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.

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