Thursday 10th November 2022
Amongst all the gloom and depressing news on our railways: Train Operating Companies running reduced services and/or random cancellations and the continued impact and threat of industrial action; and bus companies: cutting services due to dire financial performance as well as cancellations for lack of drivers; it’s sometimes hard to find good news developments to celebrate.
Here are three.
1. Joined up Elizabeth line
It was wonderful to see London’s recently opened Elizabeth Line begin through running on Sunday thereby opening up a multitude of new journey opportunities without the faff of changing levels at either Liverpool Street or Paddington.
I took a ride up down the central core originating in both Stratford (on the Shenfield branch) and Abbey Wood travelling as far as Slough in the west, and there’s no doubting it’s already impacting travel patterns.
It was noticeable how many passengers made the switch from Southeastern at Abbey Wood via the footbridge at the western end of the platforms for a journey which until last weekend conveniently took them on to the West End and Paddington but now on to Heathrow or even Maidenhead and Reading. Similarly at Stratford many passengers switched from the Central line across platform to the Elizabeth Line for a quicker journey on to Tottenham Court Road and Bond Street and further west, although I noticed the signs hadn’t yet been updated.
Three other things struck me: firstly although it’s promoted as an interchange station, it looked to me that Whitechapel was relatively quiet with proportionally fewer passengers on the platform than other stations west of Stratford.
Secondly the sheer number of staff members and costs involved ensuring terminating trains at Paddington’s low level westbound platform (currently every other train terminates) are emptied of passengers before continuing through the tunnel to the turn-back siding must be huge.
Admittedly it was at a busy peak time but I reckon there were nine – one per carriage – in orange high viz vests as well as another three or four on other duties on the platform. That level of resource across the operational day over seven days a week must add up to a massive wage bill.
Station dwell times still come over as generous and are now exacerbated by pause time at Paddington and approaching Paddington travelling west to east so that the pathing of Abbey Wood and Shenfield bound trains becomes evenly spaced through the central core. TfL have admitted this may be “up to seven minutes” which is a significant time to wait just outside the station you’re aiming to alight at. It’s said this issue will be resolved next May when the full timetable is introduced including many Shenfield originating trains continuing west beyond Paddington. Let’s hope so.
2. Sky Class arrives in Wetherby
A couple of weeks ago I had a ride on Transdev Blazefield’s recently introduced routes X98/X99 between Leeds and Wetherby and came away very impressed.
These commercially operated routes had previously been operated by First Leeds but that company decided to end its involvement at the end of August and unsurprisingly Transdev Blazefield was quick off the mark to register the same level of service seeing a commercial opportunity and a good fit for its network.
Not only that it has redeployed its luxury appointed Sky Class branded buses previously allocated to the Cityzap service between Leeds and York with that service shortly ending having been dealt a blow with the downturn in post Covid commuting.
I’d had a ride a few years ago on the X99 with First Leeds but it didn’t register as anything special.
These Sky Class buses really are at another level and make for a memorable journey experience. The ambiance exudes quality …
… and there are nice touches including a map showing the routes …
… as well as a plentiful supply of booklets with times, ticket prices and maps.
Not only that, the buses had a survey form to pick up and complete asking pertinent questions about ideas the company has for improving the service since taking it over.
This demonstrates a very positive approach which I’m sure is very much appreciated by passengers.
As is the book library.
The timetable comprises a half hourly service Mondays to Saturdays with hourly in the evenings and Sunday daytimes. The route is part of West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s £2 maximum fare offering a great bargain to attract passengers on to what must now be the region’s top quality bus route.
3. White Bus begins new route 440
It’s not often a completely new bus route starts up these days but over in Windsor that’s just what the respected independently owned company White Bus has done. Except I’m puzzled why the company has done it and what it hopes to gain.
The timetable comprises just three off-peak return journeys on Mondays to Fridays between Windsor and Staines via Old Windsor, Englefield Green and Egham.
The route follows exactly the same roads as First Berkshire’s route 8 which runs between Slough and Heathrow Terminal 5 including the Windsor to Staines route of the 440. First’s route 8 runs every half hour on Mondays to Saturdays and hourly on Sundays and is one of First Berkshire’s key routes. I’m struggling to see how new route 440 adds anything to the county’s bus network.
There had been some postponements to the 440’s start day but it finally got off the ground on 31st October and I caught up with it on Tuesday to try and figure out what’s behind its introduction.
I aimed for the 10:30 departure from Windsor but as I came out of Windsor and Eton Central station having arrived at 10:22 the number of police officers gave the clue the road was about to be closed for the ritual Changing of the Guard at 11:00.
I hurried down to the Theatre Royal bus stop from where route 440 begins its journey and as I approached I saw a white White Bus bus with White Bus on the destination blind heading up the hill alongside the Castle and clocked a notice stuck in the windscreen but not being able to read it, gave the driver a determined wave on the off chance it was my intended 440 leaving early to escape the road closure.
How right I was and the driver picked me up and confirmed he was the 440 and off we went. It looked as though we’d escaped just in time with police about to close the road, but once clear of the town centre I was expecting the driver to pull up and wait time.
He didn’t, and just kept going very soon catching up the 10:18 departure from Windsor on route 8 which we followed to just after Englefield Green …
….where we overtook it and drove on to Staines picking no one up and arriving 13 minutes ahead of the scheduled arrival time of 11:10.
I came away thinking not only does the whole purpose of the route seem odd, but the manner of the operation – running 10-13 minutes early – did too.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS