East Anglia's rail lines worth seeing - but new trains can't arrive too soon!
PUBLISHED: 11:30 13 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:52 13 July 2019
I'm well aware this is a confession that some people will find strange - but not surprising if they've ever met me or read my articles. I like travelling by train.
I accept that for commuters using trains every day or those who have to make the same trip very regularly, rail journeys can be a real chore - but for me they're always something be enjoyed.
So on a recent day off, I took my (new) senior railcard and bought an Anglia Plus card which gives you unlimited travel for the day around the region north of Ipswich and Cambridge to see how the network was operating.
From my home in Ipswich, I travelled on the East Suffolk line to Lowestoft, over to Norwich, up to Cromer for fish and chips for lunch before returning to Norwich and travelling home via Ely.
The first thing to say about this trip is that every train I took was on time and ran to schedule. There were no problems en route - which was quite an achievement given the problems Greater Anglia had on the day I travelled.
However some of the trains were not as comfortable as I would have hoped - the new Swiss-built bimode trains cannot enter service soon enough!
The train from Ipswich to Lowestoft was a 30-year-old Class 156 two-car diesel unit that should be replaced later this year.
These trains have no air-conditioning and are starting to show their age - but they are reasonably comfortable on a day that is not too hot, and are certainly much better than the first generation diesel units I remember on the line!
The East Suffolk line, particularly the section from Ipswich to Saxmundham, is a route I know very well from my childhood and is a pleasant ride. 90 minutes for a 48-mile journey is rather slow - but the time compares favourably with driving between Suffolk's two largest towns on the A12.
At Lowestoft I got the first hint of the problems Greater Anglia were having on the day I travelled. I had expected to get what would probably be my final journey on their "short set" - three carriages sandwiched between a pair of veteran diesel locomotives.
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Instead we were told our diesel unit would be continuing to Norwich. Apparently one of the 60-year-old diesels was under repair.
This train was much busier than it had been from Ipswich - but I managed to get a seat for what is the most spectacular journey on Greater Anglia's network.
The route across the southern broads and marshes is superb. For wildlife watchers it is a must-ride. I saw a couple of marsh harriers and even a Chinese Water Deer.
The Bittern line from Norwich to Cromer and Sheringham is one I'm very familiar with - whether heading to the North Norfolk heritage line or just a day out at my favourite seaside resort.
This time the delights of Cromer won out - I had 90 minutes in the town to get some fish and chips to eat in the cliff top garden and to go for a stroll among the rock pools that had been exposed at low tide.
The journey there was on a single-car Class 153 train (pejoratively known as a "Scud" by many enthusiasts) that was waiting at Norwich beside one of the new Stadler bimodes that was being tested - I don't know if Greater Anglia was deliberate trying to show off to us!
There was a seat for everyone - but the train did feel rather full until several people got off at Wroxham.
For the afternoon trip from Norwich to Ely via the Breckland Line through Thetford I travelled on an East Midlands Trains Class 158 unit - the big sister of the 156 I'd been on earlier with air conditioning and more powerful engines.
Its final destination was Liverpool - and while it was comfortable and spacious and great for an hour-long trip through the Brecks and the start of the fens, it would have found it a bit noisy if I was going to the other side of the country.
But the worst was to come. The trip from Ely back to Ipswich was on another single-car Class 153 that had started from Peterborough. It was full when it arrived and there was standing room only for many all the way for the 75-minute journey.
I understand that one of Greater Anglia's units had broken down overnight and another had been damaged by hitting something on the track so a one-car unit had to deputise for the normal two-car train.
This did tarnish what had otherwise been a good trip around the region - and showed why travellers cannot wait for the arrival of the new trains which are all at least three carriages!