Friday, 15 February 2019

A day of two very different
journeys in East Anglia

Early Spring in the countryside between Broxbourne and Roydon this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Anyone who has missed a train and been left waiting at Limerick Junction, knows how public transport in England is far better.

Despite excuses of ‘leaves on the line,’ complaints about trains that do not run or that overcrowded, and the biting cuts and mismanagement that are consequences of negative Tory attitudes to the needs for public transport, commuter trains and provincial buses still run regularly and are far more reliable than their counterparts in Ireland – with, perhaps, the notable exception of the Luas in Dublin.

But when something goes wrong with public transport, it really goes wrong.

When I am taking part USPG trustee meetings in London, I usually catch the first morning flight from Dublin to Stansted, allowing ample time to get to Liverpool Street Station and to have breakfast long before a meeting begins. I then catch a late flight back from Stansted, leaving me time to network, or to take time off to visit and photograph churches in the London area.

These plans fell apart this week, however.

I thought I was going to catch a train from Stansted to Liverpool Street early on Wednesday morning [13 February 2019]. But I was left sitting on the train for almost an hour and a half. Passengers were told constantly that we would be kept updated. But telling us we would be updated is quite different to being updated practically.

There was an ‘incident’ on the line, somewhere between Stansted and Bishop’s Stortford. After a time, the power was switched off, the train got colder, and we were left in the dark in every sense of the term.

The descriptions and location of the incident varied, but it took an hour and a half before passengers were told buses were available to take passengers to the train station in Broxbourne.

The scramble was unseemly, signs and guidance were not helpful, and the queues for the buses had already lengthened. We must have looked like a scene set up for one of those disgraceful Nigel Farage Brexit referendum posters.

But at least the journey through the Essex and Hertfordshire countryside and villages, and close to the Lea Valley, was pleasant in the warm, early Spring sunshine. I am familiar with Harlow, Roydon, Hoddesdon, Broxbourne and much of this region through attending USPG conferences almost every year at the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon.

It took almost an hour to get to Broxbourne, only to be told that the next train had been cancelled. Eventually I got to Liverpool Street by 12 noon, about 4½ hours after my flight had landed at Stansted.

I finally got to the meeting of USPG trustees at 12.20, in time for the last ten minutes of the morning part of the meeting – without breakfast, but just in time for lunch.

The meeting ended at 3 p.m. Worried that there might have been a knock-on effect on train timetables for the rest of the day, I stopped in the afternoon to see only one Wren church in the city. I had seen Saint Stephen Walbrook, beside the Mansion House, before, and this was my first time inside.

On the way back to Stansted, the trains were on time and the journey back through East Anglia countryside was beautiful in the warm Spring sunshine of mid-February.

When it works well, public transport can bring its joys and its blessings, and – despite Brexit – England remains a ‘green and pleasant land.’