21 August 2007

To Scotland for the SVBM Open Weekend

M'colleague and I had planned to visit the Scottish Vintage Bus Museum's (SVBM) Open Weekend at Lathalmond, 2 miles north of Dunfermline, at the back of the M90 Commerce Park. We left on Friday and stayed overnight in Stockport, resuming our journey on Saturday morning where we travelled up the west coast of England to Glasgow, then across to Edinburgh where our accommodation was - the Heriot-Watt University campus (part of Edinburgh University). Sunday was spent at the SVBM travelling there via Edinburgh city centre then the train to Dunfermline Town station, and I returned home yesterday from Edinburgh to Hull. The following, rather lengthy blog, details the journeys travelling over the past 3 days.

Friday 17 August 2007: Home-Stockport
via Louth, Horncastle, Skegness & Manchester

Here is the actual itinerary (with actual departure times in brackets):

Service 51 (Stagecoach in Lincolnshire)
0950 (0958) Grimsby, bus station
1050 (1054) Louth, bus station

Service 6C (TransLinc 'CallConnect')
1055 (1059) Louth, bus station
1145 (1137) Horncastle, market place

Service 6 (Stagecoach in Lincolnshire)
1150 (1150) Horncastle, market place
1245 (1254) Skegness, bus station

Service 5 (Stagecoach in Lincolnshire)
1328 (1336) Skegness, bus station
1343 (1350) Butlins, main entrance

Service 664 (National Express Travellers Choice)
1440 (1440) Butlins, south car park
1845 (1917) Manchester Central, coach station

Service 192 (Stagecoach in Manchester)
1943 (1943) Piccadilly, Pacton Street Ep
2027 (2027) Davenport Park Hotel, Buxton Road

0950 was the departure time of my first service to Louth, and there was no sign of the bus. I knew from past experiences - it even got a mentioned in an article I wrote for the LEYTR, that Louth depot drivers operating Service 51 regularly leave Grimsby late as considerable slack is given to Holton le Clay. At 0954 Volvo B7TL/East Lancs Vyking, 16905 (FT02 FFB) arrived. The driver seemed to take an eternity loading the handful of passengers and we left 8 minutes late. We weren't back on time by Holton le Clay, instead 3 mins late. This bus was scheduled to arrive into Louth at 1050, a suitable time for elderly passengers to travel for visiting the shops, so I wasn't massively shocked to see us call at every stop for concessions to board. At Louth Hospital we passed my next bus also headed to the bus station.

It was a very tight connection. I did want to get a photo of the bus I'd been travelling on but with 1 minute to spare I didn't want to miss my Service 6C to Horncastle as the next was 2 hours later. Optare Solo YS06 YSN operated this CallConnect service and I paid my £2.40 single fare to Horncastle, which I thought was pretty reasonable. There was 1 elderly gentleman already on the bus and he alighted in Horncastle with me. Also joining us at Tetford was a chap in his late-20s for Horncastle and in the tiny hamlet of Fulletby an elderly lady with what seemed to be a multi-journey ticket the driver punched. All four of us alighted in Horncastle and I managed to take some shots of the branding on the bus.

Next, with a perfect departure time, i.e. as advertised, was Stagecoach in Lincolnshire's 16944 (FX06 AOF), a Volvo B7TL with Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini bodywork; in fact it arrived a little before 1150. All was well through Spilsby and Burgh le Marsh, then we came to a stop. Temporary lights at the junction of the new Burgh by-pass to the east of the village was causing pretty bad congestion. It does make you wonder why they had to restrict the traffic flow on the A158, the busiest road in Lincolnshire on a Friday for traffic heading to Skegness for the weekend. Isn't there anything else they could have done instead on this incredibly busy day? Worse was yet to come for turning right within Skegness onto Roman Bank was a nightmare. During the early hours a complex of pubs and a nightclub had burnt down and a large section of the seafront had been closed off, forcing all traffic along Roman Bank. For quite some time the traffic lights at the junction merely changed colour and nothing else happened.

I got off at the first stop on Roman Bank and chose to walk the remainder of the way into the town centre, quite a few people opted to do the same. Luckily, I was going to pass the top of m'colleague's road and he was en route to meet me so I met him as I walked into town. With such awful congestion in an already badly congested town centre, we weren't too sure what time the next departure up the coast would leave. Luckily, 16394 (N394 LPN), a Stagecoach-standard Volvo Olympian/Alexander RL (ex Hampshire Bus) turned up a mere 8 minutes late to operate the seasonal Service 5 into Butlins. M'colleague and I were the only ones sat upstairs as we negotiated the congested streets out towards Ingoldmells and turned into Butlins. Also evident in Butlins was the one vehicle working Service 4 between here and Ingoldmells, and being used was ex London Dennis Dart, 34185 (W185 DNO).

Next was out lengthiest journey of the day: Butlins-Manchester aboard a vehicle belonging to Travellers Choice (John Shaw), Carnforth. The company does operate other more regular journeys for National Express (333 Bournemouth-Blackpool; 341 Burnley-Birmingham/Paignton; 570 London-Blackpool) though this journey between Butlins-Preston via Oldham and Manchester is not classed as frequent so vehicles in their own livery can be used. Not wanting to disappoint, they had allocated a Volvo B7R/Plaxton Profile, PN06 KLJ to work the return journey, what I didn't realise until I boarded was that it was C70F, with 3+2 seating, no toilet or reclining seats or arm rests. As luck would have it we were only half-full so having to physically fit onto an individual seat squab wasn't an issue - thankfully. It was obviously a type of vehicle that the firm had purchased to operate school journeys; it wasn't very suitable for travelling the entire width of the country with people over 5 feet tall on board.

The traffic was awful as we fought out way back into Skegness and then back out again, coming to another halt back at Burgh le Marsh. It took us 45 minutes to travel what can be done easily in 20. Thankfully buy 1530 we were clear of the Lincolnshire Coast and now using the A16 and A18 to head north to the motorway. Annoyingly we passed the A46/A18 intersection at Laceby, a mere 6 miles from home but no coach stop. I fell asleep at this point so missed us pass Humberside Airport and much of the journey along the M180, M18 and the start of the M62. The National Express Guide says a break of 30 mins is taken at Hartshead Moor services and we arrived there at 1741, leaving at 1800. It seemed a little odd having a break at this service area when we were so close to Oldham, our first stop in the north west. No sooner had we rejoined the M62 when we left it again at the summit (322m or 1,221ft) and pulled up just before the junction with the adjacent A road while we awaited a driver. He arrived after 10 minutes or so in a pool car, they swapped over and we were away again, back on the M62. We dropped a handful off in Oldham and then into Manchester Central coach station 32 minutes late.

I was glad to get off the coach. Everything about the seating was reduced from the depth of the seats to the legroom. I wondered if National Express were aware Travellers Choice had allocated this vehicle onto the working? M'colleague and I were booked into the Davenport Park Hotel in Stockport, on the main Stockport-Buxton road, so Service 192, once dubbed "the most frequent bus service in Europe" was the obvious choice. There were no signs of other operators running, just Stagecoach. Much news had been made earlier in the year when UK North buses were forced to cease trading after "ridiculous" competition along the route with Stagecoach and Finglands lead to too many buses to fit onto the city centre stops. According to the Stagecoach website there was a major section of route closed in the Stockport area while bridge repairs took place and an emergency timetable in place. The 192 timetable is impressive: a journey at 0430 is shown and then "at least every 10 mins until" 2330. I'm a pit of a pedant and like to see individual journeys shown, though was suitably bowled over with the 10 minute frequency from 0430 onwards!

One of the first-ever ADL Trident 2s with Alexander-Dennis' Enviro400 body design ordered by Stagecoach arrived at 1939 in the form of 19002 (MX06 XAA), though this filled to standing within seconds so we waited the next arrival which was minutes later in the form of the next in line, 19003 (MX06 XAB). We left almost immediately at 1943 and flew through Levenshulme to Stockport where there was a driver change. It was starting to get dark now and passenger numbers were much reduced. I'd printed off a location map of the hotel and using the side roads worked out when to alight - right outside the front of the place as it turns out. Very handy.

Saturday 18 August 2007: Stockport-Edinburgh
via Manchester & Glasgow

Service 199 (Trent Barton 'Skyline')
0710 (0711) Davenport Park Hotel, Buxton Road
0740 (0733) Manchester Airport, The Station

Service 538 (National Express Trathens)
0805 (0807) Manchester Airport, The Station
1355 (1502) Glasgow, Buchanan bus station

Service 900 (CityLink Park's of Hamilton)
1600 (1602) Glasgow, Buchanan bus station
1718 (1722) Edinburgh, St. Andrews bus station

Service 25 (Lothian Buses)
1816 (1819) Edinburgh, Princes Street/Waverley Steps
1850 (1903) Riccarton, Heriot Watt University

Trent Barton (or 'trentbarton' as they now prefer) were to operate the first service of the day. It was the first time I'd ever boarded one of their vehicles in Greater Manchester and seemed a little odd. Punctual and fairly well loaded for an early start on a Saturday, Optare Excel 263 (Y263 DRC) in its Skyline199 livery made its way through Stockport bus station and onto the motorway, arriving into Manchester Airport early, at 0733. A fair number of people boarded at Stockport bus station for the airport, good to see the airport workers making use of the service.

The National Express Guide for the first time ever this year denotes which journeys are "normally operated by a double decker coach" and the 0805 Service 538 from Manchester Airport-Aberdeen via Carlisle, Glasgow and Dundee was one such journey. With time to spare, LSK 815 a Neoplan (Auwerter) Skyliner CH59/20Ct arrived and our female driver greeted us with a cheery smile and we both managed to acquire the two front seats in the top deck. Travel into central Manchester was unhindered and we arrived into the coach station there at 0831, leaving at 0900.

The M6 isn't the quietest of motorways at any time and we soon ran into congestion as we passed through Lancashire. This put us late into Carlisle and our driver announced our arrival into Hamilton as being 1345 - 10 mins before we should have arrived into Glasgow. From Caslisle northwards we weren't really hindered by traffic at all until the outskirts of Glasgow where we diverted via parallel back streets - no mean task in a 15m decker! We ended up arriving into Glasgow just over an hour late, in pouring rain. I was most impressed by the upper saloon fron window wiper that was used once as we approached Tebay Services.

If you go into Stagecoach's website and type in travel between Glasgow-Edinburgh a number of timetables are produced. At the top, thus best fitting the requirements specified, were two Motorvator timetables: Services M8 & 900. Clicking on the link for Service M8 produced a version of the Motorvator 900 timetable with an end-to-end journey time taking 1:08; clicking on the 900 link showed another Motorvator 900 timetable, with additional stops, an improved frequency and a greater end-to-end time of 1:18. A little odd.

Stranger still when at Glasgow you soon realise both timetables are defunct and have been since August last year!!! The operation now covering regular services between Glasgow-Edinburgh using the Service 900 number is Citylink, of which Stagecoach and Park's of Hamilton are the main providers of vehicles, most of which are the extended 15m Volvo B12BT/Plaxton Panthers with 57 seats. We left the 1545 departure in the form of 54034 (SF07 AOA) depart as it was packed, the next departure was a Park's vehicle, LSK 879, identical to the vehicles Stagecoach provide for the service - they even have Stagecoach interior trim. £4.60 was charged for a single fare.

Stagecoach's Glasgow depot appear to have 54028-34 (SF07 AMV/X/NP/R/U/V/X/OA) allocated for their contribution to the CityLink 900 service. The vehicles do look very attractive indeed in their Scottish Citylink livery, irrespective of the provider.

Now in Edinburgh it became clear just how busier the capital was as a result of the Edinburgh Festival! Within seconds of emerging onto Princes Street we noticed numerous coaches belonging to all manner of operators throughout Scotland, England and Wales. After a rather expensive pint we decided to wait for our bus to the Heriot-Watt University campus at Riccarton on the south-west outskirts of the city. Lothian's Service 25 provides the most direct service, operating to a 10 minute frequency.

Lothian's buses, similar to Nottingham City Transport, do not give change though offer a handy and attractive £1 single fare anywhere within the city. A day ticket at £2.50 is also available and very attractively priced. So many buses use Princes Street in the centre of Edinburgh that the queue for individual bus stops becomes worse than anything I've witnessed before and not just passengers: the 1816 bus we were awaiting at Waverley Steps was one of 5 in a queue for the stop occupied by single decker, the driver in convesration with a passenger about the best stop for him to alight.

To say progress was slow as we fought our way out of the city is an understatement, aboard Lothian Buses Dennis Trident/Plaxton President H47/24D, 586 (X586 USC). Similar to the timings on National Express's Service 538 between Carlisle-Glasgow, the 25's timetable is theoretical at best. Our timetabled arrival at the university campus of 1850 was in fact reached at 1903 - 13 minutes late on buses that offer exact fare only in order to speed up journey times. Lothian's buses were advertising for drivers claiming that "average earnings over £24,000", which seemed impressive, though if they are short of drivers, plenty of overtime will be worked and I suspect the average is based on the current average of drivers working 6 or 7 days a week. Nevertheless their hourly rate, assuming drivers work an average of 43 hours a week, their hourly rate of pay would need to be £10.73.

Sunday 19 August 2007: Edinburgh-Lathalmond
via Dunfermline.

Service 25 (Lothian Buses)
0858 (0858) Riccarton, Heriot Watt University
0923 (0930) Edinburgh, Princes Street/Waverley Steps

"Fife Loop" Service (First ScotRail)
0955 (0955) Edinburgh Waverley
1030 (1030) Dunfermline Town

"Fife Loop" Service (First ScotRail)
1827 (1827) Dunfermline Town
2000 (1954) Edinburgh Waverley

Service 25 (Lothian Buses)
2223 (2223) Edinburgh, Princes Street western end
2247 (2257) Riccarton, Heriot-Watt University

After a very substantial breakfast, m'colleague and I boarded the 0858 Service 25 in the form of 635 (SK52 OGT) a Lothian Buses Dennis Trident/Plaxton from Heriot-Watt University to Edinburgh city centre. Again, the timings were not met - this on a relatively quiet Sunday morning. Our 0923 arrival at Princes Street/Waverley Steps was met at 0930. We descended to the rail station and bought our £4.80 cheap day return tickets to Dunfermline Town. Awaiting us for its 0955 departure was First ScotRail's Turbostar 170461. Unlike the vast majority of bus/coach services we'd caught so far, this left exactly at 0955 and arrived at Dunfermline precisely as timetabled at 1030.

It was a fair uphill walk to the city centre, where we had to seek advice from a very friendly taxi driver for the location of the fire station. A year last June we'd visited the SVBM though on this occasion the buses were picking up from the bus station, which is now closed.

M'colleague managed to catch a vintage vehicle to the SVBM while I headed to a cash point. I was a little luckier as my vintage vehicle was a Northern Bluebird-liveried coach! Very nice.

The locality of the SVBM has to be seen to be believed. It is incredibly picturesque, quiet and serene. Vehicles are parked specifically to give the best possible shot for photographers and the range and variety of vehicles offering tours is pretty unique as some vehicles will not physically make it to rallies in the south of england.

My only criticism is a result of the open day being so successful that some vehicles were parked two-deep or diagonally too close to the ones next to them so a full shot was very difficult.

Some very old lorries and vans were also in attendance, in a move that is the norm at the Lincolnshire Vintage Vehicle Society's open days, though when vehicles started to leave problems began as some had sunk deep into the sodden grass as a result of the day before (Saturday) being a near wash-out. David Urquart's brand new 07-reg VDL/Bova needed assistance as too did Rapson's Scania/East Lancs in Inverness Airport livery. Not wanting to be left out a modern fire engine also needed help, though once freed itself then towed its sister vehicles to the tarmac.

I purchased 7 ties in total - one being an interesting 25th anniversary of the ticket machine maker Almex! I also bought 5 models, all local to the LEYTR area, and all bar one at superb prices.

I managed to buy the National Express-liveried VDL/Van Hool Alizee T9 coach on Service 440 to Leicester, owned by Arriva Fox County for £10 in immaculate condition. I was most impressed.

We stayed longer than planned and were in a pub in Dunfermline city centre when the 1737 train back to Edinburgh departed so caught the 1827 train, though this operates via the Fife Loop (my term for it), operating north from Dunfermline to Cardenden and Kirkcaldy, where it then joins the main Aberdeen-Dundee-Edinburgh line back to Edinburgh clinging to the Fife coastline and back across the Forth Rail Bridge to Edinburgh. Our train was a Strathclyde Passenger Transport (red/cream) liveried Turbostar that was ex Hull Trains, 170478, even retaining the Hull Trains interior seat upholstery. We arrived into Edinburgh at 1954 - 6 mins early.

We walked the full length of Princes Street and ended up in the Hilton Hotel where we made use of the public bar and lounge that once stood next to Edinburgh's other city centre station - Princes Street Station. A pint of Tenants lager and a Vodka and coke cost £9.05, though the complimentary nibbles were very nice. Our return trip to the university was again Service 25 at 2223 in the form of Lothian's 635 (SK52 OGT), the vehicle we'd started out on this morning!

Monday 20 August 2007: Edinburgh-home

Service 25 (Lothian Buses)
0952 (0952) Riccarton, Heriot Watt University
1026 (1027) Edinburgh, Princes Street/Waverley Steps

Service 534 (National Express Park's of Hamilton)
1050 (1052) Edinburgh, St. Andrews bus station
1810 (1800) Hull, city centre, George Street

Lothian's Dennis Trident/Plaxton President, 588 (X588 USC) was waiting time at the university as I boarded and we left punctually. This journey was the be the most punctual of the 4 I'd taken, arriving 1 minute adrift. The interior of all the Lothian buses I'd travelled on was good. A nice smell, no whif of stale cigarettes or noticeable graffiti.

My National Express coach was on Stance G as I entered St. Andrews bus station. I was to have two drivers, though I knew I would as we mentioned in the LEYTR around 2 years ago that the 534 was no double-manned throughout. Park's of Hamilton had allocated HSK 644, a C49Ft Volvo B12B/Jonckheere to the service.

Progress was excellent as we travelled down the A1 towards Newcastle. Here we took a 20 minute break (1330-1400) and were all asked to leave the coach. There's nothing to do at the relatively new St. James Boulevard coach station, you even have to pay 20p to use the toilet. It looks clean and well operated and also parked there was the northbound Service 534, again with two drivers, with a near identical vehicle, HSK 642. We were soon on our way again, calling at Sunderland, Middlesborough, Thirsk and York. As we entered York I could hardly believe my eyes as we (in a 12ft tall coach) headed towards an 11ft 3ins bridge. The driver lowered the ferry lift as a token gesture and we literally bobbed under it.

I've managed to locate the bridge in question as it is situated just before the National Railway Museum. This link should take you to it. The bridge can be seen between a road called Garfield Terrace and Leeman Road - the rail line actually passes over the road, not under it as the map suggests. How was anyone daring enough to attempt that bridge? We're not talking an inch or two less than the vehicle height, we're talking 9 inchest lower than the coach's height!!

Traffic into York was fairly heavy so we left 12 mins late. Traffic leaving was equally bad. We travelled the length of the A1079 to Beverley where the EYMS 80th anniversary liveried decker was parked, and then headed to Hull. We were scheduled to call via Hull Docks before terminating in the city, though we called the other way round, arriving 10 mins early.