Thursday, 19 October 2017

Blog Trip To London Part 1

I consider myself very fortunate that for the first ten years of my life I had grandparents in South West London. Not only that but parents who grew up in London themselves. That meant I got to know the London transport system very early. I remember Red Arrow buses with turnstiles, red Underground trains, and felt very comfortable in London a lot earlier than some. It also means that I rather take it for granted that all transport enthusiasts have similar knowledge and experience and I'm always surprised when someone says their experience of London is virtually zero. Such was the case with blog contributor, good friend and sounding board Tim, who confessed his experience of the Tube was Liverpool St - Oxford Circus, and hadn't even been on a Borismaster. I simply couldn't let that continue so on Saturday we met at Blog Towers at a silly time, and set off to give Tim the London Experience. This will be a joint post with Tim adding his comments. The huge majority of pics are Tim's, who retains copyright.

T.Yes it was early but the advantage being the lack of traffic. I was looking forward a lot to this trip so the silly start was worth it and the fact Steve had found the perfect place to start just ticked a good few boxes. The first being my initiation to the S7 Underground stock which for those yet to try is vastly different to what I had been on previously. Very light very airy albeit empty for a few stops did seem very pleasing and very smooth!

S. We drove 90 miles (on fresh air to those who think it's a free hobby) to Upminster, which is on the zone 6 Travelcard boundary. An added attraction was the all day parking charge at Upminster Station of a mere £2.40. That is extremely compared to other stations. We arrived just before 6am to an eerily quiet station, and an even more eerily empty District Line train.

Just us then!                                                       pic SW
However by time we arrived at Bow Rd the train was heaving, and it was time for our first change - a 180 metre walk to Bow Church and Docklands Light Railway.

T Ahh yes the next big first! The first look at Canary Wharf was fantastic to me, the station as Steve says is so different to what you imagine plus the ride(no it's not a roller coaster he kept telling me!) through the Docklands with some lights still on is worthy of a Christmas wonderland type ride. I will admit to seeing Docklands before but it was well under construction and a labyrinth to get lost in.

S. Because of engineering work we had to go to Lewisham instead of my preferred Woolwich Arsenal, and that was good as it meant changing at Canary Wharf, in my opinion one of the great stations of the country, and highly underrated. The fact only DLR serves it shouldn't detract from its magnificence. (Yes, I know Jubilee Line goes there but that's way below ground)

Canary Wharf DLR station                                      pic SW
                                                                                                     pic TM
S. At Lewisham we made our way up to the Southeastern station to catch the first of several overground trains to feature during the day.  A Class 465 Networker was our trust steed, 25 years old this year, a milestone that seems to have been largely ignored.

 T Next up my introduction to 3rd rail proper and to listen to Steve wax lyrical about these machines and realise that they are still as good as they started as is great. Couldn't fault the ride and the chance to see a lot of new places again I had not seen before.

465169 departs Lewisham                                                        pic TM

S. Our destination was Charing Cross, a station that has played a huge part in my life and somewhere else I rather take for granted. But despite only having 6 platforms it is a must. The views of the London Eye and Houses of Parliament as you cross Hungerford Bridge are unparalleled, and the station building itself quite spectacular, as Tim noticed. The sun was playing havoc at this still early hour so not as many snaps could be taken as we wanted.

T. The run into Charing Cross was a first for both of us I believe as it involved the new Borough Market bridge and London Bridge station which you can clearly see the scale of the work being carried out. And crossing the river for the first time since 1998 I think which was Vauxhall Bridge (and MI5 on my way to Peckham) was very eye opening and I couldn't take my eyes off the station itself, blew me away a bit.

Charing Cross Station                                             pic TM
S. Tim had told me in advance that although trains were his priority he simply had to ride a Borismaster, so our next journey was on the number 9 from Charing Cross to Hammersmith, and still being early we weren't bogged down by traffic which meant a proper ride. I'll let Tim give his verdict as I'm a little biased!

T. And we come to the main well one of the main things for the day. Now I have ridden original Routemasters, sampled all that is as up to date that we have at home and done all manner of heritage days but this was to be a virgin ride for me. Once I realised that the hybrid part i.e electric to diesel was almost unnoticeable I was convinced it was the smoothest bus I had been on in ages! And not withstanding the "excellent" London drivers and the scenery I reckon a snooze would have happened but you can see loads from upstairs so I took advantage of it !  Got to say cheers mate for that !!

LT152 at Hammersmith Bus Station                                pic TM
 S. From Hammersmith it was Piccadilly Line time to Hatton Cross to see some big planes. And big planes we saw. Now I have stood at the perimeter fence at Hatton Cross many times with many people over the years with not so much as an eyebrow raised. 30 seconds there with Tim and the Police turned up saying we had triggered all sorts of security alarms accusing us of "hiding behind a hedge". A hedge that only comes up to waist level and could have been used in Monty Python's How Not To Be Seen sketch! So we moved 20 feet across the road which clearly lessened our security risk considerably and waited for the icons of the sky to arrive, and, one after the after, they did!

T. All throughout the day I had to get used to the volume of traffic I had not seen in quite a few years having not driven a truck for a while. Now my ears had to acclimatise to another noise, planes. I still do runs to airports but never stop long enough to listen or observe and this bit left me in awe again, especially the 747, only ever seen one on the ground never at about 100ft above me, blinding!! I can only equate the noise to a Lighting fighter or an A10 but on a bigger scale. Oh and can't understand about the Police....I have such an innocent face....

Someone can tell me if 777 or 787 but big and loud!                            pic TM
S, Realising how much we cherished our freedom we caught a rather nondescript Gemini II on the 285 from Hatton Cross to Feltham, the only notable point being the rather alarming transformation of the driver from young lady to big bloke with beard without anyone noticing the changeover! At Feltham station we caught a Class 458 to the one place I knew was top of Tim's wish list - Clapham Junction.

 T. By this time I was furiously punching numbers into my trainspotter app and thinking why didn't I take my notebook! As predicted the Gemini a bit worn and the odd rattle and as noted the ability to "Paul Daniels" the drivers. But the prospect of another class of EMU beckoned. And still a very smooth ride. I can honestly say the approach to Clapham Junction opened my eyes, never really seen that many trains in one spot.

South West Rail 458 pulls into Feltham                                                pic TM
 S. Clapham Junction is the UK's busiest station, but in my humble opinion far from the UK's best spotting station. Apart from the occasional 158/159 it's all EMU's, and once you've seen one 377 0r 455 you've seen them all. However if all you're used to is Beccles or Norwich then it must seem vast! Highlights for me were seeing a new but to be short lived Class 707 in the sidings, and a possy of spotters suddenly rushing our platform to get a Colas Class 70 loco on an engineers train only for it to suddenly change lines and get spectacularly bombed by a Gatwick Express 12 car 387. Schadenfreude at its best!

T. I was reminded on Twitter that Clapham Junc was at one time a very downtrodden place but I have to say it seemed to be ok now and the amount of trains and people can fair muddle a country boy's head plus the amazing amount of caffeine outlets to get your "fix" at. Would have loved a go on a 707 but not to be that day. The variety of trains is not overly great (app got bashed again!) but just the sheer volume is enough and the class 70 "Fugly" was indeed a bonus to see there as normally we only see them at Ipswich.

The Class 707 in Clapham Jct sidings             pic SW
Old and new liveries on Class 444 units.                          pic SW
Gatwick Express Class 387                              pic TM
Class 450 still in SWT livery             pic TM

S. A short ride to Wimbledon on a Class 455 and it was time for another mode of transport, which will begin part two of the day's travels -- and it still wasn't midday! I'll leave Tim to sum up Part One

T. I can honestly say that even the 455 was ok to ride on and I was definitely looking forward to the next bit! At Wimbledon I could see how the word "integrated" when used in the transport tense actually worked. I just wish some of the provinces could catch the same idea.

So far so good. I refer to my legs more than anything but I was enjoying it too much to let them hold me back. My days as trade plate driver had seen me on old rolling stock rattled and banged about but the stock now is beyond what you could have conceived 35 odd years ago and it works. The seamless way you can get around affords you to be able to see more things and I had seen plenty, some for the first time and some which bought back memories and to see the changes were awesome. But I knew there was definitely lots more to come!

Sunday, 15 October 2017


A few days ago I published a post in an effort to explain why the amount of published news has waned in recent months. I'm pleased to say the majority, especially other bloggers agreed with me. However, some thought I was having a rant against operators. One gentleman called the post "utter drivel", saying there were still lots of pretty buses to take pictures of, which wasn't really the point, and when I responded someone else called me a 5yo. I'm told I was an utterly adorable (and much better looking) 5yo so I don't mind that really!

But then in came a comment for moderation that took my breath away. I didn't publish it as I wanted everyone to see it and discuss. Here it is, from a regular contributor calling himself (I assume) "Smurf".

The answer is simple Steve. Start running your own bus company; and you can make the news, and make sure there is no shortage of it too! After all as you keep telling us none of the rest of them know how to do it! There must be a few ££s lying around from all those savings on fares down the years!

You could, I suppose, cast a glance in the direction of First Essex, which does seem to be run for the benefit of itself and its bus enthusiasts. It looks lovely on paper. Not much use though to the passengers who don't have any alternative (who never know what, if, or when anything is going to turn up); but after all they're trying to use it for work and necessity rather than as a free hobby.

From what I can see most of the bus industry is trying with a fair degree of success in meeting the needs of the passengers better than ever. At, sadly, the expense of the hobbyists. I appreciate you'd like to see it the other way around. Sadly the rest of us might not be inclined to like it so much. 

So I'll answer Smurf's points.

Firstly I'd LOVE to have the money to run my own company, but I doubt that will ever happen. If I did, though, it certainly wouldn't be to create news, but yes, to try and drag East Anglia kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and take inspiration and advice from various operators and people in the industry I have the utmost respect for, who I'll mention later. 

I save very little on fares these days as due to the vast majority of services in my area being scrapped if I have to drive 6 miles to a bus stop I may as well drive all the way. Anyway that is my business and no one else's.

Having been sarcastic in saying "After all as you keep telling us none of the rest of them know how to do it" Smurf then goes on to criticise First Essex saying it is run for themselves and enthusiasts at the expense of passengers. But then he contradicts himself again! "From what I can see most of the bus industry is trying with a fair degree of success in meeting the needs of the passengers better than ever." Except First Essex I presume? And no, I wouldn't like to see it the other way round, because if the passengers had a decent service, coverage and frequencies there would be plenty for the enthusiast, like erm, there was 4 or 5 years ago when there were, erm, more buses and services.....

Finally it is clear Mr/Mrs Smurf is not an enthusiast. That's fine,, nor am I sometimes  - in fact I've always said I'm passenger first, enthusiast second, and if I had any buses round here that would still be the case - but just occasionally I will talk from the enthusiasts point of view. I feel I do my best to interact with operators and managers to clarify things. However to describe it as a "free hobby" shows ignorance of breathtaking proportions. I doubt few hobbyists spend more pursuing their hobby as transport enthusiasts do, have you seen how much rail tours cost?  Then if you are going to an event there is the cost. I was hoping to go to the 2017 Bus & Coach event in Birmingham last week but just plain couldn't afford it. Same with Showbus, same with Old Oak Common depot open day. That isn't free. I spend a fortune in petrol driving to locations to get pics and vids to share with everyone, hopefully from different locations to the majority of enthusiasts. Of course reading this blog and writing sarcastic comments is totally free!

So to recap what I was trying to say in the first post;

Fact: There are fewer buses on the roads of East Anglia compared with 5 years ago, and fewer types.
Fact: There are fewer routes served by buses than there were 5 years ago.
Fact: On the majority of routes there have been cuts in the last 5 years.

That is going to mean there is going to be less to write about. If the Football League was reduced from 92 clubs to 45 there would be less football news. It goes without saying. If there were only 200 MP's there would be fewer to interview. Not rocket science.

When Greater Anglia replaces its entire fleet of 10 different types of train (not including short set) next year will I still enjoy travelling by train - of course I will. Will there be less to write about - of course there will. I was on Thameslink yesterday when a couple of months ago you could have had a 319, or 377/87's in 4 different liveries, or a new 700. I could have written about different journeys on different stock. Now it's all 700's. One journey is all it needs and I'm done! Less to write about. Not criticism but fact.

It is also true other areas of the country are way in front of East Anglia when it comes to trying to lure people out of their cars. Transdev, led by Alex Hornby are going mad in Yorkshire, with luxury seating (2+1 upstairs), seat back tables, every bus with WiFi/charging facilities etc, interurban routes that find the quickest way around traffic using smart technology and much increased frequencies. It's not their fault new buses rattle! Doesn't assist them but certainly not their fault.

In Reading there are double deck gas buses, many hybrids (how many hybrids in East Anglia?) and the inspirational leadership of  Martijn Gilbert and John Bickerton is an example many could follow. I have regular Twitter chats with them and have learned a lot. Certainly their staff facilities and interaction seem second to none. Must get down there for a visit.

Nottingham pioneered electric buses outside London, Ensignbus under the Newmans decided to look abroad for decent buses and have brought the BCI Excellence and Enterprise to everyone's attention. Stagecoach in East Kent, under Matthew Arnold among others have tried bringing minibuses back to encourage patronage, and Arriva have even tried Uber style on demand services in certain areas. East Anglia has none of this. Not critcism but fact. So there is less to write about. If I want to talk about new innovations I have to travel a long way.

So Mr "utter drivel" you keep taking pictures of your pretty buses - I'm pleased that you still get great pleasure from your hobby, but this blog is more than pretty buses. Smurf, I'm grateful for your contributions but I'm not always going to speak from your viewpoint. Of course I'm always happy for guest posts so if anyone would like to write one, whether you agree with me or not then please email me. I'll be delighted to hear from you.

Finally some news!!! Thanks to Andrew Kleissner's heads up I can reveal that Ipswich buses are to slash the frequency of the 98 between Ipswich and Shotley to 1 journey a day in each direction. That's from 4 a day from Shotley and 6 a day from Ipswich. Happy days!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

What Has Happened To Our Hobby?

Last week I mentioned there was little news to report at present and I'd discuss why that was. It's not going to make pleasant reading, but then the truth sometimes hurts.

There is, to be frank, not much news because there is far less going on. Let's start with buses and what's around. When I started blogging there were a multitude of different buses to spot and/or ride on. Let's take Great Yarmouth as a focal point. First's fleet comprised of Plaxton Darts, Wright Renown Volvos, President Volvo B7tl's, B12 coaches and 2 types of Olympian. Then Anglian had the gas buses, Optare Versas and Excels, Scania Omnicities and Omnilinks, original Streetlites, Loylne Tridents and ALX400 Tridents. Sanders would use anything on the 6, from DAFs to B7rle's. There were Summer Routemasters, coach operated weekly services, and the Gemini B9's on the X1. It was a good place to be, and everyone was interested in the news, particularly involving the Olympians, whose days were already numbered. Now Anglian have all but gone completely, the Ollies, Renowns, Routemasters, older Darts and B12 coaches have gone. First's fleet now comprises of ALX400 B7's, a couple of Presidents, ex Leeds B9's, short Darts and plastic Streetlites. Nothing there to whet the appetite. Sanders only use B7rle's, and all those weekly services have gone. I haven't been to Yarmouth once this Summer for buses.

Ipswich is no better. Where you used to be able to see Floline Scanias, Renown Volvos, Olympians of many types thanks to First, Carters and Ipswich Buses, B6's, step entrance Darts, Volvo Citibuses from Colchester, now it's all ALX400's, B7rle's, E200's and Scania Omnicities. Like Yarmouth there are no buses of character left. DDA and moulded plastic saw to that.

Added to that is the loss of so many routes and services and you have far fewer buses on the road anyway. I haven't done exact research but I'm willing to bet there are at least 50% fewer buses on the roads of Norfolk and Suffolk than there were 5 years ago. That means less news, which means fewer posts. The time was you could go to Norwich and know you would see something interesting. No longer. Where other parts of the country are getting gas double deckers, or electric buses, or business class interiors, or community seating areas, or 94 seater Aussie monsters, here we get overexcited at the prospect of an 8yo ex London Scania coming back from repaint. Hardly inspiring stuff.

For the next year at least the trains are relatively interesting. We are lucky to have the short set still clagging around for at least another 15 months. Then we have class 153/156/170 diesel units and Class 317/321/360/387 electric units, not forgetting the Class 90 hauled Intercity sets. Add freights, test trains, rail head treatment trains and charters, not to mention Flying Scotsman coming to the area in a couple of weeks, and railways are far more interesting than roads at present. But it won't last.

By 2019 Greater Anglia will have replaced their entire fleet with two types of new train After the initial novelty has worn off interest will wane considerably, but at least they will be brand new trains, not 8yo cast offs. But it means there will be less to write about on the railways too. Long live test trains, charters and freight that isn't Class 66 hauled!

This has also taken its toll on the amount of blogs in the area. There used to be loads. Now there are basically two. Last week Zak Nelson decided enough was enough and closed Norwich Bus Page after reaching an impressive 1 million views. My best wishes for the future, Zak, and stay in touch. Sam Larke tried to restart Norwich Buses Blog over the Summer but a combination of no news and working the Holt shuttle put paid to that. Clive has had an awful year which has seen Ipswich Bus Blog silent, not that anything has been missed. It's myself and East Norfolk Bus Blog left, and even Roy is struggling to find news.

So my apologies for the reduction in posts, but there truly is less to write about than there was even a year ago. You will find more and more posts devoted to other regions and that is really a shame. East Anglia needs a mighty kick in the pants to get it going again. Trouble is no one can afford the boots strong enough to deliver it.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

X1 Enviro In Essex

With new buses expected on the X1 next year, if a suitable vehicle can finally be found, there has been speculation as to where the current fleet of Enviro 400's will go. There maybe a clue this week with Kings Lynn based 33808 YX63 LJO spending the week at Chelmsford, operating the X30 between Stanstead Airport - Chelmsford - Southend. The route has been suffering overcrowding problems since E200 MMC's replaced coaches on the route. thus the decker is being evaluated for suitability.

These pictures, reproduced under Creative Commons Licence are by Matthew Evans, whose flickr page you can access here.

In foreign climes. 33808 in Southend  Manners Way          pic by Matthew Evans
33808 at Chelmsford Bus Station                pic by Matthew Evans

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Tornado Comes To East Anglia

Due to an abject lack of news at the moment, n which subject look for a new post in the next couple of days, here is a post I've been saving up. Cast your mind back to August Bank Holiday, which was a very warm, sunny if windy day. It also saw Class A1 Pacific 60163 Tornado come to East Anglia on a charter to Great Yarmouth from London. Huge crowds were expected to see one of the newest locos around - Tornado was only built in 2008 - and finding locations for unique pictures was going to be difficult.

However, Tim and I hatched a plan and ventured to a station only reachable by train or boat, and police car as it turned out - Berney Arms. It also took an experienced rail journey planner to realise the only way back to Yarmouth from Berney Arms was via Brundall, so we were fairly confident there wouldn't be many joining us. But I wanted to see Tornado is more than one location, so before meeting up with Tim in Yarmouth, I went to my secret location in Norwich where with just a couple of fishermen for company I waited for Tornado to appear. Lovely scene.

Tornado heading for Norwich
I had hoped to beat Tornado to the Acle Straight but alas hot bank Holidays, great Yamouth and traffic don't make a great combination, and steam beat petrol quite comfortably. So I joined the merry throng at Yarmouth and watched the shunting movements involving a rather smart DB Schenker Class 66 as Tornado was reversed back to Norwich to turn round.

After the hordes had gone and just the Mark I's remained while the two locos played musical tracks at Norwich, Tim and I waited for our train to Berney Arms. Before it arrived, though, the familiar growl of the Class 37 short set was heard, and it set up one of those photos tat just looks timeless in back & white.

Nostalgic eh!
A short ride on one of the tastefully refurbished 170's later and we alighted through the designated door at Berney Arms, my first visit there. The words "middle of nowhere" are overused, but wholly appropriate in this case. I've been to Dovey Junction in North Wales which is also inaccessible by road, but at least that has mountains. Berney Arms has nothing!

I mean nothing!
We weren't alone, 3 others had also got off but I wanted a location where we could see the trains long distance and get the station in view, and a field opposite the station ticked all the boxes. The theory was soon put to the test as the 37's passed through on teir way back to Norwich.

37405 passes Berney Arms
As you can imagine at such a popular bustling location security was high. A Police helicopter was spotted, and ten the amusing sight of a BTP car dodging the cow pats and ditches to make sure no riot was taking place at one of Britain's remotest stations! And even then they only spoke to the people on the station, not Tim and I standing in a cow field!

Please disperse - nothing to see here!
One quirk about Berney Arms is the amount of information there - I know far bigger stations with far less information. Fair play to whoever looks after the station.

The information  board at Berney Arms
And then Tornado came through, firstly being reversed back to Yarmouth, pulled by the 66, and then spectacularly with the full rake of 12 coaches.

Tornado passing through Berney Arms
Sadly the stills from the video haven't turned out great, but you can see all the videos from the day below. Thanks to Tim for the company, and to the brilliant people behind Tornado for making her visit possible. Her older sister, or should that be brother Flying Scotsman is coming later this month and we'll be out trying to avoid the crowds for that too.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Anglian Pull Out Of Great Yarmouth

It was brought to my attention today by a source close to the bus industry (yes I was watching Yes, Prime Minister last night) that Anglianbus are to withdraw their services completely from Great Yarmouth.

From November the 61 will only operate between James Paget Hospital and Kessingland weekdays, and Lowestoft Bus Station and Kessingland Saturdays. 8 journeys in each direction will operate weekdays, with 2 journeys at lunch time only operating between Lowestoft bus Station and Kessingland. The last journey to Kessingland leaves JPH at 1616, and Lowestoft Bus Station at 1648. The last joourney from Kessingland departs at 1513. On Saturdays only 5 return journeys operate, with the first bus from Kessingland to Lowestoft at 0913, and the last bus back from Lowestoft at 1403, yes 1403.

It was only 3 years ago that Anglian had up to 8 buses an hour going through Great Yarmouth. Six were on the 61/7 which ran from Southwold to Norwich, one on the 81 from Diss, plus journeys to Hemsby on the 68. In a few weeks there will be nothing. What was once a great company serving communities all over Suffolk and Norfolk is now a smouldering pile of rubble. I've said before I don't blame local management as they are just puppets strung to the breathtaking incompetence coming from Go Ahead HQ. You have to feel sorry for the staff, drivers, and most of all the passengers who put their faith in Anglian only to see it dumped on from a great height.

What really sums it up is First are not celebrating. A contact told me "We haven't won - Anglian have self destructed". It's a sad day. Maybe it's now time Anglian was just put out of its misery.

In it's heyday. Two Anglian gas buses at Yarmouth - BHS also gone!
To cap a bad weekend for Anglian I understand that Friday night thieves syphoned 1000 litres of diesel from 9 Anglian buses at their Beccles depot. to be honest I didn't know there were that many buses left. There won't be soon.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Class 68 Farewell - The Sequal

A week after retiring from public service in East Anglia the Class 68 locos took their final bow on Saturday when they hauled a special excursion from Norwich to Ely and Liverpool St to raise money for East Anglia Children's Hospice. Tim was on board - of course - and sent in this report and pics.

The EACH Express 2 Tour

After last weeks allegedly insane day out with the Class 68's I had opted to spend another whole day with these machines. This time it was for a really good cause in the form of a Rail Tour organised by Greater Anglia and ably supported by Direct Rail Services. The charity in question was East Anglia's Children's Hospices and the money raised  going towards a new place for the children called The Nook.
 I began the day at Lowestoft boarding a Class 153 to Norwich, where around 09.55 our transport for the day arrived. We were being treated to the pioneer of the class 68001 with the newest one 68034 and 8 yes 8 Mk3 coaches which is (nearly) a full Intercity rake including a DVT !
  The first leg took us to Ely albeit at a not too fast speed and I did see that all along the route there were pictures being taken even at Shippea Hill !  There we had about half an hour to get some snaps before we returned into a medium monsoon, which set the tone for the rest of the day weather wise, sun,rain,sun,rain! 
Back at Norwich it was another quick scramble for snaps and food this time before we rumbled slowly out of the station until they opened up the big Cats and then you realise what power there is. 
As with last years tour that used Class 37's we caused a bit of a stir as we raced through various stations with people wondering what all the cameras were for and why didn't that train stop ? As we got to Liverpool St again heads turned and I was asked a couple of time "is that a special train" 
  A quick look around was all we had time for because at 16.24 we set off and the DRS crew were hoping as they had done the maths to do "Norwich in 90" but alas a crawl at Stratford and slowing for Ipswich tunnel put paid to that, but it still was a non stop run achieved in 105 minutes which I think they were proud of. All the way back you could hear the power being laid down and it was smooth too. There was a raffle for one of the headboards, a trip round Crown Point Depot and 2 First Class tickets....but your correspondent won the same as usual lol. 
 Arriving back in Norwich we congratulated the crew and learned that the day had raised about £12,500 for the charity which was a nice end to a long day.
Cheers, Tim, and don't think this is the end of your reporting career! Glad it all went well and a decent amount was raised.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Day Trip To Yorkshire

Having thoroughly enjoyed my few hours in Leeds a few weeks ago, and also being castigated for getting there too late to sample some of the finer bus services there, thanks to a seat sale on Virgin Trains East Coast I made a return visit yesterday for some unfinished business.

The day started the night before, wondering if Storm Aileen would allow me to travel at all. Thankfully Aileen wreaked her vengeance on lines I wasn't travelling on, and so I got to Norwich in plenty of time to catch the train to Peterborough, which yesterday was East Midlands Trains 158774.

158774 unusually on Platform 1 at Norwich
Now the sharp eyed among you will notice the number 7 located bottom right hand corner. I hadn't the foggiest what it denoted so I asked the great and good of the railway world who couldn't come up with an answer either. However, the affable Conductor on board knew. The 7 denotes it's the end with the disabled toilet. The other end displays a 2, signifying cycle storage etc. He explained it's to help platform staff quickly identify which end is which to aid boarding passengers with specific needs. Clever, simple and very subtle. Why 7 and 2 I'll never know though!

I like the 158's, always have and we sped through Thetford Forest, mercifully still standing, and across the Cambridgeshire Fens. A change at Peterborough and a 20 minute wait for my first real treat of the day. In 1978 I caught my first HST up the ECML. 39 years later and I caught my next one. Not the first time back up the ECML by any means, but the HST's have just avoided me. So this was rather special.

43315 at Peterborough
I've been on other HST's of course, Great Western and East Midlands but it was good to add VTEC to the list. A lovely fast, smooth journey and I was soon in Leeds. A spot of lunch, a leisurely stroll down to the bus and coach station, and my first journey on Harrogate Bus Company's flagship 36. The route runs between Leeds and Ripon via Harrogate and Transdev, who run Harrogate Bus Company have put a lot of effort into branding, marketing and plugging the service. The buses - Volvo B5's on a Gemini 3 body are high spec to the extreme. The seating upstairs is 2 + 1 with sumptuous business class style seats, that have seat back tables, arm rests and magazine holders, as well as USB sockets and free WiFi.

The luxurious seats on the Transdev 36
The seat back tables, complete with drinks holder
So I settled in, waiting to enjoy the Yorkshire countryside. Then the bus started to move. How can I explain it -let's try this...

You have gone to a really posh restaurant. The chairs are plush, the tablecloths highly starched and pristine. Silver cutlery is laid exquisitely with matching candelabra and freshly cut, delicately perfumed flowers. The decor is perfect, with Gainsborough prints on the walls, soft gentle music. The Sommelier shows you a wine list the like of which you haven't seen before. then the chief waiter approaches with a silver serving dish, and with a triumphant, Basil Fawlty like flourish, takes the lid off to reveal a McDonald's Happy Meal, a small Coke and a broken toy because the supplilers couldn't be bothered to deliver the fillet steak or lobster, That is the 36.

The Gemini 3 bodies are shocking. Disgraceful. Embarrassing. Utterly appalling. I took a 30 second video which needs no description. Just listen.

The bus industry needs people like Alex Hornby at Transdev, who have the vision and ambition to make bus travel different and downright revolutionary. What it doesn't need are manufacturers that, to put it buntly, just can't be assed to deliver a decent, durable product. If I was Wrightbus I'd have been downright ashamed that my name was on that body. Why is it that Gemini bodies have got worse with each version, not better? Why does MMC stand for Mainly More Crap? Why has every single British manufacturer bottled out of building a new bus for the X1? Yet our glorious PM goes to ADL praising buses we are exporting to Mexico, as if they didn't have enough problems, buses that are illegal on our roads! Alex, you have my full and utmost respect, because you must be banging your had against a brick wall You have a superb product, but not the quality of tools you deserve.

So, rant over, back to the route, which crosses some truly outstanding scenery heading into Harrogate, where I got off to take a look around. A neat bus station, which is adjacent to the rail station, and a conveniently placed walkway from the nearby shopping centre to a multistory car park which provided a perfect spot to get my new header pic.

Harrogate is served by two main operators - Harrogate Bus Company and Connexions, who seem to have mainly old Scanias - I saw but wasn't quick enough to photo ex First Essex 65574 S574 TPW, still happily plying her trade oop North. Anyway, after a break I resumed my journey to Ripon on another 36, which mercifully wasn't quite as bad as the first but still fell in the bracket of  "not what you'd expect from a 2yo bus" and lost myself in yet more gorgeous landscape until we arrived in the small town of Ripon.

Transdev 3620 BL65 YYT at Ripon Bus Station
One thing I must mention are the destination screens. They are quite superb, giving info I haven't seen before, such as this...

Very clever
I like that - saves the driver getting repetitive questions and unnecessary running for passengers. As I said, everything about the 36 is extremely impressive except the bus itself. I got back to Harrogate and decided to travel back to Leeds on a longer route via Wetherby on one of the B5's predecessors, a Volvo B9tl Gemini 2. This had the same, impressive layout upstairs as the B5's, and I found the seats, if anything even more comfortable.

Yes the interior of a Volvo B9tl!
This route - the 70 - is simply a must for any fan of bus travel. The route meanders over spectacular Yorkshire landscape and charming little villages. You get to see sights like this.

Now I'll admit at this point I didn't expect the route to be quite so long. The 36 takes around 25 minutes to get from Leeds to Harrogate. The 70 a trifle longer - 110 mins to be precise and I had a train at Leeds to catch. This would have been fine if I hadn't been handed a good photo op at one of the villages/ I got the photo op because the B9 (far nicer and quieter than the B5's btw) had overheated.

Harrogate Bus Co 3613 BF62 UXZ somewhere!

The driver, a nice bloke called Steve, kept us all informed what was going on and eventually it was decided to limp the bus to Seacroft, a shopping centre still some way from Leeds. It was looking increasingly likely I was going to be spending the night on Peterborough Station when a First bus came in, which happily was going to Leeds Station - via every housing estate in Yorkshire. I made the train with 3 minutes to spare. Nope, never panicked once! A thankfully uneventful journey back to Norwich, although it must be said the Electric Virgin set I came back on wasn't nearly as nice as the HST. 

A truly interesting day which covered most emotions. Alex Hornby tells me improvements are being made to the 36 in October, with some more new buses - not sure what right now - and the rattling on the B5's is going to be rectified. Good luck with that, Alex, and I mean it. Transdev are pioneers in bus travel, we need more like them. I will return to see if the improvements have the impact the vision behind the 36 deserves. 

 Incidentally Chris Speed -  2 + 1seating on the new X1's? 20 min service where needed in West? Just saying.....

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Class 68 Short Set - A Joint Farewell

You don't have to be mad to do this hobby, but if you're not you won't get the unique experiences. I mean you have to be asking for committal to spend consecutive nights on stations as I did in June, but I think Tim eclipsed me on the last day of Class 68 operation on 8th September. He had mentioned to me that he was intending to stay on the set from start to finish of its diagram. Yeah, right, I thought, not a chance!. Well he did. Not sure if that's dedication or total insanity. So I told him the least he could do is write a post about his day, and I'm happy to say he did, so here is Tim's report and pics from the day, and finally a compilation of videos I took over the last couple of weeks, including its final arrival at Lowestoft with various nutters I mean enthusiasts on board, and empty departure to Norwich depot.

"The Long Goodbye"

Now you know when an idea seems good on paper? Well this was me on Friday the 8th. For 14 months the Wherry Lines have been treated to a second Loco Hauled Short set comprising of 3 Mk 2 coaches and 2 Class 68 Loco's of which you have seen lots on this blog .
Now Friday was the last day of service for this combination so I thought I'd get a last ride but not just one - I did the whole day! So after catching the 05.42 from Lowestoft to Norwich I boarded the 68 set on the 06.52 to Gt Yarmouth seemingly alone, but joined by 2 other hardy souls and David the nicest guard you could meet.

A quick photo call at Yarmouth and back to Norwich followed by a quick return to Yarmouth.

This time the return to Norwich gave me the chance to experience the crossover with the Class 37's at Acle. By this time a lot of other enthusiasts had woken up and were joining and leaping off at various stations to get pictures, but not me - I had vowed to ride each trip!

The scenery on both Wherry lines is quite spectacular, I find especially the long straight along the New Cut from Reedham to Haddiscoe which always seems to have the biggest skies you could ever see.
By the 10.05 run to Lowestoft the train was really filling up not just with enthusiasts but all manner of people showing what a really well used service it is.The day wound on to-ing and fro-ing between Yarmouth and Lowestoft including the extra journeys at 12.05 and 14.05. I met up after dinner with Matt Holland from the East Anglian Transport Museum who was also determined to be there at the last. Around that time the heavens opened like a mini monsoon which meant you couldn't see much. 

We had a treat on the 20.40 to Yarmouth, as we were routed into Platform 1, which will disappear as part of the forthcoming signalling programme - cue furious scribbling in notebooks!

Platform 1 at Great Yarmouth
Back at Norwich we had another treat of the Steam kind, pulling into the low level was 60009 Union of South Africa ready for a tour on the Saturday.

Then it all seemed too quick to be on the 22.05 as it left Norwich on the very last run. I was sad yes, tired absolutely because I had got up at 4am and was now feeling it. As we pulled into Lowestoft there were some enthusiasts, bloggers (yes I was one of them SW) and Community Rail people to welcome us all of the same mind. We were saying goodbye to something unique and when you have followed these loco's since they came here all 17 of them that have worked the set you do feel a pang of regret or two. 
We watched as 68001 revved up and the driver gave us the final "tones" to say goodbye and that was that. We'll miss the big Cat purr as we called it , as it was a unique time for these lines as it still will be until 2019 with the Class 37's continuing until the introduction of the new rolling stock. 

Thanks, Tim, and if you decide to do the final week of the 37's I just might join you! 

Monday, 11 September 2017

Konect Expand Services

I was delighted to be contacted by a reader, advising me of forthcoming changes to Konect services. It's nice to be able to report positive changes, and that some areas currently without a bus service will soon have one again. I'll publish the email without revealing the identity of the sender.

Hi Steve,

Just thought you may be interested in some of the Konectbus changes from  September 17th - a few of which may be right up you street for some scrutiny or praise on the blog! I've kind of analysed them below:

5A (Eaton-Norwich-Brundall-Blofield-Blofield Heath)
A new Sunday service is to be introduced, twice daily in each direction but only between Norwich and Blofield (Not through to Blofield Heath). The Eaton end is still served by Simonds 121 on Sundays. As far as Norwich routes go the 5A is pretty rural, so in my eyes quite a nice thing to see being implemented. 

X6 (Attleborough-Norwich)
The service is being extended to Sprowston Tesco, operating via Thorpe/Yarmouth Road for the rail station, Harvey Lane, Plumstead Road and Woodside Road. The key point here is Harvey Lane, which has not been served since service cuts a few years ago. It was previously served by Anglianbus 124, later the Konectbus 51. This extension will run Monday-Friday only, but puts Konectbus on a new area of the map, plus a new direct link from Attleborough to Norwich Rail Station by bus.

9 (Silfield-Wymondham-N&N Hospital)
Glad to say more good news here Steve! The service is being extended to Attleborough, thus giving the town a new direct link to the N&N Hospital. Besides the changes, service 9 runs via the village of Little Melton, otherwise entirely unserved by a bus. Konectbus offer a through ticket from the village to Norwich by using the connecting 3/4 at the hospital - clever idea and well used I believe!

5B (Norwich-Dussindale-Thorpe End-Salhouse-Rackheath-Wroxham-Horning-Hoveton)
A Sunday extension is to be introduced to Stalham, a quite far out large village otherwise without a Sunday bus service. First gave up on them a couple of years ago and Sanders only do a Monday-Saturday link. This will also mean Hoveton will have a Sunday bus link. It's a twice daily service again, but this is always a good starting ground to see if it is viable to continue running. There is also a couple of evening extensions in Salhouse and Rackheath to provide an improved evening services to the two villages, some 5C journeys are extended also to the villages. 

...and I'm told the drivers are apparently listened to, as there are timing changes to the 3/4/6/8, where the buses without fail run five minutes late. You were a driver, so I am certain you know how annoying this is, I'm sure you agree it's nice to see the drivers suggestions put into place.

And finally! On St Stephens Street many of the bays we use are being shifted about to ease congestion and stop us getting wedged in!!

This is indeed all good news, thanks for getting in touch, and let's hope this is just the start of seeing recent cuts being reversed, with priority given to those without a bus service rather than just trying to poach customers by duplicating other operator's routes. I hope all these changes prove successful. For further details see the Konect website.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Star Trek II - The REAL Enterprise

A couple of months ago I gave a glowing review to what I believed was the BCI Enterprise (see here) only to discover all my Star Trek references were in vain as it's actually the Excellence. However, in that post I said that First were going to try it's big tri axle brother. This week they are, and it's really called the Enterprise. So my apologies for a second stream of Star Trek puns and references!

I was meant to do this a couple of days ago, and traversed the Norfolk galaxy to Kings Lynn to catch the Enterprise back to Norwich only to be thwarted by the Enterprise not being on the road despite information it was (someone owes me lunch). However today I was not to be outdone and spent another light year (trust me it feels like it) on one of the X1 E400's to Kings Lynn. A very quick lunch, and I got back to the bus station bang on time to catch the 98 seater giant arrive.

Ensignbus 404 BCI Enterprise LX66 GXF at Kings Lynn Bus Station
It is big. Very big. 98 seats big to be precise. The top deck goes on for a very long time.

Top deck of the Enterprise
Now first things first. If I was buying one and 94 seats would do I'd take a row out the top deck to give more legroom and make it feel slightly less budget airline. But the seats are comfortable, although Ensign have told me some are being replaced as deemed not good enough. I was surprised not to find power sockets, USB chargers or WiFi on board, but I imagine if that was wanted it could be provided. It's funny how little things stand out. I started the journey near the back, but at Swaffham the front seats were vacated so I moved up. One of my regular complaints is the lack of bell pushes at the front of the bus, indeed on a lot of buses the front most bell push is by the stairs. Not so the Enterprise, as seen here.

A bell push at the very front!
Yes there's one the other side too. You will notice the seat belts too. This means the Enterprise is a truly dual purpose vehicle, able to be used on private hire and contract work too. That, as it turns out is highly appropriate. Because the Enterprise feels more like a coach than a bus.

The big and jaw droppingly powerful 8.9L Cummins engine is deathly quiet, and although you hear the bumps in the road you don't feel them. The ride is sensational, and I started comparing the Enterprise with not an E400MMC or Streetdeck, but a Plaxton Interdeck coach. It's that good. No rattles but a really annoying squeak from the driver's seat, which I'm sure a liberal dose of WD 40 would cure. The air chill wasn't exactly working overtime so it was rather hot but that in no way detracted from the ride. The power of this bus is extraordinary considering its size, and the top speed impressive. Ross Newman of Ensign told me I'd like it and he wasn't wrong. I would let several other buses go so I could ride one of these.

The Enterprise at Norwich Bus Station
I only have one real issue, and I think it's quite an important one. I noticed the bell pushes have "stop" in Braille on them, clearly catering to the blind. Unfortunately the bell is exactly the same tone as the indicators, so press the bell while the bus is indicating and you won't know you've pressed it if you can't see the "bus stopping" signs. I'm quite surprised this isn't covered in DDA regs and is something that needs to be addressed. As a Borderbus driver said to me when a similar issue with the Excellence was identified - "I'm having to take my eyes off the road to see if anyone has pressed the bell, as I can only tell by the light on the dashboard". It's such an easy remedy and one that needs to be done.

But that aside I got off at Norwich a very happy bunny. I'll certainly ride the Enterprise again before it goes - it's at Kings Lynn next week too - as it's right up there with the best buses I've ever ridden. It's not cheap, but cheaper than a Borismaster to put things in perspective. But I'll leave the last word to the driver. I always ask the drivers their opinion as they are the ones who really matter, and I don't think I can put it any better.

"The difference in acceleration out of places like Hockering (compared with the E400's) is phenomenal, and this is exactly the sort of thing this route (X1) needs."  I just hope everything can be put in place with after care etc to give that driver his wish. It's a bus, Jim, but not as we know it! If all is done correctly it could prove to be a real star!

Parked up at Norwich