31 December 2007

Festive Transport Developments

Time away from the Internet over the Christmas period, coupled with work commitments has meant very little has been added to the Transport of Delight blog. Below are details of yule-tide developments in the transport industry.

  • Eurostar fares available throughout UK. Cross Channel train operator Eurostar has launched through fares to France and Belgium from 68 towns and cities in the UK. The high speed rail company's booking system has been linked with those of seven UK train operators: Virgin Trains, First Capital Connect, National Express East Coast, East Midlands Trains, Chiltern Railways, Hull Trains and London Midland so that travellers to the Continent only have to book one ticket for their entire journey.

  • Travellers Choice go for more tri-axles. Carnforth-based John Shaw (trading as Travellers Choice) has placed an order for a pair of 14.1m Axial-bodied Volvo B12Bs having been impressed with the initial pair they had delivered earlier in the year. The additional length means a capacity of 65 can be achieved. Orders for six 12.6m 53-seater Volvo B12Ms with Jonckheere bodies and centre toilet and a Volvo B7R with 70 seats have been placed. Both LEYTR editors travelled on a Travellers Choice 70-seat Volvo B7R/Plaxton last summer on National Express service 664 from Butlins (Skegness) to Manchester; they are only suited to school transport, not to mainstream service where the average height of passengers exceeds 5'-4"!

  • New station for Reading. Reading Borough Council has granted planning permission for the first privately-funded railway station in southern England for 50 years. Green Park station will serve the new south Reading business park, situated alongside the M4 motorway, and the Madejski Stadium. However, West Berkshire Council must also approve the plans as the station is sited across a local authority boundary.If planning permission is forthcoming, construction is expected to begin in the spring to allow the station to open by the end of 2008. The Department for Transport gave the green light for the project last year.

  • LEZ for Bromsgrove? Bromsgrove District Council is considering implementing a Low Emission Zone in the form of a two-mile radius surrounding the town centre.

  • Majority in favour of higher congestion charge for most-polluting cars. Figures published just before Christmas by the London Mayor's office show that two thirds of Londoners support proposals to charge cars with the highest greenhouse gas emissions £25 a day to drive in the central London Congestion Charge zone and abolish the tariff for the lowest emitting vehicles. The results come from polling carried out by Ipsos Mori as part of a recent consultation on the emissions-based charging proposals. The survey involved interviews with 3,620 Londoners of which around half lived within the existing congestion charging zone. The research found that 91% of those questioned said that they thought climate change was "important" or "very important". Two-thirds (66%) of respondents were in favour of the proposal upon which Transport for London has consulted, with 38% strongly supporting it. Some 21% opposed the planned charging structure.

  • Plans for Victoria refurb set back after royal intervention. Plans to build a £2bn office complex featuring an upgraded bus and taxi interchange in front of London's Victoria railway station have been sent back to the drawing board after local councillors pointed out that the development would obscure views from the garden of Buckingham Palace. Planning officers from Westminster City Council have told Land Securities, the UK's largest property developer, that the height of proposed office blocks is not compatible with the adjacent World Heritage Site. The scheme was also criticised for not providing more benefits to the local community. Land Securities wanted to erect two 128-metre high buildings as part of an extensive redevelopment of the 13-acre site, which would provide Transport for London with the cash to upgrade passenger facilities. Development options for the site are restricted by existing underground railway lines and the safeguarded alignment for Crossrail 2, the proposed Hackney to Chelsea rail link. Meanwhile, TfL is gearing up for work to begin on a £509m upgrade of Victoria Underground station, which will expand the existing Victoria Line ticket hall and fund construction of a new north ticket hall by 2016. A planning application is expected to be submitted this month with a public inquiry scheduled to start in June 2008 and construction beginning in late 2009.

  • Some of Arriva's Chester routes cut. Bus operator Arriva is withdrawing service 9 (Chester-Piper's Ash), which it had started initially as competition against then council-owned ChesterBus, which was later purchased by FirstGroup. Arriva has increased frequencies on two other routes on which it competes head-to-head with First.

  • Ebbw Vales handover "farcical". Completion of one of the handful of current projects to expand the UK rail network has descended into farce after a last minute decision was taken to postpone the opening of the Ebbw Valley railway. Passenger services between Cardiff and Ebbw Vale had been due to run on Saturday 22 December for the first time in 45 years and this week arrangements were being made for an official opening ceremony to take place on Friday 14 December. However, in an eleventh hour rethink, the scheme’s promoter Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council said on 12 December that track and signalling issues meant the line was not ready to open to the general public. Handover officially took place at 0500hrs on 18 December, which means Arriva Wales can start driver familiarisation on the route for delayed commencement of passenger trains due to start in January 2008.

  • Robin Gloag killed. One of the founders of transport operator Stagecoach was killed on 5 December after the car in which he was travelling crashed on a sharp bend and into a field near his home in Perthshire. Robin Gloag, ex husband to current non-executive director Ann Gloag was aged 64 and ran Highwayman Coaches of Errol.

  • New East Midlands Parkway station begins. Construction of a new railway station serving East Midlands Airport began this week. The £25.5m East Midlands Parkway project, primarily funded by Network Rail with a contribution of £895,000 from East Midlands Development Agency, will see a station built near junction 24 of the M1 motorway. East Midlands Parkway will open in December 2008 and will be situated just off the A453 at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, one mile from the M1. It will include four platforms, step free access, a station building with ticket office and 850 car parking spaces. The station will be staffed and managed by East Midlands Trains and the train operator is contributing additional funding to bring the total number of car parking spaces up from the planned 500 to 850.

  • Red Routes in London opened up to some taxis. Transport for London is to change the rules affecting the capital's red routes to allow licensed private hire vehicles to pick up and set down passengers. From Monday 17 December, 40,000 minicabs which display a new 'Private Hire' roundel sign on the outside of their vehicle will be allowed to pick up and set down pre-booked passengers, but not park and wait, on red routes. Although red routes only cover 5% of London's road network they carry up to 35 per cent of London's traffic. The new sign, which will remind Londoners that licensed minicabs must be pre-booked, is expected to be adopted by the majority of private hire vehicles operating in the capital.

  • £1million on Eccles buses. Arriva has spent £1million on ten new low-floor buses for its entire Eccles bus routes, 13 in total. The Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority funds the routes too.

  • East London line closes. The London Underground East London Line shut on Saturday 22 December, ending its spell as part of the iconic Tube network and allowing preparations to continue for its rebirth as part of the London Overground network in summer 2010. Over the next two and a half years, the line will be connected to a newly built stretch of line running from Whitechapel to Dalston in north east London while the current New Cross Gate terminus will be connected to the National Rail network in preparation for services to and from West Croydon and Crystal Palace. When work is complete the route will be know as the East London Railway and will form part of the Overground network overseen by Transport for London with new Electrostar trains run by the MTR/Laing concession. All existing East London Line stations will be refurbished.

  • Stagecoach claims bus growth. Year-on-year passenger volume on Stagecoach's UK Bus services have grown by 3.9%. This is one reason behind a record order for 584 new buses to be built, primarily, by Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL). The order is worth £71million of which £49million goes to ADL for around 435 bodies and 300 chassis, the rest to Optare. The balance of 135 chassis bodied by ADL are MAN, Volvo and Scanias.

  • Crossrail bill 'cleared' Commons. The hybrid bill which will allow construction of the London Crossrail link has cleared the Commons after nearly three years of debate. The £15.9bn scheme, the largest civil engineering project since the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, will provide a new rail route across the capital. Ministers say it will ease congestion, create thousands of jobs and provide a multimillion pound boost to the economy.The twin tunnels will support a 24 train per hour peak time service in each direction between east and west London, improving rail links between the West End, the City, Docklands, Heathrow Airport and the Thames Gateway.

  • Sacked driver steals coach as revenge. An employee of Highwayman, Errol, run by the late Robin Gloag (see above), who had been sacked while he was off sick, stole a coach as revenge. David Dutchyn, 51 of Perth was caught on cctv taking the keys to the vehicle, which was later found at a service station in Cumbria, with Mr Dutchyn asleep on the back seat. He was given 12 months probation and ordered to pay £300 in fines.

  • Strathclyde PT to look into an east-west subway link. Strathclyde Partnership for Transport is to commission a second stage study to investigate plans for an east-west Subway link. An initial investigation by consultants Grant Thornton has found the proposed regeneration link to be feasible and has estimated the cost at between £60m and £210m. On Friday 14 December SPT members agreed to fund a more in-depth study at a cost of £250,000 to look in further detail at the proposals which involve using disused railway tunnels.

  • Nat Ex claimed "exceptional". "Exceptional" operational performance has been cited by National Express Group is the result of 6% like-for-like growth over the same period last year for both its bus and coach businesses.

  • New train order from Porterbook. Rolling stock leasing company Porterbrook has ordered 27 next-generation Turbostar trains from Canadian manufacturer Bombardier Transportation. Porterbrook is buying 12 2-car and 15 3-car trains for GoVia's London Midland franchise at a cost of £92m. All units will be built at Bombardier’s Derby plant, with bogies being produced at Bombardier’s Siegen site in Germany, and will be delivered during 2010.

  • London bus garages start to move. Bus depots in Waterden Road, Stratford, East London are taking place in order to make way for the 2012 London Olympics. Bus operator First vacated its Hackney garage (Waterden Road) on 15 December. Four routes have gone to its Dagenham garage, the remainder to its Lea Interchange (former Kentish Bus) depot. Also on Waterden Road is a garage belonging to the East London Bus Group, ELBG, (used to be Stagecoach London), which houses Citaro articulated buses for use on service 25 - and a training centre - moved on 28 December to Rainham, on land previously owned by Ensignbus, but purchased by ELBG in 2006. The final depot on Waterden Road, also owned by ELBG, will move to be merged with its West Ham depot at the end of February.

  • EasyJet to expand in the north-west. Budget airline EasyJet is to open a new base at Manchester Airport and expand its operations across the north west of England. EasyJet currently operates eight aircraft from Liverpool John Lennon Airport, offering a choice of 20 routes to main city airports across Europe and carrying around 2.5m passengers a year. By 2010, the airline will base a total of 10 aircraft in Liverpool but it will also establish a new operating unit in Manchester. This will make EasyJet the biggest airline operating in the north west, carrying more than four million passengers each year.