Class 717s in service at last

Monday 21st January 2019

IMG_7269.jpgIt was way back on Friday 28th September 2018 when commuters in Hertfordshire and north London had their travel appetites whetted when Great Northern rolled out one of their sparkly new Siemens Class 717s for a grand launch trip from Moorgate to Gordon Hill. The media and public were invited to sample a ride and look forward to the rest of the fleet being rolled out “between now and next Spring” to quote the news release at the time.

Screen Shot 2019-01-21 at 18.58.04.png

Just over sixteen weeks later and finally, today, the next train came out of the sidings running an extra ‘preview’ journey slotted into the public timetable at 1137 from Moorgate for a run north to Gordon Hill.

It was all a bit of an anti-climax with no more than half a dozen camera wielding enthusiasts plus a dozen more passengers who’d turned up a few minutes early for their normal train at 1140 to Watton-at-Stone and found a band new gleaming train glide into the station ahead of their normal forty-plus year old Class 313.

As a seasoned Thameslink traveller the utilitarian ambiance of the 717 was all too familiar to me. The usual ‘ironing board’ backed seats with their minimal cushioning and an absence of seat back trays for the coffee you’ve just bought from the little cafe outlet now springing up on platforms everywhere. But at least there’s a power point below each pair of seats (one between two of you – how penny pinching is that!) and wifi has been installed from the off rather than as a retro-fit being applied to the 700s.

IMG_7259.jpg

IMG_7258.jpg

The six car trains do offer a much welcome uplift in capacity with no space wasted for driving cabs in the middle of the train as on the joined-together three-car Class 313s they’re replacing and of course the 2+2 slim-line width seats compared to the 2+3 standard width seats in a 313 provide for noticeably wider gangways facilitating “commuters standing in much greater comfort” (as Charles Horton was infamously and mischievously quoted in the Evening Standard many years ago).

IMG_7251.jpgIMG_7274.jpg

IMG_7273.jpg

There are batches of tip up seats every so often by the wider doorways as well as behind the cab at each end of the train and there are two spaces for wheelchairs in the middle of the train. There are also single priority seats as well as double seats marked for priority by certain doors.

IMG_7255.jpg

IMG_7266.jpg

IMG_7268.jpg

There are electronic screens inside which although not working this morning will no doubt provide the same information we’ve got used to seeing on the 700s including updates on how the Underground lines are doing.

Being a shorter commuter run than Brighton to Cambridge there are no toilets on the 717s as there aren’t on the 313s of course.

As well as the ambiance of a new train compared to a well worn forty year old, one other noticeable difference is the amazing acceleration these new trains have. Once the fleet has totally ousted the 313s there’s real scope for cutting journey times on the timetable to take advantage of this.

Another significant improvement that’s immediately noticeable is the lovely nice clean windows (and of course an absence of graffiti which has bedevilled the 313s over the last few years). I do hope the train care cleaning team will finally sort out the soap mixture they use in the train wash at Hornsey or wherever as I’ve yet to travel on a 313 without streaks all over the windows and it will be such a shame if this practice is inflicted on the 717s.

IMG_7264.jpg

It’s also a great shame another new train set is being introduced with unattractive seat comfort in the name of progress but at least we’re promised more comfortable seats by other train companies as they also finally get round to rolling out their much hyped and promised new fleets this year.

IMG_7249.jpg

The preview journeys to Gordon Hill continue this week at 1137 and 1337 from Moorgate then we’re promised a full roll out into service. There again, we were promised that last September!

Roger French

 

 

Battle for Bellfields begins as Guildford goes electric

Monday 7th January 2019

It’s all happening in Guildford this week. Stagecoach South introduced a fleet of nine ADL Enviro 200EV electric buses on the Guildford Park and Ride services today while, as predicted in my post on 16th November last year, the bus war between Arriva and Safeguard has escalated into Bellfields. I had a look at both developments this morning.

First the electrics and their high profile ‘glide’ brand. There are four Park & Ride sites in Guildford; they’re well used, being popular with both commuters and shoppers. The four car parks are all relatively close to the city centre with Artington, to the south on the Godalming road, only a seven minute journey from the bus station while Merrow on the Leatherhead road to the east has a twelve minute journey time. The other two car parks just off the A3 are equally close: Onslow in the west is ten minutes while Spectrum to the north is eight minutes. So I suspect these not particularly arduous journey times are ideal for the electric buses with their high capacity roof mounted batteries with overnight charging giving a reported 150 mile range.

Naturally the buses come with usb sockets and wifi, but on their current duties you’re hardly on the bus long enough to have time to sort out the plug-in lead from your bag, nor go through the logging in process for wifi. Handy facilities if the buses move on to other routes during their lifetime, I suppose.

The seat moquette is to Stagecoach’s brash “iron brew” colour specification or a cross between Aldi-meets-Tesco-meets-Sainsbury’s. I find it a bit overpowering in double deckers and much prefer the softer grey colour scheme used in the north west (on Service X2 – pictured below); but for the short ride, the seats are comfortable enough, and at least the colours brighten up a single deck interior, if a bit in your face.

Interior messages on the cove panels are thankfully large enough to actually be read and extol some of the virtues of the services as well as promoting Stagecoach’s longer distance routes from Guildford.

Most impressive of all is the quietness of the transmission/engine, the only noise coming from bumps in the road, which those aside, means the smoothness of the ride really does stand out. Quite a few passengers were commenting positively about the “new electric buses” and it was good to hear general positivity about the service. Well done Stagecoach and Surrey County Council – the buses have certainly raised the profile for Park and Ride – an essential ingredient in Guildford’s notorious traffic challenges.

Meanwhile, the residents of Guildford’s Bellfields estate woke up this morning to double the number of buses to take them on the 14-17 minute journey into the town centre. It was obvious to me that Safeguard were not going to take Arriva’s completely foolish incursion last November into the Park Barn estate and Royal Surrey County Hospital competing with their routes without reacting. They’ve been serving that area extremely well for decades so they’re not going to simply give up and allow Arriva to muscle in and take their business away.

A retaliatory competitive service against Arriva into Bellfields was therefore only to be expected. My view hasn’t changed since writing in November: “the only likely outcome” (of the incursion into Park Barn) “is by next Spring Arriva will withdraw Route B (and probably slim down route A) as it won’t be meeting the profit targets expected at Sunderland HQ”.

I’ll go further now and suggest a likely outcome is Arriva will now capitulate, withdraw their Service 3 completely and cede Bellfields to Safeguard. There clearly aren’t enough passengers to support two twenty minute frequency services. There’ll be no generation. Of the two operators there’s no doubt Safeguard enjoy any brand loyalty such as it is, but in the main, passengers will catch the first bus that comes along, which by dint of timings is likely to be Safeguard (timetabled to run five minutes ahead of Arriva). On Saturdays Arriva only run half hourly to Safeguard’s new twenty minute frequency so one departure will have a Safeguard bus behind, and the other in front. Arriva run an hourly frequency on Sundays under contract to Surrey County Ciuncil.

Full marks once again to Surrey County Council who have displayed up to date timetables at all the bus stops along the route and in Guildford bus station – I doubt many local authorities would deliver up to date information so efficiently. Well done.

Today’s experience demonstrates once again how Safeguard, unsurprisingly, have that all important attention to detail spot on with new timetable leaflets for their 3S service on board both buses together with balloons and sweets for passengers as a novelty addition and friendly drivers, while Arriva were still running a “lumbering double deck” I mentioned last November (completely unsuitable for the route) and a branded single deck for MAX 34/35 routes! Hardly demonstrating commitment.

I’m beginning to wonder how long the entire Surrey outpost of the Arriva Kent operation controlled from Maidstone, will be sustainable. We’ve already seen Abellio Surrey give up and pull out …….

Roger French

The m1 arrives in Bristol

Sunday 6th January 2019

Today saw the launch of the third route in Bristol’s metrobus trilogy: the m1. And this is the biggy. Route m3 was first out of the blocks last May between Emersons Green and the city centre using a new bus only exit off the M32 for easy access to the University of West of England campus. This was followed in September by the former Long Ashton Park & Ride service rebranded and renumbered m2 and diverted to use some new fancy bus only roads and completely unnecessary guided busway sections (reviewed here).

In reverse number order, we now have the m1. From the gigantic leisure and retail park just off the M5 known as Cribbs Causeway in north west Bristol the m1 runs via Bradley Stoke in the north east and the University of West of England to the city centre then via Bedminster and Hengrove to terminate outside South Bristol Community Hospital having taken a whopping 85 peak minutes for an end to end journey. A Monday to Saturday 10 minute frequency impressively runs from 6am right through to 1am (20 minutely on Sundays). The extended peak running time means at least fifteen buses are needed to run the route.

Cribbs Causeway
South Bristol Community Hospital, Hengrove

Uniquely the route is being operated by Bristol Community Transport (BCT) under a fixed cost contract to First West of England who are taking the revenue risk. BCT is part of CT Plus which in turn is part of the expansive HCT Group (a social enterpise formerly known as Hackney Community Transport) who specialise in fixed contract operations. This arrangement is a win-win for all concerned. BCT get an extensive contract with no risk; First West of England get to develop revenue on a high profile new route overlaying their extensive Bristol city network rather than competition from a third party, and I suspect First are paying CT Plus less than if they’d operated it directly, and the local authorities, who have backed the metrobus concept and funded all the infrastructure, get an integrated package and their vision of a better quality bus service to tempt motorists out of their cars. With First West of England’s recent difficulties with staff shortages it’s also a sensible arrangement to contract out a significant resource uplift such as the m1.

It all sounds like a sensible arrangement with local operators working pragmatically together playing to their strengths and local authorities putting they money where their vision is. And the evidence is metrobus is working too. Coinciding with the m1’s introduction this week, a new timetable is being introduced on the m3 with peak hour with-flow express journeys (numbered m3x) using more of the M32 and shaving eight minutes off the journey time, due to overloading from Emersons Green and the Science Park.

I had a ride up and down the m1 today; it was encouraging to see so many people giving the new route a try (many buses ran full), and noteworthy how many families with young children were travelling. Extra buses were drafted on to the route to cope with the numbers travelling, helped by a first day free travel promotion – just the kind of thing to get people trying a bus route. I overheard many positive comments about the bus interiors and the service in general and I’m sure this bodes well. The interiors are nothing plush, but very smart, very comfortable and very practical. The usual usb sockets and wifi are available but sadly no next stop announcements were working on the buses I travelled on although I’m told they were working on other buses – no doubt some teething issues.

I’m always puzzled why some bus companies still go for large screens which block the forward view and the ones I saw weren’t providing anything useful – other than a reminder to exit via the rear doors which was displayed only once the bus had stopped.

Overlaying fifteen buses on to an already comprehensive city network without damaging profit margins is risky, but James Freeman, the well experienced managing director of First West of England, told me initially no reductions are being made to routes which now face competition from metrobus until things settle down. This is a very wise strategy as the m1 takes a different route to existing First buses at both ends of the route as well as a different route into the city. In Hengrove confusingly, existing buses into the city centre serve the opposite side of the road, and in one case (the 50A) is quicker than the new m1, so it will be interesting to see how the market reacts to this new high profile entrant. I suspect there’ll be both abstraction and generation and hopefully the latter will exceed the former (and by some margin – to cover fifteen buses!).

Confusingly some bus stops in Hengrove are served by traditional First bus routes but not the m1; the lady photographed above was politely advised by our driver who stopped to explain the situation.

The m1 serves the University of West of England, including the exclusive access to and from the M32, so the northern section of the route has a ready market especially as the m3 has shown, students are a great market to attract and respond in large numbers to improvements to bus routes.

Despite extensive stretches of bus lanes, the m1 running time has been expanded at peak times to cope with Bristol’s notorious traffic congestion. This is sensible, as even today, albeit with first day teething problems as drivers and passengers got used to the new arrangements, on one journey I travelled on we lost fifteen minutes on the northbound journey between Bedminster and the city centre, not helped by a delayed five minute driver handover – and at a bus stop not served by metrobus (not good!).

As with the m2 and m3, no tickets are sold by the driver. Every stop has a pod with clear instructions how to buy a ticket or to use a smartphone or smartcard.

The fleet of buses on the m1 are powered by gas. A nice touch, but I’m not convinced many passengers notice, and even if they did, it would make a difference to their travel arrangements. But it’s good to see alternative propulsion sources continue to be trialled.

All in all an exciting development and congratulations to all involved. It’s certainly worth a trip to Bristol to take a look.

Roger French

My Hundred Best Train Journeys 4

Wednesday 26th December 2018

And so the final forty of My Hundred Best Train Journeys ranked 61-100. You can read the top 10 here, 11-30 here and 31-60 here.

61 Brighton – East Croydon

This line which passes my home station of Hassocks. I reckon I know just about every inch of its track and views from the windows having made frequent trips on GTR’s trains up to London and back over the last five years since retiring. The outstanding section which gets me every time, and I never miss the opportunity to gaze out of the window as we pass, is the wonderful view across the South Downs from David Mocatta’s famous Balcombe Viaduct. It’s even more spectacular from the parallel road (see above) as is Mocatta’s brilliantly designed northern entrance to Clayton Tunnel just south of Hassocks (see below).

62  Lewes – Eastbourne

When a Class 170 to Ashford met a Cuckmere Community Bus at Berwick

This delightfully scenic journey begins at the wonderful junction station in Lewes. The journey east from Lewes was covered in entry no 58 (Brighton to Seaford) and heading westwards the train passes alongside the River Ouse, and soon takes you past the beautiful scenery of the South Downs National Park where hang gliders can often be seen flying off the hill tops as the train continues past Glynde and Berwick stations towards Eastbourne, a town which never looses its charm as a more genteel neighbour to brash Brighton along the coast. 

63  London Paddington – Reading – Newbury – Westbury

Speeding down to Reading never fails to impress on one of the latest Class 800/802 trains, even beating the beloved HSTs on speed, if not comfort. Then marvelling on arrival at the amazing changes which have taken place at Reading station in recent years. Then it’s a delightful ride through what’s promoted as the North Wessex Downs as the journey continues through Berkshire and Wiltshire keeping an eye out for Newbury racecourse and the Kennet and Avon Canal which the line parallels all the way as far as Pewsey.

Most journeys from London take the ‘by-pass track’ avoiding Frome which is a great pity as it has a delightful full size roof over its now single platform and track (the other platform and track long being out of use) which is very unusual for a through station. It’s worth catching the 0607 up from Frome or the 1707 or 1807 down from Paddington (the only direct trains linking Frome with London) for the pleasure of doing so! 

Arriving at Westbury it’s well worth wandering outside to appreciate the station’s traditional architecture as shown below.

64  Fareham – Southampton

There are two highlights on this journey. The superb views as the tracks cross the River Hamble (noting the luxury boats moored up alongside the pontoon jetties) and the wonderful horseshoe curve around the River Itchen between Woolston and St Deny’s stations – always important to sit on the nearside in the westbound direction to see the Itchen in all its glory.

65  Shoeburyness – Upminster

Another journey with lovely coastal views as the tracks abut the beach between Chalkwell and Leigh-on-Sea and then continue over Hadleigh Marsh and alongside West Canvey Marsh Nature Reserve. Another nearside in the westbound direction seat for best views being essential. A lovely ride.

66  Ashford International – Stratford International – St Pancras International

Not so much for the scenery (have you seen Stratford International from the platforms!?) but for the amazingly impressive high speed the train takes. Having worked in Ashford in the 1970s it always seems impossible that a train now takes just 38 minutes for the journey to London.

67  Stourbridge Junction – Stourbridge Town

You just have to love the cute mini-size trains – they’re called Parry People Movers – or Class 139 in railway parlance – which shuttle up and down between Stourbridge’s Junction and Town stations every ten minutes for the three minute single journey time. If you haven’t taken a trip, now’s the time to head for Stourbridge and tick it off your list of journeys to do ….. and spare a thought for the lovely staff who share driving and ticket selling/checking duties on what must work out at over eighty single journeys per duty!

68  Edinburgh – Tweedbank

A busy Tweedbank

This wonderfully scenic line through the beautiful Scottish Borders, which reopened in September 2015, became an immediate success and questions were asked about the decision to cut back on construction costs meaning large sections were built as single track making it susceptible to delays and unreliability. The Borders is a lovely part of the country and the parallel X95 bus route (operated by Borders Buses) which continues south all the way beyond Galashiels to Carlisle (the original destination for the rail route) is a brilliantly scenic ride too – and for part of the journey, the bus and train parallel each other as seen below.

69= Rhymney – Cardiff

69= Merthyr Tydfil – Cardiff

69= Aberdare – Cardiff

69= Treherbert – Cardiff

69= Maesteg – Bridgend

As you’ll gather I’ve found it impossible to choose between these South Wales Valley Lines. They each have their own characteristics and are all worth a ride to explore the communities and scenery in this fascinating part of the Country which has seen much change in the post coal mining era. The termini at the head of the Valleys are all now a shadow of great stations past (as the photographs above show) but Pontypridd station where the Merthyr Tydfil, Aberdare and Treherbert lines meet to form a ten minute frequency into Cardiff has echoes of the past as the photographs below show.

74  Norwich – Lowestoft 

The wonderful line between Norwich and Reedham was covered at entry no 47 (Norwich – Berney Arms – Great Yarmouth) but east of Reedham the Lowestoft line heads off in a south east direction crossing the lovely Reedham Swing Bridge and then continuing via Haddiscoe, Somerleyton and Oulton Broad North with great views across the southern arc of the Norfolk Broads. Lovely.

75  Leeds – Ilkley

This is a great line following the River Aire Valley west of Leeds with some brilliant sights of former mills and Yorkshire’s industrial heritage before climbing north through Guisley towards the River Warfe Valley and some great views across into North Yorkshire and the Pennines as Ilkley approaches.

76  Bishop Auckland – Saltburn

Darlington from the outside
Darlington from the inside

This is really a line of two halves with the magnificent Darlington station hosting the half-time interval. Bishop Aukland’s station is home to the wonderful Weardale heritage railway heading westwards to Stanhope, and well worth a visit; while the National Rail line eastwards towards Darlington has an hourly Northern Rail service overseen by a very active and successful Community Rail Partnership. The line passes Hitachi’s factory at Newton Aytcliffe for added interest. The hourly service continues eastwards from Darlington past the quirky Teeside Airport Station (just two trains call on a Sunday morning each week) as well as Britain’s Least Used Station in 2017/18: Redcar British Steel, with its three departures on Mondays to Saturdays and sadly now a shadow of its former industrial self. Saltburn is well worth exploring taking a walk to the cliffs and the lift down to the sandy beach below. All in all a great line for curiosities.

I didn’t alight at Redcar British Steel but just took photographs as…..
….. the train passed by.

77  Liverpool Central – Southport

Southport station still retains an impressive number of platforms

This line is the only Merseyrail line to make My Hundred Best Train Journeys and it’s a real gem, with some great views of Liverpool’s former era as the Country’s foremost north western port as the line passes former gigantic sized warehouses before hugging the coastline of Liverpool Bay all the way to Southport. A great journey.

78  Derby – Stoke-on-Trent

This journey is noteworthy for its one coach diesel train formation scurrying through the lovely countryside which joins Derbyshire with Staffordshire. The midway point at Uttoxeter is a lovely station, right next to the famous racecourse and an amazingly well kept garden to explore.

79  Lincoln – Gainsborough – Doncaster

There are just five or six trains a day which take this journey from Lincoln to Doncaster on the direct route rather than going via Sheffield, with just the two stops in the 50 or so minute journey at Saxily and Gainsborough Lea Road, and I like taking it for that very reason. It has a quirky feel about it. There’s also a rather nice junction at Gainsborough Trent Junction signal box where the line crosses the Retford to Brigg and Grimsby line as it crosses the River Trent (see no 79 below).

80  Birmingham – Stratford-upon-Avon

This journey through the Warwickshire countryside brings you to the tourist hot spot of Stratford-upon-Avon, which sadly only has trains approaching it from the north direction after the line heading south through to Honeybourne was severed.

End of the line ….. such a shame the tracks no longer continue south to Honeybourne

As well as West Midlands Trains running either via Henley-in-Arden or Dorridge (the former is the better route), a less frequent service provided by Chiltern Railways brings (a very few) trains from London Marylebone and Leamington Spa (just a few more) off their mainline by Warwick Parkway at Hatton to Stratford-upon-Avon.

There’s a Parkway station just north of Stratford-upon-Avon but whenever I’ve travelled very few passengers have used it, probably because its a bit of a walk from Stratford-upon-Avon’s station into the town centre which as the first photograph above shows, is noteworthy for being unimpressively down at heel and in need of some TLC. There’s also a frequent bus between the Parkway car park and town centre taking most of the passengers I would think.

Interestingly the two minor stations at Claverdon and Bearley on the connecting single track line from the main Chiltern line to the West Midlands Railway line through Henley-in-Arden to Stratford-upon-Avon are administered by West Midlands Railway but only served by Chiltern Railways trains (except for one early southbound WMR train stopping by request at 0631/0635MF) …. and for now they both retain the former London Midland branding.

81  Retford – Brigg – Cleethorpes

It’s high time I included another Parliamentary Train journey and highly appropriate to include the line which sees passenger trains making just three journeys on a Saturday which start at Sheffield and run between Retford and Cleethorpes calling at Gainsborough Central, Kirton Lindsey and Brigg before joining the main Doncaster – Scunthorpe – Grimsby – Cleethorpes line at Barnetby. It’s a great shame those three stations only get a look in on a Saturday and hopefully the active Brigg Line Group will one day succeed in gaining trains during the week too. Meantime Gainsborough Central’s heritage signage is just fab.

82  Castle Cary – Weymouth

End of the line – Weymouth

The Heart of Wessex Line provides a non hurried journey from Somerset into Dorset approximately every two hours. It’s single track all the way (as far as Dorchester) with passing loops at Yeovil’s lovely Penn Mill station (where there’s a connecting line used by a few South Western Railway journeys to the Salisbury to Exeter line at Yeovil Junction – entry no 52) and some lovely named stations including Yetminster and Maiden Newton.

At Weymouth, it’s worth taking the time to follow the train tracks from alongside the station’s west side and still easily seen embedded in the town’s roads which once took trains all the way down to the Harbour Station (photographed below) – what a sight that used to be.

83  Cambridge – Ipswich

This is a lovely line across Cambridgeshire and into Suffolk. It’s well worth a break at Bury St Edmonds to explore this lovely town and the superb brickwork of the station building. On the Preston to Colne line (entry no 43) the journey passed by the rather upbeat positive sounding Pleasington station, whereas on this line the first station after Cambridge has a more downbeat name……

84  Maidenhead – Marlow

End of the line – well not quite – Bourne End

One of the best branch lines close to London which includes the reverse manoeuvre at Bourne End where the line used to continue to High Wycombe (and where heritage signs still exist on platform 2 promoting it!). Now trains only shuttle up and down the branch with no through trains to Paddington. In peak hours Marlow commuters have to also change trains at Bourne End so that a half hourly service can be provided, whereas in the off peak trains travel the full length of the branch on an hourly frequency. Marlow’s a lovely spot on the Thames, which makes the journey all the better.

85 Marks Tey – Sudbury

This busy single track three-station Suffolk branch line is included in My Hundred Best Train Journeys because (a) it provides well timed convenient connections off the main line to and from Norwich at Marks Tey with trains in both directions (provided everything’s running on time), (b) the first station on the line, Chappel & Wakes Colne, has the lovely East Anglian Railway Museum on site, (c) the second station, Bures, is the nearest Request Stop station to London (although only after 1000) (d) the terminus at Sudbury, with its dead end tracks south of the town centre are a sad reminder of the heyday when the line used to continue to Haverhill and Bury St Edmonds.

86  Shrewsbury – Chester

The magnificent Chester to the left

I included the southern section of this line via Hereford to Newport at no 37, now I’m travelling on the northern part of this boundary hugging line which passes from England through Flintshire in Wales and back into England for the wonderful city of Chester. The views as the line heading towards the River Dee near Ruabon are quite stunning. The line between Wrexham and Chester has recently been upgraded and hopefully will lead to an improved timetable and reliability.

The magnificent Chester to the right

87  Bidston – Wrexham

This quirky line starts at an unusual point …. at Bidston on the outskirts of Birkenhead (where there are connections with Birkenhead and Liverpool on Merseyrail from its inconsequential island platform) then heads down through the Wirral and some spectacular views of the Dee Estuary before crossing into Flintshire and passing under the North Wales coastal line at Shotton where there’s a station on each line (Low Level and High Level) as at Retford and Smethwick. Perhaps one of the best named stations is on the next section, Hope (or Yr Hob in Welsh) and handy if you want to play a pairing game with the other Hope (in Derbyshire – entry no 12). The line’s southern terminus is as unusual as the northern one, at Wrexham Central, which consists of an inconsequential single platform alongside a warehouse style shopping centre. The little spur to Wrexham Central deviates off the main north-south line at Wrexham General before passing under the tracks on a right angle curve.

Looking south at Wrexham General, the line from Bidston can be seen on the right to its own Platform 4 before passing under the main tracks as it heads left towards Wrexham Central.

88  York – Pontefract Baghill – Sheffield

It’s a shame there are so few journeys on this line – just two a day – as it gives full on, up close views of Ferrybridge Power Station and although the journey takes an hour and a quarter compared to half that time on a Cross Country train via Doncaster (partly because it has ‘pathing issues’ so the timetable has bags of slack time including a prolonged stop at the only-twice-a-day served Pontefract Baghill, it’s got a charm all of its own and is well recommended if you’re not in a hurry.

89=  Waterloo – Windsor and Eton Riverside

This journey is well worth taking with much of interest to see as the train travels through south west London, including the country’s busiest station at Clapham Junction , then Barnes Common, Mortlake and Richmond (including its iconic bridge over the Thames), Bedfont Lakes Country Park and Staines where it then takes you through reservoir country as the Thames meanders towards Windsor. The approach via Datchet is a great way to arrive in Windsor as is the Windsor and Eton Riverside station itself, but this is equally matched by our next entry…..

89=  Slough – Windsor and Eton Central

…. the GWR alternative route into Windsor via the one stop shuttle service from Slough offering spectacular views of Eton and Windsor Castle as the train approaches Windsor and Eton Central station and the rather sad diminution of this once great edifice to just the one platform inside the vast station building with its other retail and tourist opportunities now on offer.

91  Twyford – Henley

End of the line – Henley

My third GWR branch line in this section, known as The Regatta Line, which like Marlow (no 83 above) provides a shuttle service from the main Great Western Line; this one serving Wargrave and Shiplake on the way on a half hourly timetable for most of the day. A great little circuit is to take one of these shuttles have a wander around the delightful Henley and then continue over to Marlow on the Arriva 800/850 bus route, have another wander before back to the main line on that shuttle train via Bourne End. Delightful.

92  Gospel Oak – Barking

Harringay Green Lanes in pre electrification days

This line has been much troubled in recent months with delays to the electrification and more recently towards the end of 2018, delays to the new electric trains Class 710 being introduced. The reason for its inclusion in My Hundred Best Train Journeys is as a north London lad I always knew it as the Ugly Duckling of a line mysteriously heading east-west whereas everything else seemed to sensibly head north-south. It wasn’t until TfL gave it much needed TLC to make us all realise it was in fact a beautiful White Swan of a line providing really helpful connections between communities right across north London. A true transforming travel exemplar….. just a shame about the recent infrastructure delays damaging its reputation, but I’m sure it will soon regain its prominence in 2019 once the new trains begin running.

93  Sittingbourne – Sheerness

Notwithstanding the terminus at Sheerness being somewhat underwhelming, it’s a great stub of a line to the quirky Isle of Sheppey. There’s an isolated station at Swale in the shadow of the enormous road bridge which connects the island to the rest of Kent and for real quirkiness, aside from the main shuttle trains which scurry up and down every half an hour there are a couple of peak hour journeys for commuters which take the western curve to the main line and omit Sittingbourne!

94  Stockport – Reddish South – Stalybridge

The Mother of all Parliamentary Trains got a boost this year when the May timetable changed its one journey a week leaving Stockport at 1013 only on Fridays to 0945 only on Saturdays AND introduced an inbound journey from Staybridge at 0846 meaning for the first time for many years you could actually board a train in Reddish South or Denton, travel to Stockport, have 36 minutes there, and return the same day! Whenever I’ve been on the journey it’s been surprisingly ‘busy’ with a handful of other people checking out its quirkiness; it just has to be on any bucket list train journeys.

95=  Whitland – Fishguard Harbour

95=  Whitland – Milford Haven

The wonderfully scenic journey westward from Llanelli as far as Whitland in south west Wales was included at entry no 42 (Llanelli to Pembroke Dock) but from Whitland (photographed above) the line also continues west towards Clarbeston Road station before splitting again for the two lines I’ve included here to Milford Haven on the south coast and Fishguard Harbour on the west coast.

Milford Haven

Both journeys provide glimpses of beautiful scenery as you head towards the Pembrokeshire Coast. Fishguard Harbour is one of those stations that’s seen better and busier days sitting alongside the ferry terminal to Rosslare, (with shades of Stranrear and Holyhead about it). Even more sad is the one platform terminal at Milford Haven resting alongside a massive Tesco Extra. But the journey to both termini is well worth taking.

Fishguard

There are some strangely timed trains to and from Fishguard too; for example, an 0237 arrival from Manchester with an 0237 departure to Carmarthen aren’t particularly convenient for the ferry arriving from Rosslare at 2125 and leaving at 2345! My favourite journey is the 1250 flyer to Cardiff which takes the Swansea avoiding line. Even more exciting after Llanelli the train took the line via Pontlliw last time I travelled on it.

97  Chippenham – Melksham – Westbury

This lovely connecting single track line (grandly called the TransWilts Line and which starts in Swindon) is well worth a ride between Chippenham and Westbury. It got a frequency boost a few years ago when the County Council funded extra journeys and which luckily still find themselves in the timetable – there are now nine on Mondays to Fridays, eight on Saturdays and six on Sundays. Due to electrification works on the main line through Newbury, West of England express trains have been using this link as a diversion on many occasions during 2018.

98  Stevenage – Hertford North – Moorgate

99  Hitchin – Welwyn Garden City – Moorgate

100  Enfield Town – Liverpool Street

And finally my last three entries are all totally self indulgent – well after all, this is MY Hundred Best Train Journeys, not yours. My childhood was spent living close to Winchmore Hill and Grange Park stations on the Hertford North line and I’ve many happy memories of travelling when very young to adjacent stations at Enfield Chase and Palmers Green & Southgate (as it used to be called) and often catching the bus home. Even better were extended trips to the hustle and bustle of Kings Cross and seeing steam engines taking express trains to places far far away, especially from Platform 8. Other memories include peak hour journeys through the adjacent York Road platform and going ‘underground’ on the ‘widened lines’ to Farringdon, Aldersgate (now Barbican) and Moorgate and also peak hour journeys to Broad Street which left the line at Finsbury Park and ran via Canonbury and Dalston (now part of the Overground).

At Wood Green (as Alexandra Palace used to be called), where the Hertford North line branches off over the East Coast Main Line by the Bounds Green depot, it was always fun to see the Bounds Green tunnels and wonder if a train would emerge from “up north” and even more exciting to catch a suburban train as far as Hitchin where many terminated. The Welwyn Viaduct still brings a joy to this day as I pass over sadly also knowing how restrictive it is in pathing more trains on the main line.

In my youth these lines together with the Enfield Town to Liverpool Street line were all within British Rail’s Eastern Region but the main difference was the former had mostly two or four car DMUs, whereas Enfield Town had swish electric trains making them appear a little more superior for a ride up to London especially as, after Lower Edmonton it seemed to be on stilts as it passed through Edmonton and Tottenham (keeping an eye out for the Spurs ground at White Hart Lane of course). However, such superiority was always brought back to earth by the manual level crossing at Lincoln Road, Bush Hill Park which unbelievably lasted as a vehicle crossing right up until 2012.

So, that’s My Hundred Best Train Journeys. There’s no better way to enjoy the wonderful scenery this country has to offer than by train (and bus)…. from the delights of the West Highlands (entry no 1) through to a suburban-journey-with-a-view through Edmonton and Tottenham (entry no 100). You can’t help but enjoy the scenic variety along the way. Happy travelling.

Roger French

2018 Quiz Answers

1 What are passengers in Basingstoke soon to miss, that those in Leicester suffered a loss of in the summer?

Printed timetables …. as Stagecoach South announced they wouldn’t be printing timetables for upcoming changes next month. It follows Arriva Midlands doing the same in Leicester in 2018.

2 What did passengers do to force Stagecoach to convert express route X92 to plain 192 in Manchester?

Passengers kept boarding the peak hour limited stop X92 journeys and demanding drivers let them off at stops which the bus didn’t observe, forcing Stagecoach to relent and make all buses observe all stops. A Stagecoach spokesperson said “as a result of ongoing verbal abuse directed towards our drivers by passengers who pressure them to stop at (the 34) stops which the X92 does not serve”.

3 Why was Platform 13 unlucky for Jubilee Line passengers at Stratford?

London Underground introduced a new timetable and driver ‘stepping up’ arrangements meaning they could just use Platforms 14 and 15 for all departures which conveniently use the same island platform removing the need for passengers to walk back and around to Platform 13 for the next train if they just miss a departing train from those platforms.

4 Why did Sid come unstuck for spending £1 on his megabus journey?

The Advertising Standards Authority demanded Stagecoach remove the large £1 fare signs from coaches as not enough seats were sold at that price. Megabus have replaced them with other promotional features – e.g. usb sockets, wifi and a generic ‘mega value fares’.

5 Why were Arriva and Carousel back as one between Chesham and High Wycombe?

The previous coordination agreement that saw both companies share route 1 (Chesham to High Wycombe) broke down in 2017 and competition broke out instead, but they kissed and made up from January 2018 and the timetable once again became coordinated.

6 What new destination could you catch a train from St Pancras to but not back again?

Eurostar began running to Amsterdam but no agreement exists between the UK and Netherlands Governments for the UK Border Force to operate immigration facilities in the Netherlands so no return journey is yet running.

7 Which two towns had a new peak hour bus replacement service laid on for commuters as part of the ‘improved’ Thameslink service from 20 May?

Wellingborough and Bedford.  The new Thameslink timetable south of Bedford meant there was not enough time for some peak hour East Midlands Trains to stop at both Wellingborough and Bedford so a Stagecoach coach now provides a replacement facility.

8 Where could you find a South Western Railway train meet a stream train on summer Saturdays?

Core Castle….where South Western Railway ran journeys on the connecting line at Wareham to the heritage Swanage Railway on summer Saturdays, sadly disrupted by RMT strike action on a number of occasions.

9 Why weren’t train drivers seeing straight driving new electric ScotRail Class 385s between Glasgow and Edinburgh?

The curve in the windscreens led to drivers seeing “double vision” at night so modifications had to be made before the trains could enter service.

2018 Review, Awards and Quiz of the Year

Tuesday 18th December 2018

After my fortnightly French Connection column got ditched last summer, readers of Bus & Coach Buyer have reportedly been worried sick they’ll miss my ritual round up of the year with its concoction of fascinating facts, august awards and quirky quiz questions.  Fear no more. I’m delighted to report BusAndTrainUser has acquired the rights for this annual nostalgic feast, and not only that, has expanded the content to become multimodal. So welcome dear readers, especially first timers, to this event of events in the transport world……it beats all those Summits, Conferences and tedious Award lunches and dinners that bedevil the rest of the year.

Regular readers will notice one or two changes with this year’s ceremony. We’ve moved to an impressive new venue ….. yes, we’re in the cavernous passenger circulating area deep underground at Crossrail’s Farringdon station. Ever keen to raise much needed commercial income to prop up its booming deficit, TfL are renting this vast space out for corporate events until it one day might be used for its original purpose. It’s a real honour to be the first to gather in these prestigious surroundings for our Review and Awards Presentation luncheon so without further ado, let’s begin the proceedings.

IMG_1077

The only trouble is it’s taking the Deliveroo guy over an hour to carry all the food down the fifteen flights of stairs in the emergency stairwell; problems with the station’s electrics interfering with the signals on the Thameslink line above us mean the escalators have yet to be commissioned and passed safe for service, but I’m told testing continues.

IMG_1078

So before the soup arrives, here’s a quick reflection on the past year’s news, and a round up of what was in and who was out during the year.

In a nutshell

It wasn’t the best of years for trains with May Meltdown (no, not the Prime Minister but the 20 May timetable chaos), new trains delayed, refurbished trains delayed, station openings delayed, electrification delays, not enough trained train drivers, not knowing there’s not enough trained train drivers – it wasn’t so much see it, say it sorted during the year as didn’t see it coming, didn’t say anything and definitely not sorted. It wasn’t much better on the buses with delayed new bus rapid transit schemes and delayed entry into service of electric buses. 2018 was also a year for proud announcements about ‘Business Change’ and ‘organisational reorganisations’ as well as sparkly new app based ride sharing minibuses being introduced as last year’s sparkly app based ride sharing minibuses bit the dust as they ran out of funds. More authorities and bus companies thought the answer to encouraging more bus passengers was to stop producing printed information and literature designed to encourage more bus passengers but on a positive note hundreds of new buses hit the road (all billed as ultra environmentally friendly of course) and there surely will be hundreds of new trains hitting the tracks …… next year.

North American private equity investor Apollo Asset Management made a bid for First Group at what informed sources said was between £1.10 and £1.20 a share. First Group rebuffed the offer as “undervaluing the company” and “opportunistic” but pointedly the Group has not exactly improved its performance since with current share price at 81p making for continuing rumours about a break-up of the Group in 2019. It was the year when the Alice in Wonderland World of Economics finally hit the rail industry yet Transport Groups seemingly still reckon it makes sense to be involved. Not only do you spend millions trying to win a franchise, once you’ve got the green signal to go you have to pump in mega more millions to keep the show on the tracks; as First Group found with Trans Pennine Express during the year; as Abellio found with ScotRail during the year; as Stagecoach and Virgin found with East Coast during the year (losing it to LNER); as Arriva found with Northern during the year, as Go-Ahead found with GTR during the year; as …OK, this could get a bit tedious but you get the picture.

And on top of all that, if you ran trains, 2018 was the year to get slated by passengers, trade unions, politicians and the media for being incompetent fat cat money grabbing charlatans. I reckon CEOs of our transport companies must all have sadomasochistic tendencies to keep on trumpeting to their favoured City investors about the wonderful world of running trains for little, if any, financial or reputational reward.

In positive rail news, the much expanded London Bridge works ended (on time), the Bermondsey Dive Under opened; blockades at Derby and Liverpool Lime Street saw new or extended platforms and track layout and signalling installed while energised electrification finally reached Swindon and the former Eurostar platforms at Waterloo reopened for business with South Western Railway..

Hello Goodbye

It was hello to Reading Buses in Slough as they and Courtney, picked up the pieces from First Bus withdrawals in the town and a goodbye to Stagecoach in North Norfolk with the admission its purchase of Norfolk Green had not been ‘bottom-line enhancing’ while Abellio bade farewell to Surrey, Whippet whipped off the Cambridge busway and Go-Ahead picked up First Bus left behinds in Clacton-on-Sea. Seaford & District packed in normal year round bus work as did Emsworth & District further along the south coast; Regal Busways and EOS packed it in in Essex as did Stephensons of Easingwold in North Yorkshire while Arrow Coaches of Brighouse ceased trading completely and Avon Coaches gave up on the Wirral due to Merseyside’s MyTicket for young people. It was goodbye and good riddance to Express Motors of Penygroes at the beginning of 2018 with its directors jailed for fraud later in the year.

Transdev completed the formal purchase of Rosso, Rotala bought Central Buses in the West Midlands but sold Wessex in Bristol to Stagecoach. Comfort DelGro bought New Adventure Travel in Cardiff and Newport, while Peter Shipp sold his beloved East Yorkshire to the Go-Ahead Group. Stephenson of Essex acquired NIBS Buses of Wickford and HCT bought Powells Bus and the Impact Group.

It was goodbye to bendy buses in Coventry, picking up passengers at ScotRail run station IBM and farewell Tim O’Toole from First Group and Charles Horton from “the troubled” GTR franchise, with Kevin O’Connor quitting Arriva as UK Bus managing director, while a whole host of managing directors departed Stagecoach including long standing Martin Sutton and Andy Campbell not forgetting Steve Burd, Tom Bridge and Philip Norwell, Justin Davies said farewell First Cymru, Kevin Carr retired from Go-Ahead, Elsie Turbyne left NatEx owned Xplore Dundee while Norman Baker both joined and left the Big Lemon as MD. Very sad and tragic news was the untimely passing of Paul Thomas, Stagecoach East Scotland’s MD at such a young age.

In brighter news it was a hello and welcome to the Transport for Wales franchise operated by Keolis and Amey while Arriva Trains Wales went into the sidings and a welcome hello to new bus stations in Lincoln and Gloucester and a much needed revamp and refresh of Preston’s Grade II listed whopper. Hello also to ScotRail’s Hitachi electric Class 385s (once their bendy windscreens had been straightened) and Stagecoach’s new no frills megasightseeing operation in London as well as hello to a feast of new bus brands including Cheshire Cat in Warrington, the welcome return of Badgerline in First West of England, along with Discover and Lynx, Tottington Line, Lakeline and Red 4 in Transdev Blazefield’s Rosso and York & Country around York while Thames Valley was resurrected by Reading Buses in Slough, Glider glided into Belfast, Chiltern Hundreds launched surprisingly enough in the Chilterns and Dragonfly flew into Hatfield as Foxglove and Lilac grew in Northampton all from UNO.

Hello also to First Group CEO Matthew Gregory, Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines, Patrick Verwer to head up GTR, Louise Cheesman became managing director of Hull Trains and new bus managing directors including Matthew Ashton at Arriva’s Yorkshire Tiger, David Bradford at NatEx West Midlands, Chris Coleman at Stagecoach Oxfordshire, Matt Cranwell at Stagecoach East Midlands, Ian Humphreys at First Manchester, David Liston at Stagecoach North Scotland, Christine McGlasson Xplore Dundee, Gareth Powell as Surface Transport Supremo at TfL, Andrew Sherrington at First Cymru, Heath Williams to Ipswich Buses, Robert Williams to CEO Reading Buses, Ed Wills at Go-Ahead Ireland while Martijn Gilbert moved from head honcho at Reading Buses to Go North East and Phil Medlicott moved from First Manchester back to Stagecoach Midlands. MD Musical Chairs at Stagecoach saw Matthew Cranwell move from Cumbria and North Lancs to East Midlands being replaced by Mark Whitelocks moving from North Scotland. Nusrat Ghani arrived as a Minister at the DfT while Andrew Jones returned after Jo Johnson was off.

Competition broke out in West Lothian as Lothian Country (aka as Lothian Buses) headed for Livingston to take on First East Scotland while in Guildford, international corporate transport giant Arriva inexplicably decided to compete with local family owned and well respected Safeguard on a town bus route.

Numbers of the Year

12   bus lanes in Coventry temporarily removed in 2017 were permanently scrapped.

£32   public funding per passenger journey (yes, that’s for each single passenger journey) on Huntington Association Community for Transport in 2014 according to an external audit.

25   % hike in charges for coaches at Edinburgh Airport from January. A stop for 10-20 mins increased from £8 to £10

70   days notice for bus registrations was announced by the DfT with 1 day’s notice of implementation in April

840  Britain’s most scenic bus route according to 827 votes cast in an online poll that attracted 15,000 clicks.

£1.8m  TfL’s deficit running buses per day in its updated business plan to 2022/23

£6m   TfL spend on toilets on 40 routes including a handsome ‘Turdis’ outside desirable houses in Biggin Hill

£11.5m  TfGM’s grotesque spend on exploring the case for franchising – you’ve got to laugh or you’ll cry.

£92.3m   Enforcement income from the Dartford Toll – total income £204.7m. Work that one out.

Right that’s 2018 for you. Now as it seems Deliveroo are still struggling and the lunch is running later than a Bombardier Class 710 train destined for the Gospel Oak to Barking line we’ll move straight on to the Awards and present the beautifully crafted trophies to our worthy winners …….

Please could all winners note there are no official photographs this year (cutbacks following the commitment to freeze the price of your admission ticket for four years) so instead, please remember to ingratiate yourselves with selfies immediately after picking up your trophies so we get maximum coverage on social media. It goes down so well with your passengers waiting for a delayed bus or train to know their favourite transport company has just picked up a well deserved award at a lavish presentation ceremony…..

So the waiting is finally over, here they are the ever prestigious, all new ….. BusAndTrainUser Awards 2018

Late And Over Budget But Hey It’s Open At Last Award

Our first Award has proved massively popular this year attracting a plethora of top quality entries. The judges decided to delay their decision well beyond the original announcement deadline but finally made their minds up just a few minutes ago that ….. the Bronze Award goes to Translink’s Glider bus rapid transit introduced in Belfast in September just a mere twelve months late; the Silver Award to a well deserving joint entry from Warwickshire County Council and Network Rail for the much delayed opening of Kenilworth Station having achieved the amazing feat of four previously delayed opening dates, but the winner of the prestigious Gold Award is unsurprisingly the TramTrain between Sheffield and Rotherham for its much delayed AND four times original budget achievement during the ten years of implementation planning.  

IMG_3451

The judges also wanted to make a special commendation award to the West of England partners involved in Bristol’s metrobus rapid transit project noting its introduction this summer had commendably been achieved after a doubling of costs over budget as well as managing impressive implementation delays including only two out of three routes up and running with one more to follow in the new year. The judges noted an entry for the 2019 Awards would therefore be entirely appropriate.

Next up another ever popular award….

Let’s Rearrange The Deck Chairs and Contemplate Our Navel Award

Another great range of entries including Stagecoach for taking managing directors away from their day job to work full time on a highly impressive sounding ‘Business Change Programme’; First Group for also taking key directors away from their day job to head up a project finding new ways to improve bottom line profits in its continuing ‘Transformation Programme’ and not to be outdone, and a worthy entry to the shortlist, Arriva launched proposals for wide ranging ‘Organisation Change’ so it can become the ‘mobility partner of choice’. Our fourth and final entry for the short list is the Confederation of Passenger Transport for announcing controversial proposals for business change to deliver a higher public profile using less resources (‘keeping all the benefits of membership but at less cost’ syndrome) that also saw off Simon Posner, CPT’s Chief Executive and Ian Morgan, its Chairman. The judges found it too hard to make a decision on this Award and so have brought in expert business change consultants to advise. A result is expected in due course.

Meantime it’s …..

The ‘I Told You So’ Back Track of the Year Award

Not surprisingly as financial clouds gather we’ve been inundated with entries. What made for an ego filled PR puff overbrimming with bullshit about the cutting edge of innovation in 2017 came back to bite the bank balance with vengeance this year. The judges managed to whittle the entries down to a short list of five: Stagecoach South East for abandoning their Mercedes Sprinter microbuses under the Very Little and Not That Often brand in Ashford in favour of standard buses; Bournemouth’s Yellow Buses for renumbering, rebranding and revamping its bus network following last year’s disastrous renumbering, rebranding and revamping its bus network; RATP for abandoning its loss making Slide app based ride share venture in Bristol; Esoteric Systems (with First West of England) for abandoning its loss making MyFirstMile app based ride share venture in Bristol ….. but the winner is….. Arriva for their unashamed audacity of only half abandoning the 2017 conversion of Hemel Hempstead’s town routes to completely unsuitable Mercedes Sprinter minibuses giving Bennetts End residents welcome relief as standard size buses were brought back. The good news is Arriva must surely be in the running for an unprecedented win of this award two years in a row if it finishes the job off by returning big buses for residents of Warners End and Gadebridge in 2019.

IMG_5311

Most Preposterous Quote of the Year Award

Always a popular award with multiple entries which the judges narrowed down to two joint winners. The first Award goes to Alison O’Connor Director of Corporate Affairs at Arriva on the roll out of the Group’s new logo. Alison reckoned “our new identity is more customer friendly and will support us as we develop our services to deliver the flexibility and choice that our customers want”. She went on to explain the “new identity supports our strategy for growth and our vision of becoming a mobility partner of choice while positioning Arriva more strongly in a changing transport market”. Yeah, right. 

And our second joint winner for preposterousness goes to former Transport Minister Jo Johnson responding to complaints of hard seats on the DfT specified Thameslink Siemens Class 700 trains wistfully told numb bum complainers they needn’t resort to bringing their own inflatable cushions as “the seats normally become more comfortable over time through use”.

IMG_1911

Most ridiculed Auto Announcement of the Year

There’s just one candidate way ahead of any other entry this year. Many congratulations to TfL for the fleet wide roll out of its “Please hold on …. the bus is about to move” announcement which played out thirty seconds after the front doors had shut and the bus was well on its way from the bus stop. The judges also commended GTR for its saturation coverage at stations and trains insisting passengers check their train times from 20 May….. just a shame any semblance of timetables which could be relied on were abandoned within hours of their introduction which brings us to our next Award……

Surely They Must Have Known Award

This new Award for 2018 has proved a hit with entrants. We have a joint entry from GTR and the DfT together with the Thameslink Industry Readiness Board for their “Not Realising The 20 May Timetable Will Go Belly-up Until A Few Days Before” entry; another joint entry from Network Rail, Northern Trains and Transport for the North for their “Realising The 20 May Timetable Was Going Belly-up Weeks Before But Carried On Regardless” entry and a third joint entry from Transport for London with Crossrail for their “Not Realising A Delay Of Well Over A Year Was On The Cards Less Than Four Months Before Introduction” entry. The judges decided the only fair way of deciding the outcome of this hotly contested short list was to put it back to the people for a people’s vote; but this may take time to organise so in the meantime emergency arrangements, including the army on stand-by, are being introduced while the award remains unawarded.

Award for the most controversial Award of the Year Award

This year’s Award for the most controversial Award of the Year goes to the National Rail Awards ‘Train of the Year’ Award. Social media was abuzz with controversy in the Autumn when Siemens collected Gold as its Class 700 trains for Thameslink where judged Top Train in the National Rail Awards run by Rail magazine. It didn’t go down too well with Brighton based commuters uncomfortably sitting on hard-ironing-board-backed, armrest-missing, no-leg-room, narrow seats with coffee and croissant in hand, no plug sockets for much needed battery charging and fancy information signs proving unreliable. Mind you the hundreds of suitcase wheeling tourists boarding at Gatwick joined by hundreds more commuters at East Croydon were well pleased to hear the news, adding their own congratulations, as they found ample space to stand in comfort for their shorter length journey.

Consult But Ignore The Responses And Do It Anyway Of The Year Award

TfL have been consistent winners of this Award year after year and it won’t come as a surprise to you all to know it’s the 2018 worthy winner too. Last year it was the ‘ignore feedback about cuts to frequencies on the Finchley Road and don’t withdraw route 13’ entry which won as TfL sneakily withdrew route 13 and renumbered the 82 to 13 hoping no-one would notice. This year’s winning entry is the ‘cut routes 10 and 23 from Oxford Street and 25 west of Holborn even though the original justifications …. Oxford Street pedestrianisation and Crossrail are not introduced. You’ve got to hand it to TfL no-one does ignore consultation responses quite like them and win awards for it. 

IMG_9170

Time for our penultimate award and it’s the ever popular….

Naffest Use of Social Media of the Year Award

Usually this Award category is dominated by Virgin Trains and LNER for their annoying over-hyped far-from-realty marketing and promotional use of Twitter, but this year the judges were so impressed with Arriva Click’s expansion into Liverpool and the associated outlandish messages Tweeted they’ve awarded all three trophies to them. The Bronze award goes for the Tweet which encouraged school children to take Arriva Click to school when no child rate fares are available; the Silver award for this gem of a naff promotional Tweet …. “#SundayFunday is better with free Wi-Fi, air conditioned transport and purse-friendly trips to the carvery. Extra gravy on those spuds please!” – just a pity you can’t get an Arriva Click on a Sunday as they don’t run … so not so much a Funday ….

IMG_E1209….while the Gold award for the audacity of trumpeting “fantastic demand” and blaming “high demand if your first day ride requests are postponed” (the truth being only three minibuses were on the road on Liverpool’s first day of Click and minimal journey requests were being made but the minibuses were not close by even those!). Fake News Of The Year.

IMG_E8791And our final award should have been announced much earlier in the proceedings, but sadly has been delayed and may not even be ready to be presented even now. But here’s a sneak preview of the rather extensive shortlist ……

Caledonian Sleeper for the delayed introduction of new CAF Mark 5 sleeper coaches … the judges were particularly impressed by the company teasing passengers by selling tickets for the planned launch in October before admitting the trains were nowhere near ready and would happen next Spring instead (full refunds were given); Virgin Trains East Coast (aka LNER) for building up expectations, as only their annoying PR style knows how, for the introduction of Azuma trains in December only to quietly drop the idea due to implementation problems; VivaRail for the delayed introduction of former District Line D Stock Underground trains (Class 230 in new money) to the Marston Vale Line; Trans Pennine Express for loco hauled Mark 5s being delayed (also teasing us with a plan, then aborted, to introduce older stock until delivery); ScotRail for the delayed introduction of a fleet of refurbished HSTs to the newly branded Inter7City (and teasing us with just one set which occasionally runs on tracks for passengers); GTR for Siemens Class 717s on the delayed Great Northern suburban routes; the already mentioned delayed Overground Class 710s for Gospel Oak-Barking; Northern Trains delayed Class 195s – all the aforementioned promised for December introduction and, of course, no surprise that the winner by a long delay is Crossrail for missing its December introduction date spectacularly, announcing an ‘Autumn 2019’ replacement and only weeks later changing that to an indefinite delay. A very worthy Delayed Gold Winner.

Many congratulations to all our worthy winners. Remember if you don’t enter, you can’t win, so make a promise now to enter for the BusAndTrainUser Awards 2019 just as soon as we announce we’re open for entries. Don’t delay it.

I’m sorry lunch has still not arrived but Delay Lunch Repay forms will be available as you leave, but to round off proceedings, I had hoped our special guest speaker Minister of Transport Nusrat Ghani would be here, but as is normal practice we have a video presentation made especially for such absentee eventualities …. it’s for your enjoyment and to remind you of 100 Bus & Train Events in 2018….. click here and enjoy.

Finally as no blogpost just before Christmas is complete without a few quiz questions, here are a few posers to ponder over for the next few days before the answers get posted……

Christmas Quiz

1 What are passengers in Basingstoke soon to miss that those in Leicester suffered a loss of in the summer?

2 What did passengers do to force Stagecoach to convert express route X92 to plain 192 in Manchester?

3 Why was Platform 13 unlucky for Jubilee Line passengers at Stratford?

4 Why did Sid come unstuck for spending £1 on his megabus journey?

5 Why were Arriva and Carousel back as one between Chesham and High Wycombe?

6 What new destination could you catch a train from St Pancras to but not back again?

7 Which two towns had a new peak hour bus replacement service laid on for commuters as part of the ‘improved’ Thameslink service from 20 May?

8 Where could you find a South Western Railway train meet a steam train on summer Saturdays?

9 Why weren’t train drivers seeing straight driving new electric ScotRail Class 385s between Glasgow and Edinburgh?

Answers at the end of the year, or if you can’t wait – click here as most of them appear in our 100 Bus & Train Events in 2018 video.

Thanks for coming. Safe journey home everyone. Take care up all those stairs!

Happy Christmas to you all.

Roger French

My Hundred Best Train Journeys 3

Sunday 2nd December 2018

Back on track(s) again to describe thirty more wonderful train trips, ranked 31-60 in My Hundred Best Train Journeys.

For the Top 30 previously published click here and here.

31 Exeter – Exmouth

I love this journey not only for the truly superb views as the train trundles along the east side of the River Exe towards Exmouth – not surprisingly they’re just as delightful as travelling down the west side towards Dawlish – but also for the quirkiness of Lympstone Commando request station.

IMG_2341There was a time when alighting here was strictly a no no, unless you had business at the Royal Marines training centre adjacent to the station. Forbiddingly high fences topped with barbed wire together with a manned entry gate put paid to any thought of wandering from the platform. Of course you could alight and simply wait on the platform for the next train – it is after all a public station on the National Rail network – but it wasn’t encouraged.

IMG_2339Now a public footpath has been constructed alongside the tracks from the previous station, Exton, so you can now officially board and alight at Lympstone Commando without worrying about prying eyes provided you keep to that footpath! And ignore the forbidding sign still in situ.

IMG_2321

32 Ipswich – Lowestoft

Felixstowe - January 2014 012Suffolk is an underrated county in the scenic beauty stakes but a ride on the East Suffolk Line will soon correct any such descriptive misunderstandings. ‘The line links villages, ancient treasures, and some of the best walking and cycling countryside in Suffolk. From historic Ipswich, travel to Woodbridge and be intrigued by the picturesque tide mill on the River Debden’ – well, that’s the enticing blurb from Greater Anglia’s website. And it’s quite right, Woodbridge is splendid with its lovely views alongside the River Deben flowing out to sea, as is the rest of the journey along the Waveney Valley all the way to Oulton Broad South where you travel along the southern boundary of the Norfolk Broads National Park before reaching the eastern most point of England at Lowestoft, sadly a shadow of its former station self.

IMG_8141I have a vivid memory as a child of a train journey from Liverpool Street taking us via Lowestoft and on to Gorleston-on-Sea (the station’s long since gone) for a summer holiday. Sadly that line along the coast to Great Yarmouth was closed in 1970 – but at least there’s a lovely retro sign still displayed at Lowestoft Station as a reminder of the old days.

Lowestoft 2 - June 2012

33 Halifax – Hebden Bridge – Rochdale/Burnley

IMG_8665We’re in that lovely part of England where West Yorkshire meets Greater Manchester across the Pennine peaks, moors and reservoirs. The train takes you alongside the River Calder, the Rochdale Canal and the River Roch for pretty much the whole journey and pretty is definitely the word. It’s also worth taking a ride up to Burnley where the tracks divide at Hall Royd Junction just east of Todmorden as it’s a delightful climb up via Cornholme and Holme Chapel with splendid views across Heptonstall Moor. You can now retrace your journey along the track of the new Todmorden curve to continue to Rochdale.

There’s also nowhere better to break this gorgeous journey for a stop off than Hebden Bridge and savour the delightful heritage and preservation of this fine station.

IMG_8667Moreover, you can hop on the Keighley Bus Company’s B3 bus route through Bronte Country on a wonderful journey via Haworth to Keighley (and include a ride on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway too) before returning to Hebden Bridge to conclude the ride westwards. Truly splendid.

34 Oxenholme – Windermere

We’ve travelled round the western side of the Lake District (the Cumbrian Line at entry no 16); we’ve zoomed up the West Coast Main Line and glimpsed the eastern side (entry no 7) now we’re wandering up the “no through road” that is the line from Oxenholme to Windermere. Any disappointment that trains only take you so far into the wonderful Lake District is made up by the fantastic network of bus routes Stagecoach provide from outside Windermere station, not least the famous 555 northwards via Grasmere to Keswick.

IMG_1202This line hit the news in the summer when West Coast Railways stepped in with loco hauled rolling stock while Northern Trains went through its post 20 May 2018 timetable meltdown. It certainly made a change from the usual trains and brought home just how many tourists use this line – the trains I travelled on were packed and they definitely weren’t all train enthusiasts.

IMG_1216

35 Leeds – Huddersfield – Manchester

IMG_8839This line is much more than the rail equivalent of the M62 across the Pennines. It certainly feels as busy as the M62, but rather than battling with fellow motorists, you battle with fellow passengers on a Trans Pennine Express train. If you’re lucky you’ll manage to bag a seat and enjoy some great views especially between Slaithwaite and Marden (look out of the right hand side for Moss Moor and Rishworth Moor in the distance). If you’re very lucky and choose a quiet time to travel you’ll be able to switch from one side of the train to the other as the best views vary during the journey. Be warned though, almost immediately after Marsden there’s the 3 mile long Standedge Tunnel which doesn’t offer such good views!

Huddersfield 1 - June 2010It’s definitely worth breaking the journey at Huddersfield not only for a chat with the key member of station staff – Felix the Cat – but also to marvel at the huge station building and the way the outside has been rejuvenated with rising fountains out of the paving stones.

IMG_1422

36 Stockton – Newcastle

IMG_1762This is a great journey for taking in the delights of the splendid Tees to Tyne coastline, especially between Hartlepool and Seaham. Hartlepool’s got a bit of a quirk about it too. If you fancy seeing how to spend around £4 million on a grand ‘transport interchange’ with impressive bus shelters, walkways, real time signs etc all adjacent to the station building, as happened in 2010 (see below), then its worth a nose around.

Northumberland - September 2014 071Unfortunately it’s unlikely you’ll see any buses since they nearly all serve the main town centre instead. You can almost count the number of buses that serve the station per day on the fingers of two hands.

Further on the train passes through Sunderland which must be one of the darkest and dingiest stations on the network but then the journey redeems itself again as it re-enters the light and crosses the River Wear on an impressive bridge sharing tracks with the Tyne & Wear Metro all the way to Heworth and then into Newcastle.

37 Shrewsbury – Hereford – Newport

IMG_1416From Shropshire through Herefordshire to Monmothshire. This train journey takes you through two fine English counties before arriving into the south-eastern corner of Wales. It’s a delightful ride as the scenery varies along the way, but is always characterised by extensive views across vast expanses of countryside. Stations at Ludlow, Leominster and Abergavenny are a delight and stop off at Craven Arms for a delightful weekend ride on the Shropshire Hills Shuttles – minibuses which take you around Long Mynd and Stiperstones.

IMG_1516For train buffs there’s the wonderful signal box just outside Shrewsbury to get the journey off to a great start and if you want to really spoil yourself take the ‘Gerald of Wales’ train which currently runs once a day from Holyhead to Cardiff in the morning serving breakfast and returning in the late afternoon/evening serving dinner. Seat reservations are highly recommend to avoid disappointment. The new Transport for Wales franchise has plans to increase the number of journeys.

IMG_1585IMG_1582

38 Newcastle – Carlisle

You’ll have gathered by now as well as coastal train journeys I also love following the course of rivers as I look out of train windows, and none more so than this journey along the River Tyne as it heads inland towards Hexham and Haltwhistle.

IMG_1615I also love the Haltwhistle station name; for some reason, I’ve no idea why, it always makes me smile whenever I travel to or through it. Even more bizarre are the platform shelters at stations along the line, all emblazoned with a large platform number (either 1 or 2) sign.

IMG_1657A great multi modal way of enjoying this journey is to take the jointly operated Arriva/Stagecoach Cross Pennine branded route X65 which also runs from Newcastle to Carlisle to Newcastle via Hexham and Haltwhistle. I reckon a bus/train ticket aimed at tourists would be just the job – out by bus and return back by train, what’s not to like?

39 Chester – Holyhead

IMG_4018Another lovely journey with coastal views all along the north Wales coastline. The journey begins alongside the River Dee and there’s an odd sighting between Flint and Prestatyn of the abandoned passenger ferry ship, the Duke of Lancaster, moored in Llanerch-y-Mor; worth looking out for – you can’t miss it. For much of the journey after Rhyl the tracks vie with the expanded A55 dual carriageway for the narrow space along the coastline; luckily for most of the journey the tracks win but for a short stretch just before Colwyn Bay road engineers managed to swing the road over the railway, along the coastline and then back under the tracks again after about a mile – it’s an amazing feat of engineering.

However the highlight of the journey comes at Conwy. Just after the station the tracks cross the River Conwy and you get a magnificent view, and pass right alongside, Conwy Castle.

IMG_4620Almost as exciting is the next stage of the journey after Bangor when it’s into Anglesey across the Menai Strait on the impressive Britannia Bridge.

I’ll name check the first station in Anglesey as I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Yes, it’s Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Except it isn’t really; it’s all a bit attention seeking, over-hyped and contrived, but still worth a stop off for a selfie!

IMG_5996The journey terminus at Holyhead is another ‘shadow of its former self’ station and looks rather forlorn, forgotten and seen better days. A rather sad end to what is otherwise another lovely coastal journey.

IMG_6010IMG_6009

IMG_6007

40 Carlisle – Kilmarnock – Glasgow

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 18.36.25This journey is the alternative to the main West Coast Line. It’s not for those in a hurry taking 2 hours 22 minutes which coincidentally is exactly double the 1 hour 11 minutes journey time by travelling direct, but it’s well worth giving it a go, for the lovely scenery which Dumfries and Galloway offers as you wander through Gretna Green and on to Kilmarnock. Some journeys link up with the Newcastle – Carlisle line (entry no 38) to provide a through four hours of scenic enjoyment.

41 Gloucester – Severn Tunnel Junction

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 18.40.16

OK, perhaps this is the journey alongside a river to beat all journeys alongside a river. After leaving Gloucester (check out the amazingly long platform there) the train heads towards Lydney and Chepstow and it’s absolutely essential to grab a seat on the nearside in the southbound direction for fantastic views of the meandering River Severn as it grows from a meandering stream (OK, not quite, but you get the picture) into a torrenting river flowing into the Bristol Channel. You get some great views of the two Severn Bridges on the horizon too.

42 Llanelli – Pembroke Dock

South Wales - August 2013 014And yet another coastal ride to rival Dawlish, Cambrian, Cumbrian and the East Sussex Coast. The views across Carmarthen Bay are superb as is the scenery alongside the River Tywi as it meanders towards Carmarthen. The journey takes you past the request station called Ferryside, so named presumably because a ferry dating back 1,000 years used to ply across the estuary to the village of Llansteffan. Sadly the ferry ceased in the 1950s but this summer, thanks to a £300,000 Coastal Communities grant it was back again with what’s described as “something 007 like” – a boat with wheels which is as happy in the water as it is driving up the shore. Definitely something for my to do list next year to check it out.

IMG_4199Carmarthen has an interesting turnback station arrangement with two platforms from where the tracks continued on to Newcastle Emlyn and Aberystwyth until closure in 1965. So for this journey it’s a change of end for the driver and we’re back through Whitland and branch off south-westwards towards the lovely resort of Tenby and finally to Pembroke Dock; probably the most understated terminus on the network, hidden away in a narrow residential street.

43 Preston – Colne

Colne 2 - October 2013Colne is the dead-end to beat all dead-ends and in the nicest possible way. After travelling for 70 minutes from Preston on a line which has the claim to fame of the most delightful sounding station names along the journey (Pleasington followed by Cherry Tree as well as Church & Oswaldwistle) ….

IMG_8935

IMG_8943

IMG_8947…you finally arrive at the buffers from where at one time trains would continue via the village of Earby over to Skipton. Ah, those must have been the days, and indeed it’s one of the rail reinstatements campaigners won’t give up on. It was only a few years ago I travelled to Colne and the driver had to lean out the cab at the final level crossing to pull on a piece of string strategically hanging alongside the track at cab window level which would operate a red light to stop traffic crossing its path. Fantastic. Sadly now replaced with more conventional technology.

44 Folkestone – Dover

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 16.49.40The way the track hugs the coastline overlooking the busiest shipping lane in the world that is the English Channel on this train journey is very reminiscent of the section of line between Dawlish and Teignmouth as it travels through arched gaps in the cliffs and two short tunnels. That’s why it’s a special journey, and one well deserved within my Best Fifty Train journeys.

45 Buxton – Manchester

IMG_6862

I’ve already commented on the delightful bus routes in Derbyshire when highlighting entry No 30 (Derby – Matlock), and if you took up my suggestion of travelling on the TransPeak bus from Matlock to Buxton, as it no longer continues to Manchester via the traditional A6 the obvious alternative is to jump on a Northern train at the wonderful Buxton station and admire the scenery from the train window instead. You won’t be disappointed.

IMG_6860

IMG_6859Buxton is a lovely quirky station as shown in these photographs and still shows signs of the golden age of railways when trains did continue from Matlock entering Buxton across viaducts still in place today. Freight trains are still a regular site at the nearby Dove Holes limestone quarry using the tracks up to the Hope Valley line at Edale.

Many of the stations are really delightful with some wonderful floral displays, not least the self procalimed Capital of the Peak, Chapel-en-Le-Firth – one of three stations with Le in its name.

IMG_6867

46 Truro – Falmouth

IMG_4139Back to the West Country branch lines for this journey down to Falmouth which includes the novel passing loop at Penryn where the single track line allows trains to pass and both serve the same extended platform. It’s just as well it works efficiently as the end to end running time for this journey is very tight requiring very precise timekeeping. Don’t be tempted to alight at Falmouth Town, as the murals at Falmouth Docks (the terminus) are well worth a look.

IMG_4141

47 Norwich – Berney Arms – Great Yarmouth

Anglian-Cumbria-Aberdeen - June 2012 047As I compile this list, the section of track from Reedham to Great Yarmouth via the infamous Berney Arms is closed for some months while track and signals are upgraded. This is a great shame for lovers of manually operated old style level crossing gates as can be seen above in action at the lovely Brundall station along the route.

IMG_1884When the works are completed, you really must add this to your bucket list of train journeys, not particularly for the scenery – it’s as unexciting as crossing Romney Marsh in Kent – but just so you can alight at Berney Arms one of Britain’s wackiest stations with no road access and only a footpath across fields to the nearby Broads or onwards to Burgh Castle and eventually Great Yarmouth. Sadly the nearby pub to the station with its only access either by boat or on foot closed down a year or two ago; perhaps not surprising given its remote location.

IMG_1864

48 Cardiff – Ebbw Vale Town

A rail line reinstatement success story. Reopened as recently as 2008 to Ebbw Vale Parkway and reaching the Ebbw Vale Town terminus seven years later in 2015, trains are now so busy the train company has to double up units with at least two conductors on board to try and collect all the revenue. It’s a lovely twisty ride round one bend after another as the train climbs the Ebbw River valley towards Ebbw Vale.

IMG_3076There’s a cable car lift to take you from the station up to the town centre to top off your ride, but whenever I’ve travelled it’s sadly been out-of-order (I see online it’s been closed 252 times over a three-year period), but it’s easy to wander to the nearby bus stops and take a Stagecoach X4 bus through the town and on to the Heads of the Valley road before taking you down to Merthyr Tydfil or Pontrypridd either for an alternative train ride back into Cardiff, or stay on the bus which also continues there.

49 Brockenhurst – Lymington Pier

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 18.44.10

I haven’t been on this line for a year or so and my memories of recent journeys were when it was the last outpost of slam door carriages in the south. Not only that but the station at Lymington is a wonderful cross between a station and a heritage railway museum and is well worth a visit to compliment a lovely journey, particularly the first short section between the Pier and Town stations with full on views of Lyminton Marina. A lovely circular trip includes the ferry across to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight and then a Southern Vectis bus to Newport and on to Shanklin returning on the train to Ryde Pier (see entry 54 below). Even better, if you have the time, take the open top Needles Breezer to Alum Bay (including the ride up to the Battery) then route 12 to Newport.

50 Corby –  Melton Mowbray

Corby - May 2014This is the first ‘Parliamentary Train’ entry in my Hundred Best Train Journeys, and good to see it bookend the top fifty. It’s certainly not because of the rather clinical architecture of Corby station (photographed above), but purely because of the wonderful Welland Viaduct (also called the Harringworth Viaduct after the nearby village) and the amazing views across to Eyebrook Reservoir and beyond which are truly stunning.

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 16.54.16

It’s well worth making your way to Corby for the one departure of the day which leaves at 0926 on Mondays to Fridays and travels this route. There’s a southbound journey from Derby at 1625 (or closer to Corby, from Melton Mowbray at 1709) but that’s only worth a ride in the Spring to Autumn when it’s light.

51 Leeds – Morecambe – Heysham Port

West Yorkshire - July 2014 009

This line, known as the Bentham Line (it passes through Bentham), shares the same tracks as the Leeds – Settle – Carlisle (entry no 4) as far as Long Preston just north of Hellifield before branching off on its own western course through some delightful North Yorkshire and Lancashire countryside and calling at the superbly named Giggleswick (always makes me smile) and the next station, which is of course Clapham – no, not the more famous Junction, but just plain Clapham. After a couple more stations the train crosses the West Coast Main Line and arrives at Carnforth (already visited on the Cumbrian Coast Line – entry no 11) before nipping down to Lancaster. Only half of the eight journeys a day then reverse back up the line and turn off to Morecambe (photographed below) but there is an hourly shuttle train which runs between Lancaster and Morecambe providing the main link to the resort.

Morecambe 1 - July 2014

Best of all is the one shuttle journey a day which continues on to Heysham Port. It leaves Lancaster at 1249 (MS) arriving 1317. The absolute best bit, and the reason to make the journey is to see the driver jump down from the cab and change the points (shades of Liskeard-Looe, except it’s the guard’s job there) after leaving Morecambe  where the train retraces its route for a few yards before turning almost 360 degrees southwards again towards Heysham. The same happens on the reverse journey into Morecambe after the train heads back at 1320 after only a three-minute turnround (times are slightly different on a Sunday), so there’s not long to soak up the atmosphere at Heysham Port – mind you as you can see from the photograph below, there’s not much atmosphere to soak up!

Heysham Port 1 - July 2013

52 Salisbury – Exeter

IMG_4980

It’s odd that there are long sections of this important rail route that are single track, making for timekeeping challenges when disruption occurs, as it’s all too easy for knock on effects as one late train impacts on another and so on. There are some lovely stations along this route including Tisbury and Templecombe and Yeovil Junction where there’s a handy connecting line to Yeovil Pen Mill on the Weymouth to Castle Cary line. This junction is now used by South Western Railway trains (and SWT before, who started the trend) of linking Salisbury with Castle Cary on a circular routing a few times a day.

IMG_2203

The journey takes you through the beautiful countryside offered by Wiltshire, Dorset and Devon (photographed above between Axminster and Honiton – spot the roof of the Stagecoach bus on the parallel route 4)

53 Aberdeen – Inverness

IMG_4875

IMG_4876

This journey north starts from the far northern end of one of Aberdeen’s longest platforms and heads straight into a tunnel under Aberdeen’s commercial centre. This contrasts with the rather pleasant brightness of the station’s passenger circulating area.

The first time I took this journey involved an early morning departure heading north from Aberdeen and I couldn’t understand why the train was so packed until everyone got off at the first station, Dyce, where there are major industrial and employment opportunities. The rest of the journey which takes a north then north-western arc until a few miles south of the north coast overlooking Moray Firth at Elgin where it takes a western trajectory towards Nairn and Inverness. Interestingly the tracks pass close to both Aberdeen and Inverness airports, but the nearby station at Dyce is not particularly convenient for the former and there’s no station for the latter. Not surprisingly Stagecoach do well with a bus route to both airports, as well as routes to Fraserburgh and Peterhead in the north-east corner of Aberdeenshire which are also completely by-passed by the train.  It’s a great train journey, though, and well deserving of a 53rd placing.

54 Ryde Pier Head – Shanklin

IMG_3601

Yes, this is the ride specifically for the train. Oh, and also for the first half mile as the train clutters along Ryde Pier to Ryde Esplanade station. It’s a real nostalgic trip back in time to when Underground trains cluttered and swayed as these carriages from 1938 still do all the way down to Shanklin. When the Isle of Wight steam railway is running, trains stop at Smallbrook Junction which is another station to add to the list of having no road access; indeed not any access, as the only way out (or in) is on a steam train.

IMG_3628

Sadly the only passing loop now in use is at Sandown, two-thirds of the way down to Shankin so instead of a half hourly service, it offers a less attractive 20/40 split. There’s talk of introducing former London Underground D stock to the line in the new guise of Class 230 trains. It certainly won’t be the same peering into the sidings and sheds at St John’s Road, Ryde as you pass through the station and not see the spare 1938 stock any longer.

55 Horsham – Barnham

IMG_5213This journey through the wonderful South Downs provides some spectacular views of Britain’s newest National Park especially as the train heads between Pulborough, Amberley and Arundel along the Arun Valley. There are some fantastic views of Arundel Castle (just above the Stagecoach bus in the photograph above) as well as the River Arun.

Amberley is another station depicting a lovely mural, this one showing a Southdown bus appropriately as the wonderful Amberley Museum is alongside the station with its transport theme and is a must visit.

IMG_5210

IMG_5208Barnham is a surprisingly busy junction station as trains meet from Bognor, Littlehampton and the West Coastway and is well worth a look around.

56 Hull – Scarborough

IMG_4747

My favourite station on this journey is Bridlington where it’s definitely worth breaking off to savour the lovely restoration and refreshment facilities, making for quite a contrast with Filey a little further on which is not worth breaking your journey for.

IMG_4746

IMG_4745

On arriving at Scarborough wander over to platform 1 and marvel at the longest station platform seat in the country, if not the world. It really is worth a wander and a photo.

IMG_4224

57 Leeds – Harrogate – York

The Leeds to Harrogate part of this journey has bus competition from probably Britain’s most luxurious buses on the Transdev Blazefield route 36 running every 10 minutes. But Northern have recently introduced nicely refurbished former ScotRail class 170 trains which are a huge improvement on the old Pacers and there are plans to increase the frequency too. It’s a lovely journey from West Yorkshire into North Yorkshire and both Harrogate (where there’s an interesting car park next to the station and footbridge arrangement photographed below) and Knaresborough are worth a stop off to explore, not least for Betty’s Tea Rooms in the former.

IMG_4757

The line doesn’t promote its ultimate destination at either the Leeds or Harrogate end of the route as it’s quicker to get a direct train but if you’re not in a rush it’s well worth a ride and don’t forget to work in a trip on the 36 too!

58 Brighton – Seaford

Seaford Station - October 2014 003

Lewes is a lovely station full of charm and the line to Seaford follows the course of the River Ouse to Newhaven where the town’s three stations includes one of the shortest distances between two stations Newhaven Town to Newhaven Harbour as well as the quirky short stub to Newhaven Marine which is very much a closed station with a platform out of bounds and demolished station buildings (to the left of the signal box shown below) yet is still officially open – indeed it has a Parliamentary Train except no passengers can board it.

IMG_5217Further along the single track to the small single platform terminal station at Seaford with views out to the Channel, the penultimate station is Bishopstone with its amazing Art Deco architecture with a strong hint of the Charles Holden designs for Piccadilly Line Underground stations. Indeed it’s said it was modelled on Arnos Grove. It’s looking a bit unloved and sorry for itself these days.

IMG_5215

The rather isolated station at Southease between Lewes and Newhaven is handy for walkers taking the South Downs Way which crosses the railway at the station, and where there isn’t much else.

IMG_5219

59 York – Scarborough

Another journey to marvel at a meandering river – the River Derwent – as the train heads eastwards to the coast. Indeed for a few miles it literally twists and turns along the banks of the river as it passes Kirkham Abbey before reaching Malton station, notable for its sole platform for trains in both directions. If you didn’t marvel at the longest seat in the world when you journeyed into Scarborough from Hull (entry no 56) then now’s the time for a good long sit down (literally).

IMG_4223

60 Norwich – Sherringham

IMG_6947

This journey is notable for the link to the lovely Bure Valley railway along the delightful River Bure at Hoveton and Wroxham, the call at Cromer with its reverse out again manoeuvre (a resort sadly past its prime although worth a stop off for a nostalgic stroll down the pier) and the rather basic terminus at Sherringham consisting of just a platform and shelter …..

Sherringham 2 - January 2014……..except the track continues across a level crossing (including through a delightful seating area, as photographed below) to provide access to the North Norfolk Railway. Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 19.13.24From Sherringham as well as the option of taking the North Norfolk Railway to Holt there’s the Coasthopper bus along the north Norfolk coast to Wells-Next-The-Sea for an onward connection to the Coastliner 36 route to Kings Lynn run by Lynx making for an adventurous circular day out from London.

The final part 4 of My Hundred Best Train Journeys (no 61 – 100) will be posted later this month.

Roger French

The battle for West Lothian

Wednesday 28th November 2018

A right royal bus battle is underway in West Lothian with more salvos being fired this weekend.

At the beginning of August First Bus gave their extensive network based on Livingston a good old sort out introducing a simplified route pattern offering quicker journeys and new links into Edinburgh’s city centre and airport. It left a few gaps but none, it was claimed, that were well used. Meanwhile Lothian Buses, under its Lothian Country brand, decided to not only fill those gaps but also expand its western flank into Livingston and onward to Bathgate, Armadale and Blackridge with new competitive routes challenging First’s new network.

I’d read all the PR spin from both companies about the changes so thought I’d pop up there yesterday and take a look to see what’s occurring. I sussed something was afoot earlier in the summer when I spotted the virtually anonymous branded bus pictured below outside Edinburgh Park station – the terminus of the former First Bus Service 21A – part of the convoluted network that’s now been much simplified.

This is no David and Goliath battle as I recently saw in Guildford; First Group may be a multi-national multi-modal giant but it has a huge financial debt burden round its neck from past follies meaning any network developments are forensically scrutinised while Lothian Buses is hardly a minnow – they’re in Scotland’s Premier League of bus operators by size as evidenced by recent phenomenal expansion…..taking over First Bus routes ceded in Mid and East Lothian; taking over a former Stagecoach route to Queensferry and quadrupling the number of airport services they run in addition to its long established extensive network throughout the city and significant sightseeing operations. This latest expansion has been introduced in three phases beginning in August with the latest route introduction commencing this weekend, with some new all night journeys on another route on Saturdays.

On Sunday the Lothian Country network will have grown within just fifteen weeks from nothing to operating five major routes with a peak requirement of thirty vehicles meaning additional annual costs looking for new revenue north of £3 million. Quite a task, particularly when, on the whole, First Bus do a good job in this area and the recently revised network has been a positive development. To use a TV quiz show analogy, this is not The Chase where the all conquering Beast or Governess trounce aspiring contestants, this competition is more akin to Pointless – in every meaning of the word.

IMG_4997First Bus may have retreated in recent years from many areas across Britain and still struggle in others but I detect renewed energy in Scotland under the leadership of the impressive and much experienced Andrew Jarvis. I don’t see First Bus waving the White Flag in West Lothian whatever Lothian Country may wish.

Many of First’s buses are branded with the long established West Lothian brand in a rather smart two tone dark blue livery but there’s evidence of work in progress to introduce a new brand for the two main Edinburgh corridor routes 23/X23 and 24/25 to a similar scheme now becoming familiar in many parts of the country.

It’s unfortunate that in the meantime, just when First should be making maximum impact, there’s a bit of a hotchpotch of double decks and single decks in various liveries on the network and route branding is far from effective, but I’m sure it’ll all look good when repaints are completed – as can now be seen in Bristol for example.

If there’s evidence of exciting initiatives locally, there’s the usual shortcomings from First’s all dominating centralised overhead operations including their usual unhelpful website and mobile app where you need a degree in computer software to find the information you need. For example prices of day tickets involves far too many clicks to work out zones and options – and after all my searching I couldn’t find the ticket I wanted to buy on the mobile app – the £7 day m-ticket for both Edinburgh and Livingston zones so I had to buy it from the driver at the higher price of £7.50. Not ideal when you’re dealing with intensive head to head competition where prices should be well promoted, never mind unavailable.

Lothian Country have more or less matched First’s headline ticket prices although this being Lothian there’s their usual inflexibility disallowing customers wanting to buy a single m-ticket (the only bus company that insists on a £10 minimum purchase) and while they’ve bundled the purchase of day tickets into attractively priced offers (eg their equivalent to First Bus £7.50 day ticket can be bought five for £25 or twenty for £95) their use is restricted: “m-ticket bundles can be used on any non-consecutive days within 180 days” – get your head round that one!

Both operators use an exact fare cash box system on board and Lothian are working hard to play catch up to First Bus who’ve offered contactless for a while – contactless readers are installed on Lothian’s buses but not yet activated. Not being able to buy the £9 all Lothian day ticket (including Airlink which I wanted to use later in the day) on my smartphone app and unable to use contactless on the bus, I ended up having to stuff a £10 note into the farebox for my £9 ticket (hence the inclusion of my wallet in the second photo below!). So for both operators I ended up paying over the odds for my ticket! So much for competition making for keener prices.

IMG_4998

I won’t bore you with describing all the competitive hot spots in detail but in summary there are three main markets – Edinburgh to Livingston by two different routes; within Livingston itself; and between Livingstone and westward to Bathgate, Armadale and Blackridge. There’s also a market for cross Livingston traffic – eg Bathgate to Edinburgh (and both First’s established and Lothian Country’s developing networks are designed to provide such journey options) but make no mistake rail dominates that market with frequent trains taking a fraction of the time on two electrified lines between Edinburgh and Glasgow (one via Bathgate through the north of Livingston and the other via Shotts, to the south of Livingston). I haven’t seen such a large car park at a station as at Bathgate for a long while and unlike when Google peered down on it, when I went by yesterday it looked very full.

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 12.10.06

The epicentre of this competitive spat is Livingston. It lies 15 miles to the west of Edinburgh (30 miles east of Glasgow) and has a handy nearby access to the recently completed M8 linking both cities. It’s Milton Keynes on steroids; not least its ‘Town Centre’ which is a huge complex of shops, restaurants, cinema and ‘leisure’ options and over one hundred ‘Designer outlets’. Buses use the north/south road about a third of the way along in the aerial photograph below. Facilities for buses and passengers are basic and functional offering the usual contrast with the polished floors and commercial ambience inside the shopping centre. There are real time signs at each departure bay and an ability to wait under cover on the west side with smaller shelters at each stop on the east side.

Built in the early 1960s Livingston’s twelve residential districts surrounding this monolith of a ‘town centre’ have been commendably designed around cul-de-sac type roads with plenty of pedestrian walkways providing links to distributor roads (shown in yellow below) making for fairly sensible bus route options but the car inevitable dominates thanks to over-sized car parks around ‘The Centre’ offering cheap parking.

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 12.21.27First’s revamped and simplified network serving Livingston has retained long established route patterns which obviously reflect passenger travel patterns, so it’s a bit surprising Lothian have chosen to run different route patterns which while having the advantage of offering new journey opportunities, on the downside can seem somewhat circuitous and I have doubts whether the demand is really there for such links. For example my journey on the half hourly X27/X28 took around 45 minutes from Bathgate before reaching Livingston’s ‘bus station’ followed by a futher 55 minutes for the journey to Edinburgh.

As we toured around Livingston’s residential districts it was noticeable how many people were opting for the First Bus in front (in one district it was a 23, in another a 26) although Lothian Country seemed to do well picking up passengers from the huge St John’s Hospital complex.

IMG_5002

IMG_5004

First Bus’s main 15-minutely route from Bathgate (Service 25) takes a quicker 33 minutes to reach Livingston and First runs an hourly X23 journey to Edinburgh taking 56 minutes while four buses an hour on the 23 or 24/25 take 64 or 66 minutes via two different routes.

For those that like maps, and who doesn’t, here’s the revamped network run by First Bus:

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 11.12.03and here’s the network run by Lothian Country (note the wiggly [light blue] route of the X27/X28 through Livingston mentioned above):

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 12.37.37to which the latest route, the half hourly X18 joins this weekend which interestingly bypasses Livingston completely and provides a direct link from Armadale and Bathgate into Edinburgh, something First Bus don’t provide:

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 12.40.11But the journey time from Armadale Station to Edinburgh is 90 minutes which compares unfavourably with the train’s 38 minutes, and I wonder if there’s enough demand for shorter hops along such a route. No doubt time will tell, as will the assessment of how this overall additional thirty buses on to the West Lothian bus network fairs. It’s certainly a bold move, and something the industry has not seen on this scale for many years.

As I observed in the case of Arriva’s challenge to Safeguard in Guildford last week, the incumbent operator has an advantage over any interloper if they’ve built up loyalty and familiarity. Admittedly I travelled off peak yesterday, but fifteen weeks on I would have expected to see buses busier than they were if this is going to be a financially sustainable operation for Lothian. I suspect it won’t be.

Roger French

PS Coming soon to this blog …. My Hundred Best Train Journreys 3 – don’t miss it – an amazing collection of another thirty fantastic journeys, these ranked 31-60.

Switched on Harrogate

Friday 23rd November

Hats off to Transdev Blazefield owned Harrogate Bus Company for getting their brand new fleet of electric buses for the town’s network of local bus routes on to the road and into service.

Unlike London’s all electric Waterloo garage where buses only charge up back at base, this scheme introduces ‘opportunity charging’ while buses layover in the bus station in between trips to keep the batteries topped up.

Stagecoach have electric buses which charge up in Inverness bus station (but it takes forever) while Arriva introduced ‘charging plates’ in the road at the termini for a route in Buckinghamshire, with TfL introducing a similar scheme in north east London for a handful of buses, but this is the first time opportunity charging has been introduced in such a big way and via overhead prongs.

As well as Harrogate bus station infrastructure has also been installed for the buses at the nearby Starbeck bus garage for overnight charging in a more conventional way.

Ambitious innovative schemes such as this one in Harrogate are never straightforward to introduce so full credit to Alex Hornby and his team for their commitment and hard work to make sure the inevitable frustrations are overcome.

I remember the trials and tribulations with the power company in Brighton to get even one roadside real time information sign connected up to a power supply so I can imagine the challenges involved in wiring up three large charging points in Harrogate bus station.

Indeed, there are still delays in commissioning the electric substation at the bus station so the bus manufacturer Volvo has loaned the large diesel generator which was previously used on the one bus trial earlier this year at Greenhithe in Kent.

This hums away as it does it’s stuff and is not as efficient as a proper mains substation, taking longer to recharge each time, nor obviously is it as environmentally friendly. But at least it’s enabled the scheme to get going rather than returning buses to the Starbeck garage for recharging during the day.

Operators with gas buses have faced similar infrastructure delays and frustrations but once sorted (I’m told the substation will soon be operational) it really will be the business and the whole project is very impressive.

The Volvo buses themselves have a real wow factor. You can’t fail to notice their quietness, impressive acceleration and smooth ride. It’s obvious much thought has gone into the interior design and layout to create a pleasant travelling environment to match the environmental credentials of the propulsion.

Nice touches include ample legroom, comfortable seats with a very attractive moquette, benches with contactless charge points over the rear wheels, bus stop push buttons on the insides of seats, a nice front view window in the seat behind the driver and two well proportioned rubbish bins including one for recycling as well as the usual usb points, Wi-fi and next stop announcements and some 2+1 seating.

All this is topped off by a very smart and attractive external livery promoting the Harrogate electrics brand. Ray Stenning and his team at Best Impressions have come up trumps once again with another desire creating package.

As well as the inevitable teething problems from a new bus fleet not least one with a new power and charging arrangement (as explained above) with incumbent driver and engineer unfamiliarity, my visit this afternoon coincided with the usual Friday traffic congestion that besets towns like Harrogate. So instead of a fifteen minute frequency on route 3 to Jennyfield, and half hourly on each of the 2A, 2B (Bilton) and 6 (Pannal Ash) – the four local routes involved – there were some delays and gaps in service but interestingly I picked up an empathic and positive approach from passengers who rightly seem pleased their bus company are investing significant sums in an impressive fleet of buses which will make a contribution to better air quality in their town.

Congratulations to Transdev for backing this extremely bold innovative initiative in Harrogate and to Alex for overcoming the many hurdles to deliver an impressive result.

I’m sure the remaining teething problems will soon be overcome and Harrogate electrics will be the obvious choice for Gold in the UK Bus Awards ‘Environment Award 2019’ this time next year.

Roger French

Go South Coast – a multi award winning exemplar

Tuesday 20th November 2018

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 20.38.53
Photo courtesy © The Bus Industry Awards Limited

Many congratulations Andrew Wickham and all the team at Go South Coast.

They’ve only just gone and added yet another award to their bulging trophy cabinet this afternoon at London’s Troxy: the prestigous UK Bus Awards 2018 Bus Operator of the Year; having won top Shire Operator of the Year and pipped Nottingham (top City Operator) and Ensign Bus (top Independent) in the final play off.

It’s been an Award filled six weeks for Go South Coast; picking up David Begg’s National Transport Award for Bus Operator of the Year on 11th October, the magazine Route One Award for Large Bus Opeator of the Year on 31st October and climaxing today with the UK Bus Awards’ top accolade.

img_4065img_4063-1

Not only that, but Andrew and his team were also victorious in the same categories in both the Route One and UK Bus Awards last year making for a record breaking quintet of award winning trophies and, may I say, all richly deserved too.

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 20.26.03.png
UK Bus Award Winners 2017 – photo courtesy © The Bus Industry Awards Limited

Unlike the usual crop of other worthy winners: Nottingham, Reading, Lothian, Brighton & Hove, Ensign Bus which all have a well defined geographic urban area at the heart of their business, Go South Coast is a very diverse company with a varied portfoilio of brands and operations within its remit which makes its award success all the more worthy of praise.

IMG_E8474
A diverse portfolio includes buses running every 3 minutes between Poole and Bournemouth (m1 and m2 also winning the Sustained Marketing Award this afternoon)……..

IMG_3859
…… to one return journey three days a week from Lockerley to Romsey

These range from the original Wilts & Dorset core now branded as ‘more’ (based on Poole) and Salisbury Reds; urban operations in Southampton as Bluestar and Unilink, the infamous and much loved Southern Vectis on the Isle of Wight, the 2017 addition of Thamesdown Buses now branded Swindon’s bus company, not forgetting small coach and contract operations as well as tendered bus routes run by Damroy and Tourist Coaches in deepest Dorset as well as the former coach company Excelsior and some National Express contracts.

And to top off all of that there’s part of a former central engineering works which rose out of the ashes of the original failed Frountsource privatisation of National Bus Company’s southern engineering sites now successfully trading as part of Go South Coast as Hants & Dorset Trim, specialists in refurbishment, repairs, conversions, retrims and paint jobs. You don’t get much more diverse than that portfolio.

IMG_5470
Andrew (left) with former Opertations Director Ed Wills (now with Go-Ahead Ireland) and Alex Chutter, General Manager Swindon with the new look Swindon bus company

Andrew has led Go South Coast as managing director since 2011 having perviously been its operations director between 2003 and 2009. In 2009 he was promoted to managing director of Plymouth Citybus for two years on its aquisition by the Go-Ahead Group. Aside from that brief interlude, Andrew has therefore amassed fifteen years of continuity with Go South Coast overseeing many developments including the fall out from the original Dorset tender contract which didn’t quite work out as expected; more recently the aquisition of Thamesdown and it’s turnaround into a thriving urban operator and importantly, and key to any successful bus company, an evovlution of continuous improvements and investment in quality alongside nuturing excellent relationships with local authorities and other stakeholders.

IMG_4700
Damory – part of a multi-modal international transport group PLC but still ‘Dorset’s great local bus company’.

Andrew will modestly say this award success is down to having an excellent team. There’s no doubt Go South Coast has some highly motivated, top quality managers and a huge team of committed and enthusiastic staff providing excellent bus and coach operations in Wiltshire, Dorset and parts of Hampshire; but they’re motivation comes from being led by a passionate, energetic, committed leader who inspires his team and offers that all important encouragement to achieve the best.

Andrew exudes these qualities and well deserves the recognition that comes from this unprecedented award success. His dedication and commitment is infectious and I’m delighted to see his hard work being recognised.

At the launch of the latest buses for Bluestar in Southampton earlier this month

It’s not easy. I was chatting to Andrew a couple of weeks ago at the launch of Go South Coast’s latest £4 million investment in nineteen impressive ADL Enviro 400 double deckers for Bluestar route 18. I mentioned how important it is for a managing director to be able to ‘get his (or her) arms around a bus company’ (structurally and geographically). Andrew admitted it wasn’t as easy as it once was following recent expansions but these Award wins demonstrate his industry peers rightly have admiration in a job well executed despite the challenges from a growing business.

It’s not as if Go South Coast has the market to itself either. Competition with First Bus in Southampton and Yellow Buses in Bournemouth and Poole has actually raised the quality of bus provision rather like it has done in Oxford for many years, rather than go down market.

Go-Ahead’s readiness to invest in Swindon, which the Borough Council was unable or unwilling to do, has been to the benefit of bus provision in that town and competitive spats with Stagecoach have now subsided with each company concentrating on what it does best.

Where Go South Coast has a monopoly, particularly on the Isle of Wight, it continues to invest in quality improvements and provides a comprehensive network, including, uniquely, an intensive service on Christmas Day which must surely confound critics of the deregulated market which allegedly ‘leaves people isolated in their homes’.

IMG_7408
The popular Needles Breezer at Alum Bay – a must ride, if you haven’t done it

IMG_4118
The three New Forest Tours are an excellent way to explore the National Park

Go South Coast also knows all about the tourist and the leisure market with some great services on the Island as well as operating three extremely popular routes throughout the New Forest National Park during the high summer season and the year round Stonehenge tourist bus from Salisbury.

IMG_9782
The Stonehenge bus provides a popular public transport link from Salisbury

The Company’s network of inter-urban routes across parts of Dorset provides important connections between a range of destinations on impressive and comforable vehicles and are well marketed; not surprisingly they’re well used and popular. Travel Centres in Swindon, Salisbury, Southampton, Poole and Newport are well stocked with timetable leaflets and there’s a handy timetable book for the network of routes based on Poole and another for the Isle of Wight, produced twice each year.

IMG_3440
The popular X3 linking Salisbury with Bournemouth is just one in a network of inter-urban routes run by ‘more’

Every time I’ve travelled I’ve found Go South Coast staff to be courteous and friendly, not least when I’ve made bizarre requests for the bus to stop for a few minutes in the village of Nomansland so I could record I’d been there (another service with one return journey running just three days a week route!).

IMG_3736
In Romsey

In Nomansland

All in all a great example of how a company with a diverse portfolio of services in a challenging market in southern England can thrive when given the backing of investment from a Group plc and is led by a first rate managing director given the necessary autonomy and a great team.

A true exemplar for the bus industry to showcase. Congratulations once again.

Roger French