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.
Posted by LEYTR