23 September 2015

From the September Archive

Turning back the clock, the following news stories were making the pages of the LEYTR in years past:

September 1985 - 30 years ago
27 September saw EYMS introduce a fleet of seven 16-seater Ford Transit/Dormabile M16 minibuses in Bridlington, and from the following day to Hornsea, operating under the East Yorkshire Little Bus name. Vehicles were 301-7 (C301-7 CRH).

30 September saw the end of loco-hauled services on the Cleethorpes - Newark route, as a consequence of there being insufficient electrically heated coaching stock. The 2-car DMUs that were the replacements struggled to cope with demand.

September 1990 - 25 years ago
The Great Northern & East Lincolnshire Railway Company was granted permission by the government to "make and maintain a standard gauge railway no longer than 10.5 miles" on 5 September, spurring the company on to launch an appeal for £100,000 to purchase and lay trackbed near Ludborough. The route would go on to be come the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway, operational today.

Also on 5 September, KHCT entered into service the first vehicles in its fleet that conformed to DiPTAC legislations. Scanias 809-16 (H809-16 WKH) came with low-step entrances, high visibility handrails, priority seating for the elderly and infirm and nearside route indication.

September 2000 - 15 years ago
The UK's first open access train operator, Hull Trains, ran its first services, linking Hull with London King's Cross and in competition of sorts with franchised operator GNER. Hull Trains began operation using 100mph Class 170 Turbostars ex-Anglia Trans. Ten years later (and under new ownership), during September 2010, First Hull Trains carried its 800,000th passenger, such was the appetite for direct travel between the UK's fifteenth largest city and the Capital.

September 2010 - 10 years ago
Zonal fares were introduced by Stagecoach in Hull. Just three fares were now charged, generally radiating out from the city centre.

11 September 2015

Ticking Boxes

As has been highlighted extensively in RAIL over recent months, the plight of both stations in Gainsborough is not good. If you thought that the three-trips-in-either-direction-on-Saturdays Gainsborough Central has problems, those at Lea Road are proportionately worse considering the number of additional journeys every week.

While facilities at both stations extend barely beyond a bus shelter a piece, Gainsborough rail users have asked Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) to consider making their empty coaching stock (ECS) working from Neville Hill to Lincoln Central most mornings to call at Gainsborough Lea Road, which would effectively be the starting point of the London King's Cross-bound journey. The mirror image would occur in the evening.

The additional call at Lea Road would add up to four minutes on the ECS run, something which wasn't envisaged would cause a problem with the complex pathing that Network Rail undertakes - certainly not before 0700 along the Joint Line. Yet VTEC is unwilling to consider a direct London link for Gainsborough's residents because they can't be bothered. It's too much hassle.

It's not in their franchise specification, so there is no incentive whatsoever for them to spend time and money on it. They claim that there are safety issues surrounding the nine-coach HST calling at Lea Road as the train doesn't have selective door mechanisms, and there are insufficient staff on board. But what is to stop passengers being permitted to board through the 'local door', that the train manager uses?

And this is precisely the attitude that will be taken by franchised bus operators should the Bus Bill permit the 'buy back' of commercial bus routes in counties whose authorities think they can run buses better than the experts. Goodbye flair, entrepreneurship, innovative ideas, promotions and an ability to grow fledgling markets.

Yet travel further north in the LETTR area to Beverley and First Hull Trains, who's free of the shackles of a franchise and its prescriptive tick-box specifications, and what do we see but a private operator introducing a new link north of their traditional terminus in Hull to the minster town. The new link, which commenced in January, not only offers an arrival in Hull from Beverley before 0630, but also operates on Saturdays as well as in the week and is currently being used by a large number of local people making local journeys.

One of FHT's Class 180s seen passing Brough. (Photo: Railway Herald)

The service also collects growing numbers of Leeds commuters at Howden for Selby, who then connect into a First TransPennine Express service from Hull to Leeds (that omits Howden).

So what started out as a gap in the market between the UK's fifteenth largest city and the Capital is rapidly growing to become a very useful local service, appreciated by thousands of locals each week. First Hull Trains is, in addition to offering a direct London service to/from Beverley, also offering new journey opportunities... because they can.

No franchise. No specifications. No government box-ticking. Just a desire to grow the market in any way they can. And with the delay to the electrification of the line from Selby to Hull, First Hull Trains has further safeguarded the Beverley extensions by signalling their intention to purchase bi-mode trains.

18 August 2015

TV mirrors the Coach Industry

Much has been made about the sideways step Messers Clarkson, Hammond & May have made by choosing to unleash their incredibly sought-after brand to Amazon, who, along with Clarkson's long-time producer friend Andy Wilman (also of the Top Gear alumni), will make a new-look motoring programme that, let's face it, Amazon knows will be quite possibly their biggest hit to date.

But why the furore? Amazon will show the show online. It won't be viewable via the traditional avenues such as the BBC, Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media et al.

Yet as I write this, twelve years ago a certain Scots National with a head for innovation and someone who seemed to possess the 'magic touch', was making plans to do something similar with the coach industry.

For it was in 2003 that Stagecoach's Megabus.com first took to the roads - motorways mainly - initially between Oxford and London in a move that many thought strange as it mirrored the company's flagship Oxford Tube turn-up-and-go express coach service between the two locations.

The modern-day Megabus.com uses vehicles about as far detached as those which launched the online-only coach service as is possible. Amazon, meanwhile, is using highly polished stars, immediately recognised.

But of course Megabus.com was the Amazon of its time. Tickets were only available online. And of course, back in 2003, far fewer people had online access. Twitter, for example, hadn't yet been invented and Facebook wasn't founded until the following February. No, back then, Stagecoach had to ensure its promotional machine was in top form and utilising ex-Hong Kong Leyland Olympians, its 'stars' were hardly known and hardly polished.

Amazon has it easy!

15 August 2015

From the August Archive

A number of notable local news stories took place during Augusts in years past.

August 1980 - 35yrs ago
Road Car was given permission to pick up and set down within Lincoln City Transport's operating area on 11 August, charging LCT fares. As a quid pro quo, LCT gained its long-term desire to serve Birchwood Estate. No co-ordination exited between either operator at this time.

On 31 August Stamford lost a bus depot when United Counties closed its sub-depot in the town and the majority of local services were handed over the other local operators.

August 1985 - 30yrs ago
Lincoln's West Signal Box was demolished on 10 August, following its purchase for £42 by a 14-year-old school boy.

August 1995 - 20yrs ago
The success of Stagecoach Express Service 909 (Grimsby/Hull - Sheffield) was such that Stagecoach was operating duplicates using vehicles from Grimsby depot's Peter Sheffield Coaches division. Generally coaches would wait at Gallows Wood lay-by for incoming coaches from Grimsby and Hull and following the transfer of passengers, would take the excess.

12 August saw the end of Routemaster operation in Hull, when EYMS chose with withdraw the iconic vehicle type. The vehicles were latterly used on the route they first made an appearance - Services 56/56A (Longhill).

August 2000 - 15yrs ago
In one of the largest schemes of its kind at the time, Railtrack replaced a pair of twin iron bridges that carried the ECML over the River Trent near Newark on 26-28 August. The repair work cost £8 million.

August 2005 - 10yrs ago
Fire beset a National Express coach working Service 447 (Lincoln - London) on 7 August, following an electrical problem in the engine compartment of Stagecoach in Peterborough's Volvo B10M/Jonckheere 52620 (S460 BCE), which was burned within minutes out on the A1 at Great Casterton.

August 2010 - 5yrs ago
Staying with National Express, and, indeed, Stagecoach in Peterborough, the latter introduced six Plaxton Elite-bodied Volvo B9Rs into service, replacing 52-reg Volvo B12M/Plaxton Paragons during August.

12 August 2015

Not Loving Newark Enough

They were introduced in a blaze of glory, offering a new-look brand for the Nottinghamshire town of Newark, but last week Stagecoach East Midlands chose to withdraw its new Optare Solo SRs and replace them with any spare vehicles in the fleet in return for some ADL Dart/ADL Enviro200s in a Scottish swap with Glasgow depot.

Full details of the acquired Darts are contained in the latest LEYTR (due any day now) though in the interim the vehicles they were effectively swapped with had yet to leave.

So. Farewell then "I Love Newark" Optare Solo SRs, 47842-6 (FT13 ODG/H/J/K/L). Newark loved you so much that you were sent away for good about as far away as possible.

06 August 2015

So. Farewell then "happy" Gemini 3

It's been synonymous with Ballymena-based Wrightbus for around a decade, but LEYTR understands that, following pressure from Lothian Buses and others who order large numbers of these body types, the latest version of the company's Gemini 3 body will be discontinued and given a standardised frontage from the company's newer StreetDeck bus.

Still referred to as the Gemini 3, the new-look vehicle which is already making waves with Lothian Buses on its prestigious Airline 100 route, bares very little resemblance to standard Gemini 3s, with orders being fulfilled at present. Yet the only change is the front. What a different the front makes!

Photo: Tim Butler.

The traditional Gemini body has been part of Wrightbus Eclipse family, with the sweeping curve marking the lower edge of the windscreen on single deckers and the lower windscreen on double-deckers.

The problem, it appears, is that so uniformed is the design, and with so few noticeable changes each time a revamp is made, operators are introducing these brand-spanking-new buses to the roads and passengers aren't noticing the investment. Leading the constructive criticism is Lothian Buses, the UK's largest municipal bus company.

Anyone who knows Lothian knows that its standards of cleanliness is such than you can board an X-reg Plaxton President-bodied Dennis Trident (as I did the other year) and the interior both looks and smells new. Being the recipient of countless Gemini bodies in recent years, and with the interiors being so well refined at any age, it is understandable, perhaps, that passengers simply do not recognise they're travelling on a new bus.

Dramatically changing the design - even if it's just adopting a standardised frontage - will naturally help things along.

Locally, RoadCar purchased a number of 06-reg Volvo B7TLs with Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini bodies immediately before being purchased by Stagecoach. Being delivered well into Stagecoach tenure, they wore a special Coastal Connect livery for the InterConnect 6 (Skegness-Lincoln). They've now been retired from the route, with one of the batch having recently lost part of its roof and operating the Lincoln City Tour.

More recently, EYMS and Delaine Buses have purchased new examples, with Delaine expecting its first and presumably only traditional Gemini 3-bodied Volvo B5TL in the coming weeks. LEYTR understands that EYMS is intending to purchase a batch of Wrightbus's StreetDecks, and has recently been evaluating an example in service.

22 April 2014

Pay-as-you-go Cars

One of the problems public transport faces is the perception that it is more expensive than the private car. On some occasions, this is true; on many, many others, this is simply untrue. Press proponents of private motoring on the issue and rather than admit defeat, they change the subject onto how infinitely more convenient their four wheels are.

In order to inform motorists just how reasonably priced travel by public transport is - especially by local bus - I propose that all petrol and diesel should be dispensed at filling stations for free.

That's right, free. Zero. Diddly-squat.

To me, the problem lies with the manner in which passengers pay to use public transport. While there are moves afoot to offer electronic top-up payment, this will never be rolled out to every bus operator and certainly not to those who use buses very infrequently. You also have to register, often online, for eligibility and to receive your card, in whatever form it takes.

This is far too much hassle for those who poo-poo buses and trains, let alone those who really don't care and begrudge their trip to town every other Saturday night on the local bus.

So, make petrol and diesel free at filling stations. You then fit payment devices in every single car. A little electronic card reader, which scans drivers' debit or credit cards. The cost of driving the vehicle would then be determined on miles per gallon, which of course, is determined by how efficiently the owner of the vehicle can drive.

I believe that if motorists were forced (because you really would need to force them, rather than cajole or enthuse them) to pay for their motoring in the same way as they perceive how they'd pay for public transport, you'd see many converts.

I've been using the excellent website Fuelly for almost two years now. It's effectively a posh calculator, into which you input details of each and every refuel at the local filling station. You state your vehicle's odometer reading, the cost per litre of your chosen fuel type and the number of litres dispensed. A miles-per-gallon figure is then calculated and a £-per-mile premium is also shown.

My car costs 17p per mile to run. Using this data, and knowing how many miles your daily commute is, the likely savings can be seen. But as I've mentioned above, seeing the savings on paper is not good enough. By dispensing fuel for free and then charging motorists per mile to use their vehicle (for me it would be 17p), the savings will be far more widely felt by virtue of how expensive the car is.

From the LEYTR Editorial in Bourne, a commute to the nearest city (Peterborough) is 32 miles, or £5.44 by car. This is 84p more than the equivalent return on the local bus (two buses per hour M-F from 0620 in the morning peak and last return journey M-S at 2015). "Big deal, 84p" petrol heads will say. But over a 5-day week, this is £27.20, compared with a Week Saver on the bus, costing £18.50, meaning a saving of £8.70 and that doesn't include any payments for parking. Over a 47-week period, car users would save £408.90.

Naturally, those who commute by car as they have no competing bus or train or those who commute to Peterborough but then have to head to the other side of the city to one of the many offices where the competing bus doesn't call, will not benefit. Importantly though, they wouldn't be any worse off as their per-mile payment would total the same as if they'd paid for a tank of fuel at a filling station.

But the concept of more literal pay-as-you-go motoring cannot harm the perception of the cost of using public transport. Paying £60 to fill your tank already causes many to bemoan the government and the tax levied. The best way to 'get back' at the Chancellor is not to use your car.

If nothing else, the Fuelly website, which also sees users' mpg data anonymously used to calculate average UK mpg data, throws into sharp light exactly how much using your car costs, with the per mile value. This generally sees private motorists commuting medium distances against a competing bus or train service paying more. My method of expressing just how much more they're paying by forcing motorists to pay to use their car in the same way they would for a bus or train is controversial. But then so is increasing the cost of fuel by 2p as each and every government over the past two decades has discovered.

14 October 2013

A Transport Stocking Filler?

With Christmas fast approaching, now is the time to worry about gifts for friends and family. What do you buy someone whose interest in local transport is something you know very little about? A subscription to the Lincolnshire & East Yorkshire Transport Review is the obvious choice.

Find out who we are and what we provide six times a year all for £10 by clicking here.

Celebrating our 50th anniversary during 2013, a special 56-page A5 publication has been produced by the LEYTR Committee. The main article covers over 40 pages and reviews the main transport stories to have featured in the pages of the LEYTR and its antecedents since 1963.

CT Plus caused a stir in Hull when it won the contract to operate the Pride Park & Ride service from incumbent EYMS. From what date did they first run the service?

In what year did Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport stop running on Christmas Day?

On 19 August 1989, Road Car closed one of its depots and sold it to Fowler's Travel as a going concern. Which one was it?

Kingston-upon-Hull City Transport purchased a substantial number of Leyland Atlanteans to replace its last trolleybuses, but when was this?

Stagecoach Grimsby-Cleethorpes operates Service 16 between Grimsby and Wybers Wood, but on what date did the service first operate and with whom was it originally run in partnership?

On what date did the rail service linking Cleethorpes, Ulceby and Immingham Docks close?

East Coast hired a Class 390 Pendolino from Virgin Trains to test its capabilities along the East Coast Main Line. On what dates was the electric multiple unit used?

Humber Airways began a regular passenger flight between Hull and London in which year?

Closed as part of the Beeching-inspired cuts, the Spalding-to-Peterborough section of line re-opened after a short spell of closure. When was this?

The November of which year saw all National Bus Company express service route numbers change to conform to a common series following the introduction of the National Travel brand?

Road Car introduced the first Leyland Nationals to its fleet in the same year it closed its Sleaford depot, but when was this?

Brylaine Travel introduced 8 new Optare Solos on InterConnect 5 from Boston and Spalding to Lincoln, but from which month did the new service start?

On what date did Arriva Midland Fox close its Stamford depot?

On what date did the last Bristol VR operate in regular passenger service with EYMS?

On what date did Stagecoach introduce the Megabus Plus concept to the LEYTR area, operating from Hull and Scunthorpe to East Midlands Parkway and thence a connecting train to London?

Lincoln City Transport made cuts to daytime frequencies as a consequence of the introduction of one-man operation; this saw frequencies of every 15 minutes drop to a bus every 24 minutes, which served only to compound matters for the municipal operator. In what year did this occur?

The summer of which year heralded the first open-top bus services along Skegness sea front, operated using a pair of ex-Southdown Bristol F6SGs by Road Car?

InterCity 125 254029 was the first High Speed Train to run a passenger service from the LEYTR, operating a charter from Hull organised by the Hull Times. When did the service operate?

In what year did Peter Shipp join EYMS as Traffic Manager?

The Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport fleetname was replaced by a simple GCT logo on the sides of the municipal's fleet from which year? It coincided with the painting of three acquired ex-LT Fleetlines into special commemorative liveries.

On what date did the last Stagecoach bus service to service Market Deeping occur?

In what year did Grimsby independent coach company Granville Tours cease?

Centrebus replaced MASS Transit in Grantham from when?

In what year did Lincoln City Transport introduce its new-look cream with four green bands livery?

In preparation of Deregulation, United Automobile split its operation which saw its Scarborough depot pass to EYMS. When did this occur?

From December 1987, Road Car introduced improved services in which Lincolnshire town to combat competing minibus operation by ex-NBC 'sister' Eastern Counties?

What was the last day of Barton Transport's operations in Stamford? This heralded Delaine's current operation from the town to Peterborough via Barnack and Kimes/Centrebus' via Wittering.

On what date did both Scawby and Hibaldstow lose their railway stations?

In which year did Hunt's of Alford introduce their first double decker?

During the summer of which year did British Railways withdraw its planned closure notice for the Brigg Line?

From what date did BR's Regional Railways first introduce one-car Class 153s on the Barton Branch and between Cleethorpes and Newark?

The last InterCity 125 service from Cleethorpes to London operated on what date?

In what year did Grayscroft Coaches of Mablethorpe celebrate their 70th anniversary?

From 1 July in which year did Stagecoach enhance its 'Humberline 909' service to 'express' status and extend it every hour from Doncaster to Sheffield and Meadowhall, replacing Duple Laser-bodied Leyland Tigers with Volvo B10M/Plaxton Premiere Interurbans?

GNER was the first privatised company to operate rail services in the LEYTR area; on what date did it take over from British Railways?

Waddingham-based Enterprise & Silver Dawn, who'd operated competing services in Lincoln for many years, was sold on 4 January 1997, but to whom?

In what year did British Railways first propose the closure of the East Lincolnshire Line?

In what year did Manchester Airport Group pay a reputed £8 million for a controlling stake in Humberside Airport?

From what date did GNER start using leased Class 373 Eurostar train sets on its White Rose services between London and Leeds via Grantham?

In what year did Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport turn down the chance to buy a trio of Willowbrook-bodied AEC Reliances from London Transport (the RW chassis)?

In April of which year did Cleethorpes independent Peter Sheffield take over the business of Redbus of North Cotes?

12 February marked the date RW Appleby passed into the hands of its receivers. But what was the year?

In what year did Lincoln City Transport introduce the 'Autofare' (no change) system, in a bid to speed up loadings?

The Horncastle Bus Club was a revolutionary co-operative of its time, running a local bus service between Louth and Horncastle on a not-for-profit basis, following Saturday experimental running. Tennyson Tours was the first company to run services for the Club, but in what year did this commence?

Both Grimsby/Cleethorpes and Lincoln saw their first low-floor local bus services during 1998, but which area received theirs first?

In which year did Veolia Transport purchase the Dunn-Line business, giving the company a foothold in both Lincoln and Hull?

2007 saw a new operator to Lincolnshire operate an hourly service from Lincoln using Leyland Lynxes, in a bid to offer an alternative to the train. But to where?

Cavalier of Long Sutton was purchased by Stagecoach on what date?

In what year did Brylaine purchase the businesses of JE Lancaster of Tetford and Fenwick's of Old Bolingbroke?

Road Car replaced the 'Cavalier' name for its network in Newark with 'East Notts', but when did this occur?

The answer to these and hundreds of other transport news stories can be found in the special 50th anniversary edition, Celebrating 50 years of the Lincolnshire & East Yorkshire Transport Review.

Copies are available costing just £2 each plus £1 p+p per copy. Please make cheques payable to 'Lincolnshire & East Yorkshire Transport Review' and post to LEYTR Secretary, 159 Clee Road, Cleethorpes, DN35 9HY.

05 July 2013

Gibraltar - Update

I've recently returned from a few days in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar - a location considerably British (and proud)! I've covered a number of past trips to Gibraltar over the recent years and on this latest visit there have been a number of enhancements and improvement to the bus network there.

Unchanged since last time is that Calypso Transport - the only private bus company in Gibraltar to operate full-size PCVs on stage-carriage services - has invested in a trio of MAN Lion's City single deckers, new to an operator in Germany. All feature air conditioning and dual doors and have been painted in a modified company livery of red and black, rather than red and white, which features on the other vehicles.

Also unchanged is the company's sole Leyland Atlantean with Willowbrook body, with its chassis constructed in Lancashire and its body at Loughborough and it was exported to Baghdad in 1981. It's been with Calypso in Gibraltar since the 1990s. Unlike my last visit last year, the bus now looks in good order; it's been repainted and its nasty offside lean has been corrected. It has also been fitted with front and rear digital destination displays - they're modest affairs, but not many British Atlanteans can boast this type of retrospective treatment. The digital blinds replace route number and destination vinyls stuck onto the front and rear rather crudely, so those who bemoan such 'advances' in technology can at least be assured a well set out front roller blind was not sacrificed.

The Gibraltar Bus Company's eighteen TransBus Dart SLFs were also plying their trade along the streets of this historic city, as they've done since March 2004. They're soon to be replaced, though a decision by the Government of Gibraltar as to who will replace them has yet to be made. I understand this will be made in the coming months. The first new vehicles to arrive will do so nine months after the order is made.

Despite the Mediterranean temperatures being in the low-to-mid-30s, the Darts have been a stalwart for Gibraltarians for the past decade. It has to be said, few operators would rate the Dart as coping well in very hot temperatures, lasting months at a time. Even fewer would purchase a batch where the terrain is narrow and very hilly. Their 8.8-metre chassis enable them to navigate most of the roads in Gibraltar with relative ease. They also perform well on the hills, with a full load and air conditioning blasting out in the high temperatures. I suspect they've had help 'adapting' to their home, where on a good day they can be seen from Africa.

Does anyone know if other Dennis/TransBus/ADL Dart SLF have been made for European markets, or even further? ADL has improving exports to North America, Honk Kong and New Zealand, but I believe these are for double-deckers. My gut instinct is that this batch of 18 Darts are the only left-hand drive versions in operation anywhere. I'd be happy to be corrected, though.

Far less rare 'on the Continent' are Mercedes-Benz Sprinters and the Gibraltar Bus Company has a trio in its arsenal, though two were off the road with long-standing mechanical problems. One had even been sent away to Spain to be looked at. It's a sad state of affairs, but the GBC has to hire a Spanish truck to load their vehicles onto the back of when sending them through Spain for mechanical attention. The Spanish Guardia Civil are all too keen to stop Gibraltar-registered vehicles 'away from home' and to go over the vehicle with a fine toothcomb. They do, however, seem to leave Spanish-registered flatbed trucks alone. Weird, that!

Consequently, one of the two vehicles allocated to the Sprinter route (Service 1 to Moorish Castle Estate) was an 8-seater Toyota during my stay there this week - the Hiaces were the mainstay of the route until the Sprinters arrived two years ago.

The Gibraltar Bus Company has acquired a Ford Transit that has been painted in fleet colours. Its purpose is to operate a free shuttle service from Sandy Bay to Europa Point, though with a Hiace operating Service 1, it was operating the daytime circular Service 7, which normally uses the Toyota. Running the unadvertised Sandy Bay shuttle was another Toyota Hiace, this one in white with GBC stripes added.

But perhaps the most unusual sighting in my time at Gibraltar was a Go London Central hybrid Optare Versa, with 27 seats and dual doors. Measuring 10m, it's far too long to negotiate some crucial routes along GBC's network, though the company is currently evaluating it. Optare is one of a number of manufacturers who have responded to the GBC's invitation to tender. Initially, Optare invited GBC management over to the heart of the LEYTR area - Lincoln - where they wanted to show off the recently converted biomethane-diesel Solos operating with Stagecoach in Lincolnshire in a hilly environment. Luckily, those at GBC were aware that Lindum Hill in Lincoln is not quite the same as the terrain 'on the Rock' so turned down the request.

HOV1 (OP07 ARE) was shipped over from Portsmouth to Santander and put on the back of a (Spanish!) truck and driven to Gibraltar, where it is in the process of being evaluated by the company and its staff. Although the bus has driver air conditioning, it does not have passenger air con and while staff from the government offices have filled the bus on a hill to replicate a likely full load, the amount of strain placed on the vehicle cannot be replicated exactly without it.

That said, it must be quite an unusual sight for people to see in Gibraltar. The bus is being used ostensibly along the southbound route of Service 2 from the Market Place to Europa Point, making it feasible that a TfL-liveried London bus can be seen from Morocco.

Northbound, the bus cannot follow the route of Service 2 owing to a particularly tight turn in the city centre where buses turn right from Main Street into Governor's Lane. The Darts seemingly inch through with their 8.8m bodies, though I've been assured by the GBC that a 9.4m chassis length would be navigable, but nothing longer.

All in all, the stay was excellent, as ever, and nothing like the way in which Gibraltar is being portrayed in the Channel 5 documentary being aired at the moment. The C5 programme is in the warts-and-all vein, which grates on me sometimes. I know watching people in power mess up (be it police, paramedics or lifeguards) shows a human side that is sometimes lost in this type of show, it also airs far too much dirty linen in public - my visits to Gibraltar are superb for none of the reasons shown on C5. Well, apart from the weather perhaps.

On our return, the entire city suffered a power cut, rendering virtually everything electrical out of action. I suspect this doesn't happen as infrequently as here in the UK as people were going about their business without concern (except for the visitors). The buses were very much still on the road and thankfully the airport was running on its back-up generators. The Levante was lingering around the top of the Rock and I was a little concerned we might have to be moved by coach to Malaga to join the plane there (the first departure of the day had to do just that), but thankfully British Airways' Airbus A320 arrived on time and we departed ahead of schedule.

And finally, the long-term withdrawn Leyland Olympian operated by Calypso is in the process of returning to service. As can be seen below, the bus is having front and rear digital destination equipment installed and one day soon it will be back in service, operating Service 5 from the British War Memorial to the Spanish border via the Market Place bus terminal.

11 May 2013

Janet Street-Porter's Bus Pass

British media personality, journalist and broadcaster Janet Street-Porter appeared on last week's 10 o'Clock Live show, in which she and Peter Stringfellow, along with journalist and author Shiv Malik, debated whether or not wealthy pensioners should give some of their entitlements back, echoing sentiments made earlier in the week by Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith MP.

The show's audience is visibly below the age of 25, so the political orientation of the show and I would suggest at least two of its four presenters was always going to be in favour of the wealthy coughing up that little bit more. Stringfellow, to his credit, said he would happily hand back his free bus pass though spoiled any positive this could conjure by adding "I don't really care because I'm so rich". Malik was very much the audience's champion, advocating senior citizens really ought to take some sort of 'hit' during the recession and that the winter fuel allowance and free bus pass for those whose income is 'high' would be a good compromise.

Street-Porter's comments, however, is where my interest picked up. The former Mirror Group employee claimed that her free bus pass is actually keeping bus services running during the middle of the day. She claimed that if she and other wealthy pensioners were to surrender their passes, these bus services would not be viable and could be withdrawn.

While there's certainly evidence that OAPs make up the majority of passengers of many bus services in the trough between both daily peaks, everything hinges on the reimbursement rate paid by the local authorities. There are very few bus operators who don't hark for the pre-2006 days when OAPs paid half-fare and the local authority made up the majority of the outstanding 50%.

I wrote a piece for the Lincolnshire Echo two years ago in which I tried to explain how the free bus pass was actually seeing a reduction in services as a result of the poor reimbursement rates. Understandably, many OAPs will agree with Steeet-Porter's view, but most won't have a clue how the politics behind it causes so many bus services to be unprofitable and withdrawn as a direct consequence.

Only last week, Yorkshire Coastliner has said it is looking to operate non-stop sections (at least 15 miles between two stops) on its extensive cross-country network of services thus forcing OAPs to pay for travel as the free bus pass can only be used on 'local stopping services', defined by having no more than 15 miles between any consecutive bus stops. The Yorkshire Coastliner decision isn't bloody-mindedness, but a response to a decision by North Yorkshire County Council to reduce reimbursement rates by 40%.

NYCC dispute the amount, claiming it is more like 20%, but the figure is still so large that an operator is having to effectively alienate a sizeable proportion of its passenger base to continue making a profit.

One aspect of the politics that Street-Porter won't be aware of is that reimbursement is paid on the average fare for each service, calculated by the operator. One of the longest bus routes in England operates from Peterborough to Lowestoft, via King's Lynn, Norwich and Great Yarmouth. If someone with a free bus pass travels end-to-end, the authority in whose area the journey commences has to pay the bus operator (First Eastern Counties) the same amount as someone travelling one stop. It has been mooted this is around £7.

OAPs - be they affluent or not - have no interest in how the free bus pass scheme is administered. It's down to the government to set-up a scheme that works. Direct payment by the DfT to operators, as happens with the Welsh and Scottish schemes, from their respective assembly/parliament and as happens for BSOG (fuel duty rebate) to all national operators, would be the logical step. Though not so in England.

Local authorities receive cash from the DfT and can set whatever reimbursement level they want. Last year, DfT figures showed the average reimbursement rate (cash) for journeys taken in the shire counties was 96p. If Janet Street-Porter travelled from Lincoln to Grimsby on the InterConnect 3, Stagecoach would receive, on average, £1.92 for a return journey and not a penny more. The adult return fare is over £5. And, of course, this gap in the amount operators receive for accepting the free bus passes compared with the equivalent cash fare is replicated throughout the country.

It would be nice to see Ms Street-Porter directing her vociferous enthusiasm towards the DfT and to champion the reform of the free bus pass to secure its long-term future.

28 April 2013

An Open Invite

One of the niggles I have about travelling by train during the evening is that the ticket barriers are invariably left open, allowing passengers to gain free access to and speedy exit from the platform. I fully comprehend the minimum staffing levels required to man such barriers, especially at larger stations, which is where most are located.

It is possible, for example, to catch an evening First Capital Connect train Peterborough to London King's Cross and not have to show or present a ticket to anyone or anything. More often than not this extends to East Coast trains, too. What signal does this give to people wanting something for nothing?

There are plenty of people who believe they have the god-given right to travel for free if they can get away with it. The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) estimates that there are 110,000 such journeys made every single day on the national network. This is estimated to cost £200,000,000 every year - and those of us who follow the trials and tribulations of life 'on the trains' know all too well what that sort of money can buy.

And then there's me. And you. And every other honest and decent user of the railway who purchases their tickets before they travel; who leaves home/the office that few minutes earlier than usual in case there's a queue at the ticket collecting machines; who takes time to print off and carry with them their 'travel documents'. If witnessing fare evasion makes my blood boil, I'm sure it does yours, too. This extends to the railway openly inviting fare evasion as well.

On Friday the long-suffering Mrs LEYTR was dragged to Stamford, Lincolnshire, in order to make a short railway journey to neighbouring Peterborough along the old LMS route. This is the only stretch of passenger line in Lincolnshire that I've never done. And not a lot of it falls in Lincolnshire, either. Still, boxes needed to be ticked and all that, so there were were on Platform 1 awaiting the 1201 CrossCountry service bound for Stansted Airport. I'd used the self-service ticket machine to purchase two singles, totalling £15.00.

The train (170107) arrived with time to spare and we found a couple of seats within the three-car Turbostar. Upon departure, the guard came to check tickets. We showed ours within our section of the train, as did a few others who had boarded. At the first vestibule two young teens were stood and one refused to show his ticket.

"Nah, mate, you'll have to call the police. I'm not showing you my ticket" one said.

The other blatantly admitted to not having a ticket and neither was willing to purchase one from the guard. I couldn't overhear what the guard said back, but it appeared he just let them off. Part of me wanted to say "Can I have a refund then, since you're letting those two off?" but I didn't know if he was calling British Transport Police to meet the train at Peterborough as it was here that the pair were travelling.

And besides, there are nice, shiny ticket barriers at Peterborough station now so in theory they'd be challenged here and possibly made to pay - especially if the guard had called ahead.

So you can imagine my utter disgust for East Coast - who maintains Peterborough station - when we exited only to find all barriers open and unmanned.

This was in the middle of the day, not in the evening when most day returns have been purchased and train companies care less about revenue loss. It was a very poor show.

But what can be done? The McNulty Report wants fewer staff at stations, in order to save money. This can only make matters worse. Clearly there was perhaps 1 member of staff short at Peterborough on Friday which then forced the gates to be left open. The saving made with 1 member of staff is greater than the amount CrossCountry lost out on but that's just one case.

Ticket barriers should be operational at all times. If there are insufficient staff to man them they should still be working. All you need is one override button to temporarily open them all if gateline staff have been engaged elsewhere and the same button can be pressed to make them operational afterwards.

Apathy is the major problem I suspect. Similar with London bus drivers not caring one jot about passengers flashing their library card when boarding, many on the railway get paid the same regardless, aren't on commission and their employer still gets £x from the government regardless.

15 March 2013

Delaine Running Day - UPDATE

We've been advised by Delaine Buses that a slight change to the vehicle workings has taken place.

Leyland PD3 50 (RCT 3) will now work all three half-cab diagrams (ex Bourne 1030, 1230, 1430 & ex Peterborough 1130, 1330, 1530) and that Leyland PD2 45 (KTL 780) will work duplicates for the other two heritage vehicles between Market Deeping, Church Street and Peterborough, Queensgate (departing Deeping at 1050 then xx50 until 1450 and from Peterborough it will duplicate the 1130 and xx30 workings until 1530).

Although the day is to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Leyland Atlantean 72, the company is mindful that visitors will want to sample all vehicles, with Leyland PD2 45 having seen no use in service since 2008.

01 March 2013

Delaine Buses Running Day

We're a little late in advertising this, even though there's still a month to go, as it's been doing the rounds for a while. That said, as the news reached us a day late to include in the last LEYTR, it is only right and proper that we help promote a special running day in Lincolnshire on Good Friday.

England's oldest independent bus company, Delaine Buses of Bourne, will be running their trio of heritage vehicles in passenger service on 29 March from 0930 to 1630. This is primarily to mark the 40th birthday of their Leyland Atlantean, ACT 540L, which entered service on 1 March 1973. Numbered 72 in the Delaine Buses fleet, the Atlantean (with Northern Counties body) was the highest-capacity double decker in production at the time.

Atlantean 72 is seen here at the Delaine Buses depot last year with another double decker that boasted the highest seating capacity available at the time, Stagecoach East's Megadekka.

A special timetable is in operation on Good Friday, with direct Service 101 journeys the order of the day between Bourne, Market Deeping and Peterborough. Departures are at 0740, 0900 then 00 & 30 until 1700. Return times from Peterborough are at 1000, 1030 then 00 & 30 until 1800. All services call at all stops en route, with Market Deeping being the central timing point 20 mins after leaving each end. End-to-end journey time is 40 minutes.

Atlantean 72 will be working the 0930, 1130, 1330, 1530 from Bourne and 1030, 1230, 1430, 1630 from Peterborough.

Seen in its 39th year during 2012 is Leyland Atlantean 72 attending the Morley's Running Day, based at Whittlsey Market Place. The bus made a number of shuttle services between Whittlsey and Thorney (following a former Morley's route) and a trip to the Emblings/Judds depot at Guyhirn.

The company's remaining heritage fleet are half-cab double deckers. The oldest is 45 (KTL 780), a Willowbrook-bodied Leyland Titan PD2 new to the company in May 1956. Celebrating its half-century in 2010 (and given pride of place on the LEYTR magazine covers of that year) is the remaining vehicle: 50 (RCT 3), a Yeates-bodied Leyland Titan PD3, which entered service in June 1960. Unusual for this bus is that it has been owned, maintained and licensed as a fully PCV from new with the Company. Titan 45 was sold only to be bought back a number of years later, for preservation.

Taken at the BRM Day in Bourne last October (covered in the Nov/Dec 2012 LEYTR) is the Company's oldest vehicle, Titan PD2/Willowbrook 45. New in 1956 the bus is fast approaching its 60th birthday. Photo: Peter Moore.

Titan PD2 45 will be working the 1230 from Bourne and 1330 from Peterborough - a rare outing for this stalwart of yesteryear. The last time it operated in passenger service was on the Company's Leyland Day in 2008. It had been planned to take the bus to the LVVS Rally in Lincoln last November, but heavy rain forced the company to take something newer.

Titan PD3 50 will be working the 1030 & 1430 from Bourne and 1130 & 1530 from Peterborough - both it and sister 45 will have a conductor on board and a working (if fixed!) Almex A90 ticket machine, ensuring all tickets can be issued/accepted as normal.

All other journeys on Service 101 will be operated by the Company's fleet of low-floor double deckers, with the trio of Gemini-bodied Volvo B9TLs likely to be in operation. The newest two (152/3 AD12/62 DBL) are seen here at Showbus last year.

The operation of the heritage fleet on the xx30 departures from Bourne & Peterborough will be the actual service vehicles, not reliefs/duplicates. Traditionally, loadings are low on Good Friday in this part of the country, the Company has said, and it is hoped that the running day will generate greater use of the services. Speaking to the LEYTR, Delaine Buses managing director Anthony Delaine-Smith, said that if a success there is no reason why it couldn't be repeated in the future.

A Day Rover ticket costs £5 adult (18+), £4.50 young person (11-17) and £4 child (5-10). A Group Day Rover costing £10.60 is also available, enabling up to 4 people to travel on the same ticket, with a maximum of 2 adults. A full range of single and day return fares will also be available, as the heritage fleet is operating a normal service. Free English national concessionary bus passes will also be accepted for travel.

Hatfield Colliery Landslip

February 2013 will be remembered on the national railway network as the month when the largest ever peace-time damage to the tracks and their foundations occurred. The landslip at Hatfield Colliery, with the striking images of its affect on the four railway tracks that run adjacent to the site, hasn't taken up many column inches in the national press, despite the route used by hundreds of trains every day being closed now until at least mid-May.

Hatfield Colliery is located north east of Doncaster, with the line that's been closed linking the East Coast Main Line at Doncaster with the former Humberside County area.  For those trying to reach Hull from the ECML, alternative routes are possible via York and Goole. For the northern Lincolnshire area, that borders the Humber Estuary, alternatives are considerably fewer.

The photo below was taken by LEYTR subscriber John Nicholson on 22 February 2013. It shows a site that Network Rail still cannot access as colliery officials say the spoil heap is still moving and cannot guarantee anyone's safety.

Imagine such a sight on the Brighton Main Line or the Great Western somewhere between Reading and Bristol. Admittedly, many more thousands per hour use these two lines in the peaks than this stretch between Doncaster and Thorne, but passengers here have other, longer, more arduous alternatives. Passengers living west of Scunthorpe have nothing, other than a replacement bus. Passengers living east of Scunthorpe (Grimsby and Cleethorpes) have the option of heading south west to Lincoln, thence Newark for the ECML, though travel from Grimsby to somewhere like Leeds or Manchester (a direct, hourly service operates to the latter, seven days a week) and there is no realistic alternative other than to prepare yourself to be de-trained at Scunthorpe for a coach service to Doncaster or Sheffield.

Landslips will happen and almost a certainty is that in the coming years something will trump Hatfield as NR's worst peace-time railway damage, it's the disproportionate level of interest shown by many London-centric organisations that annoys me. Would The Sun splashing the twisted tracks on its front page make the clear-up operation happen any sooner? Of course not, but it would assist local residents who have lost their train service for effectively half a year feel they'd not been forgotten.

Unofficial reports from contacts within both train operating companies who use the route have seen the potential of a closure for a year mooted. This would be unprecedented and clearly the worst case scenario TOCs and NR are working to. As train crews are trained to a higher level than many passengers consider, losing route knowledge of any section of line they are required to work for longer than a year will prevent them from doing so until they've been effectively re-trained (re-signed). When you consider all the drivers and guards at TPE and Northern Rail alone who'd need to be re-signed, if the line didn't open for a year there'd be a month-long hiatus once the 'all clear' was given so that this process could be undertaken. As distant as May sounds, this is by far the best option for everyone and one that I'm sure Network Rail will be working to... as soon as they're allowed to assess precisely how much work is involved.

The use of the Brigg Line from Barnetby to the ECML at Retford was considered for use by TPE, we understand, though ruled out in the end as this is the diversionary route for freight trains accessing the Humber Ports locations at Immingham and Grimsby. With this excess freight, the route is now considered running at maximum capacity. There was also the same route knowledge issue along this section with TPE crews un-trained. It's a shame as although passengers prefer direct services, the change at Retford for London or Doncaster would be preferable for the change to a coach at Scunthorpe.

04 February 2013

The Emirates Air Line

A scene I never thought I'd see: one of the cable car stanchions high above the Thames and I was just inches away

Yesterday I had my first trip aboard London's cross-Thames cable car, making a one-way trip from North Greenwich Peninsular to the Royal Docks.

It's something that friends and I had hoped to do a few months ago, but thick fog put paid to that idea. Yesterday, however, visibility was good and it was a steady wind that I thought could scupper proceedings, though happily this was not to be.

We arrived at the North Greenwich terminus in style - by Thames Clipper, having undertaken a full journey from Embankment. It was here that we ran into a problem: how to get between the North Greenwich Pier and the North Greenwich Peninsular. The two look physically close, though after showing your tickets to the officious Thames Clipper landside staff member in order to be permitted access to dry land, you're immediately forced into choosing whether to carry straight on or turn left.

A Thames Clipper at the North Greenwich Pier terminus 

We followed the crowd and headed left, hugging the line of the Thames where sure enough the high fencing did briefly part allowing access to the Air Line terminal at the North Greenwich Peninsular.

Staff there were on hand to both marshall the queue and to offer advice to the plethora of tourists wanting to make a trip across the Thames. We had One-Day Travelcards and were entitled to a discount on the standard turn-up-and-go single fare of £4.30 adult and £2.20 child. There is no discount given for a return/'360' round trip, which costs double the single fare for both classes. With a Travelcard (also included are Freedom Pass holders, TfL staff pass holders and Oyster card users) a discount single fare of £3.20 adult and £1.60 child is offered.

We were shown to a self-service ticket machine by a member of staff who set up our purchase after checking our Zone 1-2 Travelcards (we were in Zone 3) and left us to complete the purchase as I was paying by card.

We then climbed a level to the departure area where there are up to four pods under cover at any time and are travelling so slowly that people with mobility problems would be able to board them without an issue. Unlike the London Eye or more traditional cable cars at seaside resorts that travel at the same speed throughout, the Air Line's pods reduce speed to a crawl when they're at a terminal, ensuring the safe disembarkation and boarding of passengers. The doors also open and close automatically.

As we 'took off' I did wonder when the door would shut as I was sat right next to it, though reassuringly it closed the second we increased our speed. The view is excellent and the five-minute journey time felt longer. We shared our pod with a family of five from Poland who were busy taking photos and admiring the view. The nearest you'll get to the views on offer are aboard the London Eye and as of two days earlier, the 72nd floor of Europe's tallest building, The Shard, which charges almost £25 for the privilege.

We were thanked for using the Air Line some time prior to arriving at our Royal Docks terminal, which seemed somewhat sterile and then it was over. Again, there were plenty of staff to offer assistance to people with mobility problems. We headed down a level to ticket barriers where we inserted our boarding passes (as we did for the outward journey) and I was pleased to see the passes weren't retained, so a small souvenir can be kept.

Approaching the Royal Docks terminus

Many saw the Air Line as a vanity project by the London Mayor, with its planned opening by hook or crook for the 2012 London Olympic Games. I didn't follow the story of its inception to completion in enough detail to be able to comment, though the Air Line does seem under-used if yesterday's visit is anything to go by. Yes, it offers another cross-Thames option, but at a price. Even with Travelcards, you're looking at £3.20 one way and both terminals aren't exactly in the throbbing hearts of local communities.

When we arrived at the Royal Docks, we would have had to walk two blocks to reach the nearest DLR station, though in the event service was suspended between Canning Town and Beckton, so we had to catch a Rail Replacement Bus Service, which ironically, was located conveniently outside the Air Line terminal building. And it was in the form of an Ensignbus Volvo B9TL/Optare Olympus that was spotless inside, with the distinct smell of bleach adding to the cleanliness. The last time I've travelled on a bus this clean was in December 2011 when I used CT Plus's Service 701 Park & Ride.

To summarise, the Emirates Air Line is OK for a one-off on a tourist's bucket list, but nothing more. This could be its Achilles heel: once you've visited, you don't return. I honestly can't see it becoming a shining example of commercialism through regular commuters. Would I make use of it again? Possibly - if I was with friends who'd not used it before. It's not the easiest attraction to reach for tourists who are sunning themselves in Hyde Park and who spontaneously decide to have a cable car ride, and this is another of its problems.

One a positive note, my weekend in London, including travel to and from, was one of the best I can ever remember in terms of the efficiency of the transport. East Coast played a blinder heading south on Saturday - our train was punctual (literally!) and the service in First Class was attentive though not OTT. Travelling back was the usual fare evader's dream, with no barrier patrol at King's Cross and Peterborough and we didn't have our ticket checked on board, but we arrived in Peterborough in just 43 minutes. I was so unprepared it was quite a dash to leave the train.

We made numerous journeys using the Underground and I was pleased to see official references to the system's 150th anniversary displayed. I don't think we ever had to wait more than 2 minutes on any platform for a train. Everything just worked seamlessly and if I were a foreign tourist to the city, I would have left feeling very positive about London's transport network - even if they couldn't complete a Surrey Quays - Clapham Junction journey with LOROL thanks to 'planned' engineering work :-(

02 January 2013


Happy New Year to all our readers and magazine subscribers.

I thought I'd start 2013 with a post about a perceived hierarchy between pedestrians and bus passengers.

You could work in the bus industry here in the UK and have not come across the teen comedy show, new to E4, called The Inbetweeners; but I bet you've not managed to escape one particular phrase used in the programme from over 2 years ago.

Writers Damon Beesley and Iain Morris should perhaps be congratulated for the additions to the English language rather than a very humorous comedy programme. The term 'bus w*nkers' being the most prevalent in my line of work.

In an episode in which one of the hapless teens passed his driving test, he and his trio of friends went out for a spin in perhaps the anti-Christ of 'babe magnets': a bright yellow 900cc Fiat Cinquecento. Cocky, loud-mouthed Jay (in the passenger seat) saw a queue of people waiting at a bus stop as he and his friends drove past, so thought it would be a laugh to wind down his window and shout 'BUS W*NKERS' at them all.

The rather controversial term 'bus w*nkers' was then born. I doubt many bus drivers won't have heard it either uttered by school kids as they're in the vicinity of a school or screamed at them as they pass drunken revellers, perhaps over the Christmas period.

You can even buy t-shirts with it on...

But without exception, on the occasions I've heard it said, the context is completely wrong. Jay was in a car; he was (in his own eyes) upwardly mobile, not having to rely on public transport to undertake a journey he'd hitherto done by bus. Yet in the real world, it's shouted at buses and their passengers by people who can't afford the bus and are having to walk home from school/into the town centre to go to the pub.

Although I'm sure the chance to shout 'w*nkers' at a load of people on a bus is too good an opportunity to miss, for some people.

In the episode which gave birth to the term, to show the hierarchy between car passenger and bus passenger isn't quite what it seems, while the traffic lights were on red, two of the 'bus w*nkers' - both being built like brick outhouses - strolled over to the car and, er, threatened to redress the balance.

Again, the youths shouting out this one-liner today seem oblivious to what happened to their roll model, Jay.

My father would most definitely be put off watching an episode of The Inbetweeners after reading this post; it's not a critique of the show - a very funny and intelligently written 'wordy' comedy and winner of over 10 awards, with a movie released in August 2011 that was the highest-grossing British Comedy of all time.

To see the 21-second clip from The Inbetweeners, click here.

25 November 2012

Jersey Bus Driver Pay

For the past few months, Hackney Community Transport, which goes by its initials nowadays, has been gearing up to take over the bus network in Jersey, after the company's CT Plus subsidiary successfully won the tender to operate services there from 2 January 2013.

Connex Jersey operates Caetano Nimbus-bodied Dennis Dart SLFs - similar to those operating with Island Coachways on Guernsey (and not dissimilar to those in Gibraltar, though these are left-hand drive). Photo: Wigan Airways

The current operation is run by Connex and while looking at the pay and conditions CT Plus would inherit, quite a can of worms was uncovered. So much so, that the company is not simply continuing the service from January next year, but starting new contracts of employment for all those currently working for the company after unionisation saw working procedures that HCT's chief executive Dai Powell described on his company's website as "repugnant".

The headline facts and figures do show some quite remarkable working practises and rates of pay:

  • Some drivers earn over £70,000 a year
  • Overtime is NOT allocated by management
  • A number of drivers are stuck on part-time contracts with full-time hours turned down
  • Shift allocation is NOT done my management
  • There are around 60 spare duties IN ADDITION to duties used to operate the buses
  • Time-and-a-half is paid for spare duties
  • A 'sick rota' exists, staffed by more spare drivers so those on the Spare Rota rarely need to drive
  • The employer requires union permission to recruit new staff
  • Staff attending a disciplinary hearing are paid time-and-a-half
Powell was keen to see changes to much of the above and has succeeded through the termination of Connex contracts and the guaranteed employment of all full-time staff to CT Plus, followed by full-time employment options for existing part-time staff and any further requirements being offered to qualified Jersey residents.

The package offered to (and ultimately accepted by) drivers sees enhancements in all rates of pay, though with management ensuring fair allocation of pretty much everything, CT Plus Jersey bus drivers could earn up to £40k p/a.

The following is the offer accepted by bus drivers (though not before threatening a wildcat strike, which was stopped at last minute following the intervention of the Jersey government):
  • £13.50 p/h Mon-Fri
  • £14.50 p/h Sat
  • £20.08 p/h Sun
  • £27.00 p/h Bank Hols
  • 39 hours minimum on rotas
  • 54 hours maximum on rotas
  • Overtime is paid at the rate for the day being worked
  • £6.53 towards Health Benefit
  • £1.3k Pension Contribution
  • 25 days holiday
  • Disciplines to be paid at basic rate
  • £539 weekly holiday pay
  • £74.62 daily sick pay (after waiting days)
  • Sundays & Bank Holiday work is in the rota
  • Bank Holiday pay at 7.8 hours basic pay in lieu/when not working
  • Stand-by duties to be included in the rotas
  • Rota to allocated 5-in-7 days' work
Not continued is payment for lay-overs in between runs, shift allowance, enhanced overtime rates of pay and performance allowances.

It's quite remarkable that drivers can earn £70k+ a year when they're currently paid less than the new rates listed above, though with union-allocated work, it would appear reasonably possible. Jersey is a very expensive place to live so I wasn't expecting the new rates of pay to be less than those paid to drivers in London - and the above hourly rates are considerably in excess of bus driver pay in London.

Seen in St. Helier is 768 (J108024), operating Service 12 to Corbiere. Photo: 'Maljoe'

A 45-hour, 5-day week, with one-fifth at the Saturday rate and four-fifths at the Mon-Fri rate grosses £616.50, so annually this could see the driver earn £32,058 and that would be on the assumption of a five-day, 45-hour working week. What the options are for overtime is unknown as the 60 spare duties would presumably be reduced and the drivers removed from them allocated driving work. I suspect the company will start possibly over-staffed. If anyone knows more, please leave a comment.

At the same time I chose to write today's blog, I read Chris Cheek's analysis of Eurostar International, the new company formed last year to bring together all of Eurostar's operations. In the first year there, the average employee pay £45k and that was with employer National Insurance contribution. As a contrast to certain Connex Jersey drivers, it's quite remarkable.

24 October 2012

Real-Time Train Times

I stumbled across what I'm calling the Railway Website Find of the Year on Monday when a friend posted a facebook status showing the southbound Inverness Caledonian Sleeper service running 266 minutes late due to a train striking a person overnight. In response, the creator of www.realtimetrains.co.uk left a link to his site that showed the delay and where it occurred.

A similar industry site exists that's slightly more detailed and less 'fluffy' called CCLDB. It shows the real-time progress of all trains on the national rail network. In a move that can only improve the lot for passengers and rail enthusiasts alike, Tom Cairns has produced the www.realtimetrains.co.uk website to effectively mirror that of Network Rail's CCLDB site.

Click to enlarge

As with the equally excellent www.trains.im website, there is a basic and an advanced/detailed site. Forget the basic option and use the advanced version from the start by typing www.realtimetrains.co.uk/advanced/ into the browser. The landing page allows you type a station in, plus a time or date and what kind of service you want to see.

I chose to place Scunthorpe in the location box, chose a custom time of between 0800 - 1000 on today's date (24/10/12). An option exists to choose which operator's services you want to view, or the default 'All' can be left checked. Within your search criteria, you can additionally filter the results to those running according to the Working Timetable (WTT), trains that have varied from the WTT for the 'requirements of the railway' (VAR), those that are operating under a short-term plan (STP) and trains that have been cancelled. You can also choose to show either passenger or non-passenger services. The latter refer to empty stock runs, not freight trains.

Click to enlarge

Beneath the data input area is an explanation of any terms that may cause the casual user some confusion.

My results showed all trains using Scunthorpe within the time period chosen and this can be changed by clicking either the +1hr or -1hr buttons. From the data provided, only the headcodes are clickable and doing so opens up the full working timetable for the service provided... and much more.

I clicked on 2P61 (0819 Northern Rail service to Lincoln Central) which started at Scunthorpe. The results show what you get from the 'detailed' section of trains.im as well as a real-time column which shows the train's actual progress. Data only seems to be available for the current day.

At the top of the results page there is a plethora of technical information about the schedule info, service info, passenger info and real-time info. Some of it I don't understand. In addition to the miles, the number of chains between each station is also shown. Stations the service calls at can be clicked (they're in blue) and stations/passing points the service doesn't call at are greyed out, so too are the timings for each.

There are then 5 columns - the first shows the public arrival/departure timings, the second shows the WTT arrival/departure times, the third shows the real-time timings - the timing is in red if the train is late and shows by how many minutes, in black if it is on time and green if the train is early. The fourth column shows schedule information (platform number, line used and path information - all where applicable) and the fifth shows operational allowances. There's plenty of information to see here.

Click to enlarge (the train arrived into Lincoln 8 minutes late in the end)

I've also searched for empty journeys, such as the diagram for the first East Coast train to depart from Peterborough bound for King's Cross on weekdays (3A00). I knew this travelled dead from Bounds Green depot, but hadn't realised it departed at 0150 went to King's Cross first - presumably to collect staff - before heading north at 0438.

 Click to enlarge - 3A00 (BN to PBO via KGX)

There are literally hours and hours of material to search here. All fascinating without the real-time information, too. Seeing how a service you're planning to catch performs on a typical day can be of interest to many and to see the passing times and points plus mileage and chains as well as technical information such as the lines used, is a bonus. It's certainly my Railway Website Find of the Year - www.realtimetrains.co.uk/advanced/
Only one suggestion from me - a simple search by headcode would be useful. Otherwise, it's a pretty amazing site.

20 October 2012

My Virgin Trains Farewell Tour (part 2)

The second and final part of my Virgin Trains Farewell Tour took place last Monday (15 October), on the day it was revealed that Sir Richard Branson had received a call the night before from Transport Secretary Patrick McLaughlan MP, asking him to continue operating the West Coast Main Line franchise while the DfT sorted itself out. So perhaps my Farewell Tour was a little premature. If nothing else, however, it could mean I'll have to do it all over again in up to 18 months' time!

As with Part 1, I had to get to a station on the WCML first and I didn't have it in me to endure 8 hours travelling overnight in a National Express coach on this occasion, so I left the LEYTR HQ in Lincolnshire and headed south on... a National Express coach, though only for 2:35, from Bourne to Golders Green in north-west London. The coach was Stagecoach in Peterborough's 53710 (AE10 JTX), a Volvo B9R/Plaxton Elite C48Ftl, delivered over two years ago, and now not conforming the claim National Express made in a recent interview with CBW that 50% of its coaches are under 2 years old. It's a figure I struggle to believe.

Stagecoach in Peterborough's 53710 is seen here departing Golders Green bus station bound for Victoria.

From Golders Green (where bus/coach photography is not permitted, so I found myself stood about an inch outside the station to capture the above shot) I headed to the Underground station to catch a Tube to Euston, where I'd be meeting my travelling companion for the Virgin Trains service to Glasgow. And it would not be any old journey, but the company's flagship, record-breaking London-Glasgow in 4:08 service.

Once in Euston we made use of the First Class Lounge (we were travelling in style to sample what FirstGroup would surely downgrade had they been in line to take over from 9 December). It was pretty busy in this rather stylish first-floor location, where complimentary hot and cold drinks are available, plus an unlimited number of biscuits, cake and pretzels. Free wi-fi and 240V sockets are also on offer, as is a television showing the BBC News Channel, on which Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond featured constantly as today was the day that both her and David Cameron revealed the plan for Scotland's independence, taking for the form on a straightforward Yes/No question to be put to Scots by the end of 2014.

At 1615 we headed to Platform 15 to board our 1630 train to Glasgow, calling only at Preston en route. With a headcode of 1S82, the train operating this journey was one of Virgin's 11-car Pendolino sets, recently increased with the addition of two Standard Class coaches lettered F & U towards the centre of the train. 390126 Virgin Enterprise was the set, which had been renumbered from 390026 following the modification and it was the first time I'd travelled on an 11-car Pendolino.

Pendolino 390126 (originally 390026) is named Virgin Enterprise and is loading at London Euston.

We departed on time at 1630 and ran up to 1 minute late at all passing points thereafter up to the infamous Hanslope Junction, for it was here that we sat for around 2 hours the last time I'd travelled on this journey - during the 2011 LEYTR Railrover. What a performance that was, with the train having to be driven backwards to the junction whereupon we headed north via Northampton and terminated at Preston and asked to move onto a following service. We arrived in Glasgow 2 hours late, though were suitably recompensed by the company. On that occasion, the overhead line equipment had been damaged by an item being thrown at it. Today, however, not only was there no problem at Hanslope Junction, but it was from here that we started to travel ahead of ourselves, typically 1-2 minutes early until north of Rugby (Attleborough Junction).

Henceforth we passed through Nuneaton 2 minutes late, Stafford 1 minute late, Crewe 3 minutes late, Warrington Bank Quay 2 minutes late, Wigan North Western 1 minute late and into our first stop, Preston, 2 minutes late at 1832. However, a very speedy driver and guard change took place and in just 1 minute we departed on time at 1833. I'd been told that a problem exists on this service with passengers for Carlisle boarding at Preston, only to find they're on a non-stop service to Glasgow. Occasionally, the guard takes pity on them and arranges an unscheduled stop, but he/she has no obligation to do so and it will mean the arrival time into Glasgow Central wont be attained. So, a number of non-standard announcements were made to inform all passengers that "if you're not travelling to Glasgow you must leave the train here" and to inform new passengers that they must be travelling to Glasgow.

While the guards were changing, one of the catering crew additionally made an announcement to this effect and while the purists out there would cringe at being constantly told, living in the real world I know how people simply do not do what they're told all the time. It would also help ensure we'd do the journey in the advertised 4:08.

From Preston (1833) we ran late at all passing points including Lancaster (1 late - 1846), Oxenholme (4 late - 1859), Penrith (4 late - 1920) and Carlisle (1 late - 1931). At Carstairs we were back on time and ran between up to 1-2 minutes early through to Glasgow Central, where we arrived on time at 2038 (and, by my reckoning, 19 seconds). I'm no expert in train performance, but the Class 390 had been worked very hard indeed to attain its timetable and the crew had played a blinder in Preston. Can two bus drivers swap over in less than 60 seconds?

Coach U is one of the two new Standard Class coaches being inserted into a large number of Virgin's Pendolino train sets, increasing them from 9 to 11 coaches. They stand out, looking very new and shiny.

As for the complimentary food served in First Class, this was not as good as other occasions. Firstly, there were no menus on the tables and although this was read out to us via the public address system, only the main course was offered when a host travelled through the coaches taking down people's orders. I ordered the main course I did through intrigue rather than anything else: fish, chip & pea pie. Surely it wouldn't all be in the same pie? It most certainly was and very tasty too. But it's still a far cry from the 2005 "three-course feast", which included beef bourguignon or red grape and brie sandwiches and with the evening meal came Belgian chocolates. The drinks trolley was as copiously packed, as ever, with cans of London Pride and Gordon's Gin & tonic aplenty. It's all very civilised and still a great way to travel. I prefer it to the hassle of yesteryear where you'd have to leave your seat to sit in the restaurant car and pay a fortune for food you'd never cook at home.

390126 arrives at Glasgow Central and is being unloaded prior to heading to the Polmadie Depot.

And so there it was. Up until the very morning of the trip, this was to almost certainly be my final trip aboard a Virgin Trains service. Living on the opposing side of the country and making considerably more use of their East Coast counterpart, my trips with VT have been for leisure purposes only and I've been told this has caused me to don rose-tinted glasses. That said, I thought their decision to replace loco-hauled trains on their CrossCountry franchise with 4-car Class 220 'Voyagers' was ridiculous. In one fell swoop they cut capacity by an eye-watering amount. I travelled frequently between Birmingham and Oxford with them at the time and saw first-hand how poorly they treated their passengers when a single Voyager set arrived on a run that had hitherto been a seven-coach Class 47-hauled loco service.

But, unlike many 'industry watchers' I quite enjoy travelling in the Voyagers, Super Voyagers (Class 221s which has the ability to tilt, though none do now) and Pendolinos. Yes, the Voyagers are a little noisy but feel sturdy and for me that means comfortable. Yes, the Pendolinos have intermittant problems with their toilets but I've never witnessed this and yes they do have small windows that you most certainly CAN see out of. The interiors are stylish and modern and I understand that a 9-car Pendolino seats the fewest number of passengers of any inter-city express train, so to say that all modern trains are universally cramped isn't necessarily true.

Much of this, of course, FirstGroup would have inherited, had the DfT not made their monumental cock-up, which lead to the franchise awarding to First being stopped and around £40 million given back to the four shortlisted bidders to cover their costs. I think it made eminent sense to ask Virgin Trains to continue operating the service until the second attempt at awarding the franchise takes place (which could be in around 18 months' time). Sir Richard had already said that any profits he and his co-franchisee Stagecoach make will be donated to charity during this period. And the prospect of both Anglo-Scottish inter-city express franchises being operated in government hands for at least a year would have made the country a laughing stock (unless a decision to re-nationalise is subsequently taken).