Sunday 20th December 2020
A very warm welcome to this socially distanced, Covid secure venue for our annual event in which we celebrate the ‘World of Buses and Trains’ with a round up of what’s been happening in 2020 as well as handing out some very special awards and a quiz to test your knowledge of what was in and what was out in this mementous year.
As you can see we’ve introduced special measures to keep you all safe in what is becoming our regular venue for this prestiguous event. Yes, for the third year running I’m delighted we’re once again privileged to be holding this looked-forward-to-all-year-event in the spacious area that is the cavernous passenger circulating area of Crossrail’s Farringdon station. Hopefully you were all able to squeeze through the slightly open security gates on Thameslink’s platform 4 to gain access down the smart escalators now the hoardings advertising the start of service in December 2018 have been removed.
And the good news is we’ve booked the same venue for next year’s event, making it our fourth year in a row, which is super convenient. Sadly it doesn’t look as if we’ll make it to five years running, as apparently there might be another use for the space in 2022, but never say never. As they say.
While all the other ‘prestiguous awards’ events in the bus and train world have been cancelled or held on-line this year, it’s a particular pleasure to welcome you all live in person at this year’s event. Obviously under Covid restrictions we’re unable to serve any food or drinks, so I hope you got the message to bring your own packed lunch, and you can tuck into your sarnies as we begin with our annual round up of the year……
Oh; hang on. There’s ‘Breaking News’ just coming in …. it seems “normality by Christmas” was the same fantasy fiction as “oven ready deal” as was “send the virus packing in 12 weeks” to say nothing of “moonshot mass testing” …. and London is now in a new Tier 4, or as we used to call it … Lockdown, so it’s over to back-up Plan B …. I’m afraid it’ll be just the usual email for subscribers and online for the rest of you ….so enjoy the read.
2020 in seven paragraphs
And, what a year it’s been. Never mind Berney Arms taking the accolade for Britain’s 2019/20’s least used station, 2020 was Britain’s least used bus and train network …. for well over a century; which wasn’t in the business plan assumptions back in January. Monday 23rd March will for ever be etched in our memories as the day our lives were turned upside down, inside out, or more pertinently, from outside to indoors. One positive 2020 outcome has been front line transport workers branded as “key workers”, getting clapped every Thursday for a while and bus drivers even getting recognised by the Google search home page one day, so that’s all got to be good and reflects an amazing effort by everyone in the wider transport industry to “keep the wheels turning”.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Reverse back to those first three pre-lockdown months and 2020 had got off to a pretty much normal start with only one eye on unconcerning developments in far away Wuhan, wherever that was. That was unless you were a delegate at the annual Bus Summit in Westminster’s Queen Elizabeth Centre on 14th February receiving a letter from Public Health England letting you know a fellow attendee had tested positive for this strange coronavirus virus. That suddenly brought home 2020 wasn’t going to pan out quite as a year normally does.
But it was still business as usual with more brand new trains coming on track(s), having been delayed from 2019, (and in some cases 2018) including Hitachis for Hull Trains ending their woes of train unavailability in previous months while both the Northern and TransPennine Express fleets’ age profile was transformed for the better with new deliveries as Greater Anglia “flirted” with their steady roll out of Stadlers and much later in the year the long awaited Bombardier Aventras finally arrived in service. Transport for Wales at last received its ‘flex’ bi-mode Class 769 trains, or as we knew them: the former Class 319 now with a diesel generator.
On the roads it was all about “game changing” electric buses which became much more of a thing during 2020 gracing the streets of a number of cities including London, Cambridge, Salisbury, York, Leeds, Manchester, Gateshead and Glasgow with more electric excitement to come in 2021 with the announcement Coventry and Oxford have won funding to be all electric bus cities. Electric coaches also became a thing this year with a new express service between Dundee and Edinburgh operated by start up ‘ember’. Some other start ups didn’t fare so well including CJJ Coaches’ ill-timed Bracknell Express to Heathrow Airport coach service and the rather strangely timed entry of Flixbus to the British domestic market. ADL Enviro200 and 400 buses became ubiquitous with some operators embracing their full quality presentational potential including Transdev Blazefield upgrading Blackburn’s ‘The 1’ and later in the year Burnley’s ‘Witchway’ and Coastliner’s ‘Cityzap’ and First Eastern Counties upgrading their Excel branded route and a new ‘airlink’ in Essex. First Portsmouth similarly upgraded ‘The Star’. Scottish Citylink’s route 900 between Edinburgh and Glasgow and Stagecoach’s ‘Oxfordtube’ gained the impressive looking ADL Plaxton Panorama coaches. More DRT schemes packed up but others began, full of (misplaced) optimism, as did the return of a number of rural bus routes helped by Government funding.
Talking of Government funding, the word “billions” became the norm in 2020. Even before Covid, a pledge of £5 billion was made for buses (and cycles sneaked in too) for all sorts of improvements, but by April every train, tram and bus was being paid for by the Government and for many months of the year public transport had consequently never been so financially secure …. for now. Talking of billions, HS2 got the formal go-ahead with work continuing at a number of locations, while Crossrail needed yet more money and yet more time.
Not surprisingly there wasn’t much head to head competition for bus passengers during 2020 but before passenger numbers collapsed a skirmish broke out in Warwickshire between Stagecoach and National Express West Midlands centred around Warwick University which led to NatEx expanding to Nuneaton in a tit-for-tat. And Diamond and Vision Bus are currently chasing each other in Manchester.
2020 saw some new names emerge with the usual batch of brand refreshes (read on for more details) including the South Wales based Comfort Delgro subsidiary, NAT Group (New Adventure Travel Group Ltd), becoming just plain Adventure Travel and bus manufacture Opatre becoming Switch Mobility. Let’s switch to some numbers ….
Numbers of the Year
- 1 in 11,000 chance of contracting Covid-19 on trains according to RSSB
- 29.3% pay increase agreed secured by ASLEF for SWR train drivers in March (over 4 years)
- 42 passengers used Berney Arms between 25 February and 31 March 2020 making it Britain’s least used station 2019/20
- 95% fall in passenger journeys year on year on rail by early April
- £100 per each rail passenger journey funding provided by Government during lockdown 1.
- 130 buses worth of tenders won by Plymouth City Bus called Transport for Cornwall (now both under a Go South West umbrella) in Cornwall from March
- £397 million made available by DfT to keep buses running in England on 3rd April. More followed.
- 504 less buses running the TfL network in early March compared to 2016
- £1,600 retention payment paid to London bus drivers funded by TfL for those with more than 3 years service
- £1.5 million to remove the former ‘tramway’ tracks to Weymouth Harbour
- £3 million for coach operators to provide additional scheduled express services over the “Christmas travel window” … oops, that didn’t last well.
- £500 million funding to work up business cases to “reverse Beeching cuts” announced by Grant Shapps
- £825 million to stop Crossrail from being mothballed
- £5 billion investment in buses and cycling announced by PM in February
- £10 billion cost of keeping trains on the tracks since March
Quiz of the Year 2020
Before we go any further, it’s time to test your 2020 bus and train knowledge with this year’s quiz. No cheating by reading on, where most of the answers are …. and all the answers can be found at the very end.
1 What connects the following Welsh locations in 2020? (a) Betws-y-Coed; (b) Denbigh; (c) Prestatyn; and (d) St Davids?
2 Forget ‘leaves on the line’, what unusual obstruction on the tracks at Stirling Station halted all trains on 14th October?
3 Why did TfL install a new bus stop right outside Clarance House in March?
4 What connects (a) Bracknell; (b) Portsmouth; (c) Denton in Greater Manchester; and (d) Banksy graffiti on a London Underground Circle Line train?
5 What unique coach service did Tusher Agarwal and Sanjay Madon launch with tickets going on sale in September for £15,500?
6 What National Rail station finally officially closed in October having not seen a passenger for 14 years?
7 Why were Fareham based Lucketts Travel Group owners Britain’s luckiest coach company propierters of 2020 in March?
8 Starting in April, what did many bus passengers lose out on at weekends in Wales but all London bus passengers gained all week as a result of Covid-19?
9 What connects (a) Liverpool; (b) Sutton; (c) Oxford; (d) Ealing?
10 What will you no longer find on board Stagecoach’s ‘Tayway’ branded route 73 in Dundee?
Hello, Good Evening and Welcome
One thing Covid didn’t stop was the preponderance of changes in the top echelons of bus and train industry top brass with more comings and goings than usual (more even than Premier League football club managers this year) including some new names from outside joining the industry to brighten up our roads and tracks at the very senior levels.
Stagecoach wins top prize for having the biggest directorial shake up in 2020, starting at the top, on 1st January (deep breath in), Ray O’Toole began filling big shoes as Chairman of Stagecoach while in November Carla Stockton-Jones took over as MD UK Bus with Marc Turley the new Group Commercial Director and Sam Greer becoming Regional Director Scotland. There was a right old MD merry go round seeing Matt Davies move from Yorkshire to Merseyside & South Lancs from where Rob Jones moved to Cumbria and North Lances from where Mark Whitelocks moved to the Midlands from where Phil Medlicott moved to Yorkshire from where Matt Davies ….. and then the music stopped…. then started again as Mike Watson moved back to his stomping ground as MD Devon and Peter Knight became MD North East Scotland. And then it stopped again …. but as the year comes to an end, it’s starting up again ready for next month when Lee Wasnidge comes from Manchester Airport to become MD Manchester from where Elizabeth Tasker is leaving (more time with the family) and Michelle Hargreaves MD Stagecoach East steps up to be Regional Director North in place of Catherine Acton-Brazier who joined last November from BT but has left already. Finally Stagecoach East Engineering Director Darren Roe steps up as interim MD replacing Michelle Hargreaves. (And breath out.)
Meanwhile, not to be outdone, it was all change at the top at other Groups too with National Express appointing Jose Ignacio Garat (from FedEx) as its new CEO and Arriva making a similar switch bringing back (from Eurostar) Mike Cooper as its CEO while First Bus appointed Janette Bell as MD UK Bus (from P&O Ferries) where Jane Reakes-Davies became MD First Cymru. Lothian appointed Nigel Serafini as its interim MD.
It was also a bit of a merry go round on the tracks with Julian Edwards from MD East Midlands Railway to MD West Midlands Trains (releasing Jan Chaudhry on a “career break”) while Will Rogers moved from London Overground to MD East Midlands Railway as Richard Allan became MD at Chiltern Railways, Ben Ackroyd stepped up as MD c2c, and Nick Donovan took over as MD of Northern (who’d had a spell at TransPennine Express until 2015) where coincidentally Liz Collins became interim MD this year while Kathryn Darbandi is lined up to become MD Caledonian Sleeper at the end of the month (from Thomas Cook and Tui). Finally, David Brown (no longer MD Northern) popped up as Arriva’s MD UK Trains.
Hello to Andy Byford taking over as TfL’s Transport Commissioner and also to two new Traffic Commissioners, Victoria Davies in Wales and Geralt Evans in the North West where we also said hello to TfGM’s Metrolink extended to the Trafford Centre as residents of Coulsdon’s Cane Hill Drive welcomed TfL’s extended route 404, four years after they moved in, with route 112 extended to North Finchley and 384 to Edgware while in January brand new route 497 hit the roads around Harold Wood and in December it was hello to large parts of Thameslink arriving on the Tube map.
New names for bus and train travellers launched during the year included Orbits (Go North West bus routes 52/53), Acquae (First West of England X39), Pendle Whizz (Transdev Blazefield, Burnley), Venture (Go North East Consett), EastRider (East Yorkshire 45/X46), Flyer (Transdev Blazefield A1,A2,A3), JustGo (East Yorkshire’s North Lincolnshire DRT), Snake (Hulley’s X57), Voltra (Go North East 53/54) and Ruby (Reading 10). Wales welcomed Flecsi as a brand for DRT and in the south west Transport for Cornwall became a thing while Go South West became its newly named parent while Uber paid to associate its name with water based travel as Thames Clipper became UberBoats. In excitement yet to come, East Midlands Railway announced its new Hitachi Class 800 trains will be called Aurora while South Western Railway will christen its Bombardier Class 701 trains as Arterio making me wonder if all new train names have to begin with an A nowadays. Stagecoach introduced its new simplified corporate bus livery and branding, with its three variations, to mixed reviews.
New kids on the coaching block included ember (Dundee to Edinburgh), Bracknell Express (Bracknell to Heathrow), FlixBus (various), while National Express launched Dublin Express, with only the former staying the course at the year end. On the tracks we welcomed Rail Charter Services’ summer special between Skipton and Appleby and in the north east it was a warm welcome back to brands from the past including OK (Motor Services), Charterplan, Armstrong Galley and Voyager.
Despite the usual DRT failures this year, there was no shortage of others wanting to give the “innovation” a try including Tees Valley (with Stagecoach), North Lincolnshire (East Yorkshire’s GoLincs), Watford and Ebbsfleet (Arriva’s Click) and a whole host of small trials in Wales including Newport, Cardiff, Rhondda, Pembrokeshire, Conwy Valley, Denbigh and Prestatyn (all Fflecsi branded and run by various operators).
Hello again to SWR’s Class 442 trains which returned from refurbishment in January, only to be withdrawn again in March while three new stations opened at Worcestershire Parkway (near Worcester), Horden (near Hartlepool) and Kintore (near Aberdeen) and Berney Arms reopened after 15 months closure in February welcoming just 42 passengers until the end of March so was awarded the coveted Britain’s Least Used Station Award for 2019/20 by the Office of Rail and Road. Meanwhile on board LNER’s Azuma trains it was a welcome hello to much needed more luggage accommodation with some of the windowless seats blocked off.
Obviously Covid-19 brought a few unusual hellos including face cover wearing on all public transport, free fares for London’s bus passengers while middle door boarding lasted, book-your-bus on three Bristol and Bath bus routes, hand sanitiser units in many places, ‘bus full’ signs, ‘school service’ signs and, not forgetting, yards and yards of yellow and black hazard warning tape all over the place to encourage social distancing.
Goodbye, Farewell and Good Luck
Sadly 2020 necessitated more than the usual number of fond farewells as Covid-19 led to a number of business casualties, to say nothing of the devastation it caused families losing loved ones, including a number in the transport industry (49), particularly London bus drivers (32).
Coach companies fared particularly badly due to the lack of specific Government support despite Honk for Hope and other high profile campaigns. Shearings was the highest profile casualty with Travel de Courcey a significant Midlands bus company, T J Walsh of Halifax and Swallows Coaches in Essex also going under. Other business farewells not Covid related included Halton Transport of Halton, John Leask & Son on Shetland, Jim Stones Coaches of Leigh and Manchester Community Transport. Diamond Coaches packed up in Rushden, National Express pulled out of Stafford and at the year end Arriva were poised to hand Cannock over to D&G Bus.
It was also farewell to Oxford Bus’s London to Oxford coach service, First Essex withdrew from Clacton and Walton-on-the-Naze, Oxford’s Pick-Me-Up, Liverpool’s Click (except Speke), Ealing’s Slide and Sutton’s GoSutton. Arriva was stripped as Northern Rail operator forced to hand the keys over to the Operator of Last Resort while National Express pledged it had taken delivery of its last diesel powered bus. Newhaven Marine station officially disappeared off the official records even though the last passenger boarded a train from its platform as far back as 2006. Taunton Bus Station closed its boarding gates for the last time while rail franchising, already struggling, firmly hit the buffers as Covid-19 necessitated Emergency Measures Agreements in March.
Weymouth said goodbye to its on street tracks previously used to take trains down to the disused Harbour station. Rose Hill Marple almost lost all its trains in September until a last minute reprieve saw a limited service for school children with more journeys reinstated a few weeks later. TrentBarton bade farewell to Mango smartcards, Stagecoach Strathtay finally said cheerio to conductors on route 73 in Dundee while pulling the plug on wi-fi on almost all its local bus routes across the country and TfL’s Hydrogen buses that once ran around the RV1 finally came to the end of their ten year life as did Pacer trains gasp their last with Northern Rail.
On the personnel front a number of managing directors retired while others left “to pursue interests outside the Group” or “spend more time with their family”. Goodbye and good luck to Sir Brian Souter (Stagecoach Chairman), Mike Brown (TfLTransport Commissioner), Mark Threapleton (Stagecoach Chief Operating Officer), Robert Andrew (Stagecoach Regional Director Scotland – who popped up part time to run Scottish Citylink), Dean Finch (National Express CEO), Manfred Rudhart (Arriva CEO), Giles Fernley (First Bus UK MD) and managing directors Richard Hall (Lothian Buses), Gary Birmingham (First South Yorkshire), Andrew Sherrington (First Cymru), Elizabeth Tasker (Stagecoach Manchester), Oliver Monahan (Arriva), Martin Curtis (Bath Bus Company), Ryan Flaherty (Caledonian Sleeper), Julian Drury (c2c), Leo Goodwin (TransPennine Express),
Condolences to the family of D&G Bus’s founder David Reeves who sadly died in May, and sadly to the two members of staff and one passenger who lost their lives in the fatal train crash at Stonehaven in October – the first fatal crash of its kind for 13 years.
And, that was 2020. Before moving on to present our much anticipated annual Awards, it’s time for a short video insert. A visual compendium of 100 bus and train events from the last twelve months – see how many you can identify in eleven minutes and thirty seconds. Click here for the link.
The BusAndTrainUser Awards 2020
Now to what would have been the climax of our event: the next-level, coveted, prestigious, game changing, cutting edge, state-of-the-art, ground breaking, world beating BusAndTrainUser’s Awards of the Year. The dry ice has been packed away, Tina Turner’s ‘Simply The Best’ track has been filed back in the music library and you’ll just have to imagine all the razzmatazz we’d normally employ. Also, due to Covid we’ve cut down the number of awards this year, but that only makes these gongs even more sought after than normal…..
Our first award is the “Ooops, This Isn’t Working Out, Better Withdraw It Quick” Award for which we had an amazing number of entries despite Covid-19’s disruption for many months. Short-listed for this Award are “Bracknell Express”. Kevin Green of CJJ Coaches introduced his courageous venture running between Bracknell and Heathrow Airport as lockdown was easing in July, but within two weeks had hit the crash barrier. Next short lister is GB Coaches who registered a number of bus routes withdrawn by other operators in Manchester (route 305 replacing a Stagecoach route between Denton and Dane Bank; 397 a long lost tendered route; 361 copying High Peak’s 61 on Sundays to Lyme Park) to begin on 1st September but all had been withdrawn by 4th September, just three days later. But the worthy winner is FlixBus who not only planned to shake up Britain’s domestic express coach market and wobbled by introducing a route to Portsmouth which lasted less than a fortnight, but its other routes to Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool were all withdrawn at Lockdown 2.0, and at the time of this Award have yet to return. Many congratulations to Flixbus and who knows, maybe they’ll be up for winning this same award again in 2021 if they have another go? Many of us are certainly hoping one contender for next year’s award will NOT be Hulley’s Snake X57 – if it can keep going this winter against all the odds, it’s got to be still around for the summer (fingers crossed).
After that bumper bundle our second Award is the “Nice idea pre Covid; but now it’s dead in the water” Award and the winner is Grand Central for their Euston to Blackpool service planned for May 2020 complete with nicely painted locomotives and coaches but completely abandoned once Covid hit. Two highly commended runners up go to Carousel Buses’s new airline route X50 about to run between High Wycombe and Heathrow Airport via Maidenhead until being pulled just before lockdown began in March and Arriva’s planned Green Line route 720 from Liverpool Street to Stansted Airport. Congratulations to all three companies. And in exciting news we’ve already received entries for this award for 2021 including from Heathrow Airport for its free travel zone ending, and cut backs to a plethora of routes bringing fresh air into Heathrow Terminal 5’s bus station.
Third up is the “Most notices at the front of a bus” Award and with Covid, we’ve never had so many entries, as it’s been a whole new opportunity to cover every available space with urgent ‘Passenger Notices’. But there can only be one worthy winner, and it goes to a regular winner of this Award, our friends at Arriva who’ve truly excelled themselves this year not least in Harlow where they managed to squeeze in 28 notices at the front of this Optare Solo. Well done, and we’d be delighted if the Harlow team could find a spot to display the winning certificate on the bus.
Our fourth award is a special one for this Covid dominated year being the “How to make it hard to find a seat to sit in” Award. So many entries from across the industry and the judges had such a tough job selecting the winner that they’ve decided to award joint winners. Congratulations to Chiltern Railways for their use of don’t sit here wraps ….
……and to Transport for Wales for making Newport Station’s platform seating so welcoming.
Our fifth award is the “Worst website revamp of the Year (Ever)” Award. And internet users won’t be surprised to know the worthy winner is Arriva Bus for their much hyped (by them) and much derided (by everyone else) revamp of their website. It had reportedly been worked on by a team for at least a year yet the result made looking up a timetable completely impossible. A quite extraordinary achievement, and a very worthy winner of this Award.
Next up is our final award, and its the ever popular “Most inappropriate Tweet of the Year” Award and our regular winner, Arriva Click, is once again our well deserved gold winner for two memorable gaffes as lockdown hit the country back in March. Firstly on 17th March, the day after Government messaging was urging everyone to “avoid pubs” the Arriva Click team were encouraging us to celebrate St Patricks Day that evening by heading out for a few pints…
…. while the next day as theatres closed all over the country, Arriva Click was urging us to enjoy an evening at the closed Epstein Theatre in Liverpool. Truly classic Click and a worthy award winner.
And finally, while we’re on tweets, a special commendation to our esteemed Prime Minister for what became THE most inappropriate tweet of 2020 ….
…. still, at least we’re all going to “prosper mightily” in 2021.
And that completes this year’s Review, Quiz and Awards. It just remains for me to thank everyone for not attending as well as reading these blogs during this most unusual of years. There’ll be much more to come in 2021 once we’re allowed out again (Easter anyone?) and I look forward to seeing you all at our favourite Farringdon venue for 2021’s event next year. I’ll leave you with the quiz answers. Have a good Christmas and New Year.
1 All four places saw Transport for Wales Fflecsi DRT services introduced.
2 A car from the station car park crashed through a wire fence, across the platform and landed on to the tracks. Two people were taken to hospital but fortunately with no serious injuries.
3 To take HRH Prince of Wales and HRH Duchess of Cornwall to the London Transport Museum to mark the 20th anniversary of TfL. Shame there wasn’t a shelter for them to wait out of the rain too.
4 They were all, or saw, short-lived ventures – refer back to the text for full details (the Banksy mural of rats wearing face coverings on a Circle Line train got washed off by London Underground staff)
5 Adventures Overland launched a coach service between Delhi and London taking 70 days to run in May 2021 – update it’ll probably now take 140 days due to queues at Calais.
6 Newhaven Marine.
7 They sold out to National Express just before lockdown began and the coach market collapsed. No ‘Honk for Hope’ for those lucky Lucketts ex owners.
8 Free bus travel (withdrawn from TrawsCymru routes at weekends but introduced on TfL’s buses all week with middle door boarding).
9 DRT services in each location ceased during the year.
10 Bus conductors – the last bus service in Britain to regularly employ them.
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.