The 2007 West Coast Main Line upgrade works brought many changes to the railways. For a start, trains could run at a reasonable speed, and more trains could run. But, some stations received a downgrade in service. Rugby was the most notable example, but many Trent Valley stations got fewer or worse trains as a result. Polesworth is one of these smaller Trent Valley stations. It had a low station patronage before these works (under 1000 per year), and a limited service (5 trains per day, 2 up, 3 down). When contractors took down the footbridge to upgrade the OHLE and track works, it was deemed not cost effective to put it back after the works, so it wasn't. Therefore, trains can now only stop in the down direction. While no maps show the status of Polesworth, the page on national rail tells people of the sparse train service, and the inaccessibility of the southbound platform. Despite this, over 1200 people use the station last year, which is very high for a station with one train per day in one direction only.
One train per day serves Polesworth, an early Northampton to Crewe service, departing Polesworth at 07:23. This means that, from London, one has to catch a 05:31 train from Euston and change at Rugby. Having negotiated the night bus network, I arrived in a fairly empty Euston station, and proceeded to the service to Rugby. We ran 11 minutes early up to Milton Keynes, where we were held outside the station because the preceding 05:27 service had similar levels of padding in its timetable. Arriving into the station, still very early, we sat there for another 5 minutes, before I decided that there was a problem, and I needed to do the annoying commuter thing of sticking my head out of a door to see what was going on. The correct answer was nothing. Various members of Virgin staff were half-trotting up and down the train, while the driver poked his face out of the cab door to speak to them. Eventually, the train manager popped up on the announcement system and told us that there was an ambulance attendance, and we would be held until further notice. Further noticed read as 16 minutes, enough time for me to miss my 14 minute connection at Rugby, which meant I would have to wait at the station for another 23 hours and 58 minutes. This I decided not to do because I'm not mad.
Upon speaking to the train manager, she realised that I was indeed screwed. Of course, she used more appropriate language such as “unlikely”. She rung up the staff at Rugby, who also informed me that I was screwed (not going to make the train because it was running a couple of minutes early). Alternative road transport would be arranged. I got off at Rugby, and searched for some staff. This was not hard to do as one was dispatching the train. I approached, and was asked if I was the gentlemen going to Polesworth. I was. I hadn't transformed into another human being on the way, so this was the correct answer. Having been described as a “legend” (no idea why), she took me to the customer services office to fill out a form, and then to the taxi rank, where various taxis tried to get out of taking a contracted job by pretending that they had a hospital appointment. One didn't, and I was put on it.
The driver was good, in the sense that he drove well and didn't mind having a mostly mute, socially-inept man in the back, half-sleeping, half making sure that we didn't accidentally go to somewhere other than Polesworth. The sat-nav seemed very inaccurate. On the way he told me why he didn't like taking Virgin contracts (don't take that out of context). Basically, the bureaucracy involved with claiming money back takes time, mainly there are a lot of forms but also because large companies are very adept at trying to screw over smaller ones, much like Kevin Spacey did. I was told that his last contracted job had taken 6 months to get the money back from Virgin. I hope he gets my fare back, because he left his fare metre running, and we both watched it climb to £50, past £50 and approach £70 before he pulled up to the car park in Polesworth, having spent 20 minutes behind a lorry which was clearly too large for the roads. I arrived at Polesworth just over an hour late, at 08:30.
I was greeted by a vicious looking fence.
Because the station is in the area which records the highest number of cable thefts for scrap metal in the UK, it is protected as much as possible, with at least 5 police notices about them being able to catch everyone and anyone who steals any cable. So, I pushed open a slightly ajar gate, and progressed onto the platform.
Polesworth is very well kept and modern for a station of this series. It has the standard platform surface, signs, information that is mostly up-to-date and minimal facilities. The stumps of the pillars holding up the former footbridge can be seen, as can the rotting platform 2.
I left Polesworth to catch a bus to Tamworth. Yes, at no point did I actually get on or off a train at Polesworth, but the visit still counts, because I bought a ticket to the station, I travelled on it, and I visited the station. The bus then took me on a route which can only be described as following the scribble that the head of Arriva Midlands' daughter did on a map of Tamworth and the surrounding area. (Look up the route for the 786 and weep.) I arrived at the station, caught my train, and arrived back at Euston. It had hit a bird on the way, a bird which had got embedded in the gangway.
I crossed London, and arrived at Charing Cross to get my train home, with enough time to spare to capture the most pointless reason I have ever seen for a cancellation: “Cancelled due to a train”.
My question is, why was this station even given a token service? It is located in the suburb of a large Midlands town (Tamworth) and has a lot of houses around. It's hardly rural. It's not even semi-rural. For a station with 1 train per day, 1,270 is seriously good. It works out as just over 4 people per train. I'm not entirely sure of the reason for this, but my guess is that the 07:23 service is well timed for the am-peak, meaning that people do commute from Polesworth to Birmingham. The return is probably via Tamworth station. However, I'm not sure. I would have liked to actually be able to get the train and alight at Polesworth to confirm this, but there's nothing I could have done. A station like Polesworth should get a pm-peak service in the reverse direction, which would make it fairly attractive for commuters and should boost numbers. One doesn't even have to build a footbridge, all that's needed is a path to the road bridge slightly east of the station, and platform 2 can be reinstated. However, the vicious cycle of a sparse service meaning a low patronage, which in turn means there will be a sparse service means that this is unlikely. Polesworth is one of those relics that will continue to not really exist for a good long time.
I should also point out that, while I probably come across as quite cynical and unappreciative, I am grateful to the staff and taxi driver who helped me actually get to Polesworth. Nobody wants to deal with ambulances at around 6am, neither do they want to have to co-ordinate getting someone to their destination after they have missed the last train of the day when they've not properly woken up and most people still haven't arrived to go to work.
Finally, I filmed for a couple of hours, and published the video. Click the link here.
Author - Felix