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Sunday, 31 August 2014

Weekly News Round Up 31/8/14

It has been a funny old week. Normally I save most things for the Sunday round up but most things that have occured this week I have deemed so important I have posted about them on the day, so not too much to report in this round up. However this gives me the opportunity to include things I have been meaning to over the last couple of weeks and forgotten.

Service Changes

Tomorrow being 1st September means the biggest annual service alterations of the year. But to be honest apart from a few timetable tinkerings there isn't too much of real consequence to report. The main changes come over at Anglian and Konect, with the transfer of the 53 to Konect from Anglian, together with the Optare Versas used on the route, and the closure of Rackheath depot. The 57 Town Service to Bishopsgate has been withdrawn, however Sanders have stepped in with a new 157 service. The 86 is being extended to JPH and linking up with the 60 to give a link to Beccles, and a few journeys on the 88 have been altered, including the 1600 from Norwich to Halesworth which I have caught for the last time. The 1555 departure to Bungay, which took a lot of school passengers, and went round the villages has been withdrawn, so those passengers will now cram onto the 1600, which will no longer go the direct route to Halesworth but round everywhere possible increasing journey time by 15 mins, and decreasing comfort by a considerable amount. That smacks of profit over passenger convenience and comfort, though Lord knows why that still surprises and disappoints me.

In Ipswich the 66 will no longer serve Halifax. I believe that is only a temporary move and may be (only my guesswork) because due to the refurb programme Ipswich are short of deckers so need to free a couple up which terminating the 66 at the Station again will do. First take over what was Ipswich Buses service 192 to Adastral Park in Martlesham with the route renamed X66 and H66. That really is about it, except the Sudbury Busway is now open. Yup first time I've heard of it too. Perhaps my friends at Beestons can help me with that one and let me know where and how long it is!

Class 68 at Lowestoft

It has been another heinous week on the railways (more tomorrow) of which absolutely none of it has been Greater Anglia's fault, despite an idiot MP saying they should lose their franchise over it. He obviously realised what an ass he had made of himself and tried to cover it up by defecting to UKIP two days later.

Anyway I digress. On Wednesday one of the new Class 68 locos went on a couple of training runs to Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Unfortuantely my X2was running too lare and I missed it by 3 mins, but Tim Miller was there and took the following pics and video of this extremely eyecatching new locomotive. Thanks, Tim for the time and trouble to send these in.

68009 sitting at Lowestoft
A rather smart looking cab
video



New Enviro 400

Been meaning to post this for a couple of weeks now. Alexander Dennis have launched the new E400, and my word it looks smart. Let's hope this one doesn't start rattling 5 mins after leaving the factory, but a friend who has driven it tells me there wasn't a rattle on her and she was a dream to drive. Hope for the future then! Can't wait to find one to try out.

The new E400. Mmmmm nice!!
And Finally

I was at Market |Gates on Thursday with Cameron from Yarmouth Bus Page and a convoy of buses approached that called out for capturing for posterity. Well not so much the first bus but the next two without a doubt. Ignore the cry of anguish from someone halfway through! Have a great week everyone.

video


Oh - while I think of it there had been speculation that withdrawn Olympian 34112 might be making a return. While Cameron and I were round the back of Caister Rd on Thursday we could see 34112 looking rather isolated and forlorn. When I remarked that I thought she was coming back on the road we heard a snort from the other side of the wall - "that's not going back on the road"!! Not worth holding our breath it seems!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Guest Post - Eastbourne Special

Today I'm pleased to bring you a very special guest post from Lou Phillips, who is without doubt my number one follower on Twitter. Lou is 16, and is one of a very rare breed as I seriously don't know any other enthusiasts of the fairer sex! I've been nagging Lou to help me with an Eastbourne Special for sometime now, and today she obliged  by sending me a few pics. Lou stayed in Lowestoft last week at her Nan's and got her first taste of a MAN Ecocity Gas Bus. Thankfully my insistence that she travel on one paid off as she loves them - well who wouldn't!

So here are Lou's pics -all of which were taken in Eastbourne town centre. Many thanks Lou for sending the pics, and keep on snapping. Now you need to nag to be taken to ShowBus!

A Stagecoach E200 on the 54 in front of a Brighton & Hove Scania
Nice view of  Eastbourne town centre with an E200 in front of an E400 and I think another E200 in the background

A cracking shot of a Stagecoach E400 on the 51 to Heathfield
A Stagecoach ALX400  showing what looks like "loop" on the front!
Lou's own pic of an Anglian Gas Bus. Glad you had at least one sunny day.Lou!
Once again thanks to Lou for taking the trouble to send me in the pics, which of course remain her copyright.

Friday, 29 August 2014

First Ipswich Update And Praise

Today has been a good day for First Ipswich. In fact a spectacularly good day. one of thosae days where I couldn't wait to get home and write this post, as believe it or not I derive great pleasure from writing positive, happy posts.

Pride of place today was going to be the arrival of ALX400 in the new livery, and a photo opportunity probably never to be repeated, but no. That can wait because pride of place today goes to the First Ipswich staff who have excelled themselves today in a way that made me proud to be using them.

It started with 65589 from Saxmundham, which a few tears ago I'd have been really happy with, but now not so much. Fortunately a chap from Leiston who is into transport I haven't seen for ages was on board and we nattered the whole journey which made it seem a lot quicker. However, as we were approaching Ipswich a young girl in a buggy was travel sick on the bus. I have seen drivers in the past create a right song and dance over something like that, take buses out of service transferring passengers and the like. Not Lushi Lavdosh, who has been a driver at Ipswich for 10 years now. He stopped the bus, somehow cleared the mess up, made sure the girl was ok, gave her a tube of Smarties for when she got off the bus (checking with Mum first) so she instantly forgot she had been sick, arranged for the bus to be cleaned at Ipswich and we carried on. Outstanding professionalism and empathy, and a credit not just to First but the industry as a whole. So pleased I was on that bus to witness it. A pleasure to meet you, Lushi (really hope I've spelled that right) and hope to board your bus again soon.

So I wandered down to the depot in hope more than expectation as I had heard some days ago that 32490 was due back this week. So you can imagine the grin on my face when I got there and 32487 was standing on the forecourt gleaming in the sun. It appears not even the depot were expecting her so a surprise all round. However, I have to say that I think the new front suits the deckers more than anything else. Judge for yourselves.

Volvo B7tl 3287 AU53 HKE in her new colours
A shot from the rear - just look at those wheels - superb!
A nice welcome for passengers
I have said this before and I'll say it again - the guys at Ipswich depot are the friendliest bunch you'd ever wish to meet. It is always a real pleasure to pop in there and not once have I ever felt in the way or not welcomed. It was also a pleasure to meet a certain James Long for the first time today - his new arrival sensors had been activated and he arrived at the depot to photo 32487 at the same time I did. Good to put a face to the camera at last, Jim, and hope we meet for a longer chinwag soon.

While I was there I noticed B7rle's 69532/3 together in the depot. I thought there might be some significance to that and so it proved when I was informed that they are off to Colchester tonight. In return 66985 arrived last night and 66986 will follow if it passes an inspection today. Another decker comes back from Rotherham tomorrow - probably 32490 but could easily be 32486 as they were expecting 32490 last night and look what arrived instead!

69532 stands behind her sister 69533 about to be prepared for transfer to Colchester
Around the back of the depot lies a sad sight. Scania 65690 has carried her last passenger and has been withdrawn to be scrapped. I was allowed to take one last pic of her, and really think the destination screen should read "That's it. Had enough - Retired"! This 1998 bus has served the vast majority of her life at Ipswich and is one of the better looking Wright Renowns with the original front still intact.

Scania 65690 stands forlornly waiting to be picked up for scrapping

And so to the grand finale. I wandered back round to Old Cattle Market and 32487 was already there, waiting to replace 32655 on the 66's which doesn't have guide wheels. It was standing next to B7rle 69009, which made a great photo, and you were meant to see it here. However parked up opposite was E200 44519 and it was a shame I couldn't get the three together. So I hung around with intent hoping the E200 would be the first to be used and hey presto it was! To typify the outstanding attitude of First staff today the driver agreed to momentarily reverse her next to the other two and so I was able to take the pic below, the true new face of First Ipswich. A few weeks ago another enthusiast had probs at Old Cattle Market and I posted condemning that. It gives me so much joy to report the exact opposite today. The staff at First Ipswich have truly excelled themselves today, and both I, and those others involved are extremely grateful.

The New Look - Volvo B7rle 69009, B7tl 32487 and E400 44519 posing at Old Cattle Market


Thursday, 28 August 2014

Kent Trip Part Two

In Part One I reported how I got from Whitehall to Rochester by service bus. After a pleasant evening with my parents the following morning I set off on the ambitious task of getting home to East Suffolk by service bus.

After another decent journey to Bluewater on one of Arriva's Volvo B7tl's I had a few mins to snap a few buses in what is quite a busy bus station.

Arriva Thameside 3822 Fastrack liveried Vo;vo B7rle GN07 AYK. I believe some of this batch can be found on the 133 between Colchester and Stanstead
All too soon I saw the X80 came in to whisk me under the Thames to Lakeside. Well that was the plan anyway until I discovered one of the tunnels was down to one lane and the usual long tailbacks ensued. Anyway not to worry as Ensignbus's old Trident gave a decent ride for its age and before long we were in Lakeside/

Ensignbus 105 Demmod Trident ALX400 V115 MEV. Ipswich Buses have two of this batch painted blue
At Lakeside I had time to snap one of Ensignbuses Olympus bodied buses - I've always liked that body.

One of Ensignbus's Olympus bodied Volvos. No fleet number visible
And then it was onto the journey I had been looking forward to. A journey on one of First Essex's Volvo 7900 Hybrids on the 100 to Chelmsford. I think at this point I should mention that in the past I have driven Volvo Ailsas, Volvo Citibuses, B10M coaches, both manual and auto and loved the lot. You all know what I think of Volvo Olympians, I am a fan of the B7tl, the B7rle's, the B9's are great and I simply adore the B11R coaches. My last car was a Volvo estate and it broke my heart to sell her. In fact there has only ever been one Volvo I have disliked - the B6. Until now.

The 7900 is truly hideous, Not from the outside mind you as they look great, but once it starts moving it's a reincarnation of the B6. It is loud and vibrates, and rattles as much as an E200. Most of the seats are hard, and here is a note to all operators with the current obsession with leather - it doesn't matter if it is covered in leather or fabric - a hard seat is a hard seat is a hard seat. The electric motor is a gimmick and nothing more. It gets you to around 8 mph then you lose most of the momentum you gained waiting for the diesel engine to judder into life. Someone once told me it's more economical to keep something running than it is to keep switching it on and off.  I don't know how true that is or if it applies to today's engines but if it does then it's all one giant misleading con. It was a very long two hours but at least we arrived in Chelmsford on time.


First Essex 69011 Volvo 7900 Hybrid at Lakeside
En route at Basildon we pulled up next to E400 33424, It is interesting to compare her with her much loved numerical neighbour, 33423. The adverts and lack of tinted windows mean 33424 has a fraction of the visual impact of 33423. Apologies for the pic quality - it was taken from quite a distance.

First Essex 33424 E400 VT59 JPT at Basildon Bus Station on the 25A to Southend
10 mins after arriving at Chelmsford I was on the 71A to Colchester on a much nicer bus, a former 133 branded Scania Omnicity with really comfortable leather seats this time. No complaints about this bus!

First Essex Scania Omnicity 65029 on the 71A at Chelmsford Bus Station

At this point I thought I was going to have to train it between Colcheser and Ipswich due to a big gap in the 93's from Colchester. But I then wondered if I could go via Maningtree instead, and thanks to advice from Geoff Toon on Essex Buses Yahoo group.I did indeed make the connection to Maningtree. My reward for such brain power? First Essex Scania 65666 of the same batch as Ipswich 65675 etc. Just what my backside didn't need at that point, but a picturesque journey on a new route for me out to Maningtree, where after a 20 min wait one of Carters' Tridents turned up to take me to Ipswich to connect with my last bus - the 1715 118 to Framlingham where I was met by Suffolk Links. -Trust me I have never been so happy to see an Optare Solo!

Galloway Optare Solo MX08 DHC - yes the one that doesn't like hills - at OCM
So there you go - Rochester to East Suffolk in 7 buses, one booked minibus and 8 and a half hours. Not for the faint hearted but I challenge you to find that journey on Traveline!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A Day for Golden Oldies

Today has been a day where the more senior buses were in the fore. It started with Jamie Skinner waking me up by tweeting that 34114 had appeared on the X1 this morning. I knew it would happen at some point and Jamie kindly atoned for waking me from my slumber by sending a pic, again on Twitter.

34114 at Norwich Bus Station having arrived on the X1
 So I set out, initially to go to Lowestoft to see one of the new class 68's which was making an appearance. However, I decided to go via Norwich, a decision that was vindicated when former Konect Trident 722 turned up on the 88. A pretty decent ride it gave too.

Anglian 722, still in Konect livery in Halesworth today
While enjoying the ride I was contacted by Cameron Robinson from Yarmouth Bus Page to tell me that another Olympian was on the X1, and had just left Yarmouth en route for Norwich. I worked out I would beat it to Norwich and got set for what might prove to be quite a rare pic. Thanks for the heads up Cameron.

Yarmouth Olympian 34111 enters Norwich Bus Station
I wasn't going to take a pic of it showing X1 Great Yarmouth as we have plenty of them, but thankfully while waiting for my X2 to Lowestoft I checked the front just in case and to my surprise it was showing X1 Lowestoft, which neither the E400's or Geminis do, due to the daft rules governing domestic route lengths, so this one really IS a rarity. It wasn't unique though as I saw 34111 later on in Yarmouth on her next trip from Norwich and the same destination was showing.

34111 showing Lowestoft being passed by a Sanders Scania Omnicity
I never did get to see the Class 68 at Lowestoft, as the X2's were running so late I got there after it had gone, but did get to have a quick chat with all round nice guy Tim Miller, who has promised me a couple of pics and a video which I'll put up at the weekend. Good to see you Tim. So I carried on to Yarmouth on E400 33823 which seemed quieter than last time I got on it, and had a row with an old guy who took exception to me telling him the windows were locked and he couldn't open them despite his efforts. So much for helping someone! Anyway it was a decent ride (some bloke called Des was driving) but I changed onto a 61 at JPH to gain time and avoid having to go round Gorleston - some strange people live there!!! After a quick bite to eat I boarded the 81 to Bungay (horrible blue seated Scania Omnilink that kills backsides) and back to Halesworth on another Trident, this time Angian's own 712 - the only one of that batch still on the road following the recent withdrawal of 715.

I'm back out tomorrow and will report accordingly, while trying to fit in the second part of my Trip to Kent series before the buses I went on become museum pieces!

Anglian 712 retirning to the depot after dropping me off in Halesworth
Oh and finally another odd destination display seen in Norwich was this on a late running X2 arrival. I have no idea who Ali and Paul are but I hope they have a very happy married life together! Btw whoever programmed it missed the apostrophe that should be in Paul's!

37564 showing an original destination display!



Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Midweek Round Up 26/8/14

Enough has happened in the last couple of days to warrant an extra round up, so here goes.

First

I'm afraid I am the bearer of bad news. Really depressing news. At the moment First have a jewel in their crown, not just a jewel but a diamond equivilent to the Koh-i-Noor diamond in the Royal crown. It is widely acknowledged by bloggers and enthusiasts more experienced (older) than me that Enviro 400 33423 is the most photogenic bus around, arguably the most photogenic individual bus ever in this area. You can't look at a blog without seeing another pic of it, and I am no exception to that. I have seen people about to board an Anglian gas bus 7 at Yarmouth see 33423 come in behind and run to get on it. It is a head turner in a way I've never seen a bus turn heads before. It brings a smile to my face every single time I see it. It looks staggeringly beautiful with those tinted windows. That makes it unique. It has a unique interior with those brown and mustard leather seats, and really cute LED interior lighting. It is a one off, totally individual and judging by the fact it is always spotless very popular at Yarmouth depot too.

So now the decision has been taken to repaint 33423 into X1 livery. To rob it of its individuality and paint it like 24 others. Correction 26 others as apparently 2 of the former X1 Geminis are getting the same treatment. The question that is screaming out is in the name of all that's holy WHY?????

Right now 33423 is only operating on the Lowestoft - Norwich part of the route, and even with the two Geminis repainted there will still be buses not X1 branded on the route so it can't be so every bus on the route is branded. Is it because it's going to be transferred to Kings Lynn again? Who knows but the way Yarmouth are being robbed of buses at the moment anything is possible. Is it because it gets more attention than the X1 E400's? No idea but whatever the reason to me it is just unfathomable, and this decision has been met with total dismay from everyone I have spoken to. I believe everything possible should be done to try and persuade First to change their minds on this - you just see how many pics get taken of 33423 at ShowBus next month - and why is 33423 going to ShowBus and not one of the X1 E400's? Because 33423 is unique that's why and they know it.  Paint another Gemini by all means but not, please not your Crown Jewel. It's the equivilent of painting the Flying Scotsman into Greater Anglia livery!

There is now a Facebook page for everyone to register your opinion on this. Visit it please and give it a like and show First that we care. Click here.

Cameron Robinson's superb pic of 33423 at Hemsby a few weeks ago
Greater Anglia

As you will know if you have seen the news today it has not been a good day on the railways. Overhead power line problems at Huntingdon last night crippled the ECML, and as I type at 1600 today there are still ongoing probs there. Over here once again overunning engineering works at Ipswich has caused utter chaos. Mainline services did not run between Stowmarket and Colchester until 1030, with minimal road replacement. Services between Ipswich and Felixstowe/Woodbridge are suspended for the rest of the day. Ipswich/Cambridge services are starting/terminating at Stowmarket and services from London that normally terminate at Ipswich are terminating at Colchester. Yet again the 1810 from London to Norwich has been cancelled. Incidentally the reason the 1810 is so often a casualty is because the set on that service only does one trip up and one trip back - the 0624 from Norwich and 1810 back. So if there is a unit shortage that is the one to go as it affects the fewest number of services.

But the reason I posted this today is because I saw on the lunchtime news that the member of Parliament for Clacton, the Honourable Douglas Carswell MP (Con) was getting his knickers in a twist saying GA should be stripped of their franchise because of this morning's choas, thus proving his horrifying ignorance of how the railways work. Greater Anglia pay Network Rail to use the tracks, like Megabus would pay whoever maintains the M6 Toll Road to drive on it. To strip GA of their franchise because of overunning engineering works would be like taking away Megabus's operating licence because the road was shut. You cannot run trains on a track that is shut. Simple. Mr Carswell you have the perfect name for someone who is breathtakingly ignorant of public transport, and as a public figure commenting on it you have made a laughing stock of yourself.

Must Read

I was alerted today via an old friend to an article in today's Guardian about a report by the think tank IPPR about how public transport outside London can be improved, by cities outside London adopting a similar model to TfL, introducing more regulation for bus services. It also gives some interesting figures, for example since deregulation in 1986 bus fares have risen no less than 36% above inflation. It is a fascinating report and well worth the read for those of you who are interested in public transport above and beyond photography or number collecting. The report can be found by clicking here and then downloading the full report by clicking the link on the right hand side of the page.

Norwich Bus Rally

Despite being unable to make Norwich Bus Rally myself I have had reports from those who did make it, and it seems to have been a great day for all concerned. Syd Eade has kindly sent some pics to me, most notably of his own vehicle, Leyland PD2 PBJ 2F and it gives me pleasure to post them on here. Thanks, Syd, and hope to see you at the EATM end of season Gala on 7th Sept

Looking good - and so's the bus!! From left Richard Alger, Daniel Peart and Syd Eade in front of their baby!

Leyland PD2 PBJ 2F looking stunning in the sun. Oh for a time machine to see them in their glory days!

Two great looking vehicles, one about to be ruined, showing a destination neither will be seen at!
Blog News

It was my pleasure today to speak with Phil Magill who is in charge of contracts and everything to do with buses at Suffolk County Council. I was calling regarding an issue regarding Suffolk Links, and it was only after a bit I realised his importance and he realised was talking to Suffolk's most beligerent blogger! Anyway a really good chat about everything ensued and I asked for an official interview. Although due to the way Council information is released - ie through the publicity department he was unable to grant me an interview, he has kindly offered to do a Q & A email interview so he can clear his answers in advance. We have not put a time on when I send the questions so if anyone has a question you would like me to ask Mr Magill then email me at busandtrain@gmail.com by the end of the week and I will add them to my list.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Kent Trip Part One

As you will know last week I had to go down to London for a tour of Victoria Coach Station. It seemed a good opportunity to go and spend the night at my parent's place near Rochester in Kent, and thanks to my bus pass, which is worth far more than its weight in gold, worked out far cheaper too than doing both ways by train and taxi.

So after leaving VCS I had a quick look at Bulleids Way Coach Station then caught the 11 to Whitehall. The Borismasters seem to be coping well, as the two I went on didn't have a rattle between them and the aircon was working well. While on the second one back to Whitehall I managed to grab a pic of one going the other way in a very striking livery.

Can't tell you anything about it except the pic hasn't been cropped and both buses were moving!
I was looking forward to my journey on the 53 from Whitehall to Woolwich as I knew there were a fleet of 14 reg Volvo B5L Geminis on the route. I'll get the negative out of the way first - it rattled like I've never known a Gemini do before - far more than the X1 Geminis do now, for example. That was a surprise but apart from that I was very impressed. The bus was heaving from start to finish - we frequently missed stops or just let people off and not on, the busiest bus I have been on for years. The journey took over 90 mins and despite it being packed it never got hot and the windows didn't even get misty. I had a huge guy sitting next to me most of the way and never felt cramped  - and I'm no ballerina either! So I'll forgive the ratttles - the B5 is well worth a journey on.

Stagecoach London 13024 Volvo B5L BG14 ONY on the 53 still showing Whitehall!
Woolwich has changed since I was driving buses through there over 20 years ago, and all the buses are red again, not the multitude of different colours visible then. However the majority of route numbers have remained the same, and my next one was familiar. I only drove the 96 from Woolwich to Dartford once - on a Boxing Day believe it or not - but it duplicates a lot of a route I was a regular on, the 422. It was quite surreal seeing places and stops that once were an everyday part of my life. I had even forgotten about a park in Plumstead for Pete's sake! What wasn't quite so surreal was the Stagecoach Scania Omnilink Decker. It's no wonder the Swedes were the first country to ban smacking, as evidently their backsides are made from concrete anyway! Apart from the Ipswich Superoute Scanias withdrawn earlier this year can anyone name me a Scania with decent seats? Anyway despite the virtually solid seats it was a decent journey full of memories, and I like the fact that the extension from Dartford to Bluewater is non stop. Surprised to see Plumstead Garage operating the route though as it always used to be a Dartford Garage route.

Stagecoach 15067 Scania Omnilink Decker LX09 AEN at Bluewater
And so onto home territory. Arriva took over Maidstone & District in 1998 which saw buses change from green to blue, but routes and route numbers have remained largely the same. As my oldest friend (that's length of time a friend not age) works at Arriva's Head Office in Maidstone (must organise some depot tours next time I'm down there) I have to be nice about them but to be honest that's not an onerous task. I was delighted to see one of their B7tl's turn up on the 701 to Medway (was Olympians when Bluewater opened in 1999) as it gave me a chance to compare with First's, particularly the Ipswich ones. You have to say if looked after the B7tl is a damn good bus, could just do with a little more top end. The Arriva example I went on seemed to like hills less than the Suffolk ones but apart from that very little to choose. Before I knew it we were in Chatham, the scene of most of my boyhood enthusiast activities and where my driving career started.

Arriva 6405 Volvo B7tl GN04 UDU at a darkening Bluewater
From Chatham it was the final leg to the village I grew up, and it is really good to see evening buses on the route - fair play to Medway Council for maintaining evening services. What wasn't so good was the awful 02 reg mini Dart on the route. (Sorry Matt but it was truly woeful!). Fortunately it was too dark by then to get a decent pic so instead here is a pic of another 02 reg Dart I took the following morning, but this is one of Nu-Venture's, based in Aylesford near Maidstone, who operate the route during the day. Is this the most gruesomely coloured destination display ever? This Marshall bodied vehicle was new to First Centrewest (DMS 41465) before they were taken over by Metrobus in 2007. Nu-Venture bought her and 4 of her sisters in August 2012

Nu-Venture Dennis Dart LT02 ZDV on the 151 in Strood
 
In part two my journey home. including my verdict on First Essex's Volvo 7900 Hybrids

Greater Anglia Delays This Week 25/8/14

I owe an apology to all customers of Greater Anglia. I should have started this feature in May. Then you would all have had a much better Summer's travelling. I had the feeling the moment I started this things would dramatically improve on the rail network and so it has proved. There have been very few incidents of note this week compared to previous weeks, with only the odd cancellation and problem to report.

  • On Thursday the 0624 Nor - Lon and 1810 Lon - Nor were cancelled due to fault on the train
  • On Saturday there were probs with the Yarmouth drags due to points probs at Yarmouth and delays coming out of London mid evening due to a person hit by a train at Gidea Park
Apart from a few short formed trains and minor delays due to freight congestion that's about it, so well done GA, and let's hope for another good week this week

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Weekly News Round Up 24/8/14

Another week has flown by so once again it's time for a round up of the week's news. To those of you returning from the Norwich Bus Rally I hope it went well for all of you.

First

Starting with Ipswich and this week saw the return of Volvo B7rle's 69007 and 69011 from Rotherham in the new livery with the what is apparently called "RAF Blue" front. I was lucky enough to travel on 69007 on what I think was its first trip out.

Newly painted and refurbished 69007 at Wickham Market
Tuesday saw excitement in Yarmouth with the arrival of First Yorkshire Volvo B10 Wright Renown 60622 which has be loaned by Ipswich. For pictures and report of that click here.

Lowestoft SLF Dart 43489 has finally left to go to First Essex in a chain of transfers which will see the final Clacton E200,.44516 go to Ipswich to join its three sisters. If my information is correct 43489 will end up at Braintree and not Clacton as reported elsewhere. If that proves to be incorrect I will, of course report it.

My apologies - there was a very interesting section here reporting something on another blog, with full credits and links, but after complaints from one of the blog administrators I have felt compelled to remove it. I won't give free publicity by naming the blog but it isn't one I thought I would have these kind of issues with. Very sad. One day everyone will realise we all have the same hobby and will stop being so possessive.

Anglian

It would appear that reports of the demise of Optare Excel 229 have been rather premature. I was informed last night that it has been MOT'd and will be back in service this week, presumably on the 80/81 because of vehicle shortage. There are also reports that more ex London Geminis will be heading to Norfolk, this time to Anglian to replace the older deckers - I presume Tridents. These are due in Janurary. As yet I don't know how many and what age, but passing through Bexleyheath on Wednesday I did notice there were still some 02 reg Geminis in service there. If they are refurbished to the same standard Konect's ones have been I won't have any complaints.

Anglian Optare Excel 229 which has been given a life extension seen here in Norwich on a rare excursion on the 83's
Blog News

It's going to be a busy week on here. There will be specials on my London trip, when my pass came into its own. On Wednesday after my visit to Victoria Coach Station I travelled from Victoria to Rochester solely by bus, and on Thursday from Rochester back home again solely by local bus. Many pics and reviews, including First's Volvo 7900 Hybrids on the 100 between Lakeside and Chelmsford. Positive or negative? Keep checking in to find out. There will also be the regular Greater Anglia report tomorrow and I will be out and about a couple of days this week, though don't know where or when yet. Here is a taster of what is to come.

Stagecoach London 13024 Volvo B5L BG14 ONV on the 53 in Whitehall


If anyone missed my three part Victoria Coach Station report for convenience you can read them in order by clicking on part one, part two, and part three.



And Finally

My apologies to Jamie Skinner, who kindly sent me this splendid pic of 34114 on the 8's in Gorleston. I promised him I would include it in last week's round up, however publicity for today's Norwich Bus Rally meant there wasn't room for it. So here it is in its magnificence! Thanks, Jamie, and keep them coming as I really appreciate them.

First Yarmouth 34114 Volvo Olympian W434 CWX on the 8 to JPH. Pic by Jamie Skinner

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Victoria Coach Station Tour Part Three

In the previous two parts of this special post I reported on my visit to Victoria Coach Station to see Mark Geldard,the General Manager, and described some of the day to day challenges that VCS faces, along with some of the issues that prohibit VCS from joining the 21st Century. In this final part, I'll describe not only how Mark wants to change the whole VCS experience, but also show how that is going to be a very difficult task.

The first thing that needs to be said is that not one single thing is going to make a blind bit of difference. It needs to be a combination of several things working together and in unison with each other, which is going to require co-operation from many organisations and agencies on an almost D-Day scale. So I'll try and break it down into sections, but of course there will be some overlapping.

Infrastructure

The main problem VCS faces is how to modernise and update the place while still running a 700 coach departure, 24/7 operation. The obvious solution is temporary relocation but where? I suggested Battersea Power Station which is a big enough site, with shuttle buses running to Victoria and Waterloo. However it appears I'm too late with that one as Battersea is being redeveloped. On top of that the coach park at Nine Elms is also closing meaning coaches will have to finds somewhere else to have layover periods. So maybe an upstairs move could work - there is a whole floor that is virtually unused, so extra departure lounges could be created, allowing work to take place on the lower floor. Mark wants to change the seating arrangements, and the seats themnselves, which are ghastly, and have more of an airport departure lounge feel to the place. That is all well and good, and is great in theory, however as the pic below demonstrates it will have to link into the operations side too.

A pscked South departure terminal at VCS
Operations

You will see that there are queues at all the gates, and that is one of the problems VCS face. As none of the coach operators offer seat allocations everyone wants to be first on board to bag the best seats, and I freely admit I am no exception to that. At the moment it is easy to find out which gate your coach is departing from more than 2 hours in advance, which causes the sort of scene you can see above. Mark is considering introducing an airport style arrangement, when the departure gate is not announced until the coach is ready to board. However, in order for that to work, as he freely admits. seat allocations for journeys out of London need to be introduced to stop a stampede when the gate is announced like you get at rail stations when platforms are announced. Something that has just come to me that we didn't discuss is that coaches will also have to turn off destination displays until gates are announced to avoid the same thing. Then the airport style lounges could work. Better airflow systems will also be needed and I know they are being worked on now.

Coaches also need to depart more frequently - the "ballet dance" as Mark describes it on the hour and half hour is outdated. However that means co-operation from Westminster City Council in adopting a traffic flow system whereby coaches get priority and can leave the area asap. That is already in progress, with plans in place to change the junction outside the coach station so coaches travelling South don't have to go North up Buckinham Palace Rd, but will be able to turn left and straight onto the Embankment. That will take around 200 coaches a day out of the Victoria area. The other scheme is to have traffic lights in the control of VCS at departure times so coaches get priority. That is a sensible idea which could reap great rewards if the right co-peration from the local Council is given.and would clear the concourse for the next departures far quicker than it is now.

I mentioned in the last part about the increase in foreign coaches. An idea being mulled over is transferring foreign departures to the nearby Bulleid Way Coach Station, which is the home of Green Line and where a lot of coaches, including Megabus and Oxford Tube take their layovers. Of particular interest is that the layout there would enable right hand drive coaches to load up and indeed unload with relative ease. I ventured there for a look after leaving VCS and think it is an idea of real potential.

Golden Tours rather striking Volvo B something MCV with the all over Harry Potter vinyls in Bulleid Way Coach Stastion
However there are many stumbling blocks before that can be achieved, none more so than who can actually give the go-ahead for the development. The site is owned by Malaysians but because it also overhangs the railway Network Rail have to be involved, as do the local Council. All very complicated in a country where it can take two years to get permission to paint your window sills a different colour.

So here is a summary of what is needed to bring VCS up to scratch and then I'll reveal the sledgehammer waiting to bludgeon the best laid plans to dust.

  • New layout to departure areas and creation of additional areas on first floor
  • Better lighting, air flow and interior decoration
  • Enhanced pest control to eliminate pigeons
  • No gate information until ready to board, just which terminal to go to
  • Seat allocation on departures out of London
  • More frequent departure slots, with traffic management giving coaches priority
  • Relocation of international departures to Bulleids Way Coach Station
One thing I simply must mention before anything else is the left luggage facility.  At Victoria rail Station it csot from £8 to leave an item of luggage for a few hours. At VCS there is a fully staffed secure area which costs just £2.50 for a couple of hours which is ample if you are changing coaches and need some time to go and get something to eat and stretch your legs without lugging cases with you. I like that - impressive.

Anyway back to the monumental fly in the ointment. Crossrail 2 is routed to go right underneath VCS, which means sink holes will be dug on the concourse which will then become permanent ventilation shafts upon complettion. The safeguarding plans are still not finalised - indeed Crossrail 2 doesn't yet have a start date, but it creates a huge amount of uncertainty on what can and cannot be done, and a mammoth opportunity for a "let's wait and see" culture to establish itself.

I left home on Wednesday wanting to be impressed and have a good report to write. That was achieved. Behind Mark Geldard's friendly and welcoming exterior I could see a man with steely determination to get the job done. It may take many years to achieve it, but he has a team who manage the impossible day after day after day, and if anyone can achieve it I think he will.

The issues I have with VCS are mainly still there, but it is reassuring to know that those issues are recognised by the bloke at the top, and he wants to see them eradicated just as much as I do. Thanks again, Mark, for inviting me down and giving me so much of your time. It has given me a great deal of pleasure to write such a positive and praising report.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Victoria Coach Station Tour Special Part Two

I'm continuing the report of my meeting at Victoria Coach Station with General Manager Mark Geldard. In Part One I related some of the problems facing Victoria Coach Station as it tries to adapt to an ever growing coach industry within the confines of a central London location.

However there are other problems facing staff on a daily basis that go un-noticed to the majority of travellers passing through. On my way up to the Control Room Mark pointed out a rogues gallery taking up an entire notice board. These are known ticket touts who target tourists with fake and used travelcards amongst other fake travel merchandise. Then there are the beggars and, as in all popular London locations the pickpockets. Mark has in excess of 50 staff working 24/7 tackling everything from lost children to display malfunctions. Claim to fame must go to one of the guys working to coach concourse who in his time at VCS has been shot twice and stabbed once. I'm told he's actually quite a nice guy! Other things that hinder improvement are silly things like a barrier not being able to be removed to aid access to a help desk because of a low ceiling that tall people could bang their heads on. It truly is a Health and Safety Jobsworth's heaven, and it is Mark's job to make sure he is kept frustrated.

South Terminal at VCS. The vinyls on the window clearly demonstrate that little has changed over the years
In years gone by if someone was somewhere they shouldn't have been and got hit by a coach rhe response would have been "serves you right you shouldn't have been there". These days although most of us would probably subscribe to that theory the compensation lawyers and more importantly the Courts don't, and so endeavours have to be made to keep passengers, the blind drunk and dare I say enthusiasts where they should be. There is no better demonstration of the unique efforts VCS have made than at the entrance to the arrivals terminal in Eccleston Place. To deter passengers from entering via the roadway there is a water barrier. Common perception is it is there to clean the sides of the coaches as they go in, but in fact it is to stop people. 4 jets of water each side spray water across the entrance. The water is collected and recycled but still has to be of drinking standard in case some oaf gets a swig and sues for poisoning! Still it is a novel and innovative measure and I'm surprised more venues don't employ it. Unfortunately it is not very photogenic so if you want to see it you'll have to get up there yourselves!

I haven't spoken much about the arrivals terminal. A former garage, it quite simply isn't very big. However a lot happens in a short space of time. Passengers are disembarked, the coaches are cleaned and toilets dropped before their next trip. There is also a small maintainence team for minor jobs such as bulb replacement. Internally the toilets have been refurbished and there is a cafe and refreshment stall. I did mention the 30p cost of using the loos there and Mark told me that it actually cost around 48p per person so they operated the loos at a loss. I didn't ask for details but did wonder how a spending a penny can now cost 48 of them.

Megabus 54205 Volvo B11R Plaxton Elite unloads at VCS arrivals terminal
There are plans to install a fuel tank in the arrivals terminal so coaches can once again refuel at Victoria which will go towards helping turn round speeds for the coaches. Some departures passengers also wait in arrivals as it is quieter and plans for departure screens there are also being made.

Something I haven't mentioned yet is the amount of foreign coaches using VCS. Apart from long established Eurolines operating to all parts of Europe,and Megabus now operating to Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, Brussels and Barcelona there are also many other foreign coaches who use the station. None more so than Sindbad, who are a Polish compnay who twice a day have up to 10 coaches departing. Travel outside the UK means a check in procedure, which means a longer wait in the terminal and so clogging up the terminal for domestic passengers. I see it as an increasing problem which doesn't help the flow of passengers, particularly in the North departure terminal, and it is a subject I discussed at length with Mark, as was traffic flow around the Coach Station - while I was there one badly parked van caused a jam as a Megabus Gold coach was unable to turn out of the arrivals terminal and caused quite a jam. In the final part of my report I'll reveal the ideas Mark has to make the whole VCS experience a better one, and the hurdles he will have to overcome in order to bring them to fruition.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Victoria Coach Station Tour Special Part One

Yesterday, as regular readers will know, saw me going up to London for a meeting with the General Manager of Victoria Coach Station. I had already guessed that by his really professional way of responding to my scathing post of VCS by inviting me down there I wasn't going to be meeting a laid back, shoulder shrugging "what can I do my hands are tied" sort of guy. Far from it, Mark Geldard is a forward thinking man who is using his 25 years of  experience in bus and coach operations to create a vision for VCS whilst being continually frustrated by its physical limitations.

First was a guided tour of the station, and we started in the new control rooom, which was only officially opened last week by Sir Peter Hendy CBE Commissioner TfL. The view from the window gives a really decent view of the entire concourse.

The impressive view from the control room of VCS. Those canopies are original and have remained unchanged since VCS was opoened in 1932
Now some facts and figures. VCS sees up to 700 departures a day, including departures all over Europe. The busiest day of the year is.....any guesses? No? Sure? Ok the busiest day of the year is Christmas Day. Yes that was my reaction too but Mark explained that tour companies have a lot of clients wanting to do something and on Christmas Day everything is shut. So they hire coaches and take the tourists out for a trip and dinner! Also National Express and Megabus have realised that there are no trains so there is a huge market to tap into. Mind you Maundy Thursday isn't far behind - the 2300 National Express departure to Edinburgh had no less than 26 relief coaches on it this year (duplicates they call it) which is quite mind boggling when you think about it. Megabus departures have increased by 25% this year alone, which shows how much coach travel is booming and growing.

While we were walking through the Coach Station Mark was not only assisting passngers, but pointing out various things about the infrastructure, both good and bad. He admitted that the departure layout is not as he would like, and he wants to see passenger comfort, and the flow of passengers improved. He hates the seats, and the layout as a whole with people clogging up the gates before the coach has been announced. The airflow is also a big problem. The airflow units are being worked on at present, but on a hot day it can get intolerable. The picture I took yesterday below explains a lot.

Very gloomy light does not help a good pix!
You can see from the picture how gloomy it is in there, and also how packed. No one is smiling. Now if you will please cast your eyes to the top right hand corner of the pic you will see a fan. That is the ONLY fan in that particular terminal. The other pillars you can see are not strong enough to support fans so you can see the problem. There are scars where there used to be phone boxes and drinks machines and some of the ceiling is incredibly stained. And then there are the pigeons. I have said once before that the only place in London that is pigeon free is the one place they were popular! They have tried everything to get rid of them from VCS including the use of a hawk, but obviously that is something passengers don't want to see and VCS is a 24/7 operation. Pigeons like to sit on top of the destination screens which causes an obvious problem for the passengers below looking up at them.So they put spiked material on top of them, combined with a paste that is abhorent to pigeons. Let's see how it has worked....

Ooooookay!!!
I do not see an easy solution to this - the doors have to be left open for ventilation or passengers will be dropping dead with the heat, and so the pigeons just wander in.

Another factor in delaying passenger flow is that coaches, with the exception of airport coaches, can only be timed to leave on the hour and half hour. This is to do with traffic flow in the area, although I'm not sure how 30 plus coaches leaving at the same time exactly aids traffic flow. Gate clogging is caused by the lack of advance seat allocation by either Nat Ex orMegabus, so of course everyone wants to be first on to get the best seats. If coaches are delayed, and lets face it an RTA can happen anywhere, that only exacerbates the situation. The heat increases, tempers fray, incidentrs occur and the whole travelling experience is rather unpleasant, as I described in my initial post.

So what is Mark Geldard going to do about it? How can somewhere with no breathing space like VCS move into the 21st Century and provide a much more pleasant experience for coach passengers. In part two I'll describe the ideas Mark has for the future, plans being mulled over, and the numerous obstacles I can see being put in his way, and indeed under his ground too!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Back To The Seaside

For the first time in ages I ventured north to Lowestoft and Yarmouth today. I alluded to in my Weekly Round up that there was going to be an arrival today somewhere, and that somewhere was Yarmouth, with the arrival of First Yorkshire Volvo B10 Wright Renown 60622, which is officially on loan to Ipswich who have in turn loaned it to Yamouth for the time being. I had arranged to meet Yarmouth Bus Page's Cameron Robinson and it was he who informed me that no sooner had it arrived than it was pressed into service on the 1/1A, such is the shortage of vehicles at Yarmouth. I was travelling on 34186 at the time having had to decide between that and 33423 at Lowestoft. As it happened I got on 33423 later so the right choice was made.

34186 Volvo Olympian S686 AAE at Gorleston High St today
I got off at Gorleston High St, and busied myself taking a few pics and waited for 606322 to arrive, and sure enough she soon turned up, looking rather good in the Norfolk sunshine.  A decent but rattly ride to Lowestoft followed where we took the opportunity to get a few pics at the Bus Station.

First Yorkshire 60622 on loan to Yarmouth on the 1A at Gorleston

And leaving Lowestoft heading back to Martham
We then caught 33423 back to Yarmouth and yes many pics were taken as usual. However there may still be some who haven't seen the interior of this really photogenic bus so here is a pic of the top deck

Trust me those seat colours grow on you!
And while she was waiting on the stand at Market Gates a former X1 stalwart pulled up alongside giving a photo op you could wait months for!

33423 and Gemini 37573 together at Market Gates
 Not to be outdone a few mins later and two Anglian gas buses had a chat in the same spot!

Anglian gas buses 109 and 111 have a chinwag at Market Gates
There are many more pics I could have posted from today and eventually I'll update Flickr but it won't be for a few days as the next couple of days are going to be very busy with my visit to Victoria Coach Station tomorrow and the journeys to and from Kent to report on too. My thanks to Cameron for his company today, and for introducing me to Des Speed, whose kind offer of a ride on 33423 to the Norwich Bus Rally I'm sadly going to have to decline as I just can't find anyone to get me to Yarmouth on a Sunday morning. Quite ironic I can't get to a bus rally due to a lack of public transport!