Saturday 1st January 2022
A Happy New Year to all readers. As John and Yoko remarked in 1971, “let’s hope it’s a good one” especially for public transport. (I added that last bit, but I’m sure they were thinking it too.)
And what a year it promises to be with lots to look forward to with the biggest developments already “baked in” (to use a phrase I learnt in 2021).
Biggest of all will be Crossrail. TfL remain tight lipped on a precise start date save for last month’s rather vague update advising: “Crossrail remains on track to open the Elizabeth line in the first half of 2022, and we continue to make progress on completing the works necessary to start passenger services in the central section of the railway, from Paddington to Abbey Wood“. My money’s on the May Day Bank Holiday weekend 30th April – 2nd May and if last year’s opening of the Northern Line extension to Battersea is anything to go by, even from the inaugural journey, trains will be rammed with camera pointing enthusiasts recording the moment camera wielding enthusiasts interview other camera wielding enthusiasts about what they think about camera wielding enthusiasts making their momentous inaugural journey. I’ve got it down for a Day 2 experience once the first day novelty has worn off to see the revolutionary change it’ll bring to commuting patterns across a large swathe of not only London but the wider South East. It’ll be huge. Covid permitting of course.
Before that there’s the ‘I travelled on the last train from the cramped Northern Line platforms at Bank Station’ moment to record by die hard first and last enthusiasts as the busy city branch of that Underground line closes between Moorgate and Kennington from Saturday 15th January “until mid-May 2022” (liking the continued vagueness) to connect the brand new southbound tunnel and platform constructed behind the existing tunnels into the network as well as open a new concourse. I’ve already paid my respects on one last visit and will write about that and what we can look forward to in an upcoming blog. The all-new expanded Bank station together with new step free entrance/exit in Cannon Street is due for completion “by the end of the year”.
May will also see new train timetables take effect for the summer and autumn with a mixed bag of improvements as well as frequency reductions to reflect the Treasury’s edict for a ten percent cut in costs. Plans for more journeys on the East Coast Main Line are delayed from their original May target date to “at least 2023” allowing for back-to-the-drawing-board proposals to be drawn up amid more consultations. Planned changes to timetables on the West Coast Main Line and in the West Midlands have already been postponed from their intended December 2022 date. So no change there. Either. However, passengers in Manchester will only have to wait until December 2022 for the long awaited changes finally enabling the congested Castlefield tracks through the city to provide a reliable free-flowing corridor following deliberations of the Manchester Recovery Task Force set up as recently as January 2020!
One change that will go ahead in May is the allocation of two Class 68 locomotives and Class 5a Nova 3 coaches on TransPennine Express (TPE) journeys serving Cleethorpes while later in December two more diagrams will be similarly treated to this traction with journeys rerouted to terminate in the west in Liverpool. Hull and Scarborough originating journeys will swap their western destinations too with the former continuing to Liverpool and the latter to Manchester Piccadilly. Also during 2022 TPE’s service to Redcar will extend on to Saltburn.
Most visible change on the tracks will be welcome additions to train fleets after a bit of a lull in 2021. We can expect new Class 777 trains to make an appearance in passenger service for Merseyrail as well as some of Transport for Wales’ £800 million order for new trains enter service built by both CAF (Class 197) and Stadler (Flirt Classes 231 and 756) and I’m sure TfW will also finally get their five Class 230 former London Underground D stock trains to carry passengers on the Wrexham/Bidston line.
It’s also surely going to be the year when South Western Railway finally get their £1 billion investment in 90 Bombardier built Class 701 trains into service. Originally planned for introduction in 2019, they had their christening ceremony – naming them Arterio – in August 2020 but since then it’s all gone horribly quiet. Software issues delayed the launch from a revised expectation of December into the New Year ….. that’s December 2020 into the New Year 2021 of course ….. so another 12 months on it’s a case of déjà vu but this time it really must happen, surely? Third year lucky and all that for both Crossrail and Arterio. Let’s hope so.
Another new train fleet which should begin to appear in service this year is new Stadler built trains for the Glasgow Subway while Euston will gradually see Avanti West Coast’s refurbished Pendolinos including a newly installed on board water fountain and more standard class seats (less first class) with the first refreshed train due back from Alstom’s Widnes facility by the end of this month.
No doubt there’ll be more blockades on sections of tracks across the rail network again in 2022 as these become the favoured way of dealing with essential engineering works. Biggest will be the February half term nine-day blockade on the Brighton main line between Three Bridges and Brighton/Lewes. It’ll be interesting to see how the bustitution arrangements compare with the 2019 version which was generally regarded as a very successful operation. I’m hearing orders for buses are much reduced than in 2019.
Not quite so successful is the new year’s operation of trains into Victoria station. In an unprecedented move announced publicly only on Thursday there’ll be no Southern or Gatwick Express trains to and from this busy London terminus at least until Monday 10th January “as a result of the ongoing impact of coronavirus isolation and sickness”. An announcement on the Gatwick Express website goes further stating “there’ll be no Gatwick Express service until further notice”. It only resumed on 12th December! Closing a main line London terminal (the Southern half) for staff sickness is unprecedented. More on this in tomorrow’s blog and I see RATP have just announced reduced bus timetables on some of it’s TfL bus routes from next week. It looks like reduced services is going to become ‘a thing’ as the new year begins.
Meanwhile a blockade for engineering work will close Victoria to Southern services on eight weekends already announced for 2022 including all over the Easter and May Day bank holiday weekends and next Christmas/New Year with more promised. So much for minimising disruption for passengers at times busy with leisure travellers.
Up in Scotland Abellio will hand over the keys of their ScotRail franchise to the Scottish Government’s Operator of Last Resort in March marking another train company falling into public ownership (joining LNER, Northern, Southeastern and Transport for Wales). Go-Ahead and Keolis’s (GoVia) contract for running GTR also ends on 31st March and it’ll be interesting to see if the Department for Transport award a further extension (it had been due to end in September 2021) following the transfer of Southeastern to the Operator of Last Resort last October amid financial irregularities. It’s not a good start to the year for Go-Ahead with its shares suspended from trading when the stock market re-opens on Tuesday pending the finalisation and publication of delayed financial accounts for the year ended 3rd July 2021, now expected to be by the end of this month.
It’ll be a busy year for senior staff at National Express and Stagecoach as they answer the myriad of questions that’ll emanate from the Competition and Markets Authority enquiry into the planned takeover as well as making plans to rationalise overhead staff and merge working practices and systems.
In addition to new Crossrail stations other sparkly new platforms and infrastructure will open at Reading Green Park and Barking Riverside with London Overground trains on the Gospel Oak line extended to serve the latter. Other opening contenders depending on construction progress are Reston, Brent Cross West, Dalcross, Marsh Barton and possibly Thanet Parkway but I’ll not hold my breath. Euston and other locations will see further changes as construction work on High Speed 2 continues – platform 16 is due to be taken out of use at Euston.
At Luton Airport it’ll be nice to see the new driverless shuttle begin carrying passengers between the National Rail station and airport terminal building dispensing with the need for the shuttle bus. In Birmingham the Midland Metro tram extension to Edgbaston will open in early 2022, assuming the cracks in the tram fleet are quickly sorted.
All kinds of exciting projects were awarded funding in the Government’s Transforming Cities Fund last year so hopefully some might actually be introduced during 2022. These include bus priority schemes in Bournemouth, Poole and Southampton as well as “bus rapid transit” links in east Leeds and Barnsley.
Meanwhile we’re all waiting with bated breath to see who the few lucky winners and many sad losers will be in the great Bus Service Improvement Plans funding handouts which should be announced during the first quarter of the year with implementation following soon after in April where “quick wins” are involved.
Latest indications from the Department for Transport are “Bus Recovery Grant 2” will follow the current Bus Recovery Grant (BRG) ending at the beginning of April, which, with continued relaxation of timescales for bus service registrations, means the feared cliff edge deadline looming in a couple of weeks for bus service cuts to reflect reduced passenger numbers has now been postponed while the impact of the pandemic continues. Sadly BRG2 funding will almost certainly come out of the money set aside to implement the National Bus Strategy – hence why the £3 billion has already whittled down to £1.2 billion – also taking account of the 4,000 “green” new buses under the “ZEBRA” scheme (see below).
London’s relentless reductions in bus frequencies continue with more planned this month. I’ve added a new page to my website – a London Bus Cuts Tracker – and will update it throughout the year to chronicle the continued slimming down of services notwithstanding TfL’s delayed Government funding cliff edge from last December to 4th February. Expect another frenetic eleventh hour Friday deadline that day.
The already announced 3.8% increase in rail fares for March will be joined by above inflation ticket price increases for TfL services in London with newly aged sixty year old residents told they’ll henceforth have longer to wait for their Freedom Passes, like their counterparts outside of the Capital have been used to for many years. It’s only a matter of time before Welsh, Scottish and Scouser sixty year olds are told the same.
The proposal to end paper Travelcards for those of us who travel into London from further afield by train will be a retrograde step and will hopefully be dropped.
Better news for lovers of integrated ticketing is mutual acceptance of bus tickets between First Kernow and Go Cornwall Bus throughout Cornwall from tomorrow making the £9 day ticket excellent value. Also promised for 2022 is the delayed reduced fares ‘trial’ across the county funded by a grant from the DfT.
Many more battery-electric powered buses will be added to fleets this year especially following the award of £71 million funding from the DfT’s “ZEBRA” (Zero Emission Bus Regional Area) (emoji with eyes raised in despair). 335 zero-emission buses will take to the streets in Warrington, Milton Keynes, Leicester, Kent and Cambridgeshire & Peterborough. More hydrogen buses will also enter service in Liverpool and Crawley following previous funding awards as well as the continued roll out in Birmingham where the new Sprint rapid transit corridor will open in time for August’s Commonwealth Games in the city.
Electric buses are also planned for introduction on some TrawsCymru routes including the long awaited new route T22 between Caernarfon and Blaenau Ffestiniog which will hopefully be introduced by the summer.
Other new bus fleets to enter service during the year include a £3.8 million order for Wright’s Streetlites by First Hampshire & Dorset for the Eclipse busway in Hampshire and new Streetdecks for First West of England for services to Weston-Super-Mare.
In London we can look forward to the “Future Bus” project continuing its roll out on route 63 between Honor Oak and King’s Cross which began just before Christmas and will feature in a future blog imminently.
We can also expect to see more DRT schemes rolled out by local authorities blessed with funding from the DfT’s Rural Mobility Fund. These include new schemes in Buckinghamshire (Aylesbury and High Wycombe), Cheshire West, Cumbria, Essex, Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire and Wiltshire.
I’m not expecting any developments in 2022 on the ticket reform front on the railway despite being promulgated by the Rail Delivery Group in a blaze of publicity as long ago as 2017 but am quite sure the year will once again bring forth more attractive new bus brands to enliven networks and encourage passengers to travel by bus thanks to the entrepreneurial deregulated sector. When enacted properly these really are a joy to see.
It’s certainly going to be another interesting and enjoyable year ahead with plenty to visit and blog about. I hope you’re able to join me for the ride by reading these musings.
Next blog, Sunday 2nd January: Crisis cuts at Southern.