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.

07 May 2019

Touch In Touch Out, A Superfluous P, 12-foot Wave & Crossrail's Unintended Consequence

Monday - Touch In, Touch Out

Every bus operator appears to be trialing 'new' touch in, touch out technology. I've been catching up with back copies of industry freebie, Route One, in which details of a trial on Kinchbus's Skylink service were reported. Rather than passengers simply present their ITSO-enabled smart card at the start of their journey, they were instructed to touch in at the start of their journey and to touch out at the end. This would, in theory, enable a more bespoke product to be offered, tailored to the individual and their travel pattern, saving money from the one-size-fits-all day/week/month unlimited travel tickets.
     The imposition of a day rover (or equivalent) at the expense of day return tickets is something that hasn't been derided widely enough. The operator concerned instructs their press machine to cites the 'fantastic news' of a reduced-price day ticket as a step forward, when for many it simply is not. A pertinent example is Peterborough. In the late-2000s, Stagecoach withdrew the last remaining day returns from its city network and reduced the cost its Dayrider ticket. While Peterborough was relatively unique in having day returns over short distances in a wholly urban environment, this shouldn't have been seen as a negative. Except it was. The new Dayrider, while only a little more than the maximum day return fare, soon increased to a sustainable level. Consequently, passengers from some of the townships who had previously purchased a day return to the city centre (because that's all they required the bus for) were now paying 40% more, safe in the knowledge that they could visit friends at the weekend, or attend a showing at the Showcase cinema or to 'head to the station for that important meeting' (as one advert said). But the fact that they never bought a Dayrider in the first place rather implies that they had no intention of doing so.
    In yet another example of the bus industry going full circle, an attempt is now being made to partly right the above wrong. For operators have now cottoned onto the fact that some passengers just want to use the bus to fulfil their workplace contractual obligations and that slamming them for a product that's so expensive just isn't cricket. So now a pay-as-you-go option is being trialed, but this requires the passenger to touch out to ensure their fare is correctly calculated. Their single journeys, and corresponding fares, are then calculated and are capped to ensure that they never pay more than whatever attractive financial ceiling the operator in question states.
     This latest reinvention of the wheel is simply catching up with Oyster in London, which introduced the pay-as-you-go, tap in, tap out concept in May 2004. In many ways it's staggering that it's taken the industry fifteen years to copy a very obvious concept, though also highlights the financial behemoth that Transport for London is and how things are very different with the M25. And that fact that Oyster is non-compliant with the standard ITSO smart cards used elsewhere in the country.

Tuesday - A Superfluous 'P'

I'll get this week's tenuous link to Grimsby out of the way very early. I was speaking with a former LEYTR contact of the 1970s and '80s, who's come back to the fold. We were discussing the new-look Humber Flyer, which has been renumbered 250 and now operates in tandem with the FastCat 350 between Barton and Hull. Our discussion moved onto route numbers and I asked a question of Service 50, currently operated by Stagecoach, between Grimsby and Saltfleet. The route had previously been operated by Amvale, who acquired it from Applebys. The '50' had only ever been applied on paper, but since Amvale relinquished the service and Stagecoach took over, a proper route number has been shown. Except when the route first went 'live', Stagecoach vehicles displayed '50P'. I'd never received a definitive reason for this. The published timetables and registration document showed '50'. I contacted the company a month or two after the route passed to them and soon after the 'P' disappeared. Officially, I was given no reason why the 'P' was shown, yet staff at Grimsby depot led my contact to believe it was something as simple (and shocking) as the letter P being next to the zero on a qwerty keyboard, and that when programming the destination for the Saltfleet service, a fat-fingered administrator pressed both the '0' and 'P' together and didn't spot their mistake. Wow!

Wednesday - A 12-foot Wave

Yesterday Go-Ahead Group's East Yorkshire Motor Services company unveiled its brand and new name for the Scarborough & District operation based on the seaside town of the same name. We will cover this in more detail in the next LEYTR. However, the company has branded its open-toppers that work Service 109 and the Scarborough Skipper along the seafront. These will be known as Scarborough's Beachcomber and a modified base livery has been employed. When I first caught sight of this new, impressive, bespoke design, I was immediately minded of the very clever Coastal Cruiser design used by Stagecoach a decade ago or so. This livery saw a palm tree (of all things) rise from the bottom of the bus around two-thirds of the way back, and then bend to the same degree as Stagecoach's livery does to the top of the bus (which was missing). Scarborough's Beachcomber design is identical, except rather than a palm tree a blue wave is used, breaking at the top beneath the upper deck seats. The Coastal Cruiser livery was designed in-house (at Hull, I believe, who at the time had commercial oversight of Skegness depot), whereas Scarborough's has been designed by design agency Best Impressions. With swoops and swirls now avant garde, I believe this now reduces the possibilities for truly unique liveries.
 

Thursday - Crossrail's Unintended Consequence

You may consider the unintended consequence of Crossrail's delay to be the sound the death knell for Crossrail 2, or even HS2; I fear a slightly more awkward situation could occur. Rumour has it that Crossrail won't now open until Spring 2021, by which time the Senior Figure who has been confirmed as opening what was once Europe's largest engineering project (aka the Elizabeth line) may, er, no longer be around to do so.

29 April 2019

Turbostars for Lincolnshire, Virgin to Leave Railway, InterConnect 505 & Skegness Seasiders

Monday - Turbosars for Lincolnshire

"If you add up all the Classes 153, 156 and 158s that EMT operates, there are broadly the same number of Class 170 Turbostars coming off lease in the next eighteen month, which could head to the new East Midlands Railway franchise, to realise one of the first headlines of the new franchise: air-conditioning on all local service". So said a very well connected contact of mine, who then explained who the various '170s' are currently with and further demonstrated how fewer would be needed than the current EMT compliment of Sprinter and Super Sprinters as they'd be relieved of 12 with the loss of the Nottingham-Liverpool section from December 2021. I can't help but hope this particular unconfirmed theory happens, as travelling on board a Class 158 in a heatwave is nothing short of unpleasant. These newer trains feature the railway equivalent of what the bus industry calls 'air chill'. Woeful. The Turbostars feature proper air-conditioning and their intended use locally would be most welcome, if also confirming yet again how the railway goes round in circles, for it was on local routes in Lincolnshire where many Turbostars first entered service over two decades ago. The ten-day 'standstill' period should be over by the end of the week, but Stagecoach has asked for this to be extended by fourteen days so it can get all its ducks in a row for a legal challenge. It's just as well the major frequency enhancements for Lincolnshire aren't taking place until the end of 2021 as I fear any earlier would soon become impossible to achieve.

Wednesday - Virgin to Leave Railway

Richard Branson is to many a sore loser. Yet many took heed of his remarks this week that his Virgin company may soon be out of the UK railway completely, after his partner, Stagecoach, was disqualified from the East Midlands franchise and barred from bidding to run the South Eastern franchise and to renew their West Coast service. News was revealed today that SNCF, the high-speed French train operator, who'd joined Stagecoach and Virgin in their bid for West Coast, may sue the DfT for cancelling this three-way offering. This was covered in Martin Wander Weyer's excellent 'Any Other Business' column in the Spectator last week. While I've broadly enjoyed my time on Virgin's 'Pendolinos' and at-seat complimentary refreshment service in first class, Weyer hasn't. ..."but I doubt many travellers will mourn the passing of [Branson's] trains. The truth is that they never lived up to his brand promise, being little more than a Stagecoach service plastered with Virgin logos." Weyer does go on to (rightly) lament the passing of GNER on the East Coast. Yet is Virgin's West Coast service really a Stagecoach route with Virgin logos? Certainly that was the case with the failed East Coast venture. I have it on good authority that when the recession first started to bite, it was Stagecoach who wanted to drastically reduce the first class complimentary offering on board the Pendolinos, but was beaten back by Virgin (with its 51% majority share) who said it would detract from its brand.
     It was also revealed in Weyer's column, that Branson may have to buy part of his Virgin Atlantic company back from Air France-KLM in the event that "Brexit inhibits flight operations and makes it imperative for the airline to revert to a majority UK ownership".

Saturday - InterConnect 505

Heading to my parents' house in Cleethorpes today, I called via the Fun Farm adjacent to Baytree Garden Centre in Weston, to the east of Spalding, to try and wear my kids out. While there, a number of buses operating the InterConnect 505 (Spalding - King's Lynn) passed by. This route bore the brunt of Stagecoach's decision to sell their Norfolk business, when serious punctuality problems arose when staff chose to leave the company rather than face an uncertain future, and loan drivers from as far away as Devon and Cumbria were brought in to help maintain something of a service. Now I understand that the company has entered into a consultation period with the RMT, who is recognised as representing drivers at the Long Sutton operation, concerning the 'on paper' move from the East operating group to Stagecoach's East Midlands operating group, based at Lincoln. Quite how this would work has not yet been made known. Go West Travel legals are used, which dates back to Norfolk Green, though whether this would move to join the Lincolnshire Road Car legals used by East Midlands or be dropped in favour of an increase to the LRCC licence, is yet to be made known. Certainly, LRCC legals in the Spalding and Holbeach areas would offer a certain historic irony.
     By coincidence, from his historical archive, LEYTR Archivist Peter Wombwell uploaded some literature of a through service that once operated between Skegness and Norwich, operated jointly by LRCC and Eastern National. Yes, it was once possible to travel such a distance on the top deck of a Bristol VR, and what a treat it would have been. I seem to recall this being covered in the LEYTR magazines of that time, so had a delve and spotted that we had indeed covered its introduction and technical operation: ECOC drivers refused to drive any vehicle without power steering, of which LRCC had plenty; ergo particular detail was given to vehicle allocation by LRCC to ensure one of their VRs wouldn't come to an early termination in Spalding bus station during the day...

Peter Wombwell has been uploading a significant amount of his historical archive to the East Lincolnshire Bus & Rail Facebook group, which can be found by clicking here.

Sunday - Skegness Seasiders

I took the kids to Skegness on Sunday so they could spend hours placing 2p coins into various slot machines. While the North Wind Doth Blow, we had a thoroughly enjoyable time and the visit also enabled me to reacquaint myself with the local bus services in the town. With it being a Sunday, the only routes observed were the 1/1A to Ingoldmells/Chapel St. Leonards, InterConnect 59 to Mablethorpe and 3 to Anchor Lane. It is the latter on which the open-top Skegness Seasiders are employed. Last summer, additional buses were added to the small fleet, which are given individual identities. My son, 5, is (I hope) a chip off the old block, and has shown an interest in all things transport for quite some time. Stagecoach has won awards for their Seasiders concept, which has also been rolled out further up the coast at Cleethorpes, and the wisdom for this venture is very well assured, certainly if my son's interest in 'spotting' the different buses passing by during our stay is anything to go by. Sunny, Rocky, Rolly, Shelly and Candy were seen, with efforts being made to use as many as possible, rather than run the same 3-4 required to maintain service all day. The Skegness Seasiders have their own website, which can be visited by clicking here.
     What shocked me most of all was the number of former bus stop flags which carried RoadCar markings, two of which were noted either side of the Clock Tower where inbound buses called. With all the money spent on the Seasiders concept, the de-roofing of Dennis Tridents (and Wrightbus Eclipse Geminis), plus the maintenance of the Stagecoach corporate livery, I am continually shocked by how little attention is paid to bus stop infrastructure - especially where these RoadCar flags contradict the carefully nurtured Stagecoach image, rather than being located 'out of sight, out of mind' in a village where neither Stagecoach nor its antecedent operates.

20 April 2019

Fossilised Flags, A Monsal Meander, DfT Cracks Showing, RIP Ronnie Monk


Monday - Fossilised Flags

I do love an old bus stop flag. Sometimes they've simply been forgotten once an operator quits a route (such as Stagecoach in Peterborough when it withdrew Service 22 from The Deepings in 2011) and sometimes the branding on the, still operational, flag belies its lengthy and often complicated history. Take the flag on St. Martin's Without High Street on the 'wrong' side of the river in Stamford - it bares both an Arriva and, beneath, a Midland Fox sticker. Today, of course, it should bare Delaine and Mark Bland logos. A little further south in the Northants village of Kings Cliffe can be found a collection of RoadCar bus stop flags, dating from 1990 when the firm was awarded some school work in the county. How ironic that RoadCar flags remain in situ here when the company was never renowned for affixing them in general outside of Lincoln! Similar RoadCar flags can still be found in Grantham and Sleaford. There's a Coach Stop flag on the south side of the river at Langrick, and I've never been able to fathom which operator called there. This week's Grimsby reference concerns bus stop flags as there are still some that date from before the Stagecoach takeover a quarter of a century ago. Thanks to 'Grimsby Bus Chaser' on twitter for informing me of a GCT flag still displayed on a lamp post along the North Wall of Grimsby Docks. From here, peak-time Service 5X used to operate (an extension of Service 5 to/from Bradley Park).

Thursday - Ronnie Monk RIP

I had the pleasure to know and work with an icon of the coach industry. Ronnie Monk, of Warmington, was one of those coach drivers who probably really HAD driven more miles in reverse than the average coach driver had forwards. With the natural wit required to ensure his coach load of 49 passengers always had a journey to remember and the ability to go his entire career without a blameworthy accident, he sadly died today. Latterly, Ronnie worked part-time for Stagecoach in Peterborough. He drove me and others to Showbus at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford in 2009. A photo of him and report of the event can be read here. Ronnie was an avid railway enthusiast and had a model railway in his back garden. He also once got Stagecoach's seat trimmer to recover his motorcycle seat in bespoke vinyl to look like it had been commissioned by National Express.

Good Friday - A Monsal Meander

I partly retraced my steps from my June 2017 visit to Derbyshire's beautiful Peak District where I walked along the Monsal Trail from Millers Dale to Bakewell. Then the weather was atrocious, with heavy rain being the day's order. Today's forecast couldn't have been better - warm and sunny. And lo it came to pass. This time I'd make more use of Derbyshire's bus services at the expense of walking through to Bakewell, so I found myself at Sheffield railway station purchasing a Derbyshire Wayfarer. Today's price is £13; I remember when they cost under £6! The Wayfarer is still unquestionably the most affordable way to travel around the Peak District and Derbyshire in general. I boarded Stagecoach in Chesterfield's Service 65 from Sheffield Interchange at 1333. The normally excellent SYPTE has managed to schedule two buses to depart within 7 minutes of each other from Bay D4. There were only two departures that hour. My bus was the first, followed by First's 241 to Castleton at 1340. From the next stand up (D3) there was TM Travel's 1340 218 to Bakewell. Consequently there was quite a hive of activity by those Derbyshire bound.
     My bus was a 63-plate E200, wearing exterior route branding for the route. I mentioned in a previous blog post how the bus industry, like the railway, goes round in circles. Stagecoach's Chesterfield depot used to rule the roost with Peak District work around twenty years ago; then retrenchment was the order of the day, as the company concentrated on growing its commercial urban routes organically. Today, and for the past year, Stagecoach has once again re-entered the Peak District network, taking the 65 from TM Travel. Stagecoach has also been operating some journeys in what is loosely being referred to as a Matlock Town Service for around eighteen months, again revisiting times past when they ran all services (157/159/160/164) other than that to Bonsall (158). The timings of the 65 have been slackened considerably, too, and the driver expertly negotiated his way out of Sheffield in busy bank holiday traffic.
     At 1450 my 3.2-mile walk through two tunnels along the former trackbed of what was once the main Midlands-Manchester line commenced. Considerably more cyclists were present than pedestrians. It was quite a contrast not to have to stop every few minutes when the deluge worsened. And the natural air conditioning offered by Litton and Cresbrook Tunnels was very enyoyable. Upon arrival at Monsal Head, where the iconic Headspan Viaduct crosses Monsal Dale, I chose to climb the hill to the road at the top, leaving the former rail line behind. After being cooled with a Bradwell's raspberry ripple ice cream, I waited for the 1627 Hulleys Service 173. This would be heading away from Bakewell, and we headed to Wardlow and then Tideswell. The return journey forms a loop, operating via Litton and Cresbrook. This runs ostensibly to return school children from Lady Manners School in Bakewell, but Derbyshire County Council subsidise the bus to run six days per week. The route through Cresbrook has to be seen to be believed. Hulleys deployed a 56-plate Optare Solo which spent most of the journey overheating. Once in Creswell (which has red warning signs informing motorists to leave 12 feet so that the road salting lorry can pass) we encountered a white van that had parked seemingly inside a hedge while items were delivered. I didn't think for a minute we'd be able to pass; indeed, the driver stopped and sounded his horn. But Hulleys drivers are a hardy bunch and our man at the helm thought he'd give it a go and mounted what little kerb there was on the offside and we - somehow - squeezed past. Next was the infamous hairpin bend, which has claimed many a bus's side panels. In times past, Stagecoach used to run this route with Alexander P-bodied Tigers and PS-bodied Volvo B10Ms - goodness knows how they faired, though I do recall being aboard a 'P Type' and the driver having to effectively make a 3-point turn to negotiate the bend. And of course the road along the valley floor is still single tracked, with a 1:6 gradient bringing it to the main road at the top where I boarded the bus originally.
    Phew. I was exhausted, never mind our driver! Once in Bakewell I made the obligatory pudding-based purchase and then caught TrentBarton's Service 6.1 at 1730. These buses are looking decidedly tatty now and their true age is starting to show. Is 'the sixes' planned a routine overhaul anytime soon? We picked a fair few up because the Transpeak service to Nottingham was late; some things in the bus industry don't have chance to go round in circles because they never change. I'd recently discovered that the Derbyshire Wayfarer is no longer accepted on High Peak's Transpeak service! This only serves to dissuade adult fare-paying passengers from using the service (from whom High Peak receive a greater monetary dividend) rather than those entitled to the free bus pass, whom I expect High Peak would much rather bar from using the service in order to cope with the capacity problems that regularly befall the route, but sadly can't as to prevent them from using the bus would be illegal. The only way round this would be to deregister the route, but then BSOG would no longer be claimable; I suspect the latter is worth a pretty penny on this lengthy route.
     In June 2017 my final bus route would be the same as today's - Stagecoach in Chesterfield's X17 from Matlock to Chesterfield. Then, the route had Gold-spec Scanias and ran through to Sheffield; today the route featured much newer Gold-spec 'deckers with stop-start technology. The interiors were much nicer, with a bluer leather opted for rather than black with a fleur de lys. We departed from the former bus station at 1821 and had a decent run out of town with a good load. I suspect that, like fuel gauges and front fog lights, once the stop-start element to the engine requires money being spent on it, Stagecoach will just disengage the mechanism. I'd very much like Stagecoach to prove me wrong, though we'll see in 2 years' time when I'll next travel whether this is to be the case.

Saturday - Cracks Showing

Stagecoach revealed today how some of its highly sensitive data, used to formulate its bid to continue running the East Midlands rail franchise, was mistakenly sent to Abellio by a DfT staffer. Whoops! With news earlier in the week that the Scottish transport giant now planned to appeal the DfT's decision to disqualify it from the bidding process and ergo awarding Abellio the gig, little snippets like this will no doubt be revealed as time goes on. If the DfT has screwed up the awarding of the EM franchise there will be the mother of all legal and reputational battles ahead. As Virgin showed in 2012, the private transport companies know their business far better than the DfT does and the only right and proper reaction from the DfT, should it have fallen foul of the mark *again*, would be the resignation of its Secretary of State.

14 April 2019

April Fool's, Farewell Routmasters & EMR Franchise Award

Monday - April Fool's

I missed the now obligatory April Fool's Day spoofs due to work commitments. Having trawled the internet recently for the latest buses in the East Yorkshire fleet to be repainted, I came across one concerning this Hull-based bus and coach operator. The company's historic AEC Regent V, 644 (VKH 44), new in November 1956, has been treated to the Best Impressions-designed livery and brand that was rolled out by the company in March. While clearly a mock up, the Willowbrook-bodied bus, designed with a roof that ensured it would pass under the Beverley Bar in the Minster Town, looks surprisingly well; at least that's what I think. VKH 44 features on the front cover of the LEYTR this year, being overtaken by a red Peugeot car, whose untraceable owner is surely unaware of the 'fame' his car is receiving this year.

Tuesday - Farewell Routemaster

Reading about the withdrawal of the Heritage RM service in London from 1 April was no joke. In order to plug TfL's coffers by around £800,000 annually, and with patronage in decline, the additional short journeys on Service 15 from Tower Hill to Trafalgar Square via St. Pauls, operated by Stagecoach London, were no more from this date, except during weekends during the summer and on bank holidays. Ridership may have been in decline, but I fear withdrawing the RMs from regular operation is like the Shard preventing tourists travelling to its summit on weekdays. The Heritage RMs cost £1.2 million a year to run, but their wider value to the London economy must surely be a consideration. Wrightbus's 'New Routemaster' is a fine enough vehicle, if a little possessed by modernising the past rather than evolving it, but American tourists do not build into their itineraries a ride on them; yet the Historic RMs feature very highly, regardless of whether the traveller has any knowledge of UK buses or not. And the surest way to kill of patronage of anything is to withdraw it without replacement.

Wednesday - East Midlands Railway Awarded to Abellio

There will be many queries passengers who use the current East Midlands Trains network will have concerning just what Abellio has planned - especially in Lincolnshire, which was omitted from all the summarised headline improvements released today jointly by the DfT and Abellio's PR people. We know from the ITT, issued last year, that there will be frequency enhancements and that capacity will also be significantly increased on services that currently operate with single-car Class 153s, but thus far very little else. It was interesting to note that "all stations" will be fitted with ticket machines. How many years will a ticket roll last at Havenhouse, one wonders?
     Full details, as soon as they are known, will be published and analysed in the next LEYTR. Yet while those in Abellio were jubilant at being awarded another UK rail franchise, it occurs to me that there has hitherto been no mention whether the offerings put forward by disqualified applicants Stagecoach and Arriva were any better. Has the East Midlands been indirectly awarded a franchise that may, in other circumstances, have been considered sub-standard? Was Abellio's award purely to save face at having to scrap the franchise process and start again and NOT because it happened to offer the greatest benefits for passengers and the region in general regardless of the fact that the Dutch state railway didn't mess its sums up with its financial obligations to the staff pension pot? We are currently starting a ten-day 'standstill' period, so more will gradually be made known soon.
     I'm not entirely convinced that the DfT is completely up to the job of late. A lengthy and protracted legal challenge - or two - would be the last thing it needs in the current climate, where rail is constantly under the spotlight following last May's timetable chaos, the introduction of new trains behind behind schedule, awarding a ferry contract to a firm who doesn't possess any ferries and knowingly awarding the InterCity East Coast franchise to VTEC knowing their bid was unrealistic to name but a few high-profile foul-ups.

Friday - Magazine Posted

The March/April edition of the LEYTR has been posted out. Since our previous secretary relinquished his position at the end of last year, the remainder of the Committee have adopted an 'all hands on deck' approach to ensure the timely distribution of the magazine. In this edition we commemorate 60 years since St. Mark's Bus Station opened in Lincoln, with an exclusive by our Chairman and RoadCar MD Paul Hill surrounding its demise. We also detail all the very latest bus, coach and railway news, with details of forthcoming railtours and local bus/coach rallies. We have a bumper section looking at local bus and coach operator fleetnews, while the railway equivalent details the latest Northern repaints and ex-ScotRail '170' acquisitions. Full fleet lists for Black Cat Travel of Lincoln and Sleafordian Coaches of Sleaford are included and we detail some of the major railway service improvements from the May timetable change.

03 April 2019

Manton, Historic Bus, Grimsby Cuts & Peterborough Parking

Monday - Manton

Driving in my car to Leicester I passed through the leafy and picturesque village of Manton, nestled in rural Rutland County. I’d often thought the name of the village rang a bell and despite having driven this way on countless times before suddenly realised its significance. For Manton in railway terms is significantly more renowned than in motoring circles. Beneath the village lies Manton Tunnel on the Syston Jn–Helpston Jn line and immediately before its eastern portal is Manton Junction with associated Manton signal box.
     The line diverging leads to Kettering and thence the Midland Main Line. Trains operate to an hourly daytime frequency along the main route, provided by CrossCountry’s Stansted Airport–Birmingham New Street service, though two early morning Nottingham–Norwich services and an evening Spalding–Nottingham service use the route, operated by East Midlands Trains, who also controls the stations along the line, Stamford, Oakham and Melton Mowbray. There is a daily service from Melton Mowbray and Oakham to London St. Pancras, which diverges at Manton Junction, also operated by East Midlands Trains. 

Wednesday – Historic Vehicle 

For me the most anxious element of owning a historic vehicle is when I hand it over to a third party for its MOT preparation and test. Such a skill is far beyond my technical comprehension and I’ll gladly pay someone far more knowledgeable to undertake the necessary steps to ensure my vehicle – Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport Leyland Fleetline/Roe O45/29D, 113 (MBE 613R) – is roadworthy. An added stress is the weather, because ‘GCT 113’ is an open-topper and when I took the bus to the mechanic’s yard I managed to arrange a day when a named storm was set to pass. Using the Met Office weather app, I’d planned the day around blobs of rain according to its rainfall radar. This app is far more precise than the other excellent one provided by MeteoEarth, who plays safe with its rainfall radar by just showing blanket coverage rather than specific masses.
     Collecting ‘GCT 113’ was less stressful because no rainfall was forecast and the bus had passed its MOT with flying colours (and no advisories). I was a little downhearted when I discovered that the original speedometer had stopped working. When I purchased the bus from Stagecoach the speedo’ had been disconnected in favour of an unsightly analogue tachograph crudely affixed to the dashboard. We removed this and reconnected the speedo’ wires (which Stagecoach hadn’t removed, thank goodness) and the speedo’ and odometer worked once again. Now nothing. Fortunately Stagecoach’s contractor had fixed an odometer to the rear offside wheel for the purpose of gauging tyre wear and tear; this continues to record accurately so I started recording my mileage driven using this instead.
     The bus’s exterior was filthy and I spent time washing the bus down. I’ll concentrate more on the interior in the week before the bus’s first event of the 2019 season: Fenland BusFest based in Whittlesey, on 19 May.

Thursday – Grimsby Cuts 

Signs of belt-tightening continue locally, with Stagecoach reducing the frequency of its busiest urban services in Grimsby and Cleethorpes recently. Services 3 & 4 (née 3F & 4/4X) have been cut back to operate every 12 minutes from every 10. In 2006, when the services were increased in frequency with money from the government’s KickStart scheme (which also included investment by Stagecoach in 23 new ADL Darts), I interviewed Stagecoach founder and then-Chief Executive Sir Brian Souter on the day of the official launch in Grimsby’s Old Market Place. He said there was something ‘magical’ about a ten-minute frequency that really ramped up growth for a route.
     He’s not wrong. Multiples of ten are far easier to comprehend and calculate than other numbers (even buses operating every 7/8 minutes). Sadly, this is something Stagecoach is now willing to risk to ensure maintenance costs for two vehicles is saved. Of course, there are many external factors beyond the operator’s control that could have forced it into this position, from the reimbursement rates for the English National Concessionary Bus Pass scheme to the rise in price of crude oil. But the reduction in frequency is, I fear, a step too far.
     Time will tell of course and my GCT timetable repository from the mid-1980s onwards shows that the council-operated undertaking was running the exact same services to a 15-minute frequency at one time, increasing to every 10 minutes until immediately after the Stagecoach purchase in 1993 when, from March 1994 (around the time ‘GCT 113’ lost her roof) the 3F & 4/4X were cut back to a bus every 12 minutes, thus saving two Leyland Fleetlines. Like the railway, the bus industry seems to go round in circles.

Friday – Pricey Parking

I visited London with ‘Er Indoors to watch a farce in the West End. The Bank Robbery That Goes Wrong has been at the Criterion Theatre in Leicester Square since 2016 and has excellent reviews. I’d purchased us tickets for her birthday (I’m good like that) and we travelled to London using Great Northern from Peterborough. The LNER-controlled station at Peterborough has recently had its large, southerly car park revamped and extended even further south (it’s quite a walk from its southernmost extremity to the station entrance) and ANPR cameras ensure payment is made. Except when we arrived at 1000 there were no spaces at all. Knowing there was another car park to the north of the station, off Mayor’s Walk, we headed there.
     This was a location that has entry barriers and a ticket is collected which needs validating before the exit barrier will lift. Validation can take place before you travel since the parking fee is not an incremental one but based on the whole day. Yet for the £15 you’re asked you’d be forgiven for thinking you were paying for the week! “But surely”, I hear you cry, “it was 1000 so you’d qualify for an off-peak rate?” No. Off-peak in railway parking circles commences at 1200, not 0930 (or 0846 with Great Northern from Peterborough) in railway parlance. You only benefit from the £7 ‘off-peak’ rate in the afternoon. I was astonished. How can 1000 not be considered off-peak by an industry that sells those exact same car parkers tickets based on wholly different (earlier!) parameters? It felt like a money making scheme to me.
     I once read that Peterborough’s car park charge was the second most expensive in the country, being beaten only by Reading. Very little seems to have been done to rid itself of this very dubious silver crown. Travelling to London with Great Northern is something I’ve done recently when I sampled the new Class 700 trains for the first time. Yes, they’re not great and the seats are too hard, but the ‘experience’ doesn’t bother me sufficiently to rebook with LNER and pay almost double to arrive in The Smoke just twenty minutes quicker.
     Besides, the rear most First Class compartment is mandatorily declassified on the Peterborough–Central London route as the percentage of First Class on each twelve-car train has encroached beyond the maximum ceiling. This is a good example at how prescribed the railway now is – a far cry from the utopia promised at privatisation. You get precious little else when travelling in First Class with Great Northern, but we enjoyed being ‘in’ on a little-known ‘secret’.
     Upon our return just after midnight (700134 on the outward trip and 700128 on the return) and after paying the exorbitant parking fee, the exit barrier had been lifted, which understandably sent thoughts racing through my mind about how prudent it would be next time I park here to check this before paying.

16 December 2018

2018 In Review

As is customary, please find below the year in review for transport happenings in Lincolnshire & East Yorkshire.

January

The year started with news that direct Cleethorpes – London trains could be back on the cards, following news that Grand Central had identified a cost-efficient manner in which to operate them, while not falling foul of ‘revenue extraction’ from the incumbent franchised operators along the ECML. 
TransPennine Express at Cleethorpes station and Stagecoach at its Grimsby depot both sustained significant damage as an organised gang targeted trains and buses smashing countless windows. 
Lincoln City Council opened its new Lincoln Central Bus Station in the city centre, which while scaled back from initial plans, afforded passengers are more pleasant location at which to wait for their bus. 
To coincide with the opening, Stagecoach introduced its Simplibus network to the city along with 10 new Enviro200s.

February

Siemens announced that one of its Lincoln factories would house a new bogie overhaul facility that would open in June. 
A special event was held at Hull’s Paragon Interchange to celebrate 10 years since it was opened 
At the end of the month the LEYTR area was affected by the so-called ‘Beast from the East’, rendering large swathes of Lincolnshire as no-go areas on account of the depth of snow.

March

The ‘Beast from the East’ effectively saw off the last operational trains in Hull Trains’ fleet, which led to multiple days of their passengers having to travel via Sheffield and the Midland Main Line as VTEC wouldn’t accept their passengers’ tickets. This also saw their MD resign. 
Siemens announced that it had chosen Goole in which to build a new train manufacturing plant with an investment of up to £200 million, subject to acquiring orders. 
Virgin Trains East Coast confirmed to LEYTR that its additional direct trains between Lincoln and London would commence from the May 2019 timetable change. Their MD also announced, rather prematurely, that their Class 800 ‘Azuma’ fleet would begin running in passenger service from November. 
Operation of MegabusPlus passed from Stagecoach’s Hull to Barnsely depot.

April

Stagecoach and EYMS introduced a new KAT card in Hull, offering a capped unlimited travel ticket for ‘Kids And Teenagers’. 
VTEC operated one of their Class 800 ‘Azuma’ trains along the Joint Line and through Lincoln, albeit without fanfare as the trial run took place overnight. 
Hunt’s of Alford won Independent Retailer of the Year Award 2018 at the East Lindsey Business Awards. 
A&P Travel won no fewer than three awards at the 64thUK Coach Awards in Blackpool, including the prestigious Coach of the Year Award. 
Stagecoach closed its Norfolk business at the end of the month, converting its Long Sutton outstation to a small depot in its own right. It would not merge with their Lincolnshire business but be operated by neighbouring Peterborough. 
Skegness Travel ceased trading after not meeting terms imposed by the Traffic Commissioner at a recent Public Inquiry.

May

EYMS closed its Hornsea depot in an attempt to balance its books. The company blamed the reduction in concessionary reimbursement received from East Riding of Yorkshire Council and the loss of tendered work there following reductions in rural services earlier in the year. 
New railway was laid in Lincolnshire, culminating in the summer opening of the Lincolnshire Coast Light Railway at Ingoldmells, which boasted an additional 150 meters in length. 
The railway’s May timetable change caused considerable problems for Northern, though fortunately the LEYTR area didn’t bear the brunt. Northern did have an ingenious way of swapping their Class 153 at Cleethorpes each night, involving attaching it to an EMT ‘153’. 
National Holidays won Gold in the Coach Marketing Award category at the UK Coach Awards. 
A Red Bus Dart was stolen from the operator’s premises and abandoned on Cleethorpes beach. 
The month also marked the 40thanniversary of the iconic HST operating along the East Coast Main Line.

June

Three additional Skegness Seasiders entered service ‘along The Bank’ for Stagecoach, who acquired them last summer from Stagecoach Cumbria. 
VTEC would be no more, replaced by London North Eastern Railway (LNER) following the latest collapse of the InterCity East Coast franchise. LNER would not quite be the holy grail Nationalisation supporters wanted, however, as it would be operated by the government’s Operator of Last Resort – a consortium of engineering companies, one of the largest global accountancy firms and a multi-national professional services firm. 
Siemens won an order to build 94 Tube trains worth £1.5 billion at its new Goole factory. 
EYMS was sold by its Chairman & Chief Executive Peter Shipp to Go-Ahead Group plc’s Go North East subsidiary, who committed to running the business as a separate entity. 
Stagecoach introduced contactless payments to all of its services in the LEYTR area. 
The East Midands rail franchise Invitation to Tender was released and showed significant frequency increases Lincoln–Grimsby/Doncaster. 
National Holidays introduced 15 new Mercedes-Benz Tourismos into service.

July

Stagecoach told Hull City Council (HCC) that it required subsidy to continue operating the park-and-ride operation based at Pride Park. This raised a few eyebrows as Stagecoach approached HCC two years earlier to offer to run the service on a wholly commercial basis. 
The Transport Select Committee’s findings over the failure of VTEC lay the blame squarely with Stagecoach/Virgin, though the DfT and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling were also implicated. 
While dropping off school children in Swineshead, a Brylaine bus started fall into a sink hole, though there were fortunately no injuries.

August

GHP Trading, operating as AC Williams, announced an order for seven brand new Mercedes-Benz Tourismo coaches and a new base near Heathrow to capture lucrative airport work. 
Bus usage in Hull had fallen by 18% in a decade, it was revealed. 
The first transfer of EYMS buses to the Go North East fleet was confirmed, though in effect the buses had been there for the past month, initially being loaned for the Tall Ships Race.

September

The £2 million refurbishment of Lincoln’s railway station was completed. 
Delaine Buses introduced Ticketer machines to its fleet, making contactless payments now possible. 
Retrenchment by Centrebus saw the company either lose or choose not to bid for tendered work in Lincolnshire, which saw the long-standing Stamford – Grantham service pass to CallConnect. 
Former Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport Leyland Fleetline/Roe, MBE613R, now preserved by the LEYTR Editor, returned ‘home’ where it undertook a day’s recreation of times past. 
The Transport Secretary announced a Rail Review, whose terms of reference would include investigating why two privately operated InterCity East Coast franchises have defaulted. 
The Lincolnshire Vintage Vehicle Society’s entry at Showbus, ex-Eastern National K5G/ECW, ONO 59, won first prize in the Shillbeer Award.

October

This month marked the 25thanniversary of the Brigg Line’s passenger train demotion to three journeys on Saturdays only. And to add insult to injury, the line saw precious few trains owing to strike action by Northern’s guards over the planned imposition of driver-only operation. 
Delaine Buses took on operation of Centrebus’s route between Stamford and Peterborough via Wittering. 
One of Hull Trains’s Class 180s caught fire at Grantham resulting in the second period of the year when it couldn’t operate any of its timetable for consecutive days. 
Lincoln city centre was evacuated on suspicion of a bomb left at the City Bus Station, though it transpired to be a bag of shopping accidentally left behind. 
LNER announced its ‘Azuma’ trains would not now enter service this year, just a rather sketchy assurance that they would see service sometime during 2019. 
Stagecoach introduced its Simplibus brand to Scunthorpe, along with Hornsbys who entered into a Quality Bus Partnership with North Lincs Council. 
EYMS introduced Ticketer machines to its fleet, enabling passengers to pay contactlessly.

November

This month marked a quarter century since Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport was purchased by Stagecoach. 
EYMS introduced the first of a 14-strong order for tri-axle Scania coaches to operate its National Express commitments. 
Northern recorded the 30thstrike day in the long-running dispute over driver-only operation of trains, which started with Southern in April 2016.

December

The Lincoln Christmas Market was held as normal, though the numbers attending were down on previous years due to strike action by Northern guards. 
Delaine Buses revealed further expansion from next month, taking over operation of services between Market Deeping and Spalding following a decision by Shaw’s of Maxey to relinquish the tender. 
Ken Pudsey stepped down as LEYTR Secretary, being replaced by Richard Belton.

17 August 2018

Above the Parapet

Hampshire County Council has said it is considering introducing a 50p fare per journey for holders of the English National Concessionary Bus Pass (ENC). Currently, ENC pass holders are entitled to free local bus travel between 0930 and 2300 on weekdays and at all times during weekends and bank holidays as a minimum.

This is backed by government legislation, and to try and impose a fee would be illegal.

However, Hampshire is citing the results of a recent consultation that point to a willingness by ENC pass holders to pay a nominal sum for their bus journey provided this is ploughed back into the local transport network. Hampshire says all the 50p fares would generate £4.7 million and that this would cover the cost of all the county's existing bus subsidies and community transport.


The ENC pass was first introduced on 1 April 2006, initially only offering free local bus travel in each authority's own area. This caused considerable limitations to those passengers who lived by a county boundary and whose bus service linked them to their nearest town which happened to be in another county.

These passengers would be entitled to free outward travel, since the ENC scheme requires the local authority in whose area the journey commences to cover the cost of the journey, but they would be forced to pay a full adult fare to return as their return journey from the shops would commence in an authority's area in which they were not resident.

This was remedied from 1 April 2008 when England-wide free local bus travel was introduced, again paid by the authority in whose area each journey begins. This is the scheme that has been running ever since. While free journeys cannot legally commence until 0930 on weekdays, the legislation allows authorities to commit their own funds to enhance this offering. Lincolnshire County Council, for example, allows free travel at all times, though only to its residents. Those visiting from elsewhere are still required to pay to travel before 0930, for example.


Hampshire, along with other authorities who are located on the coast, suffer disproporionately from most 'landlocked' authorities as they receive a large number of seasonal bus journeys. Many residents from South Yorkshire, for example, visit Cleethorpes and make use of the network of local bus services there every summer, whose bus journeys North East Lincolnshire Council is legally required to reimburse local operator Stagecoach for, yet a similar percentage of NELC residents do not head inward to Sheffield or Barnsley for their holidays and make use of the network of local bus services there.

This Isle of Wight has reputedly the lowest reimbursement rate of any local authority in the country, indicative of the high number of ENC-entitled residents and seasonal visitors making use of Southern Vectis's services.

This is another major stumbling block with the ENC bus pass. The money local authorities receive from central government is not ring fenced. There is no legal minimum they have to reimburse bus operators, either. If the Adult Single fare is £3, the local authority does not pay that £3 to the operator. No, they pay a percentage of the average fare for that specific route. It all gets rather complex, but in the main, bus operators receive under 50% of the average adult fare for every journey made.

if Hampshire is feeling the pinch, you can be sure its local bus operators will be, too. A few years ago, East Yorkshire Motor Services had a loss-making service in Hull that they were cross-subsidising from their more profitable routes. However, they situation became too strenuous and so the company requested that ENC pass holders using the route - the majority - consider a voluntary contribution towards their fare. This saw a significant up uptake, but was slapped town by the DfT who wrote to officially warn EYMS that in their eyes they were breaking the law. And so the service was withdrawn without replacement.

It's interesting that Hampshire wants to keep the 50p for itself, presumably hoping it will be allowed to retain the current reimbursement rate it has set for the local bus operators. I would imagine Stagecoach et al to contest this. The money they are legally owed by the local authorities is not subsidy, it is reimbursement for revenue foregone, something the local and national media and MPs seem to be ignorant about.


First is a major player in Hampshire and would likely have an opinion on the local authority retaining all of any additional flat fee charged per journey made on its services.

Would a government with no working majority in the House of Commons and whose traditional support is from those entitled to an ENC bus pass really consider scrapping the concept? Perhaps a political third way, so oft used by Labour under Tony Blair, could be introduced that would enable the government to save face. They could announce the ENC bus pass would continue to offer free local bus travel except if a local authority chooses to introduce a nominal flat fare of 50p per journey maximum, with the revenue generated ring fenced to protect local and community services.

The government first committed around £1 billion for the ENC bus pass in 2008. While this has remained broadly static, the costs for bus operators in the past decade have risen considerably, yet the ENC reimbursements have not. This means fare-paying passengers are bearing the brunt of operator cost rises through higher than normal increases in bus fares. While this may not change if the Hampshire model is introduced, there would at least be revenue generated so that marginal bus services do not disappear.

28 June 2018

Brexit & Rail Re-Nationalisation Synergies

Frustrations surrounding the manner in which every day life is governed by a supposed unaccountable elite in Brussels and a similar impotence over operation and accountability of Britain’s much loved and cherished national rail network have, in the opinion of the LEYTR STIG, become so heightened that the outcomes have manifested themselves in the same way.

“How many European Commissioners do you think there are?” I was once asked. Foolishly, or perhaps not, I replied tentatively in the singular. “Wrong!” came the reply, “There are five and I bet you can’t name them!” For fear of a second humiliation I chose at this point to bow out with relative dignity and admitted defeat.

“Guess how much Network Rail want to charge to re-open a seven-mile section of railway between March and Wisbech,” I was asked recently. “Around £100 million!” came the reply before I could dispatch my response, so incensed was the questioner. “Can you imagine? I’ve said I’ll arrange it all myself for £50 million – a bargain if you ask me!”

For true believers in the European Project, or even those who are more comfortable with the UK becoming a more integral partner in Europe as a whole, it matters not one jot about how many EU Commissioners there are – or their names. They are content knowing that ‘we are where we are and I’m broadly happy with that.’

There can be few who would argue that the European Union and its Commission aren’t a little top heavy; full of bureaucrats who thrive on life’s minutiae, who seem self-obsessed with loop holes and creating butter mountains and wine lakes for the sake of their unwavering quest to follow rules.

For those who recall BBC’s 1990s sitcom Brittas Empire, well-meaning but woefully inept leisure centre manager Gordon Brittas (played by Chris Barrie) was encouraged to look for promotion as he was utterly useless managing people. “You find you’ve got yourself a bit of a chocolate fireguard,” Brittas mused in one episode to his much more competent deputy. “You can’t sack people nowadays because they can’t do their job. You have to encourage them to look for promotion.”

While Brittas was describing his other deputy – wart-laden hypochondriac Colin Wetherby – viewers, along with his other deputy Laura, with whom he was conversing – could spot the deliberately unintended comparison between poor Colin and himself. Brittas eventually applied for and was offered the position of European Commissioner for Sport. “Europe is made for people like you, Mr Brittas,” Laura wryly reassured him in the last episode when he was having last-minute jitters about whether to go or not.

Indeed the EU would very much suit people with Brittas’ particular skillset and the Brittas Empire writers Richard Fegan and Andrew Norriss held this view of the EU as long ago as 1993.

Brittas had a dream. A dream that one day all the peoples of the world would come together and that he, initially as a lowly leisure centre manager, would help mould the physical souls of the population. The EU has a dream too…

I feel I need to show my hand at this point. I was a massive fan of Brittas Empire and I also share the view with the majority of those who voted in the EU Referendum during 2016 that the UK should leave the European Union. In writing this, I’m not attempting to change or even challenge entrenched views; nor am I going to suggest alternative ways of doing things. 

I have spotted striking similarities between otherwise sensible, high-earning commuters who are well educated in how Capitalism works, demanding that the rail network be re-nationalised and large swathes of the population flicking the metaphorical V-sign at the Establishment over our continued membership of the EU and the potential for financial unknown should we ever leave.

Britain’s railway commuters pay a princely sum to travel to work and back by train, five days a week. The calculation for the cost of a Season Ticket varies slightly depending on distance travelled and the premium Anytime fare, but as a very general rule of thumb a weekly Season Ticket holder pays two-to-three times the Anytime return between A and B but can use their ticket for unlimited travel between A and B for seven consecutive days.

A weekly Season Ticket between Peterborough and London King’s Cross for ‘Any Permitted’ route (valid all operators between the two locations) costs £193.80 at the time of writing. An Anytime Short return (one journey in each direction though a period of one month is afforded for the return journey) costs £110.80. Therefore the weekly Season Ticket holder pays slightly less than two Anytime Returns.

Various emotionally-charged editorials and politically-motivated articles in railway magazines, penned by writers so passionate about the railway that I believe they genuinely lose some objectivity, have suggested that the railway should kindly remind its Season Ticket holders just what a great deal they’re getting. In the case of the many thousands who make the daily return trip from Peterborough to London King’s Cross, that for their £193.80 they’re not even paying for two Anytime Short Returns and so should tacitly be grateful of the astonishing value they’re getting.

Though this view could be seen as plain condescending, I feel the view is made through gentle ignorance of the ‘warts and all’ view commuters see of the railway. I’d counter that these hard-pressed long-distance travellers have a considerably better insight into the workings of the rail industry than we give them credit for.

They know the ‘dodge’ about how performance is measured (a train is only classified as running late if it gets to its ultimate destination over five or ten minutes late depending on whether it is a local/long-distance service, regardless of its punctuality at all other stations) and they’ve sussed that complaining to their train operating company (TOC) about how few coaches there are falls on deaf ears because the Department for Transport decides any train cascade.

“Nowhere in the Conditions of Carriage does it say that their ticket guarantees them a seat,” I’ve read in a railway magazine recently. The author of that particular incredulous sentence is correct. It doesn’t. But the perception is that those shelling out £193.80 per week should be able to sit down for their 90 minutes on a train every day.

Yet these switched-on commuters – who know the iron grip with which the DfT holds the industry – in the main reflect most polling results that show the country as a whole would prefer their railways fully nationalised.

“Yes, but Network Rail is nationalised and they’re responsible for tracks and signals and the upkeep of many stations. The Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern mega-franchise is a management contract let by the DfT, so in essence nationalised, and look at the mess there. And the specification for every rail franchise in the country is written by the DfT, so just how would re-nationalising the railways improve things?” is a much-vaunted response to anyone wanting to see their local train service taken back in-house.

This sort of nonsense not only paints the current set-up of Britain’s railways in the ridiculous light that many see it, but is disingenuous with the truth.

Re-nationalisation would mean the operation of all elements of the railway under the same organisation, left alone to manage with railway managers who are competent in just that, rather than the micro-management by office-based civil servants. This could result in the replication of a system used by British Railways or an arms length operation, over which the government itself has very little say. Proper re-nationalisaion would unify the operation of Britain's railways, ensuring all services operate with as few voices as possible in a much more coherent, competent manner.

Here the first big similarity between railway re-nationalisation and leaving the EU come to mind.

Of the many millions of voters who want the railways taken back in-house, a large majority would surely realise that were this to occur, Britain’s national railway network would always play second fiddle to the requirements of the NHS and the country’s schools, prisons and social care.

At the same time, despite the apocalyptical warnings by the Conservative government of what would happen if the UK electorate voted the leave the EU, the majority of voters chose to ignore what they were being told – including a very specific figure of just over £4,000 per household by the then-Chancellor – and dared to defy their government.

As I see it, the public at large are now so fed up with the service they receive from their train operator that they cannot physically envisage a scenario where this can get worse. Trains are late, overcrowded, often cancelled through the ineptitude of either the private operator or the DfT’s mandarins introducing unattainable schedules and expensive, unfathomable fares.

In exactly the same manner, over 17 million UK voters had become so bereft of their views not being heard; of their government’s inability to stand-up to the Gordon Brittases in Brussels; of not being able to get their children into their local school due to uncontrolled migrant labour in their town, that they collectively said, “Sod you!” to their government, the majority of big businesses, to celebrity naysayers and the five EU Commissioners and – rightly or wrongly – voted to leave.

MoneySavingExpert website founder Martin Lewis put it best while on the panel of a recent BBC Question Time when he said David Cameron had offered us a black and white question to which the answer was multi-layered and multi-faceted. The same applies to the re-nationalisation of Britain’s railways.

There are so many ways in which this could be achieved. The Labour Party, who is the most likely party to realise rail re-nationalisation, has cottoned onto the cost of relieving these private and foreign state operators of our railway franchises and so has chosen to adopt the Christian Wolmar view, which the transport writer suggested over a decade ago. This would simply see each franchise not re-let when it expires. The problem with this is that it will take nearly two decades for all franchises to be then taken back in-house.

And to the best of my knowledge, the Labour Party has yet to offer detailed workings of how any re-nationalised railway would be run. If it’s similar to how the DfT is micro-managing things with Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, then god help us. If it is anything like how the DfT is ordering Network Rail to complete certain electrification schemes and to introduce higher-frequency timetables despite protestations from the nationalised infraco at how rushed this is having to be and therefore the knock-on effect to train operators being lack of preparedness for robust timetables – precisely what we are seeing across the North West with Northern of late, then ditto here, too.

It is clear to me that the raw impotence being felt by rail commuters and over 17 million UK voters is having the same effect. They simply do not care what the future holds. Rightly or wrongly they cannot envisage a scenario where they could be any worse off than they are now.

Quite who is at fault is considerably more complex than observing and writing about two otherwise disparate groups of people.


One thing is for sure. The government needs to listen to the electorate. This is the easy part. Its divisions – along with those in the Opposition Party – and a lack of an overall majority in the House of Commons is ultimately what is tying its hands from either satisfying the majority or screwing it over. A typical ‘third way’ fudge is almost certainly the worst of all worlds.

The LEYTR Stig has been an historic contributor to the LEYTR Blog over the years and, as with all articles, the viewpoint expressed reflect's that of the author.