Thursday 14th November 2019
It’s becoming notable how many new and improved bus routes are being introduced with financial support from Heathrow Airport offering better connections for staff and airline travellers. Anyone would think there’s a third runway in the offing.
I wrote about First Bus’s new RailAir link from Guildford to Heathrow when it kicked off back in July. Earlier this month I wrote about the much improved timetable introduced a couple of weeks ago on Thames Valley branded route 10 to Datchet, Windsor and Dedworth and yesterday I caught up with a couple more initiatives now up and running thanks to the ever generous Heathrow Airport Ltd.
Route X442 began on 10th August providing a direct quick link from Staines rail station pretty much non stop along the A3044 past the massive reservoirs straight to Terminal 5. It supplements the more circuitous route 442 via Ashford Hospital, Stanwell and Stanwell Moor which has also seen an improved timetable with late evening journeys and a new Sunday service. Both routes 442 and X442 are operated by Carlone with swanky Mercedes Sprinter minibuses with the usual leather type seats, awful leg room, especially over the wheel arches, but a handy usb socket in the side panels.
Surrey County Council have also chipped in to facilitate the improved service and Spelthorne Borough Council (in which Staines resides) has aspirations for a ‘Southern Light Rail’ scheme which “will form part of the Oyster card network”. Recent press reports state the Council “had been given the nod to proceed with its bid” for such a scheme. I guess when you have a Masterplan which builds a new runway, eliminates communities by bulldozing hundreds of homes, diverts rivers and roads, burrows the M25 into a tunnel and goodness knows what else, a light rail connecting Staines into the airport is almost petty cash consideration. But, in the meantime for Stainesites and Heathrow workers using SWR trains to the station, it’s the new look X442 for now.
I took a ride around lunchtime yesterday from Terminal 5 out to Staines and back again. It’s a tight run taking thirteen minutes pretty much non-stop. The half hour frequency is operated by just the one minibus (although a second spare is available), and one driver at a time, who notwithstanding the punishing regime was amazingly cheerful (even handing me a promotional pen with timetable) but he did admit the constant up and down the same bit of the A3044 does get to him towards the end of the shift in the afternoons. Update note from Matt at Carlone – three drivers are allocated to the X442 between 06:30 and 19:00 and all Carlone drivers have bespoke shifts on weekdays with weekend working voluntary overtime – a very employee friendly arrangement.
The first X442 journey leaves Staines station at 06:33 and continues until 19:03. There’s an hours gap mid morning and mid afternoon when passengers are directed to use the circuitous 442 instead which is appropriately diverted via the station (where it doesn’t normally go – preferring the bus station for the rest of its approximate 90 minute frequency timetable). The 442 also covers for the missing X442 in the evenings and on Sundays.
I was the only passenger on the 12:32 journey from Terminal 5 to Staines station but on the return trip leaving the station at 12:45 we picked a passenger up in the High Street who deliberately let the First Berkshire route 8 go by as she was pleased to tell the driver the cheaper fare on the X442 saved her £2. She reckoned a few of her colleagues had also twigged about the cheaper fares and made the switch. First’s route 8 also provides a fast half hourly link from Staines to Terminal 5, albeit serving the town’s bus station rather than the rail station.
The cheaper fares and the regular frequency will make the X442 an attractive link for the airport’s workers to and from Staines and the half hour frequency is generous but necessary if connections to trains at the station are going to be convenient. It’s quite an investment, but there again, Heathrow Airport can no doubt afford it.
The second new route to Terminal 5 only began last week, so it’s still early days. Operated by Reading Buses/Thames Valley route 459 provides a link to Iver just over the border in Buckinghamshire and also takes in Langley (twice on each journey).
CEO of Reading Buses, Robert Williams has explained the full service is not set to begin until next February, but in the meantime the five off-peak journey a day Monday to Friday taster timetable runs between 09:38 and 14:28 and has been “mobilised exceptionally quickly for the various authorities and will build everything up as things progress”.
The Reading Buses news release issued a couple of weeks ago says “the new route will be implemented in three phases as we trial different bus types”. Phase one started on Monday of last week and runs until 20th December using a full electric bus with the service “completely free to use”.
Phase two runs during the month of January and “we will use one of our single deck buses that run on compressed natural gas”.
Phase three from 3rd February sees “the full timetable introduced which will include a service running from 3am until after midnight, and of course, include weekends. From phase three, full fares will be in operation”. This full service will be run by a Euro 6 diesel engine bus.
This is an intriguing way of starting a new bus route; I’ve never come across anything quite like it before, and am not sure I understand the logic behind the various phases nor why the three month lead in period until the full timetable.
Route 459 takes in part of First Berkshire’s route 7 through Langley and I wonder if they will be pleased about this new interloper once the full timetable is introduced next year. For now, the five off-peak journeys are hardly a threat and unsurprisingly yesterday when I had a ride around on the 11:38 from Terminal 5 we left with no-one on board.
The online route map (above) shows “certain journeys only” making a detour via Langley before commencing the anti-clockwise circuit via Iver and we followed this route and the timetable shows all five journeys do so; perhaps this will change once the full timetable is implemented. It certainly adds to the sense of going round in circles for people travelling to Iver.
When we got to Iver station we picked up a passenger who thought we were the Redline Buses operated infrequent route 583 to Uxbridge where she was heading to (presumably) change on to TfL’s route A10 to get to Heathrow Central Bus Station for Terminal 2, so she was well pleased to discover she was on a free-to-use bus (for now) to Terminal 5 where she could make a (free) connection to the Central bus station. She was the only passenger but there didn’t seem to be much publicity for the 459 at bus stops as we went along the route, so that wasn’t surprising.
I spotted a timetable attached to a bus stop pole in Iver itself, but there was nothing displayed in bus shelters in Langley or through Colnbrook and no bus stops plates had the 459 number added.
I commented last week about the appalling dearth of helpful information about bus departures at Terminal 5 itself and wasn’t surprised to see no mention at all of the 459 anywhere yesterday.
It seems quite bizarre that Heathrow Airport are funding at considerable expense these new services, including the 459 and the improved route 10, yet there’s absolutely no mention of these initiatives. Quite how people are supposed to find out about them I really don’t know.
Terminal 5 compares very poorly with the Central Bus Station where there are at least displays advising you where to catch buses and coaches, and their destinations.
Compare the above with this disgraceful display at a Terminal 5 bus stop.
While at the Central Bus Station, I picked up a copy of the acclaimed Local Bus & Coach Guide (edition 2 dated 1 July 2019) and this is a real gem with a regional map showing bus routes to and from the airport, who operates what, and what special fare deals are available for airport staff.
Hopefully another edition will be published soon with all these latest initiatives included. And Terminal 5’s departure bays will get some much needed attention.