Three new developments

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.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

30 thoughts on “Three new developments

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  1. More Facts about the X98/99 and Harrogate Bus Company/Alex Hornby. They:

    1 did not inform passengers it was no longer a Limited Stop in Leeds, meaning longer journey times.
    2 have not made the Metro newspaper available we had with First Leeds.
    3 carried out a survey with a fundamental flaw – having ratings of 1 – 5 without saying whether 1 was excellent or very poor
    4 made changes to the timetable just weeks after taking over and before the results of the survey are known.
    5 have cut the 23.30 Harrogate to Wetherby no 7 bus. Last bus is now 22.20 ! Far too early.

    For more details, read all about it in tomorrow’s Wetherby Free Press, http://www.pkmarketing1.com/wetherby-free-press , an independent newsletter that says it as it is. (You will also see what our Conservative Leeds City Cllrs are doing about bus cuts and what goes on in town councils and realise how lucky you are not to have ours.)

    Yes, they are lovely buses but we expect better than their actions above.

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    1. Not having free Metro newspapers littering buses is a plus point in my book. It also allows what appears to be an electric toaster to be installed in the luggage rack, perfect for breakfast on the move if you’re running late on your commute!

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      1. In respect of those points…

        I’m not certain that having a free newspaper, especially when they end up getting strewn about, is a particular problem. Also, the withdrawal of the 2330 service 7 doesn’t have any relevance with the X98/99 and, in any case, was it well patronised?

        More pertinently, it has become clear to Transdev that they have reliability issues. So rather than wait for the results of the survey, they have acted now. That makes more sense than simply sitting on their hands for which they would have been criticised for.

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  2. Yes, the Transdev’s new route is at the expense of the Cityzap route, Leeds/York which is always well used. It’s a great pity is is being withdrawn next week.

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  3. Looking at the photo of the X98 approaching the stop, the impressive high intensity destination display totally overwhelms the subtle Sky Class branding on the front.

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  4. City Zap loadings have fallen horribly since Covid, particularly the peaks, presumably as a result of fewer office workers requiring to travel into either City. And at least the vehicles have been put to good use even if apparently not pleasing all. And what a pity certain other organisations do not follow the excellent livery and destination display standards shown by Transdev.

    I assumed the new White Bus operation had more to do with crew changes than trying to run First into early submission. I assume some buses are still based in North Street (Winkfield), and not all have moved to service Surrey work.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Seems odd anyway to timetable a bus to depart knowing (surely? – Whites is a local firm) that it will be affected by something as predictable as Changing the Guard road closures.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It would be really great if the bus industry could actually agree on a policy to only include X in the number if there is at least some ‘limited stop’ running. In fact the X98 only manages to cover the distance in double the car journey time. As a route which is not on the rail network, it would be fantastic if – as well as local buses – there was a fast bus service, getting some way towards a train speed.

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    1. I agree, why use an “X” if it doesn’t denote something like “Express”? My local independent Faresaver has services X31 and X34 that used to shadow First West of England services 231 and 234, presumably to differentiate them. First gave up years ago but the Xs remain. They are however much more reliable and customer focused than First ever were.

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  7. It is quite wonderful to see hundreds of Billions of pounds being spent by the Government on expanding and subsidising bus and train services in and around the London area. A Government minister recently admitted that three times the amount per head is spent on subsidising public transport in the South of England when compared to the North. Is this what the Government calls levelling up?
    In the northern half of England bus services are fast disappearing and rail services reduced, with fares rising to the point where many people cannot afford to travel to work. Information on bus operations in particular is also sadly lacking.
    It really is time that this situation was reversed and Government funds for public transport redirected to the socially and economically deprived northern half of England, an area that has been neglected over many decades by successive Governments.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Just one percent of the over £110 Billion being wasted on the HS2 railway project would keep most bus services running for many years. Government transport planners seem to have their priorities completely wrong.

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      1. The HS2 project is estimated to cost well over £110 Billion. Research has shown that it saves very little time, benefits very few people and in economic terms is of negative benefit, ie it costs more than the benefit it creates.
        Altogether, it is a worthless scheme and the public funds it wastes could be much better spent on economically positive projects elsewhere, particularly in the economically and socially deprived northern half of England.

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      2. The continuing construction of HS2 will be of huge dis-benefit to Norfolk in that it will divert Government funds away from supporting public transport there. Just one percent of the huge cost of HS2 would be sufficient to support and expand Norfolk public transport services for many decades.
        Once again, I would add to the voices of many transport planning engineers who state that HS2 is a hugely wasteful vanity project that is no longer relevant in transport terms. Over £110 Billion is being wasted on HS2!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. HS2’s primary reason is to increase capacity on the rail network by increasing the number of paths, in particular on the West Coast Main Line where it gets the most benefits. That means more frequent stopping services for intermediate stations and more freight to be carried by rail. To do this, high speed services should be diverted to their own railway line, which will be HS2.

        You cannot “upgrade the existing network” as many critics claimed, because you would have to build an extra pair of lines on the WCML, but there isn’t enough room to do so, unless you’d like to demolish half of London and Birmingham, not to mention very disruptive as there’ll be line closures every weekend for 10-15 years, and more expensive than HS2 in its original form.

        I wonder who your researcher is Alan O’Connor – Extinction Rebellion? Time savings are merely a secondary factor as the capacity needs to be seriously addressed. But if you insist, ACTUAL research shows that that the largest time savings are those outside of London, such as Birmingham to Liverpool or Manchester. If the Government hadn’t cancelled the eastern leg, which would’ve made the biggest impact, this would’ve reduce half the time on a route between Birmingham and Leeds, on an otherwise indirect rail journey.

        It benefits much of the UK’s rail network, including the crosscountry services, as far as Aberystwyth. Currently, Aberystwyth services can only run a few times a day into Birmingham New Street due to the restrictive number of paths taken up by high speed services. When HS2 is built, Transport for Wales can increase the number of services to adopt an hourly service. I’m certain the same can be said for North Norfolk.

        It doesn’t seem you’re an expert on transport construction Alan O’Connor, because you fail to grasp with the major issue of the lack of capacity on the UK rail network, not least lecturing us with false information.

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      4. The HS2 railway project is a huge waste of public money in that it produces negative economic return. In simple terms, it costs far more to construct than all the benefits it produces. Several economic evaluations of HS2 have shown this and the project has been severely criticised by Government enquiries and organisations such as the Institute of Civil Engineers.
        The more than £110 Billion that HS2 is estimated to cost would be far better spent on projects that produce positive benefit, particularly in the socially and economically deprived northern half of England.

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      5. “HS2’s primary reason is to increase capacity on the rail network by increasing the number of paths, in particular on the West Coast Main Line where it gets the most benefits……..”

        I couldn’t have put it better myself, well said!

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  9. It is funny how the same couple of names pop up on every forum to complain about the Transdev takeover of the X98 & X99. Sure enough, here’s the same name on here, still complaining.

    I am a regular user of a different Transdev high-profile route in Yorkshire, which they also took over from one of the large groups. It’s not perfect, and there have been too many cancellations recently from lack of drivers, but blimey it is so much better than what went before. Clean, modern, well-presented buses, helpful drivers and good information. A very good service overall.

    Some people are just never happy, to the point of looking ridiculous.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If you’re meaning me, Mr/Mrs Anonymous, you could not be more wrong. I couldn’t give a monkey’s who runs the X98/99 as long as it’s reliable, frequent, comfy, value-for-money, double-deckered and has reasonable first and last timings. USB charging, WiFi, Metro paper and friendly drivers are all a bonus. In general First Leeds ran a perfectly acceptable service (very slowly improving it over the years eg Limited Stop) and I expect Transdev to do the same, if not exceed my expectations. So far they have not in the areas specified. Plse think before using words like ‘ridiculous’ about people – it clearly does not apply in this case.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. First is busy retrenching and withdrawing services in Leeds and the rest of West Yorkshire. It’s the usual pattern for First in most parts of the country.

        The X98 and X99 were going to be withdrawn. Would you prefer them to be taken over by Transdev or by one of the cheap and cheerful operators with their rattly old double deckers? (see the 29 & 30 for the latest examples).

        You also neglect to mention that Leeds City Council has recently closed the main Loop road through the city centre and restricted other access and that the whole central area is often gridlocked as a result. All operators are struggling to keep to time (it recently took me 70 mins on a First bus on the 34 for what should be a 30 mins journey). Incidentally, the First bus was filthy, with litter all over the floor.

        Bus operators have massive challenges at the moment. Transdev is definitely one of the better operators. Be careful what you wish for, or the X98 & X99 might be the next routes in Leeds to end up with 20+ year old double deckers fresh from the school run.

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      1. Bristol is no different to most other towns and cities in the UK regarding transport systems. Generally, there’s lack of coordination and integration between transport systems and an overall lack of information, particularly for bus operations.
        It is hardly a wonder that public transport use is declining and services cut. We need to learn from other cities in the world where public transport systems are much better organised, funded and promoted.

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  10. White Bus gained a Windsor school contract service starting back in September. Combined with the drivers allocated from the Windsor depot, it’d make sense to create a direct service between the Windsor and Staines, as the Chief Executive Simon Rowland had hoped to achieve, discussing in a North West Surrey Bus Users Group meeting earlier in March. There was confusion over which date the 440 would commence, as Surrey County Council emphasised a late September start, while White Bus claimed it was from 3 October, before the start date got pushed back to 31 October!

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  11. Roger,

    With reference to White Bus route 440.

    White Bus’s garage is near Legoland in Winkfield to the south west of Windsor, but as well operating around Windsor, they also run a few services based on Staines Bus Station.

    The 440 is probably just the livening up of driver / bus changes i.e. why run an empty bus when you could possibly carry a fare paying customer or even an OAP pass holder where the local authority will give you about 5p back for doing so😊

    Ian Hardy

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It’s a shame the through running of the Elizabeth Line between Stratford and central London can’t even make one full week of operation, as on Saturday 12th it’s closed for “engineering work” between Shenfield and Whitechapel. You’d think they would have completed engineering work by now given how late it all is and how many closures on the east side there have been!

    Liked by 1 person

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