19 December 2016

A Year in Review: 2016

Welcome to the first blog post in over a year. Please accept our apologies for the blog effectively grinding to a halt. A concerted effort is being made to blog more frequently, as and when time permits. Though currently only the Editor will be offering his thoughts on transport news stories nationally.

Using the mobile application Timehop, I noted that a year ago, bookmaker Coral had to suspend its odds that the Queen would abdicate on Christmas Day, for fear that the public and Her Majesty knew something it didn't. There had been a large number of high value bets placed. With this kind of major news story (had it actually happened) coming at the worst time during the last half of December, spare a thought for all those print and TV editors hurriedly coupling together their Year In Review montages.

As motoring journalist, TV personality and cold meat supper-hater Jeremy Clarkson used to say: how hard can it be?

The LEYTR 2016 Year in Review

January

Pacers dominated the rail-related stories during the first quartile of 2016, with a push by the DfT to replace them at all costs during the next Northern franchise, which would be re-let (and awarded to DB's Arriva) from 1 April. The then-Transport Secretary had a publicised 'war of words' with his most senior civil servant over their replacement being essential despite not being the best value for money - the latter being a viewpoint most important to the government when re-letting franchises.

Barnetby's iconic semaphore signal gantries disappeared at the end of 2015, with this year seeing the resignalling of the North Lincs area, losing controlling signal boxes in favour of the York ROC.

Essential Fleet Services, the new owner of demand responsive transport (DRT) provider Kier, dropped a bomsbshell for Lincolnshire County Council in January when it announced it would be relinquishing all its CallConnect and home to school contracts from 1 April. This would prove an impossible logistical problem for LCC, who were unable to cover the majority of the contracts and were forced to establish their own in-house transport operator, Transport Connect, from 1 September, which took over operation of the affected CallConnect and home to school contracts. The irony here was that the business Essential originally purchased ultimately started out as an in-house, arms length transport operator run by LCC, TransLinc.

February

England's oldest independent bus operator Delaine Buses announced it had established a Heritage Trust and was in the process of building a museum at its Bourne depot, while LEYTR Treasurer Richard Belton's preserved ex-LRCC Bristol VR 1904, (JVL 619H) was immortalised as a die-cast model by EFE.

LEYTR also exclusively revealed that the planned £29 million Lincoln Transport Hub had been scaled back from the original plans revealed and effectively signed off. A lack of money was cited as the reason. A smaller bus station now no longer adjoined to the railway station and no footbridge link to a new car park on the other side the the railway line would go ahead from September - the first phase - with no guarantee a second and subsequent phase would go ahead.

Bus news dominated the start of the year with the much anticipated Buses Bill, which could effectively see a Conservative government giving local authorities the power to nationalise its bus services. We ran an article in the January/February edition looking at whether re-regulation was such a bad idea.

March

Industrial unrest at First TransPennine Express had plagued the operator's reliability figures during the second half of 2015 with drivers refusing to work overtime in an argument over management allegedly not sticking to local agreements reached with ASLEF. Though this was nothing compared to what was brewing at Southern.

£7.7 million awarded to LCC from central government effectively saved what few subsidised local bus services the county had. The plan was to effectively end virtually every subsidised bus route and an attempt to cover the gaps with CallConnect, which - importantly - would not be enlarged in size to cope with the likely increased demand.

Stagecoach East Midlands' Marie Curie Daffodil bus was launched during March. Painted a base yellow, donations could be made to have a personalised daffodil added to the exterior, with the proceeds going to Marie Curie. Uptake wasn't as fast as had been hoped (LEYTR has a daffodil on the bus, in conjunction with SKM) though the bus moved around all depots in the operating area and take-up soon increased.

April

Both FirstGroup and DB's Arriva were successful in being awarded the TPE and Northern franchises respectively and both companies were to invest eye-watering sums of money to bring their fleets up to scratch, most notably Northern, who would spend £1 billion during the franchise, £400 million on 98 new trains built by CAF in Spain.

Brylaine Travel were the first operator in the LEYTR area to introduce a bus tracking mobile application, making it possible to see where all their passenger service buses are at any moment in time and more specifically enabling passengers to see where their next bus is. While other, larger operators offer something similar (and on a technicality National Express was already offering something similar) the clarity, simplicity and intuitiveness of the Brylaine Travel app makes it stand head and shoulders above the rest. It's a shame that some operators still feel offering this level of information to its passengers is something they'd prefer to keep to themselves.

May

The Office of Rail & Road (ORR) dealt a blow to residents of North and North East Lincolnshire when it rejected Alliance Rail's plan to resurrect GNER and to operate trains direct to/from London. Even more frustrating, the business case to Scunthorpe, Grimsby and Cleethorpes was sound enough, just let down as GNER would run the trains attached to similar rolling stock for Bradford or Ilkley, and would split at Doncaster. Revenue extraction from the incumbent ECML franchisee, VTEC, would be too great on the Bradford/Ilkley runs and the service was turned down as a consequence. Financially, GNER was unable to operate the Cleethorpes-Grimsby-Scunthorpe-London service alone.

The Buses Bill was published on 20 May, which confirmed its objectors' fear that it could empower local authorities to grab the local bus businesses and franchise a wholly different network out - without offering any form of compensation to operators who lose their work. Locally, however, neither LCC nor the unitary authorities of North Lincs, North East Lincs, Hull City or East Riding of Yorkshire showed any desire to do so.

Barnards of Kirton Lindsey ceased trading on 10 May. The family firm had come full circle, having been sold to secretive Island Fortitude before being bought back by private operator AP Travel of Cowbridge.

June

This month marked half a century since the Seaton Flyer was withdrawn. Operating between Stamford and Seaton, this auto train, consisted of a tank engine and two or three non-corridor coaches operating in a push-pull formation. The Seaton Flyer (also referred to locally as the Seaton Rabbit) had the kudos of being the last steam-hauled push-pull service in Britain. We ran an extensive article looking back at the service, illustrated with photos from the time.

A turn of fortunes at Stagecoach East Midlands would see the much-vaunted bio-methane-converted Optare Solos - some of which dated back to RoadCar days - being stood down and sold, most passing to Reading Buses, who have had success with this method of propulsion. The conversions, while being technically feasible, saw major issues with acceleration and the money promised for a filling station at the Lincoln depot hadn't materialised.

Flying Scotsman made her first visit to North East Lincolnshire since refurbishment on 11 July, hauling the Tynesider. We were fortunate to have 'our man' at Grimsby to photograph the occasion.

July

TPE had agreed to sent is remaining four Class 170 Turbostars to Chiltern Railways this month - agreed prior to the new franchise commencing. This would see the company operating only Class 185s within the LEYTR area. To free up sufficient numbers, loco-hauled trains had to begin operation in Cumbria. The ex-TPE '170s' would become '168/2s' with Chiltern, following internal refurbishment.

A large number of ex-Chester Volvo B7TLs with Wrightbus Eclipse Urban bodies would be transferred to Stagecoach Grimsby-Cleethorpes from this month, replacing double-deckers sent elsewhere within the local operating group to help remove the last remaining step-entrance examples before the end of the year. We printed a photo of the first example to operate in Grimsby.

August

Grayscroft of Mabletherpe was in receipt of three ex-London Scania OmniDekkas and received the outstanding fourth this month. These were the first low-floor double-deckers operated by the company and look impressive in fleet colours.

An interesting observation made the local Lincoln press during the summer, when Facebook administrator Ashley Hill studied pedestrian behaviour at Lincoln's High Street level crossing, next to which Network Rail had spent £12 million building a footbridge for people to use following decades of complaints from the public and businesses. Yet Mr Hill analysis, following interviews with pedestrians, showed that people couldn't couldn't be bothered to use it. There were too many steps and the rake was too severe.

September

Lincoln's City Bus Station closed following the last departure on 3 September. It had been open for 38 years and 3 weeks. Originally built for Lincoln City Transport services, RoadCar had 'moved in' following its purchase of the municipal operator in the early-90s and following the closure of St. Marks bus station (the NBC-RoadCar facility) during the last-90s, it had been Lincoln's only bus terminal. Eighteen months of disruption to the city centre was now underway while Phase 1 of the Lincoln Transport Hub project was being built. A temporary bus station was opened on Tentecroft Street, coincidentally providing a much nicer environment for passengers than that of the City Bus Station.

Both East Riding of Yorkshire and Hull City councils were consulting on reducing spending on subsidised bus services. While EYRC's was so vast, covering the largest unitary authority area in the country, its findings are still to be made, but Hull City chose to effectively stop support for all services with the exception of three routes which would see their frequencies halve.

Vote Leave's battle bus - used extensively during the Brexit referendum campaign - on the side of which was written "We give £350 million to the EU every week. Let's fund the NHS instead" caused controversy soon after a vote to leave was made when the link between the £350 million and the NHS was removed. Vehicle owner Acklams Coaches of Beverley then hired the same Neoplan Starliner coach out to Greenpeace to act as their "time for truth" battle bus on the side of which is now written thousands of questions for Theresa May's administration to answer about Brexit.

October

This month marked the 50th anniversary of LEYTR subscriber Nigel Rhodes' preserved ex-GCT single-decker Daimler Fleetline, 35 (GEE 418D). We ran an in-depth article written by Mr. Rhodes on the decision he and his son took to 'rescue' the bus in a failed condition from a local sea cadet corps in 1986 and the years it took to bring the bus back to a near-original condition.

First Hull Trains announced it had placed an order with Hitachi for five new bi-mode trains in the form of the AT300, which will replace its fleet of Class 180 Adelantes in the coming years. A decision to invest £60 million towards the new trains was instead of part-funding the electrification of the line to Hull, east from Selby - notably omitted from Network Rail's long-term electrification plan for the north. While NR looked favourably on electrifying to Hull when Hull Trains was offering the lion's share of the funding, it soon decided against it when Hull Trains pulled out, after reportedly losing patience with the time NR was taking to make a decision.

North East Lincolnshire was revealed to have the UK's least competitive bus service on account of Stagecoach operating over 99% of passenger services. Yet despite media bluster, who stepped in during September when Amvale Coaches threw in the towel with its long-standing service to Saltfleet? Stagecoach. Who continues to operate similar service levels despite NELC subsidy reductions and cuts? Stagecoach. While many bemoan their lack of choice and accurately point out this was NOT what deregulation was supposed to have spawned, you sometimes have to be careful what you wish for.

November

East Midlands Trains released into traffic the first of its Class 158s to have been internally refurbished, as part of its direct award franchise extension. Fitted with free Wi-Fi, USB charing sockets, next stop announcements and compliant disabled-access toilets, it will take the franchisee two years to complete.

Fifteen brand-new ADL E40D Enviro400s entered service with Stagecoach in Hull - the largest investment Stagecoach has made in the city since it purchased Transit in 1995. Frustratingly, prior to entering service a number were loaned to Merseyside in an emergency.

EYMS celebrated its 90th anniversary during October and commemorated this auspicious occasion by painting one of its Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini-bodied Volvo B9TLs into a special livery that showcased the three different colour schemes (technically four with the middle section being different on the offside to the nearside). And very effective it looks, too.

£66,000 was ordered to be spent on putting Grimsby town centre's road network back to pre-December 2014 condition by North East Lincolnshire Council after its contractor - who had to foot the bill - had been unable to grips with continued defects with the 'crazy paving'. While the design saw both road and footpath look identical and theoretically beneficial in slowing down motorists as it makes them think about where the road is, pedestrians complained of not knowing where the footpath ended as a double-decker bus approached.

December

Delaine Buses revealed it plans to run one of the last step-entrance local bus services in the country when on New Year's Eve it will operate its only step-entrance double-decker, Volvo Olympian 116 (M1 OCT), in passenger service between Bourne and Peterborough. From 2017 all step-entrance vehicles, regardless of their size or shape, are outlawed when providing registered local bus services.

And into 2017...

Perhaps the most interesting news item during the coming year will be the specification for the East Midlands rail franchise. Held by Stagecoach's East Midlands Trains since 2007, the aspirations being considered by the DfT are all-encompassing. While the DfT seems to want to remove the status quo with the traditional crew operation of services at Southern (despite there being no financial saving in doing so), this is seen less likely to appear in the East Midlands specification. New routes and existing services to additional places are likely to be the headline. While transport secretary Chris Grayling is keen to see integration between operations and Network Rail, this could well be more a token gesture than a major change. And for passengers, the ability to travel direct between Lincoln and Birmingham or Grantham and Manchester Airport or to just be able to physically fit on the 1511 Peterborough to Lincoln service with the addition of an extra coach, are more likely to be addressed before anything else.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 

1 comment:

Kesdb said...

Welcome back, and a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year