Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Going Loco Down In erm East Anglia

I have been wanting to do what I did yesterday for a few weeks now - ever since Greater Anglia hired in another Short Set, this time with Class 68's. It has made our little area rather uunique. There are places in the country where you can get on a train hauled by a 68 - both Chiltern Rail and Scotrail use them. Northern Rail have a couple of 37 hauled trains running between Carlisle, barrow and Lancaster. However none of them are top and tailed, and there is nowhere in the country you can hop from one onto the other. It's like having a daily Diesel Gala on proper tracks doing proper speeds, not a hair pulling frustrating 25, and a lot cheaper than heritage lines too. My £9 Wherry Lines Ranger ticket enabled me unlimited travel on the lines between Norwich and Great Yarmouth/Lowestoft and with a bit of forward planning I took full advantage of it.

I started off by driving to Acle station, where at 0859 precisely the two sets meet. The meeting is guaranteed as Acle is a passing place, and so I set up shop and waited. First to arrive were the new kids on the block. 68016 pulling 68019 en route from Yarmouth. Shortly the daddies arrived from Norwich, 37019 with 37405. Nowhere else in the country is this view possible on a daily basis on National Rail lines.

37419 and 68019 say hello at Acle
And here is the video that pic is taken from. Volume to 11 again!



I waited half hour for the 37's to return and caught them to Norwich. Sitting near the front the sound is just incredible. 37405 was thrashing away and I felt a real sense of exhilaration. On arrival at Norwich I had a few minutes to get some pretty unique pics.

37419 and 68019 ready for their next journeys with some plastic thingy in the middle
I jumped on the 1005 to Lowestoft and sampled my first experience of 68 power. My word the aeceleration is impressive - these 68's possess raw power and although the soundtrack isn't as in your ears dramatic as the 37's there is still a very satisfying growl and rumble from them, as you'll hear later. A cracking, if somewhat hot journey to Lowestoft and back with very limited time for photo opportunities as volume of passengers affected timekeeping. I did manage to get one though, a 68 next to a 170.

68019 and 170206 at Lowestoft
Normally after arriving back at Norwich on the 1057 from Lowestoft the 68's take a break, but recently they have also operated the 1205 and 1405 to Lowestoft which gave me an idea. It was becoming obvious it was going to be far too hot to ride on these trains all day, especially as the limited ventilation was further obstructed by idiotic so called enthusiasts hanging out the windows, thus blocking the air coming in. Such selfish behaviour does the reputation of enthusiasts no good whatsoever and is an embarrassment.

Anyway I had to get back to Acle so caught the 1236 to Yarmouth, with 37419 sounding even better than 37405 did earlier. This time there was time at Yarmouth for some pics.

37405 in the heat at Great Yarmouth
It suddenly struck me that if a certain brewer of beer did railway theme parks it really couldn't get much better than this. The best rides, soundtracks, sights, and all for under a tenner.

Since the heat had put pay to anymore riding the fact that the 68's were doing the 1405 to Lowestoft meant that consecutive trains would be the 2 short sets. I thought it might be quite good to get them on video at Oulton Broad North, going across the level crossing, so a pleasant drive from Acle later and I was in position to catch the sets going both ways. First up were the 68's. I love the next pic with the brand new locos passing the semaphore signal - a mix of 2 eras.

68016 trailing heading to Lowestoft
20 mins later and 68016 was back, and this time I was by the crossing to hear her pass at full power.

68016 powers over Oulton Broad North crossing
And here are the videos from which the above pics were taken.




30 mins later and history repeated itself. This time with the 37's, and as you will see from the next pic it's only the liveries that mean you can tell the pic was taken yesterday, not 45 years ago. It's truly amazing these old girls are still going so strong.

1971 or 2016?  Lovely!
Two more vids for you delectation, this time the 37's both thrashing away.




And that was that - one of the most enjoyable days I can remember for ages. The 37's will be hanging around for sometime, but I don't know about the 68's as they were only meant to be here till September. However with Greater Anglia winning the new franchise I hope their stay is extended too.

One thing I;d love to know is how much extra revenue these loco hauled services are bringing in from enthusiasts, the huge majority of whom sit down btw. Every time I've seen or been on one of the Short Sets there has been a load of passengers who are only travelling because of the locos involved. It would be nice if they were paying for themselves which could persuade GA to keep their live museum rolling. Don't miss the opportunity to ride and see these trans for yourselves - it really is a unique experience not available anywhere else..

Sunday, 21 August 2016

This Week

My apologies for lack of posts over the last few days - this being mobile again is taking some getting used to. In fact I've clocked up close to a thousand miles this week with a hospital visit in West Sussex and taking a friend up to Cleethorpes on Friday, together with general buzzing around all over Suffolk, which I'm only just realising is so vast and spread out. "Nipping" from Beccles to Woodbridge, as I did on Wednesday would have taken at least 3 days planning for the equivalent journey down in Kent!

However, I have not been idle, and have managed to fit in a few things to post about as well, so here goes. Tuesday saw my little Fiat brave the journey to West Sussex for my latest appointment at the eye hospital. The journey went so well I had time to pop in somewhere I have been meaning to for quite some time now, but have never quite got round to. In 2013 the Bluebell Railway re-opened its station at East Grinstead to provide an easy link from Southern's terminus station and also to allow much easier access for visiting locos.

Bluebell Railway's East Grinstead Station
Demonstrating just how close Bluebell are to the Southern station
While I was there I was lucky enough to see one of Bluebell's eye catching steam locomotives. Camelot is a preserved BR Standard Class 5 4-6-0, originally built in 1955, working on Southern Region, then withdrawn in 1966. After languishing at Barry docks for 10 years she was purchased by the 73082 Camelot Locomotive Society and moved to the Bluebell Railway. Returning to service in 1995 Camelot worked on the Bluebell Railway until 2005 when she was withdrawn for a 10 year overhaul. Returning once again to service last year she looks rather impressive, and that's coming from a self certified non steam enthusiast!

73082 Camelot
Now a little teaser for you. If you were to be transported back to Kent in 1980 what did all these places have in common? Borough Green, Maidstone, Hawkhurst, Tenterden, Sittingbourne, Sheerness, Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Edenbridge, Luton (Chatham) and Gillingham? Answer - they all had bus depots operated by Maidstone & District. 36 years later only Gillingham, Maidstone, Sheerness and Tunbridge Wells remain, and now it has been announced that Tunbridge Wells is soon to close too. So after a very positive hospital visit I took the opportunity to drive home via Tunbridge Wells to take what could be my last pictures of a depot I will remember with fondness, as Tunbridge Wells was one of my old stamping grounds as a teen, and I travelled on a lot of the TW fleet regularly. Now under Arriva management it still looks the same as it did all those years ago. The town won't be the same without it.

Tunbridge Wells bus depot
A mix of vehicles inside the depot
Thursday was a frustrating day. The majority of it spent watching the car have a new rear bush fitted, which sounds simple but took the best part of 9 hours. As such I was unable to get to Norwich to see Network Rail's observation coach "Caroline" with BR liveried 37401. Extremely frustrating, but this frustration was somewhat tempered later in the evening when another test train, topped and tailed by two more 37's took a trip up and down the East Suffolk line. This is where being mobile again comes into its own, as I worked out where the location for the best "clag" would be, and so ended up at Darsham station, and took the following video of 37608 and 37611. Headphones on and volume to 11.


I have a few things planned this week so hopefully it won't be as long before the next post. Enjoy the sun.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Carry On Abellio

And so it came to pass that the Lord (Department of Transport) looked down on Abellio and spake "verily thou art doing a great job with no delays, short forms or cancellations. I thereby do entrust thee to carry on thy labours for a further 9 years".

Yup it was confirmed today that Dutch operators Abellio have won the Anglia franchise and will continue to operate rail services in East Anglia for the next 9 years. In return Abellio haven't just promised the Earth, but a fair chunk of Mars and Venus too. This is the list of pledges that happy Anglian passengers can expect.

  • replacing the entire fleet with new trains within 4 years of the start of the franchise
  • increasing operational performance levels from 89.2% to 92.9% Public Performance Measure
  • 32,000 more seats on services arriving at London Liverpool Street in the morning peak
  • 1,144 additional weekday services
  • Norwich in 90 and Ipswich in 60 services
  • £9,795,000 of stations enhancements
  • smart ticketing on the entire network by 2019
  • controlled emission toilets by 1 January 2020
  • free Wi-Fi at stations and on train 

Now I have been accused of being cynical in the past and I am trying my hardest to refrain from looking at these pledges in a cynical manner. I'm failing. Replacing the ENTIRE fleet within 4 years? Why? What is wrong with the 360's or 170's and indeed the very new 379's? Why do they need replacing? Granted everything else does and if we get shiny new rolling stock that can only be a good thing.

The optimum operational performance target should always be 100% as it is in Japan. Accepting that 7 in every 100 trains are going to be late just isn't good enough. More capacity is always welcome but hang on - we are told the network is at maximum use, so how on earth are another 1,144 services going to be squeezed in? Skipping down a bit the IC sets already have Wi-fi so why not make it free now? Go on AGA I dare you!

Sprinters to be gone within 4 years
Now let's look what AGA are proposing for specific lines.

Great Eastern 

  • new trains with free Wi-Fi from February 2019
  • 4 trains per hour between Liverpool Street and Southend Victoria (currently 3 trains per hour) and more frequent in peak times
  • 2 new fast peak journeys in each direction between Liverpool Street and Southend Victoria
  • earlier first and later late service between Liverpool Street and Southend Airport
  • 4 new through services between Liverpool Street and Lowestoft via Saxmundham
  • 1 additional service from Ipswich to Lowestoft allowing an hourly service to operate throughout the day
  • earlier first services from Clacton and Braintree to Liverpool Street
  • 1 additional evening through service from Liverpool Street to Harwich Town
  • later connections from London to Southminster and Braintree
  • most Sudbury branch services extended to and from Colchester and Colchester Town
  • an average 10% faster journey time when new trains are rolled out
Two of those points shout out to me. Firstly through services are to be restored between London and Lowestoft, only 2 a day each way mind you, so we can only hope that off peak travellers will benefit too. Secondly the Sudbury branch extending to/from Colchester is long overdue, and means passengers on that branch can connect with fast services to London at Colchester.

Intercity 

  • new trains with free Wi-Fi from March 2019
  • Norwich in 90: 2 trains in each direction between London and Norwich (a maximum of 90 minutes journey time)
  • Ipswich in 60: 1 train in each direction between London and Ipswich (a maximum of 60 minutes journey time)
  • 3 trains per hour between Liverpool Street and Norwich all day (currently only in peak times)

Pretty self explanatory - I presume the stopping services currently terminating at Ipswich will be extended to Norwich as there simply isn't the space for an extra fast service an hour.

Regional 

  • new trains with free Wi-Fi from January 2019
  • 4 new through services between Liverpool Street and Lowestoft via Saxmundham
  • hourly services between Ipswich and Peterborough (currently every 2 hours) with most trains also extended to and from Colchester
  • 1 additional morning peak round trip between Ipswich and Cambridge allowing an hourly service to operate throughout the day
  • almost all hourly services between Norwich and Cambridge are to be extended in the new franchise to provide a direct service to and from Stansted Airport
  • earlier first service from Cambridge to Norwich and 1 additional evening service from Norwich to Cambridge
  • extended operating hours of 2 trains per hour between Norwich and Great Yarmouth
  • later services from Norwich to Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Sheringham

Good news that the Ipswich - Peterborough service has been not only saved but enhanced and extended to Colchester. Direct services from Norwich to Stanstead are long overdue too and a welcome addition. Just make sure the EMT service to Liverpool continues to start at Norwich. Good to see extra trains soon the Yarmouth line and later trains are always welcome although I confess to being disappointed that there isn't a later train on the East Suffolk Line, as having to leave London by 2100 at the latest in order to make the last connection isn't good enough.

Now what about these brilliant new trains. Well it would appear that Derby based Bombardier will build a lot of them, although the models and specifications have not been announced yet. However Nigel Harris, editor of Rail Magazine has suggested that 600 vehicles could be bi-mode trains built by Swiss company Stadler. That will be a first for the UK if so.

So everything is rosy - a magic wand will be waved and the good people of East Anglia will at a stroke have a space age railway everyone has been dreaming of for decades. New trains, extra services, free wi-fi, excellent station facilities, easy to understand ticketing. Yeah ok guys.

If you are stuck in a traffic jam it makes no difference if you are sitting in a Rolls Royce or Reliant Robin, you are still stuck and not moving. Yes we can have new trains and more services but what cannot be overlooked is that they will be using the same infrastructure that is responsible for the majority of delays. There will still be the regular points and signal failures, the same leaves on the line, the same suicides, and above all the same if not more number of freight trains breaking down or delaying passenger services which will cause even more knock on effects with extra services involved.

I have seen nothing from Network Rail saying what they will do to improve the performance of their own infrastrucuture. For 18 months now midweek evening services from London have been disrupted because of the ballast cleaning going on, that has achieved absolutely nothing from what I can see. I have seen no announcement promising extra penalties for freight operators delaying passenger services and nothing from the freight operators saying what they are doing to replace unreliable locos.

So I hope you will excuse me if I regard this announcement in the same way I look at a victory speech from an election winning politician. A couple of months after the promises are made the excuses start trundling out. I'll believe it when I see it - but I repeat my challenge to Abellio to make wi-fi on the trains fitted with it free NOW - give us a sign that you actually mean business, and you ARE putting passengers first. I wish you, and all rail passengers in East Anglia good luck.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Challenge Time - ID This Bus

The Pursey Clan are currently on the high seas sailing around the Baltic. One of the countries on their itinerary is Finland. Since I have never had page views from that fine country I made Mr Pursey Jnr promise me he would log in and let me tick another one off the list. Seems they are needed to as my hundreds of Russian readers have deserted me and have been replaced by 29 people avidly interested in all things transport East Anglia from Somalia no less. Just proves the phrase lies, damn lies and statistics is as true now as ever and is the main reason why I don't show my page views as they are not an accurate reflection.

Anyway Finnish views duly logged I then discovered Andrew Pursey had kindly sent me a pic of a local Finnish bus on Sightseeing duties in Helsinki. Oh ha ha very funny I thought when I first saw it but take a closer look.

RM in Helsinki             pic (c) Andrew Pursey
The stairs appear to be at the front, so is this an RMA or has it been converted? No ID is obvious on the bus so your challenge is to identify this Routemaster! No prizes except you can be confirmed as an official smartass!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Sunday Discussion

Since the majority of this week has been devoted to dealing with disruption caused by the caring souls at the Department of Work & Pensions I've been unable to do any serious material gathering for a post so thought I'd go through some of the stories circulating this week, with some comment hopefully leading to discussion.

Obviously we have to start with Anglian. If you look in the comments section of the previous post you will see that all of Go Ahead's East Anglia operators made substantial losses in the financial year 2014-15, with Anglian eclipsing them all at over £1.1m despite a healthy tax rebate that would certainly fill my freezer a few times over. Lord only knows what the next figures will show but clearly Go Ahead can't carry on as they are. So Hedingham's Tollesbury depot has been closed, Rackheath has been re-opened to reduce the cost of dead mileage to and from Dereham (and to encourage drivers based in Norwich to work for Konect), and Anglian is being stripped back to the bare bones.

It is all but definite the gas buses are going to Plymouth, and this week Anglian announced that on top of 2 Versas transferring to Konect another 6 buses were being withdrawn, including 2 of the 11 reg Scania Omnilinks. Yes 2 of Konect's B7tl deckers have gone the other way, and Solo 959 has been reinstated, presumably to operate the 85's when the new tender starts at the end of the month, but that still means a net loss of 17 buses. This will mean only 18 buses left (less than Borderbus) - and the question is will that be enough? Well let's try and work that one out. 6 buses on X88/88/88A, 2 on the 87, 6 on the 61, 1 on 60H/60S, 1 on the 81, 1 on the 85 and 3 on the 83/84. There is also the one each way 7A to consider. That makes a minimum of 20 buses, and that's not taking into account maintenance and spares. Therefore one of 3 things could be happening.

Firstly more buses cascaded from Konect, but why give them the Versas if that was the case. They are not on loan as they have disappeared from the fleet list. Secondly some services such as the 83/84/87 transferred to Rackheath and Konect - if there is room there which I have heard there might not be. Thirdly Anglian have not had it confirmed that the gas buses are going and all of a sudden the buses withdrawn this week will be hurriedly pressed back into service, and more - even the 05 reg Scanias could make a surprise come back.

However, this doesn't answer the question of why the gas buses are going in the first place. Plymouth are currently installing the required gas pumps but why are Go Ahead prepared to spend considerable money when Beccles already has them? Two theories are emerging as the most likely - firstly Anglian is on the point of closure. It's been on the cards for a long time now with operations and services getting smaller and smaller which means the gas buses would require a new home. Or, and I'm inclined to believe this more, Go Ahead now regard the Ellough site as too big and costly now, and are looking to relocate Anglian to smaller premises, that of course wouldn't have gas pumps. It's utterly pointless asking Anglian anything as they appear to be the last to be told what's happening, but I hope, for the sake of the loyal drivers remaining with Anglian, that the future is revealed sooner rather than later. It's the least those drivers, and the passengers deserve.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being invited to lunch with a rather special club. When Anglian operated the 165 between Aldeburgh and Ipswich a few of the regular passengers and drivers became good friends. When the route was abruptly scrapped by Phil Eden to the dismay of the users of that service the 165 Club stayed in touch, and yesterday was one of their regular get togethers. If ever there was evidence to back up my assertion that on rural routes regular passengers like regular drivers they can rely on this is it. This bus was part of the community, not just a mere means of getting into town, and if rural services are to be maintained this sense of trust, friendship and loyalty needs to be rediscovered and grown. Buses in the country need to be part of the community they serve, not just another vehicle passing through at roughly the same times every day. My thanks to Jane ( a truly dedicated reader) and John for making me feel so welcome and putting on a great lunch (those profiteroles were incredible), and to the 165 Club including Lena, Robin, Mike and Peter it was great to chat to you all and hope it's not the last time.

Moving onto the rails and the industry and passengers alike are still waiting for the Anglian franchise winner to be announced. This uncertainty is not good for anyone, and no one can blame Abellio for not spending any money when they don't know if they are soon to be sacked. Therefore short formed and overcrowded trains are becoming more common, including a single coach train operating between Norwich and Yarmouth on a Summer Saturday in August. Bet that was pleasant. Freight trains seem to be failing left right and centre and there needs to be greater financial penalties for freight operators who delay passenger trains. That together with dedicated freight lines, of course, to give passenger trains clearer lines opening up more slots. Wonder if the Chinese want to help us do that too.

Some good news this week, thanks to David Green for this, is that Soames of Otley will now no longer be closing. The business has been bought by an as yet unnamed individual and will carry on trading as usual. This is good news as far too many of our small independent operators are disappearing. More info as I receive it.

Finally whispers are reaching me that First could be about to concede the biggest own goal in recent history. If it happens I'll report it, but I gather a lot of people are praying for a John Terry type last gasp clearance. Could be a fascinating week.

Take care all.