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Monday, 19 February 2018

37407 Returns To Service

Now I know I'm a bit bonkers about Class 37's  There is nothing about them I dislike. Their look, their presence, their awesome soundtrack, their history. In my view they are up there with Routemasters, Jumbo Jets and not much else. The difference is that apart from the heritage part of the 15 in London there are no RM's left in regular service. The end of the Boeing 747 is sadly all too soon approaching thanks to the 787 Dreamliner and the A380 Airbus. But the Class 37 loco? They just keep going, and far from numbers dropping more keep coming back to life.

The latest is 37407. Built in 1965 before England won the World Cup, and your faithful blogger was but a glint in the sailor's eye it was withdrawn from service in February 2000. After languishing for 7 years she was bought for preservation, but never saw service. In 2015 our heroine was bought by DRS, along with celebrity 37558 (424). A 2 year overhaul has taken place, undertaken by Loram UK, a shiny large logo BR paint job, and 18 years after last hauling a passenger train 37407 is back on the rails. On Saturday she arrived at Norwich from Derby, and Tim and I were at Harling Rd to see her rumble by. Instant new header pic, and this one passing the old signal box.

37407 at Harling Rd
Monday saw her put to work with the shy and retiring 37425 on the Greater Anglia Even Shorter Set, being only 2 coaches while the normal set is serviced at Crewe. However, the sun which bathed 407 on Saturday had taken its leave and steady rain and mist was the order of the day. Never mind that, the opportunity to witness a superb loco on her first day back after 18 years doesn't happen everyday, and so I was out first thing with the intention to see he in as many different locations as possible.

The set's first trip is light from Norwich to Lowestoft, and so I was at Somerleyton to see the set glide past.
407 pulling coaches for the first time in 18 years
It doesn't take the train long to get from Somerleyton to Reedham. However by road you have no choice but to go via Great Yarmouth, due to the Broads getting in the way. So while the set made its way to Lowestoft and back I had to race the rush hour traffic to get to Reedham. It was close, so close I didn't have time to get to my desired platform, and just caught her as she left. Well worth the 40 min race though!

The set at Reedham
I'm sure you will remember the photo of green 37057 with the Network Rail test train at the Acle Straight that was my header picture for months. It was an obvious place to return to, although the weather conditions were completely different.

Just Another Murky Monday
After doubling back to Acle to watch her go the other way the next port of call was Lingwood. I urge anyone interested in vintage railway operation to visit Lingwood before the old signals go. No signal box as such but a portakabin and a ground frame that really should be in the Science Museum. If this piece of railway history isn't preserved for future generations to learn from it will be criminal.

The vintage signalling at Lingwood
The level crossing is 50 yards or so from the station which means a decent soundtrack, and a seriously close up view!

What a machine
Finally it was off to Brundall, firstly to snap her going over a bridge in the woods, then to recreate the picture you can see bordering the blog, which I took on the first day of Class 37 operation. Both turned out well.

Passing through the woods in Brundall

Unique sight

I will have to try and do it all again when the sun shines! All the pics of 407 are stills from videos, which is just as well as that last one looks distinctly photo-shopped, which it isn't! So enjoy the video, it's not BBC quality, but the weather was truly awful. The Lingwood video is last, for reasons I can't work out! Enjoy.




Wednesday, 14 February 2018

As Clear As Mud

Long time readers of the blog - God bless you - will recall that prior to the 2015 General Election I sent emails to all the prospective candidates for my constituency, inviting them to meet me to discuss their public transport policies. Only one took the trouble to respond, and a few days later Russel Whiting, the Labour candidate was sitting on my sofa answering my questions - you can see that post by clicking here.

So when, in November, all the talk and rumour was about yet more bus cuts I wrote to Jeremy Corbyn, who is a transport enthusiast, to ask what Labour's official policy regarding sponsored bus services was. Here is what I sent;

Hello Jeremy
I am writing to you with two hats on. firstly as owner of Steve;s Bus & Train Page, a pubic transport blog attracting over 15,000 page views a month. Not huge, but not bad for a niche topic either.
Secondly I'm writing as a bus passenger living in the country, who has seen so many bus services cut over the last 7 years, leaving so many people with no links to the nearest town or city.

In recent days the local news around the country has been of County Councils having to find yet more savings, and bus budgets are once more in the firing line, which will leave thousands more people trapped in their homes. While recent emphasis has been on mental health and loneliness future cuts to vital community links will do nothing to aid mental health, indeed many people will find it tough to attend hospital appointments etc. It will also impact negatively on congestion etc.

I am aware you are a transport enthusiast, and would be extremely interested to hear what your views are on this subject, and how Labour would help those people affected by transport cuts re-establish their local links. I do have potential solutions myself which I'm positive no one in Government would have the courage to implement, but it's not rocket science.
I would be delighted if you could find time in your busy schedule to address these issues, either in writing, or I would be happy to meet you at Westminster for a natter. Please take a look at my blog, and you will see I'm serious and not a time waster.

Btw my local MP is Therese Coffey, so you will understand why I have approached you rather than start locally.

Regards
Steve W

Yesterday I finally received a reply from Labour Party Central Office, and I eagerly opened the email to find out what the policy regarding sponsored bus services was. To be honest I never expected a personal natter with himself, but if you don't ask etc.. Anyway this is what I read;

Dear Steve,

Thank you for your email regarding Labour’s transport policy.

The Tories are failing to stand up for passengers, road users and pedestrians. Costs are rising, public money is being wasted, and promised investment is not being delivered.

Under-investment is leading to chaos and cost to commuters. Since the Tories came to power rail fares have rocketed by 27 per cent - that's a rise three times faster than the growth in wages. Some season tickets are up by over 40 per cent and bus fares have also risen by 27 per cent on average.

We were told that higher fares would fund investment, but vital projects have been delayed for years and passenger satisfaction is in decline as commuters are paying even more for increasingly overcrowded and unreliable trains.

Labour will put passengers’ first, bringing rail into public ownership. Routes will naturally return to public ownership as private contracts expire, meaning profits can be re-invested to improve services & hold fares down.

We have consistently been in favour of building an additional runway in the South East of England. But this support has always been conditional on four tests being met: on capacity, climate change, noise and air quality and the wider national benefits.

In 2010, the Government cut £4bn from the strategic road network, scrapping schemes that were later reinstated at a huge cost, and have failed to invest in council maintained roads, which have an estimated repairs backlog of £12bn.

Labour will stand up for passengers and road users by reforming our transport networks and delivering major projects that have stalled under the Tories.
Kind regards,
George
Membership Services and Correspondence
The Labour Party

Erm, yes, George. Thanks for that but what about your policy regarding sponsored bus services! If anyone reading this has contacts within the Labour Party perhaps you can point them in this direction and try and get an answer. Alternatively if Jeremy Paxman is reading this then put your knuckledusters on and get me answers! I have sent a reply asking for an answer to my question and will report back if I get a reply, but don't expect it soon!


Sunday, 11 February 2018

A Day Of Excellence

Ok, I said I'd combine my two trips to London into one post. Forget I said that, and to confuse you even more I'm going to do Friday's first! You'll understand why as you go along.

It made a pleasant change to get the train up to London thanks to a decent deal on an Off peak Return from Greater Anglia. I'd forgotten how comfortable those Mk 3 coaches were, and it certainly beat driving down the A12 again.

90004 at Ipswich
My first mission was to ride the latest bus route in London to be converted to fully electric operation. The 153 runs rather confusingly from Finsbury Square in the City of London to Finsbury Park Interchange which is miles away north of Islington! But hang on, I hear you cry, you hate those electric buses so why voluntarily go on another one. Well they have improved. I ventured on one last week on the 360 in Vauxhall, of which more when I finally get that post up, and I was much impressed. Quieter, smoother, fewer rattles, all in all not bad, so I wanted to try one fresh out the wrapping. I'm delighted to report it was a very nice place to be. These BYD E200e's are so much better than the original examples on the Red Arrow routes, and an added bonus is these actually have USB charging points at most seats, which is unheard of in London as was enthusiastically demonstrated by the sheer glee of a group of college students when they discovered them!


The U\SB charger in action and the BYD E200e at Finsbury Park. note the very low roundel
A trip down the driverless Victoria Line to Victoria was next, and the irony isn't lost on me that the only crew member on Victoria Line trains sits at the front and his/her sole job is to open and close the doors!

A stroll through Victoria Station and its shopping arcade and I was back at the Collonades Bus Station to catch the 702. I had been asked to give my opinion of the BCI Excellence which is on trial on the route, and I jumped at the chance. As I've ridden the Excellence during the day I thought I'd catch up with it for a ride after dark, which gave me time for other things.

Waiting on the stop was Reading Buses 1212, an ADL E400 in all over Vamooz livery, not what I was expecting. However a quick message to Reading Buses supremo Martijn Gilbert and all was made clear. Because this bus has a high ratio differential it is used as the official spare bus for the route. Perfectly acceptable for a 7yo bus, minimal rattles and it certainly moves.

Reading Buses 1212 at Victoria Collonades Bus Station
This was my 3rd time on the route in the space of 6 weeks, and the first time the cloud had been high enough to see the planes approaching Heathrow from the A4. On Chiswick Flyover I looked up to see quite a large plane. This photo of the Emirates A380 Airbus was taken from a moving E400 and I'm quite pleased with it as keeping anything still on a moving E400 is a challenge in itself!

Emirates A380 approaching Heathrow
So to Slough, and with time to spare I sampled the new service 2, operated by Thames Valley Buses, part of Reading Buses, who have just taken over from First Berkshire, hence the ex Berkshire E200's arriving at Lowestoft. TVB are using Scania Omnicities on the route, with very comfortable seats, and if mine was anything to go by extremely courteous and friendly drivers. I hope the route is a success. It was noted that no one has to wait for TVB services in the cold at Slough Bus Station - the drivers stay on the bus and let passengers on up to 15 mins before departure. That's good.

Thames Valley Omniciti YN56 FBK at Windsor
Returning to Slough on one of First Berkshire's awful Volvo 7900's there was time for half hour on Slough Station which was enough to catch a few HST's hammering through, and my first look at one of the new Class 800 Hitachi IEP trains, that are basically Javelins in green! I'll save the train stuff for the next post as I want to concentrate on the Excellence.

Due to Friday afternoon congestion in Hammersmith made worse by a broken down vehicle the Excellence was delayed by half hour, but Lordy was it worth the wait.

BCI Excellence in Ensignbus demonstrator green arrives at Slough
Before I boarded I noticed that despite the delay the driver was still taking time to advise customers and dish out timetables, not seeming the slightest bit stressed. That was an impressive start. I settled near the front upstairs to be greeted by a familiar face. Fellow enthusiast and Reading driver Jonathan Berkolds had done the round trip from Bracknell, and we spent the journey commenting on how good the Excellence was and what would suit the route.

Since I last rode an Excellence, when Borderbus had one last year I have been on just about every new bus in production there is. Scania MMC's, electric buses, gas deckers, hydrogen buses, Streetdecks, Volvo B5LH's, the lot. The BCI Enterprise is head, shoulders and torso above the rest. I was impressed last year, but you will know I tend not to really judge a bus until it's 6 months old. Well this demonstrator is, and I fell in love with it all over again. The ride is amazing. Nothing but nothing rattles, it is astonishingly quiet, the seats I'd happily sit on all day, and then we come to a feature I didn't know it had, because I'd only ridden it during the day - the lighting.

When the bus doors are open the interior lights are bright. However 10 seconds after the doors close they dim, meaning you can look easily out of the window and see something other than your own reflection. Not great if you want to read the paper I'll admit, but most people are on their phones these days so the majority will love it. At Bracknell there was just enough time to grab a couple of photos before Peter, our driver loaded up for the return journey, taking no layover whatsoever except a quick trip to the loo, but after he had loaded up, getting customers out of the cold before he did.

The Excellence at Bracknell
With lighter traffic on the return journey the Excellence came into its own, gliding along effortlessly and by time we reached Legoland all the lost time had been made up, and while waiting time at various places I was able to chat to Peter and find out his opinion. 9/10 was his verdict, the best demonstrator he had driven by far and he loved it. However, nothing is perfect and he pointed out one or two minor niggles. Firstly, and I reported on this last year, the bell sound is the same as the indicators, which mean eyes have to leave the road and check the dash to see if the bell light was on. Ross Newman at Ensign told me that would be looked into so I'll be interested to see if there has been any progress on that.

Secondly while waxing lyrical about the lights dimming Peter pointed out that the door lights stayed on for the same 10 seconds after closing, which does make the cab area very bright while pulling away. Could those lights be on a separate circuit to just come on and off with the doors opening and closing?

But that was it. The nicest driving seat he had ever had, and on the motorway the Excellence still felt like a coach whereas all the others "turned back into buses and were affected by wind noise".

Drivers like Peter Cotton are priceless in their value to an operator. I have never had a more detailed or thoughtful analysis of a bus from a driver before, and it appears there is a great amount of discussion among the Greenline drivers as to what will suit the route best.

Quite simply they want Enterprises, big brother to the Excellence. Peter explained that they would give extra capacity for Legoland, which will be required in the Summer months, and the rear wheel steering would mean the tighter places at the Bracknell end would be manageable - after all, as he pointed out, there are Scania tri-axles already on the route. Put 4 tables upstairs, and you have a great selling point. But if not Excellences will do just fine. Peter tweeted the day after we met "Stunning bus to drive, best demo so far". Peter, it was an absolute joy to both meet and be driven by you, and I'll try and ensure you are driving any future demonstrators I check out!

So what are my conclusions for Martijn and his team. Well, an ideal bus has to tick many boxes. Will the passengers like it? Overwhelmingly yes, especially after Reading Buses have personalised it in their own customer friendly way. The ride is very quiet, even downstairs which puts it miles ahead of anything else, It doesn't rattle and seats are great. Will the drivers like it? In this case the drivers don't just like it they want it. Is it affordable? The Excellence is in the same price band as the E400MMC and so, so, much better so yes. Unfortunately the boxes I can't tick are the engineering ones - fuel economy, availability of parts, reliability etc, but I know John Bickerton at Reading will be poring over data as I type. I also spoke to Ross Newman the other night who told me he will buy BCI again over anything available from the UK market. Says a lot.

It was a bold, some might say very risky move to call a bus an Excellence. Asking for ridicule and it to come back to bite you. However BCI knew what they were talking about and have been vindicated. A few years ago Malcolm Robson asked me what I thought of the Mercedes Citaro demonstrator at Ipswich Buses. I rode it, and emailed him one word - "invest". They did, though sadly not to the same spec, which I'm guessing was taken out of Malcolm's hands by how much IBC would cough up. My advice to Martijn and John at Reading buses is the same. You have found your bus. The only bus that could top the Excellence is the Enterprise. I suggest you both ride it in service to see what your customers will see, and listen to your drivers. I didn't want to get off it, and no bus has done that built in the last few decades!

The day didn't end there, as I had my first ride on an IEP back to Paddington from Slough, but that can wait for the next post. Today belongs to this wonderful bus that proves it can be done if enough thought goes into it, and all the complaining about body noise is justified.

Rear view at Bracknell

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Ipswich Latest

There was a lot of comment in the previous post about upcoming service changes in Ipswich and the lack of timetables. Well today the timetables have been released, and surprise surprise Ipswich Borough Council have come riding in on their green and purple horses and saved the day by sponsoring evening and Sunday services operated by a company they own.....

The 14 to the wonderfully named Gippeswyk Park has also been saved and it seems very much like as you were. There are some route changes - the 4 will no longer served Martlesham, it never really caught on, and the 6 is being split at Ipswich Hospital with the Greenwich part being renumbered 2

The X5 reverts to its old 5 - there was never anything X about it! The X1 and X3 also disappear reverting to their old numbers. A new service 7 replaces the old 17 and 19 giving new links from Dale Hall and Castle Hill, and the proposed curtailment of the 15 and Thorington Park has been scrapped.

So common sense has prevailed - even Councillors couldn't see the county town of Suffolk go bus-less after 1930 every day. However, welcome as the sponsorship is an hourly evening and Sunday service isn't going to attract many new bums to the now hard (Scanias at least) Ipswich Buses seats. To succeed these days buses have to be the obvious option, not an "oh heck we've just missed one so what do we do with the next hour" option. It's not as though any of the town services are that long. Yes some are still half hourly, the 9/10 for example but I see no effort or ambition from Ipswich Buses to promote customer growth.

Having said that Ipswich Buses have my utmost sympathy for having to provide a decent service in a town perpetually gridlocked due to either never ending roadworks or a gentle breeze closing the Orwell Bridge causing utter chaos in Ipswich. So it is up to IBC to work with Suffolk CC (there's a novel thought) and sort the roadworks out, and Ipswich Buses to convince people that sitting on a bus in traffic is better than sitting in the car in traffic. Getting new (second hand) buses with very hard seats, no USB chargers etc isn't going to achieve much on that front so maybe a complete rethink is needed by both Ipswich Buses and their owners. As we are, requiring bailouts or Reading style investment to bring Ipswich into the 21st century? The Borough of Reading has around 162,000 population whereas Ipswich has around 136,000. Not a huge difference.

Of course to achieve that Ipswich itself has to be sorted out. Instead of daft fountains in Market Square how about real incentives to businesses to come to Ipswich, to bring the town back to life instead of endless boarded up shops and pound stores. Empty shops don't realise any income so why not offer all businesses, big and small a 6 month business rate waiver to get those shops occupied and shoppers flocking back to the town, preferably by bus! Absolutely nothing to lose.

Right, now I've sorted Ipswich out I'm off to London again tomorrow so I'll combine both tomorrow and last week into one report. Be prepared for some surprising, and maybe some not so surprising reviews!

All the forthcoming Ipswich Buses timetables can be seen on their website, which you can go to by clicking here.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Stagecoach in Norfolk and Other News

If you live in the Anglian region you will have undoubtedly heard the news that broke late on Tuesday, that Stagecoach are considering closing their Kings Lynn depot, less than 5 years after buying Norfolk Green. An obligatory consultation is taking place, but looking at the activity of other operators it looks to be a done deal. I was alerted to this news a couple of days previously thanks to my wonderful network of contacts, you know who you are, so many thanks for that. Just a shame I was down in Kent on family duties when the news broke!

Konect immediately announced that they were launching a Norwich - Fakenham service from April. Their statement reads as follows.

"Konectbus plans to introduce a new Fakenham-Norwich bus route during April ‘18. Details are to be confirmed, but it will operate at least Mon to Sat on an hourly basis. More information will be posted on our website and s/media in due course."

Quick off the mark there. Lynx weren't far behind, releasing a press statement yesterday which reads:


Stagecoach in Norfolk King’s Lynn potential depot closure
Following the announcement yesterday (30th January 2018) that Stagecoach in Norfolk are likely to close their King’s Lynn based bus operation, Lynx are now looking into the viability of providing replacement bus services.
Julian Patterson, Director at Lynx said “We don’t envisage that any locations that are currently served by Stagecoach in Norfolk will be left without a bus service from 30th April 2018. However, due to the relatively short timescales involved it’s possible that any replacement bus services that we introduce may not initially operate quite as frequently as they do at the moment.”
Additionally, Lynx are now working closely with Norfolk County Council regarding the existing Stagecoach bus network, including those services which are subsidised by the County Council.
Julian Patterson also stated that “As a result of the likely expansion of our business in the near future we will welcome job applications from those with the PCV (bus) driving entitlement on their licence including those that currently work for Stagecoach, providing that they can demonstrate high standards of customer care and driving abilities.” There are also likely to be a small number of engineering and cleaning positions. You can find more information relating to careers at Lynx here.
Lynx, still a relatively new bus operator in West Norfolk & King’s Lynn commenced its first bus service in January 2015 operating hourly between King’s Lynn and Hunstanton on route 35. Since starting the frequency of Lynx buses on this particular route has increased to three buses per hour in each direction as a result of increased demand for high quality bus services in the area. Additionally Lynx have been successful in winning tendered bus routes such as Service 37 (King’s Lynn to Downham Market) and Service 48 (King’s Lynn to Gayton & Grimston) from Stagecoach.
More information regarding any replacement bus services will be made public once plans are finalised in the coming months.

I was aware that Lynx had already applied for an increase in their number of "O" licences, which again indicates that the closure is far more likely to happen than not. Of course it won't have gone unnoticed that there is likely to be quite some competition between Lynx, run by Julian Patterson, and Konect, formerly run by Julian Patterson! It is expected Sanders will vie for some of the North Norfolk Coasthopper runs, but Lynx already have the Hunstanton corridor well and truly sewn up. I will keep everyone fully updated with news as and when I hear it. But it seems another of the big boys has failed to make a success of this region. Sooner or later the lesson that local bus services need to be run locally might get through.

In the meantime, though, it looks like long established routes will once again be split up between different operators and again the question arises of why is there not a day ticket, issued and accepted by all operators? This Summer those holidaymakers used to travelling on Coasthopper between Kings Lynn and Cromer on one ticket may now need 2 tickets, at double the cost, and that is so unfair on them. I suggest Norfolk County Council must take the lead in this, and be strong - operators who refuse to sign up to the ticket will not be considered for Council tenders - that should sort it out! It is grossly wrong that Concessionary pass holders can jump from operator to operator but fare payers can't. Then we hear operators whinge that not enough fare payers get on the bus but no one does anything about it. Well enough's enough and East Anglia needs the Explorer ticket Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire has had since the 1960's.

Speaking of NCC I'm delighted to report that all proposed cuts to bus subsidies have been scrapped due to the rise in Council Tax. That is a start. I look forward to the gradual return of those routes lost over the last 7 years. It will take vision, dynamism and determination, but where there's a will there's a way. We just need someone with the will....

On a similar theme it is expected Suffolk Council will abandon their plans to alter School travel arrangements at a meeting tonight, after some number crunching discovered they won't save nearly as much as first thought. Let's hope common sense prevails.

Which it hasn't in Melton. First have bewilderingly diverted the 800 away from Melton village centre, and re-routed it along the main road, forcing passengers, many of them elderly to cross a busy road if they want to catch the fast bus to Ipswich or Woodbridge. I have spoken to First about this and the reasons cited are timekeeping in Ipswich and low passenger numbers using the service - around 5  10 a day. Stop choking Jane! I drove past Melton Chapel at 9am Tuesday morning, before passes are valid and there were 10 waiting for the bus then! I will do my research and report back, but this daft change, which saves probably all of 30 seconds needs to be reversed forthwith! First have done a lot to improve their reputation and standing in that area over recent years. Taking services away from the client base is foolhardy, and will set that reputation back, leaving the door open for other operators to step in. It has happened before when operators take their passengers for granted.

Staying with first a few items of fleet news - 3 ex Slough E200's are heading to Lowestoft to replace the baby E200's, and 8 more ex Leeds B9 Gemini 2's are heading for Norwich, which will signal the end of 8 more Trident presidents! There are also some new arrivals expected at Konect, but no one seems to know what they are yet!

I'll leave you with LT50. I was in London yesterday and chased this bus from Piccadilly Circus to Clapham Common to get a picture in daylight! Sounds dramatic - I just caught the 88 behind! Anyway it was worth it. Report on London trip at the weekend, including a new bus I liked! I know - well it was a blue moon yesterday!

LT 50 - looks superb or what!