Seen around

Tuesday 28th February 2023

Welcome to February’s compote of miscellany I’ve encountered on recent travels but first a couple of plugs for two recent publications.

UK National Rail Map

Alex Nelson and his website has updated his brilliant map showing every railway station in the UK (yes, it includes Northern Ireland too). If you like maps it’s a great purchase and will keep you fascinated for hours as you marvel at how Alex manages to include every single station even in Greater London.

The 2023 map obviously now includes the Elizabeth line and the extension of the Overground to Barking Riverside as well as new stations such as Reston.

Stations within a PlusBus zone are highlighted as are all the different Train Operating Companies each with a different colour. Alex has even included stations earmarked for opening this year including Reading Green Park for example.

The map costs just £11 + postage and packing extra and can be ordered from Alex’s website here. It’s a great purchase.

Western National Working Timetables 1996

If you’re fascinated by how schedules for bus networks work, especially in a rural area, then Keith Shayshutt’s latest book is just for you. Western National Working Timetables 1996 Volume 2: Devon Division is the follow up to last year’s publication of Volume 1: Cornish Division and once again provides a detailed snapshot of how Western National organised its driver duties, vehicle workings and outstations for a week in May 1996 at the start of that year’s summer season.

You’ll be able to trace what all 25 buses based at Tavistock outstation did during the course of their working day, and at the other end of the spectrum the workings of the lonely Mercedes minibus based out at Moretonhampstead.

Times were about to change for Western National under First Group ownership with parts of South Devon and East Cornwall soon to be abandoned eventually leading to the sale of the rump of the operations to Stagecoach in 2015. As Keith observes “1996 could be regarded as one of the last years of the traditional West Country style of operations that had been unique to Western National. Sit back, indulge, transport yourself back to Plymouth in 1996 and enjoy. It was the end of an era.”

The book is just £18 and can be purchased from all the usual online outlets including eBay and Browns Books.

Bargain Birmingham fares

As passengers in England get used to the £2 maximum fare during the six month promotion bus users in the West Midlands are well used to the idea of a £2 fare and even a £4 all day fare. which is even cheaper than the much heralded TfL cheap fares in London.

Know your bus routes TfL

Someone at TfL needs to brush up on their bus routes. It’s all very well taking a double page spread in the Metro newspaper recently to promote half term activities accessible by bus, which TfL did in a recent edition, but it doesn’t quite work when you include bus route numbers that have been cut from the network…. by TfL.

As Mike Harris pointed out on an online forum “Among the delights we are encouraged to visit are the London Transport Museum at Covent Garden which can be reached via a leisurely ride on “routes RV1, 13 or 23” …. which haven’t served Aldwych since 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively. If theatre is more your thing then jump on a 414 and alight at Little Venice for the Cost Children’s Theatre. Except route 414 was cut back from there over a year ago.” Mike also points out route UL1 listed for the Discover Children’s Story Centre at Stratford “is an occasional Underground replacement bus.”

Cubicle Number 2….

I was intrigues when visiting the toilets on the eastern side of Paddington railway station last week to see the installation of a new system to let you know how many cubicles are free as well as a red and green light above each one showing which are occupied.

What will they think of next? An App to tell us in advance the status of cubicle occupancy?

Amazingly as you can see there were more female cubicles empty than males. Usually it’s the other way round with queues commonplace outside female toilets at mainline stations.

Read the small print

It always puzzles me why bus companies insist on displaying notices behind the driver which are pretty much impossible to read due to being in such small print size. I wonder when they expect passengers to be able to read them and take it all in. You don’t see it as you board, and if you stop to read it as you get off you’ll hold up anyone wanting to alight behind you as well as holding the whole bus up.

This example I saw a couple of weeks ago while in the north east has one notice that’s over three months old and the other one seems to be a notice for staff rather than passengers.

Doesn’t anyone check these things?

Gatwick Express ticket buying

Back in December’s Seen Around blog I featured the lack of a ticket office at Gatwick Airport station as it reaches the final stages of its refurbishment and expansion. Interestingly at the other end of the line at Victoria the bespoke GatEx ticket office which used to be by platforms 13 and 14 has now closed as part of the expansion and remodelling of the gateline and retail space at the terminal.

But, instead of doing away with it, five (yes, five) of the main Southern branded ticket offices windows have now been repurposed as Gatwick Express.

This seems a bizarre move as firstly you’d think a ticket office was more pertinent at the Airport for incoming visitors unsure about what ticket to buy than at Victoria, and secondly why differentiate it from the ticket office windows under the Southern branding, bearing in mind it’s all one company and each ‘window’ should sell all tickets whatever the branding of the train.

I can’t help thinking this is a sneaky way of maximising revenue from passengers unfamiliar with the complexities of the various tickets for the journey from Victoria to Gatwick Airport.

Where’s Inverness?

It seemed a bit odd that Inverness rail station doesn’t get a mention on the home screen of the ticket machine at the new Inverness Airport station. Maybe they’re expecting passengers to catch the Stagecoach bus from the airport terminal; and perhaps that’s why the footpath isn’t signed from the airport end.

It says “Quick ticket selection for popular destinations” but come on ScotRail I can’t believe Edinburgh is popular for people flying into Inverness Airport. They’d fly into Edinburgh.

Integrated departure signs at Berwick-Upon-Tweed

It was good to see Borders Buses’ route 60 between Berwick-Upon-Tweed and Galashiels having one of its six daily departures advertised on the departure boards at Berwick-Upon-Tweed railway station, but it’s odd that other departures equally as important don’t get a look in – for example route 253 towards Edinburgh and Arriva’s X15/X18 to Newcastle both of which serve communities isolated from the rail network. It’s almost 70 years since you could get a train from Berwick-Upon-Tweed to Galashiels (now served by route 60) confirming these quirks in the rail sector never cease.

Euston’s congestion

I’m not sure the bright new departure screens at Euston are achieving the objective of reducing the congestion caused by passengers staring up at it forlornly. And it might just be my eyesight, but I find them much harder to read than the old style.

Hidden information at Bristol Parkway

On my recent trip to Bristol to take a ride on new bus route m4 I was impressed to see pocket bus maps for Bristol on display to take away in Bristol Parkway’s station ticket office/foyer, except they were well hidden behind other posters.

As was a display giving details of bus departures. It could hardly be seen unless you squeezed your way through, which was a shame.

But in better news, posters giving train departures to each station in alphabetical order were back on display.

Restoration at Invershin

It was sad to see the ruins of a once fine station at Invershin on the Far North Line. But sadly it looked even beyond the resources of the wonderful Rail Heritrage Trust who do so much great work preserving the railway’s heritage.

Skelmersdale’s bus shelters

I’ve seen some awful bus shelters in my time but on my recent trip to Skelmersdale passed by this specimen. Does the local authority really think this enhances the image of bus travel?

Berwick Upon Tweed’s lovely bridges

And finally for this round up, to end on a brighter note, some photographs of the three bridges which cross the Tweed in Berwick.

Carrying the East Coast Main Line
Carrying the A698 into the centre
Carrying the old road

Roger French

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54 thoughts on “Seen around

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  1. Many thanks for these observations, which give some nice pictures of what can be seen and experienced if you travel around by bus and train – and some of the (you’d think) unbelievable obstacles put in our way as we do that – sometimes even by the people or organisations who, in theory, should be trying to make it easier!


  2. Thanks as ever for your interesting comments. Is a bit of text missing? You say

    LNER’s poor response
    I can appreciate

    but stop in mid-sentence. Do tell more!


  3. Whilst the £4 all day Daysaver ticket is great value in West Midlands County , Staffordshire, Warwickshire & Worcestershire and is unbeatable in England it does get even better if you avoid the Cities of Birmingham & Wolverhampton the all day fare is just £3 which allows the residents of Sandwell, Dudley & Walsall to access some of the cheapest travel in Europe.


    1. Just want to confirm the validity of the Daysaver. It is restricted to National Express West Midlands (and Coventry) and those services that cross the boundary into Staffs, Warks, Worcs? It doesn’t cover services of other operators in those counties, does it?


      1. National Express Daysavers are valid only on National Express buses (but aren’t restricted by county boundaries).
        If you want an all operator ticket for the West Midlands (and some areas just outside) then you’d need an nBus ticket, or whatever it’s called this week.

        Other counties get messier; Staffordshire has it’s Knot ticket and Worcestershire has the County Connecta, both of which are only valid within their respective counties (no cross border travel), and as far as I’m aware there’s no multi-operator tickets offered for the other counties in the western Midlands.


        1. Parts of Staffordshire & Worcestershire have Transport for West Midlands validity of all Network tickets issued by NXWM you to use any operator . There are plans by West Midlands Combined Authority for all National Express West Midlands Daysavers to be withdrawn and replaced at the same price to passengers with a new range of all operator tickets replacing the Network range . This is a personal ambition of Andy Street CBE to improve bus services including 400 new environmentaly friendly vehicles enhancing bus travel across the West Midlands.


          1. I think that’s the point. You didn’t specify parts of Staffs, Worcs, Warks originally so are these largely restricted to those services that are cross border services?


        2. The Staffordshire Knot ticket does have an element of cross-border validity in that it does cover services between Burton and Swadlincote; the county boundary in that area is complex so that does make sense. However, think you’re right that Connecta doesn’t have any cross-border validity which is a bit duff; then again, I doubt many (if any) people know about them anyway!


          1. Worcestershire Connecta is the most used and issued ticket within the County of Worcestershire and are valid on all operators.

            Products issued by West Midlands Combined Authority are valid not only on cross boundary services and but also services wholly with the appropriate County as defined under the Centrocard scheme for further information please contact Transport for West Midlands at:


            1. Most used and issued ticket in Worcestershire…praise indeed.

              I did expect products issued by WMCA to be valid on within the West Midlands; it was your reference to Warks, Staffs and Worcs validity that I queried.

              Validity in those counties is restricted to cross-border services then. Thank you for clarifying


            2. No validity is not restricted to cross boundary services on tickets issued by WMCA. An example is this – Kinver is a village in Staffordshire and TfWM tickets and passes are valid on Select 242 which runs from Stourbridge within the West Midlands County to Kinver however the ticket is also valid on Diamond Bus 580 within Kinver on common sections of the route with 242 although this service does emirates from Kidderminster & does not enter the West Midlands County.


  4. Toilet Cubicle Indicator Lights.
    Personally, I welcome these – certainly preferable to furtively searching out a green indicator bolt (if not broken!) or surprising an occupant because the cubicles status is not clear!


  5. Those wretched complex notices behind the driver! The number of times when I’ve told operators not to do it, they say “how else are we going to tell them?” If they haven’t seen / can’t see / can’t read your notice you haven’t actually told them anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The best one I saw was on. Tidworth Silver Star Leyland National when they competed with Wilts & Dorset late 80’s/early 90’s. Every side window had 2 differing no smoking notices and then behind the driver a vinyl sign saying “If you don’t smoke, I won’t fart”.


  6. The Borders Buses service 60 journeys shown on the departures board at Berwick is a relic from when the route was marketed as the Scottish Borders Rail link with through ticketing (along with the 95 between Carlisle and Galashiels). As far as I am aware, through tickets are still available at a cost. For most passengers it is probably cheaper to pay for bus and train separately.


  7. Regarding Gatwick Express it’s especially odd as I would imagine most tourists buying tickets would also buy a return (I believe period returns are common still for airport routes even over short distances, certainly the case at Stansted where the return portion is valid for a month). Making even less need for the Gatwick Express only ticket windows at Victoria (ignoring the fact the Gatwick Express is a rip off anyway and it can often be quicker, and vastly cheaper to take a Southern service instead, especially if the Gatwick Express has just left).

    Regarding the “most popular” tickets on the ticket machine at Inverness Airport I’m not 100% sure if these are actually set up by the operator or get populated based on the tickets that are being bought. I have a feeling it’s the latter in which case that probably reflects where passengers are actually buying tickets to instead – which would tend to confirm most passengers for Inverness opting to go by bus instead.


  8. It is massively frustrating when operators fail to be able to communicate and market themselves to existing and prospective customers. Sadly, Arriva seems to be the worst offender for this, and is perhaps reflected in the general health of their business (as demonstrated by yesterday’s news on depot closures in Cheshire/Shropshire).

    The appalling website is one thing, and it’s difficult to navigate through that. Even then, when a PDF for a timetable is located, it is (as Roger highlighted in his Northumberland jaunt) formatted so poorly that it is almost a deterrent to travel. There’s the simple KISS maxim – Keep It Simple, Stupid – so it’s best to have simple clear messages rather than the confusing morass of text and notices that are so beloved by Arriva (and let’s call it out – Stagecoach are going the same way). Too many times have I travelled by Arriva and been bombarded by notices and then you have ones that are eons old and no longer relevant e.g. ICE Points?

    Little wonder that the business continues to contract rapidly and at a seemingly greater rate than comparable operations run by others.


  9. I feel cynical about depot closures. Isn’t this a case of asset stripping and not economics. Arriva closed our local garage/ depot in Garston, Herts… Nice expensive housing development going up. Nice income for DB and the German Government?


      1. Leicestershire County Council’s current phased funding review includes most of their services from Hinckley including the express Coventry to Leicester service X6 which has been re-equipped qith branded coaches. After the recent withdrawal of Roberts 159 Hinckley to Coalville service which Roger covered, despite a lot of public campaigning, you wonder what will be left. Worse case scenario would be the 158 Leicester to Nuneaton, which competes with Stagecoach and a reasonable number of Warwickshire County Council contracted routes centered on Nuneaton. Would Hinckley depot then be viable? They’ve already sold the other operation purchased from Centrebus Holdings a few years ago – Yorkshire Tiger. I hope I’m wrong, but…..


      1. With regard to the Skelmersdale piece, that bus shelter was recently shown on BBC News featuring reductions in bus services. The bulletin also mentioned that the good folk of Skem had no railway station and had to trek to either Upholland or Ormskirk for their train rides.


    1. Arriva can’t sell Winsford depot for housing development, as that depot in the middle of an industrial estate & backs on to the West Coast Main Line


        1. Indeed they are. None of the depots are in prime development sites. Winsford is indeed on a non-descript industrial estate, and so is Macc and where it’s located, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s leased anyway. Oswestry could be developed, I guess, but it won’t swell the coffers of DB Towers that much!

          Sadly this is the consequence of years of incremental cuts simply reducing the amount of work that you can spread a fixed overhead across.


  10. I know there is a big push back for those new departure screens, but as a younger person I find them much easier to read – colours make different information (train time/plafform/destination, carriage information, and intermediate stops) easier to locate and the TfL status is helpful for me at a glance when I walk pass without stopping. It is very much a personal experience but I do see a positive side of it.


  11. Most new LED powered signage is *far* less readable than their predecessors. The ‘designers’ seem to have had no training in making lettering visible for anyone, let alone those with ageing eyesight. The ‘upgraded’ Gatwick platform display are a case in point. Does anyone know who is getting all these replacement signage contracts?


  12. Borders Buses route 60 is half of the Borders rail link along with the 95/X95 from Carlisle to Gala so that’s why they appear on the departure boards at Stations whereas Edinburgh and Newcastle are served by trains and even they are not daft enough unlike bus companies to advertise the competition I.e. Cars


  13. “Quick tickets” lists are invariably manually populated. An automated list particularly at a quieter station could be led astray by a one-off event, and – not relevant here – there may even be cases where a station is deliberately not included to make it harder to spot the lowest fare just to get through ticket gates. I’d guess that someone based it on a nearby existing station (almost certainly Inverness) then forgot to tweak it.

    Some ticket machines have a button labelled “More popular tickets”, which is marvellously ambiguous.


  14. The £2 Bus Fare

    It has been running for 2 months now but I have seen no real data on whether it has had any real impact. Superficial information from operators suggests it has had little impact but that not based on actual measure data

    The £2 fare as well encourages the use of single tickets which moves things away from the general directions fares are going in

    The £2 fare as well has had no real marketing at none bus users

    The real problem is that most bus services are of little use to working people so the fares could be free but it would still not drive usage much

    Unless bus services are considerable improved and reliability is also improved from the current poor levels bus usage will continue its slow decline

    Instead of a £2 fare some of that money would have been better used to improve services

    Maybe a graduated fare cuts

    0 to 3 miles £1.50
    3 to 6 miles £3.00
    8 to 9 miles £4.00
    Over 9 miles £5.00


    1. The £2 ticket is neither issued or is valid on services operated by Rotala due to the complex reimbursement scheme regarding tendered services with West Midlands Combined Authority.


      1. That may be a contributory factor, but other Diamond companies in the UK (North West excepted) are not taking part either according to Diamond’s own website and they’ve got nothing to do with the West Midlands Combined Authority.


        1. Rotala are not taking part in the £2 as the majority of Rotalas revenue comes from being the No2 operator in the West Midlands County consequently this IS the main factor and the same principle is applied to reimbursements in other areas which I personally agree with as a sound business model.


          1. Preston Bus part of Rotala PLC are taking part in the Government’s, £2 fare scheme but are a separate legal entity to Diamond Bus


  15. That map looks like the one Chester le Track did.It includes some of the Republic of Ireland too but not by the looks of it the Isle of Man.Perhap Sir Jacob Rees Smog and Dame Coffee ☕ drew it up as it hasn’t even got a bit of France on it.The old BR one use to have a bit of France and most of both parts of Ireland but not the Manx Railway.


  16. GOAhead Group Accounts

    Buses Operating Profit Down 2%

    Regional buses profit up 52%

    London and International Nus down 15.6%

    E Taking on services from other operators’ probably accounts for the increase with Regional buses

    Government money is also still underpinning the profits

    Difficult to say what the true underling position is


  17. D&G have stepped in to take over dome of the Arriva Winsford routes They have registered replacement for the 31, 37 and 84

    I dont think Arriva have officially deregistered them yet. Knowing how Arriva normal network they will deregistered the routes at the last possible moment leaving the councils struggling to find operators for the non commercial services in the very short timescales


    1. Cheshire East Council has already said that there is no money left in the pot so not certain how many non-commercial services will have operators. Cheshire West is similarly straitened. They’ve taken on the best routes, and the Crewe locals are largely mirrored by D&G. That said, D&G is in discussions to see what can be achieved and to mitigate the impact as much as possible so mainly Northwich and Winsford locals at risk.


      1. Arriva operate these other town routes, from both Winsford & Macclesfield which they will no longer operate

        1 Northwich Circular via Rudheath and Weaverham
        3 Macclesfield – Weston
        4 Barnton to Leftwich and Kingsmead via Northwich
        4 Macclesfield – Upton Priory
        5 & 6 Macclesfield – Broken Cross
        6 Leighton Hospital – Shavington
        7 Winsford Local Circular
        9 Macclesfield – Moss Rose
        10 Macclesfield – Bollington

        See if D&G or anyone else takes over them.


  18. Re:Winsford, Arriva gave deregistrations to both Councils on Monday,hence D&G’s replacement registrations.Arriva’s last day is 22nd April. Both Winsford and Macclesfield depots are leased.


    1. It’s interesting here in Sandwell just how much Chaserider is a total laughing stock is just up the road in Cannock. Day after day on Tony Hunters excellent blog there are reports that the company is unable to operate journeys, vehicles are broken down and passengers stranded. At least Stagecoach are honest about thier failings with thier new South Birmingham network and are working towards a resolution. Thankfully due to the companies total incompetence in Staffordshire we get very little involvement with them on Transport for West Midlands contract services. Mind you from the summer every bus operating in the West Midlands Combined Authority will be required to be Euro 6 is there any such thing found at Delta Way?


    1. Due to the vast range of Daysavers very few passengers on National Express West Midlands actually paid £2.40 for single. After 6pm to get to Brums Nightlife its costs just 80p each for unlimited travel for 5 people together unbeatable value me and my mates use most Fridays & Saturdays.


  19. Windows 1-5 used to be for advance purchase tickets when I worked there 25 years ago, not sure if that was still the case until recently. If it was, are the GX windows multi purpose, but badly labelled?


    1. As someone who is on the working committee of TfWM Sprint at the West Midlands Combined Authority I am happy to answer any questions or any points that may be raised about SPRINT in Brum


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