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?

September

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.

02 August 2019

Bizarre Warning, A Trip to Nottingham, Franchising in Manchester & An Ops Director Writes...


Monday - Bizarre Warning

The rail industry has often been criticised for failing to appreciate the extremely favourable position in which it finds itself; namely managing growth. Virtually all other areas of public transport - specifically the bus industry - continues to manage decline of patronage. Yet for the first time in my lifetime I saw a sign at Peterborough station today that attempted to deal with the demand for rail travel over the August Bank Holiday weekend in the most stark of manners: DO NOT TRAVEL TO LONDON.
     Wow. Just don't travel, okay? This is easier said than done. King's Cross station is closed for the first major blockade of the station throat's remodelling, which will eventually see the redundant bore of Gaswork Tunnels reinstated. Therefore no trains will be calling at King's Cross over the August Bank Holiday weekend. This is of course an optimum time to undertake these mammoth works. A contact at East Midlands Trains said they were running a reduced service along the Midland Main Line to/from St. Pancras, so capacity alternatives aren't as forthcoming as they might otherwise be.
     These works have been on the cards for some time and there will have been many board meetings to best discuss the way forward. Advising passengers not to travel appears to have been chosen as the best option. Wow, just wow.

Tuesday - A Trip to Nottingham

I took the kids to Nottingham today to collect my car which unceremoniously died on Friday. It transpires the Volvo dashboard has no option to show the driver that the alternator has stopped working and that the main battery is slowly being drained of life. Yet the Volvo dashboard so keenly informs the driver of other, considerably less important elements of the car's set-up such as there being no seatbelts used in the rear when there is no-one sat there. The cost of the alternator should surely rival that of a commercial vehicle (though not my Grimsby Fleetline since she has a dynamo!) but to get to the garage in question meant a trip on the tram.
     My children have recently become acquainted with the concept of tram travel and so Nottingham's system was next on the list. While the fares structure appears to have been forever thus, I was rather dismayed at the limited options for those undertaking a short hop. Effectively, the single fare is £2.30, be it one stop or from end to end. There is a £1 short hop fare between the railway station and university and stations in between, but the garage I was headed to was in Wilford, so we were headed in the opposing direction. Yes, we could have walked it, but the weather was exceptionally mild and punctuated with cloudbursts one would associate with the Mediterranean.
     Return fares don't exist. You're forced to purchase a Day ticket costing £4. I've written about this before - it's a clever trick first instigated in the bus industry to offer a fares increase by stealth. Fortunately we'd be driving back, so just a £2.30 single for me and a child single for my 5-year-old son were all I required.
    The trams really are great. Their acceleration is phenomenal and the air conditioning worked a treat. NET dispensed with conductors some years ago (did it coincide with the extensions to Toton et al?) so teams of revenue protection are out and about. During our short journey we saw two teams plus a pair who seemed to be 'stationed' at the station, which is a particularly busy stop for those a little disorientation and in need of the best ticket.

Wednesday - Franchising in Manchester

I've been catching up with my industry magazines and have been reading in greater depth the decision by Manchester's Mayor, Andy Burnham, to position Transport for Greater Manchester so that its preferred outcome concerning the continued operation of local bus services is for the Franchise model, over Quality Partnerships with local bus operators. Nexus initially stuck its head above the parapet a few years ago when the North East PTE chose to make changes to the legislative framework for franchising to be introduced here, but this was successfully fought by operators and the whole sorry saga ended up in court.
     The arguments both for and against have barely changed since the decision by Nexus to walk away from Franchising. The key concern for operators is that local residents are not being properly told about the costs of setting up and maintaining such an enormous area of regulation. London was, though is no longer, offered up as the utopian model, but ridership here is falling year on year as the money TfL is awarded has been reduced. In a dystopian society, passengers are fleeced by local operators who run when they want to and charge what they like. Profits are not invested but creamed off and passed onto faceless shareholders. While some elements of the last two sentences rather eloquently summarise how the privatisation of the bus industry has played out, they miss the value for money that private operators bring to the table. Nexus had to admit that it could not replicate what Go-Ahead, Stagecoach and Arriva were providing in the North East and I fear TfGM will have to admit the same. But then could greater expenditure on local buses be something residents would be happy with if it redressed the balance and that greater frequencies were afforded certain routes that are seen to be lacking, at the expense of busier corridors that seem flooded with buses?
     The LEYTR Stig, who holds a senior management position with TfL, composed a blog for this site a year ago in which he attempted to show how there was a link between the desire to leave the EU and the renationalisation of the railways. The broader message contained within his text was that these two seemingly juxtaposed subjects could in fact be replaced with any opposing subject matters provided the public feel strongly enough about them. I'd counter that operation of local bus services is rising up the leader board as shown by the decision by Manchester (Liverpool has also threatened the same) to take commercial bus services from private operators and make them bid for the rights to run routes designed by the state. The continued perception of a bus industry that doesn't cut the mustard - whether it can be demonstrated or not that value for money is being delivered - will only play into the hands of its detractors.
     Similar to the cataclysmic warnings about the effect leaving the EU could have on the UK economy and that renationalising the railways would deliver services run using the same model as employed by Thameslink, Southern & Great Northern, many otherwise rational and sensible people simply no longer care. Using TfGM as a barometer, I fear the bus industry could be heading the same way.

Friday - An Ops Director Writes...

No sooner had I composed yesterday's entry than I came across a letter published in industry magazine Route One. Penned by Stagecoach Manchester's Operations Director Matt Kitchen, the text was a polite sideswipe at Mayor Burnham's desire to introduce franchising in the metropolitan area. Using GMPTE's document Trends & Statistics 1982 to 1991, Mr Kitchen was able to outline the state of Greater Manchester's buses in the lead up to deregulation and five years of public ownership that followed. He cited the average fares increases in the years as follows:
          1986 - 13%
          1987 - 9.9%
          1988 - 10%
          1989 - 10%
          1990 - 9.4% and 12.7%
     This equates to an increase in fares of 86.6% in five years when inflation rose by 33.3 over the same period. Annual patronage dropped from 358 million journeys in 1982 to 290 million journeys by 1991, totalling a loss of 68 million journeys in 10 years.
     Increasing costs and declining patronage was the cause of the fares rises. Revenue decreased in real terms from £130m to £105m (using 1991 prices). Mr Kitchin ended by citing the so-called cheap fares associated with publicly-run bus networks: £12.30 was the cost of a weekly ticket, and that was according to 1991 prices - this would cost £25.94 at today's prices. In 2019 an AnyBus weekly ticket costs £19 - that's 26% cheaper.
     I've long suspected the editors of trade magazines are passionately opposed to franchising (if nothing else to show sympathy to those operators to pay their wages) and so no response was given. I'd like to see a map showing network coverage. How well was the whole of Greater Manchester covered in 1991, when patronage was declining and fares rising faster than today? You see, those with whom I converse and who are all for franchising readily admit they would be more than happy for the network to run at a loss provided network penetration was improved from that of today, where 'corridors' have exceptional service levels at the expense of the less commercially viable stuff. I'd venture turning the clock back to 1991 to those with these views is a perfectly legitimate decision the Mayor should take.

02 July 2019

Hang Tough, New Bus Map for Gibraltar, GCT Buses in Cleethorpes & New Buses for Hull


Monday - Hang Tough

I found myself briefly at Peterborough railway station today and saw yet another shiny new LNER Azuma being tested. While the train was stood at Platform 2, I spent time looking at the various non-glossy exterior elements. One of the reasons why these new Hitachi trains were delayed being tested was the safety concerns over the cabling between coaches. The photo above shows the array of black cables that link each coach to the next. The RSSB had raised safety concerns because these cables were seemingly too exposed and could invite 'train surfing'. This is, sadly, not a new phenomenon and occurs when someone chooses to cling to the outside of a train as it departs a station. TPE's Class 185s have exterior grab handles that are seen as far too tempting for some who cling onto them when a train is pulling away from a station. Safety being paramount, it is understandable that the RSSB sought clarifications and mitigation.
     Yet the same GWR Class 800s had been steadily entering service out of London Paddington almost two years earlier with identical coach-to-coach cabling. Having today seen LNER's cabling still in evidence (and abundance) I'd be interested to know what changes, if any, were needed.

Tuesday - New Bus Map for Gibraltar

As an avid 'Gibraltar Watcher', I was intrigued to see the latest incarnation of its network bus map for The Rock. A linear route map (because you can't call it a Tube map) of sorts existed around 2010 and was soon dropped with no replacement. Last year when I visited, private operator Calypso Transport added a map to its services 5 & 10, though it was littered with silly errors. Now, the Gibraltar Bus Company has enlisted the help of Dr Vijay Kumar to produce a very impressive result. The topography of Gibraltar makes a straightforward 2D map look convoluted yet with some clever simplification, a very impressive result has been produced. The map also now shows every bus stop, which is named and shown on the timetables. The only simplification I can see that seems to have gone too far is to Service 1 at Willis's Road - the route operates a circular route here and never doubles back on itself. To view this new map, click here.

Saturday - GCT Buses in Cleethorpes

Two preserved GCT buses took part in the Armed Forces Day parade in Cleethorpes today. Frustratingly, I'd not been made known about this until the week before, so was unable to take GCT 113. Fortunately, GCTs 133 (NJV 995) & 57 (NAT 766A/TJV 100) took up the mantle and brought up the rear of the parade in what is the first occasion where both vehicles have returned to their old stomping ground together. Both owners have no Grimsby connections, though were only too happy to take part in today's events. I've seen some excellent photos of the buses being prepared for the parade and I hope those lining the streets were able to reminisce as the buses passed by. I've added this weekend to my diary for next year now!

Sunday - New Buses for Hull

Stagecoach's bus fleet in Hull has been one which seems to regularly see investment pass it by. It's always struck me as a little curious. Similar to Lincoln, there are precious few local partnerships in the city with the local authority, which is often seen as one reason why the 'good stuff' stays away. This is now changing, following a £5.7 million investment in 31 new buses for the city. An launch event took place on 20 June (which I was unable to attend) unveiled some of the new vehicles, which comprises 20 ADL Enviro200s and 10 ADL Enviro400s. I believe these vehicles will be the first in the LEYTR area to features stop/start technology. We will offer full details of the fleet and its introduction in the next LEYTR.

17 June 2019

The Bridge of Death, Rail Replacements, Stagecoach Sprinters & Latest LEYTR Posted


Tuesday - The Bridge of Death (Chernobyl)

Today marked the final day of my 'binge watching' the Sky Atlantic/HBO 'miniseries' Chernobyl. My knowledge of the nuclear disaster of 1986 was sketchy to say the least, and the series, while disputed by Russia to the point that they've said they are to produce their own series that will show the explosion was the result of a CIA bomb, was both graphic yet sympathetic to the obvious anguish felt by so many hundreds of thousands in the immediate area. In the first episode a large number of people gathered on a bridge in the nearby town of Pripyat that straddled a railway line. The locals stood there watching the events unfold at Nuclear Reactor No. 4. The way the scene was filmed implied a kind of serenity juxtaposed with the world's greatest nuclear disaster just a few miles away. Residents - including a father with a child in a buggy - stood witnessing the raging fire while snow-like debris fell around them.
     In the postscript at the end of episode 5, the show claimed "Of the people who watched from the railway bridge, it has been reported that none survived. It is now known as The Bridge of Death." A number of websites have disputed this claim, though from my research this is on circumstantial grounds. The general reasoning behind why these railway bridge onlookers would have in fact survived is because so many who were in the control room of Nuclear Reactor No. 4 also survived, one of whom went on trial some months later. Since the onlookers were Pripyat residents and the town's entire population was forcibly evacuated in the aftermath of the explosion, the theory goes that those who stood on the bridge would have therefore been evacuated soon after. This doesn't mean that their exposure to radiation wouldn't have already inflicted a lethal dose, of course. Another reason why this claim is disputed is because no mention of The Bridge of Death is made on the Wikipedia page detailing the Chernobyl disaster.
     Of course, trains haven't traversed these metals since the early hours of that fateful morning on 26 April 1986 and while details of observers stood on the bridge aren't as forthcoming as other secondary and tertiary events in the aftermath of the explosion, it doesn't mean it didn't happen. I suspect the fact it was mentioned in the programme at all is to evidence normality in the shadow of one of man's greatest disasters and the railway played a part in establishing conjuring up this image.

Thursday - Rail Replacements

The rain continues to fall and trains between Boston and Skegness have been suspended until at least the end of the coming weekend as rivers have burst their banks, submerging the railway in the Thorpe Culvert and Wainfleet areas. Replacement bus services are running between Boston and Skegness and in an unusual turn of events the duration of these road transport services is the same as the equivalent heavy rail services. This is due to the route train takes, heading inland to what was once a junction at Firsby, before the route bends sharp right for the final straight to the seaside. The road, meanwhile is far more linear and effectively follows the coastline. Yet with floodwaters becoming so bad at Wainfleet, East Midlands Trains announced that they may have to pull the replacement bus service, thus offering no service at all.
    This prompted a friend who has regularly driven replacement bus services for the railway to comment how dismayed he was that these services are running at all. As an example, he cited high winds as part of one of the named storms that passed over the UK meaning train services were cancelled between Edinburgh and Glasgow and "yet double-deckers were running as replacements between the two cities." I initially brushed this off but it got me thinking. Dangerous winds are just that. Surely if winds were too strong to permit safe operation of the railway, then surely similar consideration should be given to road transport. The railway isn't very resilient and damage to the infrastructure can be more severe, take longer to correct and be more costly than that of the road network, but it is danger to life that should and is considered. If train crews deem conditions too severe to continue then the 'job stops'. Provided they explain and justify their decision to cancel a service, their company will back them and their reasoning. I fear if a bus/coach driver cancels his/her replacement service mid-journey because it is considered unsafe, the same luxury won't be afforded them.

Friday - New Stagecoach Sprinters

Much was made of Stagecoach's decision to introduce Mercedes-Benz Sprinters into demand-responsive service with their South East company from 12 February 2017. Branded 'Little & Often' the buses were a runaway success and increase patronage by 45%. Politics took hold then, when their replacements - that needed to have greater capacity to reflect the increased growth - were sought. Stagecoach HQ refused to purchase new vehicles to the routes to maintain the high interior standard passengers had been used to; instead local managers were told the standard Optare Solo was to be used and that these must be found from within the South East operation. Now, two of these Sprinters have found there way to Grimsby depot, where they will undertake duties on North East Lincolnshire Councils long-standing demand-responsive service, Phone & Ride. Vehicles acquired are 44014/28 (BV66 GTY/UX).

Saturday - Latest LEYTR Posted

The May/June edition of the Lincolnshire & East Yorkshire Transport Review was posted out. This edition contains our annual roundup of Rail Rover, Rangers and Round Robins that afford passengers unlimited travel in the LEYTR area. We also detail the early plans for Abellio's East Midlands Railway and how Mablethorpe and Grimsby are once again linked directly by bus. Full repaint details for East Yorkshire (as well as Stagecoach) are detailed, along with the very latest fleet movements. We also list the first five Azuma diagrams for LNER to the end of June. There is a great double page photo of a pair of Class 20s hauling 'The Jolly Fisherman' travelling along a section of track which is currently closed due to flooding. We also offer a full round up of rail service changes in Hull and the East Riding from the May timetable change and we have an article which looks at the role of replacement rail services following the complete closure of a railway line rather than in times of disruption.

05 June 2019

Stagecoach Shares, The 'Front Front', Passenger or Customer? Iconic HST & LEYTR Completed

This week's blog entry covers a two-week period.

Monday - Stagecoach Shares
Someone has been purchasing large quantities of Stagecoach shares. It is a requirement that this person be known if he or she is already a major shareholder, so the identity of this individual may be made known soon. The reason for the large purchases is more interesting though. From 19 August Stagecoach's only railway operation will be its minority partnership in Virgin West Coast and with the agreement now signed by Abellio to operate the East Midlands franchise, there can be no going back. Arriva's parent company, Deutsche Bahn, has made its intention known that it is willing to listen to any sensible offer for all or part of the Arriva UK Bus business. The City may be a little reticent to Stagecoach ploughing ahead here, since there is likely to be much duplication in many of Arriva's bus companies, resulting in investigations and legally binding undertakings. Snaffling up shares in the company considering acquisition could be a workaround to position said investor so that they can not be too closely limited by the stock market. We shall see...

Wednesday - The 'Front Front'
I was travelling by train to Boston from Nottingham and found myself aboard 2 conjoined Class 158 DMUs operated by East Midlands Trains. Such is the 1990s technology employed on these reliable workhorses that it makes calling at stations that cannot accommodate the total length of the train something of a logistical headache for staff. Since the guard can only open his 'local' door or release all doors, at stations with short platforms just the 'local' door can used. Consequently, timely announcements are needed to ensure passengers leaving at affected stations are able to do so. Yet on the 1445 departure from Nottingham, and despite very thorough announcements by the guard in which he made it clear that 'only the front door of the front coach of this train will open', two passengers were over carried at Bingham and two school children at Hubbert's Bridge.
     The reason for these over-carries was that the passengers didn't correctly comprehend where the front of the train was. One lady for Bingham thought the 'front of the train' referred to the leading vestibule of her (third) coach. The two school children for Hubbert's Bridge would, you'd think, be rather used to the procedure if this was their regular train home, but again they came a cropper. I simply cannot fathom how anyone could not comprehend where the front of their train is.

Friday - Passenger or Customer?
For well over a decade now the word 'passenger' has been dropped by larger transport operators for 'customer'. There is sound thinking for why this should be so. Referring to someone as a customer ensures staff within that business are aware that the person's custom is often discretionary and should not be taken for granted. The term customer reinforces a company's commendable ethos to provide exceptional and outstanding service to a consistent standard. These are sentiments with which it is very difficult to argue; happier customers invariably means more custom and all within the business ultimately benefit from that.
     Yet passenger is something of a bespoke word for those who choose to travel by public transport. There is nothing in the word's definition that states a passenger has no alternative than to travel by bus or train. In an age were new terms and redefined words are all the rage, it seems genuinely sad that a very specific word that is by its very nature bespoke to public transport is being lost. For me, passenger will always be king. Or Queen.

Monday - Iconic HST
When Great Western Railway's HSTs bowed out of service on 19 May, there was rightly a great send-off from London Paddington. I was genuinely sad to see what would be the very final departures from this central London location and I was grateful to those who recorded the occasion and who subsequently uploaded their videos to YouTube with such haste. Save a sprinkling with CrossCountry and some with EMT, the East Coast Main Line is where it's at for some final HST photos, videos and travels over the summer.
     LNER MD David Horne was quoted in the trade press saying that the High Speed Train is 'probably the most iconic train operating in Britain right now'. Surely this is a contender for Understatement of the Year Award? The HST has always been rightly popular, granted more so during its latter years and especially since the IEP deal was signed, and like those bastions of the road with similar status - Daimler's Fleetline, Bristol's Lodekka, SC, RE etc etc, their replacements will certainly not last as long or be as popular. You seldom hear anyone waxing lyrical of the Alexander ALX400-bodied Dennis Trident!
     The only balance I can offer is from two of my friends who absolutely detest the HST. Their reasoning is, to them, perfectly sound. The HST replaced the Class 55 'Deltic' and that is unforgivable. With the HST being so iconic, perhaps there will be those who will vow never to travel by Class 80x? They'll struggle to reach London, though!

Tuesday - LEYTR Completed
The latest edition of the Lincolnshire & East Yorkshire Transport Review was put to bed today. I'm particularly pleased with how the photo feature has turned out and I hope you'll enjoy the centre spread, which evokes times past though in a very up-to-date way. The very latest information concerning Rail Rovers, Rangers and Round Robins is included, along with news of the award of the East Midlands franchise to Abellio and what internal documents show concerning how services will be linked up from December 2021. East Yorkshire plans on closing yet another of its depots, Grimsby and Mablethorpe are once again linked directly by bus and we have the latest details of rail fleet acquisitions, repaints and refurbishments - including details of the first Azuma to enter service with LNER and the first train to depart Gainsborough Central on a weekday for 26 years. The latest edition carries two articles: a look at replacement bus services for withdrawn rail routes and analysis of the May timetable change within the East Riding and Hull. And of course we have over three pages devoted to fleet changes for all local bus and coach operators in our area. If you'd like to receive a sample copy of a past edition for free, please email: transport.reviewNOT THIS@gmail.com (remembering to remove the words in italics) or to subscribe directly, please click here.

19 May 2019

A Steam Obsession, Nipping to London & Fenland BusFest


Tuesday - A Steam Obsession

I cannot quite fathom why so many people have an obsession with the Flying Scotsman steam train. It's iconic status doesn't quite match is well documented history. Many other steam engines have had just as interesting lives yet the displays of staggering ineptitude by those so keen to capture the best shot of it passing by are not replicated. Trespass is the problem. The instances of photographers illegally standing on what is considered 'trackside' or 'lineside' and actually on the tracks themselves is not only reckless, irresponsible and inherently dangerous, but causes significant delays to the railway network as drivers are required to report any instance where a member of the public is where they shouldn't be and signallers then stop all trains in that vicinity and 'caution' them past the trouble area. Since Network Rail is liable for delay payments to train operators for trespass (they have failed to secure the railway) the infrastructure company has very strong opinions and is also the organisation that ultimately permits the route and times any train may take on its track. One can fully understand the reticence NR feels about allowing the Flying Scotsman to run at all with its unwanted army of obsessives who will openly commit an offence to photograph the train, while at the same time putting themselves in danger.
     Preventing the Flying Scotsman from running on the national rail network has been mooted before, in the hope that this will focus the minds of those who have previously gone 'above and beyond'. This isn't working. Just over a week ago the Flying Scotsman headed north through the West Midlands and the scenes of trespass were as bad as they've ever been. The British Transport Police, in conjunction with NR and train operating companies, is hoping that footage obtained of those committing offences of trespass can lead to people being identified and prosecuted accordingly.

Saturday - Nipping to London

I had an impromptu trip to London with the kids today. We travelled south on one of Thameslink's 8-car Class 700s, none of which travelled beyond King's Cross today. Our 1053 departure left Peterborough very lightly loaded, but by St. Neots it was heaving. We left 700032 at Stevenage and continued aboard one of LNER's Class 91 & Mk 4s. It's easy to forget that these reliable workhorses will also be withdrawn from the end of the year, like their HST sisters. Time was short so we descended the depths to the Underground and had a ride to Victoria. I'd never taken any notice of child fares in London and so was pleasantly surprised to learn that children under 10 travel for free on the Underground. Once at Victoria I momentarily lost by bearings since the road layout has changed somewhat. We briefly saw one of East Yorkshire's Levante 3 coaches working the 449 and then went in search of buses back to King's Cross. I'd previously made this journey on the 73, though I've been out of the loop for quite some time since it's now the 390 which links the two locations, with the 73 seemingly stopping short at Oxford Circus.
     My plan for what may be my kids' last trip on a HST was scuppered when a Class 90-hauled set of Mk 4s was at Platform 3 working the 1406 to Newark. Still, they seemed happy and we made use of First Class (they didn't like the apple and raspberry cake, which is a shame since I had to eat theirs in the end), where the service was very attentive and we were offered food and drinks immediately after departure.
     It was quite a nondescript trip to London, to be honest. Train loadings were very busy although our Newark service was quiet in first owing to the short distance of the route. Hopefully, from September, this journey will continue to Lincoln.

Sunday - Fenland BusFest

I was there in 2012 when the first day was operated. It was a small affair, based on the anniversary of what would have been 90 years since Morley's of Whittlesey started trading. I took my Fleetline along and no sooner had I arrived than I was reassigned due to a no-show for the 1035 Yaxley Circular. I had been down to work the 1040 to Ramsey and back. The organisation of the BusFest has improved no end in recent years and scheduling the bus movements is one thing but allocating volunteer 'conductors' to all journeys adds another layer of complication. I had three different 'conductors' and all assisted the loading of passengers and stowage of buggies. There were 40 takers of my first Yaxley Circular, which headed out via Stanground and Farcet and returned via Holme and Pondersbridge. We crossed the ECML just after the barriers had raised for a Class 91+Mk 4s had passed in the Down direction. The circular was an impressive 55-minute duration. After having caught up with some friends it was time for the 1310 service to Ramsey which was a hive of activity today with the planned classic car show there. I left with all seats taken and while 70% left at Ramsey, their seats were taken by new passengers for Whittlesey. Organisation was especially good at the Ramsey end. Once back in Whittlesey there was a chance for some more gossip before heading out to Yaxley for a second occasion with just 10 spare seats.
     It was my first rally without GCT 113's speedo working. I had to remember to write down the mileage from the offside rear wheel, though the lack of accurate speedo wasn't too inhibiting. At just 40mph flat out, there are only certain areas of town where there is the chance of being caught speeding. What I hadn't reckoned on was the heavy rain around 1645. I was around 10 minutes away from where I store the bus and the heavens opened. The bus got quite wet! The forecast was not for rain at all and once under cover I had time to check my weather app which showed not a cloud in the sky! However, and despite this, Fenland BusFest was a great start to the year. I covered 125 miles in total, 5 fewer than last year.

14 May 2019

A Mediterranean Double Take, Railway Scheduling & Bus Open Data


Monday - A Mediterranean Double Take

A friend uploaded the above photo to his Instagram story today and I initially assumed it to be a generic Transport for London bus stop flag. Yet I knew he was holidaying in my second home, Gibraltar and soon spotted that all was not what it seemed. Upon closer inspection it can be seen that was one immediately assumes to be the roundel is in fact the letter G and the tiles show bus services operating to the east of the Rock. It's quite a clever take on London's bus stop infrastructure and demonstrates how keen Gibraltarians are to 'keep close' to the UK in all manner of their affairs.
     I last visited Gibraltar thirteen months ago and undertook a full review of the current condition of the transport network there. Click here to have a read. I'm rather impressed at this development because the main criticism I had of the bus network in Gibraltar, as written in my summary article last year, is that all bus stops are named are shown on all bus timetables yet the bus stops themselves do not bare their name which makes matters rather confusing to travellers. This has now been rectified with the TfL-esque flags.

Thursday - Railway Scheduling

I was fortunate to catch sight of a document that detailed meal break parameters for a local train operating company's guards. I've never seen such a complicated document. These parameters aren't new, of course, and have been signed off by both the company and the relevant unions. Here are just a couple of sections:
     Max time worked without a break: 5:55, with the exception of turns up to 5:59 that will have not break and may be extended to 6:15 provided that train working content is no more than 5:40.
     Personal Need Break (PNB) allowances: Turns in excess of 9:30 to have 1 x 40-min PNB or 1 x 30-min PNB and 1 x 15-min PNB exclusive of walking time, between the 2nd & 9th hours. Turns between 7:01 and 9:30 to have 1 x 30-min PNB exclusive of walking time, between the 2nd & 9th hours. Turns between 6:16 and 7:00 to have 1 x 20-min PNB exclusive of walking time, between the 2nd hour and 5:50. 'Out & Back' diagrams up to and including 7:40 to only have a short break (SB), inclusive of walking time. Turns with a block working greater than 5:55 between start of diagram and start of PNB or end of PNB and end of diagram to have a SB in addition to any PNB. There are to be no trailing PNBs/SBs (i.e. tagged onto the end of diagrams). There will be no SBs diagrammed within the first 2 hours of any turn.
     And so it continues. It's a far cry from parameters concerning other passenger transport industries. Though unlike these others, rail staff are generally considered safety critical and robust procedures need to be in place to ensure front-line staff are sufficiently rested before, after and during their working days. Though I can't help thinking how alert and aware a bus driver needs to be while transporting 80+ school children on board their double-decker down a single-track Lincolnshire road with dykes on either side...

Saturday - Bus Open Data

One of the main articles in this week's CBW concerned the DfT's intention to release open data on behalf of the bus industry. This got me thinking about the one major area where the bus/coach industry lags behind that of the railway. Some local bus firms consider open data an intrusion, though nothing released is considered commercially sensitive; passengers wouldn't be able to see revenue for a specific bus service, for example. This, of course, also applies to the rail industry, which is steps ahead of its road transport compadre since Network Rail released open data a decade ago, which spawned very impressive and incredibly useful sites such as Realtime Trains et al. More recently, websites have harvested data that shows the location of trains on diagrammatic maps, where possible. Some even show the aspects displayed by signals and the route set by the signallers. Rail's advantage here is undoubtedly aided by the network being regulated and a common infrastructure provider being responsible for the timely signalling and, of course, allocating paths in the first place. It's far easier to group this level of detail together which can be harnessed by suitably knowledgable enthusiasts that know their way around a website.
     The government's aim is to ensure all vehicles working public bus and coach services are trackable, using current datasets, and for this to be viewable on many different platforms. Currently, this information is offered on a sporadic basis dependent on operator and their willingness to develop an app to display the detail. Locally, Brylaine Travel has led this particular field, followed by Stagecoach East Midlands and literally weeks later EYMS. While these operators undoubtedly provide a large percentage of bus services in the LEYTR area, there is yet one simple location where everything can be found; you need to download each operator's app. Open data should help ensure this goal can be achieved, provided enthusiastic folk are out there to cobble it all together such as Tom Cairns has with Realtime Trains.