Here’s where I would have travelled…

Monday 16th March 2020

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For those who enjoy trying out new bus routes and train services, as I do, there are some exciting developments planned for the next few weeks.

Or are there?

Not just because I’m personally ceasing travel for my own health and wellbeing during the current pandemic crisis, but my guess is bus and train companies are going to be in such dire financial straits within weeks due to passenger demand falling off a cliff, that the last thing on the agenda will be flying kites with introducing new routes.

Indeed I’m expecting news of emergency timetables with significantly reduced frequencies and curtailed evening and Sunday services coming along very soon. These will not only reflect significant reductions in passengers travelling, but the lack of staff available to work due to sickness.

All this just at a time when buses had suddenly become in vogue with a £5 billion Government financial boost over five years. Never mind that paying for a fleet of new electric buses and much needed (when traffic returns to normal levels) bus priority measures as well as action to “seriously transform buses making every day journeys easier, greener and more convenient” to quote the Government’s news release; all that cash injection (and more) is going to be desperately needed within months simply to stop bus companies from going bankrupt.

And on the trains, never mind finally getting round to announcing what the elusive Williams Review actually concluded for the future structure of the rail industry, those franchises which have been teetering on the brink of financial collapse will have to be nationalised within weeks to keep wheels turning. Photographs of a deserted peak hour Waterloo and Manchester Piccadilly circulating on social media say it all. The Operator of Last Resort is set to become the dominant, maybe even the only, player in the industry by the summer.

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So, in the absence of blogposts sharing my various journeys around Britain over the next few weeks and maybe months, you’ll have to put up with the odd comment column on developments on a less frequent basis.

And in that context, here’s what I would have experienced on my travels over the next few weeks…..

This week was originally the target date for the introduction of a new hourly route 99 coach service running between Bracknell and Heathrow Airport Terminals 5, 3 and 2 by CJJ Coaches of Fifield near Maidenhead. I hear the introductory date has now been optimistically put back to 23rd April and still subject to how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting us all by then (probably, a lot). Seeing the nosedive the airline industry is currently taking with talk of possible grounding of entire fleets I don’t think we’ll be seeing this new coach service any time soon.

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Another new service to Heathrow is due to take off in a couple of weeks on Sunday 29th March. It’s a new hourly X50 running between High Wycombe, Maidenhead and Heathrow Central Bus Station under the ‘airline’ brand from the Oxford Bus Company. So far the Oxford Bus Company’s website is still promoting its introduction with no word whether it will be postponed. If it does go ahead it will be a ‘courageous‘ investment of what looks like at least three coaches running virtually round the clock (02:35 to 00:00) to an Airport which is going to take on the air of a ghost town for the foreseeable future.

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Then next Tuesday Arriva are due to begin a four year contract (with a two-year extension option) awarded by Watford Borough Council to bring their Click DRT brand to the area. The contract involves seven minibuses (five in the off peak) operating between 06:00 and 22:00 running around the Borough with no changes to the commercial bus network nor the tendered bus routes and journeys funded by Hertfordshire County Council.

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It’s a project spearheaded by the directly elected Mayor of Watford aiming to “support the provision of sustainable transport, particularly in the light of additional growth for Watford which is expected to be around 800 new dwellings per year” to quote the Council’s report. £1million has been set aside in Watford Borough’s financial projections through to 2022/23 to fund this latest DRT venture – I may be reading the year by year breakdown wrongly, but there’s an alarming drop off in assumed revenue support in years 2, 3 and 4 (£550K to £95K) which I’d be very surprised is made good by income from passengers travelling. All the more so if the service kicks off as planned next week bearing in mind travel in the next few months is going to be decimated.

Down in Cornwall managers at Plymouth Citybus must be running round like the proverbial getting ready to launch their newly gained tendered network across the whole of Cornwall in a fortnight – at the same time as working out how to keep profits at Plymouth’s city bus network above break even. What a time to be launching a brand new high profile ‘Transport for Cornwall’ brand! I’m sorry to be missing out on giving it a try out. I’d booked a flight on the newly launched four journeys a day Gatwick to Newquay service with FlyBe for Monday 30th March to have a ride round for the day. Sadly that journey got canned a couple of weeks ago when FlyBe collapsed – still it had only cost £30 one-way; mind you at that price (inclusive of the £13 Air Passenger Duty) no wonder the airline went bust!

Over on the tracks new train services are planned by a number of Train Operating Companies for the May timetable. Most ambitious is Grand Central with its new direct Euston to Blackpool service and then there’s LNER already building up the hype around their once a day extension of a Leeds train to start and finish its journey at Huddersfield. The latter probably doesn’t involve much additional cost but in the current travel downturn if I were running Grand Central I’d back off flying that kite on a new service to Blackpool just now; certainly until May 2021.

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It’s a scary time for everyone working in transport. My best wishes to all who are facing very difficult decisions over the next few weeks. I’ll be watching with interest safely based at home.

Roger French

15 thoughts on “Here’s where I would have travelled…

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  1. The Oxford bus company had for sometime an arm’s length operation in high Wycombe called the Wycombe bus company but sold it to arriva the did a service to Oxford and local ones around high Wycombe.interestingly the Oxford bus company are reusing the x50 number,they used that on the 4 times a day Oxford Birmingham service via Woodstock and Stratford a service that they took over from the Midland red (South)in about 1990.

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    1. The Birmingham-Oxford X50 service was introduced jointly by Midland Red OC and COMS (Oxford/South Midland as they were branded at the time) way back in 1976 as part of one of the earliest MAP projects, or Viable Network Project as it was known by Midland Red.
      It was numbered X50 because the Birmingham-Stratford stopping service it ran alongside was the 150.

      After deregulation it passed back and forth between operators, being withdrawn and reinstated, and now exists as a Sunday-only service operated by Johnsons of Henley between Birmingham and Chipping Norton.

      With regard to staff working on the railway, a TOC (which I suppose had best remain nameless) has told their “people” that if they follow government advice for mild symptoms to self-isolate without contacting NHS 111 and getting a case reference number, they will be disciplined. I hope bus companies are being a little more helpful in their approach.

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      1. My first sight of a midland red bus was on crossroads!it picked Benny up from outside the from the North East so United was my local NBC although we’d see northern too which ran a lot of joint services with United (West Yorkshire, Ribble and East Yorkshire also did a few joint routes with United too) and I didn’t know about other NBC’s.the Midland red in question was in NBC red with the NBC reflected arrows on the side be about 1984 so not sure if it had been split; north,south,east and west by then.


      2. Sorry to be nerdish about this but for the sake of accuracy, the X50 actually started before MAP, in 1973, running twice daily. It was doubled to four times daily in 1976, and when Stratford-upon-Avon’s Viable Network Project was implemented (in 1977) it became Limted Stop at the Birmingham end.


        1. I caught it the whole way from Birmingham to Oxford in either 1988 or 89 to come to Oxford for college interviews.i can’t remember if it was an Oxford bus or midland red (south)?I have a feeling it went from the bus station under the bull ring which closed shortly after.ive also done it on part journeys to visit the rollright stones.there was a part journey bit too than only went Birmingham to Stratford which was either the x2 or x20.


      3. Birmingham to Stratford was X20, I believe. I think the X20 and X50 offered an hourly service between Brum and Stratford (day time), the X20 just being a renumbered 150 (can’t remember when that happened).

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  2. A Cynic might suggest renaming the current situation “panic-demic”, as the World we knew appears to be collapsing around our ears, and at a frightening speed. I really cannot share any tears for the Airline industry, as apart from being the very worst polluters, were also first to be screaming for bailouts! Air travel is predominantly for Holidaymakers (Business people can be video-linked), and the insatiable demand solely responsible for the virus spreading mess we are now in, and for which I am told today makes me a Prisoner in my own home for the foreseeable future. Thanks “Sir” Richard and his Friends! So let us hope (few will agree I realise) air travel is dramatically scaled back in the future. But dragging down essential bus, coach and rail services may have far reaching and disastrous future consequences, not to mention the tumbling price of oil which will make the car yet more attractive. Note the share price fall variations between those such as National Express who serve Airports or have rail franchises against those less exposed. Apart from the X50, 99 and Watford “Click” , Arriva must also be wishing they were not about to start a Stansted Green Line (720), and First Group about to sell off their massive American interests. The only hope is that Stagecoach may not be able to afford to continue re-painting their buses into “Insipid” liveries one. two and three!

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      1. As Newquay,Cornwall is land connected to most of the British isles it shouldn’t have been receiving a subsidy the only flights which should are Ireland, the channel Islands, Isle of Man and the remote Scottish Islands as land and sea travel can be impractical from them.interestingly when Branson bought Flybe he said with immediate effect it would be known as Virgin connect funny it was still called Flybe when he was trying to get the government to bail it out 2 months later no doubt not wanting to taint the Virgin name?now our self appointed national treasure and all round favourite oligarch is trying to get the government to bail out Virgin Atlantic over the coronavirus,a virus his airline,one of many,has helped transport around the world so rapidly! whatever happened to Mrs Thatcher’s risk taking venture capitalists? Branson is starting to remind me of the Lloyds names take a risk and get the government to bail you out.shame horse racing wasn’t like that!


  3. Yes, this is beginning to get seriously scary. But a practical question which you may well be able to answer. In a situation like this, what freedom do operators have to curtail, change or cancel services? Do they still have to go via the Traffic Commissioners or can – as it seems they must – they move more quickly? Of course it’s possible that this question will be looked at in the emergency legislation which the Government will bring out.

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    1. I saw something the other day that CPT (Confederation of Passenger Transport) are asking the DfT for the normal regulations re notice period for registration amendments to be suspended. Suspect this will happen to give operators flexibility.


  4. The Gatwick – Newquay service was actually subsidised which is incredible to think. There should be no subsidised domestic flights apart from perhaps to the remotest parts of the Hebrides or Orkney / Shetland. The very idea is a complete contradiction to any sort of ethical responsible transport policy. In the meantime I hope this crisis brings at the very least common sense and coherence to transport policy. And that everyone stays well.

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  5. Looks like the Operators are taking steps already, DfT permission or not. The Battle area for Community Transport, who operate seven services plus an “on-demand flexi” have withdrawn all immediately “to protect their Staff and Volunteers”. They could have added (but didn’t), 99% of their passengers are now Prisoners in their own homes thanks to my earlier remarks. And, also reported this afternoon, is that TfL are to operate Saturday services on buses at least if not the trains (?), although presumably wouldn’t have to ask Anyones permission as a Law Unto Themselves. The rate we are going, reduced Sunday services should follow shortly!

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  6. I only got a few of the split up midland red routes under the belt.birmingham Oxford/Stratford (midland red (south)), Birmingham Worcester (midland red (West) and Wolverhampton tetnal (Midland red (North)).I don’t think that I ever went on midland red (East)which became Midland fox.thats not counting national express coaches run by Midland red.theyd all been privatised by the time I went on them .I think that the only NBC companies I went on where United, Northern, West Yorkshire, East Yorkshire and possibly Ribble as I went on the joint Newcastle Carlisle service but I can’t remember if it was Ribble or United vehicles I rode as it was jointly run as was the Scarborough to Bridlington service hence me doing East Yorkshire.


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