The quirky train that’s now a quirky bus

Thursday 12th January 2023

The Chiltern Railways ‘ghost bus’ ran for the first time yesterday demonstrating our railway at its most bizarre. It was a whacky Wednesday welcome to a superfluous one-journey-a-week outing between West Ealing and West Ruislip stations which no passengers in their right minds will ever use other than for the enjoyment of having a 20 minute oddball quirky travel experience. And as a bonus it’s also a free ride too. There’s no need to buy a ticket.

It used to be a train so Chiltern’s drivers could retain route knowledge on the tracks particularly between Greenford and South Ruislip (from the days when the line continued into Paddington). They’ve given up on that idea now but no-one wants to tackle the long drawn out closure procedure needed when passenger trains no longer run on a section of track, so money is being spent on a bus replacement service no one will use instead. It’s not as though costs are an issue in the rail industry is it?

Readers will be aware this so called Parliamentary weekly train ran for the final time on Wednesday 7th December and due to the hiatus of strikes and Christmas/New Year Arriva’s rail replacement division based in Derby (Arriva being Chiltern’s owners) left it until yesterday for the replacement bus to make its debut.

An initial three month contract has been given to Rotala owned Diamond South East to provide the bus from its Stanwell base near Heathrow Airport where the former Hallmark bus services and coaches are based. Hallmark was taken over by Rotala in 2005 and rebranded as Diamond Bus in 2021.

After my aborted attempt at taking the bus on what I’d wrongly assumed would be its initial outing on 14th December I was full of anticipation and excitement as I headed to West Ealing yesterday morning for a first day quirky bus ride.

Any concerns about finding where the bus would depart from were immediately allayed as I got off an Elizabeth Line train at 11:00 and saw the Diamond liveried bus already sitting right outside the station entrance.

Two pieces of paper in the windscreen gave the bus some kind of official status, although it’s anyone’s guess what relevance 1589 has to the journey.

On board was the delightful Diamond driver called Uppal who will be a regular on the journey as part of her duties which normally comprise hotel and staff shuttles around Heathrow. She was joined by a colleague driver ensuring she was confident which route to take …

…. and not forgetting Simon from Arriva who’d arranged the contract and had travelled all the way down from his office in Derby to ensure it went off without a hitch. After all, you can never tell who’s going to turn up for a ride on these first day quirky bus routes and write a blog about it.

In the event there were six of us mad enough to take an inaugural ride and play the Guess Which Route The Bus Will Take game as well as chatting about quirky bus and train journeys we all know and love.

It was lovely to meet Louis (hiding behind the stanchion pole in the above photo – sorry Louis) a local resident of Ruislip who’d travelled down to West Ealing on TfL route E7 which connects Ruislip with West Ealing every 12 minutes and Ealing resident Don (third from the left in the above photo) who’s made a specialism of Ghost Bus riding in Ealing recalling his previous journeys on the famous Ealing Broadway to Wandsworth Road service that ran for many years.

We got going a couple of minutes after the 11:17 scheduled departure time and headed north up Argyle Road just as buses on the E7 do every 12 minutes. But whereas they turn left into Ruislip Road East and Ruislip Road via Greenford and Yeading to Ruislip, we weren’t hidebound by needing to pick up passengers so continued to the very end of Argyle Road and on to the A40 …

…. which we used all the way to the Hillingdon turn off where we turned right and reached West Ruislip via Long Lane and High Road.

Simon explained buses can use an alternative route using West End Road by leaving the A40 by the famous Polish War Memorial – which is the way buses on route E7 take every 12 minutes.

Have I mentioned how frequently TfL buses run between West Ealing and Ruislip yet? It’s every 12 minutes.

But here’s where the Ghost Bus scores. Whereas route E7 takes a leisurely 53 minutes on its 12 minute frequency, it took us just 20 minutes non-stop travelling to reach the narrow road leading down to West Ruislip’s station car park so we could access the side entrance to the Chiltern Railways used Platform 4 – in case any passengers want a seamless connection to a train to take them back into London, I assume. Now that would be quirky – West Ealing to Marylebone via West Ruislip.

I’m not sure why we weren’t dropped off outside the main entrance to the station on the bridge over the tracks in High Road as it would save the hassle of trying to turn the bus round in a confined space by the car park.

As I mentioned last time, anyone wanting to travel between West Ealing and West Ruislip, aside from the E7 bus (which runs every 12 minutes to central Ruislip – have I mentioned that?) would take the GWR half hourly train service to Greenford and then the Central Line to West Ruslip, taking by coincidence around 20 minutes.

Mind you, you’d need to pay a fare for that journey, whereas no tickets are needed for the Ghost Bus. Officially they say you need a ticket, but that’s not how these things work.

In the real world of course you’d run a bus from somewhere useful (like Ealing Broadway) to somewhere useful (like central Ruislip) – perhaps call it an E7X – run it with a red bus and accept Oyster etc and then maybe, just maybe, a passenger or two might find it useful. But that would mean “joined up thinking” between TfL and the DfT.

Britain’s railway at its quirkiest.

‘Reform and modernisation’ anyone?

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

28 thoughts on “The quirky train that’s now a quirky bus

Add yours

  1. I think the way to look at buses and trains in the UK is as fossils in one big real-life Jurassic Park playground. It can make an enjoyable fun day out for adult kids, or be just dead-dull boring.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The UK passenger railway is now a full-size train set for the politicians and DfT to play with. It’s certainly got nothing to do with providing any form of service to the passengers or running a business.

      My only criticism of this blog today is that Roger seems to be blaming the railway for the idiocies imposed on it by government. I doubt that he would blame the bus industry for running a useless service because the government makes it nigh-on impossible to withdraw it, so why blame the railway industry for doing the same?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Finally it started after all the faff!

    The number in the window is the bus run number (akin to running board number) that ARS have given the service. Means nothing to the public other than for rail replacement staff.

    An initial three month contract? Be interesting what happens after, as to withdrawal the service it will still have to go through the formal rail systems formal withdrawal of service processes are complete (ie not overnight) and will have to run until such time due diligence is complete – remember the Kenny O farce all those years ago with that bus.

    Such is the quirk of the railway

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You don’t get much more quirky than Diamond Bus. As an aside Stagecoach Midlands is facing early termination of its new TfWM contracts serving Queen Elizabeth Hospital In Edgbaston after an almost total failure to operate the 41 & 46 due to its quote ” Unforseen Operational Circumstances “

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    1. Today, apparently 4 journeys on the 46 and 3 journeys on the 41 are listed as cancelled. This is obviously not ideal, but hardly ‘almost total failure’ when the 46 has over 60 journeys in the timetable.

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      1. Well the TDC meeting I attended at Transport for West Midlands this week was told exactly that by contract management that since inception the package awarded to Stagecoach Midlands has been a total failure with the majority of journeys on A9 41 46 & 169 not running to timetable or unable to accept Swift therfore deemed as non operational. From my own experience today I went to get the 46 from QEHB & it failed to run. Perhaps from your armchair you know better than those of us procuring and using the services awarded to Stagecoach Midlands from the QEHB?

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      2. According to the overnight data held by Transport for West Midlands on the 11th January 2023 10 journeys contracted on TfWM 46 failed to run and further 16 were deemed non operational due to ticket machines being unable to accept Swift. I am not the best accountant in the world but 44% of journeys not being deemed operational on a bus service would imply total failure to both users and contractor somewhat this does not include non compliance on the A9 41 & 169 for which separate data suggesting a similar failure rate is available.

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    2. I’ve got to be honest: claiming a trip “effectively” hasn’t run just because the bus is fitted with a ticket machine which hasn’t been programmed to read a specific smartcard seems fairly dodgy to me.
      But Stagecoach signed up to the contract, so they obviously feel it’s OK.

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      1. The traffic commissioner is not involved within the West Midlands Combined Authority its powers are being devolved to Andy Street CBE & Transport for West Midlands hence the need for Swift data during the transition period in the latest devolution deal.

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  4. 20 minutes non-stop – that’s as fast as Google Maps gives for the car time – I’ve often wondered if an express bus (to fill some of the gaps in the rail/tube network in outer London) could keep to the car times – and this seems to show that it can (traffic allowing); I can’t understand Sadiq Khan’s refusal to consider such things – after all, building a new rail line takes years, while an express bus can be set up very quickly. Routes would just need integrating properly with the Overground etc., with big ‘Underground-style’ way-finding signs.

    20 minutes, by the way is faster than the W.Ealing-Greenford + Central line rail route – Google Maps allows 29 minutes, including a 6 minute wait at Greenford.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The services are paid for by Transport for West Midlands from council tax payers of West Midlands Combined Authority it is a legal contract. If the operator does not fulfill the compulsory elements of the tender it is deemed non operational and the operator recieves a penalty. Swift is Andy Streets flagship multimodal travelcard across the West Midlands. It is a requirement of the tender that Swift is accepted and the data collected. It is Transport for West Midlands Service and not Stagecoach. Failure to adhere to the contract results in non compliance and the service marked as not running. We have had complaints of customers being refused travel on the A9 41 46 & 169 as the drivers have not been trained by the company to understand the Swift system and also are refusing to accept the vast range of nTickets & the Centrocard scheme additionally This is totally unacceptable and so if Swift is not acceptable the service is a non compliant. Diamond Bus & National Express West Midlands happily comply with the terms of thier contracts.

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  5. This polemic is well made, but I can just imagine the fuss the rail lobby would make if there was a serious legislative attempt to radically reduced those absurd Parliamentary closure procedures!

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    1. It’s not the rail lobby who are the problem, it’s the idiots who insist that their lives would be absolutely destroyed by the withdrawal of something they’ve never used in their life. They’re not a rail lobby; they’re just a bloody nuisance!

      The rail lobby would demand the route be reopened running every three minutes using wind-powered, loco-hauled personal shuttle vehicles with Pullman restaurant facilities or something equally absurd. That’s what they tend to do (yes, Railfuture, I’m looking at you.)

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  6. It’s not free.

    Why do you think it’s a free bus? According to the railway ticket buying website I use the single fare is £ 7. Of course TfL Travelcards (railway ones, not bus passes) valid for the appropriate zones can be used too and I’m guessing that Alan already has a One Day Travelcard to travel to and from his Sussex home, so I’m not accusing him of fare-dodging.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yet bus services can be axed with almost no notice such as the 357 which Arriva dropped at short notice and only an emergency replacement service has been able to be provided to date

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  8. It would seem that the Chiltern Parliamentary Train would be “temporarily” withdrawn until December 2023 to allow GWR to trial a battery Class 230, with “fast charging” facilities to be built at the West Ealing bay platform. Ironically, Vivarail went bust just last month, and it wasn’t helping that the 230 trial was already behind schedule. Whether the Parliamentary Train will return after a year, who knows…

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  9. It would be really interesting to actually read a Department for Transport statement justifying the operation of this once-a-week, one-direction, non-revenue earning service.

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  10. A bit of good news. The desolate Harlow bus station is to be redeveloped work ewill start in the next few months. It will be developed i phases so the bus station can be kept open. £24M of funding is in place

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    1. Harlow Bus station is a most inefficient use of land, so perhaps in the overcrowded South-East development is (and should be) inevitable; as well as hugely overdue.

      Perhaps it also gives us (another) opportunity to prove the theory that a better bus station brings better bus services in its wake; may be what you mean by “good news”. Certainly Essex CC have a good track record if we judge it just by financial management. As a Council tax payer (and less of a bus user these days), I wouldn’t complain.

      It depends what we want and the effort we put in, I suppose. As a place to start revival of the town centre, there could be worse ones I suppose, but at least it should improve the setting for the adjacent multi-storey car park!

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  11. Another One Bites the Dust

    The Ready to go DRT service is being withdrawn

    Data from the council’s analysis suggested that the Ready2Go service had been successful in helping to reverse ongoing bus patronage decline.

    The Council reports a number of issues have been impacting the service including high running costs, relatively low numbers of passengers travelling at the same time on each bus and passengers being unable to book a bus journey. The recent Insch bus service survey indicated, on balance, a preference in that area for a timetabled service over Ready2Go with customers noting a deterioration in Ready2Go service reliability in more recent months as demand has increased across the service area.

    Tenders will now be sought from bus operators for replacement timetabled journeys covering the previously withdrawn fixed routes between Insch and Inverurie and Rothienorman and Inverurie.

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  12. I realise that this can’t happen because the service is probably covered by DDA or PSVAR or whatever it’s called these days, but….

    Given that the only people who are ever going to use this bus are the enthusiast fraternity, wouldn’t it be nice if it could be operated by heritage buses or some other interesting or unusual vehicles? It would at least ensure that there were passengers!

    Liked by 1 person

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