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 Chi
ltern’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?
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