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Saturday, 24 June 2017

Another 48 Hours - London & The North

Ok a bit of headline licence there as it was actually 61 hours but another road and rail trip for relative peanuts with many firsts for me and just as many boxes ticked. I have no idea how many parts I'll need for this as I crammed quite a bit into a very short space of time, and saw the best and the worst of the industry.

It started, as is normally the case with Megabus from Norwich to London. Once again  I had my favourite Scania Irizar, and this time I was able to get a pic to do it justice.

Freestones YN14 FVR in early morning Norwich sun
Quite something to think it is cheaper to travel on that coach than it is most E200's, in fact on the way back cheaper than any bus. Anyhow our decent driver reminded us that Wednesday was the State Opening of Parliament and due to road closures it might be quicker if we got off at Stratford and made our own way into Central London. Surprisingly few took his advice, but it made up my mind what I was going to do with the spare 4 hours I had before catching the train to Crewe. The heat was going to play a factor, and buses were certainly out. So I crossed the road, topped up my Oyster card, and prepared for my first ride on Docklands Light Railway from Stratford International Station.

Straford International Station

And the driverless train
Normally on DLR it is easier to win the lottery than it is to bag a front seat but on this occasion they were empty on both trains I travelled on, so you get a view rarely seen from a train, and it makes all the difference.

The view from front seat of DLR train
I ended up at Bank station, wondering what to do next when I saw signs for the Waterloo & City line. The last time I travelled on that line it still had Network Southeast liveried trains on it. Now TfL have taken over and it is now the shortest Tube line there is. 3 car modern tube trains are on the line, which takes around 5 mins from end to end.

Waterloo & City line train at Bank station

The complicated route map
Now at Waterloo in the middle of a fashion circus with Royal Ascot on - hat shops did very well this week it seems - I got a zone map and worked where I could go, hopefully on a type of train I hadn't been on before. Cue the 1053 to Alton and a South West Trains Siemens class 450. For what is essentially a commuter train with 3+2 seating these are lovely trains. Fast, quiet, smooth, outstanding air conditioning which was most welcome, and comfortable seats. Thoroughly enjoyed my journey to Surbiton in Surrey.

450 565 at Surbiton
A wander then lunch in Surbiton, where I had most certainly not intended to be in the original plan, then it was back to Waterloo from this quite outstanding station building. Another deliciously cool 450.

The impressive front of Surbiton station
I had hoped to avoid using any more Undergound due to the heat, the plan being to go back to Clapham Jct, then on Southern via Kensington Olympia to Wembley Central to catch the train to Euston from there. However a check of the timetables ruled that out so the Bakerloo line it was, hoping the Bake would be kept to a minimum. Unlike a lot of Underground lines, the Bakerloo is still fairly quiet off peak, so the journey up to Queens Park wasn't as bad as it could have been. Plus, of course, you have the oldest trains still left on the Underground network.

A Bakerloo line train coming out of the small Queens Park depot
It was then time for another first, as I got my first journey on a London Overground Class 378. These are basically Electrostars with an all side seating Tube style layout. With air conditioning. On Wednesday, with the outside temperature getting to the silly stage of heat the aircon was a Godsend and dwarfed any petty moans I had about the trains. I don't really like side seating as you spend your time trying to avoid eye contact with other passengers, and can see little out the windows without getting a stiff neck. And who chose the seat moquette! Straight out the 1970's, not far removed from the original D Stock District line trains moquette. But who cares! It was air conditioned!

London Overground class 378 at Queens Park

The 1970's style moquette on the 378's
Now at Euston and what turned out to be the most unenjoyable hour not just of the trip, but quite possibly my travelling life. Euston was an oven on Wednesday. I was booked on the 1446 London Midland service to Crewe. I had noticed that the passengers on the 1346 had only been let on the train just before the train left, which I put down to the crew being held up on the inward journey. However that wasn't the case. Thanks to Real Time Trains I found out which platform the 1446 was booked from and waited, as although I had a 1st class ticket there were no seat reservations and only 24 1st Cass seats, 8 of which had windows blocked by vinyls and Karl Pilkington staring down at them.

The blocked windows on London Midland train
The temperature was getting very uncomfortable, but the doors remained firmly shut. With half an hour to go before departure the train was advertised on the departure boards and others arrived, forming queues at every set of doors, With fifteen minutes to go it looked like this.


The queues waiting to board
With 5 mins to go you can double what you can see in the pictures and more. Tempers were getting frayed, people were complaining of feeling faint, and one elderly gentleman kept telling me to press the door button in case they opened - like we were all standing like numpties on purpose! At 1443 the doors were opened. I have no idea how much sweat was absorbed by those seats on that train. I'm not sure I want to know. What I do know is it was customer service at its absolute worst. Had animals, or indeed a class of school children been left to swelter in that heat there would be prosecutions, and rightly so. When I Tweeted London Midland I was curtly told it was procedure not to open the doors until both crew members were there and that was that. Tough, in other words. No apologies from anyone, no one asking if everyone was ok. We've got your money and that's all that matters seemed to be the attitude. Rest assured I will be taking this further, to the Rail Regulator if I have to. Not to make allowances for the conditions was downright criminal, not to mention cruel. No mention of security either, in case anyone thinks that was the reason.

The journey itself was great, the 350 gave a fast, decent ride, although I was disappointed tickets were only checked once on the entire journey, that being just after Euston, to add insult to injury, and it appeared many who subsequently sat in 1st Class didn't have tickets for those seats, if tickets at all. Again not good enough. But we finally arrived at Crewe on time to be met with a level of humidity I've never experienced in this country before.

A Virgin Pendolino and the London Midland 350 I travelled up on at Crewe
In Part Two 3 hours at Crewe, a night at Carlisle, and in complete contrast the best customer service you could ever ask for.




Monday, 19 June 2017

48 Hours - London & Devon Part Two

In Part One I travelled to Plymouth via London to catch up with the former Anglian gas buses, which turned into quite an anticlimax. The rest of the day was spent getting the most of what has got to be one of the best value train tickets around - the Devon Day Ranger. For £12 you get the freedom of Devon's railways from Tiverton Parkway in the East to Plymouth in the West and all branch lines within. I started with the 0840  along the Tamar Valley Line to Gunnislake, completely oblivious to the jaw dropping railway landscape that awaited. Traction was a 2 car 150, which is basically a 156 with a different layout.

150238 at Plymouth about to depart for Gunnislake
To say the Gunnislake branch is spectacular is doing it an injustice. After passing the naval dockyard the line follows the river offering some cracking views.

View from train on  Gunnislake branch
This was just a foretaste though. At Bere Alston the driver changes ends and the train reverses out for the climb to Calstock and Gunnislake, and when I say climb I mean climb. I have never travelled on gradients like this on non preservation lines before. 10mph limits on winding lines climbing up through dense woodland. The only line I have been on that comes close to resembling it is the Ffestiniog Raailway in North Wales. One thing sprung immediately to mind - that line has got to be Hell in leaf fall season! The driver confirmed that when I grabbed a few words with him back at Plymouth.

The view from Calstock Viaduct over the River Tamar
It was a quick turn round at Gunnislake, which is actually in Cornwall, which was a shame, but what goes up has to go back down, and down we did go. It will not be the last time I do that line. Only 14 miles long but surely 14 miles of the best railway you'll ever go on. I'd kill for a cab ride!

At Gunnislake terminus
That more than made up for the disappointing gas buses but there was much more to do. I jumped on a Cross Country Voyager for the trip along the South Devon coast to Exeter. A long time since I've been on a Voyager, and despite the interior looking a bit in need of a freshen up the ride was smooth and sleep inducing, so I saw little of the aforementioned coast! Luckily I woke up before Exeter as that particular train was carrying on to Glasgow, which for some reason isn't included in the Devon Day Ranger!

The Cross Country Voyager at Exeter St Davids
 My next destination was Barnstaple, along another branch line, and this time I got my first taste of a Class 143 Pacer, the scourge of the North. It was over an hour to Barnstaple and by time we got there my backside was beginning to feel the pace of the Pacer a bit. They aren't nearly as bad as I was led to believe. Yes the suspension appears to have been forgotten in the design, and yes it rattled a bit, and they are getting on a bit like yours truly, but for branch lines like this they are ideal. The line itself wasn't as spectacular as the Tamar valley Line, but pleasant enough. I decided to make Barnstaple my lunch stop, and so walked into town to see what there was. There was a bus station!

Barnstaple Bus Station
Stagecoach seem to rule the roost in these parts with the odd independent. Next time I visit I'll do some bus exploring. After an excellent lunch I returned to the station which has some nice quirks about it.

Old style signs
A lovely preserved station building
And this the quirkiest/daftest of all. This picture got some of the great and the good in the railway media world debating if they were the most pointless seats left on the network. The platform is closed to the public so who are they intended for? Answers on a postcard, and if anyone knows of other pointless seats let me know!

Symmetrical yes, useful no!
The Pacer sits at Barnstaple Station
Back in Exeter and it was time to retrace some memories and embark on a pilgrimage to Dawlish, surely the Mecca of the train enthusiast's England. A 143 was attached to a single car 153, and I chose the latter for the better seats. 20 mins later we were in Dawlish, where I hadn't been for 15 years but a place I watch regularly thanks to the excellent Dawlish Beach webcams. Felt a bit like going home.
The view from the footbridge at Dawlish Station
I don't know anywhere you can get closer to mainline moving trains without high fences than Dawlish. Stations excepted obviously. Dawlish sea wall runs from the far end in the photo above to Dawlish Warren, and after making sure the quality of ice cream in Dawlish was as good as I remembered (it was), I ended up walking the entire length of the wall, something I truly regretted later due to my choice of footwear - suitable for travelling but definitely not for extended walking!

Dawlish sea wall and its proximity to the Great Western mainline

At the end of the post will be a compilation of the videos I took on the day, so the trains will appear there!

I wanted to spend some time at Starcross, a lovely location on the Ex estuary, but although one stop up from Dawlish Warren not many trains stop there so I had to go via Exeter St Davids once more. A single car 153 was my train, and it was without doubt the most comfortable train of the day. All new train seats should be modeled on this unit!

While at Exeter I managed to snap one of SouthWest Trains class 159 units about to depart for Waterloo. Now First have won the franchise this livery won't be seen for much longer. I just hope whatever replaces it is just as striking.

159003 at Exeter St Davids
So to Starcross on a 150, and the weather didn't disappoint me. A glorious evening at one of the most glorious places to watch trains.

View from Starcross Station
The results of my hour at Starcross can be seen on the video but this will give you an idea!

Taken from the footbridge at Starcross
I caught the next train back to Dawlish for tea, which happened to be an HST. I have to say at this point that HST's on the inside could be any type of train, and are iconic to look at only. I think people who like watching them will be sadder to see them go than those who regularly travel on them.

By now my feet and legs were seriously suffering and I was delighted to see buses still running at 10pm so caught one to Newton Abbot where the driver, bless him, flagged down the bus to the station (saved me 2 footbridges). The last train to Plymouth came in, which was the Welshman set. I cannot describe just how bright the interior lights are in those refurbished coaches. Totally unnecessary and makes seeing anything outside when dark impossible. GWR take note when designing the new trains.

A stagger back to Plymouth coach station and I was soon back on the coach to London. Where I was faced with a problem. I had booked myself on the 1300 coach back to Norwich to allow time in London but I was exhausted and my legs were killing me. So I checked out how much extra it would cost to get the earlier 0930 coach. Megabus told me £10 which since I'd only paid £1 for the 1300 I thought a bit much. Mind you Greater Anglia wanted £45.50 for a turn up and go single. So I checked the website to see how much a new ticket would cost on the 0930 coach. £4 later I was happily sleeping on another Scania tri-axle back to Norwich.

A brilliant trip, one I'll definitely do again only with better footwear. This week I'm on another 48 hour trip, this time to Crewe, Carlisle, the Cumbrian coast, Settle & Carlisle line and York. Reports and I hope spectacular pics over the weekend. In the meantime here are the Devon vids. Enjoy.


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

48 Hours - London & Devon Part One

Boredom can be a problem. It can lead you to do things that seem a great idea at the time. Such an event happened over the Easter weekend, when I decided it was about time I caught up with the MAN Ecocity gas buses rudely snatched from Anglian and dispatched to Plymouth last October. Some perusing of the Megabus website and I came up with a package I couldn't really refuse. Travelling Norwich - Plymouth on the Sunday, arriving in Plymouth early Monday morning, all day there before catching the overnight coach back to London and on to Norwich to get back Tuesday teatime. All for £10.50. Yes Norwich to Plymouth return for £10.50. It seemed rude not to so I booked and thus Sunday afternoon saw me catching one of Anglian's long term loanee Mercedes Citaros to Norwich to begin my journey.

A routine trip to London on Freestones superb 14 plate Scania Izara tri-axle followed, getting in early as expected due to Sunday timings being the same as weekday. This allowed me time to do something I felt I had to do.

Freestones Scania YN14 FVR at Norwich Bus Station
I can't tell you how many times I have stood on London Bridge, driven over London Bridge, stopped on London Bridge or passed through London Bridge going over Borough Market on the train but it will be in the thousands. It was important to me that I went there again to pay my respects to those whose only offence was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. A chat to a friendly copper allowed me to place events, and in the middle of an incredible sunset I stood by the tributes with that iconic view of Tower Bridge and tried my best to imagine the horrors of 8 days previously, and it isn't easy to equate the images you see on TV with the spot you know so well.

The tributes at London Bridge
St Paul's from London Bridge
The trip to London Bridge allowed me to get a ride on one of the Wright bodied Hydrogen buses running on the RV1 Covent Garden - Tower Gateway route. A few interesting whines but they're not bad, certainly better than the BYD electric buses. However, a well respected source then informed me the hydrogen buses cost a million quid each and my estimations lowered a little. Yes they're ok but under no circumstances do they look, sound or feel a million quid. No wonder they haven't caught on. A million? Seriously?

One of the Hydrogen buses at Aldwych
A couple of Borismasters back to Victoria made me feel better and I joined the merry throng waiting for the 2330 to Falmouth & Newquay via most of the South West! A 66 plate Volvo B11R Plaxton Elite Interdeck duly arrived and duly filled up to the seams! It was heaving, which I wasn't expecting on a Sunday night. These are truly quality vehicles and I love traveling on them. Impossible to get a decent pic of it, either at London or Plymouth so apologies for that. We were a bit late arriving in Plymouth, which didn't matter as the City really hadn't woken up, and I decided to locate the Rail Station immediately as that would play a big part in the day. Naturally it was uphill, but a 15 min walk later and I was at Plymouth Station with something unexpected (mainly because I hadn't researched) at the platform. The Sleeper from Paddington to Penzance was on a scheduled stop, and I took advantage of the situation.


57602 from outside the station
57602 Powderham Castle fro inside the station
57603 Tintagel Castle at the other end
A good start to the day, but it was time to catch up with those gas buses, and as luck would have it one of their regular routes passes the station, so I waited and before long ex Anglian 109, now Plymouth Citibus 701 AU62 DWC arrived. A day ticket on Plymouth Citibus's extensive network is a mere £4 - something Go-Ahead in this region might like to contemplate. £9 for a much smaller network doesn't compare well.

Plymouth Citibus 701 (Anglian 109)
When they took them Plymouth Citibus intimated that the gas buses would get a decent overhaul - seats re-covered, panels tightened up etc. Well they've had a repaint. Nothing else has changed. Seats the same, rattles the same, door alarms going off when cornering right the same. I mean yes they are still brilliant and the best single deck bus ever built in my opinion, but there was no evidence of the extensive TLC I was led to believe they were getting. I took a pic of ex Anglian 110, now Plymouth 710 AU13 FBJ, and rode back to the station on ex Anglian 105, Plymouth 705 WX62 HFU but was left with a real sense of anticlimax. Let's see what they are like in another year.

Ex Anglian 110
Ex Anglian 105
The rest of the day was to be far from anti-climatic. One of the jewels in the railway crown is the Devon Day Ranger, which covers the Great Western Main Line from Tiverton Parkway to Plymouth, and all the branch lines - Exmouth, Barnstaple and my first port of call, Gunnislake, and all for £12. Better still, although not normally valid until after 9am, because the Gunnislake branch isn't that regular I was allowed to use it on the 0840 departure from Plymouth. Part two will be dedicated to my day on Devon's railways, and how I'm still suffering for my pleasure!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Ipswich Area Changes

First have announced changes to their services in Ipswich coinciding with the launch of the new Park & Ride. As details are on their website I hope I'm not breaking any confidences by publishing my own details, which I've known for some time now. These changes to come into effect 2nd July

I have good news for you if you live in Wickham Market, Little Glenham, Saxmundham and especially Easton and Campsea Ashe. I have not so good news if you live in Eyke, Rendlesham, Tunstall and Snape.

First the good news. The 64 between Ipswich and Aldeburgh is returning to its former hourly frequency, thus doubling the service for the good folk of Wickham Market, Little Glenham and Saxmundham. Better still if you live in Leiston and Aldeburgh the timetable I devised making realistic connections with the trains at Saxmundham has been implemented, leaving time for both bus and train to be a little delayed. I hope this will prove to be of great benefit to residents of those areas. Sadly the same can't be said at Woodbridge, but the difference between train and bus running times preclude that. The one downside is the last bus from Ipswich to Aldeburgh will leave at 1750, and not the current 1815. Also the 64 will revert to its former route in Woodbridge via Bredfield Road, which will add a little time to the journey. It will also operate via Tesco Martlesham off peak.

Now the not so good news. Due to very low patronage on the section of route between Rendlesham and Leiston the 65 is reduced to 3 journeys a day - one inbound during morning peak leaving Aldeburh at 0645 and two return journeys evening peak leaving Ipswich at 1720 and 1820 but these journeys only running as far as Leiston. This means that folks in Eyke and Rendlesham will lose their link to the coast, and those in Tunstall and Snape most of their buses altogether. However not is all lost.

It was reported that the PF Travel operated 62 between Framlingham and Woodbridge was being scrapped, Well it has won a reprieve. The route has been extended to start at Snape, and will run via Tunstall, Campsea Ashe, Parham, Framlingham, Easton. then Wickham Market and Woodbridge, thus giving Campsea Ashe and Easton their first regular bus service in donkeys years. It also, as pleaded for in a post a couple of weeks ago gives a bus link from Framlingham and Wickham Market to Wickham Market station in Campsea Ashe (have to call it Wickham Market or I get abused!).Ok it doesn't actually connect with any trains, is of know use for Campsea Ashe market on a Monday, and it is only one a day, well except Wednesdays, but it is a start, something to build on. Something is always better than nothing.

As for Rendlesham and Eyke, they will soon be part of Ipswich Park & Ride, as one P&R service an hour is being extended from Martlesham to Woodbridge, Melton, Eye and Rendlesham, effectively doubling Rendlesham's service to Ipswich. The 800 will run fast Melton to Woodbridge as the 64/65 do now. I will be posting more on this once I have checked a few of the ticketing details out, as it could be quite complicated with differing conditions applying depending where you board and where you're going to, so bear with me on that one.

There are other minor changes in the Ipswich area. The X7 express service between Ipswich and Felixstowe is becoming peak only, and the 77 will operate via Felixstowe seafront.

The 60'61 will be re-timed to leave Tower Ramparts every 10 minutes at 00, 10, 20 etc past the hour, and evening buses on the 66 will be timed to connect at Ipswich Station with trains from London.

Overall these are positive changes but I also feel there is scope there for more. I'm really pleased to see my suggested timings at Saxmundham implemented, I just hope they prove useful.

I'll clarify the P&R position when I get the details.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

First Norwich Reaping Rewards

Any gardener will tell you a seed doesn't become a flower overnight. Farmers sow their fields in the Spring, to reap the crops in Autumn. It's a gradual process, with the farmers having to be prepared to give nature a helping hand if needed, which it quite often is. It's all part of the nurturing process to generate the greatest yield.

Changing attitudes in the workplace is similar. Again it's not an overnight process. Long standing practices and traditions have to be gradually eroded away, and personnel, through nurturing, gently prodded in the new direction in a way that makes them all feel part of the process. It's a skill that not everyone can achieve, but when someone does the rewards can be truly bountiful.

First Eastern Counties have been doing just that over the last few years and now are beginning to see their efforts recognised in high places. I was contacted a couple of weeks ago by Cliff Hussey, Operations Manager at First Norwich, to inform me that FEC had been nominated at the Be First Awards, which recognise contributions fro within the whole of First Group, including the rail sector, which encompasses some 110,000 employees. FEC, specifically the Norwich Safety Committee , were nominated for the "Dedicated to Safety Award", which I'll be honest thought meant everyone wore their yellow vests correctly, or the yellow lines in the depot were painted bright enough. Not so, however, and I'm delighted to be able to quote the official citation from the awards ceremony that took place in Manchester a few weeks ago.

"The brainchild of Operations Manager Cliff Hussey, the Norwich Safety Committee has developed a fun and engaging process to discuss, deliver and plan all aspects of safety in the workplace. With invitations to a Teddy Bear's Picnic, a Punk Party, and a Mad Hatter's Tea Party, employees are encouraged to attend meetings and discuss delivering results in a relaxed environment."

"The concept has seen a significant increase in engagement from staff in contributing to improving safety. It has empowered and encouraged them to think, act, and improve safety for themselves, their colleagues, and customers."

"More importantly, it has created an environment where safety is no longer seen as someone else's responsibility, it is now seen as everyone's responsibility."

I'm delighted to report that the Norwich team came runners up in the category to Hull Trains, making them by default the best in UK bus. Many congratulations to Cliff and his team for gaining national recognition and putting FEC on the national map.

Yesterday I went to Norwich to meet Cliff, who I haven't seen since he relocated from Ipswich, having done much to transform that depot into a much more customer friendly depot. Quite ironic then that I had to get to Norwich using Anglian, but it did give me the chance to ride one of the Mercedes Citaros on loan to Anglian while their own fleet undergoes an overhaul.

Go Ahead 2413 at Halesworth
Apologies - the last letter of the alphabet key has given up the ghost on my laptop so I won't be quoting any registrations that include it, but these ex Southampton Bluestar Citaros are strange beasts. Like all Citaros they give the impression of being cavernous inside, yet there are only 35 fixed seats which is a tiny amount for a bus that big. Some serious tightening of roof and side interior panels is required to stop the loud rattling, but the seats they have got are comfortable and the ride is excellent. A driver told me Anglian have the 13 Citaros on loan for 8 - 10 months, which is longer than I first thought, so plenty of opportunity to get to know them better.

Ok back to First, and it was great to meet the Norwich team again, in particular Lee Howells, who always welcomes me like an old mate - was good to see you again, Lee. The commercial team were extremely hospitable and trusting, which I truly appreciated, and I could sense a really happy atmosphere.

But it is Cliff I want to concentrate on. You could describe Cliff as old school. He acknowledges that the basic concept of buses is to transport the public from A - B in the most convenient way, in return for a fare. We happily talked about the old days but Cliff is a man hopelessly in love with his job, and sees his staff as his children that it is his job to look after. He told me his philosophy is that you shouldn't only see your staff when they've been "naughty and are up in front of you for a telling off", but they should see him when they've been good, or have any questions or suggestions to make. In short Cliff doesn't want a workforce but a family, at the same time changing the attitude of those not used to a customer friendly or team playing approach. This is the nurturing I was talking about - it takes time. I saw a very simple yet effective notice board with up to date information on how each route was running, with easy to access colour coded pigeon holes containing any diversions or other information the drivers needed to know. Little things like that, making drivers' lives easier have enormous impact on staff morale.

Cliff also told me he is intent on creating the same environment he did at Ipswich, which includes converting drivers to the belief that they should be happy someone wants to take a picture of their bus, not negative not aggressive, as every photo taken by enthusiasts is positive advertising. I know that's something Cliff feels very strongly about, and I'm sure everyone welcomes that stance.

As I said at the top of the post none of this will happen overnight, and regardless of how cheerful they normally are drivers are human and will still have bad days - as enthusiasts we need to remember and recognise that too. But it's good to know we have management on our side. This region may lag behind the rest of the country in some respects, but as far as bus operators accepting and embracing enthusiasts is concerned I think the operators here are pioneers that the rest of the country ought to take note of and copy. Yes operators such as Reading Buses have the same attitude, but quite a lot don't, and to have a major player such as First appreciating the role enthusiasts have to play is outstanding and needs to be applauded.

Many thanks, Cliff, and congratulations on your achievements. I'll be popping in regularly to chew the cud and keep up to speed (in both senses) of what's going on.

I promised Cliff I would split my return journey and go to Bungay on the new Charcoal Line X41. Wasn't a difficult promise to keep as I had intended to do that anyway. So I made my way to St Stephen's St, joined by Cameron, and we waited for the X41 to come along, rather praying it wouldn't be a substitute like the one we saw on the 40 to Poringland.

Very hard seated 66340 in charcoal white!
Thankfully it wasn't, and shortly after ex Leeds Gemini 36181 showed up looking rather splendid in her new colours..

36181 in St Stephen's St
You know what you're getting with B9's. Quiet, smooth, comfortable - everything a bus should be. Unfortunately the WifI so clearly advertised was absent, but as a fast route to Bungay both the route and vehicles are superior to anything else running that corridor at present. I expect Anglian to respond in time, but maybe not immediately due to their current fleet constraints. I also hinted rather strongly that the X41 should be extended to Halesworth. My fingers are crossed!

This is the most positive I've felt about bus services in East Anglia for a long time. Now we need to start seeing the return of some of the routes lost over the last 7 years, and operators targeting new custom from those communities currently without a bus service, rather than targeting other operator's customers. Engagement with those communities is key, and given the positivity of management in the area now maybe, just maybe all is not lost and there s a glimmer of hope.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Just A Random Thought But...

It has been a week that has cruelly put life into perspective. Suddenly it didn't matter what loan registrations were, when the latest repaint was being completed, or what loco was on what train. It just didn't matter and I couldn't have cared less. I postponed plans for hoped meetings and remembered what I do is a hobby and no more. Sometimes it's all too easy to forget that, and treat it like life and death. It's not. My heart goes out to those affected by the Manchester murders this week. To call it terrorism gives credence to the imagined justification for it. It wasn't terrorism it was murder. May the victims rest in peace, and their families find peace and strength in the love and support the entire nation has, and will continue to express.


Another rural route is about to be axed. The little known Paul Frost Travel 62 from Woodbridge to Framlingham is going from the end of June. There are rumours it may still operate a couple of days a week but there is no confirmation as yet. It's not for bad service - Nigel the regular driver couldn't be a nicer bloke, and to have a bus service playing ClassicFM is a welcome change from personal iPods blaring Lord knows what out. You can literally time your watch by the service. It has a loyal band of passengers which has clearly not proved enough. So what has been the route's downfall? Quite simply the route itself.

It was not designed for major use so no surprise it hasn't been majorly used. Where exactly was it linking Framlingham to and why?  3 hours in Woodbridge isn't easy to fill. It won't ever attract custom from Wickham Market with only 3 journeys a day. So it has served its extremely limited market to the best of its ability.

I have advocated for years now a bus service linking Wickham Market and Framingham to Campsea Ashe Station. If you live in Framlingham, which is expanding at quite a rate there is not a bus to any station anywhere except the Wednesday 62 to Saxmundham, which only gives you a couple of hours anyway so pointless for the station. And is being axed. Why not? If you live in Wickham Market there is no bus to your nearest station, you have to go to Melton ( a walk from bus) or Woodbridge then double back if you're heading towards Lowestoft unless you go to Saxmundham but of course the buses don't connect with the trains and the timetable I discussed with First to alter that was never implemented. It's hardly going to encourage passenger growth is it.

It's not even confined to the sticks either - there are no buses to Great Yarmouth station either can you believe. Want to catch a train if you live in Gorleston? Well you can go to Yarmouth Police Station and walk, or go to Lowestoft, and walk again unless your house is on Anglian's 61 that week! Surely that's not right. I thought the entire concept of "public transport" was the conveyance of passengers easily and conveniently from A - B in return for a fare. That concept seems to have gone out of the window when you see company Tweets like this one I saw today from an operator whose identity I shall keep secret.

"Great to catch up with X & Y to discuss further alignment of local transport to economic development"

What??????? How is that going to help Mrs Smith do the shopping or get to the station, or the kids to get back from the cinema without relying on their parents. The basics of public transport have been entirely forgotten, and if the future for bus services outside major towns and cities has any future then basics have to be resurrected with some tinkering, and that got me thinking.

Now I imagine when most of the great ideas of the world were first proposed they were met with incredulity and ridicule - let's put a man on the moon, let's build a passenger plane that goes twice the speed of sound, let's put dill pickle in a burger, let's put giant windmills 20 miles out to sea to generate electricity - so I'm not expecting universal cheering and acceptance of this idea, but it just might save rural bus services, increase public transport usage, and just for once show someone was serious about generating it. The idea is this;

As part of future rail franchises make compulsory bus links to stations from a 10 mile radius a condition, to connect with first and last trains. Give people a reason to use public transport, rather than reasons not to. Obviously those buses would be tendered out by the Train Operating Company, but let's face it - who are the major TOC's in the  country? Oh yes First, Stagecoach, Arriva and Go Ahead. So instead of Councils tenderng the bus services it woud be the TOC as part of their franchise. Then my elderly friend in Wickham Market can keep her alarm in her sheltered flat, which is being taken away as the Council are no longer funding it. (Yes Smurf I know!) There has been a precedent to this - London Transport.

I asked a very knowledgeable contact of mine who has worked in the transport industry in London all his life if he could think of a single station served by either tube or train that didn't also have a bus serving the station. He couldn't. Not one. He said there must be but he couldn't think of any. That's because London Transport were an interested party in both modes, and realised that both had to link together if they were to be really attractive. Combined tickets were available and the rest is history.

Now obviously I'm not suggesting that Framlingham gets a London Transport type service to Campsea Ashe station. But what's the point in getting the train into town for a night out if you have to drive to and from the station. Defeats the object of the exercise. I bet anything that if TOC's were responsible for local bus services they would make darn sure everything linked up together - timetables, ticketing, frequencies etc to get those bums on seats. Places like Beccles, Thorpe-le-Soken, and Sheringham would have buses connecting with last trains, and authorities with real teeth, unlike the Traffic Commissioners who only seem to hit the small guys, and the Rail Regulator - who as far as I've seen has done diddly squat over the various industrial disputes, could fine and withdraw franchises if necessary.

That is the basic idea. It couldn't be achieved overnight, but then nor was putting Neil Armstrong on the moon. It would take time to take off and get the public enthusiastic so initial losses must be expected. It would require investment, but that would pay for itself with the extra revenue generated. Never mind "further alignment of local transport to economic development", put buses where new houses are built, remember who public transport is for, who uses public transport, and the basic reason public transport was created in the first place.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Anglian Come Up Trumps For Lena

Thursday was a poignant day. It was the funeral of Lena Sadler, bus campaigner and friend. She was also a member of the 165 club, a group of passengers and drivers who remained in touch after Anglian's 165 Aldeburgh - Ipswich route was axed in 2013. I thought it would be a nice idea if Anglian could supply a bus as a tribute to Lena so I approached Mickey Amey, Depot Manager at Anglian who couldn't have been more accommodating, saying that yes, as long as a spare vehicle was available he would be happy to help out.

It wasn't going to be easy to find a suitable Anglian liveried vehicle though, with 13 blue loan vehicles being brought in while Anglian's fleet gets a much needed overhaul, so my hopes weren't high. However I'm delighted to report that Mickey managed to find an Optare Versa - which had seen service on the 165 - and although it was too late to programme the destination screen, Paul the driver printed out a couple of sheets to go in the window which was quite common on the 165! And so we gathered at the Church of St Andrew, Aldringham

Anglian 308 at Aldringham Church
The tribute from Anglian
The church was packed, and a short, simple but moving service took place, with Lena being laid to rest in the churchyard after. There were no frills about Lena, and I know she would have appreciated the simplicity of the occasion, and would have laughed herself silly at the sight of the bus blocking the car park.

Members of the 165 club - Mike, Paul, Robin, Jane and Peter
Peter also took some pics, a couple of which I'm delighted to be able publish here.


Thanks, Peter.
It was fantastic to see so many people there, including some who knew Lena just from chatting on the bus. Lena was that type of person. She left her mark on whoever she met and I predict many glasses will be raised in her memory for years to come.

My heartfelt thanks and gratitude go to Mickey and Dave Smith at Anglian. I'm not sure regimes of the past would have been as willing to accommodate, and it is another indication of the positivity that has started to flow through Anglian's veins. The gesture was truly appreciated by all and certainly turned a few heads. Thanks to Paul for doing the driving, and it turned a sad occasion into a nice one too.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Tales Of The Unexpected!

Quite simply 24 hours ago I had no idea of anything contained in this post, so it's all happened a bit suddenly. First of all I was contacted last night by a BorderBus driver who rather vaguely said there was a red double decker parked up in the yard, and it could be ex London. So as I had to go to Ellough anyway today for other reasons I popped in fully expecting to see a Gemini when a rather striking Scania Omni Citi decker came into view. I have been on several of these in London and they are great buses, at least they would be if it wasn't for one tiny problem - the seats are what Satan would design if you had to spend the rest of eternity on a bus being punished. I have spent 90 minutes on one and it felt like 90 days. So it's fair to say I had mixed feelings when I saw ex Stagecoach London 15137 LX59 CNA gleaming in the Suffolk sun. COULD be ex London? Seriously!!

The Scania at BorderBus depot.
The Scania is on loan to BorderBus for fuel economy evaluation. It will be used on the 146 over the next few days, and if the fuel data is satisfactory it is likely that a number of the Scanias will be purchased. They would be converted to single door, probably have more seats added upstairs as the amount of legroom is way beyond coach standard. I'm not normally in favour of reducing legroom but with these it makes sense. And yes, the seats will be either replaced or upgraded to include foam to boost comfort. I'm not joking - those Scanias give seriously good rides, and with decent seats will really give the Geminis a run for their money. I hope the evaluation goes well, and I'll report back when the decisions have been made. My thanks to Andrew and Dave for the info and I'll watch this space with interest. In the meantime check BorderBus's Twitter account for info on what the Scania will be doing.

One thing we couldn't do, however, was imagine the Scania in BorderBus Livery. Enter Sam Larke and his computer and voila! Thanks Sam, might not look too bad!

How the Scania could look

A quick postscript now - the E300's for Ipswich P&R have coe fro the ex First Borders operation in Scotland, which is now run by a new company called Borders Bus. You probably know where this is going - Andrew Pursey has had to field multiple daily complaints about buses in Galashiels. I just wonder how many complaints are being received in Scotland - or compliments even - about buses in Wangford!

Rear view of the Scania
Next something nice, really nice. It has been sometime since I had anything positive to say about Anglian Bus. The last 3 years has seen a slow painful demise for all concerned. Blame lies entirely with Go Ahead who failed spectacularly to understand how a rural operation functioned, and also failed equally spectacularly to learn from their mistakes. If it wasn't for the drivers and staff at Anglian the company would have been history months if not years ago.

However, today it was my pleasure to meet Mickey Amey, the new Operations Manager at Anglian. I admit I wasn't sure what reception I'd receive, but the welcome couldn't have been warmer. I was there primarily on non blog related business, but obviously the subject turned to the current state of affairs at Anglian. For the first time ever I had the feeling I was talking to someone who wanted to turn the company around, put new flesh on the bare bones, and had the enthusiasm and man management skills to achieve it. Just a quick word to the Go Ahead supremos - GIVE HIM THE TIME TO ACHIEVE!!!!  With backing and investment the phoenix could yet rise from the ashes with a man at the helm who understands how a rural depot works. That was how Anglian became successful in the first place under the Purseys and if Go Ahead let Mickey Amey get on with things it can again.

Most of what I discussed with Mickey cannot be published yet, but one thing I can do is reveal why Konect have registered Beccles as an operating centre. Anglian will also be registered at Rackheath and it's purely so in exceptional circumstances such as breakdown either operator can use each other's vehicles. This will help at Norwich for example and will save time getting spare buses out from depots resulting in less loss mileage and fewer cancellations.

It was a real pleasure chatting to Mickey Amey, and I will only be too pleased to report anything positive coming out of Anglian. Let's hope the bad times are over and the rebuilding can begin.

Switching to the rails and I decided to nip into Norwich as I knew there was a test train in the sidings. Hopefully I'll be seeing a lot of it tonight, but I wanted to see it iin daylight, and so I did, with Colas Rail 37421 heading the train and DBSO

Colas 37421 in Norwich sidings
I thought that was it but no. As I was having lunch Tim rang me to tell me the Class 37 short set, which had been off the track, was coming back with an added DBSO, for storage and braking purposes. So back to Norwich Station I went and sure enough there was the set with DBSO 9705 backing onto 37403.

37403 with DBSO 9705
Apologies for sun interference
I took a video of the train leaving Norwich - with only 37423 active, and just as well as the set promptly failed at Lowestoft and was taken out of service!


So there we are, a full day, none of it expected, and all of it enjoyable and rewarding. If only all days could be like this!