My Hundred Best Train Journeys 4

Wednesday 26th December 2018

And so the final forty of My Hundred Best Train Journeys ranked 61-100. You can read the top 10 here, 11-30 here and 31-60 here.

61 Brighton – East Croydon

This line which passes my home station of Hassocks. I reckon I know just about every inch of its track and views from the windows having made frequent trips on GTR’s trains up to London and back over the last five years since retiring. The outstanding section which gets me every time, and I never miss the opportunity to gaze out of the window as we pass, is the wonderful view across the South Downs from David Mocatta’s famous Balcombe Viaduct. It’s even more spectacular from the parallel road (see above) as is Mocatta’s brilliantly designed northern entrance to Clayton Tunnel just south of Hassocks (see below).

62  Lewes – Eastbourne

When a Class 170 to Ashford met a Cuckmere Community Bus at Berwick

This delightfully scenic journey begins at the wonderful junction station in Lewes. The journey east from Lewes was covered in entry no 58 (Brighton to Seaford) and heading westwards the train passes alongside the River Ouse, and soon takes you past the beautiful scenery of the South Downs National Park where hang gliders can often be seen flying off the hill tops as the train continues past Glynde and Berwick stations towards Eastbourne, a town which never looses its charm as a more genteel neighbour to brash Brighton along the coast. 

63  London Paddington – Reading – Newbury – Westbury

Speeding down to Reading never fails to impress on one of the latest Class 800/802 trains, even beating the beloved HSTs on speed, if not comfort. Then marvelling on arrival at the amazing changes which have taken place at Reading station in recent years. Then it’s a delightful ride through what’s promoted as the North Wessex Downs as the journey continues through Berkshire and Wiltshire keeping an eye out for Newbury racecourse and the Kennet and Avon Canal which the line parallels all the way as far as Pewsey.

Most journeys from London take the ‘by-pass track’ avoiding Frome which is a great pity as it has a delightful full size roof over its now single platform and track (the other platform and track long being out of use) which is very unusual for a through station. It’s worth catching the 0607 up from Frome or the 1707 or 1807 down from Paddington (the only direct trains linking Frome with London) for the pleasure of doing so! 

Arriving at Westbury it’s well worth wandering outside to appreciate the station’s traditional architecture as shown below.

64  Fareham – Southampton

There are two highlights on this journey. The superb views as the tracks cross the River Hamble (noting the luxury boats moored up alongside the pontoon jetties) and the wonderful horseshoe curve around the River Itchen between Woolston and St Deny’s stations – always important to sit on the nearside in the westbound direction to see the Itchen in all its glory.

65  Shoeburyness – Upminster

Another journey with lovely coastal views as the tracks abut the beach between Chalkwell and Leigh-on-Sea and then continue over Hadleigh Marsh and alongside West Canvey Marsh Nature Reserve. Another nearside in the westbound direction seat for best views being essential. A lovely ride.

66  Ashford International – Stratford International – St Pancras International

Not so much for the scenery (have you seen Stratford International from the platforms!?) but for the amazingly impressive high speed the train takes. Having worked in Ashford in the 1970s it always seems impossible that a train now takes just 38 minutes for the journey to London.

67  Stourbridge Junction – Stourbridge Town

You just have to love the cute mini-size trains – they’re called Parry People Movers – or Class 139 in railway parlance – which shuttle up and down between Stourbridge’s Junction and Town stations every ten minutes for the three minute single journey time. If you haven’t taken a trip, now’s the time to head for Stourbridge and tick it off your list of journeys to do ….. and spare a thought for the lovely staff who share driving and ticket selling/checking duties on what must work out at over eighty single journeys per duty!

68  Edinburgh – Tweedbank

A busy Tweedbank

This wonderfully scenic line through the beautiful Scottish Borders, which reopened in September 2015, became an immediate success and questions were asked about the decision to cut back on construction costs meaning large sections were built as single track making it susceptible to delays and unreliability. The Borders is a lovely part of the country and the parallel X95 bus route (operated by Borders Buses) which continues south all the way beyond Galashiels to Carlisle (the original destination for the rail route) is a brilliantly scenic ride too – and for part of the journey, the bus and train parallel each other as seen below.

69= Rhymney – Cardiff

69= Merthyr Tydfil – Cardiff

69= Aberdare – Cardiff

69= Treherbert – Cardiff

69= Maesteg – Bridgend

As you’ll gather I’ve found it impossible to choose between these South Wales Valley Lines. They each have their own characteristics and are all worth a ride to explore the communities and scenery in this fascinating part of the Country which has seen much change in the post coal mining era. The termini at the head of the Valleys are all now a shadow of great stations past (as the photographs above show) but Pontypridd station where the Merthyr Tydfil, Aberdare and Treherbert lines meet to form a ten minute frequency into Cardiff has echoes of the past as the photographs below show.

74  Norwich – Lowestoft 

The wonderful line between Norwich and Reedham was covered at entry no 47 (Norwich – Berney Arms – Great Yarmouth) but east of Reedham the Lowestoft line heads off in a south east direction crossing the lovely Reedham Swing Bridge and then continuing via Haddiscoe, Somerleyton and Oulton Broad North with great views across the southern arc of the Norfolk Broads. Lovely.

75  Leeds – Ilkley

This is a great line following the River Aire Valley west of Leeds with some brilliant sights of former mills and Yorkshire’s industrial heritage before climbing north through Guisley towards the River Warfe Valley and some great views across into North Yorkshire and the Pennines as Ilkley approaches.

76  Bishop Auckland – Saltburn

Darlington from the outside
Darlington from the inside

This is really a line of two halves with the magnificent Darlington station hosting the half-time interval. Bishop Aukland’s station is home to the wonderful Weardale heritage railway heading westwards to Stanhope, and well worth a visit; while the National Rail line eastwards towards Darlington has an hourly Northern Rail service overseen by a very active and successful Community Rail Partnership. The line passes Hitachi’s factory at Newton Aytcliffe for added interest. The hourly service continues eastwards from Darlington past the quirky Teeside Airport Station (just two trains call on a Sunday morning each week) as well as Britain’s Least Used Station in 2017/18: Redcar British Steel, with its three departures on Mondays to Saturdays and sadly now a shadow of its former industrial self. Saltburn is well worth exploring taking a walk to the cliffs and the lift down to the sandy beach below. All in all a great line for curiosities.

I didn’t alight at Redcar British Steel but just took photographs as…..
….. the train passed by.

77  Liverpool Central – Southport

Southport station still retains an impressive number of platforms

This line is the only Merseyrail line to make My Hundred Best Train Journeys and it’s a real gem, with some great views of Liverpool’s former era as the Country’s foremost north western port as the line passes former gigantic sized warehouses before hugging the coastline of Liverpool Bay all the way to Southport. A great journey.

78  Derby – Stoke-on-Trent

This journey is noteworthy for its one coach diesel train formation scurrying through the lovely countryside which joins Derbyshire with Staffordshire. The midway point at Uttoxeter is a lovely station, right next to the famous racecourse and an amazingly well kept garden to explore.

79  Lincoln – Gainsborough – Doncaster

There are just five or six trains a day which take this journey from Lincoln to Doncaster on the direct route rather than going via Sheffield, with just the two stops in the 50 or so minute journey at Saxily and Gainsborough Lea Road, and I like taking it for that very reason. It has a quirky feel about it. There’s also a rather nice junction at Gainsborough Trent Junction signal box where the line crosses the Retford to Brigg and Grimsby line as it crosses the River Trent (see no 79 below).

80  Birmingham – Stratford-upon-Avon

This journey through the Warwickshire countryside brings you to the tourist hot spot of Stratford-upon-Avon, which sadly only has trains approaching it from the north direction after the line heading south through to Honeybourne was severed.

End of the line ….. such a shame the tracks no longer continue south to Honeybourne

As well as West Midlands Trains running either via Henley-in-Arden or Dorridge (the former is the better route), a less frequent service provided by Chiltern Railways brings (a very few) trains from London Marylebone and Leamington Spa (just a few more) off their mainline by Warwick Parkway at Hatton to Stratford-upon-Avon.

There’s a Parkway station just north of Stratford-upon-Avon but whenever I’ve travelled very few passengers have used it, probably because its a bit of a walk from Stratford-upon-Avon’s station into the town centre which as the first photograph above shows, is noteworthy for being unimpressively down at heel and in need of some TLC. There’s also a frequent bus between the Parkway car park and town centre taking most of the passengers I would think.

Interestingly the two minor stations at Claverdon and Bearley on the connecting single track line from the main Chiltern line to the West Midlands Railway line through Henley-in-Arden to Stratford-upon-Avon are administered by West Midlands Railway but only served by Chiltern Railways trains (except for one early southbound WMR train stopping by request at 0631/0635MF) …. and for now they both retain the former London Midland branding.

81  Retford – Brigg – Cleethorpes

It’s high time I included another Parliamentary Train journey and highly appropriate to include the line which sees passenger trains making just three journeys on a Saturday which start at Sheffield and run between Retford and Cleethorpes calling at Gainsborough Central, Kirton Lindsey and Brigg before joining the main Doncaster – Scunthorpe – Grimsby – Cleethorpes line at Barnetby. It’s a great shame those three stations only get a look in on a Saturday and hopefully the active Brigg Line Group will one day succeed in gaining trains during the week too. Meantime Gainsborough Central’s heritage signage is just fab.

82  Castle Cary – Weymouth

End of the line – Weymouth

The Heart of Wessex Line provides a non hurried journey from Somerset into Dorset approximately every two hours. It’s single track all the way (as far as Dorchester) with passing loops at Yeovil’s lovely Penn Mill station (where there’s a connecting line used by a few South Western Railway journeys to the Salisbury to Exeter line at Yeovil Junction – entry no 52) and some lovely named stations including Yetminster and Maiden Newton.

At Weymouth, it’s worth taking the time to follow the train tracks from alongside the station’s west side and still easily seen embedded in the town’s roads which once took trains all the way down to the Harbour Station (photographed below) – what a sight that used to be.

83  Cambridge – Ipswich

This is a lovely line across Cambridgeshire and into Suffolk. It’s well worth a break at Bury St Edmonds to explore this lovely town and the superb brickwork of the station building. On the Preston to Colne line (entry no 43) the journey passed by the rather upbeat positive sounding Pleasington station, whereas on this line the first station after Cambridge has a more downbeat name……

84  Maidenhead – Marlow

End of the line – well not quite – Bourne End

One of the best branch lines close to London which includes the reverse manoeuvre at Bourne End where the line used to continue to High Wycombe (and where heritage signs still exist on platform 2 promoting it!). Now trains only shuttle up and down the branch with no through trains to Paddington. In peak hours Marlow commuters have to also change trains at Bourne End so that a half hourly service can be provided, whereas in the off peak trains travel the full length of the branch on an hourly frequency. Marlow’s a lovely spot on the Thames, which makes the journey all the better.

85 Marks Tey – Sudbury

This busy single track three-station Suffolk branch line is included in My Hundred Best Train Journeys because (a) it provides well timed convenient connections off the main line to and from Norwich at Marks Tey with trains in both directions (provided everything’s running on time), (b) the first station on the line, Chappel & Wakes Colne, has the lovely East Anglian Railway Museum on site, (c) the second station, Bures, is the nearest Request Stop station to London (although only after 1000) (d) the terminus at Sudbury, with its dead end tracks south of the town centre are a sad reminder of the heyday when the line used to continue to Haverhill and Bury St Edmonds.

86  Shrewsbury – Chester

The magnificent Chester to the left

I included the southern section of this line via Hereford to Newport at no 37, now I’m travelling on the northern part of this boundary hugging line which passes from England through Flintshire in Wales and back into England for the wonderful city of Chester. The views as the line heading towards the River Dee near Ruabon are quite stunning. The line between Wrexham and Chester has recently been upgraded and hopefully will lead to an improved timetable and reliability.

The magnificent Chester to the right

87  Bidston – Wrexham

This quirky line starts at an unusual point …. at Bidston on the outskirts of Birkenhead (where there are connections with Birkenhead and Liverpool on Merseyrail from its inconsequential island platform) then heads down through the Wirral and some spectacular views of the Dee Estuary before crossing into Flintshire and passing under the North Wales coastal line at Shotton where there’s a station on each line (Low Level and High Level) as at Retford and Smethwick. Perhaps one of the best named stations is on the next section, Hope (or Yr Hob in Welsh) and handy if you want to play a pairing game with the other Hope (in Derbyshire – entry no 12). The line’s southern terminus is as unusual as the northern one, at Wrexham Central, which consists of an inconsequential single platform alongside a warehouse style shopping centre. The little spur to Wrexham Central deviates off the main north-south line at Wrexham General before passing under the tracks on a right angle curve.

Looking south at Wrexham General, the line from Bidston can be seen on the right to its own Platform 4 before passing under the main tracks as it heads left towards Wrexham Central.

88  York – Pontefract Baghill – Sheffield

It’s a shame there are so few journeys on this line – just two a day – as it gives full on, up close views of Ferrybridge Power Station and although the journey takes an hour and a quarter compared to half that time on a Cross Country train via Doncaster (partly because it has ‘pathing issues’ so the timetable has bags of slack time including a prolonged stop at the only-twice-a-day served Pontefract Baghill, it’s got a charm all of its own and is well recommended if you’re not in a hurry.

89=  Waterloo – Windsor and Eton Riverside

This journey is well worth taking with much of interest to see as the train travels through south west London, including the country’s busiest station at Clapham Junction , then Barnes Common, Mortlake and Richmond (including its iconic bridge over the Thames), Bedfont Lakes Country Park and Staines where it then takes you through reservoir country as the Thames meanders towards Windsor. The approach via Datchet is a great way to arrive in Windsor as is the Windsor and Eton Riverside station itself, but this is equally matched by our next entry…..

89=  Slough – Windsor and Eton Central

…. the GWR alternative route into Windsor via the one stop shuttle service from Slough offering spectacular views of Eton and Windsor Castle as the train approaches Windsor and Eton Central station and the rather sad diminution of this once great edifice to just the one platform inside the vast station building with its other retail and tourist opportunities now on offer.

91  Twyford – Henley

End of the line – Henley

My third GWR branch line in this section, known as The Regatta Line, which like Marlow (no 83 above) provides a shuttle service from the main Great Western Line; this one serving Wargrave and Shiplake on the way on a half hourly timetable for most of the day. A great little circuit is to take one of these shuttles have a wander around the delightful Henley and then continue over to Marlow on the Arriva 800/850 bus route, have another wander before back to the main line on that shuttle train via Bourne End. Delightful.

92  Gospel Oak – Barking

Harringay Green Lanes in pre electrification days

This line has been much troubled in recent months with delays to the electrification and more recently towards the end of 2018, delays to the new electric trains Class 710 being introduced. The reason for its inclusion in My Hundred Best Train Journeys is as a north London lad I always knew it as the Ugly Duckling of a line mysteriously heading east-west whereas everything else seemed to sensibly head north-south. It wasn’t until TfL gave it much needed TLC to make us all realise it was in fact a beautiful White Swan of a line providing really helpful connections between communities right across north London. A true transforming travel exemplar….. just a shame about the recent infrastructure delays damaging its reputation, but I’m sure it will soon regain its prominence in 2019 once the new trains begin running.

93  Sittingbourne – Sheerness

Notwithstanding the terminus at Sheerness being somewhat underwhelming, it’s a great stub of a line to the quirky Isle of Sheppey. There’s an isolated station at Swale in the shadow of the enormous road bridge which connects the island to the rest of Kent and for real quirkiness, aside from the main shuttle trains which scurry up and down every half an hour there are a couple of peak hour journeys for commuters which take the western curve to the main line and omit Sittingbourne!

94  Stockport – Reddish South – Stalybridge

The Mother of all Parliamentary Trains got a boost this year when the May timetable changed its one journey a week leaving Stockport at 1013 only on Fridays to 0945 only on Saturdays AND introduced an inbound journey from Staybridge at 0846 meaning for the first time for many years you could actually board a train in Reddish South or Denton, travel to Stockport, have 36 minutes there, and return the same day! Whenever I’ve been on the journey it’s been surprisingly ‘busy’ with a handful of other people checking out its quirkiness; it just has to be on any bucket list train journeys.

95=  Whitland – Fishguard Harbour

95=  Whitland – Milford Haven

The wonderfully scenic journey westward from Llanelli as far as Whitland in south west Wales was included at entry no 42 (Llanelli to Pembroke Dock) but from Whitland (photographed above) the line also continues west towards Clarbeston Road station before splitting again for the two lines I’ve included here to Milford Haven on the south coast and Fishguard Harbour on the west coast.

Milford Haven

Both journeys provide glimpses of beautiful scenery as you head towards the Pembrokeshire Coast. Fishguard Harbour is one of those stations that’s seen better and busier days sitting alongside the ferry terminal to Rosslare, (with shades of Stranrear and Holyhead about it). Even more sad is the one platform terminal at Milford Haven resting alongside a massive Tesco Extra. But the journey to both termini is well worth taking.

Fishguard

There are some strangely timed trains to and from Fishguard too; for example, an 0237 arrival from Manchester with an 0237 departure to Carmarthen aren’t particularly convenient for the ferry arriving from Rosslare at 2125 and leaving at 2345! My favourite journey is the 1250 flyer to Cardiff which takes the Swansea avoiding line. Even more exciting after Llanelli the train took the line via Pontlliw last time I travelled on it.

97  Chippenham – Melksham – Westbury

This lovely connecting single track line (grandly called the TransWilts Line and which starts in Swindon) is well worth a ride between Chippenham and Westbury. It got a frequency boost a few years ago when the County Council funded extra journeys and which luckily still find themselves in the timetable – there are now nine on Mondays to Fridays, eight on Saturdays and six on Sundays. Due to electrification works on the main line through Newbury, West of England express trains have been using this link as a diversion on many occasions during 2018.

98  Stevenage – Hertford North – Moorgate

99  Hitchin – Welwyn Garden City – Moorgate

100  Enfield Town – Liverpool Street

And finally my last three entries are all totally self indulgent – well after all, this is MY Hundred Best Train Journeys, not yours. My childhood was spent living close to Winchmore Hill and Grange Park stations on the Hertford North line and I’ve many happy memories of travelling when very young to adjacent stations at Enfield Chase and Palmers Green & Southgate (as it used to be called) and often catching the bus home. Even better were extended trips to the hustle and bustle of Kings Cross and seeing steam engines taking express trains to places far far away, especially from Platform 8. Other memories include peak hour journeys through the adjacent York Road platform and going ‘underground’ on the ‘widened lines’ to Farringdon, Aldersgate (now Barbican) and Moorgate and also peak hour journeys to Broad Street which left the line at Finsbury Park and ran via Canonbury and Dalston (now part of the Overground).

At Wood Green (as Alexandra Palace used to be called), where the Hertford North line branches off over the East Coast Main Line by the Bounds Green depot, it was always fun to see the Bounds Green tunnels and wonder if a train would emerge from “up north” and even more exciting to catch a suburban train as far as Hitchin where many terminated. The Welwyn Viaduct still brings a joy to this day as I pass over sadly also knowing how restrictive it is in pathing more trains on the main line.

In my youth these lines together with the Enfield Town to Liverpool Street line were all within British Rail’s Eastern Region but the main difference was the former had mostly two or four car DMUs, whereas Enfield Town had swish electric trains making them appear a little more superior for a ride up to London especially as, after Lower Edmonton it seemed to be on stilts as it passed through Edmonton and Tottenham (keeping an eye out for the Spurs ground at White Hart Lane of course). However, such superiority was always brought back to earth by the manual level crossing at Lincoln Road, Bush Hill Park which unbelievably lasted as a vehicle crossing right up until 2012.

So, that’s My Hundred Best Train Journeys. There’s no better way to enjoy the wonderful scenery this country has to offer than by train (and bus)…. from the delights of the West Highlands (entry no 1) through to a suburban-journey-with-a-view through Edmonton and Tottenham (entry no 100). You can’t help but enjoy the scenic variety along the way. Happy travelling.

Roger French

2018 Quiz Answers

1 What are passengers in Basingstoke soon to miss, that those in Leicester suffered a loss of in the summer?

Printed timetables …. as Stagecoach South announced they wouldn’t be printing timetables for upcoming changes next month. It follows Arriva Midlands doing the same in Leicester in 2018.

2 What did passengers do to force Stagecoach to convert express route X92 to plain 192 in Manchester?

Passengers kept boarding the peak hour limited stop X92 journeys and demanding drivers let them off at stops which the bus didn’t observe, forcing Stagecoach to relent and make all buses observe all stops. A Stagecoach spokesperson said “as a result of ongoing verbal abuse directed towards our drivers by passengers who pressure them to stop at (the 34) stops which the X92 does not serve”.

3 Why was Platform 13 unlucky for Jubilee Line passengers at Stratford?

London Underground introduced a new timetable and driver ‘stepping up’ arrangements meaning they could just use Platforms 14 and 15 for all departures which conveniently use the same island platform removing the need for passengers to walk back and around to Platform 13 for the next train if they just miss a departing train from those platforms.

4 Why did Sid come unstuck for spending £1 on his megabus journey?

The Advertising Standards Authority demanded Stagecoach remove the large £1 fare signs from coaches as not enough seats were sold at that price. Megabus have replaced them with other promotional features – e.g. usb sockets, wifi and a generic ‘mega value fares’.

5 Why were Arriva and Carousel back as one between Chesham and High Wycombe?

The previous coordination agreement that saw both companies share route 1 (Chesham to High Wycombe) broke down in 2017 and competition broke out instead, but they kissed and made up from January 2018 and the timetable once again became coordinated.

6 What new destination could you catch a train from St Pancras to but not back again?

Eurostar began running to Amsterdam but no agreement exists between the UK and Netherlands Governments for the UK Border Force to operate immigration facilities in the Netherlands so no return journey is yet running.

7 Which two towns had a new peak hour bus replacement service laid on for commuters as part of the ‘improved’ Thameslink service from 20 May?

Wellingborough and Bedford.  The new Thameslink timetable south of Bedford meant there was not enough time for some peak hour East Midlands Trains to stop at both Wellingborough and Bedford so a Stagecoach coach now provides a replacement facility.

8 Where could you find a South Western Railway train meet a stream train on summer Saturdays?

Core Castle….where South Western Railway ran journeys on the connecting line at Wareham to the heritage Swanage Railway on summer Saturdays, sadly disrupted by RMT strike action on a number of occasions.

9 Why weren’t train drivers seeing straight driving new electric ScotRail Class 385s between Glasgow and Edinburgh?

The curve in the windscreens led to drivers seeing “double vision” at night so modifications had to be made before the trains could enter service.

2018 Review, Awards and Quiz of the Year

Tuesday 18th December 2018

After my fortnightly French Connection column got ditched last summer, readers of Bus & Coach Buyer have reportedly been worried sick they’ll miss my ritual round up of the year with its concoction of fascinating facts, august awards and quirky quiz questions.  Fear no more. I’m delighted to report BusAndTrainUser has acquired the rights for this annual nostalgic feast, and not only that, has expanded the content to become multimodal. So welcome dear readers, especially first timers, to this event of events in the transport world……it beats all those Summits, Conferences and tedious Award lunches and dinners that bedevil the rest of the year.

Regular readers will notice one or two changes with this year’s ceremony. We’ve moved to an impressive new venue ….. yes, we’re in the cavernous passenger circulating area deep underground at Crossrail’s Farringdon station. Ever keen to raise much needed commercial income to prop up its booming deficit, TfL are renting this vast space out for corporate events until it one day might be used for its original purpose. It’s a real honour to be the first to gather in these prestigious surroundings for our Review and Awards Presentation luncheon so without further ado, let’s begin the proceedings.

IMG_1077

The only trouble is it’s taking the Deliveroo guy over an hour to carry all the food down the fifteen flights of stairs in the emergency stairwell; problems with the station’s electrics interfering with the signals on the Thameslink line above us mean the escalators have yet to be commissioned and passed safe for service, but I’m told testing continues.

IMG_1078

So before the soup arrives, here’s a quick reflection on the past year’s news, and a round up of what was in and who was out during the year.

In a nutshell

It wasn’t the best of years for trains with May Meltdown (no, not the Prime Minister but the 20 May timetable chaos), new trains delayed, refurbished trains delayed, station openings delayed, electrification delays, not enough trained train drivers, not knowing there’s not enough trained train drivers – it wasn’t so much see it, say it sorted during the year as didn’t see it coming, didn’t say anything and definitely not sorted. It wasn’t much better on the buses with delayed new bus rapid transit schemes and delayed entry into service of electric buses. 2018 was also a year for proud announcements about ‘Business Change’ and ‘organisational reorganisations’ as well as sparkly new app based ride sharing minibuses being introduced as last year’s sparkly app based ride sharing minibuses bit the dust as they ran out of funds. More authorities and bus companies thought the answer to encouraging more bus passengers was to stop producing printed information and literature designed to encourage more bus passengers but on a positive note hundreds of new buses hit the road (all billed as ultra environmentally friendly of course) and there surely will be hundreds of new trains hitting the tracks …… next year.

North American private equity investor Apollo Asset Management made a bid for First Group at what informed sources said was between £1.10 and £1.20 a share. First Group rebuffed the offer as “undervaluing the company” and “opportunistic” but pointedly the Group has not exactly improved its performance since with current share price at 81p making for continuing rumours about a break-up of the Group in 2019. It was the year when the Alice in Wonderland World of Economics finally hit the rail industry yet Transport Groups seemingly still reckon it makes sense to be involved. Not only do you spend millions trying to win a franchise, once you’ve got the green signal to go you have to pump in mega more millions to keep the show on the tracks; as First Group found with Trans Pennine Express during the year; as Abellio found with ScotRail during the year; as Stagecoach and Virgin found with East Coast during the year (losing it to LNER); as Arriva found with Northern during the year, as Go-Ahead found with GTR during the year; as …OK, this could get a bit tedious but you get the picture.

And on top of all that, if you ran trains, 2018 was the year to get slated by passengers, trade unions, politicians and the media for being incompetent fat cat money grabbing charlatans. I reckon CEOs of our transport companies must all have sadomasochistic tendencies to keep on trumpeting to their favoured City investors about the wonderful world of running trains for little, if any, financial or reputational reward.

In positive rail news, the much expanded London Bridge works ended (on time), the Bermondsey Dive Under opened; blockades at Derby and Liverpool Lime Street saw new or extended platforms and track layout and signalling installed while energised electrification finally reached Swindon and the former Eurostar platforms at Waterloo reopened for business with South Western Railway..

Hello Goodbye

It was hello to Reading Buses in Slough as they and Courtney, picked up the pieces from First Bus withdrawals in the town and a goodbye to Stagecoach in North Norfolk with the admission its purchase of Norfolk Green had not been ‘bottom-line enhancing’ while Abellio bade farewell to Surrey, Whippet whipped off the Cambridge busway and Go-Ahead picked up First Bus left behinds in Clacton-on-Sea. Seaford & District packed in normal year round bus work as did Emsworth & District further along the south coast; Regal Busways and EOS packed it in in Essex as did Stephensons of Easingwold in North Yorkshire while Arrow Coaches of Brighouse ceased trading completely and Avon Coaches gave up on the Wirral due to Merseyside’s MyTicket for young people. It was goodbye and good riddance to Express Motors of Penygroes at the beginning of 2018 with its directors jailed for fraud later in the year.

Transdev completed the formal purchase of Rosso, Rotala bought Central Buses in the West Midlands but sold Wessex in Bristol to Stagecoach. Comfort DelGro bought New Adventure Travel in Cardiff and Newport, while Peter Shipp sold his beloved East Yorkshire to the Go-Ahead Group. Stephenson of Essex acquired NIBS Buses of Wickford and HCT bought Powells Bus and the Impact Group.

It was goodbye to bendy buses in Coventry, picking up passengers at ScotRail run station IBM and farewell Tim O’Toole from First Group and Charles Horton from “the troubled” GTR franchise, with Kevin O’Connor quitting Arriva as UK Bus managing director, while a whole host of managing directors departed Stagecoach including long standing Martin Sutton and Andy Campbell not forgetting Steve Burd, Tom Bridge and Philip Norwell, Justin Davies said farewell First Cymru, Kevin Carr retired from Go-Ahead, Elsie Turbyne left NatEx owned Xplore Dundee while Norman Baker both joined and left the Big Lemon as MD. Very sad and tragic news was the untimely passing of Paul Thomas, Stagecoach East Scotland’s MD at such a young age.

In brighter news it was a hello and welcome to the Transport for Wales franchise operated by Keolis and Amey while Arriva Trains Wales went into the sidings and a welcome hello to new bus stations in Lincoln and Gloucester and a much needed revamp and refresh of Preston’s Grade II listed whopper. Hello also to ScotRail’s Hitachi electric Class 385s (once their bendy windscreens had been straightened) and Stagecoach’s new no frills megasightseeing operation in London as well as hello to a feast of new bus brands including Cheshire Cat in Warrington, the welcome return of Badgerline in First West of England, along with Discover and Lynx, Tottington Line, Lakeline and Red 4 in Transdev Blazefield’s Rosso and York & Country around York while Thames Valley was resurrected by Reading Buses in Slough, Glider glided into Belfast, Chiltern Hundreds launched surprisingly enough in the Chilterns and Dragonfly flew into Hatfield as Foxglove and Lilac grew in Northampton all from UNO.

Hello also to First Group CEO Matthew Gregory, Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines, Patrick Verwer to head up GTR, Louise Cheesman became managing director of Hull Trains and new bus managing directors including Matthew Ashton at Arriva’s Yorkshire Tiger, David Bradford at NatEx West Midlands, Chris Coleman at Stagecoach Oxfordshire, Matt Cranwell at Stagecoach East Midlands, Ian Humphreys at First Manchester, David Liston at Stagecoach North Scotland, Christine McGlasson Xplore Dundee, Gareth Powell as Surface Transport Supremo at TfL, Andrew Sherrington at First Cymru, Heath Williams to Ipswich Buses, Robert Williams to CEO Reading Buses, Ed Wills at Go-Ahead Ireland while Martijn Gilbert moved from head honcho at Reading Buses to Go North East and Phil Medlicott moved from First Manchester back to Stagecoach Midlands. MD Musical Chairs at Stagecoach saw Matthew Cranwell move from Cumbria and North Lancs to East Midlands being replaced by Mark Whitelocks moving from North Scotland. Nusrat Ghani arrived as a Minister at the DfT while Andrew Jones returned after Jo Johnson was off.

Competition broke out in West Lothian as Lothian Country (aka as Lothian Buses) headed for Livingston to take on First East Scotland while in Guildford, international corporate transport giant Arriva inexplicably decided to compete with local family owned and well respected Safeguard on a town bus route.

Numbers of the Year

12   bus lanes in Coventry temporarily removed in 2017 were permanently scrapped.

£32   public funding per passenger journey (yes, that’s for each single passenger journey) on Huntington Association Community for Transport in 2014 according to an external audit.

25   % hike in charges for coaches at Edinburgh Airport from January. A stop for 10-20 mins increased from £8 to £10

70   days notice for bus registrations was announced by the DfT with 1 day’s notice of implementation in April

840  Britain’s most scenic bus route according to 827 votes cast in an online poll that attracted 15,000 clicks.

£1.8m  TfL’s deficit running buses per day in its updated business plan to 2022/23

£6m   TfL spend on toilets on 40 routes including a handsome ‘Turdis’ outside desirable houses in Biggin Hill

£11.5m  TfGM’s grotesque spend on exploring the case for franchising – you’ve got to laugh or you’ll cry.

£92.3m   Enforcement income from the Dartford Toll – total income £204.7m. Work that one out.

Right that’s 2018 for you. Now as it seems Deliveroo are still struggling and the lunch is running later than a Bombardier Class 710 train destined for the Gospel Oak to Barking line we’ll move straight on to the Awards and present the beautifully crafted trophies to our worthy winners …….

Please could all winners note there are no official photographs this year (cutbacks following the commitment to freeze the price of your admission ticket for four years) so instead, please remember to ingratiate yourselves with selfies immediately after picking up your trophies so we get maximum coverage on social media. It goes down so well with your passengers waiting for a delayed bus or train to know their favourite transport company has just picked up a well deserved award at a lavish presentation ceremony…..

So the waiting is finally over, here they are the ever prestigious, all new ….. BusAndTrainUser Awards 2018

Late And Over Budget But Hey It’s Open At Last Award

Our first Award has proved massively popular this year attracting a plethora of top quality entries. The judges decided to delay their decision well beyond the original announcement deadline but finally made their minds up just a few minutes ago that ….. the Bronze Award goes to Translink’s Glider bus rapid transit introduced in Belfast in September just a mere twelve months late; the Silver Award to a well deserving joint entry from Warwickshire County Council and Network Rail for the much delayed opening of Kenilworth Station having achieved the amazing feat of four previously delayed opening dates, but the winner of the prestigious Gold Award is unsurprisingly the TramTrain between Sheffield and Rotherham for its much delayed AND four times original budget achievement during the ten years of implementation planning.  

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The judges also wanted to make a special commendation award to the West of England partners involved in Bristol’s metrobus rapid transit project noting its introduction this summer had commendably been achieved after a doubling of costs over budget as well as managing impressive implementation delays including only two out of three routes up and running with one more to follow in the new year. The judges noted an entry for the 2019 Awards would therefore be entirely appropriate.

Next up another ever popular award….

Let’s Rearrange The Deck Chairs and Contemplate Our Navel Award

Another great range of entries including Stagecoach for taking managing directors away from their day job to work full time on a highly impressive sounding ‘Business Change Programme’; First Group for also taking key directors away from their day job to head up a project finding new ways to improve bottom line profits in its continuing ‘Transformation Programme’ and not to be outdone, and a worthy entry to the shortlist, Arriva launched proposals for wide ranging ‘Organisation Change’ so it can become the ‘mobility partner of choice’. Our fourth and final entry for the short list is the Confederation of Passenger Transport for announcing controversial proposals for business change to deliver a higher public profile using less resources (‘keeping all the benefits of membership but at less cost’ syndrome) that also saw off Simon Posner, CPT’s Chief Executive and Ian Morgan, its Chairman. The judges found it too hard to make a decision on this Award and so have brought in expert business change consultants to advise. A result is expected in due course.

Meantime it’s …..

The ‘I Told You So’ Back Track of the Year Award

Not surprisingly as financial clouds gather we’ve been inundated with entries. What made for an ego filled PR puff overbrimming with bullshit about the cutting edge of innovation in 2017 came back to bite the bank balance with vengeance this year. The judges managed to whittle the entries down to a short list of five: Stagecoach South East for abandoning their Mercedes Sprinter microbuses under the Very Little and Not That Often brand in Ashford in favour of standard buses; Bournemouth’s Yellow Buses for renumbering, rebranding and revamping its bus network following last year’s disastrous renumbering, rebranding and revamping its bus network; RATP for abandoning its loss making Slide app based ride share venture in Bristol; Esoteric Systems (with First West of England) for abandoning its loss making MyFirstMile app based ride share venture in Bristol ….. but the winner is….. Arriva for their unashamed audacity of only half abandoning the 2017 conversion of Hemel Hempstead’s town routes to completely unsuitable Mercedes Sprinter minibuses giving Bennetts End residents welcome relief as standard size buses were brought back. The good news is Arriva must surely be in the running for an unprecedented win of this award two years in a row if it finishes the job off by returning big buses for residents of Warners End and Gadebridge in 2019.

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Most Preposterous Quote of the Year Award

Always a popular award with multiple entries which the judges narrowed down to two joint winners. The first Award goes to Alison O’Connor Director of Corporate Affairs at Arriva on the roll out of the Group’s new logo. Alison reckoned “our new identity is more customer friendly and will support us as we develop our services to deliver the flexibility and choice that our customers want”. She went on to explain the “new identity supports our strategy for growth and our vision of becoming a mobility partner of choice while positioning Arriva more strongly in a changing transport market”. Yeah, right. 

And our second joint winner for preposterousness goes to former Transport Minister Jo Johnson responding to complaints of hard seats on the DfT specified Thameslink Siemens Class 700 trains wistfully told numb bum complainers they needn’t resort to bringing their own inflatable cushions as “the seats normally become more comfortable over time through use”.

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Most ridiculed Auto Announcement of the Year

There’s just one candidate way ahead of any other entry this year. Many congratulations to TfL for the fleet wide roll out of its “Please hold on …. the bus is about to move” announcement which played out thirty seconds after the front doors had shut and the bus was well on its way from the bus stop. The judges also commended GTR for its saturation coverage at stations and trains insisting passengers check their train times from 20 May….. just a shame any semblance of timetables which could be relied on were abandoned within hours of their introduction which brings us to our next Award……

Surely They Must Have Known Award

This new Award for 2018 has proved a hit with entrants. We have a joint entry from GTR and the DfT together with the Thameslink Industry Readiness Board for their “Not Realising The 20 May Timetable Will Go Belly-up Until A Few Days Before” entry; another joint entry from Network Rail, Northern Trains and Transport for the North for their “Realising The 20 May Timetable Was Going Belly-up Weeks Before But Carried On Regardless” entry and a third joint entry from Transport for London with Crossrail for their “Not Realising A Delay Of Well Over A Year Was On The Cards Less Than Four Months Before Introduction” entry. The judges decided the only fair way of deciding the outcome of this hotly contested short list was to put it back to the people for a people’s vote; but this may take time to organise so in the meantime emergency arrangements, including the army on stand-by, are being introduced while the award remains unawarded.

Award for the most controversial Award of the Year Award

This year’s Award for the most controversial Award of the Year goes to the National Rail Awards ‘Train of the Year’ Award. Social media was abuzz with controversy in the Autumn when Siemens collected Gold as its Class 700 trains for Thameslink where judged Top Train in the National Rail Awards run by Rail magazine. It didn’t go down too well with Brighton based commuters uncomfortably sitting on hard-ironing-board-backed, armrest-missing, no-leg-room, narrow seats with coffee and croissant in hand, no plug sockets for much needed battery charging and fancy information signs proving unreliable. Mind you the hundreds of suitcase wheeling tourists boarding at Gatwick joined by hundreds more commuters at East Croydon were well pleased to hear the news, adding their own congratulations, as they found ample space to stand in comfort for their shorter length journey.

Consult But Ignore The Responses And Do It Anyway Of The Year Award

TfL have been consistent winners of this Award year after year and it won’t come as a surprise to you all to know it’s the 2018 worthy winner too. Last year it was the ‘ignore feedback about cuts to frequencies on the Finchley Road and don’t withdraw route 13’ entry which won as TfL sneakily withdrew route 13 and renumbered the 82 to 13 hoping no-one would notice. This year’s winning entry is the ‘cut routes 10 and 23 from Oxford Street and 25 west of Holborn even though the original justifications …. Oxford Street pedestrianisation and Crossrail are not introduced. You’ve got to hand it to TfL no-one does ignore consultation responses quite like them and win awards for it. 

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Time for our penultimate award and it’s the ever popular….

Naffest Use of Social Media of the Year Award

Usually this Award category is dominated by Virgin Trains and LNER for their annoying over-hyped far-from-realty marketing and promotional use of Twitter, but this year the judges were so impressed with Arriva Click’s expansion into Liverpool and the associated outlandish messages Tweeted they’ve awarded all three trophies to them. The Bronze award goes for the Tweet which encouraged school children to take Arriva Click to school when no child rate fares are available; the Silver award for this gem of a naff promotional Tweet …. “#SundayFunday is better with free Wi-Fi, air conditioned transport and purse-friendly trips to the carvery. Extra gravy on those spuds please!” – just a pity you can’t get an Arriva Click on a Sunday as they don’t run … so not so much a Funday ….

IMG_E1209….while the Gold award for the audacity of trumpeting “fantastic demand” and blaming “high demand if your first day ride requests are postponed” (the truth being only three minibuses were on the road on Liverpool’s first day of Click and minimal journey requests were being made but the minibuses were not close by even those!). Fake News Of The Year.

IMG_E8791And our final award should have been announced much earlier in the proceedings, but sadly has been delayed and may not even be ready to be presented even now. But here’s a sneak preview of the rather extensive shortlist ……

Caledonian Sleeper for the delayed introduction of new CAF Mark 5 sleeper coaches … the judges were particularly impressed by the company teasing passengers by selling tickets for the planned launch in October before admitting the trains were nowhere near ready and would happen next Spring instead (full refunds were given); Virgin Trains East Coast (aka LNER) for building up expectations, as only their annoying PR style knows how, for the introduction of Azuma trains in December only to quietly drop the idea due to implementation problems; VivaRail for the delayed introduction of former District Line D Stock Underground trains (Class 230 in new money) to the Marston Vale Line; Trans Pennine Express for loco hauled Mark 5s being delayed (also teasing us with a plan, then aborted, to introduce older stock until delivery); ScotRail for the delayed introduction of a fleet of refurbished HSTs to the newly branded Inter7City (and teasing us with just one set which occasionally runs on tracks for passengers); GTR for Siemens Class 717s on the delayed Great Northern suburban routes; the already mentioned delayed Overground Class 710s for Gospel Oak-Barking; Northern Trains delayed Class 195s – all the aforementioned promised for December introduction and, of course, no surprise that the winner by a long delay is Crossrail for missing its December introduction date spectacularly, announcing an ‘Autumn 2019’ replacement and only weeks later changing that to an indefinite delay. A very worthy Delayed Gold Winner.

Many congratulations to all our worthy winners. Remember if you don’t enter, you can’t win, so make a promise now to enter for the BusAndTrainUser Awards 2019 just as soon as we announce we’re open for entries. Don’t delay it.

I’m sorry lunch has still not arrived but Delay Lunch Repay forms will be available as you leave, but to round off proceedings, I had hoped our special guest speaker Minister of Transport Nusrat Ghani would be here, but as is normal practice we have a video presentation made especially for such absentee eventualities …. it’s for your enjoyment and to remind you of 100 Bus & Train Events in 2018….. click here and enjoy.

Finally as no blogpost just before Christmas is complete without a few quiz questions, here are a few posers to ponder over for the next few days before the answers get posted……

Christmas Quiz

1 What are passengers in Basingstoke soon to miss that those in Leicester suffered a loss of in the summer?

2 What did passengers do to force Stagecoach to convert express route X92 to plain 192 in Manchester?

3 Why was Platform 13 unlucky for Jubilee Line passengers at Stratford?

4 Why did Sid come unstuck for spending £1 on his megabus journey?

5 Why were Arriva and Carousel back as one between Chesham and High Wycombe?

6 What new destination could you catch a train from St Pancras to but not back again?

7 Which two towns had a new peak hour bus replacement service laid on for commuters as part of the ‘improved’ Thameslink service from 20 May?

8 Where could you find a South Western Railway train meet a steam train on summer Saturdays?

9 Why weren’t train drivers seeing straight driving new electric ScotRail Class 385s between Glasgow and Edinburgh?

Answers at the end of the year, or if you can’t wait – click here as most of them appear in our 100 Bus & Train Events in 2018 video.

Thanks for coming. Safe journey home everyone. Take care up all those stairs!

Happy Christmas to you all.

Roger French

My Hundred Best Train Journeys 3

Sunday 2nd December 2018

Back on track(s) again to describe thirty more wonderful train trips, ranked 31-60 in My Hundred Best Train Journeys.

For the Top 30 previously published click here and here.

31 Exeter – Exmouth

I love this journey not only for the truly superb views as the train trundles along the east side of the River Exe towards Exmouth – not surprisingly they’re just as delightful as travelling down the west side towards Dawlish – but also for the quirkiness of Lympstone Commando request station.

IMG_2341There was a time when alighting here was strictly a no no, unless you had business at the Royal Marines training centre adjacent to the station. Forbiddingly high fences topped with barbed wire together with a manned entry gate put paid to any thought of wandering from the platform. Of course you could alight and simply wait on the platform for the next train – it is after all a public station on the National Rail network – but it wasn’t encouraged.

IMG_2339Now a public footpath has been constructed alongside the tracks from the previous station, Exton, so you can now officially board and alight at Lympstone Commando without worrying about prying eyes provided you keep to that footpath! And ignore the forbidding sign still in situ.

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32 Ipswich – Lowestoft

Felixstowe - January 2014 012Suffolk is an underrated county in the scenic beauty stakes but a ride on the East Suffolk Line will soon correct any such descriptive misunderstandings. ‘The line links villages, ancient treasures, and some of the best walking and cycling countryside in Suffolk. From historic Ipswich, travel to Woodbridge and be intrigued by the picturesque tide mill on the River Debden’ – well, that’s the enticing blurb from Greater Anglia’s website. And it’s quite right, Woodbridge is splendid with its lovely views alongside the River Deben flowing out to sea, as is the rest of the journey along the Waveney Valley all the way to Oulton Broad South where you travel along the southern boundary of the Norfolk Broads National Park before reaching the eastern most point of England at Lowestoft, sadly a shadow of its former station self.

IMG_8141I have a vivid memory as a child of a train journey from Liverpool Street taking us via Lowestoft and on to Gorleston-on-Sea (the station’s long since gone) for a summer holiday. Sadly that line along the coast to Great Yarmouth was closed in 1970 – but at least there’s a lovely retro sign still displayed at Lowestoft Station as a reminder of the old days.

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33 Halifax – Hebden Bridge – Rochdale/Burnley

IMG_8665We’re in that lovely part of England where West Yorkshire meets Greater Manchester across the Pennine peaks, moors and reservoirs. The train takes you alongside the River Calder, the Rochdale Canal and the River Roch for pretty much the whole journey and pretty is definitely the word. It’s also worth taking a ride up to Burnley where the tracks divide at Hall Royd Junction just east of Todmorden as it’s a delightful climb up via Cornholme and Holme Chapel with splendid views across Heptonstall Moor. You can now retrace your journey along the track of the new Todmorden curve to continue to Rochdale.

There’s also nowhere better to break this gorgeous journey for a stop off than Hebden Bridge and savour the delightful heritage and preservation of this fine station.

IMG_8667Moreover, you can hop on the Keighley Bus Company’s B3 bus route through Bronte Country on a wonderful journey via Haworth to Keighley (and include a ride on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway too) before returning to Hebden Bridge to conclude the ride westwards. Truly splendid.

34 Oxenholme – Windermere

We’ve travelled round the western side of the Lake District (the Cumbrian Line at entry no 16); we’ve zoomed up the West Coast Main Line and glimpsed the eastern side (entry no 7) now we’re wandering up the “no through road” that is the line from Oxenholme to Windermere. Any disappointment that trains only take you so far into the wonderful Lake District is made up by the fantastic network of bus routes Stagecoach provide from outside Windermere station, not least the famous 555 northwards via Grasmere to Keswick.

IMG_1202This line hit the news in the summer when West Coast Railways stepped in with loco hauled rolling stock while Northern Trains went through its post 20 May 2018 timetable meltdown. It certainly made a change from the usual trains and brought home just how many tourists use this line – the trains I travelled on were packed and they definitely weren’t all train enthusiasts.

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35 Leeds – Huddersfield – Manchester

IMG_8839This line is much more than the rail equivalent of the M62 across the Pennines. It certainly feels as busy as the M62, but rather than battling with fellow motorists, you battle with fellow passengers on a Trans Pennine Express train. If you’re lucky you’ll manage to bag a seat and enjoy some great views especially between Slaithwaite and Marden (look out of the right hand side for Moss Moor and Rishworth Moor in the distance). If you’re very lucky and choose a quiet time to travel you’ll be able to switch from one side of the train to the other as the best views vary during the journey. Be warned though, almost immediately after Marsden there’s the 3 mile long Standedge Tunnel which doesn’t offer such good views!

Huddersfield 1 - June 2010It’s definitely worth breaking the journey at Huddersfield not only for a chat with the key member of station staff – Felix the Cat – but also to marvel at the huge station building and the way the outside has been rejuvenated with rising fountains out of the paving stones.

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36 Stockton – Newcastle

IMG_1762This is a great journey for taking in the delights of the splendid Tees to Tyne coastline, especially between Hartlepool and Seaham. Hartlepool’s got a bit of a quirk about it too. If you fancy seeing how to spend around £4 million on a grand ‘transport interchange’ with impressive bus shelters, walkways, real time signs etc all adjacent to the station building, as happened in 2010 (see below), then its worth a nose around.

Northumberland - September 2014 071Unfortunately it’s unlikely you’ll see any buses since they nearly all serve the main town centre instead. You can almost count the number of buses that serve the station per day on the fingers of two hands.

Further on the train passes through Sunderland which must be one of the darkest and dingiest stations on the network but then the journey redeems itself again as it re-enters the light and crosses the River Wear on an impressive bridge sharing tracks with the Tyne & Wear Metro all the way to Heworth and then into Newcastle.

37 Shrewsbury – Hereford – Newport

IMG_1416From Shropshire through Herefordshire to Monmothshire. This train journey takes you through two fine English counties before arriving into the south-eastern corner of Wales. It’s a delightful ride as the scenery varies along the way, but is always characterised by extensive views across vast expanses of countryside. Stations at Ludlow, Leominster and Abergavenny are a delight and stop off at Craven Arms for a delightful weekend ride on the Shropshire Hills Shuttles – minibuses which take you around Long Mynd and Stiperstones.

IMG_1516For train buffs there’s the wonderful signal box just outside Shrewsbury to get the journey off to a great start and if you want to really spoil yourself take the ‘Gerald of Wales’ train which currently runs once a day from Holyhead to Cardiff in the morning serving breakfast and returning in the late afternoon/evening serving dinner. Seat reservations are highly recommend to avoid disappointment. The new Transport for Wales franchise has plans to increase the number of journeys.

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38 Newcastle – Carlisle

You’ll have gathered by now as well as coastal train journeys I also love following the course of rivers as I look out of train windows, and none more so than this journey along the River Tyne as it heads inland towards Hexham and Haltwhistle.

IMG_1615I also love the Haltwhistle station name; for some reason, I’ve no idea why, it always makes me smile whenever I travel to or through it. Even more bizarre are the platform shelters at stations along the line, all emblazoned with a large platform number (either 1 or 2) sign.

IMG_1657A great multi modal way of enjoying this journey is to take the jointly operated Arriva/Stagecoach Cross Pennine branded route X65 which also runs from Newcastle to Carlisle to Newcastle via Hexham and Haltwhistle. I reckon a bus/train ticket aimed at tourists would be just the job – out by bus and return back by train, what’s not to like?

39 Chester – Holyhead

IMG_4018Another lovely journey with coastal views all along the north Wales coastline. The journey begins alongside the River Dee and there’s an odd sighting between Flint and Prestatyn of the abandoned passenger ferry ship, the Duke of Lancaster, moored in Llanerch-y-Mor; worth looking out for – you can’t miss it. For much of the journey after Rhyl the tracks vie with the expanded A55 dual carriageway for the narrow space along the coastline; luckily for most of the journey the tracks win but for a short stretch just before Colwyn Bay road engineers managed to swing the road over the railway, along the coastline and then back under the tracks again after about a mile – it’s an amazing feat of engineering.

However the highlight of the journey comes at Conwy. Just after the station the tracks cross the River Conwy and you get a magnificent view, and pass right alongside, Conwy Castle.

IMG_4620Almost as exciting is the next stage of the journey after Bangor when it’s into Anglesey across the Menai Strait on the impressive Britannia Bridge.

I’ll name check the first station in Anglesey as I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Yes, it’s Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Except it isn’t really; it’s all a bit attention seeking, over-hyped and contrived, but still worth a stop off for a selfie!

IMG_5996The journey terminus at Holyhead is another ‘shadow of its former self’ station and looks rather forlorn, forgotten and seen better days. A rather sad end to what is otherwise another lovely coastal journey.

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40 Carlisle – Kilmarnock – Glasgow

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 18.36.25This journey is the alternative to the main West Coast Line. It’s not for those in a hurry taking 2 hours 22 minutes which coincidentally is exactly double the 1 hour 11 minutes journey time by travelling direct, but it’s well worth giving it a go, for the lovely scenery which Dumfries and Galloway offers as you wander through Gretna Green and on to Kilmarnock. Some journeys link up with the Newcastle – Carlisle line (entry no 38) to provide a through four hours of scenic enjoyment.

41 Gloucester – Severn Tunnel Junction

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OK, perhaps this is the journey alongside a river to beat all journeys alongside a river. After leaving Gloucester (check out the amazingly long platform there) the train heads towards Lydney and Chepstow and it’s absolutely essential to grab a seat on the nearside in the southbound direction for fantastic views of the meandering River Severn as it grows from a meandering stream (OK, not quite, but you get the picture) into a torrenting river flowing into the Bristol Channel. You get some great views of the two Severn Bridges on the horizon too.

42 Llanelli – Pembroke Dock

South Wales - August 2013 014And yet another coastal ride to rival Dawlish, Cambrian, Cumbrian and the East Sussex Coast. The views across Carmarthen Bay are superb as is the scenery alongside the River Tywi as it meanders towards Carmarthen. The journey takes you past the request station called Ferryside, so named presumably because a ferry dating back 1,000 years used to ply across the estuary to the village of Llansteffan. Sadly the ferry ceased in the 1950s but this summer, thanks to a £300,000 Coastal Communities grant it was back again with what’s described as “something 007 like” – a boat with wheels which is as happy in the water as it is driving up the shore. Definitely something for my to do list next year to check it out.

IMG_4199Carmarthen has an interesting turnback station arrangement with two platforms from where the tracks continued on to Newcastle Emlyn and Aberystwyth until closure in 1965. So for this journey it’s a change of end for the driver and we’re back through Whitland and branch off south-westwards towards the lovely resort of Tenby and finally to Pembroke Dock; probably the most understated terminus on the network, hidden away in a narrow residential street.

43 Preston – Colne

Colne 2 - October 2013Colne is the dead-end to beat all dead-ends and in the nicest possible way. After travelling for 70 minutes from Preston on a line which has the claim to fame of the most delightful sounding station names along the journey (Pleasington followed by Cherry Tree as well as Church & Oswaldwistle) ….

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IMG_8947…you finally arrive at the buffers from where at one time trains would continue via the village of Earby over to Skipton. Ah, those must have been the days, and indeed it’s one of the rail reinstatements campaigners won’t give up on. It was only a few years ago I travelled to Colne and the driver had to lean out the cab at the final level crossing to pull on a piece of string strategically hanging alongside the track at cab window level which would operate a red light to stop traffic crossing its path. Fantastic. Sadly now replaced with more conventional technology.

44 Folkestone – Dover

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 16.49.40The way the track hugs the coastline overlooking the busiest shipping lane in the world that is the English Channel on this train journey is very reminiscent of the section of line between Dawlish and Teignmouth as it travels through arched gaps in the cliffs and two short tunnels. That’s why it’s a special journey, and one well deserved within my Best Fifty Train journeys.

45 Buxton – Manchester

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I’ve already commented on the delightful bus routes in Derbyshire when highlighting entry No 30 (Derby – Matlock), and if you took up my suggestion of travelling on the TransPeak bus from Matlock to Buxton, as it no longer continues to Manchester via the traditional A6 the obvious alternative is to jump on a Northern train at the wonderful Buxton station and admire the scenery from the train window instead. You won’t be disappointed.

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IMG_6859Buxton is a lovely quirky station as shown in these photographs and still shows signs of the golden age of railways when trains did continue from Matlock entering Buxton across viaducts still in place today. Freight trains are still a regular site at the nearby Dove Holes limestone quarry using the tracks up to the Hope Valley line at Edale.

Many of the stations are really delightful with some wonderful floral displays, not least the self procalimed Capital of the Peak, Chapel-en-Le-Firth – one of three stations with Le in its name.

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46 Truro – Falmouth

IMG_4139Back to the West Country branch lines for this journey down to Falmouth which includes the novel passing loop at Penryn where the single track line allows trains to pass and both serve the same extended platform. It’s just as well it works efficiently as the end to end running time for this journey is very tight requiring very precise timekeeping. Don’t be tempted to alight at Falmouth Town, as the murals at Falmouth Docks (the terminus) are well worth a look.

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47 Norwich – Berney Arms – Great Yarmouth

Anglian-Cumbria-Aberdeen - June 2012 047As I compile this list, the section of track from Reedham to Great Yarmouth via the infamous Berney Arms is closed for some months while track and signals are upgraded. This is a great shame for lovers of manually operated old style level crossing gates as can be seen above in action at the lovely Brundall station along the route.

IMG_1884When the works are completed, you really must add this to your bucket list of train journeys, not particularly for the scenery – it’s as unexciting as crossing Romney Marsh in Kent – but just so you can alight at Berney Arms one of Britain’s wackiest stations with no road access and only a footpath across fields to the nearby Broads or onwards to Burgh Castle and eventually Great Yarmouth. Sadly the nearby pub to the station with its only access either by boat or on foot closed down a year or two ago; perhaps not surprising given its remote location.

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48 Cardiff – Ebbw Vale Town

A rail line reinstatement success story. Reopened as recently as 2008 to Ebbw Vale Parkway and reaching the Ebbw Vale Town terminus seven years later in 2015, trains are now so busy the train company has to double up units with at least two conductors on board to try and collect all the revenue. It’s a lovely twisty ride round one bend after another as the train climbs the Ebbw River valley towards Ebbw Vale.

IMG_3076There’s a cable car lift to take you from the station up to the town centre to top off your ride, but whenever I’ve travelled it’s sadly been out-of-order (I see online it’s been closed 252 times over a three-year period), but it’s easy to wander to the nearby bus stops and take a Stagecoach X4 bus through the town and on to the Heads of the Valley road before taking you down to Merthyr Tydfil or Pontrypridd either for an alternative train ride back into Cardiff, or stay on the bus which also continues there.

49 Brockenhurst – Lymington Pier

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I haven’t been on this line for a year or so and my memories of recent journeys were when it was the last outpost of slam door carriages in the south. Not only that but the station at Lymington is a wonderful cross between a station and a heritage railway museum and is well worth a visit to compliment a lovely journey, particularly the first short section between the Pier and Town stations with full on views of Lyminton Marina. A lovely circular trip includes the ferry across to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight and then a Southern Vectis bus to Newport and on to Shanklin returning on the train to Ryde Pier (see entry 54 below). Even better, if you have the time, take the open top Needles Breezer to Alum Bay (including the ride up to the Battery) then route 12 to Newport.

50 Corby –  Melton Mowbray

Corby - May 2014This is the first ‘Parliamentary Train’ entry in my Hundred Best Train Journeys, and good to see it bookend the top fifty. It’s certainly not because of the rather clinical architecture of Corby station (photographed above), but purely because of the wonderful Welland Viaduct (also called the Harringworth Viaduct after the nearby village) and the amazing views across to Eyebrook Reservoir and beyond which are truly stunning.

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It’s well worth making your way to Corby for the one departure of the day which leaves at 0926 on Mondays to Fridays and travels this route. There’s a southbound journey from Derby at 1625 (or closer to Corby, from Melton Mowbray at 1709) but that’s only worth a ride in the Spring to Autumn when it’s light.

51 Leeds – Morecambe – Heysham Port

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This line, known as the Bentham Line (it passes through Bentham), shares the same tracks as the Leeds – Settle – Carlisle (entry no 4) as far as Long Preston just north of Hellifield before branching off on its own western course through some delightful North Yorkshire and Lancashire countryside and calling at the superbly named Giggleswick (always makes me smile) and the next station, which is of course Clapham – no, not the more famous Junction, but just plain Clapham. After a couple more stations the train crosses the West Coast Main Line and arrives at Carnforth (already visited on the Cumbrian Coast Line – entry no 11) before nipping down to Lancaster. Only half of the eight journeys a day then reverse back up the line and turn off to Morecambe (photographed below) but there is an hourly shuttle train which runs between Lancaster and Morecambe providing the main link to the resort.

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Best of all is the one shuttle journey a day which continues on to Heysham Port. It leaves Lancaster at 1249 (MS) arriving 1317. The absolute best bit, and the reason to make the journey is to see the driver jump down from the cab and change the points (shades of Liskeard-Looe, except it’s the guard’s job there) after leaving Morecambe  where the train retraces its route for a few yards before turning almost 360 degrees southwards again towards Heysham. The same happens on the reverse journey into Morecambe after the train heads back at 1320 after only a three-minute turnround (times are slightly different on a Sunday), so there’s not long to soak up the atmosphere at Heysham Port – mind you as you can see from the photograph below, there’s not much atmosphere to soak up!

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52 Salisbury – Exeter

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It’s odd that there are long sections of this important rail route that are single track, making for timekeeping challenges when disruption occurs, as it’s all too easy for knock on effects as one late train impacts on another and so on. There are some lovely stations along this route including Tisbury and Templecombe and Yeovil Junction where there’s a handy connecting line to Yeovil Pen Mill on the Weymouth to Castle Cary line. This junction is now used by South Western Railway trains (and SWT before, who started the trend) of linking Salisbury with Castle Cary on a circular routing a few times a day.

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The journey takes you through the beautiful countryside offered by Wiltshire, Dorset and Devon (photographed above between Axminster and Honiton – spot the roof of the Stagecoach bus on the parallel route 4)

53 Aberdeen – Inverness

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This journey north starts from the far northern end of one of Aberdeen’s longest platforms and heads straight into a tunnel under Aberdeen’s commercial centre. This contrasts with the rather pleasant brightness of the station’s passenger circulating area.

The first time I took this journey involved an early morning departure heading north from Aberdeen and I couldn’t understand why the train was so packed until everyone got off at the first station, Dyce, where there are major industrial and employment opportunities. The rest of the journey which takes a north then north-western arc until a few miles south of the north coast overlooking Moray Firth at Elgin where it takes a western trajectory towards Nairn and Inverness. Interestingly the tracks pass close to both Aberdeen and Inverness airports, but the nearby station at Dyce is not particularly convenient for the former and there’s no station for the latter. Not surprisingly Stagecoach do well with a bus route to both airports, as well as routes to Fraserburgh and Peterhead in the north-east corner of Aberdeenshire which are also completely by-passed by the train.  It’s a great train journey, though, and well deserving of a 53rd placing.

54 Ryde Pier Head – Shanklin

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Yes, this is the ride specifically for the train. Oh, and also for the first half mile as the train clutters along Ryde Pier to Ryde Esplanade station. It’s a real nostalgic trip back in time to when Underground trains cluttered and swayed as these carriages from 1938 still do all the way down to Shanklin. When the Isle of Wight steam railway is running, trains stop at Smallbrook Junction which is another station to add to the list of having no road access; indeed not any access, as the only way out (or in) is on a steam train.

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Sadly the only passing loop now in use is at Sandown, two-thirds of the way down to Shankin so instead of a half hourly service, it offers a less attractive 20/40 split. There’s talk of introducing former London Underground D stock to the line in the new guise of Class 230 trains. It certainly won’t be the same peering into the sidings and sheds at St John’s Road, Ryde as you pass through the station and not see the spare 1938 stock any longer.

55 Horsham – Barnham

IMG_5213This journey through the wonderful South Downs provides some spectacular views of Britain’s newest National Park especially as the train heads between Pulborough, Amberley and Arundel along the Arun Valley. There are some fantastic views of Arundel Castle (just above the Stagecoach bus in the photograph above) as well as the River Arun.

Amberley is another station depicting a lovely mural, this one showing a Southdown bus appropriately as the wonderful Amberley Museum is alongside the station with its transport theme and is a must visit.

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IMG_5208Barnham is a surprisingly busy junction station as trains meet from Bognor, Littlehampton and the West Coastway and is well worth a look around.

56 Hull – Scarborough

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My favourite station on this journey is Bridlington where it’s definitely worth breaking off to savour the lovely restoration and refreshment facilities, making for quite a contrast with Filey a little further on which is not worth breaking your journey for.

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On arriving at Scarborough wander over to platform 1 and marvel at the longest station platform seat in the country, if not the world. It really is worth a wander and a photo.

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57 Leeds – Harrogate – York

The Leeds to Harrogate part of this journey has bus competition from probably Britain’s most luxurious buses on the Transdev Blazefield route 36 running every 10 minutes. But Northern have recently introduced nicely refurbished former ScotRail class 170 trains which are a huge improvement on the old Pacers and there are plans to increase the frequency too. It’s a lovely journey from West Yorkshire into North Yorkshire and both Harrogate (where there’s an interesting car park next to the station and footbridge arrangement photographed below) and Knaresborough are worth a stop off to explore, not least for Betty’s Tea Rooms in the former.

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The line doesn’t promote its ultimate destination at either the Leeds or Harrogate end of the route as it’s quicker to get a direct train but if you’re not in a rush it’s well worth a ride and don’t forget to work in a trip on the 36 too!

58 Brighton – Seaford

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Lewes is a lovely station full of charm and the line to Seaford follows the course of the River Ouse to Newhaven where the town’s three stations includes one of the shortest distances between two stations Newhaven Town to Newhaven Harbour as well as the quirky short stub to Newhaven Marine which is very much a closed station with a platform out of bounds and demolished station buildings (to the left of the signal box shown below) yet is still officially open – indeed it has a Parliamentary Train except no passengers can board it.

IMG_5217Further along the single track to the small single platform terminal station at Seaford with views out to the Channel, the penultimate station is Bishopstone with its amazing Art Deco architecture with a strong hint of the Charles Holden designs for Piccadilly Line Underground stations. Indeed it’s said it was modelled on Arnos Grove. It’s looking a bit unloved and sorry for itself these days.

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The rather isolated station at Southease between Lewes and Newhaven is handy for walkers taking the South Downs Way which crosses the railway at the station, and where there isn’t much else.

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59 York – Scarborough

Another journey to marvel at a meandering river – the River Derwent – as the train heads eastwards to the coast. Indeed for a few miles it literally twists and turns along the banks of the river as it passes Kirkham Abbey before reaching Malton station, notable for its sole platform for trains in both directions. If you didn’t marvel at the longest seat in the world when you journeyed into Scarborough from Hull (entry no 56) then now’s the time for a good long sit down (literally).

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60 Norwich – Sherringham

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This journey is notable for the link to the lovely Bure Valley railway along the delightful River Bure at Hoveton and Wroxham, the call at Cromer with its reverse out again manoeuvre (a resort sadly past its prime although worth a stop off for a nostalgic stroll down the pier) and the rather basic terminus at Sherringham consisting of just a platform and shelter …..

Sherringham 2 - January 2014……..except the track continues across a level crossing (including through a delightful seating area, as photographed below) to provide access to the North Norfolk Railway. Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 19.13.24From Sherringham as well as the option of taking the North Norfolk Railway to Holt there’s the Coasthopper bus along the north Norfolk coast to Wells-Next-The-Sea for an onward connection to the Coastliner 36 route to Kings Lynn run by Lynx making for an adventurous circular day out from London.

The final part 4 of My Hundred Best Train Journeys (no 61 – 100) will be posted later this month.

Roger French

My Hundred Best Train Journeys 2

Thursday 15th November 2018

Following the top ten listing in Part 1, welcome to the next twenty most wonderful train journeys around Britain – they’re part of my Hundred Best Train Journeys. Read along for the rides ……

11  Shrewsbury – Llandrindod – Swansea 

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After the Cambrian Coast line entry in tenth place, we’re still in Wales for number 11 – the scenically spectacular Heart of Wales Line. In addition to the gorgeous Welsh mountain scenery, this journey offers the intrigue of a multitude of request stations, beautifully well kept country stations and the very best station to alight and board right across Wales (yes it even beats that slightly contrived 58 lettered one in Anglesey – which we’ll come to later in the list); it is of course the quirky named Sugar Loaf.

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Not only is it well worth getting off at Sugar Loaf to savour its isolation and remoteness but also to enjoy the surprised expression on the train guard/conductor’s face when you ask for the train to stop there. And you simply can’t beat the fun of hailing the next train with a clear signal to the driver from such a rarely used station. When I visited it last year, I was taken aback while exploring the platform to be joined by a man who’d just arrived from the nearby road. I don’t know who was more surprised: him to see me, or me being joined by another potential passenger. In the event it turned out he was from the local community group who look after the floral displays and keep the platform tidy at this and other stations; so we had a lovely chat all about Sugar Loaf and the line.

There are many other wonderful stations along the line – one journey (the 0604 from Swansea to Crewe) serves the most stations in Britain at 41, including 16 request stops. Transport for Wales have plans to increase the number of journeys per day along the line (currently there are only four through journeys with a couple of shorts from either end) but in the meantime careful planning is needed if you want to get off and explore the stations, but some are served by buses, including the main stop at Llandrindod (Wells) right outside the station, making for other great journey opportunities.

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Llandrindod Wells

12  Sheffield – Manchester

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The single track alongside Dore and Totley

Criss-crossing the Derbyshire Peak District by bus is a particular favourite pastime of mine, and right up there with the best of those bus scenic busters is taking the train along the Hope Valley Line. It’s quite bizarre for such a major strategic route that the line is reduced to a short stretch of single track through Dore and Totley which can sometimes cause delays, especially if an express then gets caught behind a stopper, but if you’re just travelling for the pleasure of the scenery it gives more time to relish the scenic delights as the train passes along the seventeen miles between Totley Tunnel and Cowburn Tunnel – ticking off the delightfully named stations through Crindleford, Bamford, Hope and Edale.

13  Glasgow – Stranraer

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Old style BR corporate identity on display back in 2013

Sadly since the ferries left for a new terminal further up the coast, Stranraer is a shadow of its former self; almost a ghost station, but it’s certainly worth the journey down there from Glasgow to enjoy the coastal views through Troon and Prestwick and the gorgeous countryside views particularly on the thirteen mile single line stretch once you leave Ayr.  There’s a lovely signal box at the penultimate station, Barhill, where driver and signalman swap tokens. There are now only four direct journeys per day from Glasgow to Stranraer (and two back) with others starting/finishing at Kilmarnock and some only going as far as Girvan, missing out the Barrhill section; which is not to be missed.

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The highest station on the line is Barrhill

If you want time to explore the desolation of Stranraer – it’s worth a nose round to see how things used to be – don’t worry that the train usually turns round quickly and there’s a long wait for the next one, as there’s a lovely ride back along the coast to Ayr on Stagecoach bus routes 360/60.

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The desolate ferry terminal on the left and a pair of semaphore signals on the right

14  Liskeard – Looe

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Trains set off heading north from the Looe bound platform at Liskeard which is at right angles to the main line

I’m sure it’s not a spoiler to disclose this early on that all the Devon and Cornwall branch lines appear in my Hundred Best Train Journeys, and it won’t come as a surprise that leading the pack is the delightfully quirky and scenic Looe Valley Line. What other line begins with the train heading in a northerly direction to journey south, travelling in a full 360 degree large circle (clockwise), downhill, for about 5 minutes (passing under the main line) before ending up pointing northwards again; only to top this manoeuvre off on only two of the twelve journeys a day by continuing a short distance further northwards to call at the rarely used station of Coombe Junction Halt. Oh, and then the train guard/conductor jumps down from the train and manually resets the points so the train can head south again. Only in Cornwall; only in Britain!

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Not only all that, but the train then follows the course of the lovely East Looe River passing three more delightfully named request stations: St Keyne Wishing Well Halt, Causeland and Sandplace until the river gradually widens until the West Looe River joins almost opposite the station terminus at Looe. You simply haven’t been to Cornwall unless you’ve fully explored the lovely Looe Valley Line.

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15  Plymouth – Gunnislake

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This Devon branch line, the Tamar Line, may not have as many quirks as Liskeard-Looe, although it also passes under a superb viaduct carrying the main line and has a reverse manoeuvre along the way (at the wonderful Bere Alston – where the line once continued to Tavistock and Okehampton, and who knows, the pipe dream of reinstatement may one day come true) but for me it has a well deserved fifteenth place in this list for the wonderful views over the Rivers Tamar and Tavy, as the line twists and turns pointing east, then west, then north and repeat (many times) up the valley to Gunnislake.

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Bere Ferrers

Both Gunnislake and Calstock stations are also served by Plymouth Citybus route 79 offering a great view of the railway line crossing the River Tamar at Calstock. Bere Ferrers is also a wonderful station to explore with a heritage centre and adjacent vintage train.

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The viaduct carrying the Tamar Line over the River Tamar at Calstock

16  Lancaster – Barrow-in-Furness – Carlisle

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Are they paintings? No, they’re windows.

For me the Cumbrian Coast Line has many similar characteristics to the Cambrian Coast Line (at No 10): hugging the coastline with glorious views out to sea and wonderful mountain scenery inland.

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The infamous clock at the infamous Carnforth

Within a few minutes of setting off from Lancaster you arrive at the infamous Carnforth station which is definitely worth exploring for a Brief Encounter before hopping back on the next train as it leaves the main West Coast Line for the coast.

Skirting round the western edge of the Lake District on the Cumbrian Coast Line is a wonderful way to spend three and three quarters hours of your life; you certainly won’t regret it.

Even before reaching Barrow-in-Furness the views over Morecambe Bay are a tasty aperitif for what’s to follow as the train passes over the 528 yard low level Arnside Viaduct over the sands ….. then cruises into the wonderful Grange-over-Sands station with its window views over the sands …. then continuing round what is almost a 360 degree loop to serve Barrow-in-Furness …. then heading north along the coast …. but not before another fifteen mile ride around Duddon Sands …. then to Ravenglass which is a lovely stop off to ride the spectacular Ravenglass and Eskdale narrow gauge railway …. and then of course there’s the infamous Sellafield a few miles north with its barbed wire and security fences making it clear you’re not welcome unless you work there, which many local people do, as busy trains heading north from there at shift change times testify.

Pick your journey carefully as some entail connections in Barrow-in-Furness and some offer the opportunity to ride behind a Class 37 or Class 68 loco in old coaching stock for a real nostalgic ride back in time.

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A Class 37 passes over a low bridge at Ravenglass

17  Newcastle – Edinburgh

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Sun rising over the east coast as the 0540 from Edinburgh heads south

Whatever else, make sure you’re sitting on the coastal side when making this journey. Superb glimpses of the coastline tease you as you journey north until the train approaches Berwick-upon-Tweed where the full magnificence of its spectacular viaduct and crossing the Tweed on the Royal Border Bridge is a sight to behold, as is the sight of the original road bridge (Bridge End). After that, many welcome glimpses of the coast become more frequent as you head north towards Dunbar and Scotland.

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Looking east to Berwick-upon-Tweed from the viaduct

My favourite journey on this line is the first early morning southbound departure from Edinburgh to Kings Cross which leaves as early as 0540. But it’s well worth getting up early for; uniquely the train only calls at Newcastle making the 393 mile journey to London in precisely 4 hours (averaging 98 mph) and on a summer’s morning you see the sun rising in the east over the coast as breakfast is served and you head down to Newcastle – bliss.

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18  Llandudno – Blaenau Ffestiniog

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Betws-y-Coed

Another stunner of a Welsh line; and another with only six journeys a day but well worth planning an itinerary around. The line follows the course of the River Conwy southwards as far as Betws-y-Coed from where it heads west along the River LLedr but be prepared for a complete change in scenery once the train nears Blaenau Ffestiniog and emerges from the 2 mile long Ffestiniog tunnel. You arrive in slate country and there’s nothing quite like it anywhere else on the rail network.

At Blaenau Ffestiniog there are cross platform connections with the Ffestiniog Heritage Railway which is well worth a trip as are the bus routes which run up and down either side of the Conwy Valley between Llandudno and Betws-y-Coed. Betws-y-Coed is also worth a stop off to explore including the miniature railway alongside the station.

19  Sheffield – Penistone – Huddersfield

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A Pacer arrives at Penistone

We’re talking serious South Yorkshire scenery here; until you slip into West Yorkshire, then you’re talking serious West Yorkshire scenery. When I travel along this line in addition to admiring the scenery, I often wonder if many passengers notice the subtle change of branding and logos between the stations east and south of Penistone (South Yorkshire) and west and north from Denby Dale and on to Huddersfield (West Yorkshire). As often as not, it’s been a Pacer when I’ve made this journey adding that unique charm only a Pacer can provide as it trundles along with the Peaks and Moors in the distance on the left hand side heading Huddersfield bound.

20  St Erth – St Ives

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A busy St Ives station

Back to Cornwall for this short five mile branch line, which gets overrun with passengers in the summer thanks to sensible traffic management arrangements which keeps cars out of St Ives and instead enforces parking at the Park & Ride site at Lelant Saltings the first station after St Erth.

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It’s another journey where it’s essential to sit (if you can find a seat in the busy summer months) on the coastal side (that’s the offside as the train leaves St Erth) for maximum sea views as the train scurries along to St Ives, where there’s only the most basic platform as a terminus. Don’t forget to walk up the hill to the bus station where there’s one of Britain’s most scenic bus turning areas, and maybe take an open top bus all the way round the coast via Lands End to Penzance, or if you’re short of time take the quick way via St Erth and Crowlas.

21  Edinburgh – Aberdeen

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Waking up and looking out of the window on the Caledonian Sleeper wending its way towards Aberdeen as the sun rises

We’ve already enjoyed the first past of this route as far as Ladybank on the Inverness journey along the Highland Line (No 4 in the Hundred Best Train Journeys) but now we’re keeping to the east coast as we head to Aberdeen to enjoy the fantastic journey over the Tay Bridge (a spine chilling moment whenever I cross and recall reading about the terrible  1879 disaster) and take in the lovely city of Dundee and on to Montrose and Stonehaven before arriving at Aberdeen.

22  Oxford – Worcester – Hereford

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The somewhat large station at Hereford

This line always intrigues me as it’s neither a main line or a branch line. It’s a wonderful hybrid which despite some track doubling, still has potential delay inducing single track sections as well as delightfully named stations including Ascott-under-Wychwood, Moreton-in-Marsh and Honeybourne where there’s a line off to serve the MoD depot at Long Marston and who knows, maybe one day the reinstatement of the long lost connection to Stratford-on-Avon, which really would make for a joined up railway.

The journey continues through both Worcester’s stations (the delightful Shrub Hill, with all it’s charm and old style signals, and also Foregate Street) before continuing through more rich English countryside via Great Malvern and Ledbury before terminating at the lovely market town of Hereford.

23  Swindon – Cheltenham

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The once proud offices of British Rail’s Western Region hiding the start of the scenic Swindon to Cheltenham line from the station behind

There are only three stations along this beautiful line – Kemble, Stroud and Stonehouse – and each has a character of its own and the scenery, especially to the north of the line, is another example of Englishness at its most countrified which is a good enough reason for its placing here in the list.

24  Westbury – Bath Spa

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Westbury’s a lovely interchange station in its own right, and surprisingly busy for the size of town as five rail lines converge and a freight marshalling yard is nearby; but it’s the section of line after Trowbridge towards Bath Spa which always brings me joy as it follows the gorgeous River Avon as well as the parallel Kennet and Avon Canal. and serves the amazingly well looked after stations at Bradford-on-Avon, Avoncliff and Freshford. The views are absolutely stunning. I’ve caught the one morning GWR operated train from Brighton which wends its way all along the coast to Southampton then inland via Salisbury, Westbury to Bath Spa/Bristol (a three and a half hour marathon) just for the fifteen or so minute delight of this section of track.

25  Exeter – Barnstaple (and Okehampton)

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Another Devonshire branch line delight, with wonderful scenery and a real treat to arrive at Barnstaple station with its retro signage and heritage atmosphere.

I’ve cheated and added the spur from Crediton to Okehampton to this entry – it only runs just a few journeys on Summer Sundays and uses the same tracks from Exeter as far as Crediton, and to be honest you don’t see much as the hedges and trees either side of the single track to Okehampton itself are thick and mature, but Okehampton station even tops Barnstaple for retro delight (and a connection to the Dartmoor heritage railway).

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Okehampton with the Dartmoor Railway using the platform on the left

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Okehampton can get very busy when the GWR train arrives

The one intermediate stop at Samford Courtney wins the prize for Britain’s most basic station with absolutely no facilities at all, save for a locked gate which the train guard on the first train of the day unlocks.

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Back to the Barnstaple branch and just saying how lovely the Devon scenery is – along the whole journey – count the number of times the track crosses the lovely River Taw – bet you lose count!

26  Glasgow – Wemyss Bay (and Gourock)

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Wemyss Bay

This train journey enjoys such a high entry for one simple reason: Wemyss Bay station. It has to be the most delightful station across the whole network. Stunningly attractive with magnificently designed curves and circles and not a straight line or corner to be seen. I’ve been a few times now, and love it more every visit. I also like the quirkiness of another station along the line called IBM. What at one time was a thriving industrial area owned by said technology company is now a barren wasteland with ghostly empty buildings, and as I found, when exploring the area, entails quite a circuitous and lonely route for pedestrians down to the main A78 road to Greenock for the bus.

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Another addition to this entry is the short six mile stretch of line heading further west, past the junction where the Wemyss Bay line heads south at Port Glasgow, continuing to the terminus at Gourock along the Firth of Clyde. It has such interesting station names including Bogston, Cartsdyke and Fort Matilda and a lovely view of the Clyde.

27  Eastbourne – Ashford International

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Class 171 trains pass at Rye before the single track section ahead towards Ore

Not as famous as the Dawlish Wall, nor the Cambrian or Cumbrian coastal lines, but nevertheless this lovely East Sussex coastal line offers wonderful views of the English Channel and the south coast’s characteristic beach huts and fishing huts as the train passes from Pevensey Bay and Normans Bay, through Cooden Beach to the massively long platforms at Bexhill and then the quirky St Leonards Warrier Square located between Bopeep Tunnel (lovely name) and Hastings Tunnel (each almost a mile in length). After Hastings and Ore, there’s the wonderfully dense wooded section of single track line with the short platformed, isolated, and little used stations of Three Oaks and Doleham before arriving at Winchelsea and Rye (well worth a stop off and explore). After that the scenery changes once again as the train crosses the Romney Marsh to the characterless and much expanded terminus at Ashford.

This line has two-car Class 171 diesel trains which, aside from the Uckfield line, are unusual for Kent and Sussex. It’s unsurprising that Doleham sees so few passengers (it’s East Sussex’s least used station) as on a Saturday only the first and last trains in both directions make a stop – so you have to leave on the 0558 to Ashford and can only return on the 2357 arrival back making for quite a long day out! (Mondays to Fridays offers more sensible departures to Hastings at 0755 and 0917 with a 1718 arrival back.)

28  Redhill – Guildford

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It’s for the North Downs. They’re beautiful. They really are. Views from both sides of the train are worth clocking but I always prefer the north side and get those full on views through Dorking and Gomshall – which incidentally has one of the most extensive ramped footbridges I’ve ever seen anywhere on the network.

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29  Paddock Wood – Maidstone

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This is another train journey alongside a delightfully scenic river. In this case the River Medway as it wends its way north towards Maidstone (and eventually to Sheerness and the sea). The train provides an hourly service from Tonbridge to Strood but it’s the twenty minute ride alongside the Medway and passing through stations Beltring, Yalding, Wateringbury and East Fairleigh which is the really stunning section of track (sit on the right hand side heading north for best views).

30  Derby – Matlock

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Book-ending the top thirty is the delightful journey from Derby into the wonderful Peak District town of Matlock. I love the first station after leaving the main line at Ambergate, called Whatstandwell, not only for its quirky name but because it’s the closest station to the Tramway museum at nearby Crich.

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The line follows the Derwent Valley along with the A6 and river to Cromford before a tunnel brings you to Matlock Bath (famous for the Heights of Abraham) and Matlock itself, where there are connections to the Peak Rail Heritage Line further up the valley, or to the lovely TransPeak bus route on to Bakewell and Buxton to connect back to the rail network.

Watch out for Part 3 of my Hundred Best Train Journeys (31-60) next month.

Roger French

My Hundred Best Train Journeys 1

Sunday 11th November 2018   Part 1 of 4.

This started out as my top ten favourite train journeys but I quickly realised I couldn’t possibly do justice to all the many fantastic rail lines across Britain by being so limited. It quickly grew to a top twenty, then thirty as favourites easily clicked away on the keyboard. It wasn’t long before I’d passed fifty, and so it seemed a natural progression to carry on until the hundred milestone was reached. I’ll post the list in four bite-sized chunks over the next few weeks. Here’s that original top ten, to kick things off.

1.  Glasgow – Fort William – Mallaig

It won’t come as a surprise that Scotland features heavily in the top slots – five of my top six train journeys are north of the border, with many more entries throughout the list.

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The famous Horseshoe Curve between Upper Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy is a delight – this photo was taken from the train wending its way around the curve.

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The West Highland Line running between Glasgow and Fort William and on to Mallaig is the obvious and very worthy winner of the coveted top spot; not only is it recognised as Britain’s most scenic rail line by most commentators, but it’s renowned around the world. There’s nothing better than taking the Caledonian Sleeper from the hustle and bustle of Euston and waking up the next morning to the beauty and remoteness of Rannoch Moor as the train trundles alongside moors, lochs and mountains to Fort William.

This can be particularly evocative in the winter as the sun rises above snow covered ground and deers scamper in the distance. Another favourite journey is the early departure from Mallaig at 0603 during the summer months. You often have a whole carriage to yourself to enjoy the spectacular scenery of this section of the line before a handful of early commuters board at stations closer to Fort William.

This truly has to be top of any Bucket List of train journeys.

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Looking back on the famous Glenfinnan on an empty early journey from Mallaig

2.  Inverness – Kyle of Lochalsh

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It’s a close run thing for the top spot with the Kyle of Lochalsh line a very strong runner up. In fact whenever I take a ride on this line I always end up having a debate with myself whether actually this line surpasses the West Highland Line; but then when I have another trip out to Fort William I know, that Kyle’s place is definitely second. It has its own delightful characteritics including some gorgeous scenery and quirky stations.

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3.  Glasgow – Oban

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Many trains from Fort WIlliam and Oban join and split at the brilliant Crianlarich station for the journey to Glasgow

Now some might say, this is a cheat as much of the line (Glasgow – Crianlarich) is the same as the Fort WIlliam/Mallaig line; indeed many trains split or join together at Crianlarich. But, it’s my list, and I decide the rules, and I reckon there’s enough beauty to behold on the line to Oban north of Crianlarich to justify a third place entry in its own right. Indeed, it was the very first train ride I made in Scotland, way back in the early 1970s taking holidays as a teenager on a remote island off Mull. This necessitated what was then a loco hauled train to Oban which included a refreshment stop of about 15 or 20 minutes at Crianlarich so passengers could use the platform tea room and toilets. That’s why it always has a special place in my memory.

4.  Edinburgh – Inverness

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I specify Edinburgh, but it could equally be the train from or to Glasgow, although the latter struggles to live up to the spectacular coastal views and the Forth Rail Bridge experience between Edinburgh and Perth. It’s the section of line north of Perth to Inverness which gives this train journey a well deserved fourth place as it takes in the spectacular scenery through the Cairngorms National Park. I really can’t wait to ride the refurbished HSTs ScotRail are soon introducing on this line (and others). It’s also another great journey to take on the Caledonian Sleeper from Euston and wake up through the Highlands.

5.  Leeds – Carlisle

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My top rail line in England just has to be the Settle-Carlisle. Not only is the scenery just superb, the Ribblehead Viaduct a must-see, the stations kept in wonderful heritage conditions but from many of the stations there are wonderful bus journeys to take too. Garsdale has links to Hawes; Dent has a community bus to Kendal which is just totally stunning; Cumbria Classic Coaches run heritage journeys from Kirkby Stephen to a range of destinations in the summer; and there are also great connections at Settle, Skipton and Keighley. I even made a trip to and from Appleby this summer.

6.  Inverness – Wick

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You need to sit on the coastal side of the train for maximum scenic enjoyment of the Far North Line, but beware, unlike the Stagecoach X99 bus route, which hugs the coast the whole way, the train diverts inland for many miles offering alternative views. It’s not a journey for those in a hurry either which adds to its charm as you head towards the northernmost point on the rail network. I often use the line to and from Lairg where there are quirky bus route connections on to the north west tip of Scotland at Durness, as well as Tongue.

7.  Lancaster – Glasgow

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You may find it odd that the main lines out of London, which form the backbone of Britain’s rail network (East Coast; West Coast; Midland Mainline; Great Western,Great Eastern and north out of Marylebone), don’t feature in my Hundred Best Train Journeys – well, certainly not the southern sections – this is probably because they become all too familiar as I find myself travelling along these tracks so many times every year; but I think it’s also because the scenery towards the northern ends far eclipses anything ‘down south’ and none more so than on the West Coast Line which is why this takes a very deserved seventh place in my list. The Lake District, Shap, the northern most Pennines all pass by as the railtracks criss-cross the M6 on it’s spine route linking Scotland with the south. My eyes are glued to the window the whole journey until we reach the outskirts of Glasgow.

8.  Middlesbrough – Whitby

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Danby

I always try and include this journey in my itneraries at least once, if not twice, every year as I never tire of the wonderful views it offers across the North Yorkshire Moors and along the River Esk which the line follows for many miles. It’s another line which offers some great bus connections, not least Arriva’s X93, which also runs between Middlesbrough and Whitby before providing a handy connection on to Scarborough, and Transdev Blazefield’s Coastliner 840 from Whitby via Goathland (of Heartbeat fame) to Malton and York/Leeds – voted Britain’s Most Secnic Bus Route earlier this year. I’ve also connected with the wonderful Moorsbus weekend network by using Danby station on the line which was fun, and of course tracks are shared between Grosmont andf Whitby with the wonderful North Yorks Moors heritage railway.

9.  Exeter – Penzance

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And not just for the Dawlish Wall moment either. I love the build up to that infamous section of track as the train leaves Exeter and hugs the River Exe spotting the ferry from Starcross which crosses the river to Exmouth and the ice cream stall at Dawlish Warren and then you know the Wall is ahead. The delights keep on coming as the journey continues to Plymouth, the Royal Albert Bridge with the spectacular views down to the harbours on both sides of the River Tamar and then into Cornwall; a quick look at Bodmin Parkway to see if the heritage rail line is running (having done the same at Totnes); the rolling Cornish scenery; the wonderful view of Truro Cathedral. It’s a superb ride, and there’s nothing better than a comfortable leather First Class seat in a GWR HST too…..for just a little while longer!

10  Machynlleth – Pwllheli

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Preparing to leave Machynlleth for the journey along the Cambrian coast to Phllheli

My first (of many) best rail lines in Wales just makes it into the top ten, which is pleasing, as it is a fantastic journey to make. It starts way back in Birmingham and runs via Shrewsbury on a pleasant enough route, as is the leg down to Aberystwyth, but the Cambrian Coast line proper really only starts at Machynlleth as it unsurprisngly hugs all along the Cambrian Coast up to Pwllheli. In fact parts of the line even surpass the Dawlish Wall, and I’m wondering whether I should swap the order around now I think more about it. This line, after all, has a number of quirky request stops which I’ve used a few of, as well as connections to heritage trains at Tywyn, Fairbourne and Porthmadog and the Traws Cymru T3 bus across to Wrexham from Barmouth.

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The quirky Dovey Junction where there’s limited access and trains meet from the Aberystwyth and Pwllheli branches

Watch out for My Hundred Best Train Journeys – numbers 11 – 30 to follow in Part 2.

Roger French

TramTrains arrive … at last.

Thursday 25th October 2018

It’s taken around ten years to deliver at over four times the original budgeted cost but today passengers could finally get on what seemed like a ‘train’ at Rotherham Central station and get off what had turned into a ‘tram’ during the journey right in the heart of Sheffield’s city centre outside the Cathedral. Yes, the £75 million TramTrain trial is underway at last.

If today’s passenger count is anything to go by, even setting aside first day intrigued locals and lots of camera wielding enthusiasts, demand will soon be ‘exceeding expectations’ and I can foresee the pilot being declared a rip roaring success. After all, who wouldn’t be attracted to use a service offering good value fares which serves the Region’s vast shopping mall at Meadowhall (albeit via the side entrance) and whisks you directly into the city centre.

Passengers ready to board a TramTrain at Rotherham Central

But this pilot has come at a huge cost and inevitably parallel bus routes and the traditional train service between Rotherham and Sheffield will suffer a consequential drop in passengers which may well have implications for future service levels.

A Northern Trains Pacer passes the new Rotherham Central TramTrain platforms

The original idea of running a TramTrain began in 2008 when the DfT thought the Penistone line would be an ideal test bed. However those who know a bit more about Yorkshire’s train tracks than London based civil servants soon pointed out connecting that line to the existing Sheffield Supertram tracks (the whole point of the trial) was a complete non starter so in 2009 DfT officials switched attention to a little used freight line running adjacent to the tram tracks from Sheffield towards Meadowhall and which could fairly easily be connected up to enable the sparkly new TramTrains to switch tracks and head on to Rotherham where the freight line connects to the regular passenger line.

The guys at Network Rail reckoned £15 million should do the trick with a 2015 completion date. As we now know, thanks to a Transport Select Committee Inquiry, things didn’t quite work out as planned and £75 million and nine years later we finally have the pilot underway with the fleet of TramTrains, which arrived ready for service at the end of 2015, finally being used for their intended purpose.

The connecting piece of track lies under the famous Tinsley viaduct on the M1. A short stretch is single track and TramTrains pause as they leave or join the tram tracks presumably to let train monitoring systems know they’re entering or leaving Network Rail’s sphere of influence rather than the ‘line of sight’ basic form of tram operation in Sheffield. On my southbound journeys this handover pause took as much as forty seconds but was slightly shorter in the northbound direction.

Heading south leaving the freight line on to the new connecting spur

The upshot of this is that signs and apps showing departures from Rotherham Central can’t pick up expected TramTrain arrivals until too late – with ‘on time’ indicators switching at the last minute to eight minutes late in one case today. Furthermore the departure screens at tram stops are not yet programmed to show TramTrains at all which inevitably led to much confusion with passengers thinking they were boarding a Meadowhall bound tram only to find themselves in Rotherham. It’s not easy for an average passenger to tell the difference between a tram and a TramTrain.

A TramTrain Class 399 sits next to a standard tram at Cathedral

Departure screens at Rotherham Central stop showing approaching TramTrains prematurely

TramTrains don’t yet appear on tram stop departure signs

This is not helped by an uneven headway on the TramTrain timetable with two of its three journeys an hour scheduled just one minute ahead of the parallel Yellow tram route to Meadowhall thereby following each other nose to tail for the entire journey from Cathedral to the Tinsley junction.

This Meadowhall bound tram….

… followed my TramTrain…

…all the way to Tinsley (by Meadowhall) as scheduled

I can see the difficulty in pathing three TramTrains per hour alongside the five Yellow line trams to/from Meadowhall to say nothing of the four trains an hour at Rotherham Central but this duplication is unfortunate as is the consequential uneven TramTrain frequency running at 01, 27, 39 mins past each hour (Yellow trams at 04, 16, 28, 40, 52) from Cathedral.

Still, it is a pilot and I guess it’s more about how the different technologies and interfaces can work together but this aspect is a bit of a disappointment for passengers.

The problem will also be in delivering a reliable and robust service as not only are there constraints of fitting trams, trains and TramTrains together but the end to end running time at 26 minutes from Cathedral to Rotherham Parkgate (the new terminus three minutes north of Rotherham Central station) makes for a very tight turnaround cycle in one hour.

Indeed on my trips today, one northbound TramTrain got held on the freight line while we waited for an eight minute late running southbound Northern Rail train bound for Sheffield to cross our path and two hours later I caught this same TramTrain to Parkgate which was by then running eight minutes late itself causing it to be out of sync with both the Meadowhall trams and Northern Rail train paths.

Departures on the National Rail app wrongly show TrainTram departing platform 2

Interestingly when we got back to Cathedral a fresh TramTrain had been slotted into the schedule to provide an on-time departure with our late running one going dead to depot.

TramTrain passengers at Rotherham Central need to allow time for a lengthy walk along the full length of the platforms as the new dedicated TramTrain Platforms 3 and 4 (with low height boarding/alighting) are in fact extensions of existing Platforms 1 and 2 but are unfortunately sited at the far southern end away from the station’s northern entrance and exit. Sadly the £75 million didn’t stretch to more than a standard small shelter on the platform extensions either which look rather inadequate compared to the impressive full length canopies on the main platforms.

Looking south at Rotherham Central towards the platform extensions

The lower level platforms used by TramTrains

A Pacer admirably demonstrates the height challenge

Oops; a wrong ‘tram’ pictogram for Platform 1 on this sign!

The facilities at the TramTrain’s northern terminus, Rotherham Parkgate, can also only be described as basic, especially as TramTrains are only scheduled to wait there for 12 minutes in any hour leaving passengers with limited waiting facilities if arriving at other times from the adjacent rather bleak warehouse style retail outlets.

You can’t help thinking most of the £75 million has gone on technical stuff like making sure the TramTrains can cope with 750V DC overhead wires as well as the higher powered 25kV AC for main line running (something the Transport Select Committee picked up as being a complete waste after the Secretary of State cancelled the plans for Sheffield electrification in July 2017 having included it in the original 2012 plans) rather than passenger comforts.

It was good to see high profile promotion of the new service at tram stops and at Rotherham Central. Automatic announcements were also being made there for next TramTrain departures too, even if they disappeared off the departure screens prematurely.

Impressively there were also leaflets giving details of timetables, fares and tickets on every TramTrain and plenty of staff were around to help.

This being South Yorkshire there are some great ticket bargains including a £4 day ticket covering travel on all tram routes including TramTrains. This won’t help the bus services prosper, but is possibly only an introductory arrangement.

I’m always pleased to see new public transport initiatives and innovations and in that context TramTrain is very welcome. I’m sure lessons will be learned and be particularly pertinent for the upcoming plans for similar arrangements in the Cardiff valleys.

But unlike Snap, Arriva Click, Pick Me Up and other private sector innovations this initiative has sucked up an awful lot of public money. And what’s more the DfT’s most senior civil servant recommended the plug be pulled on the whole project in 2015 only to be overruled by Minister Paul Maynard despite the Transport Select Committee observing neither the DfT nor Network Rail had quantified any benefits from the project.

I also can’t help comparing the benefits of bringing relatively speaking a few Rotherham folk into Sheffield by a slightly different route than by existing bus or train for £75 million with what’s been achieved in Belfast for thousands of passengers right across the city with the Glider bus based transit scheme for £90 million.

Against the background of no prescribed benefits one wonders how TramTrain will be judged a success but I’m sure it won’t be long before it is indeed deemed a great success.

Roger French 25th October 2018

Seven steps to simpler rail fares. Sorted.

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Tomorrow is the last day to give feedback for the Rail Delivery Group’s review of rail fares with the aim of making them much easier to understand. They’ve produced a simple clickable online survey which, if you don’t make any additional comments or suggestions, only takes around five minutes to complete, so is well worth a whirl.

There are questions on things like the merits of basing fares on distance, time of day/day of week, level of service, time of booking, method of booking, flexibility of travel, split ticketing, rewarding loyalty, discounts for railcards as well as methods of payment.

The RDG review pledges any changes will be financially neutral so for every attractive outcome offering lower ticket prices there’ll be others paying more for their journey. I can’t see the latter going down well with the rail industry’s political masters nor the commentators and media who like to find fault. Which group of passengers will willingly pay more for the sake of achieving a more logical, easier to understand fares system?

And in that context here are my seven suggestions for simplification:

1. Do away with cheaper return tickets and just have single journey tickets.

In some cases cheap off peak returns are only 10p more than the single which is particularly anomalous. Instead maintain the ability to buy a return (for convenience) but it’ll simply cost double the single. In averaging this all out, most people already make return journeys so this won’t have a huge impact on what people pay; it will mean cheaper single journey prices and modestly more expensive return prices but still achieving the same overall revenue take. While we’re at it, the summation of single leg journey prices mustn’t be less than the price charged from end to end to avoid split ticket anomalies.

2. Do away with Advanced Purchase discounted tickets.

In many cases, for Standard Class travel, they don’t offer the savings they first appear to once the cost of a return journey is taken into account. An off peak return is very often just as cheap as two Adanced Purchase tickets for the separate journey legs. Furthmore, off peak returns offer complete flexibility on journey travel times.

3. Do away with peak/off peak price differentials; charge the same ticket price irrespective of travel time.

Bit radical, I know, but season ticket holders travelling five days a week already pay something close to five times the off peak fare anyway. They always reckon they’re hard done by, but actually the perceived high cost of travel is because they pay in bulk and make more journeys. An occasional traveller pays much more per journey as they pay full whack in the morning peak with an Anytime Ticket. This change will obviously mean off peak ticket prices rising relative to peak prices but see my suggestion number 7.

4. Do away with cheaper tickets restricted to one particular train company.

All tickets should be available on any train running between the origin and destination and used by ‘any permitted’ route between those points. Which brings me to…

5. Make it much more clear what the ‘Any Permitted’ route options are for tickets.

I’m pretty sure only the renowned ticketing expert Barry Doe knows what can be done and what can’t; the rules are so complex and almost impregnable. It can’t be beyond the wit of the fares experts at the RDG to produce a nice interactive online map of the rail network where you can click on your origin and destination stations and up comes all the route options possible on the map. I think people would be amazed what flexibility is available and when combined with the ability to break your journey at any station on route (something many passengers are also unaware is possible) opens up many flexible travel options.

6. Do away with seat reservations.

Increasingly I see passengers ignoring their allocated seat and instead opting for a preferred better placed unreserved seat especially when unreserved (or less busy) coaches are marked up on platform indicator boards. Passengers like the ability to choose a preferred seat once they actually arrive on the train, but this leads to chaotic scenes where reserved seats are foregone as passengers rush to bag unreserved seats. I’m also increasingly finding electronic seat reservations systems are unreliable leading to more confusion as passengers board along the route expecting to find their reserved seat.

7. My final suggestion, having swept away cheaper returns, cheaper advanced purchases, cheaper peak tickets and reservations in favour of a simple easy-to-understand one price system…….is to add a bit of complexity back, but using a promotional marketing approach by significantly expanding the range of Railcards.

7a Make Railcards available for any adult without the need to be of a certain age, have a partner or children, or work for the armed forces. Yes, let anyone buy a Railcard. A sort of Nationwide Network Card. The range will include paying something like £100 up front for a year which would offer say, a 50% discount off peak on the new standard single fare. Or another could be £40 offering a third discount. I’m not privy to know the revenue streams from different tickets now, so it’s difficult to know what the price band/discounts need to be, but I hope you get the idea behind the principle of establishing say three or four Railcards of this kind to appeal to different market segments. You’d design Railcards to appeal to regular users as well as occasional users and the discount would encourage travel by offering a good value price. Offers could also be made on the upfront price of the initial Railcard purchase to encourage take-up and discounts given for longer duration Railcards, as now, say for a three year validity.

7b Existing Railcards would continue and with some extensions of validity. For example Senior Railcard discounts should be available at any time, including during the morning peak in the London and South East area (ok, I need to declare a slight vested interest here; ok, a big-time vested interest here – I live in London and the South East and I use a Senior Railcard; a lot). Journeys wholly within London and the South East (as per the Network Railcard area – which itself is nonsensical to have one Railcard’s restrictions based on another’s area) are not discounted until after 9am presumably on the logic of not giving a discount at a busy time of day with packed out trains. But that doesn’t stand much scrutiny as Londoners with a Freedom Ticket (available to over 60s) giving completely free travel can use the overcrowded Underground at any time as can Senior Railcard holders travel at a discount on packed out morning peak trains in other conurbations around the country and finally as justification, Senior Railcard holders can already travel across the L&SE area border at morning peak times – e.g. there’s no time restriction on discounts for a pre 9am journey from Brighton to Ipswich (Ipswich is outside the L&SE area) but discounted travel is not possible pre 9am for Brighton to Colchester (Colchester is within the L&SE area). Again this is something many passengers don’t know about, indeed my recent experience has been even some ticket office staff don’t know about it either and wrongly assume a Senior Railcard means no discounts before 9am. Not true.

So that’s it, a much simplified ticket system with some attractive incentives through a new range of Railcards. Sorted.

If you’ve got ideas or comments about rail fares be sure to click here by close of play tomorrow.

Roger French           9th September 2018

72% increase in train fares from Saturday

That’s a headline to grab your attention for sure. And it’s true; for those of us on the Brighton line and travel off peak into Victoria. GTR have announced from Saturday 1st September it’s back to the bad old days with ticket restrictions reinstated around what trains we can use particular tickets on.

Looking at the range of ticket options available you’d never know all the trains are run by the same franchise, GoVia Thameslink Railway, which in turn is micro-managed by the Department for Transport where all the fares revenue ends up. The poster explaining the reintroduction of restrictions even has a helpful matrix so you can work out which trains to catch and which to miss if you want to save a bob or two.

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From my local station, Hassocks, the off peak ‘Thameslink only’ day return to ‘London Terminals’ (includes travel to either Victoria or London Bridge and stations through to City Thameslink) has been costing £14.80. Following May’s timetable meltdown all restrictions were lifted with ‘Thameslink only’ tickets valid on both Southern and Gatwick Express trains. But from Saturday if you’re travelling to Victoria (where Thameslink trains don’t venture) or you want the flexibility of using any train on the Brighton line you’ll need an ‘Any Permitted’ off peak ticket at a whopping 72.3% higher price of £25.50.

Other increases include 30.7% for the off peak one-day Travelcard rising from £22.80 (‘Thameslink only’) to £29.90 (‘Any Permitted’) while a peak hour return rises 20.7% from £37.60 (‘Thameslink only’) to £45.40 (‘Any Permitted’). The peak hour Travelcard rises 27% from £41.90 to £53.30.

You might well wonder why on earth these huge differentials continue when all the trains are run by the same company. In other parts of the country cheaper ‘one company only’ fares are available where two or more different train companies run on the same tracks. For example on the West Coast Main Line a ‘West Midlands Trains only’ ticket is usually cheaper than a ‘Virgin Trains only’ ticket which in turn are both cheaper than an ‘Any Permitted’ ticket. Similar arrangements apply on the East Coast line.

Train companies like having their own exclusive tickets as they get to keep all the revenue whereas they have to share ‘Any Permitted’ ticket revenue with all the other train operators who might offer alternative journey possibilities. 100% of a cheaper ticket is usually better for profits than a share of a higher priced ticket. And passengers not bothered about flexibility end up with a reduced travel price; so it’s a win-win.

But in GTR land, all the trains are operated by the same franchise operator, and all the ticket income goes to the DfT, so why on earth are these differentials being perpetuated? The cheaper ‘Thameslink only’ option was introduced some years ago, ironically when GoVia ran the original Thameslink franchise and was in competition with Connex who ran the South Central franchise. To steal a march on Connex, particularly for the lucrative Gatwick Airport to London market (also contested by an independent Gatwick Express franchise) as well as the Brighton to London business, GoVia introduced cheaper tickets exclusively available on their own Thameslink trains. The same situation continued during the era when the tables were turned and GoVia ran Southern having lost the Thameslink franchise to First Group who renamed it First Capital Connect.

But now, it’s all in one ownership including Gatwick Express where the complete rip-off fare mentality fleecing tourists with higher fares for a less than premium ride is being reintroduced once again. How on earth DfT can justify charging £19.90 to travel on a red coloured train from Gatwick Airport to Victoria taking around 30 minutes (which could well have started its journey in Brighton where passengers don’t pay any extra) and a cheaper £16.20 to travel on a green coloured train taking around 30 minutes is beyond me, particularly when the green train has more comfortable seats. The differentials are even more stark in the off-peak if using a Pay-As-You-Go Oyster card when a journey on a green coloured train will cost just £8.30. It’s an absolute minefield for incoming visitors staring at ticket machine screens at Gatwick Airport trying to work through a myriad of complicated options. Not much of a welcome for sure.

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I reckon if DfT thought they could get away with it, they’d withdraw the cheaper ‘Thameslink only’ option on the Brighton line completely and make us all pay the higher ‘Any Permitted’ prices but in the climate of incompetence surrounding this whole franchise that would be a PR step too far. Thank goodness for small mercies like this.

 

 

Trying out the ‘One Arriva’ ticket in Rhyl

I’ve long thought bus and train owning Groups are missing a trick by not upselling travel in the way savvy retailers would (‘people who bought this also bought this’) so I was encouraged in May last year when Arriva announced they were putting matters right with an exciting modal integration project in North Wales.

Arriva has long been the largest bus operator along the North Wales coast and since 2003 has run the train franchise in Wales so there’s been plenty of scope for joined up initiatives to benefit passengers. It’s a pity this exciting initiative had to wait until the last full year of the franchise but hey-ho, like a GTR train, better late than never.

Whereas trains from the east only get as far as Bangor before heading over to Holyhead on Anglesey, Arriva’s buses continue to the popular tourist hotspot of Caernarfon. Route 5C is a busy four-bus-an-hour route and with no other public transport option available (other than a pricey taxi) unsurprisingly there are always lots of visitors getting off trains at Bangor seeking out the bus to continue their journey to Caernarfon.

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The interchange at Bangor leaves a lot to be desired. There are two bus stops conveniently right outside the station’s pedestrian exit, one of which is unused, but Caernarfon bound buses stay on the main road stopping around a corner unseen from the station as they climb up a steep hill. Passengers who eventually find where to go are greeted by a shoddy shelter, a duff real time sign that’s probably never worked and a confusing array of bus numbers worthy of a drawn out Bingo game adorning the worn bus stop flag on a narrow pavement. It’s crying out for investment and a revamp. My guess is it’s one of the busiest stops for train/bus interchange in North Wales.

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So I was a bit surprised to hear Arriva had chosen Rhyl for it’s integration trailblazer rather than Bangor. This decision no doubt influenced by Denbighshire County Council upgrading the five bay bus station immediately outside the train station offering a great opportunity for Arriva to join the bandwagon and show what can be done to make buses and trains seamlessly work together.

I was intrigued to visit this week, just over a year since the launch in May 2017, to see what’s occurring.

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As you get off westbound trains at Rhyl and cross the footbridge to the exit on the eastbound platform you’re met with an impressive plethora of posters explaining the route and frequencies of the six onward bus services from the bus station outside. Someone’s certainly been diligent at utilising every opportunity to catch your eye as you leave the station.

 

 

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And that’s not all. Impressively by the station exit there’s a leaflet rack dedicated to Arriva bus timetables while outside there are more posters including one for the ‘One Arriva’ ticket.

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Aside from the posters and leaflet rack the ‘One Arriva’ ticket seems to be the main integration initiative. It’s basically Plusbus but includes travel along the full length of the six Arriva bus routes from Rhyl station. It costs £4 whereas the smaller Plusbus area costs £2.60 (or just £1.70 with a Railcard). There’s a 7-day ‘One Arriva’ for just £11 (a great value 2.75 time’s the daily price) and an intriguing ‘Group of 5 people’ ticket valid after 0930 for just £10 (half price compared to buying individual tickets which would be £20) and a 7-day version of that for £50 (5 times the daily price so only a measly fiver saving compared to buying five individual 7-day tickets for £55).

 

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Massive Discounts on standard bus tickets? A standard single from Rhyl to Colwyn Bay is £3.90!

The thing is though, the two main bus routes from Rhyl station, the 11 to Prestatyn continuing on to Flint and Chester and the 12 to Llandudno pretty much parallel the train so most passengers would presumably stay on the train if they’re Prestatyn, Flint or Llandudno bound and in a Catch 22 classic they’d not be able to buy a ‘One Arriva’ ticket to travel on the same bus from those stations as the information implies it’s only valid from Rhyl.

Well, that’s if you can find any information about the ‘One Arriva’ ticket. Other than the aforementioned posters at Rhyl station you’ll be hard pressed to find anything about ‘One Arriva’ anywhere. There’s no mention of it at all on the Arriva Trains Wales website and it’s buried so deep in the Arriva Bus website, you have to be an extreme keyboard warrior to click through and find it. I eventually found the details shown here under the ‘Latest’ tab on the Wales region page where you’d have to know to scroll down two pages of the last fourteen month’s PR puff to find the launch announcement back in May 2017. There’s no mention of it under Tickets or anywhere else I could find; strange as I thought it was a ground breaking integration innovation!

Even more odd, no-one at Arriva Bus seems to know about ‘One Arriva’. I tried telephoning, live chatting and fares enquiries form filling to find out about it, but no-one could help me. But I’ll tell you more about these experiences another time, as they’re a classic in their own futility.

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When you eventually find the information you’re told you can “simply buy your ‘One Arriva’ ticket from your train conductor or from Rhyl station”. Now that’s strange as surely you’d want to buy the combined ‘One Arriva’ ticket at your origin station as you do Plusbus? With gateline barriers at many stations it’s not really practical to buy from the conductor so I tested the system by asking at Chester station (probably the largest Arriva Trains Wales station in the area) for a ‘One Arriva’ ticket to Rhyl. To be helpful I explained it included bus travel (I’m not that cruel) and impressively the very helpful staff there had heard of ‘One Arriva’ and could remember selling one “months ago” but inevitably for such a sales rarity had forgotten the relevant code the ticket machine computer needed to make a sale. I give them full credit for perseverance and helpfulness as after many unsuccessful attempts they were determined to see it through and thought it best to phone colleagues at Rhyl who were able to help and a £4 ticket was issued called ‘BUS DAY ROVER’ showing it as issued at Chester in addition to a standard train ticket to Rhyl.

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When I arrived at Rhyl, I’m pleased to report the driver of the 51 bus to Denbigh allowed me on without comment after an initial quizzical look at the ticket, presumably helped by the words ‘BUS’ and ‘DAY ROVER’. I don’t think either he or I, or probably anyone knows exactly how far a ‘One Arriva’ ticket could take me as the bus continues all the way to Wrexham as the 51 becomes an X51 at Denbigh, nor if I’d chosen to ride the 11 back towards Flint, whether I could have stayed on the bus through to Chester.

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The Council’s revamp of Rhyl bus station is welcome with some excellent maps and clear information displayed but attention to detail is sadly lacking, particularly keeping things up to date.

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It’s the same old story ad nauseam. Introduce something supposedly innovative in a blaze of hype, bask in the glory of favourable launch headlines and media stories then forget all about it. But the world doesn’t work like that. You have to keep on top of these things; nothing stands still. Yesterday’s hyperbole is today’s stale, unattractive initiative going distinctly off the boil for all to see. Someone like me comes along and it’s all too easy to find fault and criticise whereas continued effort at keeping the pot boiling would reap rich rewards.

Here are a few observations and suggestions:

1. An old architects drawing for the revamped bus station (probably used in the consultation) was still on display in a prominent position fourteen months on – it has numbered bays instead of lettered bays and buses now depart from different stands to the original plan. Take it down and replace with the helpful network route map, assuming that is up to date!

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2. One of Arriva’s routes – the 51 to Denbigh and on to Wrexham – is no longer branded as MAX but the branding appears on the departure information. Remove it. Confusingly the through journeys to Wrexham are operated by Sapphire branded double deckers and the short journeys by standard single decks! A complete brand mishmash.

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3. Keep Rhyl station regularly supplied with bus timetable leaflets for all Arriva bus routes (and the excellent Denbigh County Council produced comprehensive timetable book) and instruct staff based there to ensure the leaflet rack is topped up as required. The rack was bereft of leaflets when I visited sporting just one route, the local Rhyl town routes better known as the 83/83A/84/84A/85.

 

4. ‘One Arriva’ needs proper and sustained marketing all along the North Wales coast not just at Rhyl as the ticket could be used from any of the stations along the 11 and 12 bus routes from Flint to Llandudno as all the ticket states is ‘BUS DAY ROVER’ with no reference to Rhyl on it.

5. Indeed ‘One Arriva’ should be available at every station between Chester and Holyhead where there’s an Arriva bus passing by. The £4 price and sales message would then be much more compelling and attractive.

6. Drop the inconsistent ‘Group of 5’ pricing and have a more usual range of family ticket options including children which would be much more useful for the families who holiday in this area.

7. Have leaflets promoting it at every station along the North Wales coast and make information easy to access on websites for both Arriva Bus and Arriva Trains Wales.

8. Display posters at all stations about bus routes that serve them as per the Rhyl exemplar.

9. Install leaflet racks at every station with supplies of bus timetables as per Rhyl.

10. Put a lot of effort into improving the interchange at Bangor including routing the Caernarfon bound 5C journeys around the station building with much improved signage. This really is a priority.

Sadly none of this will happen and the Rhyl initiative will fizzle out. Firstly managers will observe ticket sales are far too low; not surprising with the lack of high profile promotion, lack of any information, staff unfamiliarity and it only involves one station – a drop in an ocean of possibilities. Secondly Arriva’s involvement in running trains in Wales ends in October as Keolis-Amey start their new franchise. A ‘One Arriva’ ticket suddenly becomes somewhat inappropriately named.

But as luck would have it there’s a ready made alternative already available. The North Wales Rover. It’s been around for some years quietly offering combined bus and train travel for various zonal areas across North Wales. The trouble is you need to be a ticket officianado to know about the options. They’re buried on the National Rail website page on Rangers and Rovers, and even then you have to interrogate a full alphabetical list of every Rover ticket in the country to find the one you want, but at least it does confirm it’s available on both trains and ‘most’ buses. Astonishingly availability on buses doesn’t get a mention at all on the Arriva Trains Wales website. Bizarrely for a bus and train company, you’d think the ticket was only for train passengers, yet one of its unique selling points is you can travel all over North Wales on buses too! Suffice to say there’s absolutely no mention of the ticket at all on the Arriva Bus website!

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Commendably the North Wales Rover is promoted in the excellent Conwy and Denbighshire timetable books I was pleased to recently acquire. And when I bought an all-zones North Wales ticket at Chester station the staff member issued it efficiently and confidentially. I asked if there was a leaflet available to confirm exactly which bus routes it was valid on, or perhaps which are excluded – all you’re told is ‘all trains and most bus routes’ – but sadly there’s no leaflet and nothing to reassure wary passengers.

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I’ve long learned most bus drivers are as unsure as you whether tickets like this are valid so if you present it with a false assured air of confidence you’ll easily win the battle of ticket acceptance wariness. But what a way to run a railway and bus network! Come on; be bold and just state ‘Valid On All Trains And ALL Buses’. And guess what, if you really really promote it properly it just might actually become a big seller and grow the market. After all, Wales could do with a bit of that!

Roger French       26th July 2018

As a postscript, I was intrigued to come across this item in Arriva Group’s update of all that’s happening around the Group.

“A seamless service”; the writer has obviously not tried to buy a ‘One Arriva’ ticket!

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