Sunday, 14 October 2018

A Southeastern Super Saturday Part 2

"And I would ride 500 miles, and I would ride, erm actually 80 more"! Doesn't quite scan I know but not bad just riding around one county all day. Part one finished with me having returned from Kent's answer to Love Island, otherwise known as Sheppey, to a very wet Sittingbourne, where I was roughly two thirds of my way through a marathon journey round the Southeastern
network, thanks to their £20 all you can ride Super Saturday ticket. Next on the list was Victoria, so I thankfully left the rain and boarded my 375/6 to the Capital.

375603 at a very wet Sitt8ngbourne
A quick pit stop at Victoria and it was time for the bonus train. During the week it had been decided that the Catford Loop wasn't on the official list of routes to do as Southeastern don't actually stop anywhere between Ravensbourne and Nunhead on a Saturday. However, as the 1842 to Dover Priory was sitting on platform 4, going to Bromley South via the loop it seemed rude not to, particularly as it was a 465/9, an upgraded 465/2 to include 1st class and universal loo.

465903 at Bromley South
Have I mentioned I like the 465's? Just a shame it wasn't a 365 with original interior, just about my all time favourite train interior (Yes, Matt, I know the TC coach on VEP 3582 was better). Anyway we were soon at Bromey South and I waited for the Ashford via Maidstone East service, which turned out to be an imposter. Southeastern have recently acquired some 377 units that were on loan from Southern to Thameslink, but were displaced due to the 700's introduction. So Southeastern have now got them, and seem to be using them exclusively on the Maidstone East line, only this one was still in full Southern livery. Sorry for the blurred pic - it was dark again!

The Southern 377, now with Southeastern
I confess I don't remember much of that trip - we were delayed at Swanley due to a passenger alarm being activated in one of the loos - and then I fell asleep, and woke up somewhat disorientated at Ashford, realised my next connection was on the adjacent platform, which was just as well as the doors closed as I boarded. This was another 375/9, ghastly seats, but I have to admit the interior to the universal toilet was very attractive.

Universal toilet interior on the 375/9
This train, from Ashford to Paddock Wood closed up all the mainline routes for me, just some suburban routes to do, but I had to get there. That meant repeating myself a bit, so a second trip up the Medway Valley Line, again on 375306 12 hours on from my first trip. Not much to see in the dark so not for the first time I was grateful for Southeastern's free WiFi. I was somewhat worried when I saw a 50MB limit, but needn't have. If you use it you just reconnect and carry on - some bus operators could learn from that!

375306 at Paddock Wood
One final Javelin from Strood to Gravesend, and then onto platform 0 for the trip to Lewisham via the Bexleyheath branch. Another 465, a bit chilly this one!

Final Javelin of the day at Strood
Now those of you who haven't yet lost the will to live will have noticed I still had one London terminus still to do. Cannon Street is far busier now than it was in my day, now used 7 days a week from start to end of service, and rightly so as it frees up capacity into Charing Cross. But Lordy it has changed. I barely recognised the place as I wandered around before boarding my penultimate train of the day, the 2332 to Dartford via Greenwich and Woolwich. Top bloke driving who put the heating on!

Cannon Street Station
It's the first time I have travelled through Abbey Wood station since it was totally redeveloped for Crossrail, and I'll have to make a separate journey to take a look in daylight as had I not known the old station well I'd have never believed what it used to be like! Next time I'm up that part of the world I'll take a detour.

465020 at Cannon Street
Arrival at Dartford signified the end of my mission, but not the end of my day. I still had to get back to Greenhithe, and it was either a 29 min wait for a Southeastern service, or jump on a Thameslink service sitting on the platform. Sorry guys, I cheated and caught the 700, and immediately sat on the worst seats of the day. Any lingering doubts I had of those seats being utterly heinous were dispelled. When you've sat on train seats for over 19 hours you know a hard seat when you get one and boy the 700 seats are hard! 6 minutes was 6 minutes too long!

70057 at Greenhithe
So how to sum up? 24 trains, all of which departed on time, 23 arriving on time, 23 connections made, total travelling time 19 hrs 9 mins (not including 4 hours driving), and, thanks to the brilliant Southeastern Twitter team for doing the maths, 160 stations and 580 miles covered. That works out at 3.45 pence per mile. If only all train fares were that low!

So, my personal journey excepted, was the Super Saturday a success? The weather didn't help matters, and it was difficult to judge who would have been on the trains anyway, or would they have been much quieter because of the weather without the Super Saturday ticket. I hope it was a success. It deserves to have been a success, and a venture that I hope will be repeated, and copied by other operators. There has been precious little to smile about on the railways recently, and I saw a lot of smiles on my travels, and some happy passengers as well as some very obvious enthusiasts! Anything that brings some positivity back to the railways has to be supported and applauded, which is why I made so much of an effort, and why I'm allowing Southeastern to use portions of this write up for their staff newsletter. There need to be more initiatives like this more regularly to get people back to thinking well of the railways, because as my stats show, when it all comes together it simply cannot be beaten. Thank you to all at Southeastern, from the organisers, to the wonderful CC and CH on the Twitter team, to the on board cleaners who make such a difference, and all others concerned. A great, if very long day, and one I'll remember for a considerable time. Now to convince Greater Anglia to do one....

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

A Southeastern Super Saturday Part One

Those of you of a certain vintage will remember when the Network Southeast area was created in the late 80's, there were a number of Saturdays designated Network Days, where, for a fiver I think it was, you could ride unlimited in the NSE area all day. I remember walking up the entire length of a 12 car Waterloo - Portsmouth service, a 12 CIG, and there was not a single seat available. Those Network Days were hugely popular yet have never been repeated, mainly due to the splitting up of the network. Yes, various operators have rover tickets, but as a rule these have relatively small areas or a limited Network. A national rail rover does exist, but a 7 day rover will set you back £510, so in reality you're probably better off booking everything in advance if you know what you are doing.

So when Southeastern announced, with only 7 days notice, that they were doing their Supersaturday ticket, which gave unlimited travel on Southeastern services, including HS1 for £20 I started salivating at the prospect. Not only that but they set a challenge to see who could cover the entire network in a day. Red rag to a bull that. Hence most of the week was spent poring over timetables, getting frustrated with nonsensical connections, and a lot of shredded itineraries. The conclusion was finally reached that to cover everywhere in one day was impossible, so I dispensed with the Tonbridge - Hastings branch, which was the most time consuming, and concentrated on getting round everywhere else, which isn't as easy as it seems, as a fair bit of doubling back is required. So itinerary finally worked out, submitted to Southeastern, a reliable car borrowed, and at precisely 0307 I left my Suffolk village for Greenhithe in Kent, where I had decided to start and finish my day. Just a word about the disappointing quality of many of the photos. It was a miserable day weather wise, and my camera is not good at taking moving images in the dark, so apologies for the blurriness in some.

My Supersaturday ticket at Greenhithe

Having grown up on the Southeastern network it was like turning the clock back 40 odd years, except the trains were different. None of my beloved slam door trains now, but Networkers, Electrostars and Javelins covering areas some of which haven't changed in half a century, and others totally unrecognisible. Here is the network.

One thing you will notice about the network is, London terminals excepted, how few dead ends there are. Even Hastings can't really be regarded as a dead end, well not in railway terms anyway, as other services pass through it. So that leaves Bromley North, Hayes and Sheerness. When you think we have Sheringham, Great Yarmouth, Felixstowe, Harwich, Clacton, Walton, Sudbury and others up here it shows how comprehensively Kent is still connected.
465183 at Greenhithe
My first train of the day was the 0527 from Greenhithe to Hither Green. Also the first class 465 Networker of the day. When these trains were launched in 1992 I resented them as they were replacing the old slam door EPB's which I loved and had grown up with. Now, though, I appreciate what quite superb trains they are. The ride they give is, in my opinion, unparalleled. They accelerate fast and brake smoothly. Comfortable seats and good heating complete an all round decent experience, and they do not feel 26 years old. It is bordering on the criminal that there is an uncertain future for the class 365 Networker Expresses, as they are far superior to the 319's currently being given new leases of life elsewhere.
The uid 376 at Hither Green
At Hither Green I changed onto a Class 376 Electrostar for the one stop journey to Grove Park. I was hoping to travel on more of these as I've yet to give them a real workout, but alas it was not to be, and this was my only 376 of the day. But we got to Grove Park in time to make my very tight connection onto the Bromley North branch, my first new territory of the day. It only takes five minutes to travel the line, operated by a 2 car class 466, and I gave my sympathies to the driver who must have lost count of the number of times he had to change ends that morning!
466020 at a deserted Bromley North
A tactical cheat followed, as I caught a bus from Bromley North to Hayes, the other dead end in the area, and also the only other new territory for me. I'd been as far as Elmers End, which connects with the Croydon Tramlink, but not the section between Hayes and Elmers End. Another 8 car 465 took me to Charing Cross, where I had a 30 min stop for breakfast before hitting the mainline.
465244 at Hayes
The class 375 Electrostars replaced the mainline slam door stock, and I'm not sure I've forgiven them yet. Yes the ride is quiet and smooth, but the trains are just soulless moving metal tubes. I'm also not completely sure the seats haven't got harder since their recent mid life refresh. I do like the colour scheme now, but there just isn't the anticipation of a train journey there was with the slam doors - the air brake tests, the vacuum pumps doing their thing, even the sound of the doors slamming. It was an atmosphere we'll never get back, and that's a shame, if romantically nostalgic. Will these trains be as revered when they retire? I somewhat doubt it.
375616 at Charing Cross
Anyhow the 375 whisked me undramatically to Tonbridge, an old stamping ground where, as a sixth form student I spent many happy hours watching the old Hastings diesels, Uckfield thumpers, Class 101's on the Reading line, and boat trains from Dover and Folkestone hammering through. The station has barely changed since then, although the layout to the country end of the station certainly has. It was here I changed onto a 3 car 375 for my trip up the Medway Valley Line, a true homecoming as I lived on that line for the first 22 years of my life. Most of it still looks the same, although it was a real shock to see Aylesford paper mill flattened.
375306 at Tonbridge

Strood is one of the coldest stations I know. It has its own microclimate, which is roughly 30 degrees colder than it is outside the station. It has always been like that, and I have spent more hours shivering there than I care to think of. In recent years, though, Strood has had a change of identity. Whereas it used to be where the fast trains to Victoria branched off, leaving Strood passengers to catch the slow trains to Charing Cross, now the High Speed trains stop there, and have halved the journey time to London. The class 395 Hitachi Javelin rolled in, and off to St Pancras I whizzed.
395002 Seb Coe at Strood
No time to linger there, not even to get a decent picture, as I literally jumped off one Javelin onto another, which was going to be my home for the next 140 minutes. Southeastern High Speed operate circular journeys from St Pancras, via Ashford, Dover, Ramsgate, Faversham, Gravesend and reverse. I was travelling to Faversham via Ashford, and the train was packed. I was quite surprised Southeastern hadn't lengthened more trains in anticipation of the extra passenger numbers and this was the biggest argument as to why they should have. 6 coaches was just not enough, and I was forced to sit on a pulldown seat in the wheelchair area which was devoid of any padding whatsoever! It did have a plug though, which was invaluable.
Quick change at St Pancras International

The Javelins look good, go like stink, and do a job. But the seats are hard, don't give good back support, and the interiors are devoid of any character whatsoever. I found over 2 hours on one tough going, whilst appreciating very few people actually spend that long on them. I was grateful for my recharged phone battery when I got off at Faversham, but equally grateful to just get off it!
395028 at Faversham
This is where it got interesting. To do all the routes around East Kent takes some planning. It's impossible to do without some doubling back, and some of the connections are frankly hopeless. During the week there are a couple of trains from Ramsgate to Sandwich, for example, that stop at Minster and reverse. However, on a Saturday if you want to travel from Minster to Sandwich you have to travel via Ramsgate, and endure a 58 minute wait as the train to Sandwich leaves 2 minutes before the train from Minster arrives. Therefore you can't do the Canterbury West branch, changing at Ramsgate onto the Dover branch. It is not the only example. If you do Ramsgate to Ashford via Canterbury West, hoping to change onto the Dover line there forget it - it's a 50 minute wait there too, so you will see why many different routes had to be attempted before I finally worked it out.
375827 at Faversham
A swift journey from Faversham to Dover on another 375 and I was back on a Javelin returning to Ashford.
3 375's and a Javelin at Dover Priory
There was only a 20 minute wait for the Canterbury West branch, but a shock was in store. The 375/9's are a high density seating version of the Electrostar, which replaced the VEPS, and it's fair to say were not popular with passengers or staff alike when they entered service. They were the first to have "ironing board" seats, and so when an 8 car 375/9 came rolling into Ashford I clenched in anticipation. They may have had a bit more padding put in during the refresh but if so it's not that noticeable. I would truly hate to commute on these trains.
375920 at Ashford International
But it got me to Ramsgate, another old stamping ground, just in time to cross over and get the train back to Faversham, my 3rd Javelin, and on to Sittingbourne, to do the third and final dead end.

395013 at Ramsgate
The Isle of Sheppey has never been a favourite place of mine. I'm told whenever we went there when I was young I would sprout horns and turn into the devil child, which I didn't do anywhere else, and I've never really felt comfortable when there, for reasons I'll probably never know. It's not what you'd call exotic either, making Lowestoft look like Monte Carlo, but had to be done, so now with the weather really closing in my little 466 took me on a rather uninspiring trip to Sheerness and back, including a Conductor who seemed as enthusiastic to be there as I was.
466003 at Sittingbourne
Now I should point out that despite the criticisms of the trains, and dislike for Sheerness, I was really enjoying myself. Everything was on time, the Twitter banter with the guys at Southeastern was good, as was watching other people's progress round the network. It was so good seeing old places and areas from my past again, and it was only 1710. I'd been on trains nearly 12 hours but still had another 7 1/2 hours to go! Part Two coming soon.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Surprise 5th Scania for Borderbus

Sometimes Twitter can be very useful. I was having a chat with Borderbus Chief Engineer Dave Marshall last night, when he casually mentioned that they had purchased a 5th ex Stagecoach London Scania Omni City Decker. I remarked that he'd kept that quiet, and Dave revealed it came as a bolt out the blue to them too, and was totally unexpected. Not only that but Borderbus have bought back the last remaining B7tl Gemini, that has never actually left the Beccles yard, but was loaned back to them by Scania as cover while the other Scanias were being converted and painted. So in effect they have two new deckers!. So this morning I went over there to take a look.

Already converted to single door, former Stagecoach 15137 LX59 CNA has what I'd call 50/50 seats - ie not as well padded as the other Scanias Borderbus have had done, but not as bad as the original non existent Scania padding. I have to confess I do like these buses, but only with decent seats! As yet I don't know what registration the new Scania is to receive, but I bet my bottom dollar that if BB55 BUS is available that will be it,
Gemini 200 
The Gemini will be mainly used on school journeys, as the Presidents are beginning to show their age and are needing extra maintenance.

The two together
My thanks to Dave Marshall for the heads up, and particularly Borderbus' genial Geordie Dave Laverick for positioning the buses for me, co-ordinating screens and just being an all round decent bloke.

The three different types of decker at Borderbus

Rear view of the Scania
One other piece of local news is that Chris Speed, already Head of Operations at First Eastern Counties has added Head of Engineering to his portfolio. Congratulations, Chris, I expect all rattles to vanish overnight, and I'm looking forward to our planned meeting in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Bus Round Up

I was at Borderbus the other day to get the picture of their on loan Scania, and was chewing the cud with one of their number about the dearth of recent bus posts on this blog. Maybe the following post will explain it a bit.

Good News! If you live in Harrogate as Transdev have this week launched their new fleet of fully electric buses. 8 Volvo electric buses have been acquired for the town, and, as this picture posted on Twitter by Transdev CEO Alex Hornby shows, they look pretty decent.

One of Harrogate Bus' new Volvo Electric buses
Good News! If you live in Belfast. The new Glider system is in operation. To all intents and purposes a tram on tyres with a steering wheel, as the driver is isolated from the passengers who self operate the 3 sets of doors, the new service started on 2 routes, and that all round decent chap Roger French went over to sample them. You can read his excellent report here. The following photo is Roger's.

One of the new Glider vehicles in Belfast.                      pic (c) Roger French
Good News! If you live in Liverpool. The 100th new double decker for the City has arrived. Rob Jones, MD of Stagecoach Merseyside and South Lancashire posted this picture on Twitter of the new arrival, and ADL E400MMC.

The 100th new decker for Liverpool
Good News! If you live in Surrey. A new multi-operator ticket has been launched. The Acorn ticket, which covers an area of North Surrey and Berkshire including places such as Windsor, Heathrow, Kingston, Woking and Epsom costs £7 a day or £30 a week and is valid on the services of 12 different operators, although not on any TfL services. This is an initiative from Surrey County Council. I'd love to think other councils are listening but I very much doubt it.

Good News! If you live in the North East. Martijn Gilbert has taken up his new post as MD of Go North East. Covering a large part of the North East, reaching as far South as Hull, GNE also includes East Yorkshire Motor Services, and it must be said Go Ahead handle things a whole lot better up there than they do here. With Martijn at the helm things will only get better and better up there, a real bus man and enthusiast who puts passengers and staff first. I wish him well.

So what's been going on in East Anglia? Well two 13yo ex First Scotland B7tl Geminis have transferred from Great Yarmouth to Essex, allowing 2 other 13yo B7tl's, these ones ALX400's to move to Ipswich. A 16yo B7tl President is getting a lilac front, and there was much hoo-ha on Facebook (apparently) as to where a 6yo ex Leeds Volvo B9 Gemini2 was going to be allocated. If you can contain your excitement I'll tell you it turned out to be Lowestoft.

And so to my friends at Borderbus, who are still waiting for the last of their 4 ex London Scania Omni City deckers to be returned. You may recall these Scanias arrived before last year's Lattitude so Scania haven't been exactly frantic to get them done. So while they wait Ensignbus have loaned them this ex Metrobus Scania Omnidecker. I know this fleet fairly well from my journeys in and around East Grinstead, I have been on RYB more than once, and I have to say, beyond doubt, they are the worst fleet of Scanias I've ever travelled on - real spine jolters! So I was relieved to be told it's only here as a loan!

Ex Metrobus Scania YN53 RYB on loan to Borderbus
However, I can reveal that when the last of Borderbus' Scanias returns (hopefully this week) it will still have the centre doors intact and operational. Drivers on the 580 expressed the views that the extra doors helped passenger flow at places like East Norfolk College and Bungay High School and so asked for them to be retained. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that will be the only bus with operational centre doors in the region - by design, not fluke with a loan or pre-converted bus.

And that's it. You can now, I hope, see why bus posts are few and far between. At least when Anglian was at their prime, or the Ollies still around there was always something to be written. Now I have to travel further and further outside the area to find anything, and that is a luxury I can't do that often. As and when anything happens (keeping an ear on the Galloway situation, plus other possible developments) I will, of course report it. Cheers.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

£1.50 - That'll Do Nicely!

This is going to sound a bit like one of those old Yorkshire comedy sketches - aye, we could go down t'pub on t'Friday night, have 16 pints, go and see a film, get fish & chips on t'way home and still have change from a ten bob note! But I'll ask you anyway - what can you get for £1.50 these days?

Less than half a pint, especially in a country pub, a very small portion of chips, and certainly not a movie. In transport terms equally little. You'll be charged more than that before the wheels of a taxi have started moving, if you're very lucky a couple of stops on a bus, and train? Well a single from my local station, Darsham, to the next stop, Saxmundham, which is hardly a long way, will set you back £4.50 which in my view is extortionate and does nothing to encourage local public transport use - it would cost around 50p in petrol in a car.

But go to London and things are very different. If you have an Oyster card, or a Contactless credit/debit card travel can be very cheap if you allow a bit more time and don't follow the beaten track through Central London.

On Friday I drove to Upminster Station, which is £2.50 to park all day Off Peak - in comparison Norwich is about £8 Off Peak - and set off on an East/West journey for £1.50.

The starting point in Essex
First leg of the journey was on the District Line to Barking, where I changed for my first ever trip on the soon to be electrified Barking - Gospel Oak line.

172003 waiting at Barking
For now, the line is operated by 2 car class 172 diesels, which I fully expected to be like a 170 or 171. Not so, as the 172's have 4 speed boxes that makes them sound similar to buses. Have to say I like them, and wonder where they will end up after the line goes electric. It's an interesting journey through North London to Gospel Oak, which is where my next change was.

Arrival at Gospel Oak
A word of advice. If you are avoiding Zone 1 to get a cheap fare, you need to let the computer know, so at various interchange stations, like Gospel Oak, you will see pink Oyster card readers. You must scan your card on these to prove you have taken the longer route so you will be charged the correct fare.

Pink Oyster card reader
A very quick connection onto a class 378 London Overground Electrostar to Gunnersbury, which is on the Richmond branch of the District Line.

Another pink card reader, then one stop on the District Line to Turnham Green, where you can watch Piccadilly Line trains running fast through. That they don't stop there meant another one stop journey from Turnham Green to Acton Town, for my final change.

Parked up in a siding was something you don't see everyday - a Piccadilly Line maintenance train

Piccadilly Line maintenance train at Acton Town
And it was onto the Piccadilly Line I went for the final leg of my journey. I've recently joined Big Jet TV who broadcast live from airports round the country, and I fancied a spot of plane watching myself. So my journey ended at Hatton Cross, on the Heathrow perimeter.

Final destination
As the crow flies Upminster to Hatton Cross is around 50 miles. If you drive via the M25, which in theory should be the quickest way it's 63 miles. You'd be lucky to do it in 90 mins by car. I did that journey in 110 minutes, and it cost me £1.50! That is very cheap. Even peak time that journey would only cost £2.80. Had I gone through Central London the journey would have cost £5.10 Peak and £3.10 Off Peak. Note though - pay by cash and it's £6 regardless of which way you go.

The best thing is you don't even have to be a travel nerd like me to find out the cheap ways. The TfL Single Fare Finder gives you all the alternatives - there were 3 different ways I could have gone for £1.50 and they were all listed, including where you had to use the pink readers. That is quite laudable, and National Rail, who are famous for hiding the  cheapest fares should take a leaf out of TfL's book.

The idea was to spend an hour or so watching the planes, then travel into Heathrow itself to do all sorts of things. However, that didn't quite work out as I got talking to a young plane enthusiast on the popular plane spotting site at Myrtle Avenue,, who had his heart set on being a pilot (despite his rather demanding parents calling them "glorified bus drivers") and answered mine, and others questions so well I ended up staying there for over 4 hours, filming and talking transport. I also learned a lot about modern jets. The last time I went serious plane spotting there were still Boeing 707's Dc10's and BAC 1-11's in regular service. I have some catching up to do.

However, one thing that hasn't changed is the presence and majesty of the Boeing 747. Dubbed Queen of the skies, it still has you looking in awe, wondering how the darn thing gets off the ground. They'll still be around for a bit, thankfully.

It's strange that the wider, though slightly shorter Airbus A380 just hasn't got the same aura as the 747. No one can seem to put their finger on exactly why it is, but everyone I spoke to was in agreement - the 747 is still the chief head turner in the skies today. Here's an A380 pictured over Hatton Cross station.

By this time my phone was running very low on battery, so a sudden change of plan saw me catch an X26 to Croydon, purely because the B9's on the route have USB chargers. It's rapidly becoming one of my favourite routes, even if the traffic was pretty sticky at times. The bus was full to bursting when we left Kingston, but the air chill worked surprisingly well, and quiet with it, and the bus never got uncomfortable. 2 hours later, a full battery and I was in Croydon, now with an appetite to satisfy, that had seen no food all day. One Chinese buffet later and it was time to start the journey back to Upminster. Hands up how many of you automatically think East Croydon to Victoria or Blackfriars then District Line? I wouldn't - that will cost you £5.50, even Off Peak! Best to stroll to West Croydon Station, and catch the Overground to Whitechapel.

However mind yourself - seems a rather dangerous place!

A transfer to the District Line at Whitechapel, and I was on the way home - oh the fare from West Croydon? Yup - £1.50! I wonder just how many people, despite it being on the journey planner are aware of these cheaper fares. I think there should be far more publicity to get more people away from Central London. TfL say they want to take over more suburban rail routes, such as those to Dartford. If fares are going to come down to TfL levels I say bring it on. In fact have TfL thought of the Greater Anglia franchise......