EV Tales #6: Trains Vs EVs (West Cumbria)

The Third Kind of Charge

We arrive at our next elder, Lucy's mum. Lamb stew is stewing. 'I hope it's still warm enough' (= you're later than I expected (see Appleby Manor previously)); 'it's not melt in the mouth I'm afraid.'

The stew melts in my mouth, helping me finish quickly. I'm keen to try the third kind of charging: stealing someone else's mains electricity before they realise the financial implications.

I manoeuvre the car carefully onto the drive. It's just wider than the car and the scene of many a previous hushed up family scrape or dent. Once, even a full on accidental garage ram raid at the hands of a relative sadly no longer with us.

The mains charger doesn't quite reach from the socket at the far end of the garage, next to a bench of tools from the 1970s and assorted tins of full-lead paint.

I get back in and nudge the Corsa further in. Parking sensors go to permanent whine and the reversing camera shows me just how close I am to various pointy things.

It's still not close enough and it's difficult now to squeeze around the car. One more try and we're there (Onto, your car has absolutely no dents or scratches).

EV Mains Charger

The car begins to charge. 8hrs 56m to full. This is no Instavolt.

I'll be asleep when it completes. I google, 'Can I overcharge my EV?' and am comforted to read, 'The short answer is that you can't overcharge an electric car's battery. Electric vehicles (like Teslas, Chevy Bolts, Nissan Leafs) all have a built-in battery management and monitoring system which makes sure that the main battery pack doesn't overcharge.' from the get-green-now.com blog. I wonder if the long answer is any different.

I wake up at 2am and tiptoe downstairs to turn everything off. It's quiet tonight in rural West Cumbria. Sellafield is off to the south and the fells to the east. The air is warm and the sky clear. I wonder if the benevolent aliens up there who facilitate our growth with unfathomable technical nudges are pleased with our EV progress.

There are no aliens up there. I was just musing in the middle of a warm and peaceful night. But if there were they'd be pleased. With their idea.

The car reads 72%, 156 miles, instead of the customary 94% we've got used to. And charging has stopped. That's enough for tomorrow's planned daughter collection but leaving me not quite fulfilled. I reconsider. 72% to me, for some reason, feels closer to empty than full.

So in the finest traditions of computer maintenance, I turn things off and on again and resume the charge.

Waitrose of the North


By morning we're at 100%. I google 'Should I charge my EV to 100%?' and conclude that 'now and again is fine but don't make a habit of it'.

This evening I'm collecting our daughter from Penrith station. I calculate that a full charge will get me there - and us back. So long as she doesn't insist on an extended demonstration of sport mode. I select Booths supermarket (Waitrose of the north but with more and better craft beer) and am thrilled to find that two Instavolt chargers in the car park have been reserved for my personal use.

On the drive over I have an 'eco-future moment'. Giant roadside wind turbines cast moving shadows across the A66; a Tesla approaches on the other side of the road; a Hyundai Kuna (EV) tails me. Forest ahead, clear sky, winding road. All is well with the green earth.

Is this a vision of the near future? A future that we don't mess up?

It felt like the end of Blade Runner (1982, theatrical cut, the one that Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott hate because of the voiceovers). In this version, replicants Deckard (oh yes he is) and Rachel drive off into the sunset in what must be an EV. Not the version that ends with Deckard screwing up that very nice origami unicorn that Edward James Olmos (Gaff) made for him. Out of the inside of a Kit-Kat wrapper. I hope we get the equivalent of that movie cut for our planet, for our species, for all species. But maybe without the voiceovers.

I drive confidently into Penrith Booths car park, an hour before the Euston train is due.

Trains vs EVs

While I'm foraging in the store for reduced goodies, our family WhatsApp springs to life. I've missed 32 messages during my charge time hunt for yellow labels. The train has been cancelled at Preston; the fee paying and previously trusting passengers ejected onto the platform.

If you're a parent, you'll recognize this next message of mine to my daughter:

'Keep me in the loop. I'll come get you wherever and whenever you need, and not just today'. Parents duty, privilege and honour. Of course, as an adult in her own right, she's more than capable of sorting herself out. But knowing there's a backstop helps.

Then I remember I now drive an EV. I can make it down to Preston and then back to Penrith but not finish the journey. I may need to use this charger again. And Booths will be shut. I’d better buy extra treats. I inform the family that I have secured store-baked Rocky Road and several huge slices of artisan quiche for our delayed traveller.

As I sit in the car, watching the helpful dashboard graphics creep to 100% I make a mental note to google, 'should I charge my car to 100% if my plans change?'. Etiquette says 80%; emergency is more.

I reflect on trains and how our UK network seems eternally unprepared for problems that it should anticipate. It's always getting caught out by the same issue, surprised at signal faults like they're a new and curious phenomenon. This time the problem’s between Carlisle and Glasgow and has obviously rippled down the line to where my daughter is standing on a cold platform, weeping for her daddy. Maybe she's even thrown a tantrum, around which the other equally frustrated passengers are clustering for inspiration.

Whatsapp has gone silent. I hope this indicates progress.

The car's at 98%. I eye the Rocky Road then stop myself. Booths is open for another hour….

Turns out there's a train going part way up the line to Oxenholme. That's do-able surely. 35 minutes south for me to rush and collect her? My daughter informs me they've not yet got a driver for the train in which she's sitting patiently. Whether they intend to teach one from scratch this evening or prise a qualified one out of the pub (where they have been drinking low alcohol yet surprisingly tasty beer) is unclear.

I drive to Penrith station and enquire politely into the possibility of a train arriving from Preston in the near future. I'm pointed to the Traksy App and identify my daughter’s train and header code. I can confirm that it is indeed not moving.

I get chatting to Jenny, Avanti station team leader, who magically combines weariness, perkiness and dry humour in the way only Cumbrian women can (I know, I'm married to one).

She makes me a cuppa (this is the North remember, at a station with no trains) and we get talking about EVs. I enthuse about Onto, spinning the tale so far. I invite her to see the Corsa in the station's 20 minute short stay where I've been parked for over an hour. I pre-empt my infringement. Jenny tells me I'll be fined for every 20 minutes over the first. Then smiles.

I show her the car and she's impressed. Her husband has Tesla shares and they hope to use another bloat in value to buy an EV.

When we return to the waiting room she shows me the computer screen. Her colleague has already browsed Onto.

Jenny describes the challenges faced by the rail network and how the unionised actions of the few are potentially destroying the backbone of a once secure, pre-COVID transport system.

She's sad that this prevents her doing what she loves most - helping passengers have safe and comfortable journeys, solving problems, making her station a happy and effective place. I realise for the first time I've a behind the scenes view of a ‘train delay’.

Here's how it works: Basically, station controllers know most but don't share in case it's wrong. Usually the driver is the last person to know. Last apart from the passengers. They get a heads up once there's a proper heads up to give.

Then, all the other station employees hide leaving the passengers to develop a swarm intelligence that wills the train to move. It then falls to wonderful folks like Jenny and her mate Ruth (train guard) to save the day and limit damage. Check out Ruth on Twitter. Just search 'Avanti delay' and you'll find Ruth emerge as a beacon of light in an otherwise gloomy carriage. She gets stuff organised, groups passengers, orders taxis, tells you what's going on; communicates what she knows and is honest about what she doesn't. This is confirmed on Whatsapp by my daughter who is a person cut from exactly the same cloth and who has, just this minute, been organised by Ruth.

A couple of night maintenance guys arrive and Jenny updates them. 'It is what it is', says one, probably the more Buddhist of the two, thus making everything right in the world. We decide this should be carved into the stones above the station entrance.

Penrith Station

4 hours late, my daughter’s train departs Preston. ETA Penrith 2354. It arrives at 0025. I watch it pull in with Jenny. She assesses the emotions on the faces of passengers, preparing her intervention, her support. They range from asleep to blank. 'That one looks like she's had enough,' I say.' That's Ruth,' Jenny replies.

They embrace on the platform.

What happened to Avanti this evening (apart from the worst kind of publicity, see Twitter) was the conjunction of three factors: A work to rule by Scottish train crews; an increase in passenger numbers - to beat the coming strikes, and to get to Police Cops or Stewart Lee at the Edinburgh Fringe; and signaling faults between Carlisle and Glasgow. I wonder about the EV equivalent of this perfect storm. Probably my daughter and her luggage as additional load and charging stations that refuse to charge.

She's in remarkably good spirits on the ride west and sees off the quiche in a few minutes. She'll keep the Rocky road for later. When we get in it's too late for a sneaky charge so we dump her bags and go to bed.

In EV Tales #7 we put the rural into rural west Cumbria, hone our forward planning technique and set off for Edinburgh