Thursday 22nd December 2022
Four new unusual bus routes started running in north London this week.
That’s the introductory paragraph I optimistically wrote as I left home yesterday morning to try them out.
Spoiler alert: one never ran; one had such a long gap in service I gave up waiting; one was extensively disrupted by roadworks it didn’t run as planned but in better news, the fourth seemed to be working fairly well.
My first trip was to be a ride on Chiltern Railways’ Wednesday only West Ealing To West Ruislip Parliamentary Train That’s Now A Bus.
Readers will recall the train ran for the last time on Wednesday 7th December but the bus didn’t run last Wednesday (14th) due to the RMT strike disrupting Chiltern Railways that day so I’d assumed yesterday (21st) would be its inaugural journey.
I turned up at West Ealing in good time for the 11:17 departure and quickly realised I’d have to take a call on where the bus was going to depart – immediately outside the station’s smart new entrance in the quiet of Manor Road ….
…. or round the corner at the bus stop in the busy main Argyle Road also served by routes E7 and E11.
Neither member of staff in the station could help as they didn’t know anything about the bus, let alone where it would stop. The station departure board didn’t admit to there being a bus at all.
Luckily after I’d opted to wait at the bus stop in Argyle Road I saw another likely looking bus riding passenger lurking on the corner of both roads seemingly keeping an eye on both possibilities which gave me confidence all bases were covered. Thanks Eric; who I met when he later wandered over to the bus stop.
In the event there was no bus. The Parliamentary Train That’s Now A Bus is deemed not worthy of running “due to the cumulative impact of industrial action and the constraint that it places on planned services” according to ^FK who was manning the Chiltern Tweet Deck yesterday morning when I queried where the bus was.
And it would seem the first outing for the bus won’t be until Wednesday 11th January but as ^FK cautions “provided there is no additional disruption/industrial action announced”.
It was good to get a prompt response to my query on Twitter but I have to admit I don’t understand the replies. Either a contract has been given to a bus and coach company to provide a bus at 11:17 from West Ealing to West Ruislip every Wednesday or it hasn’t. I don’t see what “additional disruption” has got to do with it.
It just adds to the complete farce and waste of taxpayers’ money that characterises this particular journey.
I opted instead to catch the 11:25 GWR shuttle to Greenford …
… and change to a Central line Underground train to reach West Ruislip as any sane passenger would do … except I aborted at Northolt and caught a bus to Harrow-on-the-Hill to seek out the other three new bus routes running this week.
These temporary bus routes began operating last Saturday while Network Rail engineering work closes the Bakerloo line between Queen’s Park and Harrow & Wealdstone as well as the entire London Overground line between Euston and Watford Junction.
When there’s a “national shortage of bus drivers” I’m sure it helps to resource rail replacements when schools are off but the week leading up to Christmas is always exceptionally busy and seems a funny time to be carrying out engineering work that closes a 20 mile section of track into London.
Network Rail are using the closure as an opportunity to carry out “essential railway upgrades” as well as another week in February (half term week 11th -19th) when the same arrangements will apply again.
The work involves installing 6,000 modern concrete sleepers to replace wooden ones from the 1950s; upgrading 1.6km of railway drainage; replacing 10km of cabling for signals; improving five stations north of Queen’s Park as well as “station makeovers” including platform resurfacing and roof canopy maintenance. Work to upgrade the power supply will also take place as well as demolishing a derelict railway-locked electricity substation in danger of collapse.
Network Rail reckon without closing the railway for consecutive days the sleeper replacements would have taken 7-8 years of overnight shifts to get done with the 10km signal cable replacement taking 10 years of work so it obviously makes sense to do a blockade, but it still strikes me as odd to choose the week before Christmas – look at the vitriol heaped on Mick Lynch for daring to call strikes in December.
This frenzied retail week is renowned for very bad traffic congestion as many people rush around to complete their pre Christmas shopping so it was no surprise to find the replacement services in disarray due to traffic delays yesterday.
TfL have laid on three temporary routes: 718, 719 and 720 to supplement its network of routes to help passengers continue travelling without the railway.
And, perhaps because it’s Christmas TfL have uncharacteristically produced a map on its website showing where these routes go.
That’s if you can work out the complex network from the myriad of colours including similar shades denoting routes running on the same stretch of road.
Renowned blogger Diamond Geezer (DG) summed it up nicely in his blogpost on Sunday … “it’s a ridiculously complicated tangled map that serves mainly to confuse. Rather than just showing the three replacement bus routes it also shows eight other routes that might be useful, and then it makes all of them a different colour and throws them across the map like rainbow spaghetti. The lines aren’t numbered except in a separate key and in a multitude of additional boxes, and then rail lines (open and closed) have been thrown in for good measure. Whoever made the crucial 718 route almost the same colour as the tangential 79 needs a better set of crayons. Another dubious design decision is that the station names don’t appear beside the stations, only in separate boxes at a distance, making the map remarkably hard to follow. Wembley in particular is a masterclass in under-annotation.”
I arrived at Harrow-on-the-Hill at 12:15 and thanks to DG knew buses on route 720 for Watford Junction were departing from stop Z, but like DG I asked at the Information point in the bus station …
… and was met with a disinterested employee who simply pointed towards stop Z, sited just beyond the bus station entrance in College Road.
Reassuringly there was a notice in one of those transparent ring binder wallets stuck to the timetable case ….
…. confirming route 720’s existence.
After about ten minutes a Go-Ahead London employee came along to let me know I was in for a long wait as buses on route 720 were being disrupted by roadworks in Station Road, Wealdstone. He reckoned it would be 40 minutes before a bus appeared and suggested I catch a 258 instead to get to Watford. When I said I thought I’d sit it out he then admitted the controllers were probably turning buses from Watford at Harrow & Wealdstone station to keep them on time and avoid the roadworks.
As he wandered off I realised my wait was probably going to be in vain so decided to abort that plan and caught a bus on route 140 from the bus station up to Harrow & Wealdstone station – through the roadworks, which didn’t cause us too much delay …
…. arriving at 12:45 where I found a Sullivan Buses bus screened up for Watford …
… but it was undergoing a roadside repair to the centre doors which seemed to be taking a long time to fix.
The usual employees wearing high-viz tabards were around but they seemed as bemused by the lack of rail replacement buses actually going anywhere as waiting passengers were.
No information was provided about when and if the 720 would depart – no-one seemed to know – and after waiting half an hour with no other bus arriving from Watford I decided to abort the idea of heading north to Watford Junction and instead go south on the 718 to Queen’s Park.
Abellio are running the 718 and a bus had arrived soon after I reached Harrow & Wealdstone but the driver had gone off and no-one knew when he’d return and the bus would leave.
Another bus arrived and the same thing happened.
At 13:15 a driver reappeared and consulted ‘Control’ on his mobile phone who told him to head off straight to Wembley Central and not bother with the route vis Kenton, Preston Road (for South Kenton) and North Wembley, leaving around half a dozen disappointed and frustrated passengers behind.
Five of us got on board and off we went taking around 15 minutes to get through the aforementioned roadworks …
… as often happens with temporary lights, they seem unable to cope with different traffic flows from the two directions they’re controlling.
I reckon northbound it had cost us about 2-3 minutes but southbound about 12-13 minutes.
After clearing the blockage we went flying along until we hit traffic going into the centre of Wembley.
I got off at Wembley Central to transfer on to a bus on route 719 which runs parallel to the 718 on to Queen’s Park having started its southbound journey at nearby Wembley Park to provide connections with the Metropolitan and Jubilee lines.
Metroline are running the 719 and this seemed to be running more to the scheduled times than the 718 but we still came across delays, congestion and bad parking…
… although the presence of bus lanes did give us a boost ….
… and with a spirited run we made it from Wembley to Queen’s Park in half an hour which was less than the scheduled time.
I found posters on display at Harrow & Wealdstone letting passengers know about the arrangements …
… while at Wembley Central there was quite a lot of reading to be done as you entered the station including the advice that “this station will only open 5 minutes before the fast trains are due.”
Like DG’s report on Sunday, I found the whole travel experience rather shambolic with no-one seeming to know what was happening. This isn’t how it need be as vehicle tracking is available these days and it can’t be beyond the wit of TfL boffins to equip high-viz tabard wearing helpers with tablets that can show exactly where each bus is and for control staff to keep them in the loop of the latest plan to mitigate any late running.
Closing a busy railway line in the run up to Christmas was not the most sensible of things to do. Hopefully lessons are being learnt for next February’s closure.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS
Traffic is often heavy in both Harrow Aand Wealdstone Town centres
I looked on bustimes.org. for the three routes. Abellio is quoted as being on the Queen’s Park run but Reading Buses is quoted as the operator on the other services which seems strange. I must agree with Diamond Geezer about the atrocious map.
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Brilliant blog, again.
Having got stuck in temporary traffic lights last night on an A road in Suffolk (emergency Anglian Water repairs) with a queue of 10 mins on one side, and nothing the other way, an idea occurred.
All temporary lights have sensors to detect waiting traffic. Generally, there is a default setting that if no traffic is detected or moving either way, the lights go the the sequence anyway, in case there’s someone that hasn’t been detected.
It’s all done by wireless these days – no cables form the lights to the control box, and no diesel generator either.
How hard would it not be to have at some point before the lights a tripod-mounted traffic detector that will drive the lights to avoid these sort of uneven situations.
They could also help where one side of the lights is close to a junction/roundabout, where queuing traffic would block other routes.
Surely a 12-year-old could write a bit of code?
Should we apply for an Arts Council grant?!
Best wishes Mel
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Great idea Mel; let’s do it!
Until some clever clogs decides to turn the sensor round to face the other way…
Or someone codes the software to deal with the unexpected. I know, nature got there first. We call them humans… but they’re too expensive for our budgets.
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It’s shameful to see what a disappointment TfL is now, this sets in from the very top. Out of touch senior managers sat at home with no knowledge or experience that are only interested in virtue signalling and buzzwords and have no interest in simple public transport provision. Operational staff are incredibly demoralised and not supported. I doubt this will change
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Those in TfL land get a flavour of what the rest of us beyond its borders have to put up with all year.
I suppose the benefit of IT is the data record of the annual Christmas bus chaos we’ve seen every year for the nigh on 70 years of my lifetime. The real surprise is that people do actually use the bus. Madness.
Dare we ask why TfL displaced Station staff at closed stations were not more in evidence?
They surely could have been assisting passengers both locate and advise on bus service departure points/delays with such a big scheme.
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I suspect that tube staff weren’t more in evidence for two reasons:
– the stations are (as always) short-staffed and management have decided not to cover the vacant shifts because “Why should we when there are no trains?”, as often happens on TOC stations nowadays (even when a full service is running!), and “We’re not paying you lot overtime to work your days off when you’re striking half the time, even if it does mean leaving stations unstaffed or with just untrained agency staff muddling through” (another TOC favourite even before the current disputes); and/or
– because those staff who _were_ there were probably demoralised, racked off and sick of the abuse they get so, discretion being the better part of valour, were hiding out of the way.
London Underground has long had a poor reputation for staff relations, bullying by managers and so on, which is one reason LU pay is so high compared to both National Rail and London’s bus operators; it’s the only way they can keep people!
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My career in transport, still on-going at point of writing, actually started in the London Underground staff office (1959-1962), and staff relations were poor then, the only difference was that the management were running scared of all-too-powerful Trade Unions. We had to kow-tow to them at all times apart from actual dispute dates, when they were actually banned from marching into our office and “demanding” answers after some staff complaint. Clearly nothing much has changed other than reduced Union power, so we have to presume that those who actually were rostered to work normal turns, were indeed hiding!
What a sad situation, some of which can certainly be blamed on appalling public behaviour to staff, who dare not utter one word back.
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And to think that much of the GWR network was converted from Broad Gauge to standard gauge over a weekend
We still have the oddity in Ireland of the 5′ 3″ gauge
It’s barmy to do a blockade a week before Christmas, when you know it’s the busiest time of year for rail, & road traffic is awful, & often traffic is worse than the normal peaks, because of Christmas shopping.
Theirs a reason blockades take place between Christmas & New Year
Perhaps transport co’s aren’t so very different from the rest of us. The hardest thing (even, or especially to ourselves) is to admit we have problems. Until we do, we have no hope of dealing with them.
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Got to say, although it turned out to be the right decision, I would not have decided the 1117 bus was not going to turn up in time to get the 1125 train !
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I just had a strong feeling “in my bones’! – it wasn’t running, but agree it was a risk.
Had a ride on 719, 718, 720 in that order on Friday during the evening peak. All three routes were running very well, and were not especially busy. The big delay (other than regular Harlesden congestion) was on the 719 where Wembley Park to Wembley Central (Park La) took 28 mins, but then only another 26 mins to Queens Park. Luckily the schedule was robust enough to cope. On the 718 from Queens Park to Harrow & Wealdstone the driver announced after Wembley Central that the next stop was “South” Wembley. Nevertheless most people sboard wanted Sudbury, so were not happy when he refused to stop (actually the notices do not specify whether these buses are all stops or stations ony). We did however pull up at North Wembley behind a (presumably) broken down LT on the service. Was a bit worried the service had been curtailed there when the driver turned the engine off and disappeared without saying anything, but seems he had gone in search of a toilet, and 5 mins later we were on our way. Never noticed any roadworks and we got to H&W about 70 mins after leaving Queens Park. There was a very disgruntled passenger though, who did not understand that the bus did not serve South Kenton. Again this is not explained. The 720 was running fine with buses working the full route to Harrow. Given that fares are taken on these routes (surprised people sermed to be happily tapping in), presumably the 720 must be registered ??? as it goes out of London.
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The notice at Wembley Central about doors opening 5 mins before trains are due, is because of the wind tunnel effect caused by fast trains (usual Overground/Bakerloo platforms are sealed off so are exempt). Indeed there are doors with a proper notice about the 5 mins along the bridge to platforms 5 & 6. However on Friday the doors were left open all the time. Standing on platform 5 you can see why there are concerns as you are nearly blown over by fast trains through platforns 3 & 4. However it was especially dangerous as platform 5 is supposed to be closed off from Platform 4 by gates. However the gate at the bottom of the stairs is broken and it is currently possible to walk onto Platform 4, which some people were doing whilst wandering around awaiting their train. Quite amazed the week passed without a serious incident and a very bad lapse in safety. I guess that usually very few people ever wait on platform 5 for the hourly Southern service to Watford, but of course this week half hourly LNWR trains were calling and the platform was very busy. Incidentally at Wembley Central LNWR trains now don’t usually stop, the short platforms being an excuse to no longer stop since the December timetable. However the trains stopping this week were 8 cars. Northbound the whole train fitted, but Southbound only 7 cars fitted. Without selective opening, only the front 4 cars could be opened, but nowhere on the station was anything saying that you had to only use the front 4, so every train was delayed whilst people walked up. Another oddity is that the toiets on the overbridge were out of use, so a notice advised use of the disabled toilet on Platform 7. Only problem is the lack of a Platform 7. This must be the former bay platform, certainly not marked as platform 7. And in any case all the toilets there, inc the disabled one were locked shut !
At Wembley Park there was absolutely nothing telling people where to find the 719 bus, or what exit to use. I had to ask a member of staff on the barrier and he told me, but when I suggested putting up a notice to tell people, he said it was nothing to do with them as their trains were running ok. I did then find a notice telling you it picked up at stop O, but only outside the barriers, and only likely to be seen by people entering the station, so pointless. There was a Customer Assistant at the stop, but he would have been more use at the station to point people to the stop. In fact there sermed nill interest in using the 719 from there, and cannot understand then point of it at all.