11 July 2007


As I blogged a few days ago, I spent Tuesday 10 July in the city of Chester. Both Peter and I decided to go in order to take photos, primarily, of vehicles in the ChesterBus livery before the "Barbie" livery of First - the firm's new owner - is introduced.

In order to travel there I opted for the direct TransPennine Express Class 185 "Desiro" from Cleethorpes to Manchester Piccadilly and then an Arriva Trains Wales/Cymru Class 175 "Coradia" to Chester. This was to be my first full-length journey aboard a Desiro since they were introduced in July last year, ousting Class 158 trains on the southern TransPennine route between Cleethorpes and Manchester Airport. A full write-up of this journey will, spece permitting, appear in the forthcoming edition of the LEYTR (later this month).

As I blogged previously, I'd cheated the system in terms of the price I paid by purchasing three separate return fares, totalling £26.50, rather than the £43.00 'direct' fare offered online. The 0718 TPE service from Cleethorpes left punctually and thanks to their being three carriages as standard on TPE's Desiros, overcrowding wasn't a problem as this journey is very convenient for commuters to Scunthorpe and Doncaster. Waiting time is built in to the service at Doncaster, during which time two GNER trains screm through the station using the central, avoiding, lines - one in each direction.

Our arrival in Manchester was delayed by what seemed like an eternal crawl to our designated platform. Spying a Merseyrail (yellow) liveried Pacer in the station with Chester on its matrix, I foolishly assumed this would be either my next train or would be the likely locality for it to depart from. How wrong I was as the ATW services depart from platforms 13/14, the upper platforms which used to necessitate two flights of stairs and a lengthy walk the full distance of platform 1 to reach. Rather than the 1007 arrival, we landed at 1012, giving me 4 minutes to get there for my 1016 departure.

In the days I'd to and fro with Lancaster University this meander up the platform helped kill the time; now, however, it was the potential likelihood of missing my next train. Moving walkways have been added in the last few years which make the stroll a lot quicker, and as I breathlessly descended the steps onto platform 14 my train was awaiting departure with its doors wide open, seeminly awaiting people who'd not anticipated the lengthy ramble. Double checking with the chap attached to the refreshment trolley if this was indeed the train for Chester, I took a seat and soon after we departed. Only we were now headed north, calling at Oxford Road station - not south, the direction I'd expected us to head. Feeling a little uncertain I looked at one of the dot matrix signs on the station platform and reassuringly it stated the train was to call at Chester.

The route from Manchester flirts with Merseyside briefly, calling at Newton-le-Willows and then it's back into Cheshire as we passed through Runcorn (Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps territory) and by 1122 into Chester (home of the Hollyoaks girls, allegedly).

Peter had made a technically impossible connection in Crewe and so was already here. We walked to the ChesterBus depot, adjacent to the station, but couldn't get close enough to photograph anything, so turned to catch the shuttle service into the city centre - free for holders of rail tickets. Very nice, too.

The remainder of the day was spent photographing pretty much any bus that passed. It was nice to see Daimler Fleetlines roaming the city's streets on the City Signtseeing Tours - this chassis/engine being particularly familiar to me as I spent a month after passing my bus test driving examples of these vehicles up and down Cleethorpes seafront with the two examples Stagecoach Grimsby-Cleethorpes used to employ on their Service 17, until room on a rota was found for me.

Also seen in the city centre was YJ07 LVX, a Wright-bodied Scania "Street Car" as seen in the cities of York and Leeds. It was showing "test run" on its destination and had all its seats covered, so we presumed it had hitherto entered service. What was its intended use in they city? Retaliation againts the inrodes Arriva had been making recently to the ChesterBus network?

Arriva had, rather than await its offer for the business, which last year had been put up for sale by the then Lib-Lab coalition council in the city, registered identical services in the city, competing with ChesterBus. This was all done above board in the sense that these routes had been registered legally and full notice had been given to all who wanted to know in the maximum timeframe allowed - 56 days. Chester City Council then took Arriva to court for effectively undermining the business it was trying to see - who'd want to buy a business that was being competed against by the UK's second largest bus operator? Arriva immediately ceased its rival bus services and this was the point when perhaps Chester City Council should have taken stock and stopped legal procedings, but they didn't and in the very recent court case, Arriva were found guilty of nothing as there was now nothing they had done. Who's to say they would have been found guilty had they continued to run their competing services? It is a free market after all.

Chester City Council were ordered to pay Arriva's court costs, estimated to be £2million. This has effectively bankrupted the ChesterBus arm of the council, following the sale of which, expected profits - money used to improve other aspects of the City - will be negligable.

Arriva's ten VDL/Wright 07-reg buses will see buses every 10 mins between Chester, Blacon & Saughall; and every 10 mins each on the Blacon circulars. The services are numbered the same as Chesterbus. In the interim ChesterBus was sold to First, who have started retaliation outside Chester, in New Brighton, on the Wirral and in Liverpool, utilising vehicles from one of its depots there.

Looking at the new Arriva Chester Citybus timings, my main concern is that they do not operate any services in the evenings or on Sundays. Stagecoach are the same in Sheffield, after acquiring Yorkshire Traction's Terrier business in the city. In order to ensure the public fully believe its intentions are genuine, evening and Sunday buses are a must, otherwise weekly unlimited travel tickets cost one-seventh more than the purchaser expects - something regular travellers will catch onto when they can't travel into the city on Sundays unless they want to pay on the other operator's services.

An excellent vantage point for photographs is at the exit to the bus station where, as a result of the competition, an additional 18 departures per hour can be seen. I quipped the Peter that, after being stood here for 2 hours, you could have photographed both company's entire operational fleet that day!

I returned on the 1654 ATW to Manchester Piccadilly, where I was greeted with the sight of CANCELLED next to my 1818 TPE service to Cleethorpes. A failed Desiro at Heald Green meant nothing could get to/from Manchester Airport. Luckily for me, my cancelled train was this side of the blockage, so it returned, with its Manchester Airport passengers, who had to make alternative arrangements at Piccadilly, and it left, as advertised at 1818.

We arrived in Cleethorpes 4 minutes early (2053) and I was home as the 9pm news was being read on Lincs FM.

These and more photos can be found by visiting my fotopic gallery.