18 April 2020

Coronavirus Diary Number 1

Monday 23 March

The PM 'instructed' the British public to stay at home today and while I drove home from work there did feel an eerie silence on the roads. This does potentially spell disaster for traditional family-run coach operators, though, whose business model relies heavily on day trips and holidays. The schools closing to all but children of key workers last Friday was already a possible nail in their coffin. Today also marked the introduction of reduced timetables for local bus services and national rail services. All industries are struggling to maintain staff numbers at the required level to run advertised timetables and so with drops in usage of around 70% it makes eminent sense to significantly cut services so that those offered can be relied upon. With a so-called 'Lockdown' now imposed, I did consider just how further usage could drop and whether further reductions in service are now likely.

Wednesday 1 April

Today starts the first of fourteen days where my family and I need to self-isolate owing to my daughter registering a body temperature in excess of 37.8C. She was ill when I collected her from school yesterday and the last thing I want to do is send her back where she could potentially infect children of other key workers. I've woken up today feeling rather hot and bothered and also have a body temperature in excess of 37.8C. Neither of us has a persistent, dry cough (yet?) so we shall see how things progress over the following days. The need to immediately self-isolate if anyone in your household displays Coronavirus symptoms has been a requirement long before the 'Lockdown' and is the main reason why transport operators have been struggling to maintain their normal service levels. I've been told that Network Rail in particular is struggling to maintain service levels in its signal boxes with Doncaster Power Signal Box particularly affected. No signallers = no trains; it's that simple.

Friday 3 April

I had considered my family's self-isolation at precisely the time I needed to put the finishing touches to the forthcoming edition of the LEYTR a positive to come out of an otherwise disruptive situation, but I feel particularly ill and so unfortunately the LEYTR is on the back-burner. I continue to suspect that neither me nor my daughter have Coronavirus but with the potential for larger numbers in society to display mild or no symptoms, who really knows, until a reliable antibody test is mass produced? All around me, though, bus and coach operators are closing their doors. National Express and Megabus have ceased all operations and Hull Trains has announced it will stop running. A global pandemic shows how little protection an open access train operator has compared to their franchised equivalents, that have effectively been underwritten by the DfT. Many local coach operators have attempted to maintain school transport for the very few children that now require them, but I've now noticed virtually all of them withdrawing these offerings. Brylaine Travel has suspended all services on Saturdays, too and rather impressively CallConnect is offering its demand-responsive services free of use to prevent the use of cash.

Tuesday 7 April

Both my daughter and I feel better today and fortuitously my son has not been unwell. Had he been a few years older my convalescence could have been improved by him making me unlimited cups of tea. I've attempted some work on the forthcoming LEYTR and have decided not to include a photo feature in it as offerings from our varied membership base have been low on the ground as they rightly heed government advice to avoid all but essential journeys. It would certainly be irresponsible to make specific journeys to capture photos of local transport and I've seen people rightly criticised for doing something similar when positing images online. The suspension of the photo feature does mean that I can include an additional four pages of text and has fortuitously enabled me to clear some of my backlog. The partner of a regular contributor was hospitalised with Coronavirus over the weekend and is home now. He also has contracted the virus too but to a lesser extent. He detailed their long road to recovery - potentially taking months, rather than weeks. Today also marks the halfway point of my self-isolation.

Friday 10 April - Good Friday

I'm almost ready to go with the LEYTR though I woke in the night in a cold sweat as I'd not considered Coronavirus's effect on the print industry. Would our printer even be trading at the minute? I fired off an email to them and even offered a solution to the collection of the magazines as I doubt our usual process of collecting them in person would be considered an essential journey. What concerned me the most was the cessation of printed magazines by two bus/coach titles - RouteOne and CBW. Both have an online presence and both promised to resume their printed weekly offerings once they were able to do so. I'm firmly in the 'print is best' camp. I'm sure there is a place in society for 'e-subscriptions' for people to view on an electronic device only, though they're not for me, not at all.

Sunday 12 April - Easter Sunday

I find myself at the out-of-hours GP unit at Grantham Hospital today, following a very rough night with my daughter who has developed a large lump on the side of her neck and was being sick moments after consuming anything - even squash. Our trip out of the house did cut short our self-isolation, though NHS 111 said this was more important. Of course on most Sundays it is perfectly possible to drive from Bourne to Grantham without seeing any public transport at all (provided you don't catch sight of the hourly Delaine service to Peterborough or see from afar a train powering along the ECML in the Corby Glen area). Today was no different. My daughter was diagnosed as having tonsillitis and it was the doctor's view that the large lump on the side of her neck was a cluster of glands that had swollen as a consequence. Grantham Hospital was a fortress and my daughter and I were required to don face masks and gloves before being allowed in. The set-up within the unit was very professional and the nurse manning the desk seemed very capable. To my surprise, we were the only ones there - an up side to Coronavirus being that fewer people are venturing out of their homes and so they are injuring themselves less. The nearest pharmacy to dispense the antibiotics she was prescribed was in Sleaford. We saw an EMR Class 156 departing Sleaford station bound for Skegness and it looked as though no-one other than the train crew was on board.

Tuesday 14 April 

Our final day of self-isolation, which is marred with my daughter's (non-Coronavirus) ill health. Positive news came in an email from the printer we use to produce the LEYTR, which said they continued to trade albeit with reduced staff. I was able to email the finalised version and they were willing to deliver the completed magazines to a mutual location so that they can be distributed. The edition has a good balance of bus/train news/articles and covers both sides of the Humber in equal measure - something I always strive to do. Strangely, I'm looking forward to visiting the supermarkets tomorrow, even though I've learned that since my self-isolation various queuing systems have been introduced to prevent too much social contact. 

Wednesday 15 April

Self-isolation is over! My daughter is still ill. There's been no improvement so I called our local GP who is changing her antibiotics. Rather surprisingly, he didn't want to see her at the practice. It is understandable that practices take steps to protect GPs and others who work there, but my daughter now has no temperature and no persistent dry cough and had been seen by a GP three days ago. It was because she'd been seen that he felt there was no pressing need to see her again. I did muse on how many sick patients a typical GP now comes into contact with at their practice on a daily basis compared with how many passengers a typical transport key worker would see. I was able to go shopping for the first time in ages and headed to Spalding on a route that crosses the former Spalding & Bourne Railway (opened 1866) on a couple of locations - most notably at the former Counter Drain station, serving the hamlet of Tongue End around a mile down the road. The station closed in 1959 and other than a house that looks very railwayesque, the only items that show that a railway line once crossed the road here is a small bridge across a dyke and a solitary white railway gate.

Friday 17 April

The LEYTR magazines have been produced in record time (another unintended consequence of Coronavirus?) and will be posted out on Monday. Their production is a week behind what would be normal, though sadly these are not normal times. My daughter's new antibiotics seem to have done the trick as she's almost back to her normal self and doesn't spend the days laid on the sofa with her quilt, drifting to sleep on and off. Further service reductions have been introduced by the two major operators in the LEYTR area - Stagecoach and East Yorkshire - to reflect the continued drop in use. It's also worth noting the closure of Gainsborough depot by Stagecoach and all East Yorkshire depots bar Hull and Scarborough. So far as Gainsborough is concerned, this has made for interesting photos uploaded, specifically of a Humber FastCat-liveried MAN working town service 2. It's interesting to note that all recent photo uploads to social media come with a disclaimer that the image was taken 'while making an essential journey to the shops' or something similar. Those driving the buses or working the trains are offering unrivalled photos at present, too, and it's great to see these images being shared.

Saturday 18 April

Yesterday I downloaded an app to my iPhone called Photomyne, which enables me to photograph my 6x4 glossy GCT photo collection and for these to be 'converted' seamlessly into digital files that I can share. I've seen others upload images of times past to social media in a bid to maintain morale during these unprecedented times, and since my GCT photo archive from the late 1980s contains images mostly taken by myself and never shared, I hope to offer many never-before-seen images. I uploaded three to the Grimsby Cleethorpes Transport (pre-Stagecoach) Facebook group (one is not my copyright). I've also been through and photographed some more recent RoadCar photos (pre-Stagecoach - just) that I've begun sharing to the Lincolnshire Road Car Facebook group (not to be confused with the Lincolnshire Road Car Pre-Deregulation Facebook group). The Photomyne app is free to download but there's an annual fee of £29.99 or monthly fee of £8.99 to continue using it after a three-day 'free' trial; therefore I spent hours snapping my collection yesterday and have today gone into my iTunes account and cancelled the subscription that you have to set-up, so that no money is taken. That said, if you do have thousands of photos you want to seamlessly scan and store (possibly with a view to upload in due course), the £8.99 monthly fee seems to be a decent offer; however, you'll be given the impression that the annual £29.99 fee is the only one that is on offer - agree to it then go into your Subscriptions settings where you can change your subscription to the £8.99 monthly fee.

10 February 2020

Travel to & from Gibraltar


There are countless reasons why on my latest trip ‘home’ to Gibraltar I decided to spend the night before my flight in London. First, the need to wake at 2 a.m. and drive the nearly-200 miles to Gatwick Airport would be removed, since a more leisurely 4 a.m. alarm call would be required and a shorter hour-long journey aboard a Thameslink service from central London to the Airport would be all that was needed; and second, I’d also avoid the need to physically drive the long distance from home in Lincolnshire and pay for airport parking.

Requiring a room in central London on a Sunday evening – the day of the week that hoteliers typically find hardest to patronise – ensured I was offered a fantastic deal on a single room (£39). It came with breakfast but my early departure, sadly, meant I’d be unable to partake. All was set fair, then, for the first part of my journey.

Sadly I’d not taken into account the railway network. While planning the trip, I’d considered driving to Nottingham and travelling with EMR to London via the Midland Main Line, except that was closed between Wellingborough and Bedford, with replacement buses shuttling folk between the two localities. I’d end up travelling on a rammed two-coach, Norwich-bound Class 158 to Grantham and then catching a LNER service thenceforth. 

Yet problems existed here, too, with the ECML south of Peterborough closed. All services were diverting via Ely and Cambridge. This added an extra hour to the journey time but worse still was that LNER was not advertising it possible to make the journey from Peterborough to London King’s Cross with them. Instead, passengers were told via online journey planners and the Travel Centre to board either the hourly EMR Norwich service or CrossCountry’s hourly Stansted Airport train and change at Ely for Great Northern’s half-hourly offering to London, which would join the ECML at Hitchin.

As if to add insult to injury, a replacement bus service was also offered between Peterborough and Huntingdon and others were only standby to offer additional capacity to Ely should the station become overrun with ad hoc travellers bound for The Smoke. Admission enough that the broad plan of sending everyone via existing services to Ely was inadequate.

Using one of the real-time journey planners in ‘detailed’ mode, I noticed that LNER’s reduced service to/from London was also running via Ely and Cambridge and that its southbound services were in fact calling at Peterborough but as ‘set down only’, meaning they weren’t shown in journey planners nor were the station's information screens advertising this most obvious of ways to reach London.

Faced with the dog’s breakfast of alternatives, I decided to board a set down-only service at 1904. This was booked to use Platform 4 and upon my arrival there at 1845 I was a little surprised to see the locality bustling with activity. LNER staff appeared to have gained authorisation to board we 50-60 souls on this due service, thus sparing a coach driver the hassle and EMR/CrossCountry from leaving folk behind when their already busy trains were scheduled to leave.

The stealth 1904 departure duly arrived late (it caught up a late-running Grand Central train after Doncaster) but fortuitously was formed of two 5-car Azumas. Sadly, the leading unit (800206) was the wrong way round and so those wanting to make use of First Class were stood in the wrong place. The trailing unit (800209) was at least pointing in the right direction (First Class at the London end) though the first two coaches, of which First Class formed 75%, were ‘full and standing’, to quote railway parlance  After much squeezing past people and their belongings in the aisle, I found a seat in Standard in what I suppose was coach eight of 10.

Dealing with this kind of load would have been far easier had it been possible to walk through the full length of the train, though sadly LNER has succumbed to two different trains through which continuous passage is not possible. I understand that when this configuration is booked, a Senior Host is located in the front unit with Revenue Protection; the rear unit is home to the Train Manager.

As I sat in cramped conditions, with elbows of all who passed by inadvertently jabbing me in the shoulder, the trolley service being unable to pass through the coach due to the number of standees, the journey duration owing to a line blockade in the Holme area and the high number of people travelling on a reduced service – not helped by the part-closure of the MML, I did muse on the benefit of the alternative: having next to no sleep tonight before the 2 a.m. alarm call and the 200-mile drive to the airport. Yes I’d be rather fatigued, but at least I’d be in the comforting surroundings of my own home and car.

I stayed at The King’s Cross Hotel, located at 60 Argyle Street. It is a budget hotel and the room for one night’s stay cost £39. The hotel had a positivity rating of 75% and was rated two out of 3 possible stars. Its convenience was excellent and upon check-in the receptionist ‘upgraded’ me to a double room, rather than my booked single. The room itself was a little cramped, but the en suite was decent enough and there was a pack of complimentary biscuits, which is more than you get from some of the big name no-frills hoteliers.

With the short days, the extended journey time and the winter temperature, it felt a little later than it was after I’d dropped my things off in the room, so I headed back out for a wander.


My 3.45 a.m. alarm call was sufficient to negate the need for my snooze alarm five minutes later and by 4.10 a.m. I had dropped my keys off at the 24-hour reception and headed to St. Pancras International station. Confusingly, the main entrance on Euston Road implied the station was closed. The obvious entrance had two large gates pulled across, though this was actually to signal that its subterranean Underground station was closed. I headed down Panrcas Road and sure enough the side entrance was open and the Eurostar check-in lounge was a throng of activity.

Ticket barriers were in operation at St. Pancras though the EMR-operated ticket office was closed. I’d been fortunate enough to purchase my ticket from Peterborough’s booking office the day before and knowing the ticket vending machines don’t sell the full range of available tickets, I did wonder what the situation was for someone requiring a ‘specialist’ ticket.

Platform A, two floors beneath the main concourse, was very quiet. The silence was broken by the mobile (‘dynamic’?) announcer doing an audio test on his hand-held microphone; yet he didn’t make use of it to announce the arrival of my train (700004), comprising eight very quiet coaches. The driver, for the Thameslink/Great Northern network is DOO (driver only operated), announced some dwell time here before we departed punctually at 4.32 a.m.

A very quiet St. Pancras Thameslink station at 4.30 am as 700004 arrives with a train from Bedford.

Simplicity. Or basic. The interior of the Thameslink/Great Northern Class 700 trains were 'designed by a man', as my mother would say, and are devoid of charging points and Wi-Fi. Seats are pretty uncomfortable, too. Clearly their design has been maximised for capacity, with longitudinal seating, though for longer journeys which many passengers make (Huntington-London, for example), this design is not practical.

We arrived punctually at Gatwick Airport an hour later and access to the airport is very straightforward since the railway station is adjacent to the South Terminal. My flight, EYZ8901, would be departing from the North Terminal, which required a trip aboard the ‘free transit’ autonomous people mover, which operates approximately every five minutes, linking both terminals.

This journey is the first time that I’ve not printed out my boarding pass; instead, and inspired by others on my previous trip, I checked in and downloaded my boarding pass through the easyJet app. I’d taken a screenshot of the pass in case there was an issue opening the app when needed, but the whole process was faultless. Give easyJet, Ryanair et al there due, they have significantly simplified the whole boarding process.

My rule of thumb for making lengthy journeys is that I allow myself to be fleeced once. On this trip this took take place in Departures when I shelled out £3.00 for a latte before heading to Gate 559 for boarding. The couple in front of me were attempting to take two bags each onto the plane, which was spotted and they were segregated before having to decide which bag they’d each like to have stowed in the luggage compartment for an additional fee. It demonstrates that no matter how simplistic budget airlines make their booking and boarding processes, there are some who will always be caught out.

The complimentary papers were most welcome though they extended to the FT, the i and Metro, the latter of course having no price tag. A selection of glossy magazines seemed to interest more people and I picked up a copy of the New Statesman for some in-flight reading.

Heading to the departure gate my plane could be seen being prepared for the flight to Gibraltar.

After I’d booked my flight and paid a little extra to choose my seat, I received an email from easyJet to say my booked plane type had changed, though my seat choice was still available and so they’d retained this for me. I now discovered what had happened: presumably due to lower demand than anticipated, my booked Airbus A320 had been downgraded to an A319, offering fewer seats and in theory fewer cabin crew, though there was a healthy five on board, all exceptionally attentive and fine ambassadors for their profession. It’s easy to see why other passenger transport sectors try to train their staff to emulate those working for the airlines.

Push back commenced at 7.04 a.m., delayed slightly as only one set of steps was available and we all boarded through the front door. The Airbus A319 has 31 rows, each comprising 6 seats lettered A to F. I had chosen seat 30F and the two next to me (30D & 30E) remained empty throughout, as did all seats in row 31 and two seats in row 29. I estimated the plane carried a maximum of 176 passengers. January is the quietest time for year for easyJet journeys to and from Gibraltar; the company doesn’t fly there on Wednesdays - the day I was to return - and the reason for my return flight being with BA.

Empty seats aboard an easyJet flight to Gibraltar are very uncommon, especially on the Gatwick route. January, though, is the quietest month it would seem.

We made good time and circled Gibraltar before landing so I was able to get some nice photos of The Rock from the air. I also captured one of the runway as the plane was lining up to land. It certainly looked rather short from a mile or so out! As I captioned it to my friends, it’s wet at both ends.

Gibraltar's runway can be seen in the distance. It looks alarmingly short and wet at both ends!


Three days and two nights later I prepared for home. There can be few places where it is possible to board a bus to the airport from the city centre at 4 p.m. and be the other side of airport security seventeen minutes later! This is what I managed to achieve on departure day. My Calypso Transport single-decker departed the Market Place at 4 p.m. and having checked in online with BA the day before, I headed straight for security and was airside by 4.17 p.m. Wonderful.

British icons, side by side. And the weather typically fined up as I was leaving.

My Airbus A320 touched down a little ahead of schedule and ten minutes later was joined by a similar Airbus product operated by easyJet, which was bound for Manchester. My BA flight is the daily departure headed for Heathrow and was due to depart at 5.20 p.m.; the easyJet service to Manchester was due out after ours at 5.35 p.m., yet due to the vagaries of Air Traffic Control systems, we would not be allocated a ‘slot’ until thirty minutes after our booked departure time. Of course, this didn’t affect the Mancunian flight to our right, which left before us. One of the crew tried to explain that the delay was due to our planned arrival time in Heathrow and that 30 minutes was a worst-case scenario, though in the end we departed 30 minutes late.

Some days even in January BA operates two flights per day from Gibraltar to Heathrow. Leather seating is used as standard in BA's planes to/from Gibraltar and I found myself fortunate to be sat by some empty seats for my return trip, too.

The previous two nights I’d recorded this plane’s departure and it never left punctually; though today’s was the latest by far. Once airborne the steward working the first class section towards the front drew the curtain. This always makes me giggle. I suppose I can see why there is a need to do it, but seeing it in full flow makes me roll my eyes. 

It soon became dark as we headed north over Spain. Similar to my outward flight, I was fortunate in having no-one booked to sit next to me. When I checked-in I was afforded seat 18A for ‘free’ though the rear third of the plane on both sides seemed unreserved and BA cheerily offered me any of these seats for £17. I’m glad I didn’t take up their offer!

I do enjoy travelling with BA (when their flights are competitively priced). There is a certain ambiance that the other airlines can’t quite achieve and the stewards are impeccably turned out. The safety announcement was pre-recorded and involved a number of A-list celebrities being rather humerous in their delivery of what is otherwise mundane material. It looked as though it was done in partnership with a charity and Comic Relief for any unwanted currency. The wonderful thing about visiting Gibraltar is that you never have any unwanted currency as you avoid the need to visit a bureau de change!

We arrived at Heathrow just five minutes behind schedule, which prompted a suspicion I had that our 5.25 p.m. departure from Gibraltar was always in the balance as generous flight time had been afforded us in much the same way as railway schedules afford train operators padding between penultimate and final stations. Peterborough to London King’s Cross is reached in just over 50 minutes for LNER non-stop services, whereas northbound the journey generally takes just 45 minutes.

I then made the long walk to the station where I boarded the Heathrow Express to London Paddington. I’d never travelled on the HEX before and purchased my ticket from a roving salesperson. The ticket offices were closed. Access to the platform is via a choice of lifts. TfL Rail shares the platform with HEX and trains arrive in between one another. Regular announcements are made to inform passengers that tickets are not interchangeable. What wasn’t announced was that my train would be shortformed (just one unit - 332010) so my fellow passengers and I had to walk a fair way to board as HEX drivers are instructed to stop at the end of the platform regardless of how long their train is. 

332010 is seen at Heathrow Terminal 3 station, bound for Paddington.

I did smile to myself at the constant manual announcements made by ‘dynamic’ assistants – most were reasonably pointless – yet when details could have been made to aid the boarding process and reduce excess dwell time, it was overlooked. The journey was otherwise straightforward enough and we reached Paddington punctually. Significant information was given on board to the reviewed boarding process in the Capital, now that HEX is afforded just one platform and boarding is required to be rather swift, with passengers aided by platform assistants (both GWR and HEX from my observations).

After brief pit stop I caught a bus to King’s Cross in the form of Stagecoach London’s 12342 (SN64 OGR), an ADL E40H/ADL Enviro400 Hybrid. The bus was punctual but my debit card didn’t activate the ticket machine as I boarded. The driver waved me on but I instinctively suggested to him that it hadn’t read my card. He begrudgingly looked at his machine while at the same time I noted the card reader display in more detail. It was showing ‘Not In Service’. The driver pressed a few buttons and gestured I try again. Success. It’s fortunate that I questioned his initial command as a Revenue Protection Officer board mid-journey and I had to tap her manual card reader to prove I’d touched in. The journey was otherwise eventful, though the engine cut-off didn’t happen once.

Once at King’s Cross by 9.10 p.m. I discovered I’d caught the tail end of earlier disruption. I could have caught the delayed 9 p.m. LNER to Newcastle, though details of its platform had just been made and there was something of a stampede. Instead the 2130 Leeds was boarding on Platform 7. Formed of two 5-car all-electric Class 801 Azumas (801208/13) I boarded the rear-most unit (801208) and had a very smooth and punctual run to Peterborugh, calling at Stevenage en route.

Fortunately the outward disruption due to planned engineering work at Holme was long forgotten and as I sipped my glass of white wine as we hurtled along the ECML at 125 mph I did muse very positively on my time away. Even the lengthy diversion via Cambridge on Sunday aboard a train I shouldn't have been able to catch was punctual into London. The Thameslink train to Gatwick ran to time, both flights arrived punctually at their destinations (though the BA flight did touch down five minutes late) and you're never waiting long for a bus in Gibraltar.

04 November 2019

Monday - An Almost Azuma from Lincoln
The down side of academy-run schools is that greater authority has been given to executive boards over when school holidays take place. My children had two weeks off during what was traditionally the October Half-Term holiday. One big advantage, though, is that when taking the kids out during the second week, when the majority of the rest of the county's (and country's) schoolchildren have returned, travel by train is a little more pleasurable - even with the Tin Lids in tow.
     We drove to Spalding and caught the 1213 EMR service to Lincoln. Currently this is the only journey on the Peterborough-Lincoln route to extend to Saxilby, Gainsborough Lea Road and Doncaster. There is no southbound equivalent. Come December 2021, EMR has suggested the routes will be joined and travel via the complete 'Joint Line' will become commonplace. Our plan was to catch the 1323 LNER 'Azuma' service from Lincoln to Peterborough. LNER introduced its additional direct Lincoln trains on 21 October after many years' delay. The 'City that thinks like a town and acts like a village' now receives a far more realistic link to the Capital. 
     Except today it was cancelled. In fact the cancellation was only partial as LNER somehow decided to turn the clock back to last week and terminated the incoming journey at Newark Northgate, from where the return commenced. I suspected that either driver or train manager didn't have the sufficient route knowledge for the section between Newark Northgate and Lincoln. Of course, this was of no use to us! Thinking on my feet, we remained about the Class 153 and travelled through to Doncaster. I thought we would use the unusual 'Up Slow' route from Black Carr Junction along the ECML effectively the wrong way, since track diagram website Tracksy showed just that. Except we didn't; we crossed over the ECML after Bessacarr Junction and headed in via the old Royal Mail depot, terminating at Platform 5. Yet the diagrammatic map of Doncaster showed our train on both Platforms 5 and 2 (the bay platform that trains using the Up Slow would use).
     We returned to Peterborough from here instead of Lincoln, catching the 1426 LNER 'Azuma' bound for London King's Cross. We were going to sample Fist Class again, taking advantage of travelling mid-day on a Monday when the Rest of the Day menu is offered, which includes hot food. To this end, the very attentive staff (who'd just finished service for those who'd boarded at Leeds) managed to keep track of those who'd not yet been served and came round offering the full menu and details of the Specials section, which today was Macaroni and Cheese. As ever my children managed to pull at the heartstrings of the hosts and ended up acquiring double portions of everything they wanted. I can't seem to recreate whatever it is they manage to do! 
     We left 800105 at Peterborough and hung around for the 1625 EMR service to Lincoln - the last departure of the day that extends beyond Spalding - and left when we got to the Tulip Town at 1645. The round trip unfortunately took around 1:15 longer than we'd initially planned since the cancellation of the Azuma from Lincoln meant we could not return from Peterborough to Spalding on the 1511 departure.
     Azumas now feature heavily along the ECML, with the Class 91/Mk 4 trains being the first casualties of their introduction. HSTs will start being removed en masse from November, so I may head out to capture a few more photos of these iconic trains along the ECML in the next few weeks. With Hull Trains introducing Class 802s by year's end, the only variation from this Hitachi Super Express train will the the Class 180s operated by Grand Central and Class 158 DMUs operated by EMR passing through my neck of the woods. 

Wednesday - More Monsal Meanderings
I took the kids into deepest, darkest Derbyshire today where we met with their grandparents. We recreated a walk I'd undertaken twice in the last two years, between Millers Dale and Monsal Head. I was a little reticent about taking my kids on a three-mile trek in the countryside as they've never done such a thing before, but the distance is no greater than walking from home into town and back, something they've done countless times in the past, though usually with a break in between. We drove to Nottingham then boarded the 1147 EMR train for Liverpool Lime Street. We met my parents at Sheffield and caught the 1335 Stagecoach in Chesterfield Buxton-bound service, formed of SN63 YPT, which wore appropriate route branding. We left under the dual viaduct in Millers Dale at 1456 and ten minutes later, having climbed the Wormhill road hill to reach the site of the former station, the walk began. As I've previously written, the route follows the former railway trackbed of the route that linked Matlock and Buxton via Bakewell. A number of years ago the three tunnels along the route were opened up and the Millers Dale-Bakewell section of this former railway line became accessible and a popular destination for cyclists.
     Walking through a tunnel is an unusual experience and one my children had hitherto avoided. Needless to say both enjoyed the experience and we walked through two of the three tunnels (Litton and Cressbrook). At the impressive Headspan Viaduct, we climbed to the top of the mountain and with minutes to spare boarded the 1627 Hulleys of Baslow service bound for Tideswell. Unusually for an operator that prides itself in an immaculate fleet livery, the Optare Solo that provided our travel was in full Connexions livery and rather bizarrely had Stagecoach notices inside. The vehicle in question was former Stagecoach fleet number 47123 and registered KN54 XYP. While my kids were off school for a second week, students attending Lady Manners School in Bakewell were not and around half the seats contained school children returning home to Tideswell. Here, the bus returns to Bakewell via Cressbrook, where we dropped the remaining three children off. The route then negotiates the infamous hairpin bend before running along the valley floor and then a steep climb up to Monsal Head, where we initially boarded.
    From here we headed to Bakewell where the route ends. Previously I've witnessed this bus then work the 1715 service 172 to Matlock but not today; it returned from whence it came. We headed to the toilets and then to one of the pudding shops that sell the traditional Bakewell Puddings before we caught the 1745 Trent Barton 6.1 to Matlock. This very yellow/mustard bus looked a lot tidier inside than on my previous travels and the USB charging points were handy. We then headed to the railway station and caught the 1836 EMR service to Nottingham, formed of 156405 which was lovely and warm inside. Sadly darkness had fallen so there was nothing much to do other than formulate ways to stop the children from getting too tired.

Thursday - Derby and Back
I had to head to Derby for work today and this meant an earlier than usual start for me. I chose to drive to Bottesford station and intercept a Boston-Nottingham train there rather than Grantham since I'd discovered that travelling a few extra miles means not having to search for a parking space outside  Grantham station's limits. Bottesford is the only station along the Grantham-Nottingham route that is in Leicestershire and the small station car park is free and managed by EMR. Our train - 156404 - arrived punctually and we headed toward Nottingham calling at Aslockton, Bingham, Radcliffe and Netherfield. I was surprised at the numbers boarding at Bingham and Radcliffe since both locations benefit from a very frequent service to Nottingham operated by Trent Barton. We arrived in Nottingham a few minutes after our booked 0753, though I wasn't in too much of a rush as I had two options now to reach the Home of the Railway: CrossCountry's 0807 to Cardiff Central or EMR's 0820 Matlock train. I opted for the latter since the '170' (that CrossCountry employs) will soon become the staple diet locally, while the Class 156 generally used on the Newark Castle-Matlock won't be around for too much longer.
     As it transpired, the 0820 Matlock was operated by two Class 153s. I boarded the rear unit which was lovely and warm on what was a colder than usual morning. It was one of the ex-GWR '153s' that was acquired around eighteen months ago and benefits (in my opinion) from not having vestibule carpets which I feel offer a less than inviting smell. The train was exceptionally busy, though many left at the first station, Beeston. This journey calls at Spondon, where quite a few left the train. I've often wondered why Spondon's service frequency is so poor. The area's population must surely rival that of Hykeham and its proximity to Derby is similar to that of Hykeham's to Lincoln yet so few trains call here. Is it because the station is located on the Midland Main Line and Network Rail's planners worry that too many stops could slow everything down?
     My return was aboard CrossCountry's 1540 departure which called at Long Eaton and Beeston. I then had some time to wait in Nottingham before the 1645 EMR train to Skegness, which this afternoon was formed of just a lone '153'. No passengers were left behind but conditions on board were certainly intimate. One chap was particularly vocal about the lack of capacity on a peak-time train, and I tended to agree. Though while I was travelling for over thirty minutes, he left at Netherfield, where the alternative option would be to travel on Nottingham City Transport's Service 44 that would, at this time of day, offer similarly cramped conditions. There were no ticket checks on this leg, presumably because the guard would struggle to walk the length of the train. The '153' continues to be a workhorse though with the evolution of the railway, it is increasingly becoming unfit for purpose. That's not to detract from its usefulness and versatility and that these attributed helped fend off possible line closures three decades ago.

Saturday - Diversions to Garforth
I took the kids to see my brother today. Warnings at Peterborough station I'd seen previously had warned that engineering work over the coming weekends would see a reduction in capacity for LNER services and that the company recommended booking a seat. Thankfully, though, the time I wanted to travel today meant the engineering works in the Peascliff Tunnel area of the ECML hadn't yet started and so the outward journey at least would be diversion free!
     The fist issue I encountered was booking seats after having already purchased and collecting the tickets. I phoned the number LNER themselves tell you to on their website and dealt with a fairly affable chap who frustratingly struggled to understand English. It honestly took me 38 minutes to ask for seat reservations to be applied to already-purchased return tickets. The poor guy, no doubt exasperated by the to-ing and fro-ing ended up signing off by thanking me for booking with London Northwestern Railway! I would imagine, then, that the number I called was a rental location that deals with all TOCs.
     Our 0951 departure from Peterborough was bang on time and formed of a Class 91/Mk 4. So often I forget that these trains will soon go the way of the dodo along the ECML, along with their elder HST siblings. The weather was decent enough and the service on board the train was excellent. Once in Leeds and having been met by my brother, we had a wander around the station to make use of our connection time. The station has had significant improvements and has been somehow widened to reduce - but sadly not remove completely - the bottleneck there. On the occasions I've been to Leeds station it's always felt welcoming and typically Northern. We then boarded the 1148 TPE service to Hull, alighting eight minutes into the journey at Garforth.
     The heavens had opened and for what seemed like hours it was exceptionally precipitous - so bad that while an umbrella was obviously needed, this only really protected your head since puddles were forming everywhere and it was impossible not to splash your legs. The TPE service was formed on one 3-car Class 185. Our return from Garforth was aboard the 1626 TPE from Hull to Manchester. Not only was this on time, it arrived ahead of time and sat at the station for a few minutes. Rain was still falling and my children and I stood on the overbridge and watched our LNER Azuma arrive that would form the return journey.
     I was impressed with the speed at which LNER managed to turn around the train. Our 1714 departure was punctual and we avoided football fans who, thanks to the proximity of Elland Road from Leeds station, would be required to catch a subsequent departure. 800110 worked the journey and from Doncaster we travelled the entire length of the Joint Line to Spalding and then direct to Peterborough. Generous running time was afforded and we sat outside Peterborough station for eight minutes which was rather frustrating since the OpenTimeTrains website showed that Platforms 1 and 2 were both devoid of trains. But then this is the railway and 'rules is rules'.
     It was a good day and trains were punctual (if a little crowded on the return) and LNER were correct to request as many passengers as possible made seat reservations. There were regular ticket checks and the crews were friendly and approachable. A good day all round.

14 October 2019

A New Town's New Town, Disruption for a Road Dive Under & Lincolnshire's Sunday Buses

Monday - A New Town's New Town
Anyone heading north of Peterborough along the East Coast Main Line would struggle to miss what looks like a new town being built around three miles out. This is actually the building site for a grade separated junction to the west of Werrington, itself split in two with the modern 'half' acting as one of Peterborough's townships. The new junction at Werrington will see the Up/Down Stamford line offer a link to the Great Northern/Great Eastern 'Joint Line' by means of a dive under. Presently, freight trains coming from the Ely/Felixstowe direction have to cross the ECML at Werrington Junction to reach the Joint Line for northbound travel. The irony here is that to reduce congestion on the ECML, northbound freight trains have to effectively block all lines to get off.
     I often stare in awe at the sheer complexity of such undertakings and the Werrington Grade Separated Junction is no exception. Specific tarmac car parks, prefabricated office blocks and even traffic light road operating systems have been installed. The main site car park looks positively urban. The amount of work that needs doing also sounds insurmountable. The connecting spur from the south end of the Joint Line diverged over a mile before Werrington Junction - a sufficient length to allow a suitable gradient to pass under the ECML. On the west side of this Anglo-Scottish artery, the new link joins the Up/Down Stamford which itself needs moving a bit to the left. Were it to remain in situ, the curve required for train leaving in the direction of the dive under would be too sharp. Moving a two-line railway a little bit to the left required compulsory purchase orders and the temporary closure of two footbridges.

Tuesday - Disruption for a Road Dive Under
Driving along the A1 today I was a little disheartened to see yellow road signs that show disruption is expected "until Summer 2021" - yes, Summer 2021. The area in question is while by-passing Grantham, just south of the A607 (Melton) junction. Very similar to Werrington's grade separated junction, here the A52 will head under the A1 and along a new formation that by-passes Grantham and will come out 'yon side' (as they say locally) just north of Prince William of Gloucester Barracks. The benefits here are immediately beneficial to all Grantham residents and those many thousands of truckers who have to pass through the town's centre each week. There is no east-west by-pass, just a north-south alignment in the form of the A1. The new A52 by-pass, as reported almost two years ago in the LEYTR, will have to quite literally bridge the ECML. But still, Summer 2021... It got me thinking - without any online research, I genuinely wondered which will be completed first. Werrington or Grantham?

Sunday - Lincolnshire Buses Today
Driving home with the kids from my parents' house in Cleethorpes today, my son (who has a penchant for all things geographical) started to make a list of the likely buses we'd pass en route. He'd not realised that today was a Sunday and Lincolnshire's limited bus network is positively moribund today. It got me thinking though as we dissected the county: how many bus routes outside urban Grimsby/Skegness/Lincoln/Scunthorpe actually run today? I made a list:
     InterConnect 1 (Lincoln - Grantham)
     InterConnect 37 (Spalding - Peterborough)
     InterConnect 56 (Skegness - Lincoln)
     InterConnect 59 (Skegness - Mablethorpe)
     101 (Bourne - Peterborough)
     322 (Hull - Scunthorpe - Swansea)
     327 (Hull - Scunthorpe - Bristol)
     339 (Grimsby - Lincoln - Westward Ho!)
     FastCat 350 (Ashby - Scunthorpe - Hull)
     447 (Hull - Lincoln - London Victoria)
     448 (Hull - Grimsby - London Victoria)
     449 (Mablethorpe - London Victoria)
     InterConnect 505 (Spalding - King's Lynn)
     567 (Hull - Scunthorpe - London Victoria)
It's worth noting that seven of the above list of 14 services are long-distance National Express routes, representing half of all services in Lincolnshire on Sunday. Towns like Louth only have National Express to rely on. As we headed from Grimsby the only time we had the possibility of meeting any of the above routes was as we passed through Horncastle, (we could have bumped into InterConnect 56). And of course in Bourne the 101 but as we were travelling during the late afternoon/early evening the latter had finished operating. I had hoped we'd pass the 448 heading Hull-bound but that didn't happen either since we headed via New York and Langrick, whereas this long-distance coach service operates via Sleaford and Tattershall.
     Is there anywhere else whose Sunday timetable comprises 50% National Express?


I've been offline for much of September thanks to a change in broadband supplier. Who knew such a relatively seamless change would result in a complete loss of service that won't actually be concluded until 7 October? And, of course, it came amidst the 'press week' for the September/October LEYTR, which has been done over the course of a month, adding significant time to produce the forthcoming edition.

With the use of my neighbour's broadband as a temporary measure (my laptop is able to find their wifi signal and I've been given their password enabling me to connect) I thought I'd catch up on my transport diary for the whole of September.

14 September - Going to Great Grimsby
As you'll read in greater detail in the next LEYTR, and on the www.GCT113.com blog once I am back online, I took my bus back home today and along with three other preserved Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport vehicles ran a free shuttle service between the Fishing Heritage Centre and the Docks. Of note and not mentioned elsewhere is the knocking sound that started coming from the entrance doors while they were closed and the bus was in motion. The sound disappeared when the doors were opened and so I made the assumption that the noise was coming from one of the runners at the top of the doors. While driving the bus back to where I keep it, I called at lay-by after lay-by to shove shards of folded paper in anything that I could find to see whether it solved the problem. It didn't. It wouldn't be until the end of the month when I sorted out the problems.
     I wanted to expand further on driving GCT 113 through Grimsby's town centre today. The return trip from the Docks was deliberately routed this way to offer a better connection for those who travelled in on public transport but it had the unexpected effect of garnering significant interest from many members of the public and Stagecoach staff, some of whom had driven MBE 613R in service from 1977 until 2005 and again during the summer of 2014. Some had even driven TJV 100 in service from 1966 until 1981. Even more had, I'm sure, had the pleasure of driving E930 PBE from 1987 until the early-naughties when the bus was transferred to Chesterfield depot. Frustratingly, the latter (Leyland Tiger/Alexander P) has yet to be painted into a GCT livery, but internally the bus is very familiar.
     The last time I took GCT 113 home (a year earlier) was was inundated with emails from people who didn't ride on the bus but simply witnessed it pass them who's made enquiries and discovered my website. I was asked by no fewer than seven people if I'd effectively hire the bus out for events ranging from Year 11 Proms to a birthday treat for a 10-year-old boy. Sadly I'm unable to hire the bus out and on a technicality I'm still not legally permitted to receive a 'restoration donation' for providing the bus for free so I had to sadly turn down all requests. Had I been living in Grimsby I'm sure I'd have loved to oblige some of the easier requests for free but living there other side of Lincolnshire it would take a not inconsiderate amount of time and diesel to do a round trip.
     Back to today and it was a great day, helped by the weather, and I was able to catch up with Stagecoach staff I'd not seen in years, who all managed to make it for a short time to the Fishing Heritage Centre. I actually thought one chap had died, so was rather shocked when he shook my hand, as large as life!

26 September - Delightful Delaine
I'd not stretched the legs of my bus for almost four months since the Fenland BusFest in May until mid-September when I took it to Grimsby and two weeks later I found myself behind the wheel of GCT 113 yet again. Again, a full write-up of the day will be made on www.GCT113.com's blog once my internet is restored, but a major news story for me is that I finally established why my entrance doors were knocking. Initially I was a little dismayed when I was driving the bus to Bourne as despite the specifically located bits of folded paper, the knocking sound still persisted. I met with my friend and transport journalist/writer Steve Knight and had arranged to give him a lift to Bourne Bus Station for his 1500 bus for Peterborough. With a little more mechanical know-how than I, Steve was able to try out various theories while the bus was in motion and within two minutes had identified the problem and offered a solution.

28 August 2019

Retracing My Steps, Topless in Springfield, The NRM & A North Lincs Jolly

Tuesday - Retracing My Steps

Today I revisited a trip I made with Delaine Buses in January, which took in the furthest reaches of their operating network. The difference today was that my son was in tow and the weather a little warmer. Operationally, the first trip to Spalding aboard the Tuesday-only journey on Service 302 was a single-decker rather than a double, but it was the newest example, a B8RLE with Wrightbus body. We travelled on the same two single-deckers working the Spalding-Stamford (203) and Stamford-Wittering-Peterborough (205), though snuck in a short trip around Stamford aboard a Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini-bodied Volvo B9TL working Service 201 between the two. This was a very comfortable experience sat in the upper saloon, and one which puts anything new that Alexander Dennis can produce to shame. Passenger wise, the Bourne-Spalding was as busy as previously, as was the Peterborough-Bourne (last leg). The Spalding-Stamford and Stamford-Wittering-Peterborough were both considerably busier, which was pleasing to see. The school holidays undoubtedly played a part. As we headed out of Peterborough Bus Station at 1330 we saw the 205, due out at the same time, still loading with over 30 on board. A Delaine Day Rover costs £5.80 for an adult, which is excellent value, though the child version (5-10) costs a rather excessive £4.50.

Wednesday - Topless in Springfields

I headed out to photograph a special working undertaken by Stagecoach East's preserved Bristol FLF in open-top guise, which was duplicating the 1015 departure from King's Lynn to Spalding on InterConnect 505. Its next working was a 'short' at 1157 from Spalding to Springfields in the town where the bus headed back to Peterborough. The event was something authorised by senior management at Stagecoach East, with a view to repeating it again if it is deemed a success. Locally, the preserved fleets of East Yorkshire and Stagecoach East Midlands have dwindled. East Yorkshire still has a couple of vehicles and Go-Ahead seems to be a firm who, like Stagecoach East, would use them to good effect, but what of the former Lincolnshire Bristol SC in the East Midlands fleet? I can't recall seeing that out and about in years.

Thursday - The National Railway Museum

Accompanied by both kids, I headed out to visit the National Railway Museum in York. Yesterday, while travelling to Norwich to sample one of Greater Anglia's Stadler trains, I noticed that former Great Western Railway HST 43002 Sir Kenneth Grange is now languishing in the sidings north of Ely. This train is in the original Inter-city 125 livery and worked one of the final ever departures from London Paddington in May. I'm sure I read it was to be added to the National Collection in York but now looks to have been dumped in the Cambridgeshire Fens for reasons unknown.

Friday - A North Lincs Jolly

I travelled to Grimsby today in order to meet with the lady organising the Heritage Open Day in the town on 14 September at which myself and two others who own preserved GCT buses will be providing a free shuttle service. Our destination was Grimsby Docks, specifically the Kasbah. There had been some discussion concerning the buses undertaking a three-point turn with passengers on board. I wasn't too keen on this as none of the vehicles have power steering. Fortunately a route on the Kasbah was agreed, which actually takes my Fleetline down a road that I visited back in 2003 and posted the bus specifically for a portrait photo with the Dock Tower in the background.
     It was a very productive meeting. Equally enjoyable was my journey to/from Grimsby from home in southern Lincolnshire. I drove to Spalding and caught the 0854 EMR service to Lincoln. This departure is one of just two that use Platform 2. There is no step-free access to this location and so it is only used when both Up and Down trains are booked to pass at Spalding. We were well loaded and arrive in Lincoln punctually. The next train was at 1025 to Grimsby Town and was a little quieter on board. Most alighted at Market Rasen and when we arrived in Grimsby there was a large crowd waiting to board the return working at 1128.
     I returned on the 1232 TPE service for Manchester Airport. I'd not travelled aboard on of their Class 185s since they were refurbished has part of their current franchise. They look very nice indeed. I was very impressed with the ambiance and the TV screen showing journey progress and connection times at the next key interchange point. This also removed the need for constant scrolling remarks about keeping an eye on your luggage and the 'Three Ses'. I alighted at Doncaster after what felt a very frustrating journey in terms of line speed. To my amazement I used to work with the driver in a former life and we chatted while congestion cleared to allow the train to cross the ECML to head towards Sheffield. The driver confirmed that there is no point on the South Trans-Pennine route where trains can reach their maximum speed of 100mph.
     A LNER Class 91/Mk 4 at 1355 was next. It was booked for the same platform (3) but unannounced it pulled along Platform 1. I easily found a seat and before long we were heading at full pelt southbound. I'm rather indifferent about LNER's Class 91s. They're an 'okay' train; they undertake the job they were built for admirably and do seem a little too young to be replaced. A few have found new homes but the majority not. Three rakes of Mk 4 coaches now languish in sidings at Worksop. I arrived a few minutes after the booked 1446 in Peterborough and headed for the 1511 EMR '153' bound for Lincoln. This was the same train as that which I'd caught at the start of my trip (153379). We left punctually and were well loaded.
     I can't help thinking that there really ought to be a more direct method of reaching Grimsby by train. If only someone had the hindsight to perhaps build a line from Spalding to Boston then maybe dissect the Lincolnshire Wolds to, maybe, Louth and then on the flat marshes to Grimsby!

12 August 2019

A Sea of Nothing, A Second Lease of Life, A Short Hop & A Strike-Free Saturday

Sunday - A Sea of Nothing

August is upon us and I spent this weekend visiting my parents who are staying in a touring caravan near Martin, Lincolnshire. Today we took my children to visit Tattershall Castle. Naturally the option of public transport was discounted with it being a Sunday, so we drove the 5 miles by car. The National Trust is custodian of this fortified medieval stately home, saved from demolition in 1914 (its fireplaces had been ripped out and were ready to set sail to the USA before intervention saw them reacquired and refitted), and its entrance fee was a little steep (if you'll pardon the pun) considering you can't get to the very top "for the foreseeable future" due to rotting wood. Two entry fees were quoted - one devoid of Gift Aid (cheaper) and the other with it included (dearer). When I've previously donated to charities my request for the donation to be considered for Gift Aid has seen additional financial benefit to the organisation at no cost to myself, since tax is then waived. It appears this is no longer the case.
     Having enjoyed the overall experience, aided by the glorious weather and the plethora of informative detail scattered at every level of this iconic structure, we headed into Tattershall village centre for an ice cream. Here a lone, wooden bus shelter can be found, whose main use is for passengers awaiting Brylaine Travel's InterConnect 5 bound in either direction (Lincoln/Boston). It was a picturesque location, so much so that a couple chose to sit inside the shelter while they devoured their lunch. I smirked a little, imagining how I'd break it to them if they were expecting a bus to turn up anytime soon. This got me thinking about Sunday local bus provision in this part of Lincolnshire. No CallConnect. No Brylaine Travel. No Sleafordian Coaches. No Centrebus. No Delaine Buses (north of Bourne). Tattershall receives just one 'bus' a day on Sundays in the form of National Express Service 448 (Hull-Grimsby-London), which is registered as a local stopping service so fuel duty rebate can be claimed, though a now closed loophole means concessionary bus passes are no longer accepted for free travel.
     The couple waiting here would have had a shock if they did require the 448 as it doesn't stop here, but at opposing bus stops on the main road. In fact the nearest bus would be Stagecoach's InterConnect 56 (Skegness-Horncastle-Lincoln).

Thursday - A Second Lease of Life

Acquisition by Go North East of East Yorkshire Motor Services last year has seen transformational progress at a steady pace. One aspect of the continued evolution of 'East Yorkshire' under Go-Ahead ownership has been the transfer of EYMS vehicles away from their traditional operating area. Reading a recent edition of industry magazine RouteOne, a snippet was contained details of a new open-top service in Newcastle. Called the Toon Tour I was intrigued to learn more so did a quick online search and discovered that the vehicles working the service are some of the ousted open-top Plaxton President-bodied Volvo B7TLs that EYMS used to operate the Scarborough Seafront service. More details here.

Friday - A Short Hop

Crazee Bongos time today with my children. This is a very reasonably priced soft play area to the north of Sleaford and my kids and I are regular attendees. Time was we'd make a day of it and travel from Spalding to Sleaford by train and then Stagecoach 31 bus from Sleaford Station to the last stop in Sleaford, by Pride Park, where Sleafordian Coaches is based. The irregular service pattern of the 31 bus means we have to endure three hours within the walls of Crazee Bongos and while this isn't too bad (they have wi-fi and I have a laptop - many an edition of the LEYTR has been proof-read here!) sometimes it can be too long and my children start crying at everything as they're pooped. Today, we agreed a partial trip by public transport so I drove to Sleaford Station and we caught the 1355 departure on Stagecoach 31 bound for Lincoln.
     Stagecoach offers a return fare for the short distance of approximately six bus stops. This costs £2.50. The ticket has a destination of 'East Road Rail', so I simply ask for this each time now, since requesting a return to 'the last stop in Sleaford' is sometimes met with bemusement. Usually the 'motive traction' is an integral ADL Enviro300 and I always promise my son a trip beyond the walls of Sleaford through to Lincoln, though we've never done this. Our return journey into Sleaford is usually more interesting since it involves boarding a lone 31X journey, which is formed of a double-decker as its return working conveys a large number of school pupils. I remember catching this in RoadCar days with LEYTR Archivist Peter Wombwell when MCW Metrobuses ruled supreme. Today it was another integral Enviro300 as the schools are closed. Disappointment all round - I never thought I'd say that at missing out on a trip on a Trident!

Saturday - Strike-Free Saturday

I made the most of the last day of my holiday by taking the kids on East Midlands Trains's HST to Skegness. The previous three Saturdays had seen trains in Lincolnshire as prevalent as buses to Tattershall on Sundays. Brief respite before next Saturday's strike action meant I didn't want to miss the chance to take the kids on a HST so close to their home.
     Unbelievably every single opposing pair of doors in every vestibule in every coach had a security officer stood at it, preventing passengers from opening the droplight window and sticking their head out. A recent court case found owners of the Gatwick Express service liable for the decapitation of a passenger who **chose** to lower the droplight window and expose his head out of a moving train at speed. Was this a knee-jerk reaction? Surely not, since EMT operates hourly HSTs between Nottingham and London and don't fortify them with security guards.
     It transpired that excessive foliage growth had frightened Network Rail into mitigation overdrive. Yet the manner in which costs on Britain's national rail network are calculated, it's probably cheaper to employ 15 security guards for a day than send an engineering train down the Skegness Branch to chop back overhanging trees.
     We had two trips by bus. The first was aboard Candy, an ex-Grimsby-Cleethorpes Dennis Trident/Alexander ALX400 (17673 (BLZ 1423 (T373 FUG))) from Skegness Bus Station to Ingoldmells. Traffic was moving fairly freely within the town centre (for a Saturday in August) but it was Ingoldmells where everything snarled up. Operating this kind of route is a logistical nightmare, though financially rewarding. Hunts and Redbus were noted, though only one bus of each. We returned aboard an ex-RoadCar Volvo B7TL/East Lancs Vyking, 16910 (FX53 TXD) complete with roof. The 10-minute frequency had a gap of 24 minutes.
     But those travelling were on holiday and in jovial spirits. Candy had speakers playing pop music through the top deck, which was a nice touch and reaffirmed how popular Skegness is as a holiday resort (a recent 'Barometer' column in the Spectator cited Skeggy as the third most popular seaside resort in the UK).
     I'd done my research and a Skegness PlusBus was cheaper than a Skegness Dayrider (£4 vs £4.60) and afforded me the option of boarding other operators' services if I so wished. Despite the congestion, our drivers were courteous and dealt with the excessively lengthy dwell times at bus stops while those with luggage, kids, wheelchair, buggies (or all four) boarded and alighted.

07 August 2019

A Grimsby Meander

Visiting my parents at the start of this week, I unexpectedly found myself with a free afternoon and so did something I’d not done for a very long time, and availed myself of the town’s public transport network for a few hours.
     I purchased a Dayrider from the driver of one of the two buses working Service 12 (New Waltham–Bradley Park). Immediately I noticed that if I were of the persuasion I could have purchased the ticket using a card or via the Stagecoach mobile application. In the case of the latter, my phone would have been my ticket, and I’d have scanned it by presenting it to the ticket machine on every bus I boarded.
     Both buses working Service 12 were ex-First Volvo B7RLEs with Wrightbus Eclipse Urban bodies. They were both wearing a livery designed for use on InterConnect services. Not only does this mean pimping the Stagecoach corporate livery to display two shades of purple, it also comes with interior branding with the same purple theme.
     We reported at the time in the LEYTR how it seemed strange that a small number of these buses were being painted into the InterConnect livery, but after having travelled aboard this particular one, it soon became evident that the InterConnect livery matches the purple First-inspired seating rather well. I assumed time and money had been spent replacing the interior trim from that specified new by First to that commonplace in similar aged Stagecoach buses. But no – dark blue leather seats and purple seat backs are the order of the day and this matches the exterior livery very well indeed.

     Changes were made to the bus stops in Grimsby Town Centre during April, and now Service 12 circumnavigates the block comprising Town Hall Street, Town Hall Square and Osborne Street on two occasions to serve one of the bus stops at the Riverhead Exchange on Victoria Sreeet West. The bus I travelled on was 21270 (DK09 GYE).
     Here we parted our ways, though I had mused on how Service 12’s fortunes had changed over the years. It was on this route that North East Lincolnshire’s first low-floor buses were introduced, in the form of Dennis Dart SLFs with Alexander ALX200 B37F bodies were introduced during July 1998: 401-3 (S401-3 SDT). These replaced Stagecoach standard Mercedes-Benz 709Ds with Alexander Sprint B25F bodies, two of which were used from a pool of ten based at Grimsby depot: 767-76 (N767-76 EWG). Following the acquisition of Traction Group, and the rehousing of RoadCar, Service 12 was briefly replaced by a bastardised Service X1, unbelievably seeing the route extend beyond its old western limit of Laceby on towards Humberside Airport and Hull. I vividly recall boarding an East Lancs rebodied Leyland Tiger in RoadCar livery for an end-to-end journey. It’s bizarre to think this coupling up of two routes so far apart on the operational scale was even considered let alone authorised, but then how large bus operations are run has changed considerably since 2005.

     Service 12 was threatened with total withdrawal a few years ago but was retained following continued subsidy by North East Lincolnshire Council. The service is now operated around school contract obligations, viz: Bradley Park–New Waltham Mon to Fri hourly 0900-1400 and then a 1740 Grimsby–Waltham; New Waltham–Bradley Park Mon to Fri 0713/0900 then hourly until 1300 then a last departure at 1350. An improved timetable operates on Saturdays, broadly hourly end to end on both directions.
     Town Hall Street Stop K was my next port of call. I’d anticipated my best chance of a double-decker would be on Services 9/10 (North Sea Lane–Waltham). Such is the rationalisation of high-capacity buses in Grimsby, that riding in the upper saloon in a Trident is something I never thought I’d have to plan to happen.
     While I didn’t get the details of the bus working my next journey on Service 10, I did recall it being an ex-Manchester TransBus Trident/TransBus ALX400 and it seemed to motor very well. I was most taken by how quiet Grimsby Town Centre was. We had nothing in our path from Town Hall Street to the next bus stop on Bethlehem Street. These bus stops aren’t given a letter, but do accurately display the buses calling at them (there are two to choose from in both directions). From here, where a good handful boarded, it was over the railway using Deansgate Bridge and down Bargate. We didn’t stop again until the first stop on Scartho Road, jusr beyond Nuns Corner roundabout.
     Here I noticed the Stagecoach Grimsby Guide showed Scartho Baths as extant, yet it had been pulled down a number of years ago. We stopped again at the Cemetary Gates and then turned right into the grounds of Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital. A single-deck Volvo B7RLE was waiting time in the bus lay-by headed in the opposite direction. Hereafter the route followed by Services 9 & 10 does not differ from that operated for decades by Stagecoach and its predecessor GCT. I didn’t fancy ‘waiting time’ at the Bradley Road terminus in Waltham, so jumped off on Waltham Road at the Fairway junction and crossed the road to catch a bus headed back into town.
     To my surprise, this too would be a double-decker and also felt particularly spritely. 19011 (MX06 XAL), another ex-Manchester TransBus Trident/TransBus ALX400, worked the service. By my calculation we departed the Hospital three minutes early and bolted back into town, waiting time in Bethlehem Street, so that when we turned left into George Street, bound for our Riverhead Exchange timing point, we looked effortlessly punctual. It was our driver’s ‘coming off run’ and he had handed over to his ‘relief’ before I’d got to the bottom of the stairs.

     I planned a trip along Cleethorpes seafront aboard one of the specially-branded Cleethorpes Seasider open-top buses, but the timetable rather unhelpfully offers a gap in service with the 1405 departure missing so the driver who’s out there all day can take a meal break. This meant there was no need to stay on Service 10 to Cleethorpes else I’d be dragging my heels, so I left at the Riverhead Exchange and headed into Freshney Place to purchase a bite to eat.
     I had planned to complete my Cleethorpes-bound journey aboard the more circuitous Service 4, though a quick check of the timings showed that I’d now arrive at Cleethorpes Pier after the 1435 departure on Service 17 had left. Instead I continued aboard a Simplibus-branded ADL E20D/ADL Enviro200, details of which I failed to note down.
     Last year the frequency of this service, which is linked at both ends of its route with Service 4, was downgraded from a bus every 10 minutes to one every 12. This is a shame since these two routes were the catalyst for one of the largest every investments in Grimsby and Cleethorpes’ transport network in 2006, when in conjunction with North East Lincolnshire Council and a grant from the DfT’s KickStart fund, their frequencies were increased to a bus every 10 minutes and I had the pleasure interviewing Sir Brian Souter in the Old Market Place, who cited ‘magical qualities’ on buses operating to this frequency in terms of ridership and revenue. Reducing the frequency saves two buses in total.
     The route Service 3 follows to Cleethorpes is unchanged from that dating back many decades (though the route was previously known as 3F under GCT and early Stagecoach operation and 13 following KickStart funding (when LoZone branding was applied) in 2006). GCT had a 3A equivalent which is effectively the route to Cleethorpes undertaken by Service 10 – running via the Bus Depot, Victoria Street North, Lock Hill and Grimsby Docks (though the ‘10’ omits the latter – as do all bus services now).
     I was told the ‘F’ in 3F stood for Freeman Street and this is the equivalent route to Victoria Street North. How different the north end of Freeman Street looked today, with the wholesale demolition of flats and retail premises! We then passed Riby Square, infamous in scheduling circles at Chesterfield in the early days of Stagecoach operation, as those tasked with producing driver schedules at the Derbyshire HQ felt Riby Square (terminus of Services 1, 2, 7, certain journeys on 45 and late evening/early morning journeys on 8, 8X, 9 & 9X) was some kind of massive transport hub, only to be rather taken aback when informed it was historically the Red Light capital of Grimsby.
     All bus stop lay-bys have been filled in along Grimsby Road in Cleethorpes and so buses now slow the traffic down at each and every bus stop they use. Cleethorpes High Street has changed a little in this direction, as the bus stop – now a lay-by – is located before the Cross Street roundabout. I assume this is a recent change as it caught out two passengers. I alighted at Sea Road, the end of which points towards the town’s Pier.
     To my horror one of the two Cleethorpes Seasider buses was a dastardly ex-First Volvo B7RLE! The open-topper on duty was Lolly, the yellow-based Volvo B7TL/Wrighbus Eclipse Gemini also new to First and for its first season at least operated with First seat trim in the lower saloon. ‘Sister’ Splash, a blue-based similar B7TL/Wrightbus was not out.
     Fortunately, the 1435 departure was worked by Splash, which in technical terms is 16962 (YJ04 FZC). Sat in the upper saloon at the rear I couldn’t help noticing a benc seat from a GCT Fleetline. It wouldn’t look out of place in my GCT Fleetline (113 (MBE 613R)). I suspect that vandalism has led to Stagecoach requiring a replacement cushion and/or vinyl and they have spares of GCT’s dark-blue vinyl.

     Just under a decade ago the route taken in Thorpe Park was changed so that the Fitties chalet park was omitted. I understand this was due to a hump-back bridge immediately after the Yacht Club that grounded low-floor buses, but two years ago I walked this route and there was a locked gate here, preventing all traffic front crossing it. Since then, a shorter route is taken with buses entering Thorpe Park by what was traditionally the exit route, passing the main reception where an impressive water park is now located, and following the winding road through a sea of static caravans to what was traditionally the old terminus of the route at the top of Chestnut Grove at what is the Recreational Centre.
     The Cleethorpes Seasiders have their own timetable and publicity leaflet, which includes four different vouchers for reductions in various activities in Cleethorpes. A map is shown, which details various attractions along the route, though the name of the road through the centre of Thorpe Park is incorrectly shown as Anthony’s Bank Road, which it’s not. The frequency of Service 17 is now very simplistic and Stagecoach should be congratulated for not overly complicating the timetable as they had previously; in fact GCT ran such a complicated timetable for Service 17 that an A4 timetable folded in half was needed to contain all the detail.
     Today, and since the Cleethorpes Seasiders were introduced, Service 17 operates to a half-hourly frequency from 0900 to 1900 with the annoying gap in the middle of the day when the 1405 ex Cleethorpes Pier and 1430 ex Thorpe Park is omitted. Buses run from April to September on Saturdays, Sundays and all North East Lincs school holidays.

     Service 17 continues to accept the standard Dayrider and DayriderPlus as well as the weekly Megarider equivalents. PlusBus tickets are also accepted and a round trip fare of £1.80 is also offered. It’s pleasing to see the route isn’t being used as a financial pawn where certain otherwise standard network tickets are not accepted.
     Back at Sea Road two things took my breath away. First was that the toilets there now require payment of 20p to enter (c’est la vie) but that this can only be made by credit or debit card! I’d dutifully searched my person for loose change only to discover that it was in vain as it was my flexible friend the barrier required.
     Second was that proudly displayed in a North East Lincolnshire Council branded notice case is a Bus & Rail Map from 2009. Yes, a decade old, which shows the old route taken by Service 17 in Thorpe Park and the Fitties. Was this a joke? Perhaps a forgotten-to-be-buried time capsule? It was decade old; it pre-dates both of my children and is still proudly displayed in its own very prominent glass display case.

     Trying to fathom quite how and why this should have been missed for the past nine summer seasons, I nearly missed my next bus. This was another ADL E20D/ADL Enviro200 with Simplibus sub-branding for the recently amalgamated Services 5/6, which has established a 10-minute frequency between Grimsby and Wybers Lights via Grimsby Auditorium and the Willows. Of course during the early years of deregulation, GCT was flooring the route with a bus every 5 minutes in addition to the RoadRunner ‘bread vans’ being run by RoadCar.
     The amalgamation of Services 5 and 6 has seen no buses serve the grounds of Asda at Hainton Square. Service 6 now terminates at Riverhead Exchange and appears to head back out as Service 5 to Immingham County Hotel. Each route provides a bus every 20 minutes which is an enhanced frequency for the Immingham trunk route compares to that enjoyed historically. Wybers Wood, at the end of Service 6, receives a worse frequency now than in previous years when Stagecoach and RoadCar where happily providing a bus every 15 minutes. In fact, following the acquisition of Traction Group, an undertaking was imposed on Stagecoach by the renamed Monopolies & Mergers Commission that forbade them from reducing the frequency of what was Service 16 for a specified period of time.

     Yet this Simplibus sub-branding was rather lost on 37199 (YY64 GVA) today as it was to transport me on Service 4 to Fiveways.
     I had a thoroughly enjoyable trip round a small network of the Grimsby network. The Stagecoach Guide covering all operations here was freely available on most buses and is dated April 2019 (actually it embarrassingly states “rom April 20190”) and contains the network map on one side and all Simplibus timetables on the rear. The production builds on what was very much a RoadCar Superbuzz concept, with obvious Stagecoach corporate elements added.
     A trick is missed with no mention of the Cleethorpes Seasiders – it looks as though Thorpe Park isn’t served this year – but the fact such a Guide is being maintained is excellent. Carrying loose timetables around is now a thing of the past and publishing the timetables for all urban services in the same publication does prevent the operator frequently changing timings for fear of rendering the Guide out of date far too soon.
     The Phone ‘n’ Ride service is also promoted, and this has been operated by Stagecoach since the start of August, using four Mercedes-Benz minibuses new to Stagecoach South East for the Little & Often concept. I saw two out and about today – one was sporting Stagecoach corporate livery and the other in a dedicated Phone ‘n’ Ride livery.
     A special HolidayRider ticket is offered during school holidays that enables those under 19 to travel for £2.10 in the DayriderPlus area. An adult Dayrider is £3.60 and a DayriderPlus is £4.30 (includes all points Healing to Immingham inclusive).
     To summarise – all buses were punctual, clean and all bar one offered a large supply of the Grimsby Guide. Lolly had a large number of free badges on offer for children to collect. Traffic seemed light for a Monday in August and drivers were all courteous, waiting for passengers to get to the first vacant seat before pulling away.
     Grimsby’s buses have always been some of the cheapest in the country and the £3.60 Dayrider remains excellent value. I do worry that branding is more a theoretical exercise than a concerted effort to promote a route and it is baffling what InterConnect livery has been applied to buses that are only ever allocated to non-InterConnect routes.