Southend Airport evicts new bus route

Friday 14th June 2019

IMG_E0246.jpgHave you ever heard anything so ridiculous? At a time when airports should be doing all they can to enhance their environmental credentials by encouraging passengers to use public transport you’d think a new bus route introduced in the dead of night entirely at the commercial risk of a bus company would be warmly welcomed and widely promoted.

Instead Southend Airport; oh sorry, ‘London Southend Airport’ (says it all about their pompous attitude) have banned Ensignbus from running their new night time X1 express bus route connecting the airport with central London.

Introduced earlier this month, buses on the new ‘Jetlink X1 Airport Shuttle Bus’ have been forbidden from entering the airport this week and Ensignbus have been forced to abandon the service.

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We’re not talking frequent shuttle buses which could undermine longer established public transport operators already in the market. The X1 was aiming to fill the gap when trains run by Greater Anglia on the line to Liverpool Street are infrequent or not running.

From Monday of this week a new later last train began running leaving Southend Airport at 2359 arriving into Liverpool Street at 0055, whereas the X1 leaving at 2340 would take arriving air passengers to Lakeside, Canning Town, Embankment or Victoria arriving there at 0115.

Heading to the airport a new first early morning train from Liverpool Street now leaves at 0435 arriving the airport at 0529 but the X1 provides an even earlier arrival at 0435 having left Victoria at 0305 – what’s not to like about that?

Well, Leanne at Southend Airport reckons in an official statement the airport has recently come to an agreement with Greater Anglia “which extends the schedule of the airport rail service to earlier and later trains. At this current time, the airport does not have any agreement in place with Ensign buses”.

Leanne also encouragingly explains “London Southend Airport works with a number of transport partners to offer its passengers different options to get to and from the airport in a sustainable way and is always happy to discuss ideas to improve service to its customers”.

So you’d think giving customers an option of travelling direct to a different part of central London, eg Embankment or Victoria, rather than to Liverpool Street arriving in the early hours of the morning would be a great ‘improvement idea’.

It’s been pointed out London Southend Airport take 90% of the revenue from passengers travelling by train. That might just have something to do with their stance rather than some spurious claim to offer sustainable options.

Greater Anglia charge £16.40 for a late night single from the airport to Liverpool Street compared to the Ensignbus X1 fare of £15 so there’s hardly an issue with pricing.

And that 0435 arrival at the airport by bus would work much better than risking the train at 0529 if you were flying off to Faro or Bilbao at 0630 with gates closing 30 minutes before departure and security to be endured.

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Let’s hope Stobart Aviation CEO Glyn Jones, Leanne and airport colleagues do “listen to what they (passengers) are telling us and we (they) take action” by coming to an agreement with the ever resourceful and enterprising Newman team at Ensignbus very quickly so the X1 can be reinstated and customers given the promised “options to get to and from the airport in a sustainable way”.

Peter Newman has confirmed Ensignbus have “previously offered to pay fees” and interestingly there’s allegedly no agreement in place with First Essex (who run the X30 to the airport – advertised on the airport’s website along with “just a short walk from the main terminal”: three routes operated by Arriva) nor have London Southend Airport had a problem when Ensignbus has run commercially at their own risk to and from the airport on Boxing Day in the past. Perhaps that’s because it’s the only travel option that day with trains left in the sidings and no 90% rake off for Stobart Aviation.

Roger French

Bridge Over Meridian Water

Tuesday 4th June 2019

IMG_9996.jpgSometimes it’s instructive to turn up at the launch of a new rail station a day late. Opening ceremonies can be tedious affairs with dignitaries descending the scene, wooden speeches, congratulatory words, smiles all round for the cameras, pats on backs, then back to their offices. The second day often has a ‘morning after the launch before’ kind of feeling where things are not quite as good as those speeches made out.

IMG_0005.jpgIt felt a bit like that at Meridian Water this morning; that’s London’s newest station on the Stratford/Liverpool Street to Bishops Stortford line. It opened yesterday with Secretary of State Chris Grayling as the most senior person present (yes; I know!) doing the plaque unveiling honours alongside officials from Network Rail, Greater Anglia, the Mayor’s office and London Borough of Enfield.

Screen Shot 2019-06-04 at 16.56.38.pngI wrote about the background to this new station, replacing the adjacent, and now closed, Angel Road on 16th February and predicted the hoardings wouldn’t quite be taking-down ready for the scheduled opening date of 20th May. But I acknowledge just two weeks late is pretty good going for a project of this kind, so well done Team Meridian Water Builders.

IMG_9998.jpgAnd I was impressed there is a crossing point installed and surrounding footpaths have all been nicely finished – my February sceptisicm was misplaced.

IMG_0004.jpgThe new half hourly shuttle train service from Meridian Water’s bay platform 2 to Stratford using the extra third line that’s been added to the tacks north of Tottenham Hale so as not to interfere with trains to Cambridge, Stansted Airport and Bishops Stortford on this busy two track railway, doesn’t start until 9th September so for the next three months this shiny new station will see just eleven trains in both directions spread across the morning and evening peak periods with the rest of the day, evening and weekends it being a ghost shiny new station.

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IMG_0011.jpgOn this second morning into Meridian Water’s life, thanks to the 0517 Kings Lynn to Liverpool Street train breaking down at Harlow, the timetable on the line through the station was in complete disarray when I rolled up on the 0751 arrival from Stratford which luckily escaped the mayhem and ran as normal. The next departure back towards Stratford was at 0824 and the impressive new departure screens were all showing it also running on time so I had a handy half hour to explore the new facilities.

IMG_0022.jpgIn the event it didn’t take long. The station may be shiny and new but it’s pretty basic. There’s a vast overbridge to gain access, via what can only be described as long and functional staircases, to the two platform structures with their basic shelters and seats, so aside from the lifts, it’ll certainly add to your step count if you become a regular commuter.

IMG_9987.jpgOddly there’s no platform numbered 1; but platforms numbered 2 (the bay terminating platform); 3 (for southbound trains to Stratford and Liverpool Street) and 4 (trains north to Bishops Stortford). I assume the missing number 1 has been kept in reserve if ever a further platform is built for extra shuttle trains, but it didn’t look to me like there was much room to accommodate another track and platform.

IMG_0016.jpgThere’s no ticket office so on the overbridge there’s a bank of three ticket vending machines as well as assorted posters and departure screens.

IMG_0006.jpgAnd that’s about it. I couldn’t see any leaflet racks, let alone timetable leaflets or maps to take away. The notices at the top of the stairs down to the platforms had temporary printed numbers on paper but I expect these will be replaced soon with more permanent signs.

IMG_9989.jpgIMG_9988.jpgThe staircase on the eastern side of the station is convenient for the Tesco Extra opposite and the western staircase currently leads nowhere as this is where a vast area will be filled with the £6bn worth of regeneration explained in my previous post.

IMG_0008.jpgIMG_0007.jpgIt’s going to be a few years before streams of passengers will be climbing those staircases from their shiny new houses so in the meantime the few passengers who used Angel Road (it’s London’s least used station) and lived nearby off the North Circular Road actually now have a longer more inconvenient walk to and from their new replacement station. Following my post about Breich it’s going to be a real fight between who wins the crown for Britain’s Least Used Newest Station in 2019/20. My money’s on Breich but Meridian Water will not be far behind!

IMG_9992.jpgAs it’s still new, Greater Anglia dispatched three high-viz wearing customer service members of staff to be on hand this morning, as you do with these things; I doubt Angel Road ever had such a privilege but that was then and this is now.

By 0820 around half a dozen of us were on platform 3 reassured by the screens displaying an on-time departure of the 0824 down to Stratford, and the station PA duly announced its imminent arrival, twice. A train approached. It didn’t stop. Hopes were raised as within a very short time another train approached. It didn’t stop either.

IMG_0023.jpgThe platform departure screens ominously changed to show the next departure as the 0924 to Stratford. I wandered back up to the overbridge to see if the three welcoming staff members could help. Two had disappeared and the one remaining admitted he knew nothing about what was happening, and added the 0724 departure hadn’t come either.

The other passengers had by now drifted away to find alternative travel arrangements (there weren’t many – other than a 192 down to Tottenham Hale). Two photo snapping train enthusiasts from Ipswich decided to cross over to platform 4 and hope the 0852 to Bishops Stortford would come, and stop. It did. And they headed home, photos taken and mission accomplished.

IMG_0029.jpgThat just left me. I didn’t fancy waiting for the 0924, thinking it might also either not appear or not stop. I’d tapped my Oyster ‘in’ on the card reader so had opened up an unresolved £8.10 journey moving my card into a negative balance so I then was unable to use it for a ride on the 192.

I’ve had happier visits to brand new stations but before leaving thought I’d take a photograph for the record of the official plaque unveiled yesterday. Except I couldn’t find it. It turns out as Network Rail and Greater Anglia packed away all the promotional pop-up banners they took down the plaque too!

IMG_0026.jpgThe tell tale double-sided-sellotape-come-velcro marks were still there, but no sign of the plaque.IMG_0013.jpg

I’m sure it will be back again one day even if Chris Grayling won’t be.

Roger French

May’s new timetable on track: Part 1

Tuesday 21st May 2019

IMG_7172.jpgFirst improvement in the May 2019 rail timetable I experienced yesterday on my tour around was from my own local station, Hassocks where our disjointed two an hour trains to the Thameslink Core stations and on to Bedford or Cambridge (one an hour to each but to a 40/20 pattern) have been replaced with the new even half hourly Brighton to Cambridge service. Bye bye Bedford it’s been good to know you.

I caught the new 0748 which goes to Cambridge whereas previously there had been a long gap in our peak hour timetable until the 0808 to Bedford which now no longer calls at Hassocks.

IMG_7180.jpgIt wasn’t surprising on this first morning there were few passengers boarding or on board the train from Brighton, although by East Croydon we’d got busier, and by London Bridge as well as many alighting, there were also many boarding almost certainly unaware they were catching a new and extra peak hour twelve coach train. And that doesn’t often happen in commuter land. It’s a welcome addition to the timetable as are the new Saturday Cambridge Brighton journeys and the Sunday journeys which venture as far south as Gatwick Airport.

IMG_7185.jpgTimekeeping on the 0748 had been excellent throughout for this first day; we arrived London Bridge spot on time and through the Thameslink Core with five minutes spare to wait at Finsbury Park (even time for our driver to come back on board for a toilet break) before continuing north with noticeably few passengers on board this extra journey to last week’s timetable.

IMG_7193.jpgI got off at Stevenage in time to see one of the buses now running the all new Rail Replacement Bus service which has replaced trains to Hertford North while a new terminating Bay platform is built.

IMG_7187.jpgThere’s a half hourly service running direct to Hertford North and an hourly service just to Watton-at-Stone from where a half hourly train runs via Hertford North to Moorgate as normal.

IMG_7191.jpgThere was only one passenger on the 0937 departure from Stevenage to Hertford North. I’m not sure why this arrangement is happening as the four platforms at Stevenage still look as they’ve always done to me from where the Moorgate terminators terminated, but perhaps more structural changes are ahead.

I headed back south to Finsbury Park on a Horsham bound train (from Peterborough), did a quick cross platform change there to a Great Northern train from Hertford North and down the former City Line to Moorgate.

IMG_7198.jpgWhat a shame the former Network South East tiling and branding is finally being removed from these stations. Moorgate is presumably the first to be rebranded as so far Old Street, Essex Road, Highbury & Islington and Drayton Park remain untouched.

IMG_7201.jpgAs both Peterborough and Hertford North originating trains arrived and departed Finsbury Park at exactly the same time it was interesting to see just how many passengers dashed across the platform from one train to the other to either make their way towards stations on the Thameslink Core or to Moorgate.

IMG_7200.jpgSome interesting journey options and connections to the Underground are now available. I was heading to Liverpool Street and could have changed at Farringdon on to the Underground but decided to opt for Moorgate and take a stroll.

IMG_7205.jpgI arrived in good time at Liverpool Street to catch the very first northbound ‘Norwich in 90’ train operated by Greater Anglia at 1100, displacing the usual half hourly Norwich departure with its stops along the way at that time to 1102.

IMG_E7223.jpgThe ‘Norwich in 90’ idea is classic political and PR puff. Great for photo shoots and making out how wonderful everyone is at successfully campaigning for some eye catching achievement and for train companies to pat themselves on the back for responding to such calls for ‘improvements’, but of dubious benefit in the grand scheme of things.

IMG_7206.jpgNorwich folk make comparisons between the normal one hour fifty minute journey time for the 115 miles to London with the same time it takes to run non-stop from York over the 200 miles down to the Capital. But that ignores the crucial point that trains running southbound non-stop from York have come from Edinburgh, Newcastle, Durham, Darlington as well as Sunderland and other stations so already have a huge number of passengers on board making for an often full train load to whizz down to London.

The trouble for Norwich is that it’s at the end of the line, and to muster up the same number of passengers to head down to London, albeit with a stop in Ipswich is never going to stack up especially with a decent half hourly train running between the cities all day.

At the moment there are just two 90 minute journeys in each direction utilising one train which sits in Norwich for four and a half hours between the return runs. While the timings work well for Norwichites wanting a day out in London (0900 from Norwich and 1900 return from Liverpool Street) it’s not quite so good for a day in Norwich, unless you like a late start, leaving London at 1100 with a return at 1700.

And it’s that return at 1700, arriving Liverpool Street at 1830 just as the tracks are already stacked out with departing commuter trains which has caused the most consternation among Norwich in 90 critics. It’s meant a whole raft of tweaks have been necessary to create a smooth path for the all important 1830 arrival. Here’s a quick run through courtesy of Today’s Railways magazine ….

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IMG_7305.jpgAfter all that yesterday’s first run on the 1700 from Norwich hit a red signal near Bethnal Green arriving into Liverpool Street five minutes down at 1835.

My 1100 northbound journey fared better as did the first 0900 southbound, both achieving the 90 minute target; just as well with all the red lanyard wearing Greater Anglia staff, VIPs and camera crews on board.

IMG_7212.jpgWe nearly missed it with a slowing down near Diss, but they’d apparently chosen the fastest pair of engines in the fleet and our driver made up for that hiccup and arrived spot on time at 1230. While the two First Class carriages were well occupied with guests, I did a head count in standard class after we left Ipswich; there were 78 on board who could have all just about fitted into one carriage instead of the seven we had! Meanwhile the former stopping train that left 2 minutes behind us also looked to have a similar load on board as we pulled out of Liverpool Street.

IMG_7219.jpgGreater Anglia had hoped to show off one of their new trains on the Norwich in 90 runs yesterday but alas as is the way with new trains, testing is still going on and everything’s running late, so it wasn’t to be.

IMG_7226.jpgI came across a new Class 745 train on test on my next journey to Great Yarmouth where it made for an interesting contrast alongside the Class 37 engine which had brought us across the wonderful Norfolk Broads and which are still helping to keep the timetable on track until new trains are ready.

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IMG_7222.jpgIt’s an exciting time for Greater Anglia who are replacing their entire fleet over the next year and I’m sure the positive publicity surrounding the ‘Norwich in 90’ will all help to raise the profile of train travel in the region which has to be good; and it was certainly an impressive ride, if totally uncommercial.

IMG_7227.jpgAfter my nostalgic ride across to Great Yarmouth and back I just got caught up in the tail end of delays due to an earlier signal failure at Ely making for a late running 1357 departure from Norwich to Liverpool. East Midlands Trains were doing their best to recover service and combined the 75 minute late running 1257 departure with our 15 minute late 1357 journey making for a double crewed four coach train and the consequential hiatus over seat reservations. Makes me think it really is time to do away with reservations but I know the arguments for keeping them too, and sway between the two views.

IMG_7238.jpgA ride up the East Coast Main Line on an LNER HST from Peterborough took me to Retford ….

IMG_7248.jpg… where I changed to try out the all new hourly Northern service to Gainsborough Central. Theses journeys have been tacked on to a Leeds to Sheffield timetable which provide a stopping service from Sheffield eastwards to Worksop and Retford and then to Gainsborough Central.

IMG_7273.jpgPreviously the train would have veered south as it approached Gainsborough and served that town’s other station a mile south of the town centre on Lea Road and then on to Lincoln. Lea Road is a delightful station with a wonderful entrance area lovingly cared for by local people….

IMG_7286.jpg…. but it’s not nearly as conveniently sited as Central, which as it’s name implies is central. And peculiarly used to get a train service just on a Saturday and then only three return journeys which continued on via Brigg to Grimsby and Cleethorpes. These Saturday journeys still run (they give Brigg along with Kirton Lindsey their required ‘Parliamentary service’) but it’s certainly celebratory time for the new look connection back to Gainsborough Central.

IMG_7274.jpgAnd Northern have splashed the cash on some bunting to celebrate.

IMG_7276.jpgThere were just three other passengers on the 1750 arrival into Gainsborough Central yesterday having left Sheffield at a peak time 1654, but that was just day one and I’m sure as word spreads Gainsboroughites will find the new service a great improvement.

The new timetable has enabled Northern to speed up the previous hourly Sheffield via Worksop and Retford to Lincoln service by missing out the five stations between Sheffield and Worksop in the off peak (leaving them for the new Gainsborough Central train) saving about eight minutes giving a Sheffield to Lincoln in 73; that’s for 55 miles. Not quite Norwich in 90 over 115 miles but it’s a start.

IMG_7287.jpgI caught the first off peak ‘flyer’ from Lincoln at 0929 this morning and although we only had 24 on board leaving that wonderful city, we picked up a few at the next two stations, Saxilby and Gainsborough Lea Road before a good crowd at Retford and Worksop when it was foot down all the way to Sheffield and very perceptively a faster journey as we sped by the next five stations. I’m sure once this improvement becomes known it’ll become very popular especially as the train continues to Meadowhall for the shopping centre there on its way to Leeds.

IMG_7302.jpgSome passengers boarding in Lincoln wanting Sheffield were puzzled by the train showing Leeds as the destination but I overheard others on board buying through tickets to Leeds so that link up may prove beneficial.

I’m now at Sheffield and about to cross the Pennines to see more new May timetable developments and I’ll describe them in the next blog.

IMG_7307.jpgLittle tip, always follow the trolley when wanting to know which end First Class is located when it’s not displayed on station signs!

Roger French