Monday - Manton
Driving in my car to Leicester I passed through the leafy and picturesque village of Manton, nestled in rural Rutland County. I’d often thought the name of the village rang a bell and despite having driven this way on countless times before suddenly realised its significance. For Manton in railway terms is significantly more renowned than in motoring circles. Beneath the village lies Manton Tunnel on the Syston Jn–Helpston Jn line and immediately before its eastern portal is Manton Junction with associated Manton signal box.
The line diverging leads to Kettering and thence the Midland Main Line. Trains operate to an hourly daytime frequency along the main route, provided by CrossCountry’s Stansted Airport–Birmingham New Street service, though two early morning Nottingham–Norwich services and an evening Spalding–Nottingham service use the route, operated by East Midlands Trains, who also controls the stations along the line, Stamford, Oakham and Melton Mowbray. There is a daily service from Melton Mowbray and Oakham to London St. Pancras, which diverges at Manton Junction, also operated by East Midlands Trains.
Wednesday – Historic Vehicle
For me the most anxious element of owning a historic vehicle is when I hand it over to a third party for its MOT preparation and test. Such a skill is far beyond my technical comprehension and I’ll gladly pay someone far more knowledgeable to undertake the necessary steps to ensure my vehicle – Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport Leyland Fleetline/Roe O45/29D, 113 (MBE 613R) – is roadworthy. An added stress is the weather, because ‘GCT 113’ is an open-topper and when I took the bus to the mechanic’s yard I managed to arrange a day when a named storm was set to pass. Using the Met Office weather app, I’d planned the day around blobs of rain according to its rainfall radar. This app is far more precise than the other excellent one provided by MeteoEarth, who plays safe with its rainfall radar by just showing blanket coverage rather than specific masses.
Collecting ‘GCT 113’ was less stressful because no rainfall was forecast and the bus had passed its MOT with flying colours (and no advisories). I was a little downhearted when I discovered that the original speedometer had stopped working. When I purchased the bus from Stagecoach the speedo’ had been disconnected in favour of an unsightly analogue tachograph crudely affixed to the dashboard. We removed this and reconnected the speedo’ wires (which Stagecoach hadn’t removed, thank goodness) and the speedo’ and odometer worked once again. Now nothing. Fortunately Stagecoach’s contractor had fixed an odometer to the rear offside wheel for the purpose of gauging tyre wear and tear; this continues to record accurately so I started recording my mileage driven using this instead.
The bus’s exterior was filthy and I spent time washing the bus down. I’ll concentrate more on the interior in the week before the bus’s first event of the 2019 season: Fenland BusFest based in Whittlesey, on 19 May.
Thursday – Grimsby Cuts
Signs of belt-tightening continue locally, with Stagecoach reducing the frequency of its busiest urban services in Grimsby and Cleethorpes recently. Services 3 & 4 (née 3F & 4/4X) have been cut back to operate every 12 minutes from every 10. In 2006, when the services were increased in frequency with money from the government’s KickStart scheme (which also included investment by Stagecoach in 23 new ADL Darts), I interviewed Stagecoach founder and then-Chief Executive Sir Brian Souter on the day of the official launch in Grimsby’s Old Market Place. He said there was something ‘magical’ about a ten-minute frequency that really ramped up growth for a route.
He’s not wrong. Multiples of ten are far easier to comprehend and calculate than other numbers (even buses operating every 7/8 minutes). Sadly, this is something Stagecoach is now willing to risk to ensure maintenance costs for two vehicles is saved. Of course, there are many external factors beyond the operator’s control that could have forced it into this position, from the reimbursement rates for the English National Concessionary Bus Pass scheme to the rise in price of crude oil. But the reduction in frequency is, I fear, a step too far.
Time will tell of course and my GCT timetable repository from the mid-1980s onwards shows that the council-operated undertaking was running the exact same services to a 15-minute frequency at one time, increasing to every 10 minutes until immediately after the Stagecoach purchase in 1993 when, from March 1994 (around the time ‘GCT 113’ lost her roof) the 3F & 4/4X were cut back to a bus every 12 minutes, thus saving two Leyland Fleetlines. Like the railway, the bus industry seems to go round in circles.
Friday – Pricey Parking
I visited London with ‘Er Indoors to watch a farce in the West End. The Bank Robbery That Goes Wrong has been at the Criterion Theatre in Leicester Square since 2016 and has excellent reviews. I’d purchased us tickets for her birthday (I’m good like that) and we travelled to London using Great Northern from Peterborough. The LNER-controlled station at Peterborough has recently had its large, southerly car park revamped and extended even further south (it’s quite a walk from its southernmost extremity to the station entrance) and ANPR cameras ensure payment is made. Except when we arrived at 1000 there were no spaces at all. Knowing there was another car park to the north of the station, off Mayor’s Walk, we headed there.
This was a location that has entry barriers and a ticket is collected which needs validating before the exit barrier will lift. Validation can take place before you travel since the parking fee is not an incremental one but based on the whole day. Yet for the £15 you’re asked you’d be forgiven for thinking you were paying for the week! “But surely”, I hear you cry, “it was 1000 so you’d qualify for an off-peak rate?” No. Off-peak in railway parking circles commences at 1200, not 0930 (or 0846 with Great Northern from Peterborough) in railway parlance. You only benefit from the £7 ‘off-peak’ rate in the afternoon. I was astonished. How can 1000 not be considered off-peak by an industry that sells those exact same car parkers tickets based on wholly different (earlier!) parameters? It felt like a money making scheme to me.
I once read that Peterborough’s car park charge was the second most expensive in the country, being beaten only by Reading. Very little seems to have been done to rid itself of this very dubious silver crown. Travelling to London with Great Northern is something I’ve done recently when I sampled the new Class 700 trains for the first time. Yes, they’re not great and the seats are too hard, but the ‘experience’ doesn’t bother me sufficiently to rebook with LNER and pay almost double to arrive in The Smoke just twenty minutes quicker.
Besides, the rear most First Class compartment is mandatorily declassified on the Peterborough–Central London route as the percentage of First Class on each twelve-car train has encroached beyond the maximum ceiling. This is a good example at how prescribed the railway now is – a far cry from the utopia promised at privatisation. You get precious little else when travelling in First Class with Great Northern, but we enjoyed being ‘in’ on a little-known ‘secret’.
Upon our return just after midnight (700134 on the outward trip and 700128 on the return) and after paying the exorbitant parking fee, the exit barrier had been lifted, which understandably sent thoughts racing through my mind about how prudent it would be next time I park here to check this before paying.