Tuesday 4th October 2022
Despite Saturday’s rail strike I managed a quick visit to Cornwall over the weekend which entailed an unwelcome long drive as I had a commitment in Truro on Sunday morning I had to fulfill. As I seldom drive long distances these days the trip reminded me of the relative advantages and disadvantages of weekend train travel compared to driving. A Super Off-Peak Return with a Railcard from my home station, Hassocks, to Truro, would have been £93.30; which is cheaper even than the cost of the petrol used (over £100) let alone the other mileage related and overhead costs of running a car, so the railway wins on that score.
On journey time, by leaving at the crack of dawn (actually well before it) going down and returning on Sunday late morning and afternoon, I managed the journey in almost exactly five hours, meaning I was home by 16:30 whereas it would have been 19:57 had I got the train. Not being used to driving, and perhaps because I only took a short stop during the drive, I felt exhausted after five hours of concentration, whereas train travel is always much more relaxing with the joy of window gazing and catching up on reading trade magazines, newspapers, surfing online and fellow passenger watching.
On the other hand I appreciated the private space in my car and not getting annoyed with an increasing trend these days of anti-social passenger behaviour such as listening to short clips being broadcast from social media channels on smartphone speakers or even telephone conversations on loudspeakers and sometimes even other’s favourite playlists blaring out.
Concerns that the road ahead might be congested causing frustrating delays are about the same as the risk of delays on the tracks these days so no clear advantage either way there.
As a committed bus and train user I’ll be back on board for my next long distance journey for sure; but it was a novelty to take such a long drive which had it not been for the strike action I wouldn’t have ever contemplated.
Now to see how long it takes GWR to refund my train tickets that were unused. I’ve already had an email apologising for the delay due to “high volumes of claims which is preventing us from assessing your claim as quickly as usual”.
While down in Cornwall I had a few hours spare on Saturday afternoon so took a circular bus ride from Truro via Redruth and Newquay and back on three bus routes I hadn’t had the pleasure of experiencing in their current format for many years, or at all.
All three routes are operated by GoCornwall as part of Cornwall Council’s Transport for Cornwall subsidised network for the county being funded by the special five year deal agreed with the Government which saw £23.5 million towards more buses, new buses and cheaper fares.
First up was route 40 (grey with a hint of green on the map) which links Truro with Redruth serving a group of villages lying east of Redruth such as St Day, Crafthandy and Carharrack not covered by First Kernow’s trunk routes T1 and T2 as well as the Treliske area of Truro as the bus leaves the city via the hospital, college and Threemilestone.
I caught the 12:45 journey from Truro. It’s part of the two-hourly through service that takes an hour from end to end with also two-hourly ‘short’ journeys at either end of the route making for an hourly service between Truro and Threemilestone and between the aforementioned three villages and Redruth which is a very decent service for the population being served.
We took eight passengers out of Truro, five alighting in Treliske, one in St Day and two in Carharrack. During the journey we picked up one in Treliske and one in Threemilestone both of whom alighted in Carharrack where four got on as did two in St Day who travelled to Redruth, with one more passenger boarding in the middle of nowhere and alighting in St Day. So not bad for a Saturday early afternoon journey in a rural area.
But what was somewhat disconcerting was the talk among three of the Carharrack villagers about the unreliability of the service and how they’ve had to wait for more than an hour on recent occasions. This is concerning to hear, as it’s all very well running more frequent services, running new buses, reducing the fares – that’s all great stuff – but if the services are unreliable, all the goodwill is lost, as passengers won’t stand for being left stranded or having an unwelcome long wait especially on low frequency rural routes. Not all passengers are Twitter followers where I see @GoCornwallBus are tweeting cancellations on its routes; perhaps it’s time to review service levels so they’re more in line with the availability of drivers in the current circumstances.
Perhaps one route that could be withdrawn to reduce resources is the 88 (light lime green on the map) which has one bus running every two hours between Redruth and Newquay, which was my next trip. I’d been told by various sources this really is a route serving no-one and since introduction in March 2020 has been regularly seen with no passengers on board.
The 13:39 from Redruth on Saturday afternoon didn’t disappoint. I had the bus to myself for the journey all the way to Newquay, only picking a handful of passengers up as we took the circuitous route around the town via the station to the bus station where other routes are also available.
It just goes to show just because two towns don’t have a bus route between them, doesn’t mean there’s a demand for one.
I left route 88 as it entered Newquay to catch my third and final bus of the trio, a route 85 (orange on the map) heading out of the town on its way to Truro. It’s a much longer journey (78 minutes) between the two towns than the direct hourly route 93 (53 minutes) but that’s because it serves such delightful villages as Crantock, Cubert, Holywell Bay, St Newlyn East, Zelah, Allet and Shortlanesend.
We dropped a few short riders off as we headed out of Newquay leaving us with six on board for the rest of the journey including four who went the whole way through to Truro and two who alighted in Holywell Bay and that was it until we reached the outskirts of Truro where we picked up four travelling into the city.
One very positive development since my last visit to Cornwall is the publication of a bus timetable covering the whole county replacing the previous three book arrangement. Bus Times is dated 4th September 2022 and to an A4 format, which brings back many happy memories for me. And just like the erstwhile Brighton & Hove version is comprehensive including all Transport for Cornwall bus routes as well as First Kernow’s commercial network and Stagecoach’s route in Saltash.
It’s a very welcome initiative and when so many operators are misguidedly of the view “it’s all online” so why bother with printed timetables, those involved in its production deserve hearty congratulations. I do hope others will take heed of this excellent development.
The following few comments are meant in the spirit of constructive suggestions which hopefully can be included in the next edition for next summer.
The network map is a great asset to the publication but it is very small to read and I would recommend a larger scale and perhaps include a fold out arrangement which could then be detached from the book if needed. It’s also quite challenging to distinguish the similar colours used for different routes.
There are two pages of ‘Town Zones’ which show boundary points for various tickets but what would really be useful is an actual map of each town showing where the bus routes go. The Network Map just has a large circle for each of the towns so its impossible to see where the bus routes go. Towns like Falmouth, Penzance and Truro have good penetration of bus routes but it’s impossible to know where they go. For example, on my Saturday trip I wasn’t entirely confident I was able to make a change from the 88 to the 85 short of the terminus as there’s nothing to tell me where both routes go within the town.
One issue that comes through from First Kernow’s policy of branding their routes, in some cases without route numbers, is where to place them in a timetable book which logically has routes listed in numerical order. It’s resulted in high profile branded routes such as the Coasters (Atlantic, Falmouth and Lands End) and Mousehole (as well as the more minor Sunseeker) being banished towards the back of the book being placed in between route 515 and routes L1/L2/L3 in alphabetical order after the numbered routes. Perhaps it would make sense to give all these routes a number as well as brand names (as Tinner T1/T2 and Coast to Coast U1/U1A are) so you know where to find them in the book. It would also help if page numbers were added to the Index showing on which page these routes can be found.
Sadly there are one or two proofing errors in the new timetable, for example, the timetable for route 18 (also known as the Tin Coaster) between Penzance and Pendeen appears in the index of places served at the front, but the timetable itself is missing. Route 27’s timetable is shown for Mondays to Fridays but Saturdays and Sundays is missing. Also, St Columb Major and Minor are missing from the index.
I also wonder if the paper quality might be better reduced in thickness so as to reduce the weight of the book as it is quite a hefty affair. But these minor comments aside, it really is good to see this publication, and even more so, I picked up my copy from a boxful on the bus on route 40. Which is just as well as both Truro and Newquay Travel Shops were closed on Saturday.
I had the chance to see the new branding for the route which used to be marketed as Unibus.
Routes U1 and U1A from Falmouth via the University at Penryn to Truro were extended to Newquay to replace other routes a while ago and have had their bespoke blue livery adapted to incorporate the new Coast to Coast brand.
At the same time route U2 which links Falmouth, Penryn and Redruth has been branded as Copper.
The only problem was both buses I saw in Truro bus station were operating on routes T1 and T2 which should have buses branded as Tinner.
As someone observed on Twitter. If you’re going to brand bus routes, you must give attention to getting it right on the ground, otherwise all the effort is wasted and only serves to confuse passengers.
Finally for Cornwall a shout out to Keith Shayshutt who has produced another book about buses in the county. It’s a rather specialist publication for a niche market, but if you like working timetables and understanding the mystery of how rural bus networks work, then this is definitely the book for you.
Western National Working Timetables 1996 as its name implies is all about how Cornwall’s network operated just before the impact of the newly created Aberdeen based First Bus centralised control ousted the much admired practices adopted in the Western-super-Mare based Badgerline company had facilitated.
This is explained in Mark Howarth’s fascinating Foreword to the book. Mark was managing director of the company in the Badgerline era and of course went on to form Western Greyhound which also adopted intricate inter-working between routes.
There are details about the 1996 fleet, depots and outstations, route statistics and profitability but the majority of the book (a hundred of the 120 pages) is given over to full details of how the working timetables worked along with contemporary photographs of the day as well as route and network maps and ‘History Facts’ to fascinate the reader.
“A book not for the fainthearted, but if you like detail, and lots of it, then this book will appeal” Keith, who really is an expert in the subject, comments on the back cover. I totally agree. I found it a fascinating read and insight into how bus networks across a mainly rural county very much seasonal in nature too. If you want to find out “how a Bristol VR gets to Port Isaac on service 124 and how a Tavistock based Dart ends up at Delabole on Service 122” this really is the book for you, and at a price of £23.50 offers great value too.
This is Volume 1 covering Western National’s Cornish Division. Keith promises Volume 2 covering Devon and East Cornwall will follow. It can be purchased from all the usual online outlets including eBay and Browns Books.
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