Monday, 8 July 2019

Modal Shift? In Their Dreams!

Last week, in case you missed it was "Catch The Bus Week". Suffolk County Council must have missed it as there wasn't a peep out of them. In fact Ipswich Buses were the only Suffolk operator I noticed give it a mention. While the rest of the country had lightning ticket sales and special events to encourage more people to use the bus in East Anglia it was depressingly quiet. Go East will point out that they Tweeted encouraging messages, and so they did. However, I do wonder how many of their followers don't already use the bus, and so they are Tweeting very much to the converted, which isn't the point of "Catch The Bus Week".

It was also "Steve's Car Fails MOT Week". I was fully expecting that, I put it in for an early test to see what needed to be done. What I wasn't expecting (no, not the Spanish Inquisition) was a "Do Not Drive" notice to be slapped on it, for handbrake, of all things. All of a sudden I'm a prisoner in my own village again until repairs are complete later this week. Annoying, but after 3 years back on the road it has given me the opportunity to see what my options are if I was to be totally reliant on public transport again, and if things have improved from 3 years ago, when changes to the DRT areas meant the service became as good as useless.

Well, many of you will have gone to the ECW event at East Anglia Transport Museum over the weekend. I would have ventured up there, if only to congratulate my former blog sparring partner, Sam Larke, on passing his PCV test and becoming one of the Lynx team. Well done, Sam - I have a feeling you will be an asset to the industry, as well as a useful contact!! Expect the long awaited Lynx feature in the next few weeks!

But I couldn't get there. I couldn't get out of the village unless I was prepared to pay £30 in taxi fares just to get to a bus stop. Which I wasn't. The Demand Responsive Service doesn't operate on Sundays, and doesn't serve my village - which is on an A road btw so not exactly a tiny hamlet - on Saturdays. To get to church yesterday I was reliant on the kindness of others. So a quiet weekend in it was. Tomorrow (Tuesday) I need to get to Wickham Market for my weekly social duties. That means DRT to Saxmundham then the 64 to Wickham (remembering that the 1457 conveniently terminates at Wickham Market and doesn't go back to Sax). So I rung Connecting Communities and luckily, mainly because I asked for middle of the day times I got roughly what I wanted.

Something has changed, however, in the last 3 years, which I have touched on before. The DRT services no longer accepts Concessionary Passes. This is the service which is meant to substitute for a local bus service remember, to take people without transport to the shops, doctors, friends, and link up with the main public transport network. It's not called Connecting Communities for nothing. So why are they charging the elderly and disabled now, who can use their passes on normal buses? Because DRT can be booked, and therefore comes under the rules governing coach services. How many people catch Megabus to the doctors, or National Express to the nearest bus stop! That rule governing services that can be booked was to protect long distance coach services, not community minibuses. Not going to exactly encourage people out of their cars that one is it!

So the return fare to Saxmundham is £5.20 for a round trip of 12 miles. That works out at 43.3p a mile. Ah but hang on - I'm only going to Saxmundham to catch the bus to Wickham Market, so forgetting about passes I'll need to pay again. (Waits for @FirstIpswich to answer fare enquiry) (Still waiting as First Twitter HQ in Leeds doesn't have fares data to hand and has to contact Ipswich Depot to find out - no, haven't made this up) (No, information not available on the website) (45 mins later I get my reply!) This is an extra £5.00 for a 17 mile round trip working out at 29.4p a mile. A lot cheaper than the minibus, and a timetabled service I can plan around rather than hope the stars are in the right pattern and a slot is available on the minibus.

But, and it's a big but, I live around 10 miles from Wickham Market using the back roads. A round trip of 20 miles, so how much per mile does that cost me when the car isn't in quarantine? Well, petrol is roughly 10p a mile, then we need to work out everything else. Obviously the more you use a car the cheaper it is to run. I do around 12,000 miles a year, which conveniently is 1,000 a month. Road tax costs me a 1.4p a mile. Insurance works out at 3.1p a mile, and maintenance around 4p a mile. So my round trip of 20 miles would cost me £3.70 instead of £10.20. It would also take 20 mins each way not an hour. And that's just me! If I had a partner the bus fare doubles but the car cost stays the same. You are not going to get people to give up their cars at those exchange rates.

Now a couple of Sundays ago I spent the best part of 16 hours riding on buses. I was in London, of course, and I'll get round to a separate post on that soon. If I lived in London I wouldn't need a car, unless I wanted to go outside London of course! But with London fares and what I'd save not having a car I could afford limousines the other end if necessary! The infrastructure is there. Buses are packed on Sundays. Locals use them because they are cheap and convenient. To put it in perspective if London rates and rules were in operation here my journey to Wickham Market would cost me £1.50 each way - CHEAPER than the car!!! It's a massive difference.

So next time you hear politicians bang on about wanting people to ditch the car for public transport laugh at them. If you live or have need to travel outside a major town or city it's a no brainer. And more cuts are happening to make them look even sillier. To expect people to shift modes without providing cheap, reliable, convenient and frequent alternatives is sheer folly. Quite simply the authorities need to put their money where their mouths are, subsidise buses to the same extent they do railways, and provide a realistic alternative to attract new users that doesn't include charging pensioners to go to the doctors. Actions speak louder than words, and certainly in this region actions are in a state of suspended animation. I want my car back!!

PS While I was waiting for First Ipswich in Leeds to respond I tweeted Stagecoach Southeast with a random fare enquiry, using a location I knew they wouldn't know from memory. I got a response in 6 minutes, with the fare and travel advice. Top marks there. Shows it can be done.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Austerity Strikes Again

Our beloved Government tell us austerity is over, and we have repaired the damage a few careless bankers caused us. Well I have news for the Government - it bloody isn't over, not in anyway, shape or form. Yesterday Suffolk County Council announced subsidies for 23 bus routes was ending. The small print has to be finalised, but these are the routes affected.

Service 90   Ipswich - Hadleigh - Mon - Sat evening and Sunday journeys

Service 796  Hadleigh to Manningtree Station  Mon - Fri 2 journeys each way

Service 98  Ipswich - Shotley Gate  Mon - Sat  1 journey each way

Service 202  Ipswich - Shotley  No current timetable found

Services M33/M44  Bury Town Circulars  Mon - Sat 1st journey of day and all Sunday journeys

Service 108  Lowestoft - James Paget Hospital  Mon - Fri 3 journeys each way

Services 377/386 Rattlesden/Stowmarket - Bury Mon - Sat 4 journeys each way

Services 387/456 Stowupland/Eye - Stowmarket  Mon - Sat 7 journeys each way overall

Service 62  Blaxhall - Wickham Market  Weds only 1 journey each way

Service 71  Sudbourne - Woodbridge  Mon - Sat 1 journey each way

Service 112  Hadleigh - Sudbury Tu/Thur One journey each way

Service 532  Laxfield - Beccles  Weds only  2 journeys each way

Service 94A  Hadleigh - Ipswich  Mon - Sat  1 journey each way

Service 87  Stowmarket - Ipswich  Sunday service

Service 120 Whatfield - Ipswich  Thurs only  one journey each way

Service 375 Alpheton - Bury   Mon - Sat  1 - 3 journeys each way

Services 461/2 Whatfield - Stowmarket  One journey each way various days

Service 482  Diss - Framlingham   Mon - Fri 3 journeys each way

Now there's nothing huge, nothing major in all that, unless, and it's a big unless, you are one of the people affected. I've travelled on a few of those routes, and they are a social event. It can be the only time people in isolated communities see anyone else, and they arrange their lives around that one day a week the bus runs. When I, and indeed Roger French, one of the most respected chaps in the industry travelled on the 532 it was full. There is no alternative for those people, and yes they were nearly all elderly, using passes, but isn't that the point? To maintain vital links for those who have no alternative. If it hasn't happened already there will be deaths on the roads through people driving when they shouldn't be purely because they have no alternative.

I understand Community Transport schemes are not going to be allowed to bid for these routes, and pending new Laws affecting volunteer drivers are also going to muddy the waters. As I have previously reported, SCC have already penalised those without a timetabled bus service by withdrawing by stealth the use of bus passes on Connecting Community buses, because they can be pre-booked. That rule exists to protect coach services, not to squeeze a fiver out of 85yo's going to the doctor. It is utterly reprehensible what SCC have done to the most vulnerable and isolated in our communities. Those so called consultations they held to hear public views and ideas on the future of rural transport were a total charade. No definitive report on them, and no new initiatives announced, despite ideas flowing from the floor.

So next time you hear a politician say austerity is over, invite him/her to visit the communities about to be unceremoniously cut off, so the Council can save a few quid. It leaves a nasty tasdte in the mouth, or at least should do.

So it was even more mind boggling when this tweet appeared from the Go Ahead Group yesterday.

I'm sorry - run that past me again! "The only links for people who would otherwise be isolated". Really? It isn't April 1st again is ir? Just to remind everyone, this is a list of routes abandoned by Go Ahead in Suffolk and Norfolk over the last 6 years, and I bet I've forgotten a few. With pending cuts to the 84, leaving the folks of Denton and Alburgh without a bus service, its still ongoing. But those folks will be reassured that Go Ahead appreciate what a vital link they supply.

1, 2, 2A, 5, 7, 7A, 22, 37B, 52A, 53, 53A, 53B, 57, 60, 60A, 60B, 60C, 60H, 60S, 61, 61A, 62, 63, 68, 69, 71A, 72A, 80, 81, 82, 82A, 83, 85, 86, 87, 88, 88A, 88B, 89, 90, 92 95, 164, 165

I will, of course, report on any of the routes that manage to be saved, as I suspect some will by various means. I hope for the sake of those affected I have plenty to report.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Ipswich Buses Scanias Go To Yorkshire

It's not often I get an exclusive these days - well I do, I'm just told not to publish them, and invariably someone else publishes before I do. For example I've known for months what the next X1 fleet is, but I'm not allowed to say - and I can guarantee someone will spill the beans before I'm given clearance.

So I'm delighted that this time I've got something first that I can publish! I noticed the other day that all six of Ipswich Buses Scania Omnicitys had been withdrawn and taken to Ensign's for disposal. I have a soft spot for those Scanias - they arrived in the area around the same time I did, and were the first examples I had been on, Lovely seats too. So I contacted Ross Newman at Ensign to see if any of them had found new homes yet.

I can exclusively (sorry) reveal that four of the Scanias have been bought by Connexions Bus of Harrogate. As yet I don't know which four, as soon as I do I'll let you know, but wouldn't surprise me if the four haven't been chosen yet. Ross kindly sent me a pic of former IB 71 YN56 NYC in Ensign's yard.

Former IB71 in Ensign's yard
My thanks to Ross for taking the time to get the bus out for the photo, and to Connexions Bus for allowing the news to be made public. As soon as I know the fate of the remaining two Scanias I shall report back! Might have to return to Harrogate too....

Thursday, 6 June 2019

It's A Funny Old Game

I'm still undecided about social media, if it's a good or bad thing. It can showcase things that otherwise would go unnoticed, bring far flung friends together, illustrate selfless acts to rescue animals, or raise awareness of good causes. It can also have its unsavoury side, much like real life.

Today I've been called "sour", cynical", "childish", "unchristian",  "close minded", "bitter", invited to start saying thank you to waiting staff and my postman, and this has been made and supported by so called industry professionals, including some in high positions. And my crime? What did I do to provoke this catalogue of criticism and name calling?

Well, I was going through Twitter this morning, and I spotted a Tweet for the 4th day running from Network Rail, proclaiming the success of the recent closure of the Southend line. Overhead lines and gantries have been replaced, and the line was shut for 9 days to allow the works. It had been well publicised for months, and an informative video was posted, showing what had been done and what still needed to be done. All very good. However, and this is what caught my eye, it was the wording of the tweet...

Hang on a sec - what was that - you're pleased to confirm you finished the job on time 4 days ago? Firstly I think everyone will have noticed trains are running again, and most importantly it's Network Rail's job to get the work done on time. That is why they are paid billions of taxpayers money every year. It struck me that I can't think of another profession (except sport) where people expect public praise for doing their job. Can you imagine Yorkshire miners in their heyday coming out of t'pit, and wanting a fanfare because they'd mined sufficient coal to justify their wages? Do Ambulance Trusts tweet everyday how many lives they save and how many were reached in the target time in order to get praise? My postman doesn't tweet every day that he successfully completed his round without putting any mail through the wrong letterbox. Of course not. It's their job, and they do it brilliantly, without seeking attention.

Now, don't get me wrong - it's vitally important that the travelling public, of which I'm one, is kept fully informed of engineering projects and their progress. We need to see where improvements are made and where the money goes, although that doesn't help when your train is delayed or diverted due to the ubiquitous signal and points failures that plague the system. So it's good PR, and shows what is done when lines are closed. But do you really have to proclaim that you've finished a job on time? Doesn't that just point out how often it doesn't?

So I tweeted the following.

I did play the hymns perfectly too - and got praise for it, as I did the Beatles number I played after the service which linked in to the theme of the day. What I didn't get was praise for turning up on time or wearing appropriate attire, or not falling asleep in the sermon. Some things should be accepted as the norm, and finishing a job on time should be one of them, in my view. Imagine had Network Rail's tweet been worded thus:

"We are pleased to announce that the engineering works to replace overhead lines and structures has gone smoothly, and as a result passengers can now expect fewer disruption in adverse weather conditions - thank you for your patience while the works were carried out".

Then they might not have got the reaction they did - here is the link to the tweet so you can view the responses, click here.

Anyhow, you'd have thought I'd said Network Rail were the Devil Incarnate from the response I got. Which proves a theory I've had for sometime, that the rail industry, from the Department of Transport, to Network Rail, to train operating companies, to the rail media are so out of touch with the travelling public it beggars belief. Why the hell should passengers on the Southend line be overjoyed engineering works finished on time 2 days previously when at the precise moment that tweet was posted on Tuesday there were no trains running on the line due to a points failure at Shenfield! They pay thousands a year for a service. They have a right to expect works to finish on time and every right to complain when they don't. Until such time as the industry grasps that simple fact, and puts the customer first, as some - but still too few - bus operators have realised (Harrogate Bus including the top banana were handing out free breakfasts on the 36 this morning) then passengers will not see many benefits.

The entire attitude of the railways needs to change - the "blame someone else" culture is at pandemic proportions, and self-congratulatory posts will do nothing to appease the customer. There are exceptions to that, but very few among the people with influence, and that affects the staff on the ground who do an exceptional job. I'm reminded of a quote from Blackadder Goes Forth when General Melchett tells the troops "Don't forget, Captain DArling and I are right behind you", to which Blackadder replies "About 35 miles behind you"! The rail staff on the ground must feel like that sometimes.

So to everyone who sank a lot lower than was really called for today, including some very surprising names I make this pledge. I will continue to side with the passenger as I am a passenger who just happens to know a bit more about how things operate than most. I will praise where its deserved, and I did that today too to Greater Anglia about their friendly staff, and for rescuing a family of swans off the line at Somerleyton. But I will also continue to comment about things that I think make the railway look stupid, and saying yippee we finished something on time is one of them. Not when the very people you are saying yippee to are stuck with no trains! If you don't like it stop following me - social media gives you that choice so use it. Then I can't upset you.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Here Are The News!

In recent weeks I've been travelling on or observing new things. So I thought it about time I put them altogether in a single post. I'll do it in chronological order. which just so happens means I start with the worst and finish with something I liked!

We start with the hideousness that are Great Northern's new Class 717 Siemens trains which are being introduced on the Moorgate to Hertford, Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth routes. They replace the long serving Class 313's who really have reached the end of their days. But, and this is a big but, are the 717's an improvement? After 40 years of the 313's what will make the journeys for Hertfordshire commuters that much better? Well there are no loos, no 1st Class which means no possible escape from those dreadful seats, the same as on the Thameslink 700's. There are information signs and more standing room for even more sardines, air conditioning. hard to find power points but no usb sockets, and a door opening siren that sounds like a 3yo impersonating a fire engine. They are also very grey.

The new Great Northern 717 at Alexandra Palace

Those seats, an utter insult

The Class 313 being replaced

If I was a Great Northern commuter, these new trains would make me seek alternative ways or routes to travel. Hertfordshire is spoiled for choice with not just Great Northern lines but the West Coast mainline and even the Metropolitan Line, also going through Moorgate with considerably more comfortable trains. To pay thousands a year in fares to be treated to that sort of comfort level is an insult. Oh - to those screaming for nationalisation - it was the Department of Transport who specified the trains, not Great Northern. I will not be rushing back to them.

On the same day I also tried out Great Western Railway's smart looking Class 387 Electrostars, the last batch of Electrostars to be built. A much nicer interior and atmosphere, and the Electrostars accelerate impressively fast on the overhead lines, much faster than their 3rd rail counterparts. Again the seats were hard, but not as woeful as the 717's. But it's worth noting that after the original 357's on C2C, of which more later, the 375/6/7/8's for Southeastern, and the early 377's for Southern, the seats on Electrostars have been getting increasingly worse too. Why is this? I have yet to get a satisfactory answer. Anyhow, impressive trains that would be brilliant with better seating.

The GWR Electrostar at Paddington

Interior of the 387

Moving to the road now, and a couple of weeks ago en route to Kent to collect Mother for her annual State Visit, I popped into the oasis of buses that is Ensignbus in Purfleet. This had been planned for sometime, and I was lucky enough to get a long chat with Paul Dickson, whose official title I don't know (except "Teapot"), but he does about everything there is to do with timetabling, planning, operating the Twitter feed, traffic busting, and organising the Running Day. A lovely bloke, great conversationalist, and vital component in Ensign's engine room.

I then went to see Ross Newman, Operations Director, who I knew had a new toy, two new toys to be precise. By pure coincidence Ensign had taken delivery of two brand new BCI Enterprises from China the day before. They were originally bound for Reading Buses who developed cold feet and cancelled them. Ensign said they'd have them, and Ross was eager to take me for a spin in one of them. You will know I am a fan of the Enterprise, but this one blew me away. To get such power from a Euro 6 engine is astonishing. Quiet, smooth, no rattles, and then the seats. Oh my word the seats. If you are sitting anywhere for a long period of time comfort is important. You don't want to get off with muscles aching, a numb backside, and feeling every second you've spent on board. Without a shred of doubt the seats on that BCI are the most comfortable bus seats I've ever sat on. My back had been playing up and when I sat down it positively purred. The lumber support is magnificent. So much so I forgot to note the lack of hand rails, the usb chargers, the phone holders and the tables! The Enterprises are going to be used, as far as I know, on a new London - Southend Airport shuttle starting soon. The night time services will connect with the first and last flights in and out of Southend Airport that do not have rail connections. Since the service will call at Lakeside I have a feeling Bluewater and Upminster have just lost out when I need somewhere to park for my London trips!

The new Enterprise, still to receive number plates and fleet number
They don't look much but those seats are incredible!

I was enthusing about those seats to Ross when he started on a rant about train seats. Ross travels to work on C2C, and asked if I had been on one of the new 379's that C2C recently introduced. I haven't, but get the impression they are similar to Southeastern's 375/9's, which are ghastly to sit on. Like me, Ross cannot understand that as bus seats get better train seats are getting worse. Good for the bus industry though. He said he always tries to get one of the infinitely more comfortable 20yo 357's, which again doesn't say much for progress on our railways.

Which brings me to Saturday, when I had a day out t'Yorkshire. Another bonus I hadn't planned for was London Overground introducing the first of the new Class 710 units on the Barking to Gospel Oak line. Just the 18 months overdue Bombardier have finally sorted the software problems out and the first of the trains entered service on Thursday. So I started the day earlier than planned to try one out.

First impressions are they look good, far better in the flesh than they do in photos. As is the norm with LO all the seats are side facing, which is a shame though understandable. The seats are hard, though not as uncomfortable as a 717, and the interior is, well, sparse to say the least. There are usb sockets but only at the front and rear of each coach, and the ones between coaches you would have to be standing to use them. But as it's only a 35 min journey end to end that's not vitally important. The WiFi worked, the aircon was reasonable, and the ride utterly superb. Savage acceleration when needed, which the very friendly and chatty driver told me he used sparingly in case "there were any old ladies standing up", although I think he did show off a bit on the way back to Blackhorse Rd, where I transferred to the Victoria Line. He also said the driving cabs were brilliant, and indeed they look more like a TGV cab than a 35 min inner city line. I liked the trains, they suit the line well, and I look forward to returning.

The 710 arrives at Barking

The interior

I thought it was to charge phones but whatever!

The charging points between coaches

So onto Kings Cross. I had carefully chosen to book on the 1103 to Leeds, as
I knew it would be one of LNER's much publicised Hitachi Azuma trains. I had booked to return on a classic HST and wanted the comparison. I arrived at Kings Cross early, and took advantage of the time to grab some photo opportunities I may never get again.

Two old ladies together, what service they have given

91119 in Intercity Swallow livery, looks really good

The Azuma rightly deferring to its elder

The Azumas do look the part from the outside

Now a history lesson. On 3rd July 1938 Mallard set the world steam record on the East Coast Main Line near Grantham at 126mph. On 25th May 2019, almost 81 years later, I travelled up the ECML on a brand new train, the most advanced to ever grace the line, at 125mph. Ok. some poetic licence there as Mallard didn't do 126mph in service, but you get my point. Where have we advanced in 81 years in comparison to countries such as Japan, China and France. I can guarantee in 1938 the seats will have been better too. There is no way on this Earth that I will ever travel from London to Inverness or Aberdeen on one of these things. Ever. I would recommend splitting the journey, which may well work out cheaper anyway. Suffer the Azuma to York, only two hours, then get Cross Country to Edinburgh, either a voyager or HST to Edinburgh, then one of Scotrails refurbished HST's to the North of Scotland. Better still get a WCML Pendolino to Glasgow and HST from there.

The Azuma did have a couple of good points - sliding doors are a great improvement, and the reservation indicators were superb and very easy to understand. However...

The WiFi didn't work, one of the toilets was blocked and wouldn't flush, the announcements were far too quiet, the ride itself I found on the rough side, very few seats actually marry up with windows, the power points are impossible to find unless you know they are there, it was hot and stuffy despite the aircon and I heard people questioning if it was actually a new train. That's not a positive start.

The Azuma 800113 at Kings Cross

The interior of Standard class

Those seats are not good - and does there have to be such a big gap between windows?

Arrival at Leeds

We did arrive at Leeds on time though, and I caught a local bus down to the Bus Station, to catch Transdev's flagship 36 to Harrogate. It was a 15 plate Streetdeck, with gorgeous interior, luxury seating and all mod cons. It also rattled considerably less than it did on my last journey on the 36 so well done Transdev for tackling that issue. It was noticed!

We arrived at a busy Harrogate and I set about achieving the main aim of the day - to try out Harrogate bus's new Electric Volvo's. It was worth the travelling.

I've been on BYD electric buses in London and have yet to be wowed. Harrogate's electric buses, however, are in a different league. The interiors are superb, comfy seats, usb and even wireless charging, next stop announcements, and huge windows. The ride is smooth, acceleration impressive and they are insanely quiet compared to the BYD's. At traffic lights the lack of idling vibration compared to the diesel version is very pleasing. The driver said he loved them, and they were a joy to drive. All we need now is someone to be brave and put electric buses on longer routes, rather than 30 min round trip local estate routes. That will be interesting. But again my congratulations to Harrogate Bus and Transdev for giving me the all to rare sensation of liking a new bus that isn't Optare or BCI.

The Harrogate Bus electric Volvo 9700
Part of the interior, including wireless charging

The weather was closing in, the traffic had been awful, so I decided to get the train back to Leeds. Northern Rail have recently replaced the infamous Pacers on the Harrogate line with ex Scotrail 3 car 170's, and I was lucky enough to get one of the refurbished units. I would have cheerfully remained on it back to London. The seats were the best train seats I'd sat on all day, it had been recarpeted and power points added. The conductor told me passengers loved them, and so did I. Northern have come in for some stick recently, but credit where it's due, these 170's feel like new trains should, even if they're not new!

The refurbished 170 in Northern livery

One of the 170's still in Scotrail colours

The interior of the refurbished 170

Back at a very wet Leeds it was time to return to London. I had noted earlier that the HST booked to operate the journey had broken down in North Scotland so waited anxiously to see what had replaced it. Luck was in, as in rolled the on loan HST tractor units from East Midlands Trains. It was time to compare the HST to the Azuma. Well, the seats on the Mark III coaches were infinitely more comfortable, I could hear the announcements, I wasn't hot, seats lined up with windows in the main, the power points were easier to find. The WiFi still didn't work but hey ho. It was also a much more pleasant ride, despite some of my fellow passengers not being so enjoyable until they thankfully left us at Doncaster. Given the choice between the new and the old I'll take the old anytime, and it will be interesting to see what the reaction is to the Azumas when they start going long distance. Leeds was just about bearable. Any further and I'll be looking for alternatives.

The EMT HST at Leeds
The much nicer seats on the HST

So what conclusions are there? Well, proof once again that out with the old and in with the new isn't necessarily a good thing. The 717's aren't as nice as the 313's. The Azumas aren't a patch on the HST's. The 710's are decent trains with much more room yet less comfortable than the 172's they replace. But the refurbished 170's are lovely, and I assume the same rules applies to refurbishment as it does new. If the Government is serious about modal shift and getting people out of cars and onto rail they are going completely the wrong way about it. Unless you live by a station on the whole journeys by train take longer than cars and are more expensive than cars. It certainly wouldn't have cost me the best part of £100 in petrol to travel from here to Harrogate. Make trains far less comfy than cars too, and you will not achieve your goal.

Buses, however, outside East Anglia at least, are making an effort. Ironic that they get far less funding than rail does. Electric buse are the future, and we need the Government to invest nationwide in infrastructure to encourage people to use buses instead of cars whenever possible. Plug the green factor to death! (Sorry, pun really wasn't intended but too tired to change it now) Bus operators are finally realising that you need to put the customer first. This has yet to reach the minds of many rail operators, or indeed the Department of Transport.

You will notice from the header picture that the Greater Anglian Flirt went testing to Lowestoft for the first time this week, and I snapped it crossing Reedham Bridge for the first time. I sincerely hope my review of them when they are introduced is more favourable than other new trains around.