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Old 25-08-09, 03:25 PM
Sudbury Traveller
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Default Sudbury, Suffolk to London Liverpool Street

I'm a commuter on the afore-mentioned route, run by National Express East Anglia; I have been for a couple of weeks, and already I have come to the conclusion that, living around 90 miles from London, it's not the best way to travel to work. My commute starts at 6:55 am, with a 15-minute drive to my first station, Sudbury – just one of many I will visit through the day.

Waiting at Sudbury train station, with no ticket booth and no food and beverage facilities to make excessive noise, is a relatively nice way to start the day. The train itself is a shuttle, running from Sudbury to Marks Tey via Bures and Chappel & Wakes Colne. There are three earlier commuter trains, but from 8:00 am the shuttle runs on the hour every hour until mid-afternoon. From 3 pm till 8 pm trains operate at around 50-minute intervals, reverting to on-the-hour trains thereafter. The last train is 10.00 pm - getting back to Sudbury by train is not an option if you're planning a late night in the city.

On the 7:17 train to Marks Tey, the conductors exude no early-morning negativity. There are never too many passengers, meaning you normally get a double seat to yourself. Though often quite full, the train is never stuffy - but beware the chill in winter. On arrival at Marks Tey, you cross the platform with a crush of other commuters, and are able to purchase coffee and newspapers on Platform 1. The wait for the connection to London is barely more than five minutes.

The Liverpool Street train arrives at 7:43, still quiet; the stops before Marks Tey (Manningtree and Colchester) herald few passengers. The trains are well ventilated, comfortable and bright. No refreshments cart, but that isn't an issue at 8 in the morning. The next two stops are Witham and Hatfield Peveral: still quiet, with a few alighting and a few more boarding.

Chelmsford is where things start to get crowded. A large influx of people enters the train as a valiant few struggle off. Most seats are taken up by the time we leave the station, but people are considerate and make use of the ample luggage storage space above the seats. Penultimate station Shenfield again holds a lot of commuters; on a busy day they are all left standing when the board the train. Seating is the one issue on the line; the train is exceptionally long, but the surge of commuter traffic manages to fill every seat.

The passengers are all respectful of the morning’s need for quiet; newspapers, books, laptops and iPods are a common occurrence. The view passing by outside is pleasant enough, and someone always remembers to open a window; even on hot summer days, the early hour of the train means it rarely gets overheated in the carriages. Leg room is at a premium; stretching out isn’t an option once the train fills up. Depending on whom you are seated opposite, you can spend the latter half of the journey unable to bend your knees at angle over 90˚.

The train is scheduled to arrive at Liverpool Street at 8:48 – it almost always achieves this, good for those needing to be at work close to 9 am. My office hours start at 9:30, so this gives me a little more time to negotiate the busy Central Line. By the time I reach the office, I have been traveling for 2 and a half hours.

Traveling home in the evenings is a different story. It demonstrates some of the worst situations in a commuter’s day – crowded platforms, stuffy trains and unfortunate seats.

The main commuter train back, traveling from Liverpool Street to Ipswich, leaves at 6:02 pm. To guarantee your choice of seat, be prepared to arrive at the platform fifteen to twenty minutes early; in the morning all the passenger arrivals are staggered, whereas the evenings provide a crowd all try to reach the platform at the same time, all channeling each other through the barriers with a certain amount of unintentional force.

Arriving at the platform at around 5:55 pm, it doesn’t matter which carriage you go to, or how far up the train you venture – you’ll have to take whatever seat you can get. In two weeks I haven’t been left standing, but a certain proportion of late-comers hurtling in at 6:01 pm find themselves on the floor next to the doors.

When the trains become this crowded on a hot summer evening, opening the windows doesn’t make a noticeable difference; the carriages get hot and stuffy, not comparable to the dense heat of the underground but still uncomfortable. The air conditioning, only too willing to blast cool air when you don’t need it, struggles to permeate the air with a cool breeze.

However, once the first two stops of Stratford and Chelmsford have passed (around half an hour later), the temperature and humidity levels start to drop and the ride becomes enjoyable; there are much worse backdrops than the Essex countryside.

On arriving at Marks Tey at 6:55 pm several disembark the train and walk down the platform to the Sudbury shuttle. It is timed to coincide with the arrival of the Liverpool Street train, leaving at 7:00 pm when all have reached its platform from the previous train. The train often appears more crowded than it does in the mornings (this may be because I am often one of the last to board), but it is still cool and quiet inside. Arriving at Sudbury at 7:24 pm (after spending nearly 2 hours on four trains) is a relief.
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