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Week 7: Road map ahead.

Saturday 20th February 2021

A few quick postscripts to last week’s blogpost. Firstly, I got my Grand Centrals mixed up with my Grand Unions when reporting on the ORR’s decision to turn down the application by Grand Union to run a new train route between Paddington and Carmarthen not Grand Central as I erroneously mentioned. Secondly Arriva had posted information on its website letting anxious passengers in Durham know about the bus station closure but I needed to look under the ‘News’ tab rather than the ‘Service Update list’ tab. My excuse being I didn’t know the difference between ‘News’ and ‘Service Update’ … and judging by the entires on the website, neither do Arriva.

Thirdly, an addition to the impact of Storm Darcy and the week of snow, here’s what faced Greater Anglia last Saturday on the Ipswich to Lowestoft East Suffolk line; it’s quite some snow drifting (and a nice photographer shadow too) …

Greater Anglia could have done with a nice Class 37 or two (I’m sure they used to have a small fleet somewhere in East Anglia!) .. to assist with snow plough duties …

… as caught on camera in spectacular fashion near Huntly on the Aberdeen/Inverness line on Tuesday – the short video is well worth a watch – follow the link here to Network Rail Scotland’s tweet which featured the ‘Tractor Thrash Productions’ clip.

One final addition to last week’s news was last Thursday’s Royal Assent to the ‘HS2 Phase 2a: High Speed Rail (West Midlands to Crewe)’ Bill meaning legal powers are now in place for the construction and operation of the 36 miles route north of Lichfield to Crewe.

Staying on the tracks, it was nice to see another new station open this week – the third since Covid became a thing. The last twelve months have seen new openings at Horden in County Durham (June 2020), Kintore in Aberdeenshire (October 2020), and now, from last Sunday, Bow Street in Ceredigion, just outside Aberystwyth has joined the national rail network. It’s a one platform affair on the single track section on the line from Shrewsbury and Machynlleth to the Welsh coast and comes with a rather hefty £8 million price tag, half funded by the Welsh Government and half by the DfT’s New Stations Fund.

Passengers are currently discouraged from using the new station as it opened with an ‘essential journeys only’ rule. Photo courtesy Transport for Wales

I wrote about it back in May last year with some cynicism at not only the high cost but also the primary justification for the station being its 73 space car park acting as a park and ride facility and “multi-modal interchange” for those travelling into Aberystwyth – not least as the three parallel bus services provide a more frequent service than the two-hourly trains, as well as probably a similar fare and broadly the same journey time as the train. I truly can’t ever imagine a passenger getting off a bus at the station and waiting for the train to continue into Aberystwyth.

However, one reader commented more positively it’ll be a useful facility for people travelling to the University and National Library sited about 2 miles away on the A487 into Aberystwyth and now there’s a new UK Innovation and Research Centre associated with the University located about three-quarters of a mile away along a non-footpath equipped A4159. On the oher hand, another reader contacted me to say Bow Street could well become the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back of reliability due to the already tight running time on the Cambrian line coupled with a limited turn-round time allowance at the Aberystwyth terminus.

I understand pre-Covid estimates made for the Welsh Government suggested “Bow Street station would generate 30,000 annual trips and take nearly 466,000 vehicle miles off the local road network a year – helping reduce carbon emissions and congestion and parking issues in nearby Aberystwyth”. That’s around 40 passengers a day (assuming a return journey each) for those 73 car parking spaces; at a cost of £8 million? Here’s the list of what you get for that sum taken from TfW’s original specification …

Regular blog reader Andrew made the point Bow Street could well become a more attractive station than driving and parking in central Aberystwyth for passengers travelling towards Shrewsbury, which if so, might make the 73 parking spaces an underestimate.

As well as the new Bow Street, Transport for Wales have exciting plans to improve the entire Cambrian line with new trains and an hourly weekday service due next year as well as £194 million for improvements at other stations along the line to Shrewsbury.

I’m look forward to visiting Bow Street to give it a look over during the summer and reassure myself the £8 million will be money well spent.

More good news for track followers is the reopening of the line between Stonehaven and Montrose this coming Monday (22nd) after a major collapse at a bridge forced the line’s closure on 15th January. Network Rail and contractors have been working round the clock to complete parapet repairs and strengthen the bridge structure. The location is south of Carmont, site of the awful fatal accident last August. Let’s hope this stretch of track will now have an incident free future.

Photo courtesy Network Rail Scotland

More rail news this week looking forward to the May timetable change when East Midlands Railway will be running a new half-hourly non-stop service between St Pancras International and Luton Airport. This will be part of the new electrified service to Corby. Airport passengers will also benefit from the new DART (Direct Air-Rail Transit) link from the airport station to the airport itself replacing the bus shuttle service. The £225 million link is planned for opening later this year. (Thanks to reader Bob for the info, and Andrew for the thought that DART sounds “like a hi-tech version of the London and Blackwall Railway – opened in 1840!”)

News on Monday from Surrey based Hallmark Buses, part of the AIM listed Rotala plc which also operates under the Diamond brand name in Greater Manchester, West Midlands and Worcestershire as well as owning Preston Bus. Now it seems the Diamond brand and blue livery will be replacing the rather smart red and white Hallmark colours.

Looks like there’s already a slot for Diamond Surrey on the right hand side.

Hopefully it wasn’t the excitement of the rebrand that caused someone to leave the chip pan on the stove too long on Monday evening as a fire broke out completely destroying the Hounslow bus depot’s kitchen. Thankfully no buses or coaches were damaged and the fire was professionally dealt with by the London Fire Brigade and Surrey Fire and Rescue Service.

Monday brought reports in the media “rail leaders have suggested a tunnel be dug from Scotland to Northern Ireland to speed the transit of people and cargo to and from the mainland”. You’ll recall Sir Peter Hendy was appointed to head up an “independent review of connectivity across the Union” last June and his interim report is due “within the next few weeks”. So perhaps no coincidence the “High Speed Rail Group” ( a lobby group who love high speed rail) with Jim Steer as one of its leading lights reckon a tunnel between Stranraer and Larne would “address problems in economic status of Northern Ireland post Brexit” (which I’m not sure logically follows) and are calling for a new rail connection between Carlisle and Stranraer (sounds ambitious to me).

Twenty-four hours later on Tuesday the media were reporting counter views with one senior Conservative MP describing the tunnel idea as a “Doctor Dolittle fantasy” to distract from post-Brexit border check issues. That’s Simon Hoare who chairs Westminster’s Northern Ireland affairs committee. Meanwhile Nichola Mallon, Northern Ireland’s infrastructure minister observed “people here don’t want a Boris bridge, a Boris burrow, or frankly a Boris anything”. Another critic of the idea, Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said it took 30 years to build the Channel tunnel, there was a munitions dump blocking the way, and any tunnel would not obviate border checks.

Peter’s interim report is going to make for interesting reading.

Monday also brought news of a “loco – commotion” over where George and Robert Stevenson’s very first steam passenger train, Locomotion No 1, should be displayed. Since 1975 the National Rail Museum (NRM), who own it, have made it available on long term loan to Darlington Museum where it’s been displayed for 163 years. But now, with plans to mark the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington railway in 2025 already underway a row has erupted over who gets to display it.

The NRM want to move it ten miles away to a museum in Shildon and a memorandum of understanding allowing both parties to display it was almost agreed last week but talks have since broken down. Andrew McLean of the NRM was quoted as saying Darlington Council’s refusal to return the engine is like “borrowing a car from a car rental place and refusing to give your car back”.

Smart ways to pay for on-board bus fares are expanding with Blackpool Transport getting excited it had got round to adding contactless as a payment option on its buses (not trams yet) from Sunday …. (btw, trams haven’t been running this week due to essential track maintenance works, with a reduced service operating next week) ….

…. while Go North East has expanded Tap On Tap Off to its QuayCity Q3 bus route as First Portsmouth get ready the same from 3rd March – branded as ‘to to’ – on its Eclipse branded routes between Fareham and Gosport.

Talking of suspension of trams/light rail this week, there’s also a major line closure on the Tyne & Wear Metro between Heworth and Regent Centre/Four Lane Ends which began on Monday lasting through to Monday 1st March to “allow us to replace 18,000 metres of overhead line wire”. Replacement buses provided by Go North East, Stanley Travel and JH Coaches are providing two express routes X900 and X901 as well as a route 900 calling at all stations.

Handy that the mass vaccination centre in Aberdeen – located at the vast P&J Live events venue is on the Stagecoach route 727 between Aberdeen Airport and city centre, giving the 20 minute frequency route – which runs between 04:00 and midnight – a boost to passenger numbers while the airport continues to be devoid of passengers.

A nice touch to bring the vehicle branding up to date too.

Transport for the North had a full blown Board Meeting on Thursday. There was concern the DfT are going tepid on the full blown case for Northern Powerhouse Rail and its vision of a fast coast to coast rail link. Liverpool Mayor Rotheram as well as others have written to Shapps accusing him of favouring a “cheap and nasty” old route previously used to ferry coal to a power station (north of Runcorn to Warrington – the ‘Fiddlers Ferry’ line) instead of a new line meaning the 20 minute journey time aspiration between Manchester and Liverpool wouldn’t be met. The Board also heard the DfT has requested the “Strategic Outline Case” for Northern Powerhouse Rail be delayed so it comes after the Integrated Rail Plan – or, as the papers for the meeting explained: “the DfT requests TfN to delay SOC for NPR until after the IRP”.

A shout out to Uno this week for updating its website’s zoomable vehicle tracking feature so the icons are now colour coded to match the route branding as appears on the network map. A nice touch. Click here to take a look.

The colourful moving icons on the tracking map.
The colour coded route network map.

And a muffled shout out to Tees Flex which marked its first anniversary this week with a promo video tweeted by Tees Mayor Ben Houchen who gave some statistics which are pretty meaningless out of any context. The “9,300 users” quoted are the number who’ve downloaded the app, so aren’t necessarily active users – I haven’t used the service since its first day a year ago, for example. Each journey averages almost nine miles according to the figures which seems almost unbearably long for a local bus operation but possibly reflects the rural nature of Tees Flex. Still unbelievable to me though.

Potentially more robust analysis will come from research Transport Focus are undertaking over the next few weeks into Demand Responsive Transport in association with the Welsh Government, concentrating on the Fflecsi scheme in Newport as well as other schemes not only in Wales but some in England too. It should make for an interesting report when published in the summer.

This news was reported at the Transport Focus Board Meeting held on Tuesday which was mainly devoted to a presentation on Scottish matters with the usual update on how the pandemic has impacted public transport and likely recovery scenarios. I must admit I’m getting a bit “how the pandemic has impacted public transport and recovery scenarios” maxed out these days, having heard so many presentations saying the same things over the last few months, not least the truism “nobody knows how things are going to recover…” before everyone (including me) goes on to speculate how they think things are going to recover.

All the more so yesterday, Friday, with a full day of it at the Quality Bus Conference organised by Landor Links with a whole host of speakers – 27 in total. I got my Bus Conference Bingo Card ….

….completed by mid morning so relaxed during the afternoon sessions until I heard Transport Select Committee Chairman Huw Merriman making a tail end appearance and once again advocating franchising as the top of a hierarchy for bus operation as the way forward. Who’d have thought a Conservative MP would be advocating that?

I do wonder sometimes who has the time to devote to attending all these conferences, other than retired folk like me, especially next week when there’s the National Rail Recovery Conference to look forward to …. over three whole days.

Finally for this week, nice to see the Nottinghamshire village of Lambley getting into the Valentines Day spirit last Sunday…

Photo courtesy Steven Mayfield

Roger French

BusAndTrainUser View All

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.

27 thoughts on “Week 7: Road map ahead. Leave a comment

  1. If the country can afford HS2 (which will bring benefits to wider society in that (mainly) construction jobs will be created . . . which does seem to have been forgotten in the YesNo debate) . . . then why not a tunnel between Northern Ireland and (say) Stranraer? It would seem to be a good way to maintain momentum in rail construction (after NPR, of course!!). There used to be a rail line between Dumfries and Stranraer . . . for sure, part of it has been converted to roads, but nonetheless it would be mainly a re-opening . . . and Scotland has form in re-opening closed rail lines.

    In re Tees Flex . . . my sums say 45,800 users / 305 days / 12 hours equals 12 passengers per hour (assuming Monday-Saturday operation for 12 hours each day). 45,800 is a big number, but 12 passengers per hour isn’t very much at all, especially when (I think) 5 buses available for service are needed. I accept that C-19 will have depressed numbers, but . . . in my days running a small bus operation, I’d look for (on average) around 25 passengers per hour per bus across the day as being (just) commercially viable.
    As you say . . . pretty meaningless numbers.

    I very occasionally see Watford Click minibuses . . . normally parked up or used on driver-ferry duties for proper bus routes . . . never actually with passengers on board. I wonder for how much longer . . .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A rail tunnel between Stranraer and Larne.
    Has anyone else spotted the very obvious requirement that it would have to be constructed with dual track gauge?

    Like

    • Isn’t the proposal for more than just a tunnel though? I got the impression that what was being proposed was a new high-speed rail link connecting up Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Dublin. As with high speed lines in Spain it would be built to standard gauge, surely?

      Like

  3. Is the fundamental difference between Tees Flex and Arriva Click etc that it should be assessed as a rural dial-a-ride where there is no other public transport rather than an urban DRT, overlaid on existing networks?

    No-one expects a typical council dial-a-ride to be profitable and they generally operate unnoticed by the general public. Tees Flex seems to attract criticism for opening its service to a wider user base.

    Like

    • That’s a good point, actually. If financial subsidy was to be available for a rural route network anyway, then perhaps the best use of it would be in a DRT network. The Wiltshire Wigglybus network was exactly that, and it did last for many years, although now closed.

      Under those terms, perhaps 12 pph (passengers per hour) is reasonable. The proof, of course, is whether the funding can be continued into the future . . . all that can be said is that DRT schemes rarely last more than 2-3 years.

      Like

  4. £3000 to give up your car

    The Telegraph is reporting that a 2 year trial will be held in Coventry where people will be give £3000 in credits to give up their car and use greener forms of transport

    It sounds like the sort of idea that would come up from a brainstorming session. Whether it has been thought through who knows. Will it succeed ? I suspect not

    Like

  5. London Bus Strikes

    MORE than 2,000 London bus drivers will strike next week against attacks on pay at three subsidiaries of French-owned transport giant RATP.

    Workers at London United, which provides bus services in south and west London, will walk out for three days from Monday over pay

    Drivers at Quality Line in Epsom, Surrey,, will strike on Monday and Tuesday in their dispute over a “derisory” pay offer

    Unite members at London Sovereign in north-west London will stop work on Monday and on March 3 against a pay offer

    Like

  6. More details from TfL

    A bus strike is planned from Monday 22 February to Wednesday 24 February 2021. If the strike goes ahead it will affect around 80 bus services across west, southwest and northwest London, including some school and night routes.

    London United (striking 22, 23 and 24 February – most of the affected routes)
    Quality Line (striking 22 and 23 February)
    London Sovereign (striking 22 February)
    Buses run by other operators will run as normal.

    Normal services are expected to resume from 06:00 on Thursday 25 February.

    These areas will be most affected by London United and Quality Line strikes (on 22, 23 and 24 February):

    White City/Shepherds Bush
    Acton
    Heathrow
    Hounslow
    Kingston
    Richmond
    Surbiton
    Wimbledon
    Sutton
    These areas will be most impacted by London Sovereign strikes (on 22 February):

    Harrow
    Edgware
    Wembley
    Travel advice
    Check before you travel by bus on 22, 23 and 24 February 2021. Allow more time for your journey.

    Like

  7. Hi RogerGreat to read your weekly bulletin as always- the real news we don’t read anywhere else! Keep it up.Whilst out on Saturday “for essential shopping” (honest!) I noticed a new WY Metro bus stop flag in Wetherby. I recall (I think) many years ago you commenting on their previous daft practice of not including route numbers. It looks like they’ve changed their views on this as per attached pic.When added to the £millions being spent in Central Leeds which don’t appear to add much to the priorities for buses (but which caused huge damage to ridership & reliability pre- Covid) it looks like WY Metro is still trying hard to be relevant.Best wishes Gordon Tennant Sent from my Galaxy

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Suffolk Norse surrenders all its school bus contracts

    It has pulled out of 40 routes as well as work it had transporting pupils for swimming lessons
    What has raised concerns is that this work has not been put out to tender but awarded to a council owned company called Vertas I dont know anything about this company but looking at its web site it is a facilities company rather than a bus company. The value of the work is in excess of £500,000 and the contract starts in September so there was plenty of time to put it out to tender

    The council claimed the work was not put out to tender as it would leave some routes without a service. Quite how it knows this without putting the work out to tender I dont know and even if they had no bid for a few routes they could give that to Vertas

    The council claims that legislation allowed them to award if it is to council owned company. I am not sure that this is correct/ A number of local bus companies have raised this with the council

    Like

  9. Nottingham City Council propose propose to the supported link bus network. Under the proposals 5 link
    bus branded routes will be axed

    Like

  10. Suffolk Norse

    Norse Commercial Services Ltd the immediate parent undertaking holds the ordinary A shares and Suffolk County Council’s holds the Ordinary B shares The ordinary A & B shares rank parri passu

    Suffolk Norse made a trading loss in its last accounts and appear to owe very substantial amount to other companies and HMRC. There is a complex web of companies

    Like

  11. The snake oil salesmen have clearly done another good job on persuading politicians that DRT is the future. At an annual cost of more or less £1m, that’s a per passenger subsidy of nearly £22 for every journey on Tees Flex. OK, it’s Covid-affected, but there can’t be many fixed route services that would survive with passengers subsidised to that level.

    Like

  12. GoAhead to outsource their Web Site and app development

    Their current inhouse Web site is not bad. Their apps though are another thing

    Brighton and Hove customers will also get an integrated contactless portal

    Like

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