There’s a new Kid on the Brooke

Saturday 26th October 2019

IMG_1652.jpgTfL’s policy of redeploying buses from Zone 1 routes into the suburbs moved forward a couple more centimetres today with the launch of brand new route 335 linking the expanding residential development at Kidbrooke with Blackheath and North Greenwich for its ‘Millennium Leisure Park’ (basically posh looking sheds with retail, restaurants, cinema etc), Jubilee Line station and ‘O2’ Arena (and a cable car).

It’s the second new suburban route to be introduced since June’s major cull of central London bus routes. I took a ride on the new 301 between Woolwich and Bexleyheath not long after it’s July introduction, but today was the inaugural day for the 335 and I’m delighted to report bus stop flags have had the 335 treatment and timetables have appeared in the cases on each bus stop. Bonus points all round.

IMG_1601.jpg

IMG_1600.jpgIt’s a pity online and bus stop displayed spider maps haven’t been updated, but they seldom are.

IMG_1680.jpg

TfL consulted on proposals to link Kidbrooke with North Greenwich back in April and May. This included two options – either Option 1, a standard all stops route via Rochester Way/Kidbrooke Park Road and Blackheath Royal Standard, or Option 2, a quick non-stop route via the western end of the A2 and A102 shaving at least five minutes off the end to end journey time.

Screen Shot 2019-10-26 at 16.15.03.pngIt turned out 65% supported or strongly supported Option 1 which provides more travel options and supplements routes 132 and 108/422 on common sections to Blackheath and on to North Greenwich, while 50% supported or strongly supported the quicker Option 2 indicating it obviously wasn’t a binary choice. 16% opposed or strongly opposed Option 1, while 20% opposed/strongly opposed Option 2.

So Option 1 had it and luckily that was TfL’s preference too.

The scheduled end to end journey time is around thirty minutes and the route has kicked off with an impressive 12 minute frequency from 05:00 to 00:30 with a 15 minute headway after 21:00 (and all day on Sundays).

IMG_1655.jpg

Seven double decks are being used on a schedule which includes generous stand time – I noticed a bus was on the stand when we arrived at Kidbrooke and one was just pulling on to the departure bus stop at North Greenwich as we pulled in to the arrivals bus stop.

IMG_1777.jpgThe route is operated by Arriva London’s bus garage in Dartford. It hasn’t been tendered in the usual way as it’s compensation for Arriva’s loss of the recently withdrawn route 48 (London Bridge to Walthamstow Central).

A start up route of this kind anywhere but London would come with a major marketing, promotion and PR launch to actively sell the route to passengers. TfL don’t do ‘selling’ though; they hardly do ‘informing’ as mentioned above, spider maps hadn’t been updated to let passengers know where the route goes visually.

IMG_1602.jpgI asked at the Information kiosk in North Greenwich bus station (it was closed on my first pass through at 09:45 but had opened by my return at 11:45) if there was any information or leaflet “about the new bus route to Kidbrooke” and was met with a completely blank look from the staff member behind the glass telling me the information is at the bus stop. However I spotted a supply of timetable leaflets in a rack for Stagecoach’s new M2 route to Canterbury and asked for one, so didn’t come away empty handed and was reassured actively marketing new bus routes is still a thing.

IMG_1772.jpgUnfortunately the marketing suite in the Kidbrooke residential development was closed too and unsurprisingly I couldn’t see any attractive looking leaflets promoting the new 335 bus route inside on the coffee tables.

IMG_1673.jpgI’m sure word will spread about this new travel option for Kidbrookeians especially as without any traffic delays, such as this morning, it only took twenty five minutes to make it down to Kidbrooke and that included a five minute stop in Annesley Road (just north of Kidbrooke) from 10:02 to 10:07 ‘to regulate the service’ – can’t have passengers arriving early at the terminus!

IMG_1628.jpgObviously loadings were low on this first morning and most passengers looked quizzically as the bus pulled up at bus stops served by other bus routes. But buses were carrying between half a dozen to a dozen passengers, although many may have been abstracted from parallel bus routes.

I was a bit surprised the 335 didn’t make a call at Kidbrooke station in either direction this morning (it’s listed on TfL’s website as a stop), but this may be because trains were replaced by buses for engineering works today although there seemed to be plenty of room at the bus stops by the station entrance and I spotted a bus on route 178 coming out of the slip road as we passed by.

IMG_1738.jpg

IMG_1756.jpg

The massive Kidbrooke development straggles both sides of Kidbrooke Park Road and the 335, like the other longer standing (thirty years) Kidbrooke terminating bus route B16 (from Blexleyheath) serves both areas by a loop arrangement as shown in the map above. There’s also route 178 which only serves the eastern side, except not today, as it passes through from Lewisham to Woolwich and was double decked only last December.

IMG_1664.jpg

Route 335 will normally travel around the eastern loop both towards the terminal stop on the western side and on the return journey to North Greenwich, except it’s a shame repairs to a minor road, Ryan Close, on the eastern side during the past week meant today’s inaugural operation had to miss out this section of route.

IMG_1660.jpg

IMG_1668.jpgI had a wander around and it seemed to me a bit overkill with only minor repairs on half the road although it’s likely the roadworks were coming to an end. Despite it having been bus less for a week I found passengers waiting at stops expecting a bus to come around.

IMG_1669.jpg

IMG_1672.jpg

I was kept quite busy letting everyone know there were no buses – few people bother to read notices placed in timetable cases.

IMG_1665.jpg

IMG_1663.jpg

Back at the Kidbrooke terminus on the western side, it looked like some ‘officials’ were getting their photograph taken in front of a laying over bus to mark the auspicious occasion of a first day launch.

IMG_1650.jpgIt also looked as though Arriva’s Dartford garage has added an allocation of ferry cars to whisk drivers up and down the A2 for meal and duty reliefs.

IMG_1659.jpg

And I thought it was a missed opportunity that the bus shelter at the terminal point didn’t have any promotional information about the new 335 nor even an out of date spider map. Perhaps this will change in the coming weeks.

IMG_1657.jpg

IMG_1653.jpg

The area known as Kidbrooke used to comprise a large housing development called Ferrier Estate which was built between 1968 and 1972 and sadly gained a reputation for crime and a lack of social cohesion. Controversially the whole area was flattened between 2009 and 2012 and is now being slowly rebuilt with 4,400 new homes, 300,000 square foot of commercial and retail space, a school and parkland.

IMG_1674.jpgIt’s pleasing to see TfL have resisted being taken in by Berkeley Homes’ misappropriate branding of the area by calling it Kidbrooke Village, preferring to stick with the long standing plain Kidbrooke on bus destination blinds.

IMG_1713.jpg

There’s nothing ‘Village” about Kidbrooke. Just look at the scale of property development now underway which even includes some secure underground parking.

IMG_1687.jpg

It will be interesting to see whether residents opt for the new route 335 and Jubilee Line option of reaching London Bridge, especially as southeastern can whisk passengers there in a third of the time in just sixteen minutes from the adjacent station.

IMG_1671.jpgIt’s only fair to point out the development does also include some tastefully landscaped parkland, and to end on a positive, it is excellent to see a new bus service being introduced at such a high frequency and still relatively early on in the development.

IMG_1661.jpg

IMG_1670.jpg

Roger French

Xpress Dundee done, (and Airlink)

Wednesday 16th October 2019

IMG_1123.jpgXplore Dundee, the National Express owned bus company in Dundee, launched a brand new airport express coach service back in June linking the city directly with Edinburgh Airport via the A90 and M90.

IMG_1120.jpgFour months on I thought it was a good time to take a look and see how it was doing so took a ride north from the airport earlier this morning and was pleasantly surprised and suitably impressed at how well it’s doing.

Airport services are notoriously hard to build custom for as they lack regular customers day in and day out; it takes a huge effort to get the service known in the marketplace and persuade passengers flying in and out of the airport to change their travel habits.

IMG_1122.jpgThis airport service, numbered X90 (although not prominently displayed), runs seven days a week every ninety minutes with an end to end eighty minute scheduled journey time meaning two coaches are needed to run the very intensive 24/7 service – with just one return journey missing in the middle of the night.

IMG_1232.jpgFares are reasonable for an airport service of this kind at £16 single and £22 return with advanced booking rates of £12 single/£18 return and other discounts for students and families. Scottish concessionary passholders travel free.

The X90 departs from stance E right outside the entrance to Edinburgh Airport’s terminal building, although the shelter is dominated by advertisements and promotional posters for First Glasgow’s route 600 I wrote about back in July.

IMG_1126.jpgThere is a timetable for the X90 displayed together with fares information.

IMG_1106.jpgI arrived in good time this morning to watch the 08:20 arrival from Dundee which came in at 08:12 and an impressive 22 passengers alighted.

IMG_1125.jpgThe driver supervised the unloading of luggage from the lockers and then got straight back in the ‘cab’ to load up the twelve of us waiting for the departure at 08:30.

IMG_1127.jpgI was a bit surprised to see a farebox by the entrance door of the coach and was relieved to see a contactless Ticketer ticket machine by the driver who confirmed cash was taken (as well as bank cards) and put in the box and reassured me change was available if needed.

IMG_1130.jpgIt all seemed a bit of an odd arrangement if drivers carry cash for change giving to have a farebox. Still, none of the eleven other passengers paid cash either as most had an advance ticket or a concessionary pass so the farebox was an irrelevance.

We left spot on time at 08:30 with a local radio station playing quietly on the driver’s in-cab radio and made our way via the A8 to the M90 and were soon crossing the new Forth Road Bridge.

IMG_1135.jpgThe road layout means it’s easier for Dundee bound buses and coaches to use this route rather than the newly classified ‘bus and coach only’ old Fourth Road Bridge.

IMG_1128.jpgThe coach was presentable and comfortable. Leg room was adequate. There was a toilet on board but no usb sockets nor wi-fi showing its age but it was a smooth non-stop journey, literally, all the way to Dundee where we arrived 70 minutes later at 09:40.

I noticed we passed the southbound coach on the M90 after exactly 35 minutes travelling indicating the 80 minute scheduled timing looks to include a generous ten minute allowance for delays. We hit the outskirts of Dundee exactly one hour after leaving the airport at 09:30.

IMG_1148.jpgAs we arrived at the terminus in Dundee which is at a stop midway between the train station and main city centre bus stops, there was already a good crowd of about 18 passengers waiting to board the next departure at 10:00.

IMG_1150.jpgThe arriving driver jumped out to help unload luggage for those from the airport and load luggage of waiting passengers while a fresh driver got in the cab to check tickets calling out those pre-booked should come on board first. It seemed a slick operation.

Twitter followers with local knowledge advise the service has been doing so well that duplicates have run in the afternoons which is very encouraging to hear.

IMG_E1258.jpgXplore Dundee certainly seem to be on to a winner with the X90 and a few more months of growth will no doubt see a frequency increase to hourly – certainly by next summer I would think. It’s heartening to see a new market being developed successfully especially as I didn’t detect a major spend on promotional collateral for the X90.

Screen Shot 2019-10-16 at 19.30.32.png

Indeed I was flummoxed trying to find out about the service on the Xplore Dundee website with nothing about the service on the home page and to find the timetable I needed to know the route number for the Find A Timetable tab, which I didn’t know, so first had to Google search that!

IMG_1107.jpgAt Edinburgh airport I noticed when exiting both the domestic and international arrivals just past a stylised map of the Airlink network you’re directed to the exit towards the tram terminus and then have to walk back via the bus stops for Lothian’s 200/400 and 100 Airlink routes before reaching the X90 stance.

IMG_1111.jpgAt least the X90 is listed on the information displays inside the terminal though, if you look hard enough.

IMG_1112.jpgI also noticed if you turn right from arrivals rather than as directed left, you reach a more convenient exit right by stance E and interestingly pass by a ScotRail ticket vending machine (TVM) which is programmed to sell tickets to all stations and checking Dundee brought up an inclusive bus and train ticket using the Stagecoach 747 to Inverkeithing on its route to Halbeath Park and Ride. Ironically the TVM idle screen makes reference to ‘Xpress’ – the branding used by Xplore Dundee!

IMG_1113.jpgI doubt many passengers would spot this TVM, let alone use it for what is now a longer and more expensive journey to Dundee involving a change from bus to train so perhaps not surprising the X90 is doing so well.

IMG_1131.jpg

Whilst at the airport last night and this morning I also tried out Lothian’s new tri-axle E400 buses recently introduced on their Airlink 100 route which runs frequently between the airport and city centre.

IMG_1119.jpgThese really are massive beasts – more tri-axle mega sized Enviro 400s – and their new livery definitely gives them a classier presence than previously.

IMG_1092.jpgI travelled into Edinburgh yesterday evening and enjoyed the mood lighting upstairs until spotlights suddenly came on right above my head sitting in the front nearside giving a feeling of being rather under a floodlight – especially when they got even brighter when we stopped at a bus stop and the doors opened.

IMG_1095.jpgThe new interiors have done away with tables in favour of more plush seating with a deep red patterned moquette which looked a little dated when I first saw it but grew on me as I travelled and the seats were certainly very comfortable…

IMG_1101.jpg….except the back row of five on the upper deck which were far too upright and very uncomfortable.

IMG_1097.jpgIMG_1099.jpgAt the front of the upper deck there are five single seats on the nearside which makes for a larger circulation area at the top of the stairs.

IMG_1102.jpgThe lower deck has a large offside luggage rack as before, although I understand there are plans to extend this as it’s slightly smaller than previously existed. It looked pretty big to me but I know passengers are wedded to more and larger luggage in their travels than ever before. The buses also have centre exit doors.

IMG_1103.jpgAs with Lothian’s previous batch of tri-axles there are two large monitors at the front of the upper deck with one giving next stop announcements including, uniquely, sign language as the audio plays out, while the other has more generic marketing material as well as airline departures from the airport and estimated arrival times at upcoming stops by the bus, although last night this was erroneously showing the next journey rather than the current one.

IMG_1086.jpgI travelled back to the airport earlier this morning just as it was getting light so had the opportunity to see the livery close up. It’s classy.

IMG_1117.jpgIt’s definitely an improvement on what went before and I noticed the new brand colours have been followed through to signs and posters at the airport as well as the ticket office by the departure stance.

IMG_1116.jpgIMG_1115.jpg

I bought my £7.50 return ticket, which is good value, on Lothian’s mobile app and luckily spotted these are only valid once activated for five minutes so held back activating until I was confident the bus doors were opening and I could step aboard.

IMG_E1080.jpgUnlike First’s route 500 from Glasgow airport which takes the motorway and runs fast into the city centre. Lothian’s Airlink runs limited stop along the A8 past Edinburgh Zoo and Murrayfield stadium among the stops observed. Journey time is half an hour and it’s a fairly swish ride utilising bus lanes for much of the way.

I would imagine the interior could feel slightly claustrophobic on a very busy bus at peak times, but both my journeys last night and this morning were lightly loaded and I enjoyed smooth and comfortable rides on two very impressive looking buses.

IMG_E1132.jpg

Roger French

OS at 90

Monday 30th September 2019

IMG_0171.jpg
Waiting for the ‘off’ on Saturday morning from our Southampton hotel

The Omnibus Society marked its 90th anniversary over the weekend with its annual Presidential Weekend offering a brilliant programme of events based in the Solent area. Around a hundred members from all over the country attended the weekend hosted by this year’s president, Andrew Wickham, managing director of Go South Coast.

It’s a fantastic achievement for the OS to have reached its 90th anniversary and to mark the occasion a special souvenier publication has been produced charting its development from formation in 1929 by such legends as Charles F Klapper and Charles E Lee through to the present day.

IMG_0344.jpg

Throughout this time dedicated volunteers have recorded route and timetable developments of the country’s bus network from Shetland to Lands End as well as highlighting how bus types have changed through the decades. A bi-monthly national magazine, localised regional branch bulletins as well as regular meetings, visits and tours held around the country ensure members are kept well informed and receive an outstanding service from the modest annual subscription.

The Omnibus Society is held in great respect and regard by senior professional bus managers and directors with a keen interest in the industry. I can speak from personal experience to confirm it’s an absolute privilege and honour to be asked to hold the prestigeous role of President of the Society for a year and it was impressive to see eleven past presidents gathered in Southampton for the Presidential Dinner on Saturday evening with Sir Peter Hendy CBE (President in 2004) giving a forthright and highly pertinent address setting out his thoughts on the bus industry.

IMG_E0281.jpg
Past Presidents included 1988 Trevor Smallwood (Badgerline); 1996 Peter Shipp (EYMS Group); 1997 Charles Marshall (OK Travel); 1999 Stephen Morris (Buses magazine); 2005 John Owen (Thamesdown); 2009 Philip Kirk (Oxford Bus); 2010 Mark Howarth (Western Greyhound); 2012 Roger French OBE (Brighton & Hove); 2017 James Freeman (First West of England); 2019 Andrew Wickham (Go South Coast) and ….
IMG_0283.jpg
…. 2004 Sir Peter Hendy CBE (Transport for London).

A recent development for the Omnibus Society has been the establishment of a sister charity, the Bus Archive, under the expert stewardship of Philip Kirk, my former colleague managing director at Oxford Bus, now also retired. This has combined the treasure trove of historic ‘official’ documents and archives from bus companies previously looked after by the Kithead Trust with the huge collection of timetables and other archives and memorabilia held by the OS. It’s a textbook example of collaboration between professionals with direct industry experience and those with a much welcome passionate interest in buses.

This year’s Presidential Weekend has been a huge success with superb organisation and a varied and interesting programme for all of us attending. Many thanks to Andrew Wickham and his team for being so patient and giving up their time to show us around Bluestar, Hants & Dorset Trim and Southern Vectis’s premises in Eastleigh and Newport, Phil and Gareth Blair who were on hand to share the history of Xelabus with us (based next door to Bluestar in Eastleigh) as well as the volunteers at the Isle of Wight Bus Museum who gave up their Sunday morning to show us around its extensive collection now housed in the former Southern Vectis bus garage in Ryde. We also had a fascinating Saturday afternoon exploring the extensive maintenance works on the former British Rail site at Eastleigh now run by Arlington Fleet Group Ltd.

Thanks also to the OS volunteers who organised the admin and I understand the heroes are David Grimmet and Michael Meilton who deserve a big pat on the back.

Today’s programme included a visit to the Eclipse busway between Gosport and Fareham operated by First Hampshire.

Here’s a selection of photographs from Saturday and Sunday to give a taste of the fascinating programme we enjoyed. I should also say a sincere thanks to those of you who took the trouble to let me know how much you enjoy reading these blogposts; it was lovely to meet you and heartening to know you get as much pleasure reading these words as I do writing them.

There are no photographs from the Arlington visit as we were asked not to publish any in a public forum, but I’ve copied one or two from their website.

IMG_0174.jpg
One of our two chariots from Southampton to Eastleigh was this former Thamesdown Northern Counties bodied Daimler CVG6.
IMG_0175.jpg
With the other this excellent example of the Bristol VRT with ECW bodywork which were once prolific in National Bus Company’s subsidiaries’ fleets.
IMG_0216.jpg
Bluestar is based in Eastleigh and also runs an extensive network of routes under the unilink brand for the University of Southampton, also open to any passengers wanting to travel.

IMG_0179.jpg

IMG_0188.jpg

IMG_E0207.jpg
Hants & Dorset trim, unsurprisingly has a huge selection of trims – this is just a small selection of moquettes for many bus and train companies.
IMG_0193.jpg
Hants & Dorset Trim also do major body repair work and repaints. This £140K investment in a series of three scaffolding set ups enables staff to work safely at height on upper bodies and roofs.

IMG_0194.jpg

IMG_0203.jpg
I was personally delighted to see Andy Collins, who began his career at Brighton & Hove as an apprentice, is now one of the leading managers at Hants & Dorset Trim and doing a brilliant job.
IMG_0235.jpg
Nexxt door to the Bluestar premises in Eastleigh is independently owned Xelabus the smart famiy run company by Phil and Gareth Blair.
IMG_0311.jpg
The vehicles from the Isle of Wight Bus Museum’s collection to take us around the Isle of Wight on Sunday included….
IMG_0300.jpg
… this ECW bodied Bristol K …..
IMG_0288.jpg
…this Bristol LH with “DP” seats…
IMG_0297.jpg
…and this Bristol RE in Southern Vectis “privatisation” livery.
IMG_0296.jpg
Also on hand to take us from East Cowes to Ryde was this former Southern Vectis Bristol VRT now sporting a livery for Damory.
IMG_0303.jpg
Some displays from inside the Isle of Wight Bus Museum….

IMG_0305.jpg

IMG_0304.jpg

IMG_0290.jpg

IMG_0318.jpg
No visit to the Island would be complete wihout a ride on the 1938 “heritage” former London Underground Bakerloo Line trains, or should I say, train, as there’s now only one serviceable train left on the Island Line pending delivery of the just announced refurbished Class 484 (former District Line trains).
IMG_0331.jpg
And in Newport garage it was lovely to see ‘The Old Girl” – Southern Vectis’s 80 year old Bristol K – still going strong
IMG_0325.jpg
Southern Vectis run an open top fleet bassed at the Mountjoy outstation close to Newport.
IMG_0294.jpg
Southern Vectis also runs an extensive network of school contracts all over the Island under the Vectis Blue brand. Here some are based alongside the Isle of Wight Bus Museum in Ryde….
IMG_0329.jpg
… with others at the Mountjoy outstation…..
IMG_0322.jpg
… where we had an enjoyable stop off …..
IMG_0326.jpg
and also saw this tree-lopper with pertinent wording on the side.

Screen Shot 2019-09-30 at 17.16.17.png

Screen Shot 2019-09-30 at 17.15.24.png
A smidgeon of what goes on at the Arlington Eastleigh site.

Roger French

 

 

Electric shock on rear seats

Thursday 26th September 2019

IMG_0165.jpgMetroline, the Singapore based ComfortDelGro owned bus company, which operates a large network of bus routes for TfL across north and north-west London has been in the news recently as they roll out an expensive new fleet of 67 all electric battery-rechargeable double deck buses. Having read glowing coverage in the trade press, I decided to take a zero emission bus ride with industry colleagues yesterday afternoon.

In keeping with Metroline’s policy of dual sourcing their fleet from manufacturers they’ve added interest by buying 36 BYD ADL Enviro400 buses for route 43 which operates out of Holloway garage and 31 Optare Metrodeckers for route 134 from Potters Bar garage.

IMG_0164.jpgThe buses are being introduced gradually on to both routes as they are delivered and passed fit for service. The first BYD/ADL bus began operating on the 43 between Friern Barnet and London Bridge on 1st July with that route currently about 80% converted to all electric running. The first Metrodecker appeared a few weeks later on the 134 (North Finchley to Warren Street) on 19th August with that route currently having around 20% electric bus operation.

IMG_0115.jpgIntroducing electric buses is no easy task; it’s not like topping up your mobile phone battery by just plugging it into any handy three-pin socket overnight. Recharging a fleet of buses can mean a whole new sub-station and associated infrastructure having to be installed, as happened at Holloway garage back in 2017 when Metroline first began running BYD ADL Enviro200 electric single deck buses on route 46.

This entailed removing the roof from part of a building, knocking part of it down, concrete piling to a great depth and then rebuilding around a newly installed transformer. Several miles of overhead cabling also had to be installed.

It’s been a bit simpler at Potters Bar as the Optare Metrodeckers have chargers mounted on the vehicles which need just a small plug on the wall, whereas the BYDs need large five-foot charging stations. Another benefit at Potters Bar is a sub-station with enough capacity was already in place close by.

Another issue is timescales. Tender bids to run bus routes are submitted to TfL many months in advance and typically around a year’s notice is given to a successful operator. But liaising with UK Power Networks to get the charging infrastructure upgraded, any necessary planning permissions and everything else that’s needed to get started can take up to two years. For example at Holloway two kilometers of road had to be dug up to run a cable from Archway down to the garage – the work is still not complete so in the meantime, Metroline have had to secure other power from the grid.

Each bus takes about two and a half hours to fully charge and then has a range of between 150 and 200 miles, enough for a typical day’s operation on routes 43 and 134. The charging process must be quite labour intensive swapping buses round every few hours.

Bearing in mind all this, it’s not surprising to read Ian Foster, Metroline’s Group Engineering Director, explaining in the trade press that once infrastructure costs are factored in electric buses are “nowhere near commercially viable”.

All the more so when looking at the purchase price of a new electric bus compared to a Euro 6 diesel alternative. Electric single decks are currently priced around £340K versus £165K for a typical diesel equivalent, so bearing in mind a diesel double decker is £230K, the price for an electric double decker must be coming in at least approaching £400K if not more. That’s a lot of money; and a lot of passenger journeys needed to pay for it.

So how does a £400K bus rate when taking a ride.

IMG_0101.jpgFirst impressions of the new Optare Metrodecker were very favourable with a brightly lit entrance area in front of the driver’s cab.

IMG_0102.jpgBut just past that is a rather odd back lit panel on the stairs which only serves to highlight the ‘official’ (very) small print notices. I would have throught something better could have been arranged for this eye-cathing welcome space?

IMG_0103.jpg

The bus gives a smooth ride and is definitely impressively quiet. Not only because there’s no engine noise to speak of but it was good to see there were no rattle noises either. Travelling upstairs gave a pleasant journey, but if I didn’t know, I don’t think I would know I was on an electric bus. But maybe that doesn’t matter.

IMG_0140.jpg

The BYD ADL was similarly quiet in the ‘engine department’ but did have a slightly annoying rattle or two coming from the front offside window housing …

IMG_0145.jpg… and some of the workmanship around this area was noticeably slapdash on both the offside and nearside.

IMG_0146.jpg

IMG_0147.jpg

The ambiance and decor is fairly typical for a new London bus on both bus types. The BYD ADL was noticeably lighter by using pale blue formica for the side panels and a large rear window upstairs ….

IMG_0141.jpg… whereas the Metrodecker uses a darker material for the plastic type panels….

IMG_0106.jpgAs befits London it’s all a bit clinical and utilitarian – not particularly welcoming – and there are some odd mouldings here and there on the Metrodecker …

IMG_0110.jpgBearing in mind the amount of money spent on this whole electric project – the infrastructure and the vehicles themselves – why oh why is the seat comfort and layout on both vehicles so poor. It reminds me of Thameslink – where billions have been invested in infrastructure improvements and new trains yet seat comfort for passengers is dire.

Take a look at the rear seat arrangements on the Optare Metrodecker below….

IMG_0108.jpgIMG_0107.jpg… not exactly inviting on that back row of five is it? And not much room for legs when all four of the double facing seats are occupied but, that’s pretty good compared to the abomination at the rear of the BYD ADL described below.

The Optare Metrodecker has 63 seats compared to the BYD ADL offering 67 seats, but frankly when you see the rearmost four (of the five) seats in the lower deck that extra capacity is of no benefit.

IMG_0161.jpg

IMG_0155.jpg

In fact I’d go as far as to say, they’re the worst lower deck seats I’ve ever encountered on a bus; and this on probably the most expensive to manufacture bus I’ve travelled on!

IMG_0160.jpg

The above photographs show not only the restrictive legroom but also the way the seats have been shoehorned in between the rear gubbins of the bus and the wheel arch.

I can only assume the designer has never travelled on a bus. Can you imagine a car manufacturer selling a car with rear seats configured like this? It would be much better to reduce the seating capacity by four than subject passengers to such contortions. Impressive, it isn’t – any quodos from taking a zero emission journey is lost by the severe discomfort of the ride in those seats.

One other comparison between the two buses are the forced air vents along the cove panels in the BYD ADL, which bring a degree of air flow (there are also opening windows) but are a little noisy when in full flow mode.

IMG_0144.jpg

These were absent in the Metrodecker.

Both bus types have usb sockets fitted to the rear of seats which is a welcome development for London’s buses and hopefully will become standard, even though many journeys in the Capital are fairly short in nature, it’s a handy facility for those with ‘battery anxiety’ when taking a longer journey.

IMG_0105.jpg

It’s great to see investment in different bus propulsion and steps being taken to address the important issue of air quality and the DfT’s financial support for such initiatives is very welcome but I remain sceptical whether these schemes will succeed in encouraging more passengers to use buses unless as much effort is put into improving the interior comfort as into infrastructure and charging resources at garages.

Roger French

 

 

Toon Time

Friday 23rd August 2019

IMG_7637.jpg

It’s always a pleasure to spend some time on Tyneside.

Open tops

IMG_7564.jpgYesterday I sampled the new open-top sightseeing tour introduced this summer by Go North East and branded as ‘toontour’. There’s been a bit of a change round on the open-top tour front on Tyneside this year. Stagecoach pulled out of the City Sightseeing franchise with Go North East filling the void and confidently using their own unique local brand for the service rather than paying to use the familiar red and yellow City Sightseeing livery.

IMG_7628.jpgProbably a wise decision; the Best Impressions designed livery looks great and it very much does what it says on the buses.Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 18.43.35.pngTwo buses provide a half hourly frequency between 10:00 and 17:00 on a circuit taking in the sites of both central Newcastle and south of the Tyne on the Gateshead side including the Baltic and Sage buildings ..IMG_7640.jpg…and a great view of the Millenium Bridge, which unusually was open as I passed by yesterday.IMG_7646.jpgThe full tour takes just under an hour and has a very informative commentary which can be easily heard over the bus PA system. There’s an attractive and informative leaflet widely available with map, times, prices and descriptions of the attractions including some discounts. There’s also detail about Go North East bus routes to other tourist towns and cities in the region (eg Durham and Hexham).

A 24 hour ‘toontour’ ticket costs £8 or £12.50 including travel on all Go North East buses. A reduced £6 price is available for concessionary pass holders and students. It’s good value and if you have a spare hour the tour is well recommended.IMG_7544.jpg

Meanwhile Stagecoach have redeployed their ousted City Sightseeing open top buses on a new tour linking North Tyneside with Tynemouth and Whitley Bay branded as ‘The Seasider’.IMG_7768.jpg The bus seats might still be in CS colours but the buses have been repainted into ‘The Seasider’ branding with a pale sky blue and yellow beach livery which strangely makes no reference to the route taken or destinations served.IMG_7718.jpgScreen Shot 2019-08-23 at 19.33.33.pngThe Seasider route also runs half hourly from 10:00 to 16:20 and is more in the style of a traditional seaside open-top service than a city-sightseeing operation reflected in the cheaper fares of £2.50 single or £4 all-day with concessionary passes fully valid. It’s a weekends mid-April to mid-September venture with daily operation during school holidays.IMG_7706.jpgBuses pick up conveniently from the bus turning circle just a short walk from the cross-Tyne passenger ferry’s North Shields landing stage and the route stops outside North Shields, Tynemouth and Whitley Bay (photgraphed below) Metro stations.IMG_7739.jpgIt’s a great half hour ride offering some delightful seafront views on this popular stretch of coastline.IMG_7714.jpg I hope Stagecoach are having a good summer with the venture and repeats it next year.IMG_7774.jpg

New interchange

IMG_7652.jpgI took the opportunity on my journey on the Metro between these two open-top rides to check out the brand new transport interchange which opened earlier this month at the end of the line at the South Shields terminus.

This £21 million investment by Nexus has involved moving the elevated Metro station terminating platform about 100 yards further west (just visible in the above photo and below more clearly) so it can provide a direct link via escalators and a lift to the new bus station which has been built immediately below at ground level.IMG_7653.jpgBus station provision in PTE/Combined Authority areas is usually exemplary and it was great to see a brand new facility offering an airy and clean area to wait for a bus with a large passenger circulation area and seats for each front-on departure bay.IMG_E7660.jpgIMG_7665.jpgIMG_7667.jpgReal time departures were shown in the concourse and at each bay but I was a bit surprised there were no toilets; the Travel Shop was a closed-in talk-through-window affair and the only retail offering was a Greggs (which at least you could walk into rather than be served at a security window).

IMG_7657.jpgIMG_7655.jpgMeanwhile upstairs the Metro platform offered scant protection from the elements although there is a large area well under cover between the top of the escalators and the ticket barriers which would provide shelter waiting for the train to arrive before ‘turning round’ and heading back.IMG_7659.jpgPerhaps finances were tight and these extras got culled.

Ferry cross the Tyne

IMG_7672.jpgI took a ride across the Tyne on the passenger ferry which is just under a ten minute walk from the South Shields transport interchange.IMG_7675.jpgGerry Marsden has made the equivalent Mersey ferry world famous with his dulcet tones blasting out from the vessel’s speakers as you cross; I half expected Lindisfarne’s ‘Fog on the Tyne’ on this trip but it was all quiet on the impressively quick seven minute crossing.IMG_7677.jpgIt almost took as long to load all the passengers on the pay-as-you board system!IMG_7680.jpgThe ferry runs every half an hour with a bargain fare of £1.30 single and a range of other tickets which on first reading can appear quite complex. Run by Nexus, my Metro day ticket was valid for travel so that was a welcome bonus.IMG_7669.jpgIMG_7670.jpgOn the North Shields side as well as the Seasider open-top, Nexus fund a half hourly route 333 which provides convenient timetabled connections to the ferry a short walk from the landing stage. Ferry tickets (including my Metro day ticket) are valid as far as the nearby North Shields Metro station which is handy as it’s a bit further to walk than on the South Shields side.IMG_7686.jpg

Hadrian’s Country

IMG_8213.jpgIt’s been a few years since I had a ride on the splendidly scenic and appropriately, yet oddly, numbered bus route AD122 which links Hexham with Haltwhistle along the eerily straight B6318 (thank you, Romans) adjacent to Hadrians Wall.IMG_8335.jpg

IMG_8328.jpgTwo buses in a bespoke livery provide the hourly service (with some lunchtime gaps) daily from mid April to the end of September. It’s a popular service with tourists, campers and walkers enjoying this fascinating part of Northumberland with its rich history across a number of easily accessible sites to explore along the route.IMG_8367.jpgI caught the first journey from Hexham at 08:35 this morning. This runs direct to Haltwhistle using the A69, only deviating off it to call at Barden Mill, but as a 685 runs at a similar time it wasn’t surprising I was the only passenger on what is effectively an in service positioning journey.IMG_8268.jpgIn Haltwhistle an obvious regular passenger with shopping bag got on for the return journey to Hexham even though a 685 had departed a few minutes earlier and would have got her to Hexham in 36 minutes instead of the 57 minutes we took. Still I don’t blame her as the views along the AD122 route are stunning and the commentary over the bus PA provides a fascinating insight into the sites and sights the route passes.IMG_8337.jpgWe picked up and dropped off nine passengers at various points along the route and it was just me and my fellow shopper who travelled the full route.IMG_8324.jpgA few were obviously camping in the area while others looked as though they’d left a car nearby and were taking the bus to then walk back.

There’s a great leaflet available giving full details not only of route AD122 and the places it serves but also timetables and information about connecting bus routes at Hexham and Haltwhistle.IMG_8313.jpgIMG_8341.jpgThe two buses have a fantastic display of leaflets and information on board too, and I was impressed to see these being topped up on our arrival back at Hexham bus station.IMG_8370.jpgAD122 is part funded by Northumberland County Council, the Northumberland National Park Authority as well as a commercial input, at their risk, by Go North East. It’s an excellent example of partnership working which other county councils and National Park Authorities should take notice of. Well done to everyone involved.

Hexham bus station

IMG_8264.jpgHexham bus station is a smart functional, if somewhat clinical, affair opened just three years ago. There are three departure bays on the north side (as well as some layover space) with two on the south, roadside.

A waiting room is available with leaflet racks and departure screens at the western end of the central building off a short covered passage midway along…..IMG_8171.jpgIMG_8176.jpgIMG_8173.jpg….. and three individual toilet cubicles (signed for male/female/accessible) on the eastern side …..IMG_8373.jpg…… which also has a number of anonymous doors creating a bit of an unfriendly impression – one door leads into a staff facility which drivers accessed and the leaflet rack filler-up man tooIMG_8170.jpgIMG_8156.jpgBus timetables weren’t displayed by each stand but instead were grouped together in one place, stuck on the large waiting room windows.IMG_8372.jpgReal time departures were showing in the waiting room and by each stop on the north facing three bays but not on the two south facing roadside bays.IMG_8378.jpgThe bus station is used by Go North East buses in their localised branding for ‘Tynedale’ routes ….IMG_8137.jpg….. as well as the half hourly all stops ‘Tyne Valley Ten’ (route 10) to Newcastle (84 minute journey time)….IMG_8210.jpg….the semi limited stop hourly ‘Tynedale Express’ route X84 to Newcastle (65 minute journey time) and the hourly route X85 very limited stop (48 minute journey time)….IMG_8021.jpgGo North East also run a more rural 4-5 journeys a day route 74 taking 84 minutes between Hexham and Newcastle.

There’s yet another route to Newcastle (and westbound to Carlisle) – the infamous 685 jointly operated by Arriva North East and Stagecoach Cumbria. The 685 runs hourly and takes 51 minutes to Newcastle. I saw an Arriva single deck in the Best Impressions designed Cross Pennine livery ….IMG_8267.jpg…. but the following bus was in standard livery …IMG_8320…. as was a Stagecoach single decker showing its age too.IMG_8275.jpgIMG_8379.jpgStagecoach does have at least one double deck sporting Cross Pennine branding but Twitter comments indicated this is not always allocated or possibly a temporary diversion on route is currently making a double decker unsuitable. Either way it’s a shame this prestigious route with its inspiring brand is not more consistently promoted.

IMG_8104.jpgIt’s also a bit odd Northumberland County Council have left the two former shelters and bus stop flags in situ at the old bus station in Hexham (closer to the town centre too). Three years on, it’s now looking somewhat forlorn and unloved.IMG_8109.jpgIMG_8108.jpgAt least the timetables have been removed and I know Martijn Gilbert will have in hand the removal of the poster heralding the new look X84/X85 which must date back to over five years ago, at least!IMG_8371.jpgIt’s a shame to see the building in such a dilapidated state and sadly gives public transport a poor image while those shelters remain.IMG_8107.jpgBefore leaving Hexham it’s worth noting since May Northern have improved the frequency of trains on the line to Newcastle with two semi-fast trains an hour taking just 31 minutes and a third train an hour stopping at all stations taking 43 minutes. Journey time from Hexham to Carlisle is 52-56 minutes (twice an hour) compared to 84 minutes on the 685.

All in all there’s quite a choice of travel along the Tyne between Newcastle and Hexham (and on to Carlisle).

I bounced along on a Pacer on a stopper from Newcastle to Hexham last night which was well loaded leaving Newcastle at 17:55 ….IMG_8101.jpg…. and returned later this morning on the fast X85 taking the same journey time which was also a well loaded and busy journey.IMG_8389.jpgI enjoyed both journey experiences.

I’m always puzzled by the interior layout at the rear of these Mercedes – how the designer at Merc HQ thought it was a good idea to have six rear facing seats (including one pair split level on the nearside) and three inward facers baffles me.IMG_8397.jpg

Liveries and brands

Back in Newcastle you can’t help but notice the variety of liveries used by Go North East.

I’m pleased this policy is now changing as it makes good sense to bring these disparate brands together in a more logical family – particularly the new X-lines brand now being introduced for ‘fast direct bus links’ and I wrote about back in May.

IMG_7443I kept an eye out for the latest vesion now applied to one bus on the ‘Castles express’ route X21 to replace what I regard as one of the worst liveries ever put on a bus …IMG_7937.jpg… but didn’t spot it this time. The photographs of it circulating on social media a few days ago look like it provides a huge improvement.IMG_8031.jpgI’m sure this other ‘angel’ atrocity will also be revised and replaced as Martijn Gilbert’s new broom continues to sweep through Go North East.

Meanwhile Arriva North East have a plethora of route branded liveries for their routes heading north from Haymarket bus station. They’re on both new and original MAX and Sapphire brands as well as the “eco” type green branding and it’s all a bit of a muddle particularly as the depot allocation staff seem to pay no heed to the importance of getting the right buses on the right routes.

I lost count of the number of wrongly allocated buses I spotted in a short time – I could fill this blog with photographic examples….

IMG_8407.jpgIMG_7816.jpgIMG_7875.jpg…. so it was good to see a more generalised approach to branding ….IMG_8038.jpgIMG_8054.jpg… which I hope is not just for one or two spare buses! If you’re going to do route branding you must do it properly … or not at all.

Finally to end on a positive note, it was hugely impressive and welcome to see excellent displays facilitated by Nexus of timetable leaflets from all three bus companies available at bus stations in Newcastle and some other locations.IMG_8399.jpgIMG_8401.jpgIMG_8398.jpgWell done everyone. Other PTE areas please note.

All we need now is a network map or three!

Roger French

Britain’s most southerly bus stop…

… and other west Cornwall travels.

Thursday 8th August 2019

IMG_6670.jpgHaving travelled up to Cape Wrath last month to visit mainland Britain’s most northerly bus terminus I thought it was time to take a look at the most southerly bus stop.

It’s located at The Green, Lizard, just north of Lizard Point itself, where First Kernow’s route L1 terminates.Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 11.33.46.pngScreen Shot 2019-08-08 at 11.35.20.pngRoute L1 runs almost hourly from Helston down to The Lizard (there are a couple of two-hour gaps in the morning timetable) with most journeys projected back to start from Redruth Station’s Platform 3.

IMG_6494.jpgThat’s where I began my travels, having taken GWR’s Night Riviera sleeper from Paddington on Monday evening.

The train arrived on schedule into Redruth at 07:22 giving a generous connection time to include breakfast before the 08:00 departure on route L1, except Redruth’s one of those towns that remains firmly closed at that time of the morning. Not an open café or coffee shop to be had.

The upside was it gave time to meet Redruth Station’s gorgeous friendly resident cat, Hector….IMG_6511.jpgIMG_6519.jpg….. and admire the signs directing passengers to the bus stop outside the station ‘for Helston & Culdrose’, quaintly called Platform 3 complete with a ‘3’ in former BR corporate style.

IMG_6441.jpgIMG_6446.jpgIMG_7158.jpgThis is from the time the innovative Truronian bus company branded the route The Helston Branch Line in the 1990s which is still displayed on the bus stop.IMG_6449.jpg

National Rail show bus departures to Helston from Redruth and there are fares in the rail database to ‘Helston Bus’ (way below First Bus current prices I’m sure) but you can’t buy one from the ticket office or from a ticket vending machine so it’s all a bit anachronistic as usual with these things.

Truronian sold out to First Bus back in 2008 and it’s only recently with the reinvigorated First Kernow that the smart new Lizard branding (another Best Impressions masterpiece) and new route number L1 have arrived.

My itinerary included a visit yesterday to the Helston Railway itself where a dedicated band of volunteers toiling away for the last fifteen years have amazingly reopened about a mile and a quarter of track south towards Helston from the hamlet of Prospidnick.

IMG_7053.jpgIMG_7050.jpgIMG_7051.jpgThere are ambitious plans to extend the line further south but it’s going to take a long time and much more hard work.

In the meantime the railway is open two or three days a week and was proving very popular yesterday with families enjoying their visit of a half an hour’s round trip including time at the southern end of the line at Truthall Halt.

IMG_7062.jpgIMG_7063.jpgIMG_7060.jpgThere’s the usual shop and cafe in a former DMU located at Prospidnick…..IMG_7047.jpg….which is a twenty minute walk from Crowntown (along an overgrown footpath and country lane) where the two hourly route 38 passes on its run between Helston and Camborne so careful planning is needed to visit the railway by bus and fit in with both bus and train times. I think I was the only one yesterday morning.

But it’s worth it to see Prospidnick Halt station in the middle of a wood on a narrow viaduct and admire the work of the volunteers.IMG_7046.jpgThe Helston branch left the mainline just west of Camborne; it closed to passengers in 1962 so for the past 57 years the bus has been the only way of reaching Helston and south on to The Lizard peninsula.IMG_6507.jpgJourney time from Redruth to The Lizard on the L1 is 83 minutes including eight minutes stand time in Helston. The 08:00 journey took eight of us from Redruth as far as Helston and a similar number south from there with most alighting in the village of Mullion.

One passenger alighted at the scenic Poldhu Cove bay ….IMG_6527.jpg…. but only one other passenger joined me all the way down to The Lizard. I’m sure the journey is much busier on a schoolday and I noticed a double deck in Lizard branding on another journey indicating school children are a key market for this route.IMG_6726.jpgBritain’s most southerly bus stop is next to The Green with surrounding gift shops and eateries. The arrangements for where buses stand and wait seemed confused with the driver of my incoming journey stopping alongside The Green (photographed below) but the driver of the next journey reversing alongside the stop itself as photgraphed above.IMG_6654.jpgI had just enough time for breakfast and a brisk walk down to the lighthouse and Lizard Point itself before returning to catch the next bus back which operates via the hamlets of Ruan Minor and Kuggar (with nice seating in the shelter) …IMG_6731.jpg… and then the outward route in reverse to Helston and Redruth. It became a very busy journey with all seats taken and we arrived back in Helston fifteen minutes late necessitating a change to my original planned itinerary – this happens a lot in Cornwall – experience has taught me to allow at least a 15 minute buffer for late running across Kernow land but I still ignore my own advice sometimes with the consequential need to replan on the hoof.

I decided to catch the already mentioned two-hourly route 38 from Helston to Camborne and in contrast to the L1, I was the only passenger on the entire 34 minute journey leaving Helston at 11:57. (I travelled on the same journey again yesterday after visiting the railway and there were six others on board).IMG_6757.jpgCamborne bus station is adjacent to First Kernow’s main offices and bus garage for Cornwall.

IMG_6765.jpgIMG_7066.jpgIMG_6780.jpgIt’s pretty basic with lots of signs telling passengers to stand behind the barriers, and there’s staff coming and going through a door marked PRIVATE, but otherwise not much to report.IMG_6770.jpg

One bright spot in an otherwise somewhat depressing waiting area with no seating is a bright map and timetable display.IMG_6768.jpgI also noticed the low flour easy access arrangement from the bus station saw-tooth layout doesn’t allow for the door behind the front wheels layout on the smart new Optare Solos.IMG_6783.jpg

My next journey was another quiet run on the four-journeys-a-day route 39A (note the incorrect Lizard branded bus photographed below) across to Penzance via a delightful rural route through lovely Cornish villages such as Relubbus, Goldsithney and Rosudgeon on the B3280 as well as a double run to serve Perranthnoe.

IMG_6782.jpg

Penzance bus station was given a makeover a couple of years ago and is now a very pleasant place to wait with a functional shelter and departure bays.IMG_6785First Kernow have done a fantastic job displaying maps and timetables in the shelter… IMG_6830.jpgIMG_6831.jpg… and the Council have included electronically displayed upcoming train and bus departures.IMG_6832.jpgIMG_6833.jpgIt’s a shame the dedicated First Bus Travel Shop has closed …IMG_6839.jpg…. but it probably made financial sense to utilise the adjacent Visitor Information Centre which has a great display of timetables and yet another helpful network map.IMG_6788.jpgIMG_6786.jpg

Despite many previous visits to Penzance I’d never fitted in a walk out to nearby St Michael’s Mount so put that right on Tuesday by catching the Atlantic Coaster branded open-top route A2 to Marazion.IMG_6880.jpgThe A2 continues to St Ives where it morphs into an A3 around the coast to Lands End changing again there into an A1 to complete the circuit back to Penzance. The full circular ride takes 3 hours, 40 minutes and many people make a day of it breaking the round journey up into bite sized chunks.IMG_6885.jpgI’m pleased to have ticked off St Michael’s Mount which was very busy during the period when low tide allows access and despite the excellent bus service there were all too many cars parked in fields on the edge of Marazion.IMG_6881.jpgIMG_6882.jpgMarazion is also served by the hourly route U4 one of four routes First Kernow run for the University of Exeter’s campus at Penryn just north of Falmouth.IMG_6899.jpgAnd commendably these run during college holidays and are popular with tourists and locals.

I took the U4 back to Helston where I finished off Tuesday’s travels with an early evening ride on the last journey of the day on route L2 from Helston to the south west corner of the Lizard peninsula at Coverack – which is particularly scenic as the road descends to the bay around triple narrow hairpin bends …IMG_6991.jpg… and St Keverne. We took about half a dozen workers home and brought back about the same number of tourists on the return journey. The bus arrived about 15 minutes late into Helston – and didn’t make the time up during the journey or back again. It was an incorrectly Atlantic Coaster branded bus.IMG_6982.jpgThere are only six journeys a day on the L2 four of which continue to or start from Truro.

I stayed overnight in Helston and after yesterday’s enjoyable morning on the Helston Railway and taking the 38 again into Camborne I took a ride on one of the two bus services between Camborne and Redruth which take a circuitous route around the residential areas between the two towns.IMG_7071.jpgRoute 46 runs hourly and takes around an hour to reach Redruth having headed westwards first, then north and then south (repeating a few times) as it generally meanders eastwards. I reckon a detailed map of this and sister hourly route 47 would be a great help to demistify where the buses actually go – the network map isn’t much help as illustrated by an enlarged extract below. There are maps showing “where to catch your bus in Camborne” and maps showing limits of zone tickets, but there really needs to be a town bus map showing roads traversed. (Update….see PS at the end of the blog).Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 11.59.54.pngThe 46 continues every two-hours beyond Redruth to Truro via a lovely rural route including Gwennap, Perranwell and Devoran.

I alighted in Carnon Downs, about ten minutes south of Truro on the Falmouth road, to catch that part of route L2 (from Truro) to Helston I didn’t travel on Tuesday. This includes some incredibly narrow country lanes for a double decker to negotiate, especially in the Stithians area.IMG_7121.jpgThe bus was already six minutes late leaving Carnon Downs and negotiating traffic on these narrow lanes meant twelve minutes late arriving into Helston just in time to see my planned connection on route 35A to Falmouth departing – will I never learn!

Instead I caught the eastern end of route U4 from Helston across to the Penryn campus where it connects with the more frequent U1/U2 into Falmouth – except the U4 was ten minutes late and just as we pulled in, the connecting bus pulled away without letting passengers transfer as advertised.IMG_7139.jpgMore positively the Penryn campus bus stops are well laid out with clear signs indicating where to catch the various bus routes.IMG_7135.jpgIMG_7138.jpgThe U4 branded route is a later addition to join the original U1 and U2 routes as can be seen from the outdated and updated maps on the sides of the latest buses now in service.IMG_6838.jpgIMG_7022.jpgIMG_7154.jpgI headed back over to Redruth on a north westerly bound late running U2 which arrived into Redruth just as a T2 was leaving for Camborne and St Ives and despite two passengers jumping off the arriving U2 and frantically waving their arms at the T2 driver, he chose to ignore them and drive on.IMG_7159.jpg

I caught the T1 that followed about fifteen minutes later bound for Penzance and ended my Kernow bus travelling there before catching the Night Riviera sleeper train back to London arriving into Paddington early this morning.

Five reflections on the last couple of days’ travels:

1. Transforming Travel

Many of us mocked the totally inappropriate ‘Transforming Travel’ tag line First Bus used to describe themselves in the early 2000s. It was rightly derided. I remember travelling around Cornwall on buses which any bus operator should have been ashamed to have in their fleet. The photos below were taken between 2012 and 2014. No wonder Western Greyhound virtually wiped First Bus out of the County.Penzance - August 2014 049.jpgCornwall - October 2012 023.jpgNow travel truly has been transformed and after an incredible turnaround in vehicle investment a resurgent First Kernow are running an extremely modern fleet on which you feel proud to travel.

2. The route network has been simplified with core routes increased in frequency and attractively marketed. Routes T1 and T2 in particular now stand out as prime routes as do the U1-U4 university network. The excellent timetable book with colour coded maps for the whole County is readily available if you know where to look, although I’d like to see it placed on buses as Stagecoach do in the Lake District. It could usefully have more detailed town plans showing routes in places like Helston, Camborne and Redruth where the networks are confusing to understand. (Update- see PS at end of the blog)

3. First Kernow’s route branding has also come on leaps and bounds and is also now excellent and really stands out compared to how it looked a few years ago as shown below.Cornwall - October 2012 042.jpgDevon-Cornwall - August 2013 075.jpgBut much greater care is needed on vehicle allocation. As noted above, I saw an Atlantic Coaster on a Lizard L1 and another on an L2; as well as a red Tinner on a blue U4; a Lizard on a standard route 38. Because the brands are so high profile, these incorrect allocations cause confusion and undermine the whole branding.IMG_6923.jpgIMG_7130.jpg

4. Timekeeping is very susceptible to late running. This isn’t just summer traffic; nor just meeting traffic on narrow lanes and taking ages to pass; it includes time taken to deal with passenger queries and ticket issuing and is also a consequence in some cases of insufficient stand time between journeys. IMG_1400There are plans to coordinate First Kernow’s bus timetables with the new improved regular half-hourly GWR train service on the main line from December. If integrated timetables are the name of the game it needs a rethink of whether bus schedules are currently realistic, otherwise passengers are going to miss connections.

5. The prices charged by First Kernow are not cheap. The £15 day ticket (£13 on the App) is one of the most expensive in Britain. But the more you buy, the cheaper it gets with 2-days at a better value £18, three for a reasonable £23 and a bundle of five for just £30 or twenty for only £100. The latter are more designed for residents than short stay visitors and assume a bus passenger has cash flow of £100 available.IMG_7133.jpgThe most flexible yet top-secret ticket is the ‘Ride Cornwall’ which gives bus as well as train travel throughout the County. This ticket has had a recent chequered history – at one time it was anomalously cheaper than the bus only day ticket but due to First Bus refusing to advertise its existence, very few people were aware of it. Matters came to a head at the beginning of this summer with First Kernow no longer accepting ‘Ride Cornwall’ tickets until GWR (and Cross Country) increased the price, which they’ve now done to £18 for a day; and in a stingy move withdrawn previously available one-third off discounts with Railcards. This is a great shame bearing in mind the desire to integrate bus and trains across the County. There’s still no mention of it at all on any First Kernow printed literature (including a leaflet entitled ‘price & ticket guide’. or online; nor can I find a reference to it on GWR or Criss Country’s websites but full marks to Go-Ahead’s Plymouth Citybus, who also accept and issue it, and at least reference it under Tickets; Day Tickets; Other Tickets on their website.

You have to wonder whether bus and train companies are serious about modal integration when they completely fail to even mention such tickets, let alone promote their use.

Finally, it was a pleasure to once again enjoy west Cornwall by bus over the last couple of days. I hope the real and significant improvements continue in the coming months and years.IMG_6862.jpg

Roger French

PS I’m very grateful to both Chris and Paul who have been in touch since posting this blog to advise that town plans are available in the Cornwall Council produced public transport guide, which indeed they are, and I’m pleased to show an example of the Camborne and Redruth pages below…IMG_7170.jpgIMG_7172.jpg

On Track in Taunton

Saturday 3rd August 2019

IMG_5895.jpgSouth West Trains started the ‘run trains to link with heritage railways’ trend a couple of summers ago (before they handed the keys over to South Western Railway) by running a few trains on a summer Saturday on the connecting tracks from Wareham to the Swanage Railway at Corfe Castle. This summer on selected Saturdays GWR are doing the same thing between Taunton and the West Somerset Railway at Bishops Lydeard.

It started last week with today the second Saturday the shuttle train has run with five more Saturdays to go: 17th, 31st August, 7th, 21st September and 5th October. There are five return journeys each day and tickets can be bought online from the West Somerset Railway or on the train for £4 single and £6 return with half price for young people and dogs (!).

IMG_5866.jpgYou can also buy through tickets to the West Somerset Railway (but not its individual stations) from any GWR station and this includes travel on the shuttle train.

Today’s shuttle had added spice for those ‘all the stations’ completists among us as the train was also calling at the hardly ever used ‘station’ of Norton Fitzwarren located just after the junction where the connecting track to Minehead leaves the main line. The platform here belongs to the West Somerset Railway and is only used in conjunction with its annual Steam Fayre and Vintage Rally held on adjacent land and today was Rally day.

IMG_5882.jpgIndeed, as well as GWR’s shuttle train, West Somerset Railway was running a few additional journeys with its DMU shuttling between Bishops Lydeard and Norton Fitwarren as has happened in previous years after the platform was built on its current sight ten years ago.

But what got us all excited today was that it’s the first time a mainstream Train Operating Company has run trains to Norton Fitzwarren, and, as last Saturday, to Bishops Lydeard. A small piece of railway history in the making for rail station aficionados.

The platform at Norton Fitzwarren has never had it so good and the crowds came out in force to mark the occasion; and enjoy the Rally!

IMG_5872.jpgI travelled on the first shuttle train from Taunton at 09:35 this morning and our refurbished Class 150 two coach train left with a full seated load.

IMG_5874.jpgThe deal with GWR seems to be they provide the driver and train with West Somerset Railway providing the ticket collecting staff and other staff to marshall and assist passengers. They were certainly doing a good job making sure everyone had tickets this morning and making us all feel welcome.

IMG_5900.jpgAbout two-thirds of the passengers on board alighted at Norton Fitzwarren (photographed above) for the Rally and the rest of us continued to Bishops Lydeard (photographed below) with most then continuing on to Minehead on a WSR steam train.

IMG_5894.jpgWe pulled into Bishops Lydeard on time at 09:56 to find the platform heaving with excited Steam Fayre and Vintage Rally bound fans. Luckily everyone just about managed to cram themselves on and we left for the return journey to Taunton on time at 10:03 full and standing.

IMG_5897.jpgMost alighted at Norton Fitzwarren but a few of us continued back to Taunton and one or two, like me, were pleased to have ticked off this unusual extension to the national network rail map.

However with just seven Saturdays and an independent ticketing system I would think the Office of Rail and Road won’t classify it as an ‘official’ extension just yet, but based on today’s crowds we can optimistically hope this may become a regular summer feature like Corfe Castle and Okehampton, albeit a Rally no doubt helped bring the punters in today.

Steam Fayres and Vintage Rallies aren’t really my thing and I had some serious Somerset scenic summer bus riding planned for the rest of the day which I’ll report back on in the next blogpost.

IMG_5916.jpgIn the meantime here’s a lovely bus I spotted back in Taunton this morning also running a shuttle to the Rally at Norton Fitzwarren and this one was free.

IMG_5920.jpgI hear the bus is owned by one of the Directors of the West Somerset Railway so good to see modal integration on heritage railways even if mainstream rail struggles with it sometimes!

IMG_5918.jpg

Roger French

A spectacular bus ride to Widicombe in the Moor

Saturday 6th July 2019

I thought it was high time I ticked off more bus routes on my lengthy ‘to do’ list compiled from the many suggestions kindly passed on from various sources, not least Twitter, which qualify for the accolade of being the Best of British Bus Routes. So for the next few days that’s my mission beginning this weekend in Devon….

IMG_2542.jpg….. with the Summer Saturday only route 271 from Newton Abbot to Widicombe.

It’s operated by Country Bus – the trading name of Alansway Coaches who have built up a sizeable amount of tendered bus work in this part of Devon from their base on the Heathfield Industrial Estate just outside Newton Abbot.

IMG_2536.jpgStand in Newton Abbot’s ‘bus station’ (bus stops either side of the bus only Sherborne Road) for a short time and aside from Stagecoach it soon becomes obvious just how dominant Country Bus has become in the local market.

IMG_2518.jpgRoute 271 runs four times a day but only on Saturdays from June to mid September – that’s sixteen days in all. One minibus covers the schedule.

Screen Shot 2019-07-14 at 19.03.11.pngInterestingly no concessionary passes are valid on this route, it being deemed by Devon County Council who fund the service, to be a tourist route. Instead pass holders get a £1 discount on the round trip fare of £5, paying just £4. My experience this afternoon indicated this policy certainly hasn’t deterred seniors from travelling. Indeed, I suspect they value the service even more by handing over cash to travel. Two seniors on my journey paid up, like me, to just enjoy the trip right around the circuit which takes an hour and forty-five minutes. It’s certainly well worth it.

Journeys leave Newton Abbot railway station at 08:55, 10:55, 13:40 and 16:10 calling at the bus station in Sherborne Road five minutes later.

The route then follows the Stagecoach half hourly route 39 north to Bovey Tracey about twenty minutes from Newton Abbot on the A382 towards Mortonhampstead. Bovey Tracey’s a delightful small town come large village on the River Bovey and buses do a complete circuit of the residential area to the east of its commercial centre in both directions.

IMG_E2670.jpg

Route 271 then heads off to the west along the B3387 to Widicombe in the Moor via Yarner and Haytor which truly is a magnificent road to travel along and admire the wonderful scenery as you enter the Dartmoor National Park.

IMG_2668.jpgI travelled on the 13:40 departure from Newton Abbot this afternoon and there were five of us on board as we left although one didn’t travel far getting off at an exclusive looking private school, Stover School, just outside the town with another passenger joining us at Bovey Tracey getting us back to five again, although he alighted at the Moor’s Visitor Centre just past the hamlet of Haytor Vale where the Moor proper begins.

IMG_2600.jpgWe picked up four more here and when we got to Widicombe one got off and there were eight waiting to board who’d all obviously travelled out on one of the two morning journeys and had enjoyed a walk across the wonderful scenic countryside.

IMG_2604.jpgAfter a short pause in Widicombe in the Moor we retraced our route up the steep narrow access road for a couple of miles before turning sharp left and heading up a narrow unclassified road, along which, after a few more miles we picked up three more walkers who’d travelled out this morning.

IMG_2629.jpgWe then turned right along the narrowest of roads for the longest duration I think I’ve travelled along – it even beat some of the narrow roads in Pembrokeshire used by the Strumble Shuttle.

IMG_2623.jpgInevitably we met a car coming towards us which had no option but to reverse some distance to enable us to pass.

IMG_2622.jpgAt the village of Manaton one of the five passengers who’d got on at Newton Abbot alighted and we picked up three more making for twenty on board.

IMG_2610.jpgI heard the driver telling the lady alighting that he’d look out for her on the next and last journey of the day and he reassured her there’d be room but “I’m expecting the journey to be busy”. It had obviously been a busy first two journeys this morning; and it’s great to see that.

IMG_2627.jpgThe photographs here cannot do justice to the amazingly spectacular scenery this bus route offers; sadly the bus windows were not particularly clean, especially the back window, but I still found it exhilarating and I rank it as one of the best scenic bus routes I’ve travelled on. It was also lovely to see so many Dartmoor ponies freely roaming around too.

IMG_2609.jpg

IMG_2611.jpgIt seems a shame the route only runs on a Saturday as I would have thought it would be just as popular on a Sunday with both walkers and people just enjoying the ride around. The fact that everyone pays a fare means the revenue is as it is with no discounted reimbursement issues.

IMG_2632.jpgUnfortunately the bus was not accessible having a three step entrance rather than being low floor so there was no provision for a wheelchair despite the capacity stating there was.

IMG_2631.jpgThe standing capacity showing as zero indicates Country Bus are using the ‘get out’ clause of the vehicle being classified as a ‘coach’ so will only be caught by the accessibility legislation from next January when it will become illegal.

IMG_2547.jpgThe interior of the vehicle also had an odd pair of seats which made for an unkept appearance.

IMG_2548.jpgThat aside, it was a very enjoyable ride around with a friendly and helpful driver, expertly driven and scenery to die for. It was very encouraging to see it so well used too and not a free ride in sight. Definitely a bus route ‘to do’.

IMG_2618.jpg

I was planning to head on from Newton Abbot to Exeter on the quick and direct Stagecoach route X64 via the A380. It was showing on the network map on Stagecoach’s website …

IMG_E2664.jpg…. but entering X64 into the ‘Timetable’ look up brought no results. I’m grateful to John Crowhurst, who also encouraged me to ride the 271, for explaining the X64 has been replaced and revised and the section of route between Totnes, Newton Abbot and Exeter is now numbered 7.

IMG_2637.jpgI’m not sure how you’re supposed to know that as even the map dated April 2019 in what’s left of Exeter bus station is showing the X64 still operates.

IMG_2660.jpgAnyway we made good progress on the 41 minute journey to Exeter thanks to the free flowing A380…

IMG_2648.jpg…and arrived at the now truncated Exeter bus station where redevelopment of much of the former land is now well under way.

IMG_2654.jpgIMG_2657.jpg

IMG_2655.jpg

Roger French

Railway rides in Aviemore and Launceston

Friday 5th July 2019

There are over 150 standard and narrow gauge ‘heritage’ railways operating in Great Britain. Most are run by enthusiastic volunteers who put in many hours of dedicated service. I try and visit one or two every few weeks on my travels and have managed to tick off a long list, but there are still more to do.

Over the last couple of weeks I paid a visit to two more on my ‘to do’ list at extreme ends of Britain: The Strathspey Railway at Aviemore on 22nd June and Launceston Steam Railway in Cornwall on 30th June. They’re quite different in character but both offer a great visit.

The Strathspey Railway

IMG_1733.jpgThis operates from Aviemore Station on an adjacent platform alongside the main line used by ScotRail, LNER and Caledonian Sleeper trains between Inverness and Perth.

The route taken by Strathspey Railway trains is in fact the original main line north to Inverness which opened in 1863 taking a more easterly route via Boat of Garten and Broomhill – the two stations now restored on the line. The original line continued via Grantown-on-Spey to join the Inverness and Aberdeen railway at Forres.

IMG_1764.jpgThe line’s fortunes changed dramatically in 1892 when a new more direct line from Aviemore to Inverness was built via Carrbridge, which are the tracks used by the main Highland Line today. The Strathspey line consequently lost it’s reason for being but it hung on well into the 20th century before closing completely by 1968 with tracks lifted and abandoned.

The Strathspey Railway Company was formed in 1971 to restore the southern part of the abandoned line and now regularly runs trains from Aviemore via a lovingly preserved station at Boat of Garten and on to Broomhill, a more basic but still interesting station (photographed below).

IMG_1749.jpgMore recently tracks have been extended beyond Broomhill for about another mile where the train comes to a stop and the engine transfers to the other end via a parallel track before returning to Broomhill.

The aim is to continue extending the track as far as Grantown-on-Spey which will be a fantastic achievement when realised.

IMG_1732.jpgThe running season operates between April and October (as well as Santa Specials and some extra days in February) with continious daily operation from mid June to early September. There’s the usual special events, dining experiences and occasional vintage diesel railcar days. Three return journeys operate on the Standard Service with an additional Sunday lunch return.

It takes about an hour and a half to do a round trip back to Aviemore with breaks at both Boat of Garten (for water replenishment) and Broomhill stations. The railway covers just under ten miles of track.

IMG_1742.jpgA standard adult return is £15.75 with cheaper fares for seniors and children. The day I visited saw coach parties taking a one-way ride as part of their tour of Scotland and I guess this is a popular source of income for the railway.

IMG_1741.jpgIMG_1740.jpgIt’s very easy to visit the Strathspey Railway by public transport with the main Highland line serving Aviemore station but there are also regular bus and coach services passing by between Inverness and points south including the impressive ‘citylink gold’ route.

IMG_1774.jpg

Launceston Steam Railway

IMG_2243.jpgThis enchanting railway in Launceston is a narrow gauge steam railway covering around two and a half miles along the Kensey Valley westwards to the hamlet of New Mills. It covers the trackbed of the old North Cornwall Railway which at one time linked Padstow with Waterloo. Originally opened in 1892 it closed in 1966.

As well as the London & South Western Railway to Padstow, the Great Western Railway also had a station in Launceston, right alongside but with separate tracks and buildings, which linked the town to Tavistock and Plymouth.

IMG_2244.jpgThe gauge is 1ft 11.5inches with open and closed carriages hauled by one of three steam engines including Lilian who started it all off when the line was established in 1983.

IMG_2239.jpgThis was thanks to Nigel Bowman, a keen enthusiast who, when aged 19, found Lilian in Penrhyn Slate Quarry in North Wales and bought her for £60 at the same time the railway through Launceston was closing in the 1960s. Nigel rebuilt Lilian in a foundry by his parent’s home in Surrey while he was undertaking a teacher training course.

By the end of the 1960s Nigel had decided to abandon a career in teaching and instead looked for a suitable spot to run a steam railway with his beloved Lilian. This brought him to Launceston and with full support from the local Council and help from friends Nigel established the narrow gauge railway on the recently lifted trackbed of the North Cornwall railway.

IMG_2245.jpgThe first train ran on Boxing Day 1983 after a lot of hard work and thanks to the Royal Navy Armaments Depot in Plymouth coincidentally wanting to dispose of its narrow gauge railway in the Docks.

The railway has gradually been extended westwards and in 1995 reached New Mills where there’s an adjacent Farm Park offering “fun for all the family especially for toddlers and younger children”.

IMG_2258.jpgTrains run on Sundays to Fridays from mid May to the end of August and on Monday to Fridays around Easter, September and the Autumn half term. There’s an hourly service with a round trip taking about 35 minutes.

A standard adult return is £11.25 with discounts for seniors, children and families.

IMG_2254.jpgThere’s a lovely cafe and gift shop at Launceston station including a fantastic book shop on the first floor with an amazing collection of transport books – I came away with two books but could easily have bought many more. Over the road from the cafe is a fascinating Transport and Engineering Museum with a range of items to interest the engineering fanatic.

There’s also accommodation available alongside the station in a cottage which sleeps four and includes free rides on the railway during your visit including a ride on the steam engine.

IMG_2240.jpgLaunceston can be reached by both Stagecoach route 6A (from Exeter) and GoCornwall (Plymouth Citybus) route 12/12B (Plymouth to Bude).

Both these railways are well worth a visit if you’re in the area; I’m glad I did. (I took a few video clips while on the Launceston Steam Railway which you can view here.)

Roger French

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A day in Stranraer and The Rhins

Thursday 6th June 2019

IMG_9889.jpgIt may not rank as high as the West Highland Line, the Kyle of Lochalsh Line or the Far North Line in the great Scottish Scenic Rail Lines stakes but ScotRail have rightly designated the line down to Stranraer as a Scenic Rail Journey and very justifiably so too.

Screen Shot 2019-06-06 at 09.51.10.pngWhile I was in Glasgow on Monday in between consecutive night sleeper train travels I took the opportunity to take another ride down to Stranraer and remind myself why I ranked it thirteenth in My Hundred Best Train Journeys when compiling that list at the end of last year.

IMG_9883.jpgIt’s not that Stranraer itself is a must-visit destination, sadly the town is well past its prime now the Belfast ferry has moved further up the coast, leaving desolation where lorries and cars once formed their orderly queues before boarding.

IMG_9887 (1).jpgIt’s also not that the first part of the journey south from Glasgow is particularly scenic either. It’s not.

It’s not that the trains are spectacular either; they’re unrefurbished Class 156s similar to those that could be found on the top rated scenic lines in the West Highlands and Far North prior to those being revamped and improved. But they do offer tables and great window views, so I’m not complaining.

IMG_9894.jpgThe line’s scenic reputation comes from the eighty minute ride south of Ayr on the single track section through the lovely stations at Maybole, Girvan, and Barhill.

IMG_9896.jpgIt’s not that there are lochs. Nor mountains. Nor huge spectacular valleys.

IMG_9898.jpgIt’s just mile after mile of stunning Scottish countryside with rolling hills, rivers and plenty of lush green landscape.

IMG_9892.jpgThe Stranraer timetable is not particularly attractive either. It’s an approximate two-hourly frequency but only three journeys start in Glasgow (six hours apart at 0808, 1413 and 1813) with most of the other journeys starting in Kilmarnock. Even those Glasgow journeys are bettered by taking a later train on the more direct route to Ayr, saving twenty minutes, and having a handy 6 minute connection in Ayr to the earlier leaving Stranraer train that went the slower route via Kilmarnock.

As my sleeper arrived late into Glasgow at 0815 on Monday morning I had no option but to catch the 0830 to Ayr and connect there with the Stranraer train that had left Glasgow earlier at 0808 via Kilmarnock.

Sadly though, Monday morning was not a good start to the week for ScotRail with a number of incidents including cows on the line to Ayr necessitating slow cautionary progress resulting in a 16 minute late arrival in Ayr thereby missing the Stranraer train which hadn’t been held for the sake of leaving ten minutes later if it had waited for us.

IMG_9815.jpgStill, on the upside I had a bit of time to look at the major work now in progress to renovate and make safe the hotel above Ayr station which began as an emergency measure a few months ago when the building was suddenly declared dangerous necessitating the complete closure of the station and rail lines in the area at great inconvenience.

IMG_9813.jpgIt turned out eight of us bound for Stranraer were left stranded in Ayr and in view of the two hour wait until the next train staff summoned an eight seater taxi which arrived in twenty minutes and we set off for the eighty minute drive down to Stranraer, which aside from the wait, took about the same journey time as the train.

IMG_9816.jpgI’d travelled this route before on Stagecoach’s route 60/360 and it’s a great scenic ride with some lovely coastal views contrasting with the more inland route taken by the train, so it made for an interesting and welcome variation.

I’d never ventured west of Stranraer before and decided to put that right on this visit and explore the hammer head shape every geography student is familiar with when drawing the coastline of Great Britain.

screen-shot-2019-05-31-at-15.41.57This headland peninsular is officially called The Rhins but apparently the locals don’t call it that. It protrudes out towards Belfast in the south western corner of Dumfries and Galloway.

IMG_E9821.jpgLuckily when I was in Dumfries earlier this year I took a photograph of a bus map displayed in bus shelters in the town as in the frustrating absence of finding a bus map online to refer to, this proved invaluable in working out which bus routes to travel on to explore both ends and both sides of The Rhins. Update is I found the online map after publishing this post thanks to a helpful reader – see below for more explanation.

IMG_0360.jpgThe timing worked perfectly to travel on the 1155 one-return-journey four-day-a-week departure on the McCullochs Coaches operated circular route 412 from Stranraer to Leswalt, Envie and Galdenoch (see map above).

IMG_9825.jpgThis was a lovely thirty-five minute run with just me and one other passenger who alighted in Leswalt leaving just me to enjoy the trip round. The route was slightly curtailed due to a road closure but it was still an enjoyable and quiet rural ride.

IMG_9827.jpgThe Fiat minibus has an interesting staggered 2+1 seat layout ….

IMG_9826.jpg…. and a livery which seems to be the base colours for the ‘south west of Scotland transport partnership’ brand as I saw another bus wearing similar colours and sporting a logo to that effect on route 500 to Dumfries operated by Stagecoach.

IMG_9886.jpgWhen I’d investigated the SWesttrans.org.uk website previously it just linked to a collection of minutes and agendas of Partnership Board Meetings. Most odd. However, I’m pleased to update following publishing this report someone has kindly pointed out the link to “Service Information” on the website which has a further link to Dumfries & Galloway timetables as well as a link under “Sustainable Travel” to the bus map referred to above. Why do authorities make it so hard to find these things?!

Back in Stranraer I switched to one of Stagecoach’s routes in the area, the 407, which runs all the way down to the southern end of The Rhines at Drummore.

IMG_9879.jpgThis eight journey a day route is shared with McCullochs Coaches who operate two school journeys and Wigtownshire Community Transport who operate a journey at 1700. We took nine passengers as far as Sandhead which is half way along the 44 minute journey (see map above) but the second half was just me on board although we brought two back from Drummore and another half dozen from Sandhead on the return.

IMG_9881.jpgStagecoach also operate route 408 up to Kirkolm to the north of The Rhines but sadly the 1410 departure didn’t arrive, or more possibly the driver of the 407 when he got back to Stranraer st 1402 didn’t change the blind. There’s one other route, the 387 to Portpatrick on the west coast which is shared between Stagecoach, DGC Buses and Wigtown Community Transport and a convoluted town route in Stranraer, the 365, which Stagecoach also operate.

Another quirky bus feature of Stranraer is the Ulsterbus garage a long way from its normal Northern Ireland territory but historically here for the Glasgow to Belfast service via the ferry, which as highlighted already, has moved further north.

IMG_9820.jpgHaving enjoyed the scenic rides up and down the ‘hammer head’ I decided to head back to Glasgow on the 1500 ScotRail departure from Stranraer; the scenery as far as Ayr was as gorgeous as ever and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

IMG_9891.jpgFrustratingly this train arrives Ayr at exactly the same time a fast train leaves for Glasgow making a connection impossible so I continued to Kilmarnock (photographed below) where there’s a more convenient three minute connection across adjacent platforms to a train passing through from Carlisle and which gets into Glasgow at 1737, whereas if the connection had been possible in Ayr it would have meant an earlier 1710 arrival into Glasgow.

IMG_9906If ScotRail are serious about promoting the scenic delights of the Stranraer line I would strongly recommend reviewing those tight and missed connections and promoting the timetable better – for example whereas the Ayr trains which offer either tight or missed connections are shown in the Stranraer leaflet; the Kilmarnock connections aren’t.

Back in Glasgow I was impressed that Caledonian Sleeper was ready and waiting to board passengers at 2200, the promised time, and it wasn’t long before I was in bed and only vaguely aware we were on our way at the scheduled departure at 2340 back to London Euston. Everything went well until around 0300 when we made a wakening emergency stop in the Preston area. It turned out we’d lost power but after five minutes or so everything had been successfully rebooted and we were on our way again arriving into Euston slightly ahead of schedule .IMG_9944.jpgAnnoyingly my shower didn’t work (again) along with the toilet flush packing up during the night and only a trickle of water from the basin tap in the morning. I experienced the same plumbing problems on my inaugural journey at the beginning of last month which indicates snagging issues are still very much to the fore on the new sleeper carriages.

In fact chatting to staff, they confirmed all is not going well, with continuing porblems and staff consequently taking flack from disgruntled passengers who’ve paid a handsome price for these en-suite extras. Sadly some staff are apparently having to go off sick due to the level of stress. It’s obviously a trying time for a Serco and Caledonian Sleeper and although disappointing, it’s a sensible decision to postpone converting the Highlander route to the new coaches until these problems are ironed out. I hear 7th July is the latest date envisgaed for their introduction.

Someone must be seriously losing out financially due to these delays and problems as the uptake in revenue to justify the new coaches must be well below budget as well as compensation being paid out for failing to deliver. Let’s hope all is resolved soon.

Roger French

PS: yes that timetable case in Stranraer, captured in a photo above, was a bit disheveled…!

IMG_9822.jpg

IMG_9823.jpg