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Separate Beds

Tuesday 29th September 2020

It was disappointing to hear Stagecoach has split its Oxford to Cambridge route X5 in Bedford. The X5 is the well established bus equivalent of East-West Rail now under active development.

The half hourly frequency has been retained throughout but the opportunity has been taken to convert the more heavily used eastern section between Bedford, St Neots and Cambridge to double deck and renumbered 905. Handy ‘seamless’ connections are available in Bedford with the truncated coach operated X5 between Bedford, Milton Keynes, Buckingham, Bicester and Oxford.

The new 905 has also had a route makeover into and out of Cambridge and now serves the huge Science Park in the north east of the city as well as using the upgraded A14.

The route also serves part of the expanding ‘new town’ of Cambourne to the west of Cambridge much to the delight of the Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority who had an almighty row with the Greater Cambridge Partnership over the best way to provide transport for the area.

Combined Authority Mayor James Palmer has a long term grand vision for a ‘Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro’ (CAM) including 140 miles of exclusive ‘track’ across the wider Authority area while the more locally focused Partnership wants to deliver a lower key busway from Cambourne into Cambridge. Palmer said he’d dig up the busway if it got built and reckons a short term solution of improving bus routes to get residents in the habit of using public transport is what’s needed while he works on his CAM idea.

Stagecoach introducing the new 905 to supplement its existing local routes between Cambourne and Cambridge is therefore very timely.

I caught the 905 departure at 12:00 as fine rain was falling in Cambridge this morning to see how the new arrangements are working out.

The 905, like the X5 before it, doesn’t depart from Drummer Street bus station, which is a pity as that’s where convenient connections to other local bus routes would be available and is the obvious place for it.

Instead it departs a few minutes walk away in Parkside where National Express coaches also depart from a very basic shelter for each.

It feels a somewhat exposed location and although there’s a reassuring electronic departure sign in the shelter and a notice telling passengers about the route split and renumbering, the absence of a 905 timetable (and even an X5 to show connections) was noticeable and regrettable.

My bus arrived a little late from its previous journey and after a truncated five minute layover (scheduled 13 minutes), the driver was back in the cab with us all on board for an on time departure to Bedford.

It was a nicely appointed Enviro400 with grey coloured leather-like seating, usb and Wi-fi. It’s a shame there was just seven of us on board.

The journey to Bedford was uneventful. Neither the new route via the Science Park nor the diversion via a tree lined Cambourne yielded any passengers.

A brief scheduled one minute pause in St Neots saw two of our passengers depart with another two boarding, one of whom just travelled locally. The other continued to Bedford where the five other passengers from Cambridge also alighted.

We arrived on time at 13:17 as had the X5 already on the stand for its 13:30 departure. I noticed two of the Cambridge passengers transfer on to the Oxford bound X5 travelling on to Milton Keynes.

The driver took the 905 bus over to Bedford bus garage and another driver soon arrived back with it ready for its 13:30 departure to Cambridge.

Neither the 905 nor X5 use the head on stands with its enclosed waiting and circulating area in Bedford bus station instead departing from an exposed shelter less lay-by type arrangement in front of the head on stands. I wouldn’t want to wait in wet or windy weather. Still at least the departure stops are next to each other for those passengers connecting.

The X5 left Bedford on time at 13:30. Whereas the 905 takes an hour and seventeen minutes, journey time on the X5 is 2 hours and 16 minutes, but the coach gives a very comfortable ride and the interior comes with well appointed seats, usb and Wi-fi.

We left with seven on board all travelling to Milton Keynes – one to the Coachway, four to the shopping centre and two to the station.

We picked two passengers up at the Coachway (one travelling to Buckingham and one to Oxford), and one passenger boarded at Milton Keynes station for Oxford where we had enough time to pause for about five minutes – as we did in Buckingham for another scheduled six minute pause.

This gave me time to have a stretch of the legs and check out how the X5 truncation has been handled on what is one of Best Impressions’ best liveries.

A faded Cambridge can just about be seen, on the sides, but it’s a bit unfortunate the way Cambridge has been removed from some of the rears. I’m surprised a reference to connections to the new 905 wasn’t added instead of a clumsy cut out job.

Still, at least Bedford still works as a destination to promote, even though it hasn’t quite got the tourist pull of Cambridge.

I left my friendly X5 driver and two passengers for their final 30 minute leg into Oxford, at Bicester North station having noticed a slightly late Chiltern Railways train was heading south, giving an excellent and ‘seamless’ connection and a quick journey back to Marylebone to end my round trip day out.

The disappointing passenger numbers are obviously still impacted by coronavirus caution. Thankfully routes 905 and X5 are benefitting from the DfT’s continued Covid-19 Bus Service Support Grant Restart payments, which is just as well.

As is Chiltern Railways receiving Emergency Recovery Measures Agreements payments. With my train from Birmingham Snow Hill arriving into Marylebone at 16:08 with just 26 on board, that’s just as well too.

Particularly bearing in mind the draconian seat restrictions Chiltern are imposing.

Roger French

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I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.

12 thoughts on “Separate Beds Leave a comment

  1. I’m not sure if you knew, but for the past 6 months, Stagecoach had been using single decker Volvo MCV Evora’s (usually used on the Cambridge Busway) on the X5 rather than their usual coaches. I’m not sure why – maybe the seats are more spaced out so it was better for social distancing – but it seems a weird choice since the coaches will have a lot more seats.

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    • From what I’ve heard, I believe that’s because there was no protective screen fitted for the drivers onboard X5 coaches (but to my knowledge, this has now been rectified). Quite funny really, it was also the Wright Eclipse 2 going all the way from Cambridge to Oxford – at least it had coach-style high-backed seating!

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    • I think is was because the coaches had to be retrofitted with driver protection screens elsewhere, hence the use of the other buses that do have them. I’m sure that during lockdown the numbers didn’t need anything more than a small taxi tbh.

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  2. Those covid-19 notices at bus stops are annoying you go to a bus stop expecting to see a timetable not to read medical advice!so you’ll know all about face coverings but not what time a bus might arrive as they’ve taken away the timetables!

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  3. Very disappointing to see the X5 being split. However I think it’s the least worst option all things considered if a service is needed from St Neots and Cambourne to the Science Park

    However, the roadside information in East has regressed terribly. They used to put up either A4 timetables or departure lists. And now you get neither or old pre covid displays. Even Whippet has better information and they make a loss every year!

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  4. Unfortunately, most Cambridge “country” services have been displaced from Drummer Street because of “you-know-what”, with scant information as to where, but of course the 905 has at least stayed the same as the previous X5. I believe the original reason for banishment to Parkside was the sheer size of the coaches, just a step too far for a then over-crowded bus station. One can but hope it may return one day as Parkside is not convenient place at all. The whole operation has always been crewed solely by Bedford for as long as I can remember, and thus Driver changes took place on all journeys in both directions at Bedford Bus Station, some more prolonged than others!. Apart from the advantage of low-floor double-decks now on the Cambridge leg, at least all journeys will now start “fresh” instead of at the mercy of earlier delays en route. It was envisaged a few years ago to re-convert to double-deck once more (it had been in an earlier life when only hourly, but considerably faster), using part of downstairs for bicycles, and a Volvo Olympian was so fitted, running experimentally for some time. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the present rather magnificent Stenning liveried beasts (with a mountain of steep steps to negotiate) were ordered instead. But let us not get too downhearted, as presumably they will soon be drenched in whatever colour the “new express livery” is called. I have my own name for it.

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  5. Your “rear end” photo also shows the universal Stagecoach “no entry for cycles on my left” sticker. Such a manoeuvre is not illegal, but obviously needs caution. So the sign should be a warning triangle. (an Oxford cyclist)

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  6. So, is there a low bridge on the Bedford to Oxford part, precluding the use of deckers on this section, or not? Have double decks been used in the past, and if so do they have to take a diversion at some point? I’ve read that single decks HAVE to be used, but then, as above, I’ve seen that deckers have sometimes been used, and seen pictures too, can someone clear this up with an authoritative answer once and for all? Thanks!

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    • I can see a couple of bridges that are signed as 15’3″ in the Bicester area, which should be fine for a standard double-decker, so there’s no obvious reason why they shouldn’t be used – and as you say Flickr shows that on odd occasions they have been used. My guess would be that, the Covid-situation notwithstanding, there was an instruction not to use *buses of any sort* on the X5 other than for emergency cover, as it has been run by coaches for a long time.

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      • The X5 goes under a few bridges.theres one at Bicester North station which must have a high clearance some of what use to be the 27 /28/29,S something now,went that way which are double deckers.further east between Bicester and Buckingham there’s a bridge with a virtually unknown preserved railway running over the road which I think is in the village of Finnmere and has a class 73 in Railfreight grey??that bridge looks low.all the other bridges I’ve noticed are high and mostly along the A34 green sign motorway.

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