Sunday, 13 August 2017

Norwich Bus Bash Report

The rain stayed away, the sun shone but not too harshly, and the public turned up in their droves. Thus was the first Norwich Bus Bash a success, and hopefully raised an impressive amount for East Anglian Children's Hospice.

Sometimes when your as involved as I am with the industry, albeit now as a former insider observing from the outside, it's all too easy to be super critical, to want perfection, to yearn for what isn't there rather than appreciating what is, and today was a classic occasion for doing just that. So I'm going to try and be a member of the public, and not an enthusiast. I understand on social media many enthusiasts have suggested how things could have been better, but in all honesty today wasn't for enthusiasts but for non enthusiasts, young and old, particularly young to enjoy riding on old buses, getting a pic of them in the cab of a bus, going through a bus wash etc. I only saw smiles and happy faces so job done!

As usual all the familiar faces were there, most of them friendly, I went with Tim, and on our arrival were met by Take That Superfan Sam Larke of Norwich Buses Blog, with Jamie Glasspoole, and First Eastern Counties Operations Director/Manager/Driver Chris Speed (should have seen his face when someone asked if he was a driver), whose brainchild today's event was. Most of the city centre shuttle buses were operated by the usual suspects, one of which I understand didn't last the pace and failed early on, but I will keep its identity anonymous. But there were some welcome visitors, and due to the higher than expected attendance some of First's own vehicles were pressed into action.

Our first trip was on Eastern Counties' last Greenway National. The Gardner engine boomed out and gave a pleasant ride, although it must be said it didn't enjoy the steep hill towards the end of the trip.

LG587 WAH 587S
A variety of First vehicles were in attendance, including Lowestoft Heritage liveried 8, Ipswich's Eastern Counties liveried VA479, recently named "Jim Long", X1 E400 33824, and the still striking E400 from Yarmouth, 33423.

Lowestoft 8 at Roundtree Way

33824 was a static display

33423 in need of a little TLC

Jim Long there in spirit, and in person!
The next trip was on an old friend. Great Yarmouth Transport AEC Swift WEX 685M was reunited with former owner Chris Speed, and operated a couple of trips. A lovely bus, and Chris was clearly chuffed to bits to be driving her again.

Swift 85 reunited with its old dad!
 Hungry work too, as it didn't take Chris and best mate Grahame Bessey of East Norfolk Bus Blog long to get back up to the city joining Tim and myself for lunch. A really good time spent chewing the cud as well as burgers, catching up on the latest news and gossip.

Chris and Grahame went back to Roundtree Way on the Greenway, while Tim and I waited for my main target of the day, Viv Carter's immaculately restored Bristol VR  VEX 294X. It looks simply majestic, sounds as awesome as a Class 37 loco, and gives a ride totally devoid of background noise. I was taken back 35 years in a instant. It was best in show by a country mile and worth the trip to Norwich on its own. Here it is in Castle Meadow

Magnificence! Bristol VR VEX 294X
A bus making its first pulic appearance in new colours was Norwich Volvo B7l 60916, now renamed VW916 (still a Volvo not a VW). Repainted into Eastern Counties Livery and, praise be, re-padded seats it looked very good. I don't know if the rattles have been sorted but I presume not!

VW916 YG02 DKU at Roundtree Way
The workshops were also partially open, and inside was ex Ipswich B7rle 66981, halfway through being repainted into Red Line livery.

66981 being "Redied" up.
There was also the chance to see all of Norwich Network's different colours lined up together for the first time. Sadly not in rainbow order but even so an impressive sight.

So impressive one small boy wanted his photo taken in a driving cab.....

Tim's Mum would be so proud!
And the day was done. Nothing reaches its peak first time round, and I hope this is the first of many Norwich Bus Bashes. What I will say is if you are going to open a depot up it needs to be all or nothing. I know Roundtree Way is operational 7 days a week but so are most depots. The engineering staff in particular seemed to resent the public's presence, and that was a shame. Having most of the other buses parked facing away from the public area was also noted, and it rather showed up less than universal co-operation in making today happen. I hope next year's date is set much earlier, so all departments can come together and work towards making the second Norwich Bus Bash even more of a success than today's was.

Kudos to Chris for making today happen, thanks to those who brought their buses and above all to the public for supporting the event in their hundreds. Good to see all the friends I did, sorry to miss those I didn't see, especially Clive, and catch you all soon.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Norwich Bus Bash

This Sunday sees the inaugural  Norwich Bus Bash organised by First Eastern Counties. The new extended Roundtree Way depot will be opening its doors to the public, including the long awaited "rainbow" line up of all the different coloured routes. you can take a trip through the bus wash, sit in a driver's cab, inspect the workshops and more.

There are frequent free bus trips around the City, including County Hall where you can park, as parking at Roundtree Way is severely limited. My thanks to Chris Speed for the info, and hope to see many of you there.


Due to Norwich City re-arranging their home match against Sunderland to Sunday the plan to serve County Hall has had to be scrapped. Apologies for the false information but I've only just found out. This is also the reason buses to/from Roundtree Way can't serve the Rail Station.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

A Piece Of Konect Humble Pie

A spot of Short Set chasing today,of which more later, but this time I did it by bus, leaving the car at Wangford and catching the 146 into Norwich. Have to say BB60 BUS is in pretty good nick for its type (E200) and age, even though the unusually strong wind threatened to low in the doors at one point. On arrival at Norwich I caught the 5, operated by Konect to Thorpe, and very soon realised i was going to have to eat some words. The 65 plate E400 was immaculate. Clean, quiet, WiFi worked well, and above all not a single rattle. In fact a joy to travel on. Since I'm the first to criticise E400's in rough conditions I had to mention this.

Konect 636 SN65 OAV in St Stephen's St
 After I had completed my Short Set photography and enjyoed an excellent lunch at the Town House in Thorpe I caught another Konect E400 back into the City, this time older 606 SN61 CZW. Again, for its age the condition was remarkable. Yes the blind box door rattled but that was about it. So, not for the only time in this post, well done Konect. Keeping E400's in that condition takes some doing so congratulations to the engineering team. 

I had gone to Thorpe to try and capture the Class 37 Short Set in new locations, especially while the blue and grey (faded white) coaches are still on it. Thorpe provided a couple of locations, the first being the footbridge over the railway to Thorpe lakes. A short wait and the familar rumble was heard, and 37419 appeared.

37419 with the set, having just passed Whitlingham Jct
Here is the full video.

I then moved a couple of hundred yards up the line where there is a gate crossing to Thorpe Sailing Club. Crossing to the Club side I waited and thanks to the strong wind heard the set accelerate from Crown Point  Another good angle and shot of the set ensued, with a smoking 37405 leading the way.

37405 with the blue/grey set
Here is the full video with the 37 pleasingly drowning out the crossing alarm.

Now back to Konect. It is normally very difficult for those under 21 to get a bus driving job for insurance reasons. So when I was chatting to a couple of Konect drivers in St Stephen's St another driver came up who I thought I vaguely recognised. A smiling, jovial young man who was clearly content with life. It was only as he departed to take over his bus I got a glimpse of his name badge. I had known this particular person was driving for Konect but truly didn't realise it was him.

Kieran Smith spent a period of time running the very successful Norwich Buses Blog, and it's fair to say we didn't get on. I mean seriously didn't get on. No one was really at fault, he was obsessed with his blog and I know I was obsessed with mine - so much so it nearly cost me very dear. I don't know how much I've changed since then but seeing Kieran today was like meeting someone for the first time. He has come out of his shell, is clearly living his dream driving for Konect, and any history between us is precisely that. Kieran had already supported me by email over the troubles I had with my anonymous abuser, which I was extremely touched by, but to see this outgoing, joking, happy person was something else. Kieran it was great to meet you, and I'll be over next week to assess your driving skills! But more than that huge credit needs to go to Steve Royal at Konect for giving Kieran the chance at an age the vast majority of companies wouldn't. I could hear the gratitude in his voice, and see the sparkle in his eyes. Top marks, Konect, top marks.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

News, News & More News

First of all can I thank everyone who contributed to the discussions following last week's news post. The most comments ever for a post and all of them polite, even when disagreeing. It was a joy to watch them all come in and read them prior to publishing. Some valid points made from all sides of many arguments.

So it's only right that I start today's post with news relating to a fair chunk of those comments, Ipswich Buses. Quite a few people mentioned IB's fleet, the ex Carters fleet in particular, someone even saying he had heard they were going to be replaced with Scanias. Well it turns out he was right, and then some. I was informed today that Ipswich Buses are getting fourteen 61 plate ex London Scanias. I don't know full details yet, but obviously 14 buses will cover far more than the ex Carters fleet. What remains to be seen is what IB will be doing with them. I assume, like the Borderbus Scanias they will be converted to single door, and I can only hope for the sake of the passengers on the 93 to Colchester, that they have padding put in the seats. IB are normally pretty good with their choice of seats, so if anyone within IB reading this can confirm I'll be grateful. When I get more details obviously I'll publish them.

It turns out all my Star Trek references to the BCI First trialed on the X1 were wrong. The tri axle version, which First are due to trial in August is the Enterprise, the two axle version being the Excellence, which has got to be the most risky name for a bus ever, and asking for trouble! Anyway, a closely guarded secret was that Borderbus, never shy of trying out a demonstrator, were getting one this week, and it duly arrived yesterday when I was in Sussex! So this morning I was over the depot pretty early (for me) only to discover it was already out on the road. A quick chat with everyone, of which more later, and I rendezvoused with the Excellence at Kessingland.

Ensignbus BCI Excellence 144 LX17 DZE at Wangford
 I was hoping the vehicle Borderbus were given was a different one to that First had, and so it was. This meant I could compare the two. I was also lucky enough to have a vastly experienced driver of 37 years driving and instructing who has torn the other demonstrators to bits, so I knew he would pull no punches. Exactly what I needed as it's ok for me to say what a great bus, no rattles blah blah but the most important person on board is the driver (certainly was when I was driving) and what they think matters. Jed thought for a moment when I asked him what his initial opinion was, then said "I wouldn't mind a fleet of them". That is high praise indeed, and I have to say the ride impressed me once again. The pot holed roads between Wangford and Southwold can shake you to bits on an E200, but the Excellence glided over them as if they weren't there. Good stuff. On arrival at Southwold Jed took me through the points he'd noted that he thought could be improved.

The bright upper deck of the Excellence
Firstly the handbrake. A very minor point, but on most buses you put the hand brake on, then have to lift the neck up to release it. On the Excellence you have to lift the neck up to engage it too, and that takes some getting use to. The interior mirror is far too big for it's position, and actually creates a blind spot out of the windscreen. Jed thought positioning the mirror higher above the windscreen would make things easier.

The enormous  interior mirror
Only half the cab window opens - the rear half - which makes adjusting the offside wing mirror awkward. Jed isn't a short chap by any means and he had trouble. Allowing the front half to open too would solve that problem.

His biggest gripe though was the bell, which was exactly the same noise as the indicators  That is very confusing if the bell is pressed while indicating. I was convinced the example First had, had a normal bell, and Cameron, who was with me on it, has confirmed that. That really needs to be changed, as it will confuse passengers too..

The only other problem Jed had was with the low ceilings. For a 14'6 bus the ceilings do seem low, and neither of us could work out why, unless it's not 14'6 of course!

But one thing Jed was impressed with was the positioning of the hazard warning lights switch - on the end of the indicator stalk.

Original placing of hazard warning lights
Believe me if that's all Jed could find to criticise then we have a very, very good bus. He said the braking was extremely good, and acceleration matched an E200, yes 200. It felt solid, and the more he drove it the more he liked it. I must mention the interior lights, that come on very slowly but have a trick. The lights above the door and luggage rack are blue to reduce reflection in the windscreen, but as the doors open they change to white, then back to blue when the doors close. Very well thought out that.

Oh just one more thing - the wheelchair arm is positively lethal! It seems to stick out further into the gangway than others and the height of it is such if someone was thrown forward, especially a male, then any future prospects of fatherhood could be seriously impaired. I'll try and get a pic while the Excellence is here, and no one knows how long that will be, could be a week, could be all Summer!

So in conclusion overall I was just as impressed with the Exellence second time round as I was first time, and just those small details to sort out. Do that, and BCI might be tempted to change the name from Excellence to Perfection!

The rear
While I was at Borderbus I had a chat with supremo Andrew Pursey who confirmed Borderbus are making no service alterations this Autumn. The 146 is growing patronage steadily, and it wouldn't surprise me if by this time next year some of the E200's are gone and replaced with deckers. In a world of cuts it's so good to see a route bucking the trend. There is also a big waiting list for the Sir John Leman High School buses, with some 650 pupils a day conveyed to and from the school.

So from the Excellence to the anything but excellence. Passing Lowestoft Station I spotted ex Norwich Volvo B7l 66348 on the X22, the only bus with harder seats than those Scanias! A hastily taken pic while at traffic lights but rather pleased I hadn't travelled from Norwich on that. I'm told by Grahame Bessey that it is probably on loan from Great Yarmouth to cover Dart 42908 which is away for repaint. Even stranger was seeing a Gemini on the Town Service 106, so why the rattlebucket was on the X22 is anyone's guess.

66348 at Lowestoft Station on the X22
 Last week I promised news on the Class 37 hauled Short Set running between Norwich and Great Yarmouth/Lowestoft, and here it is. The DRS coaches have been temporarily replaced with 3 blue/grey (It's blooming white not grey) coaches making the set look even more retro. I was going to take pics tomorrow, but Tim rang me to say he was at Lowestoft Station so it seemed rude not to return and see it today. And what a sight. Could have been any day in the last 40 years. Long may they stay on the set, and we now need 2 large logo locos (say that after a few sherberts) to put the icing on the cake. It was also good to meet Martin from East Suffolk Lines Rail Partnership. Always good to put a face to a name, especially when they turn out to be a friendly, chatty face!

37422 leads in the new coaches

Bet most of the pax don't realise how lucky they are!
I think the next picture sums it all up. We are truly blessed to have this set in our area, and the memories of those of us of a certain vintage are triggered and re-triggered day after day. What a huge hole will be left when they are gone.

Guess the year anyone?
Yes of course there's a video! Enjoy, and I look forward to all the comments rolling in!

Friday, 21 July 2017

England Comes To Southwold

Well the England Football Team Coach anyway. I was on my regular weekly trip to Southwold to meet up with a mate, and while I was there a huge grey Scania Iriza i6 arrived emblazoned with the 3 Lions badge and England. Can't be the real thing, I thought, looking at who was disembarking - if it was the England team it was the 1937 team with their WAGS! But a glance at the registration - FA15 ENG and a chat with the driver confirmed that yes, this was the real McCoy.

The England Team coach at Southwold
Operated by Guideline Coaches of Chelsfield, near Orpington in Kent this coach isn't quite as flash inside as I expected. The driver explained the tables had been removed as England have so many backroom staff now it needs to be a 52 seater. The seats do look rather nice though it must be said!

Inteior of the coach
The coach's presence soon got around and many young boys, ok and dads, were soon streaming up to have selfies taken with this celebrity coach, the E200 I was on completely ignored for some strange reason. It was good to see a celebrity vehicle in the area, and many thanks to the friendly driver for letting me take a look. Here are a few more pictures.