Saturday 21st December 2019
A very warm welcome once again to my annual round up and review of what was in, who was out and the events that may have passed you by in the World of Buses and Trains during 2019; plus, as ever, the only prestigious awards worthy of the word prestigious … the BusAndTrainUser Annual Awards for Prestigiousness as well as nine quiz questions to mull as you munch a mince pie or two over Christmas.
I’m delighted we’re once again privileged to be holding this prestigious Annual Awards event in the spacious arena that is the cavernous passenger circulating area of Crossrail’s Farringdon station. So many of you provided such positive feedback following last year’s event we just had to come back again; and we’ve even made a booking for next year’s Awards to be held here too; apparently nothing else will be happening at this venue for some considerable time.
So sit yourself comfortably down on one of the few seats available while I take you through a nostalgic look back over the last twelve transport months.
2019 in a nutshell
Let’s begin with some positive news on the tracks, as 2019 has seen many of those much promised new trains finally brought into service; sadly some have come with a large dose of teething problems meaning urgent dentistry treatment even including premature withdrawals but at long last it’s good to see more electric trains running under those expensive newly energised wires.
There’s been no end of controversy on the franchise front in 2019 with big names disqualified from bidding over pensions, who in turn are now suing the DfT. As the year comes to an end Virgin and Stagecoach have exited the market, Northern and TransPennine Express are struggling to maintain any semblance of reliable service, ScotRail has been told its franchise will reach the terminus three years early, South Western Railway passengers are enduring a month’s RMT strike with regular weekend strikes also afflicting London Northwestern and West Midlands Railways, Greater Anglia are cancelling services due to new train issues and southeastern’s franchise has been extended for a record time with that franchise competition, involving millions in costs, now abandoned. Meanwhile despite decades of notice, train companies are pleading for more time to keep trains non compliant with new access regulations from January in service pending late deliveries of new trains.
And it’s not much better on the roads with coach operators bleating twenty years isn’t long enough notice to adapt to legislation requiring accessible vehicles on school and rail replacement services meaning exemptions having to be granted much to the disquiet of operators who have invested in new vehicles and are ready for the new regime.
A third of the bus industry has been dominated by uncertainty over ownership for much of the year with DB touting Arriva for sale and First Group’s Board of Directors deciding they’d pursue “structural alternatives” which turned out to mean quitting the UK bus market in favour of pursuing its coach interests in the USA as its core activity yet disposing if it’s ailing Greyhound business there. Meanwhile it intends to fatten up its bus companies’ profits for their upcoming sale process which could be in one job lot or four packages. And what of it’s motley collection of rail franchises with their dubious financial states? It looks like uncertainty will continue into 2020 at First while at DB, it’s now saying it’ll float a minority stake in Arriva (bus and trains across Europe including the UK) from next May.
Buses also enjoyed or endured (depending on your stance) a higher political profile than they’ve been used to not least when our esteemed new Prime Minister announced he’s a great bus fan even spending his spare time building model buses out of cardboard boxes and wine crates. No doubt he incorporates an open rear exit/entrance in the design to allow for easy hop on/hop off – if so, they’ll be the only buses with such a facility. In his dreams.
Meanwhile who’d have thought we’d end the year with a Conservative Government committed to encourage bus franchising, or so it says. Strange times indeed in 2019.
It wasn’t such a good year for ride sharing innovations with three closing down (Chariot, Citymapper Ride and Sittingbourne Click) and three opening up (Leicester Click, thanks to developer funding, Go-Sutton and Slide Ealing thanks to TfL funding) and two more both opening up and closing down within the year (B Bus London to Luton Airport and Zeelo’s Crawley to Gatwick Airport) but Stagecoach did show off its autonomous bus negotiating the parking area in a Manchester bus depot, so all’s good on the innovation front. Meanwhile passengers are increasingly being encouraged to embrace contactless even if there’s confusion about what tapping on and going can mean.
Two steps forward in 2019 for trains running faster thanks to electrified tracks to west of Newbury, Bristol Parkway (and on to Cardiff), Bolton and Alloa and Dumblane as well as through Shotts, but one step back for dwell times as Class 37 locomotives began hauling slam-door coaches on peak hour trains between Rhymney and Cardiff for Transport for Wales due to a shortage of cascaded trains thanks to delayed new trains into service.
Despite the Government appointed Williams Review yet to report on its recommendations for the future structure for the rail industry two new franchises began – East Midlands Railways saw Abeliio oust Stagecoach from East Midlands Trains and First with Trenitalia launched Avanti West Coast replacing Virgin (with Stagecoach). Also on the ownership front, 2019 saw a handful of bus company ownership changes with Go-Ahead and Rotala taking Queens Road, Manchester and Bolton garages off First Bus; Yellow Buses’ management team buying out the company from RATP; Reading Buses buying Courtney Buses; Centrebus snapping up D&G Buses and Stagecoach buying South Gloucestershire Bus and Coach. Back in London TfL embarked on a major reorganisation of Central London bus routes as well as other changes in the suburbs associated with Crossrail; even though Crossrail isn’t appearing any time soon.
Numbers of the Year
6 double decker buses; said to be the size of Sidmouth’s Fatberg.
25 years of Gatwick Express
75p per departure: charge introduced at Lancashire’s bus stations
85% of train users are satisfied (according to Transport Focus)
88% of bus users are satisfied (according to Transport Focus)
100 years of Ribble and Devon General
£100,000 predicted savings by Suffolk County Council ceasing to display roadside bus timetables
£1.9 million loss announced by Cardiff Bus in 2017/18
£2 million loss announced by Yellow Buses in 2017/18
£5 million fine imposed on GTR after ORR investigation into failure to provide information
£26 million investment in the Island Line announced
£80 million worth of orders for 350 vehicles announced by Stagecoach
£200 million funding “to put the wheels back on the British bus” promised by Chancellor Javid
£500 million funding by Scottish Government “to improve bus priority infrastructure, modal shirt and air quality”
Lots of senior hello and welcomes at Stagecoach’s bus division during 2019 with new recruits from outside the industry including Catherine Acton-Brazier from BT and Caria Stockton-Jones from Sky as two new Regional Directors and new managing directors at bus companies including Fiona Doherty at West Scotland (from Forth Ports); Joel Mitchell at South East (from c2c Rail); Douglas Robertson at East Scotland where he was Commercial Director while Michelle Hargreaves took on East of England after Andy Campbell retired and Michael Watson has temporarily taken back the helm at South West. Also from outside the industry, a hello to Paul O’Neil becoming UK Bus managing director at Arriva from Rolls Royce. Hello also to Nigel Featham moving from Arriva to Go-Ahead as managing director at Go North West, Adam Keen who moved from Go South Coast to become managing director at New Adventure Travel and to Paul Dyer from DHL who steps into the managing director’s role at Cardiff Bus from next month. Welcome also to Graham Vidler to be CEO at CPT.
Overseeing the train sets it’s a hello to Tom Joyner the new MD at Cross Country (from Arriva Trains Wales), Will Rogers the new MD at East Midlands Railway (from London Overground), Matthew Gotton, now sitting in the MD’s chair at GWR while Mark Hopwood swaps over to be interim MD at SWR as Andy Mellors (was) moved over to look after First’s Open Access operators. Below the surface, Andy Lord moved from Menzies to become managing director of London Underground.
Even more senior, David Martin (ex Arriva) became the new Chairman at First Group and Ray O’Toole (ex National Express) will succeed Sir Brian Souter as Chairman at Stagecoach (neat eh?) while Clare Hollingsworth took over the Chair at Go-Ahead Group and over at Marsham Street, Grant Shapps arrived to replace the hapless Chris Grayling as Secretary of State.
Welcomed on the infrastructure front, Go North East spent £3.5 million on a new bus depot in Consett while Go South Coast did the same in Bournemouth for £2.5 million, on the former Excelsior Coaches site, and in a new depot 2019 hat-trick for the Go-Ahead Group, Thames Travel unveiled a new “low-carbon” depot in Didcot. In London, Abellio opened a new depot in Armstrong Way, Southall on the site of the old AEC Routemaster factory while a much needed new bus station opened for business in Rawtenstall. A new £21 million station and bus interchange opened in South Shields with new rail stations opening for ScotRail at Robroyston, Warrington West for Northern Rail and Meridian Water for Greater Anglia (replacing Angel Road).
Jo Bamford of JCB fame was the saviour of Wrightbus in October while in May NFI Group Inc (“North America’s most diversified bus and coach manufacturer”) took over Alexander Dennis Limited. International expansion in 2019 also saw Go-Ahead buses appearing on commuter routes between Kildare and Dublin in Ireland in November while “Go-Ahead Nordic” began an eight year contract operating three rail routes from Oslo this month.
Hello to new brands hitting the roads and tracks in 2019 including trax, irwell line, Tiger Moth, Nimrod, East Yorkshire, Green Arrow, Ipswich Reds, Toon Tour, Seasider, Beachcomber, Coaster, X-Lines, Bright Bus Tours, Hope Valley Explorer, Scarborough Locals, Azuma and EMR while it was good to see refreshing livery and brand updates for Newbury & District, Thames Valley and Salisbury Reds.
Competition stepped up in West Lothian with Lothian Buses launching new routes westwards while First Bus launched a new Bright Bus Tours operation in the Edinburgh open-top market. In Guildford, Safeguard fought back with a new route 3S to Bellfields against Arriva’s route 3 and by the end of the year Arriva blinked first and slimmed down.
Stagecoach said goodbye to employing casual bus drivers (after a tragic fatal accident in Coventry) as well as to its North American division (sold to Variant Equity Advisors) but pocketed £214.8 million in return. It was also farewell to buses run by Go-Ahead owned konnectbus in Suffolk, John Smith & Son of Thirsk, Buses Etcetera of Merstham, Rotala’s ‘Signature’ branding in Solihull, Cardiff’s ‘Capital Links’ brand, Xplore Dundee’s 360 city centre circular route and traditionalists were aghast when 55 Broadway, SW1 was finally sold and vacated.
It was a sudden goodbye to YourBus in Derbyshire, Stagecarriage running bus routes on Teeside, Arriva running local routes in Sevenoaks, Rhyl based Coastline Coaches and Marchants Coaches running local buses in the Cheltenham area while Oxford Bus announced it will be saying goodbye to the London market as it ends its X90 coach route early in January. Farewell and good luck to Bob Dennison (MD of Stagecoach South West) and Cynthia Ogbonna (MD of Cardiff Bus) and Andy Campbell retiring (MD Stagecoach East of England). TfL bade farewell to open-boarding through all three doors on route 8 to be followed by all New Routemaster operated routes in 2020. It was also adieu to Virgin and Stagecoach from the British rail scene and a grand farewell to HSTs running to and from London on the Great Western and East Coast main lines.
It was a sad goodbye to Class 37 hauled coaches which finally ended plying their way along Greater Anglia’s Wherry Lines but a more welcome farewell to toilet charges as Network Rail ended the 30p and 50p for a pee charge at all its stations and a controversial withdrawal was the licence to Uber by TfL, subject to appeal.
Quiz of the Year (Answers will appear in a few days)
1 What comes fourth in the sequence: Lincoln, Aberdeen, Inverness ….
2 What’s the Odd One Out: Snap; Class 442 electrics; Ensign Bus route X1; Conwy Valley rail line
3 Why were bus operators tied up in knots in Staffordshire in 2019?
4 What connects Guildford, Staines, Iver and Ruislip?
5 What did passengers in Harrogate on Sundays; Kidderminster’s route 3 in May; on trains between Barking and South Tottenham in September; and on Slough’s ‘Bath Road Central’ bus route from the town’s station have in common?
6 What connects bus routes 35 in Worcester, 38 on Merseyside, 50 in the West Midlands and 653 in Hatfield?
7 What was Dame Vera Lynn doing in Woolwich in 2019?
8 Why were Go North East passengers encouraged to put their feet up in 2019?
9 What’s the Odd One Out: Buses crossing Hammersmith Bridge; Victoria Coach Station moving to Royal Oak; two buggies being carried on a Lothian tri-axle 100 seater Enviro 400 bus; GWR running trains to Bishops Lydeard.
And so to the Awards…..
Well That Didn’t Work Out Award of the Year
A bumper crop of entries for this ever popular award as the financial chickens came home to roost in 2019 for a number of 2018’s misplaced optimistic innovations. Short-listed entries for this Award include Ford’s Chariot, for its ‘Exit from the Ride Sharing market’; Citymapper Ride for its ‘Exit from the Ride Sharing market’; Arriva Click for its ‘Exit from the Ride Sharing market in Sittingbourne’ and the winner is … sorry we’re unable to bring you the winner just at the moment as the App’s telling us “all our vehicles are busy at the moment. please try again later”. So in the meantime let’s have another award …..
Put The New Trains Into Service As They’re Already Very Late Even Though They’re Not Really Ready Award of the Year
Apparently bets on this Award have reached record proportions with Caledonian Sleeper’s Mark 5 coaches the out and out favourite to pick up Gold for its late entry into service and hyped as the best of luxury travel on wheels only to face one disaster after another. But, there’s strong competition from Greater Anglia’s Stadler Flirt Class 755 trains now given the nickname ‘Basils’ by staff because “they’re so faulty”. But a very late entry has been received from Sheffield Tram-trains Class 399, introduced in 2017, after the entire Tram-train service was suspended for the second time this year – for three days this month – to undergo safety checks. But the winner has to be CAF’s Class 5 Sleeper coaches and my one hope for 2020 is to have running water in a working shower. They’d better do after this Award win.
Here’s A Reason Not To Let Politicians Get Too Involved Award of the Year
Not surprisingly as buses play catch up with trains for politicians to involve themselves with, this Award has become a much coveted one for the trophy cabinet. This year’s outstanding winner is TfL’s admission it’s ending the practice of open boarding on New Routemasters having already sealed off the rear exit/entrance from passengers boarding and alighting in between bus stops – the reason the bus was designed as it was in the first place as insisted upon by a certain well known politician.
The Award for the Most Apt Delay About A Delay of the Year
Only one entry for this Award too and it goes to the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry set up in 2014 into why the city’s tram line was delivered years late, and massively over budget and to a truncated route. The Inquiry report was expected in 2017 but two years later has still not appeared. It was announced in August the report was running late and publication “is months away” despite oral evidence being taken between September 2017 and May 2018. A well deserved win, but sadly the Award is not yet available to hand out as the engraving is running months late. Meanwhile construction of the extension to the original tram route has begun – well, why wait for the Report?
The Get Out And Push of the Year Award
There’s no truth in the rumour that Norwich City Football Club players enjoying their celebratory promotional tour of the city at the end of the last football season on an open top bus deliberately made the bus break down and got off to push the bus on its parade so they could win at least one Award this season. Well, if it’s true; they just have. Congratulations Canaries. Delia will be proud of you.
Completely Out Of Touch Tweet of the Year Award
For the second year running this Award recognising extreme naffness in the use of social media goes to Arriva Click for continuing to encourage passengers through Twitter to use Click to attend events inaccessible by Arriva Click. A classic of its kind was a concert on a Sunday in Sittingbourne … Click didn’t operate on a Sunday in Sittingbourne. Still; no chance of that mistake happening again I guess.
And finally for 2019 just to show it pays for buses and trains to work together comes news from June when roadworks near Talyllyn in mid Wales meant buses couldn’t run on their normal route leaving hamlets isolated. To the rescue came the Talyllyn Railway which gave local people free train rides to replace the missing buses. A rare example of a Bus Replacement Train Service.
And if you’d like to see the video shown at the Awards ceremony summarising 100 Bus And Train Events in 2019 in fifteen minutes, then click here.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.