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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