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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 15:57 GMT
Intrepid explorer defeated by train trip
Col Blashford-Snell at the Esperanza Rapids in South America
Col Blashford-Snell is accustomed to expeditions
The tale of an intrepid explorer's nightmare rail journey between Wiltshire and Liverpool will have travel-weary commuters nodding in sympathy everywhere.

For Colonel John Blashford-Snell, more used to leading expeditions through piranha-infested rivers in Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, his 440-mile round trip was "the worst (rail) journey I'd ever undertaken".

Instead of taking the normal nine-and-a-half hours, the 65-year-old's epic journey took 15 hours, resulting in a mind-blowingly boring 21 hours, door-to-door.


Some of the explorations I have been on were much easier than travelling in Britain.

Col Blashford-Snell

On every stage of his trip from Westbury to Liverpool, via Bristol and Birmingham, "everything that could have gone wrong, did", claimed the colonel.

Ice on the points, locomotive failure, technical problems, a bridge bash and broken down trains were among the excuses for the delays that eked out his journey from 0500GMT on 26 November to 0230GMT the following day.

Col Blashford-Snell in Mongolia
Col Blashford-Snell hopes his trip to India will be quicker
Colonel Blashford-Snell led an expedition two years ago through 2,000 miles of piranha-infested rivers.

His journey by train to Liverpool was a comparable challenge.

"Some of the explorations I have been on were much easier than travelling in Britain. It was like something out of Monty Python," he told BBC News Online.

"I have been exploring for 45 years and have been in most forms of terrain. I am flying to India today, which will take me 12 hours - a lot quicker than my trip to Liverpool.

"I find the whole railway system appalling. It was interesting that I was going across the route of many different train companies and the whole lot broke down."

'Plodded slowly'

Col Blashford-Snell's nightmare began as he set off by car from his home in Shaftesbury, Dorset, well before dawn on 26 November.

He arrived at Westbury station in Wiltshire, having paid 100 for his first-class ticket, to discover ice on the points had delayed his first train to Bristol.

"The station was deserted and a bitter east wind chilled me to the bone," he said, remembering the trip.

"However, the 0616GMT to Bristol was only a few minutes late.


The train cook served some lukewarm rations - nevertheless the ravenous travellers were grateful

Col Blashford-Snell

"But as a result, it needed a breakneck sprint for me to catch the 0715GMT to Stafford.

"All was well until Birmingham New Street, when we sat for half an hour while station officials sent out search parties for a driver.

"Apparently he was coming by train and had 'been delayed'."

Col Blashford-Snell travelled on to Stafford, missed the connection to Liverpool and then took the Euston train, delayed by a locomotive failure in London, on to Liverpool.

The colonel resumed his trip, only to find that the 0449GMT Central train to Birmingham New Street had "technical problems".

Two vehicle collisions with bridges further delayed his journey.

"Two teenagers near me, certain the bridge would collapse as we passed beneath, discussed jumping," said Col Blashford-Snell, a Royal Engineer for 37 years.

Spiritual guidance

"An old lady fumbled with a rosary. However, at last all was well."

The colonel's train from Birmingham to Bristol suffered delays due to a broken down train in front. The onward 0008GMT train to Westbury was late.

He eventually walked through his front door at 0230GMT.

The trip was so lengthy, Col Blashford-Snell said he managed to read four copies of the National Geographic magazine front to back.

A Virgin spokesman told The Daily Telegraph the company had been "inundated" with complaints.

"It was all due to staffing problems. I have been dealing with complaints from passengers, everything from late trains to no buffet cars.

"All I can do is apologise," the spokesman said.

'Fingers crossed'

Central Trains blamed a combination of staff, track, signal and scheduling problems.

While Wessex Trains told the paper that the problems on its service were due to frozen points.

As Col Blashford-Snell jetted off for an expedition in Nagaland in north east India, he quipped: "I am flying, so my fingers are crossed. I hope this trip will be fairly trouble free."

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