Monday, 26 September 2016

Back To Plan A Part Two

In Part One I reported how an aborted test train outing had resulted in a long and complicated journey to Norwich to get some bacon from the market. We left it when I had just arrived in Great Yarmouth on Borderbus's 580 from Bungay. I had an hour to kill in Yarmouth as Borderbus have yet another E200 in their possession, and I hadn't seen it yet. Then I was sampling Konect's version of the 7 to Norwich for the first time.

In the meantime I took the opportunity for a wander round Yarmouth as I had successfully avoided the town during the high season weeks. The lack of Plaxton Presidents was a joy, most have now been replaced with ex Leeds B9tl Gemini 2's, and it looks much better for it. Still getting used to the new stop arrangements there but I did manage to see a new service in the town, Our Bus's 271 to Hemsby, operated on by an increasingly rare breed in the area now, an original Optare Solo.

Our Bus Solo CN54 HFD on the 271 to Hemsby
When Konect took over the 7 from Anglian it was launched in a blaze of publicity with a special livery, wifi, phone chargers etc. So naturally my first pic of a 7 was of a bus that had none of those! E400 602 SN10 CFF was deputising.

Konect 602 on the 7 to Norwich
Sadly I didn't get the pic of the new Borderbus E200, well I did but it was a complete disaster. However it is white, with Borderbus Vinyls, and an 09 reg E200. Not much imagination needed. I messed up the pic as I was walking towards the next 7 to Norwich, which this time was one of the branded E400's. The first time I had been on one of that particular batch of E400's too. Erm now what can I say about it. It was ok. I must be honest and say I prefer the E400's without air chill, which lessens the background  noise. It was very spacious compared to the X1 with plenty of room to stretch out without being disturbed by other passengers. I noted we didn't pick up or drop off anyone at Postwick P&R which being only 1400 was fairly surprising. On the whole I had no complaints about the journey even if it didn't have me panting with excitement. It took me from where I was to where I wanted to be with minimum of fuss, it was comfortable, and got to Norwich on time. I guess that's all you really want from a bus service. For the record I had 638, SN65 OAX.

Konect 638 at Castle Meadow

It won't be too long now before I can do a post I've been waiting quite some time for. Just some red fronted buses to appear in Norwich and I can do my complete rainbow post. The latest buses to be painted up are the B9tl's on the Blue Line. I confess I wasn't sure how they would look with blue fronts but I have to say I love them. Really striking and in my opinion one of the best looking colours to see there. It maybe the Gemini body that makes the difference as I'm not sure that blue would suit a President as well, but in the Norwich sun they looked really eye catching. First up is 36169 BD11 CFO

36169 heading towards Norwich Riverside
Next up is 36175 BD11 CFZ on the 26A to Norfolk & Norwich Hospital

And that was it. Bacon purchased -  jolly nice it was too - and it was to Norwich bus station for the X88 back to Halesworth. Another gas bus, this time my old favourite 100, but again the condition wasn't how I want to remember it. I'm already saving up to go to Plymouth next Spring to see how Citibus have treated them. This brings me onto why I think they are going, having read between as many lines as possible.

There has been some real rubbish spoken as to why the gas buses are going. I have heard that Anglian can't afford the lease anymore. Well they are not leased they are owned so that puts that one to bed. Secondly they cost over £30,000 a month to run. Rubbish - they are cheaper to run than diesel buses. Thirdly they are too big for the country routes. In recent weeks gas buses have been employed on the tightest of country routes including places like Topcroft on the 84 to Harleston, and are no bigger than the Scanias being refurbished to replace them. So what is the reason?

You have to take a bit of everything, mix it up and reassemble it. Next year the 5 year warranty on the gas buses expires. The country routes Anglian have do cause more damage than City routes do, including to the underneath of the buses, and MAN parts I'm told are not the cheapest in the world. Therefore it actually makes sense to use them in a location where damage will be reduced and therefore operating costs too. Scania panels are not difficult to come by but Ecocity panels aren't that common so without warranty I can understand why at the current rate of damage costs would go through the roof. I don't want to see them go but can now at least understand. However one question remains to be answered - Why the heck weren't we told that in the first place instead of being fed absolute rubbish about bus lengths and them being leased etc. Not good, and definitely not professional.

Fnallly while I'm having a moan is there a worse advert for public transport in East Anglia than the Gents toilets at Norwich Bus Station. The loo in my flat is bigger, and in a far more hygienic state. The Gents at Norwich Bus Station are a disgraceful health hazard and cannot possibly encourage anyone to use public transport. Obviously I don't know what the Ladies are like but the Gents should be condemned. Those Portaloos were a darn sight cleaner.

A couple of special posts coming up this week on the Carters.Ipswich Buses transition. Oh, and I passed Soames yard in Otley earlier today. Still looks busy, including a Suffolk Norse E300 over the pits.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Back To Plan A Part 1

At the end of my last post I promised a bus post would follow, and so it has, ironically due to a points failure at Saxmundham. Allow me to explain. After posting my promise I noticed that yet another test train was in the area, and this one was a must. Not only is 950001 a one off train but it was going down the Sizewell branch, which now has a train down it about as often as a politician has an attack of conscience. A plan of action to catch it at as many locations as possible was formed, Tim managed to find some free time to join me at Leiston and we were all set. I decided to see her first at Saxmundham.

950001 is not, as some think a converted 150, but was purpose built for the job it does. I've called it the Baby Banana, and I didn't have long to wait before it came in, not on the platform I expected.

I jumped back in the car and relocated to a country crossing on the Sizewell branch where Tim joined me. We waited, then waited some more. In the end I checked the diagram to see if it was still at Saxmundham only to discover it had turned round (metaphorically) and was already back at Woodbridge. It was not going to Sizewell after all. It later transpired that a set of points, presumably from mainline to branch, had failed and the Sizewell run will have to be rescheduled. So feeling very sorry for Tim who hadn't seen it at all it was back to Plan A, and I headed to Halesworth to start an extremely convoluted journey to Norwich.

It won't be long before Anglian's gas buses transfer to Plymouth, therefore I was pleased to see one of them, 103, on the X88. I am unwavering in my opinion that these are the best single deck buses ever built, but I doubt I'd have reached that opinion had they always been in the condition 103 was yesterday. I have never heard more rattles on a gas bus before, and at one point the driver had to secure the cab door with sticky tape, well a ten trip ticket holder to be precise, to keep it shut. The distinct impression I got was "oh well they're going so we don't give a damn now". It's like seeing a dying relative in hospital - you try to remember them as they used to be, not as they are now. Plymouth will have their work cut out to get them back up to scratch.

Anglian MAN Ecocity gas bus 103 WX62 HHE at Bungay
Bungay is quite an entertaining place these days, with Anglian, Borderbus and Simonds now serving the town. I had half hour there before catching the 580 to Yarmouth, and next up was the 581 to Beccles, operated by Simonds using one of their MCV bodied Vovo B7rle's.

Simonds MCV Volvo B7rle BT13 YWF
A few minutes later and a pleasant surprise. Last Friday I photographed Simonds latest double decker purchase at Diss, and yesterday I bagged their latest single decker purchase. BT63 UUR is an MCV bodied Volvo B8R formerly of Webberbus of Bridgwater. I say B8R as that was what the badge on the back said, however, it's listed as a B7rle so take your pick!

Simonds BT63 UUR at Bungay
Then my transport to Yarmouth arrived in the form of Borderbus 103, ADL E200 BB09 BUS. This was my first time on the route since Borderbus launched it in August, and it appears to be taking off really well. Other blogs have reported that Borderbus are using a double decker on the early morning journey, and speculated that it was in an attempt to lure students at Gorleston 6th form College on to the route. No luring required. That decker is needed as more than 50 students are using it to get to and from College. Not bad for a service that has only been running 6 weeks. I fully expect more journeys to be added to the timetable in due course, particularly a later journey in the afternoon. Anyway I suddenly realised I couldn't recall seeing a pic of a Borderbus vehicle at James Paget Hospital, so nipped out and put that right.

Borderbus 103 BB09 BUS at James Paget Hospital
Annoyed the destination screen didn't show on the photo, at Yarmouth I made sure it did.


In Part 2 coming soon more from Yarmouth, and I finally arrive in Norwich. Unfortunately I have been forced to cancel my trip on Sunday so not as much bus material next week as anticipated. Sure something will turn up though.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Another Test Train

Hot on the heels of the PLPR test train to Lowestoft on Thursday came the ultrasonic test train on Monday. Totally unexpected but a nice surprise and it gave me something to do. So I met up with Tim and waited. We knew what to expect - Colas Rail 37421 and a DBSO (9702) the other end. My first sight of a Colas Rail loco in the flesh and of course a 37 to boot. A few mins late and the magnificent loco loomed out of the Lowestoft light mist.

I have to say the lighting at Lowestoft Station is exceptional, making night time videos and pictures a lot easier. I can't think of many stations where you could get a picture to match this one for example.

37421 in its magnificence at Lowestoft
The Colas livery is pretty divisive it seems, but I don't mind it at all. I think the old Anglia Railways livery, for example would look a lot worse on a 37 than this one. Anyway we were lucky in that the driver was another really friendly chap who was standing next to me when I took the above photo taking one himself. We asked if it was worth driving to Oulton Broad North to get some good engine noise but he told us not to bother as this particular test train measures at 20mph and there wouldn't be any engine noise! So we stayed put and videoed it leaving. Now you judge for yourself, but did that driver time the acceleration deliberately so we got the best sound effect? Certainly seems to me he coasts a little longer than most would before accelerating. It's little things like that which make the mileage worth it.

And then came a bonus I wasn't expecting. Tim and I were nattering for ages by our cars, and many minutes had passed when I noticed a train in the distance approaching Lowestoft. Assuming it to be a 156 I didn't take much notice, then realised it was, in fact the Class 68 hauled short set making a very late night appearance. When I videoed it a few weeks ago 68016/19 were on it. Monday saw 2 different locos with 68022/24 on duty, in fact it turns out it was 68022's first day on the set.

68022 is the seventh Class 68 to have been employed on the set, which is now staying at least until the end of the year. The others having been 68004/9/16/19/23. My thanks to Richard Clinnick of Rail Magazine for that info. Unfortunately no major grunt from the 68's as they left ECS for Norwich, but what the heck we're just lucky to have them up here.

An unexpectedly good evening, and thanks to Tim for the company. For those of you pining for bus posts fear not, the next week or so will bring several bus posts. Tim and I are on our travels Sunday, and there should be enough material to keep everyone happy! I'm also hoping to get to Norwich tomorrow, man flu permitting, and hope to catch up with a few things there..

Saturday, 17 September 2016

First Management Update

A few weeks ago I suggested that First were about to concede a spectacular own goal, but at the time was not able to give details. Now I am able to reveal what I was talking about.

Those of you who have been reading this blog from the outset will know when I started I was highly critical of First in just about all aspects of the operations. I was considered a "First hater". As it happened I wasn't, as I have proved by criticising anyone who warrants it. In the next three years three men have been responsible for turning First around, with amazing support from their junior managers and staff. These three are David Squire, former Managing Director who I believe is now plying his trade at Bristol, Chris Speed, who has transformed operations, vehicle presentation and on board revenue, and Hugo Forster who has masterminded Commercial activities. Thanks to those three First have transformed.

So it was a shock when news reached me a few weeks ago that one of Chris or Hugo was going to lose their job due to management restructuring. There is a well known phrase which says if it aint broke don't fix it. Losing either Chris or Hugo is not going to be good. They are experts in their field and without them First would be in a very different position. Well the decision has been made.

On Monday Chris Speed started his new position as Head of Operations at First Eastern Counties. I'm delighted for him and the future looks good for First. It also means I can nag him about certain issues which is even better. However I am truly gutted for Hugo Forster, who has given so much and played a massive part in rescuing FEC from the doldrums. He has accepted voluntary redundancy and I am confident he will be eagerly snapped up by another company, not necessarily in the bus industry, as in his favour Hugo isn't a bus enthusiast and so will survive quite happily in another industry. Thank you for what you have done for First, Hugo, and I wish you every success for the future.

As for Chris, congratulations mate, so pleased you are staying with us, and I look forward to your random phone calls just to chew the cud. Good luck in your new role, which I'm sure will only benefit the travelling public of Norfolk and Suffolk. You'll soon hear from me if it doesn't!!!

Friday, 16 September 2016

Something For The Weekend, Sir?

No other reason for the title than I'm writing this on a Friday evening. Two main topics tonight and undecided which order to put them in but think I'll go with the loud and garish first.

Last night saw me haring around East Suffolk as another Network Rail test train was in the area. Officially the PLPR in PLPR Test Train stands for Plain Line Pattern Recognition. Unofficially (meaning I've just made it up) it stands for Proper Locos Proper Racket and I wanted to hear as much racket as possible. Two 50 year old 37's were on duty, in far better nick than this particular 50yo, and pleasingly were different to the two that were on duty last month. This time I wanted a closer look so was at Lowestoft to see them come in.

This was the first time I had got close up to a test train and thanks to the outside darkness I was able to see inside one. There only appeared to be two NR staff on board but what they have in front of them looks like a TV production gallery.

Hi tech stuff on the test train
I had the opportunity to chat to the friendly driver who after first being rather uncomplimentary about the 37's ended up agreeing that they weren't that bad after all. He told me about the various test trains at Derby. This PLPR can measure to speeds up to 70mph, the "Flying Banana" and a Class 68 hauled one can measure up to 125mph, but another one that normally has a 37 one end and a DBSO the other can only measure at 30mph, and those duties can get a bit tedious. I told him I was heading to Darsham and could he put on a show when he pulled away. He informed me there was a driver change at Beccles but he would pass the message on. I left him in peace to have the rest of his break and took a couple of pics of the two locos, 37602/9. 37602 was in the dark so this moonlit shot turned out reasonably well.

37602 in the Lowestoft moonlight
At the other end 37609 was bathed in light, and proved a perfect model.

37609 in the limelight, well floodlight anyway
Since the train was on the little used Platform 4 I thought it appropriate to video her leaving from the even less used Platform 1, which is now a car park!

It was then time to hot wheel it down the A12 to Darsham, and see if my request for a show had been passed on. I think it's safe to say it had. This simply has to be heard over headphones. Both of those magnificent locos at full power. I honestly can't think of a better sound on the railways and they are British, and half a century old. Enjoy.

Moving on and you will have noticed that over the last couple of years I haven't been exactly complimentary about Go Ahead's management of their companies in East Anglia, particularly Anglian. I have always stressed my issues have not been with Anglian themselves, but Go Ahead's running of Anglian. Well it looks as though the disease is spreading. There have been many cancellations on both Hedingham and Chambers this week due to driver shortages. This afternoon the following statement from Hedingham appeared on Spotted Brightlingsea Facebook page in response to passenger complaints over the cancellations, and was published on Essex Buses Yahoo Group. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

 "Dear customer

We are sorry that there have been cancellations
and delays on our Route 87 over the past two weeks.

We currently have a shortage of drivers and are
actively recruiting more. We have a vacancy of
six people but, even with our supervisors driving
buses and colleagues working overtime, we don’t
have enough people to run the full timetable service.

We are prioritising the journeys that school
children make and, to give you more certainty
about what services are running each day, we are
publishing a list of cancelled services on Twitter.

Being realistic it is likely to take a few weeks
more for us to recruit drivers and train them but
in the meantime we are working in partnership
with another local company from Monday to cover
some of our work alongside pursuing the option of
bringing in agency drivers as soon as we are able.

Thank you for your patience and understanding
during this difficult time. I’m sorry we’re not
able – even with our drivers working additional
shifts – to keep the full service running.

Kind regards

Gavin Hunter | Managing Director - Go East Anglia "

Finally I went shopping in Diss earlier today, and as luck would have it managed to spot Simonds recently purchased Scania Omnideckka. I'm fairly certain it's the first decker I've seen in Diss Bus Station and is accompanied by two Galloway Solos, one of them being one of the new Solo SR's, and a Simonds E200. Fair to say it was a bit soggy in Diss.

Simonds Scania Omnidekka BV55 UCY

That's it for this week, have a good weekend.