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Tuesday, 25 April 2017

A Few Bits & Bobs

Thought I ought to let you all know I'm still alive. I know that news will disappoint one of you (only one I hope) but there are a few things to round up without any major news worthy of a separate post.

The first thing hasn't even happened yet, but I'm pretty sure will in May, and that will be the Battle of Bungay. First's new X41 will start in competition with Anglian's 88/X88 and it should be pretty good viewing. First are going to be using Streetlites on the existing 40, and Volvo B9's on the X41. Both with leather seating, WiFi etc. The B9's will be painted up into Grey I mean Charcoal Line colours.

This has stung Anglian to the extent it is my understanding they have realised that hard seated Scanias with no WiFi are no match for the B9's, so will be using Konect E400's on the 88/X88, presumably the ex 8 ones with leather seats and WiFi!. Anglian have already slashed fares on the route and it will be interesting to see how First pitch their fares. However, First will have one distinct advantage - speed. No not Chris but journey time. Anglian have just increased journey times from Bungay by diverting the X88 through Broome and Ditchingham, ironically now making the X88 a longer journey time than the 88, and it is here I predict First to make rich pickings. Going straight down the main road to Norwich with no round the houses diversions I think will be very popular, and I imagine it will only be a matter of time before Anglian matches the fast service. All in all it could be quite a battle which I'll be watching closely while badgering First to extend to Halesworth!

It was the Mid Norfolk Railway's Bus Running Day on Sunday. I didn't go. Tim and I though will be locating ourselves at Kimberley Park on Saturday for MNR's Diesel Gala which should provide many videos with much clag.

Speaking of clag there have been two returnees to the Short Set this week, and about time! Large logo 37's 37403 and 37424 have been here before. 403 lasted one trip and 424 not much longer. Yesterday 424 paired up with 37423 and Grahame Bessey, who jinxed 403 last time by getting just about the only picture of her was at Lowestoft bright and early to grab a few photos. Although displaying 37558 on the side the loco is officially 424

37424/558 at Lowestoft      pic (c) Grahame Bessey
So of course last night it promptly failed with an air leak. Well done Grahame. So this morning 424 was replaced with 403 and once again the Witch Doctor Bessey was at Lowestoft.

37403 "Isle of Mull" at Lowestoft.    pic (c) Grahame Bessey
 And so it promptly failed. Way to go Grahame! Luckily though it was just a minor fault this time and 403 was back out in action after missing just one trip. I'm just waiting for 403 and 424 to be paired together if they can stay working long enough! Now that will be something to cherish and capture.

I'm now going to have a moan, so if you don't like the thought of that stop reading. No one is forcing you or charging you to read so don't read it then slag me off.

It has been many years since I have been able to read a newspaper without getting a headache. So I very seldom read them, which makes me hopeless at celebrity gossip, but I'm also not exposed to the inaccuracies and dodgy "interpretations" the papers can sometimes publish. However occasionally I am pointed in the direction of an article someone may think I'll be interested in, and this happened today, when a regular contact sent me a link to an article in the Ipswich Star, which you can read by clicking here.

It is written by the Star's Transport Correspondent Paul Geater. Now I've never really taken much notice of this gentleman until he proudly proclaimed there were "scores" of buses at the Ipswich Bus Rally, something anyone who attended will vouch was certainly not the case. Now he has taken to the branch lines of East Anglia, and I have to say the article makes extraordinary reading. Mr Geater claims he tries to do this "at least once a year" yet reading the article you'd think it was his first time for decades.

Starting on a 170 from Ipswich to Cambridge he remarks "It’s not as fast as driving along the A14 and Cambridge station is a 20-minute walk from the city centre, but it’s certainly a better way of reaching the city than it used to be!" It's also EXACTLY the same as it was last year, or the last 17 years since the 170's were introduced at the turn of the century. You would have thought a regular traveller would know that, let alone a professional journalist.

The next leg of the journey was from Cambridge to Norwiich. The Norwich train was cancelled but this didn't seem to faze our intrepid passenger in the slightest. "On the day I travelled the train was cancelled because the GA diesel unit had broken down. Not a good start. However there are so many trains on this route with Cross Country services from Stansted to the Midlands and East Midlands services from Birmingham and Liverpool to Norwich that it made little difference." Ok first things first - East Midlands do NOT run services from Birmingham to Norwich. Cross Country operate the Stansted to Birmingham service via Ely but EMT only run Norwich - Liverpool services. So let's continue with this non-inconvenience of a cancellation;

"I had to change at Ely, but I actually arrived in Norwich 10 minutes earlier than I had expected. I had to stand for the 10-mile trip from Cambridge to Ely but that was no great hardship, and I had a seat for the attractive journey through Breckland."

Oh that's ok then Paul. I'm assuming you weren't in a wheelchair, or pregnant, or with a couple of toddlers or an elderly relative. I'm pretty sure anyone in that position would have found it a much greater hardship, as I'm sure they would have found changing platforms at Ely, which has one of the longest underpasses on the planet. It's also reassuring to know you weren't penalised time wise as getting to Norwich 10 mins earlier must have been a bonus (don't you check timetables before setting out?) but it's just as well you weren't travelling to Attleborough or Wymondham, or indeed Brandon and possibly Lakenheath as I'm sure your EMT train didn't make special stops at these stations so anyone travelling there would have been delayed the full hour. But never mind them eh!

The next trip was to Yarmouth via Berney Arms on a single car 153. He writes "But I’m afraid I’m not eulogising over the single-car units. There’s a reason some enthusiasts call them “Scuds.”  Well I have researched this, and it seems the units are called Scuds because like the scud missile, whose accuracy wasn't exactly 100% , the 153's could turn up anywhere, so not sure what Mr Geater's interpretation of the word is. They have also been around for the best part of 25 years, the Eastern units making their debut on Mr Geater's home line, so why make it sound as though it's the first time you've been on one?

Then the coup de grace; "Highlight of the day was the trip from Norwich to Lowestoft along the most attractive line in East Anglia in a train made up of three beautifully restored 1970s-built coaches and top and tailed by a pair of ultra-modern Class 68 diesel locomotives."

Just one problem. Those coaches had gone by time the article was published, now replaced with old Anglian ones, and the 68's haven't been here nearly as long, or will remain nearly as long as the 37's, which I doubt Mr Geater has any idea about. He kept referring and comparing to when he was a teenager in the 60's, but if he does this trip every year why doesn't he compare to last year, or 5 years ago? Why no comment on the lack of through trains to London from Lowestoft and Bury. He declined Felixstowe as he couldn't bear the thought of another 153 yet that is the branch line at most risk currently due to the increase in freight traffic. Nothing about frequencies, or connections, or ticketing facilities on branch lines, or disabled access, or co-ordinated bus connections, or fares. But hey he got to Norwich earlier using two trains instead of one. Yes I will be applying for the job when Mr Geater retires. At least I try to get my facts right.

One to look forward to - thanks to Megabus I am nipping down to Plymouth in June to catch up with the former Anglian gas buses, to see them in their new home and remind myself how good they are! Just the one day, catching the overnight coach in both directions on consecutive nights, but it's cheap! Would have cost well over £100 on train, £80 in petrol, but Megabus Norwich - London - Plymouth return? £10.50! Cheers! Oh - just checked National Express for same days and times - £32.40!

Finally my thanks to all who have written over the last couple of weeks, including a couple of really surprising and touching ones. I made it clear I wasn't after the sympathy vote, but your emails and phone calls have made a great difference, and is why the blog still exists. Next post will be the Diesel Gala review.


Monday, 17 April 2017

Blog Statement

First of all my apologies - there was meant to be a big London themed post over this weekend but I was relying on a contribution from a third party, who has let me down. So the post won't be published.

Reading through the comments from the last post one of them stuck out, and I suddenly realised how applicable it was to me. This was the comment.

If you want to ride in service buses, I expect you'd have to pay some money to the companies and go out and do that on any average weekday.
The event was voluntary and provided by people in their spare time, at their own risk, for the enjoyment of people they didn't know. 


So let's adapt that. 

If you want to read industry magazines I expect you'd have to pay some money to the publishers, and go to a newsagent to get them.

This blog is voluntary and provided by myself in my spare time, at my own expense, for the enjoyment of people I don't know.

I do not make a penny out of this blog.In fact there are considerable expenses involved in it. It is a hobby which keeps me involved in the industry I love and know. I don't always get it right, I don't claim to. If I get it wrong I'm happy to accept correction. I give others the right to pass comment on what I do without having to reveal their identity, which has led to abuse and invitations to take my own life. 

The views and opinions I express are honest, and not driven by bias, outside influence or personal vendetta. I don't get any help whatsoever with the production or compilation of the blog, with the invaluable exception of Tim helping share travelling costs on occasions. 

Through this blog I have made some amazing friends, young and old, from cleaners to drivers to top management, and of course fellow enthusiasts. It completely took over my life at one point and my health suffered as a result, but not now. I was hoping it might lead to some professional, paid work, but that hasn't happened either. I'm hoping it still might but not holding my breath.

I won't be posting as much from now on. I thought about closing the blog as it seems I'm either getting abused or let down at present but no reason to let those people beat me. However I'll now post when I want to, rather than because I feel I ought to. If I get news I'll publish it, but won't worry if I don't have anything to publish. I'll continue to review new vehicles, challenge operators and councils and enjoy my hobby. I hope you'll all stay with me, well one of you can bugger off, and keep checking for new posts as and when they go up.

So I can't be accused of fishing for sympathy or compliments I have disabled comments for this post. However, if anyone emails I will reply.

Steve

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Ipswich Bus Rally 2017

Always risky planning an event for mid April, but today the sun shone on Portman Rd in Ipswich for Ipswich Bus Rally. I went there with Tim, chauffeured by Grahame Bessey, DJ extraordinaire and co author at East Norfolk Bus Blog, whose owner Roy Northcott also attended. Zak from Norwich Bus Page was there as was Sam from Norwich Buses Blog, and of course Clive Nixon of Ipswich Bus Blog. So the bus blogging world gathered in expectation of a repeat of what I'm told was a great event last year.

First Ipswich, Ipswich Buses, Carters Heritage, Beestons, Galloway, Simonds, Borderbus, PH Travel, JR Travel, Whincops, Norse, Network Colchester, Stephensons and Hedingham were just some of the local companies who didn't support the event. Very, very disappointing and not a good advertisement for the industry. Even Ipswich Transport Museum, who were allegedly running the event didn't supply much, not an Atlantean in sight. So my thanks go out to those who did bother to send vehicles, including First Essex, Anglian, Chambers, Mulleys and Panther, and all the privately owned buses cared for tirelessly by enthusiasts. You can hold your heads high. Everyone else who either got caught up in petty squabbling or just couldn't be bothered you have let a lot of people down today, including yourselves.

I expected to spend the day riding on various buses around Ipswich but in the event only went on one - mind you that was pretty spectacular. Leon Wells brought his ex Ipswich Buses Olympian to the event, and gave us a superb 2 way trip across the Orwell Bridge, which on a day like today provided some simply staggering views you rarely get a chance to see. Thanks Leon, for keeping the Ollie in such good nick and for picking such a good route taking advantage of the weather.

Leon Wells's ex Ipswich Buses Volvo Olympian M41 EPV
Anglian surprisingly brought along Scania Omnicity 461 YN05 HFG, the first Anglian vehicle I have seen in Ipswich since their 164/5 services were abruptly scrapped in 2013.

Anglian 461 arriving at Portman Rd
 Another surprise exhibit was First Essex Volvo B7rle 69515 BJ11 ECN, formerly Chelmsford P&R the bus is now branded up for Basildon - Southend services.

First Essex 69515 looking quite smart
My favourite bus of the day though was this ex Metroline MCW Metrobus. GYE 394W is part of the Great Yeldham collection and yet another bus coming up from Essex. Suffolk was seriously under-represented. However, very sadly, the Metrobus didn't go out on any trips which was a shame.

The usual collection of Bristol RE, LH's and VR's were there as well as the regular older vehicles. But on the whole despite the glorious weather the event was rather a damp squib, and had it not been for the good catch up with friends would have been a waste of a day. So thanks for coming everyone, good to meet some new people, put faces to names and having a darn good gossip. I hope if there is an event next year more effort is made to encourage Suffolk operators to attend. I'll finish this post with photos taken from the Orwell Bridge, which quite honestly was the highlight of the day.

Look out for some posts from London later in the week and over Easter. Wednesday could be an epic day!

Hazy but glorious
A pleasure craft on the Orwell
Looking upstream
Wouldn't guess it was Suffolk would you!



Saturday, 1 April 2017

East Suffolk Line To Become Busway

News has reached me of a quite amazing development in the future of the East Suffolk Line. If Sizewell does get the green light, it has been proposed that the East Suffolk Line be turned into a guided bus and lorry road. It will be a joint venture with EDF Energy, Network Rail, Greater Anglia and Suffolk County Council. The plans are as follows:

  • The East Suffolk Line including Sizewell to become a Guided Busway, with appropriately equipped HGV's to be permitted on the Busway between Sizewell and Martlesham/A12
  • A spur from the Busway at Martlesham where current railway passes under the A12 so Sizewell C construction traffic can access the A12 where it is dualled without having to travel through local villages or the single carriageway section of the A12. Plans include Park & Ride site for Sizewell workers.
  • The section of line between Westerfield and Bacon Curve will be widened, including new bridges so current Felixstowe traffic unaffected. 
  • Platform 1 at Ipswich will be converted to Busway to provide direct link and transfer between Busway and National Rail. The buses will then continue into Central Ipswich. It is envisaged at the Lowestoft end of the Busway buses will continue from Lowestoft Station into Lowestoft and beyond. 
  • It is expected local buses will link up with the Busway at hubs in Woodbridge, Saxmundham, Halesworth and Beccles so as many people as possible have access to the fast buses.
  • Integrated fares with National Rail will be available so commuters using both guided bus and train will not be adversely affected financially.

Could it really happen?
The reasons for this project are explained thus. It works out cheaper to convert the ESL to busway than restore the Sizewell branch to full working capacity, coping with large amounts of traffic. There has been local opposition to the amount of extra road traffic including many extra lorries and construction worker's cars. Financial incentives will be given to workers to leave their cars and use the Busway to get to work. This will negate the need for the A12 to be developed, including bypasses and huge P&R sites which will just increase the traffic.

Who'd have thought it!
So who will be operating the services? This is yet to be decided as the decision to build Sizewell C has not yet been finalised. However, a certain operator's eyes lit up at the thought, and kindly agreed to show us what the destination might look like.

A Gemini up the ESL?
So what do I think of this? Mixed feelings but can't help thinking it actually makes sense. Railways are costly to maintain and operate. The East Suffolk Line isn't the fastest around and buses will actually be able to reduce journey times considerably. Restoring the whole line to two way traffic will mean a much increased service pattern, and will do wonders for tourism too. With the dawn of electric buses it could become the greenest transport system around.

Taking the threat of all the extra traffic from the construction of Sizewell C will go down very well with residents of places such as Yoxford, and Leiston will benefit greatly from the new faster services which should help property prices and encourage investment.

Obviously there will be some who vehemently oppose these plans. The ESL holds many memories for a lot of people, but I think this plan actually secures the route's future for generations to come, and means it won't just be abandoned to grow over if the money to maintain it runs out. I'll miss the test trains, but the reduced travelling times, and cheaper fares, which are essential, should see the route gain in popularity, and like the Cambridge Busway, attract enthusiasts to the area in their droves.

All that is now required is Sizewell C to be built. I hope it is. Then sights like this may become reality.

Can't wait!
My thanks to Andrew and Colin at Borderbus for their help with the pics, and I have a feeling sights are already being set for the future!

Monday, 27 March 2017

Oooh What A Pretty Bus!

I had an online friend who used to tease me about my esteemed hobby saying just how many ties can you say "Ook what a pretty bus"! Well on Saturday the answer was qute a few as Tim and I set off for Cambridge to tour all the Park & Ride sites. This was possible because Cambridge P&R operates in a different way to most. You pay a pound to park the car, which gives you up to 18 hours parking, then pay for the bus, which accepts Concessionary Passes and normal Stagecoach Day Tickets. A return on the P&R is £3.00 but up to 3 under 16's go free with every fare paying adult, which has got to be cheaper than parking in Cambridge itself, if there is anywhere!

Stagecoach East have recently introduced a fleet of new ADL Enviro E400MMC's on their 5 P&R sites, all with a different colour. A couple of buses are painted a generic colour - silver - which can deputise on any route, but neither of them were in evidence on Saturday. All buses are identical inside with comfortable blue and orange seating, free wi-fi, and USB charging. They also come with Air Chill, which is either ineffective on the nearside or a howling gale on the offside.

Interior of Cambridge P&R buses
The first site we went to was Babraham Rd, which also serves Addenbrookes Hospital. The buses on this route are a two tone green.Stagecoach East 10798 SN66 VZW did the honours.
Babraham Rd P&R site, with 10798
Changing to purple our next site was Milton, on the other side of the City via the Science Park. 10804 SN66 WAJ took us there

Milton P&R site with 10804
Newmarket Rd was our next destination, which is near Cambridge Airport. These buses are Orange, and 10808 SN66 WBE was our bus. The site isn't as photographer friendly as the first two, so a different angle for this one.

10808 at Newmarket Rd P&R
By now Cambridge was getting busy, so we came up with the what we thought was the good idea of going to Huntington via the Busway to do the rail stuff we had planned, then do the other P&R sites on our return when things had quietened down a bit. I covered the Busway a couple of weeks ago, so won't repeat myself, but I got the distinct impression Tim thinks it's sacrilege to have anything but a train or tram running on a former railway! I still think it's brilliant!

I'll cover the rail bit in another post, including the most terrifying video I've ever taken, once I've learned how to bleep out the obscenities! I am not scared of fast trains however close but rocking bridges are another thing altogether!

So on our return to Cambridge it was back to business so we headed for the blue Trumpington P&R stop and were met with a queue of quite monumental proportions - at least 3 bus loads worth. One bus came and went fully loaded, another one turned up, the driver abandoned it and another driver took an absolute age to get sorted before starting to load by which time a third had arrived. However the people just didn't stop coming, and we soon realised we wouldn't get all 5 sites in and still get the last 11 back to Bury. So we decided to abandon Trumpington, much like the US Senate. We still got pics though, and I'm led to believe I have innocently got a collectors item. The driver who took so long to get ready also put up the wrong destination - the A is a Busway route covered by single deckers and there are no guide wheels in evidence. So 10793 SN66 YZR is probably never to be seen again showing that destination. 10795 behind is correct. Thanks to Damon for pointing it out.

Don't think the passengers noticed either!
Having abandoned Trumpington we headed for the final site, that being Madingley Rd. My favourite colour, this one, not even sure what the colour is but I like it. The sun was going down by now so the pics aren't great. However this was the shortest journey of the day, and also the friendliest driver, who took a real interest in what we were doing and why. Always adds something to the day when that happens. Our final MMC was 10790 SN66 YZM.

10790 at Madingley Rd P&R site
The rear view
Cambridge is a very busy City, and with the sun out all day it was manic on Saturday. Despite the glitch on the Trumpington route we were impressed by the service, the sites and the drivers. The MMC's are adequate for the job and look great. If I lived in the area I'd have no hesitation in using the service. And they are really pretty buses!

A quick word about fares. Tim bought a Day Ranger ticket at Bury, used it to travel to Cambridge, go on all te P&R's, travel the Busway to Huntington, could have carried on to Peterborough and beyond and anywhere in Cambridgeshire. Tim paid £6.40 for that. I could embarrass other operators charging much more for far less but I'll let you compare instead. Suffice it to say that Stagecoach could teach others a lot about encouraging bus travel. Mind you I've been thinking that since my first experiences of Stagecoach in 1999 so it's nothing new. Thanks for the company, Tim, t'was a good day