years, and it’s performed admirably, although the end could be near. In three weeks time my work moves to a new office and I will no longer cycle there. The end of an era, although I’m sure my old friend will still get some use.

That Stupid Cycling Jacket

A few months ago I blogged about a very close pass that I was subjected to (read about it here), and how at the time I was wearing my “stupid cycling jacket”, photo below.


My beautiful wife was understandably a little miffed by my comments, as she had bought me the jacket. The main reason why I feel that it is a “stupid cycling jacket” is because it feels necessary to wear it on my commute. The traffic between Wigan and Leigh is bad. There’s too much of it, too much congestion and no decent cycling infrastructure. During the summer it wasn’t too bad, but now, towards the end of October, it’s getting dark, the schools are back and the weather is starting to get a bit grim. This all adds up to a much more unpleasant commute.

At least I have my “Polite” hi-vis jacket. Truthfully though, it doesn’t really make much of a difference. Drivers who generally give cyclists enough room, continue to give me enough room. The problem is those drivers who don’t understand, don’t think it applies to them, are in a hurry, or simply don’t care. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how visible you. Much like the new signs that have appeared on the roads around Lancaster.


These signs are supposed to make drivers more aware of cyclists, and to give them (us) at least 1.5m when overtaking. Again, like the cycling jacket, they don’t make the slightest difference with some drivers.

People who read the Telegraph or the Daily Fail believe the rhetoric that cyclists are an epidemic that need to be eradicated. Maybe “1.5m” could be burned into the retinas of fat middle-aged Audi drivers.

As I have said before, cycling is the answer (here) to congestion, air pollution, obesity, and therefore we should be doing everything possible to encourage it.

The Sights I See

Commuting each day from Lancaster to Leigh via Wigan wouldn’t sound as if there was too much to see, but you would be wrong. Let me tell you about some of the sights that I see.

I am sure that The Preston International Hotel easily matches the delights of Vegas or Monaco.

The Wigan football stadium is majestic, although I would prefer to visit it for a non sporting occasion.

The Swan and Railway pub near to the station. Trip Advisor has some good reviews, so it could be the one nice pub located in an oasis of turgidness that is King Street. The most depressing selection of drinking establishments ever gathered on one street. Although I was interested in seeing the covers band Slipknowt.


There is a caravan park near Scorton that has a big slide going into the river. That looks like fun.

Virgin trains reserve two seats for cyclists. What they say is ‘Reserved cyclist’, which is me. But what if you’re an out going kind of person riding a bike, where do you sit. Is there a reserved seat for ‘Flamboyant cyclist’?

Santos & Co. have been making sweets in Wigan since 1898, including Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls. Give ’em to your granny and watch the bugger go, as Mike Harding used to sing.

Not a sight, but at 17:15 every day, an automated announcement at Wigan train station telling you to keep an eye on your belongings as any unattended bags will be removed without warning. Surely this is a warning.

There are some nice statues.


The Silverwell pub still has a banner outside advertising Euro ’16.

A Doctors surgery on Organ Street.

On 13th April 2017 I saw a narrowboat navigating the Wigan series of locks. First time I had seen a moving boat on the canal.

The Virgin ticket inspectors had badges with ‘Revenue Protection’ printed.

Have you ever seen a pedestrian crossing for horses? There is one in Wigan.


Bikes on Trains…. again

I’ve blogged about the problems I’ve had with taking my bike on a train before (here), and once again I’m the victim of the vagaries of Virgin Trains.

Last week I tried to catch the 17:38 train from Wigan to Lancaster, with my bike. I had a bike reservation, so no problem. I would never try to take a bike on a train without a reservation, unless the company don’t do them (here). The train was a little delayed, but not enough for a refund. The platform staff were all ready to unlock the bicycle storage compartment, when the train manager said ‘no more bikes’. Both myself and the platform staff mentioned that I had a reservation, but the moron on the train wasn’t having any of it. He’d let a load of people on with bikes who didn’t have reservations.

If that happens it’s quite simple. One of the people without a bike reservation gets off the train and I get on. I’ve seen it happen in the morning at Preston, where someone without a reservation had to make way for four bikes, who had reservations.

The unsympathetic train manager suggested that I get the next train. Great idea, except I don’t have a reservation for that train, and I’ll have to wait another 45 minutes. I wasn’t happy. The platform staff told the train manager that he was in the wrong, but there was nothing more they could do. As I watched the train roll out of the station without me, one of the platform staff got on the radio to get me a reservation for the next train. He also told me that he wouldn’t let the train leave the station without me on it. They couldn’t have been more helpful. Complete opposite of the tosser on the train.

At Wigan today, the platform staff asked me it I’d complained. I had, but hadn’t had more than an automated response, so he told me to complain again. Not a good system, although to be fair to Virgin, they do appear to be the best of a bad lot.

Wigan Train Station… again

I’ve blogged about Wigan Train Station in the past where I mentioned about the new code and security for the cycle store (read about it here). This morning I saw a notice taped to a couple of bikes.


This is good, as it can be really frustrating not being able to park your bike because there are bikes that have been dumped and never move from one week to the next. If you’ve ever lived in Oxford or Cambridge you’ll understand how many bikes are abandoned, so it’s good that Wigan Station are doing something positive.


The bikes in question are old and cheap and they could have been used as an excuse to be in the bike store, pretending to unlock a bike, but in reality eyeing up other bikes.

Next on the agenda must be to stop people parking in the short stay disabled spaces.

Too close

I’ve blogged about the joys of commuting between Lancaster, Wigan and Leigh a few times before (here, here and here). I’ve lost count of the number of close passes and near misses that have happened to me in the last six months, but today’s encounter was the worst.

I was cycling through Lancaster, making my way to the train station, along the A6.


The cycle lane is little more than some leftover paint, but it is better than nothing (maybe). As I came towards the traffic lights with Meeting House Lane, a car pulled alongside me with the left indicator flashing. The passenger definitely saw me. You can guess what happened at the junction.




The driver didn’t bother about me in the slightest, and just turned left on me, leaving me with no choice but to also turn left. If I had tried to go straight on I would have ended up a crumpled heap on the road. If I’d been lucky I would only have suffered cuts and bruises and a buckled front wheel. I could have ended up with a ruined bike and a broken collar bone.

What saved me was the indicator, so I was ready to be ignored, as was the fact that I was also turning left. I never indicate at this junction, as that is a guarantee that a driver will turn left on you. The photos above were taken later in the day, but it wasn’t dark when the incident occured, and I was wearing one of those stupid fake police jackets that say ‘Polite’ on them. You’d have thought that there would be no way you could miss me, although apparently you can.

That particular junction is a known danger area for pedestrians and cyclists. The Council has even added a mirror on the traffic lights so that lorry drivers can see cyclists. There are also signs telling everyone to look out for cyclists.20170424_182104

I was visibly shaken as the car continued up the road. It then turned into the station, which was where I was going. The car parked up and the passenger climbed out. I thought about going over to confront the driver, but I wasn’t rational and my body was flooded with adrenaline, so I left it.

All I want to do is go to work and then come home unbroken. I don’t want my wife worrying every day, not knowing if I’ve made it to work safely, or if I will be coming home again.

The cycling revolution has a long way to go yet.

Wigan Train Station

Half of my daily commute is by train, the other half by bike. Instead of taking my bike on the train every day (I’ve had some problems, see here), I leave it (him) a couple of nights a week in the secure bike storage area at Wigan train station. I use two large D-locks and my commuting bike is old and undesirable, plus, as you can seen in the photo below, there is often a Police van parked there.


Tuesday morning when I punched in the code for the bike area, nothing happened. I tried a couple more times but it was obvious that the code had been changed. I went back up onto the platform to customer services, who directed me to the ticket office. Before I was given the new code I had to show my train tickets, some ID, my postcode and then sign a form. Apparently the bike storage area had been abused. No complaints from me if it’s a bit harder for thieves to obtain, although I’ve not had any problems in the six months that I’ve been using the area.

On the other hand, if the code hadn’t been changed in the last six months, how long had it been since the code had been changed.

When I returned to put my bike in the lock-up later that afternoon, I had obviously forgotten the new code. I should probably write it down before I forget it again (too late).

Train Refunds

Did you know that if your train is delayed you can claim a refund? I had been taking a train almost every day for a few months before I found out about this. How much refund depends on how late the train is, with a full refund only available if the train is over two hours late. I probably missed out on £20-30 of refunds in three months.

Some train companies give refunds if the train is 15 minutes late, including some Virgin services, but not the one I use.

The first time that I applied for a refund was at the end of January. I Googled Virgin Train refunds, found the correct website, filled in my details and uploaded a photo of my tickets. A day later I received an email telling me that I’d not provided the correct information, and that I needed to supply proof. Seeing as I had given them a photo of my ticket, along with details of my booking number from Trainline, I asked what I had missed. No reply was forthcoming, but a week later I received a cheque for £8.25. The second time, I supplied the same information as before, and received a cheque for £4.13 a week later.

The cynic in me would suggest that the first time that you apply for a refund, Virgin automatically send an email saying that you’ve not supplied the correct details, hoping that most people will be put off.

Although, it’s cliched to be cynical about Virgin Trains.