Thursday, 19 October 2017

Blog Trip To London Part 1

I consider myself very fortunate that for the first ten years of my life I had grandparents in South West London. Not only that but parents who grew up in London themselves. That meant I got to know the London transport system very early. I remember Red Arrow buses with turnstiles, red Underground trains, and felt very comfortable in London a lot earlier than some. It also means that I rather take it for granted that all transport enthusiasts have similar knowledge and experience and I'm always surprised when someone says their experience of London is virtually zero. Such was the case with blog contributor, good friend and sounding board Tim, who confessed his experience of the Tube was Liverpool St - Oxford Circus, and hadn't even been on a Borismaster. I simply couldn't let that continue so on Saturday we met at Blog Towers at a silly time, and set off to give Tim the London Experience. This will be a joint post with Tim adding his comments. The huge majority of pics are Tim's, who retains copyright.

T.Yes it was early but the advantage being the lack of traffic. I was looking forward a lot to this trip so the silly start was worth it and the fact Steve had found the perfect place to start just ticked a good few boxes. The first being my initiation to the S7 Underground stock which for those yet to try is vastly different to what I had been on previously. Very light very airy albeit empty for a few stops did seem very pleasing and very smooth!

S. We drove 90 miles (on fresh air to those who think it's a free hobby) to Upminster, which is on the zone 6 Travelcard boundary. An added attraction was the all day parking charge at Upminster Station of a mere £2.40. That is extremely compared to other stations. We arrived just before 6am to an eerily quiet station, and an even more eerily empty District Line train.

Just us then!                                                       pic SW
However by time we arrived at Bow Rd the train was heaving, and it was time for our first change - a 180 metre walk to Bow Church and Docklands Light Railway.

T Ahh yes the next big first! The first look at Canary Wharf was fantastic to me, the station as Steve says is so different to what you imagine plus the ride(no it's not a roller coaster he kept telling me!) through the Docklands with some lights still on is worthy of a Christmas wonderland type ride. I will admit to seeing Docklands before but it was well under construction and a labyrinth to get lost in.

S. Because of engineering work we had to go to Lewisham instead of my preferred Woolwich Arsenal, and that was good as it meant changing at Canary Wharf, in my opinion one of the great stations of the country, and highly underrated. The fact only DLR serves it shouldn't detract from its magnificence. (Yes, I know Jubilee Line goes there but that's way below ground)

Canary Wharf DLR station                                      pic SW
                                                                                                     pic TM
S. At Lewisham we made our way up to the Southeastern station to catch the first of several overground trains to feature during the day.  A Class 465 Networker was our trust steed, 25 years old this year, a milestone that seems to have been largely ignored.

 T Next up my introduction to 3rd rail proper and to listen to Steve wax lyrical about these machines and realise that they are still as good as they started as is great. Couldn't fault the ride and the chance to see a lot of new places again I had not seen before.

465169 departs Lewisham                                                        pic TM

S. Our destination was Charing Cross, a station that has played a huge part in my life and somewhere else I rather take for granted. But despite only having 6 platforms it is a must. The views of the London Eye and Houses of Parliament as you cross Hungerford Bridge are unparalleled, and the station building itself quite spectacular, as Tim noticed. The sun was playing havoc at this still early hour so not as many snaps could be taken as we wanted.

T. The run into Charing Cross was a first for both of us I believe as it involved the new Borough Market bridge and London Bridge station which you can clearly see the scale of the work being carried out. And crossing the river for the first time since 1998 I think which was Vauxhall Bridge (and MI5 on my way to Peckham) was very eye opening and I couldn't take my eyes off the station itself, blew me away a bit.

Charing Cross Station                                             pic TM
S. Tim had told me in advance that although trains were his priority he simply had to ride a Borismaster, so our next journey was on the number 9 from Charing Cross to Hammersmith, and still being early we weren't bogged down by traffic which meant a proper ride. I'll let Tim give his verdict as I'm a little biased!

T. And we come to the main well one of the main things for the day. Now I have ridden original Routemasters, sampled all that is as up to date that we have at home and done all manner of heritage days but this was to be a virgin ride for me. Once I realised that the hybrid part i.e electric to diesel was almost unnoticeable I was convinced it was the smoothest bus I had been on in ages! And not withstanding the "excellent" London drivers and the scenery I reckon a snooze would have happened but you can see loads from upstairs so I took advantage of it !  Got to say cheers mate for that !!

LT152 at Hammersmith Bus Station                                pic TM
 S. From Hammersmith it was Piccadilly Line time to Hatton Cross to see some big planes. And big planes we saw. Now I have stood at the perimeter fence at Hatton Cross many times with many people over the years with not so much as an eyebrow raised. 30 seconds there with Tim and the Police turned up saying we had triggered all sorts of security alarms accusing us of "hiding behind a hedge". A hedge that only comes up to waist level and could have been used in Monty Python's How Not To Be Seen sketch! So we moved 20 feet across the road which clearly lessened our security risk considerably and waited for the icons of the sky to arrive, and, one after the after, they did!

T. All throughout the day I had to get used to the volume of traffic I had not seen in quite a few years having not driven a truck for a while. Now my ears had to acclimatise to another noise, planes. I still do runs to airports but never stop long enough to listen or observe and this bit left me in awe again, especially the 747, only ever seen one on the ground never at about 100ft above me, blinding!! I can only equate the noise to a Lighting fighter or an A10 but on a bigger scale. Oh and can't understand about the Police....I have such an innocent face....

Someone can tell me if 777 or 787 but big and loud!                            pic TM
S, Realising how much we cherished our freedom we caught a rather nondescript Gemini II on the 285 from Hatton Cross to Feltham, the only notable point being the rather alarming transformation of the driver from young lady to big bloke with beard without anyone noticing the changeover! At Feltham station we caught a Class 458 to the one place I knew was top of Tim's wish list - Clapham Junction.

 T. By this time I was furiously punching numbers into my trainspotter app and thinking why didn't I take my notebook! As predicted the Gemini a bit worn and the odd rattle and as noted the ability to "Paul Daniels" the drivers. But the prospect of another class of EMU beckoned. And still a very smooth ride. I can honestly say the approach to Clapham Junction opened my eyes, never really seen that many trains in one spot.

South West Rail 458 pulls into Feltham                                                pic TM
 S. Clapham Junction is the UK's busiest station, but in my humble opinion far from the UK's best spotting station. Apart from the occasional 158/159 it's all EMU's, and once you've seen one 377 0r 455 you've seen them all. However if all you're used to is Beccles or Norwich then it must seem vast! Highlights for me were seeing a new but to be short lived Class 707 in the sidings, and a possy of spotters suddenly rushing our platform to get a Colas Class 70 loco on an engineers train only for it to suddenly change lines and get spectacularly bombed by a Gatwick Express 12 car 387. Schadenfreude at its best!

T. I was reminded on Twitter that Clapham Junc was at one time a very downtrodden place but I have to say it seemed to be ok now and the amount of trains and people can fair muddle a country boy's head plus the amazing amount of caffeine outlets to get your "fix" at. Would have loved a go on a 707 but not to be that day. The variety of trains is not overly great (app got bashed again!) but just the sheer volume is enough and the class 70 "Fugly" was indeed a bonus to see there as normally we only see them at Ipswich.

The Class 707 in Clapham Jct sidings             pic SW
Old and new liveries on Class 444 units.                          pic SW
Gatwick Express Class 387                              pic TM
Class 450 still in SWT livery             pic TM

S. A short ride to Wimbledon on a Class 455 and it was time for another mode of transport, which will begin part two of the day's travels -- and it still wasn't midday! I'll leave Tim to sum up Part One

T. I can honestly say that even the 455 was ok to ride on and I was definitely looking forward to the next bit! At Wimbledon I could see how the word "integrated" when used in the transport tense actually worked. I just wish some of the provinces could catch the same idea.

So far so good. I refer to my legs more than anything but I was enjoying it too much to let them hold me back. My days as trade plate driver had seen me on old rolling stock rattled and banged about but the stock now is beyond what you could have conceived 35 odd years ago and it works. The seamless way you can get around affords you to be able to see more things and I had seen plenty, some for the first time and some which bought back memories and to see the changes were awesome. But I knew there was definitely lots more to come!

Sunday, 15 October 2017


A few days ago I published a post in an effort to explain why the amount of published news has waned in recent months. I'm pleased to say the majority, especially other bloggers agreed with me. However, some thought I was having a rant against operators. One gentleman called the post "utter drivel", saying there were still lots of pretty buses to take pictures of, which wasn't really the point, and when I responded someone else called me a 5yo. I'm told I was an utterly adorable (and much better looking) 5yo so I don't mind that really!

But then in came a comment for moderation that took my breath away. I didn't publish it as I wanted everyone to see it and discuss. Here it is, from a regular contributor calling himself (I assume) "Smurf".

The answer is simple Steve. Start running your own bus company; and you can make the news, and make sure there is no shortage of it too! After all as you keep telling us none of the rest of them know how to do it! There must be a few ££s lying around from all those savings on fares down the years!

You could, I suppose, cast a glance in the direction of First Essex, which does seem to be run for the benefit of itself and its bus enthusiasts. It looks lovely on paper. Not much use though to the passengers who don't have any alternative (who never know what, if, or when anything is going to turn up); but after all they're trying to use it for work and necessity rather than as a free hobby.

From what I can see most of the bus industry is trying with a fair degree of success in meeting the needs of the passengers better than ever. At, sadly, the expense of the hobbyists. I appreciate you'd like to see it the other way around. Sadly the rest of us might not be inclined to like it so much. 

So I'll answer Smurf's points.

Firstly I'd LOVE to have the money to run my own company, but I doubt that will ever happen. If I did, though, it certainly wouldn't be to create news, but yes, to try and drag East Anglia kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and take inspiration and advice from various operators and people in the industry I have the utmost respect for, who I'll mention later. 

I save very little on fares these days as due to the vast majority of services in my area being scrapped if I have to drive 6 miles to a bus stop I may as well drive all the way. Anyway that is my business and no one else's.

Having been sarcastic in saying "After all as you keep telling us none of the rest of them know how to do it" Smurf then goes on to criticise First Essex saying it is run for themselves and enthusiasts at the expense of passengers. But then he contradicts himself again! "From what I can see most of the bus industry is trying with a fair degree of success in meeting the needs of the passengers better than ever." Except First Essex I presume? And no, I wouldn't like to see it the other way round, because if the passengers had a decent service, coverage and frequencies there would be plenty for the enthusiast, like erm, there was 4 or 5 years ago when there were, erm, more buses and services.....

Finally it is clear Mr/Mrs Smurf is not an enthusiast. That's fine,, nor am I sometimes  - in fact I've always said I'm passenger first, enthusiast second, and if I had any buses round here that would still be the case - but just occasionally I will talk from the enthusiasts point of view. I feel I do my best to interact with operators and managers to clarify things. However to describe it as a "free hobby" shows ignorance of breathtaking proportions. I doubt few hobbyists spend more pursuing their hobby as transport enthusiasts do, have you seen how much rail tours cost?  Then if you are going to an event there is the cost. I was hoping to go to the 2017 Bus & Coach event in Birmingham last week but just plain couldn't afford it. Same with Showbus, same with Old Oak Common depot open day. That isn't free. I spend a fortune in petrol driving to locations to get pics and vids to share with everyone, hopefully from different locations to the majority of enthusiasts. Of course reading this blog and writing sarcastic comments is totally free!

So to recap what I was trying to say in the first post;

Fact: There are fewer buses on the roads of East Anglia compared with 5 years ago, and fewer types.
Fact: There are fewer routes served by buses than there were 5 years ago.
Fact: On the majority of routes there have been cuts in the last 5 years.

That is going to mean there is going to be less to write about. If the Football League was reduced from 92 clubs to 45 there would be less football news. It goes without saying. If there were only 200 MP's there would be fewer to interview. Not rocket science.

When Greater Anglia replaces its entire fleet of 10 different types of train (not including short set) next year will I still enjoy travelling by train - of course I will. Will there be less to write about - of course there will. I was on Thameslink yesterday when a couple of months ago you could have had a 319, or 377/87's in 4 different liveries, or a new 700. I could have written about different journeys on different stock. Now it's all 700's. One journey is all it needs and I'm done! Less to write about. Not criticism but fact.

It is also true other areas of the country are way in front of East Anglia when it comes to trying to lure people out of their cars. Transdev, led by Alex Hornby are going mad in Yorkshire, with luxury seating (2+1 upstairs), seat back tables, every bus with WiFi/charging facilities etc, interurban routes that find the quickest way around traffic using smart technology and much increased frequencies. It's not their fault new buses rattle! Doesn't assist them but certainly not their fault.

In Reading there are double deck gas buses, many hybrids (how many hybrids in East Anglia?) and the inspirational leadership of  Martijn Gilbert and John Bickerton is an example many could follow. I have regular Twitter chats with them and have learned a lot. Certainly their staff facilities and interaction seem second to none. Must get down there for a visit.

Nottingham pioneered electric buses outside London, Ensignbus under the Newmans decided to look abroad for decent buses and have brought the BCI Excellence and Enterprise to everyone's attention. Stagecoach in East Kent, under Matthew Arnold among others have tried bringing minibuses back to encourage patronage, and Arriva have even tried Uber style on demand services in certain areas. East Anglia has none of this. Not critcism but fact. So there is less to write about. If I want to talk about new innovations I have to travel a long way.

So Mr "utter drivel" you keep taking pictures of your pretty buses - I'm pleased that you still get great pleasure from your hobby, but this blog is more than pretty buses. Smurf, I'm grateful for your contributions but I'm not always going to speak from your viewpoint. Of course I'm always happy for guest posts so if anyone would like to write one, whether you agree with me or not then please email me. I'll be delighted to hear from you.

Finally some news!!! Thanks to Andrew Kleissner's heads up I can reveal that Ipswich buses are to slash the frequency of the 98 between Ipswich and Shotley to 1 journey a day in each direction. That's from 4 a day from Shotley and 6 a day from Ipswich. Happy days!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

What Has Happened To Our Hobby?

Last week I mentioned there was little news to report at present and I'd discuss why that was. It's not going to make pleasant reading, but then the truth sometimes hurts.

There is, to be frank, not much news because there is far less going on. Let's start with buses and what's around. When I started blogging there were a multitude of different buses to spot and/or ride on. Let's take Great Yarmouth as a focal point. First's fleet comprised of Plaxton Darts, Wright Renown Volvos, President Volvo B7tl's, B12 coaches and 2 types of Olympian. Then Anglian had the gas buses, Optare Versas and Excels, Scania Omnicities and Omnilinks, original Streetlites, Loylne Tridents and ALX400 Tridents. Sanders would use anything on the 6, from DAFs to B7rle's. There were Summer Routemasters, coach operated weekly services, and the Gemini B9's on the X1. It was a good place to be, and everyone was interested in the news, particularly involving the Olympians, whose days were already numbered. Now Anglian have all but gone completely, the Ollies, Renowns, Routemasters, older Darts and B12 coaches have gone. First's fleet now comprises of ALX400 B7's, a couple of Presidents, ex Leeds B9's, short Darts and plastic Streetlites. Nothing there to whet the appetite. Sanders only use B7rle's, and all those weekly services have gone. I haven't been to Yarmouth once this Summer for buses.

Ipswich is no better. Where you used to be able to see Floline Scanias, Renown Volvos, Olympians of many types thanks to First, Carters and Ipswich Buses, B6's, step entrance Darts, Volvo Citibuses from Colchester, now it's all ALX400's, B7rle's, E200's and Scania Omnicities. Like Yarmouth there are no buses of character left. DDA and moulded plastic saw to that.

Added to that is the loss of so many routes and services and you have far fewer buses on the road anyway. I haven't done exact research but I'm willing to bet there are at least 50% fewer buses on the roads of Norfolk and Suffolk than there were 5 years ago. That means less news, which means fewer posts. The time was you could go to Norwich and know you would see something interesting. No longer. Where other parts of the country are getting gas double deckers, or electric buses, or business class interiors, or community seating areas, or 94 seater Aussie monsters, here we get overexcited at the prospect of an 8yo ex London Scania coming back from repaint. Hardly inspiring stuff.

For the next year at least the trains are relatively interesting. We are lucky to have the short set still clagging around for at least another 15 months. Then we have class 153/156/170 diesel units and Class 317/321/360/387 electric units, not forgetting the Class 90 hauled Intercity sets. Add freights, test trains, rail head treatment trains and charters, not to mention Flying Scotsman coming to the area in a couple of weeks, and railways are far more interesting than roads at present. But it won't last.

By 2019 Greater Anglia will have replaced their entire fleet with two types of new train After the initial novelty has worn off interest will wane considerably, but at least they will be brand new trains, not 8yo cast offs. But it means there will be less to write about on the railways too. Long live test trains, charters and freight that isn't Class 66 hauled!

This has also taken its toll on the amount of blogs in the area. There used to be loads. Now there are basically two. Last week Zak Nelson decided enough was enough and closed Norwich Bus Page after reaching an impressive 1 million views. My best wishes for the future, Zak, and stay in touch. Sam Larke tried to restart Norwich Buses Blog over the Summer but a combination of no news and working the Holt shuttle put paid to that. Clive has had an awful year which has seen Ipswich Bus Blog silent, not that anything has been missed. It's myself and East Norfolk Bus Blog left, and even Roy is struggling to find news.

So my apologies for the reduction in posts, but there truly is less to write about than there was even a year ago. You will find more and more posts devoted to other regions and that is really a shame. East Anglia needs a mighty kick in the pants to get it going again. Trouble is no one can afford the boots strong enough to deliver it.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

X1 Enviro In Essex

With new buses expected on the X1 next year, if a suitable vehicle can finally be found, there has been speculation as to where the current fleet of Enviro 400's will go. There maybe a clue this week with Kings Lynn based 33808 YX63 LJO spending the week at Chelmsford, operating the X30 between Stanstead Airport - Chelmsford - Southend. The route has been suffering overcrowding problems since E200 MMC's replaced coaches on the route. thus the decker is being evaluated for suitability.

These pictures, reproduced under Creative Commons Licence are by Matthew Evans, whose flickr page you can access here.

In foreign climes. 33808 in Southend  Manners Way          pic by Matthew Evans
33808 at Chelmsford Bus Station                pic by Matthew Evans

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Tornado Comes To East Anglia

Due to an abject lack of news at the moment, n which subject look for a new post in the next couple of days, here is a post I've been saving up. Cast your mind back to August Bank Holiday, which was a very warm, sunny if windy day. It also saw Class A1 Pacific 60163 Tornado come to East Anglia on a charter to Great Yarmouth from London. Huge crowds were expected to see one of the newest locos around - Tornado was only built in 2008 - and finding locations for unique pictures was going to be difficult.

However, Tim and I hatched a plan and ventured to a station only reachable by train or boat, and police car as it turned out - Berney Arms. It also took an experienced rail journey planner to realise the only way back to Yarmouth from Berney Arms was via Brundall, so we were fairly confident there wouldn't be many joining us. But I wanted to see Tornado is more than one location, so before meeting up with Tim in Yarmouth, I went to my secret location in Norwich where with just a couple of fishermen for company I waited for Tornado to appear. Lovely scene.

Tornado heading for Norwich
I had hoped to beat Tornado to the Acle Straight but alas hot bank Holidays, great Yamouth and traffic don't make a great combination, and steam beat petrol quite comfortably. So I joined the merry throng at Yarmouth and watched the shunting movements involving a rather smart DB Schenker Class 66 as Tornado was reversed back to Norwich to turn round.

After the hordes had gone and just the Mark I's remained while the two locos played musical tracks at Norwich, Tim and I waited for our train to Berney Arms. Before it arrived, though, the familiar growl of the Class 37 short set was heard, and it set up one of those photos tat just looks timeless in back & white.

Nostalgic eh!
A short ride on one of the tastefully refurbished 170's later and we alighted through the designated door at Berney Arms, my first visit there. The words "middle of nowhere" are overused, but wholly appropriate in this case. I've been to Dovey Junction in North Wales which is also inaccessible by road, but at least that has mountains. Berney Arms has nothing!

I mean nothing!
We weren't alone, 3 others had also got off but I wanted a location where we could see the trains long distance and get the station in view, and a field opposite the station ticked all the boxes. The theory was soon put to the test as the 37's passed through on teir way back to Norwich.

37405 passes Berney Arms
As you can imagine at such a popular bustling location security was high. A Police helicopter was spotted, and ten the amusing sight of a BTP car dodging the cow pats and ditches to make sure no riot was taking place at one of Britain's remotest stations! And even then they only spoke to the people on the station, not Tim and I standing in a cow field!

Please disperse - nothing to see here!
One quirk about Berney Arms is the amount of information there - I know far bigger stations with far less information. Fair play to whoever looks after the station.

The information  board at Berney Arms
And then Tornado came through, firstly being reversed back to Yarmouth, pulled by the 66, and then spectacularly with the full rake of 12 coaches.

Tornado passing through Berney Arms
Sadly the stills from the video haven't turned out great, but you can see all the videos from the day below. Thanks to Tim for the company, and to the brilliant people behind Tornado for making her visit possible. Her older sister, or should that be brother Flying Scotsman is coming later this month and we'll be out trying to avoid the crowds for that too.