Tuesday, 19 November 2019

First Flirt For Felixstowe

Today saw the introduction of the new Greater Anglia class 755 Stadler bi-mode trains on the Ipswich to Felixstowe branch line. I may have mentioned I like these trains, really like them, in fact they are by a street the best new train I've been on in the last 20 years. It seems the good people of Felixstowe think so too, as they appeared to be revelling in the comparative vastness of the Stadler - known as a Flirt (Fast Light Intercity and Regional Train) to the one coach class 153's which have been the staple diet of the Felixstowe branch for many years.

I just happened to be out and about when news reached me of the debut, and I thought it merited some attention. So here is a selection of photos I took at various points along the route, culminating in a video.

We start in Ipswich;

Departing Ipswich for Felixstowe
At Ipswich with a class 156, soon to be replaced
Looking quite small on the 12 car platform at Ipswich.
Moving onto Derby Rd;

The Stadler enters Derby Rd Station
At a stand..
...and departing.

On the other platform heading for Ipswich
Next stop Trimley;

755412 passes over Trimley Crossing

And departs the station
Finally Felixstowe;

At Felixstowe Station

The distance view at Felixstowe

Preparing to depart Felixstowe
Over the next few weeks I will be extensively covering the transition from the old stock to the new. Not just when the new stock is introduced but also covering the last days of the old stock, as the exercise of replacing an entire fleet on this scale may not happen again very soon, and I consider it important it is reported and archived. So check in regularly as there will be two or three posts a week.

Now, as promised, the video of the day, shot at Ipswich, Trimley and Felixstowe.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Blog Update

Hi everyone - apologies for being away for so long. No particular reason except nothing new to report apart from the same old same old. I have been waiting for confirmation on a couple of things which are dragging out a bit - one for over a year now. It must be said my enthusiasm is at an all time low, and it's going to take something pretty special to lift it again.

In the meantime we have lost more bus routes, with even more on the way - Konectbus have announced the X6 is being scrapped and yet another town - this time Attleborough - is being abandoned by Go East. More cuts coming in January. The usual "woe is us" moans from the usual suspects in regard to council funding came from the Bus Forum in Norwich last weekend, yet those same operators can't get their backside in gear to sort out the bus stop timetable debacle, or adequately promote their own services and then wonder why no one uses them. Honestly, the apathy in this area compared to the likes of Harrogate and Nottingham is not only breathtaking, it's very depressing.

On the rails the roll out of the new Stadler trains slowly continues. I'm hoping to cover as many of the significant moments as possible but that is not in my hands and I'm awaiting responses from others. In the meantime, and this is based on nothing other than gut instinct, I'm not so sure we've seen the last of the short set after all. It will be interesting to see what happens when the leaf fall season is complete.

I am hoping to reveal the news I've been sitting on for a year now in the next couple of weeks, so you can guarantee it will be leaked before I'm given the official green light! Watch this space, but please don't waste too much time watching it.


Wednesday, 11 September 2019

When Is Naming Not Blaming?

If you follow me on Twitter you will have seen that recently I have had some lively discussions with a well respected member of the railway media regarding information given to the travelling public by train operating companies. I believe the public should be well aware of who is responsible for what on the railway, whereas my combateur believes the railway is one unit, and no one should be blamed for anything - the operating company dealing with all issues as though they are responsible, because they are the ones taking our money.

Except they're not are they. Let's look a little more closely at who pays for what. When I go to the station and buy a ticket who exactly am I paying? Well yes, I'm paying the operating company, who then pay the Government for the privilege of running trains. The operating company also pays Network Rail line rental - literally in this case. If a train is delayed due to the fault of the operating company they get fined by Network Rail. If the delay is the fault of infrastructure then they claim back compensation from Network Rail. There are armies of people whose sole job is to extract as many minutes delay as they can from an incident, and then make claims to the opposite party. I have seen a 3 minute delay to one train at Lewisham in Southeast London develop into over 5,000 minutes claimed due to snowball effects on other services.

So, if a train is delayed due to a signal failure it is the responsibility of Network Rail. If it's because of disruptive passengers, a train fault, or staff problems then it's down to the operating company. Seems all clear and crystal like. Except it's not. I've had passengers have a right go at me because they've been delayed by issues neither I, nor my employer had any control over, and that is simply not fair. It has always been something I've wondered - why there is not more education of the travelling public of exactly who is responsible for what on the railway, and I've reached the conclusion that the people who run the railway, and indeed some who make a living out of reporting on the railway, just don't want the people who pay to travel knowing.

I have been badgering the Association of British Commuters for well over a year now to produce a publication to lay to rest some of the myths about the railway. To educate the public so when things go wrong they know who is responsible, and don't take it out on the wrong people such as barrier staff, Conductors or Twitter teams. Despite several hints at "an announcement I'd like" there has been nothing, which surprises me as you'd think a passenger lead pressure group would want the truth out there. But it's all gone very quiet.

And then of course there is Network Rail. Owned by the State - us to be precise. So when you buy your ticket not only is some of your money going to Network Rail in line rental, it's also going to Network Rail through the taxation system, because it's your taxes that fund Network Rail! So in effect we are paying for all parts of the railway - the operator and the infrastructure maintainer. So you'd have thought that letting the public realise that if a signal continuously fails outside Norwich it has nothing to do with Greater Anglia but is down to Network Rail would be natural. It makes the railway transparent, and informs the public, which as fare AND taxpayers they surely have a right to know. In any other industry, if Government money is concerned, when something goes belly up there are inquiries galore. But not the railway, and I think I know why.

The operators run trains on behalf of the Government. Sub contracted. The Department of Transport dictate timetables, train length, most fares, specification of new rolling stock (mostly), how many staff on the train and more. Not many people know that, so if a train is frequently rammed they take it out on the operating company, who have to clear it with the D of T before they can lengthen it. So the it's the name on the train who gets the blame.

Yet think on this. Network Rail is owned and run by the Department of Transport. Of course they don't want the public knowing what it is responsible for because so much of the time it is infrastructure that goes wrong. Much better for the name on the train to get blamed - after all if a Government Department was seen to be badly running things that could cost votes. The operating companies are scapegoats so the public, who fund Network Rail are kept ignorant and so don't blame the Government! Sir Humphrey would be proud - "if you tell the public what they want to know - then they'll know and that could be disastrous". This must be why whenever Network Rail are mentioned by an operating company as being responsible for a delayed train there are shrieks of horror from parts of the industry, and the operating company instantly slapped down. Never let it be said customers got told the truth.

But it gets worse. The other day The Norwich - London mainline was disrupted because a freight train broke down. It happens. Trains/locos break down - just surprising some pedant didn't point out the train didn't break down but the locomotive did! Now if I'm in a traffic jam on the motorway and it comes over the radio "tailbacks on the A12 due to a broken down lorry" I don't immediately want all trucks banned from the roads, or the truck owner put in stocks on a roundabout. It is just letting me know why I am sitting there twiddling my thumbs. If I'm on a train and hear of a delay due to a broken down freight train I'm not going to want the driver sacked, or the freight operating company dissolved! It's just one of those things, and the more the public know the easier they will take things. I DO know that from experience. The public get far more agitated when information is withheld, than they do when they're given the facts. If it's a shared line with other operators, and one of their trains is causing the delay then the public have a right to know, as their money pays for the railway. Fact isn't slander. Fact isn't libellous. Information is vital in this day and age. And believe me - if I'm on a train stuck in the middle of nowhere, as I was a couple of years ago, and by looking at the live diagrams I see a freight train has broken down in front I'm going to let those round me know, to protect the poor sods on board from getting extra grief. Of course there are some who'll have a go at the person in uniform anyway, but even if one person doesn't as a result of the information it's worth it.

So, as we, the travelling public pay for all aspects of the railway either through fares or taxes don't we have a right to transparency, information and fact, or are the railways so badly managed that everything has to be hushed up so the truth doesn't out? Makes you wonder, but my opinion, or stance is not going to change. The ONLY way our railway is one railway, as I'm frequently told it is, is that the public pay for it, in many, many ways. They have a right to be told, regardless of which sensitive soul in an office miles from the front line it upsets.

It used to be let the train take the strain. Now it's let the train take the blame.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Greater Anglia Officially Launch The Flirts

Yesterday (4th September) saw the official launch of Greater Anglia's fleet of Stadler Flirt trains. There were events at Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, where the great and the good celebrated the new trains. At Norwich and Yarmouth there was a giant hare present, the symbol on the Swiss built trains, and a steel band. No, I don't know either!

Anyway, while the rest of the media concentrated on Norwich and Great Yarmouth, I went to Lowestoft as I had noticed the enormous effort made by Martin, Tim and Jackie, the Station Adopter Team, to deck the station out in bunting and other decorations, even sweeping puddles away, and guessed correctly it would be ignored by other media. Even the giant hare ignored Lowestoft, but the steel band were there, and I have to say livened up the place, even though I was disappointed not to see Greater Anglia management have an impromptu limbo dancing contest! A Stadler was used to ferry them around, which was open for public viewing.

755413 arrives at Lowestoft for the launch
The Steel Band do their stuff
There were speeches which unfortunately I missed as I was giving someone a tour of the Stadler, and happy to say very proud to do so as they really are remarkable trains on so many levels. Yet again I sat in one of the seats and my back purred with pleasure. First impressions count but so do third, fourth and fifth, and my enthusiasm hasn't waned one little bit.

At one point all three ;platforms at Lowestoft were in use with the 755, a 156 and a 153 all present.

Not a sight to be seen for much longer
Then things went a bit pear shaped, and the various men and women in suits were scurrying around, fearing a PR disaster. The 1457 to Norwich was cancelled, which you don't want when you have a brand new train on display, and a plethora of management proclaiming how good the future is. However, it pleases me to say the day was saved extremely efficiently. Free coffee and cake was handed round to all Norwich bound customers, and a place on the management special to Norwich awarded, which became an "extra service".  Well done to all concerned.

Now, you can have all the testing you like, but you really don't know how something is going to work until it's out there in the big wide world, and then there will be teething troubles. We had them on Southeastern with the Electrostars, and every new fleet of trains, and indeed buses take time for everything to be smoothed out. The Stadlers are proving no different, and various little niggles are cropping up. I urge everyone to be patient as these trains are going to be worth a bit of inconvenience. If they were the standard of the 700's or Great Northern's 387's I'd be a lot more critical, but these are trains not used in the UK before, and when the niggles are sorted will be the envy of the country.

There will be more launches around the network as the new trains, pluss the Intercity 745's and Commuter 720's are introduced in the next few months. I hope to catch as many of these as possible as an entire fleet of trains being replaced doesn't happen very often!

I did video the Stadler leaving, but it crawled away so, in the best of traditions, here is one I prepared 5 days earlier, at Oulton Broad North. The acceleration and lack of noise from the engines are both highly impressive. Have I mentioned I quite like them......

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Electric Deckers Spark Into Life

Of course, fully electric double decker buses are nothing new in this country, except all previous versions have required a pantograph and overhead wires. Now, in London they have gone wireless and pantless with their electric deckers, and they are out in service doing their bit to reduce emissions in the Capital. Yesterday I went to sample them, with a great degree of naivety in places too!

The first fully electric double deckers to enter service are on the 43, which runs from London Bridge Station to Friern Barnet in North London. After the total embarrassment of getting lost in the underground labyrinth that is now London Bridge trying to find the bus station (I blame misleading signage and I'm sticking to it) I found what I was looking for gleaming in the London sunshine.

BDE2628 pn the stand at London Bridge
This is the electric bus built by BYD in partnership with ADL, and using the E400 Citi body. Very nice they look too, I think I prefer them without the glass staircase. Inside they are light and airy, and the airchill works well. Seats are comfortable, and I boarded with an open mind and high hopes. I wasn't disappointed.

Upstairs in the BYD
We pulled away in silence. Well almost silence. The lack of engine noise makes the airchill seem even louder but that was a minor detail. I sat back and enjoyed the ride, and I mean really enjoyed the ride through Islington, Archway and Muswell Hill - first time for me there and it really is quite a hill! The BYD took everything in its stride, with startlingly rapid acceleration. They are seriously nice places to be. However, one thing niggled me. All seats have USB chargers except the most popular seats right at the front upstairs, and the seats immediately behind the stairs, and I admit I got a bit grumpy about that. However, thanks to the most chatty London bus driver I've met in decades all was revealed. As usual I wanted to get the driver's view, and at Friern Barnet terminus a rather decent Kosovan driver named Tim was more than happy to wax lyrical about the bus, how quiet and smooth it was, and such a pleasure to drive. He showed me that despite being out on the road since 5am - it was 1230 by this time - the bus had only used 27% of it's battery life. Mind you there are 3 tonnes of them, of which more later.

Friern Barnet terminus
Then I asked Tim about the lack of charging points in the most popular seats. I hope Roger French knows someone in TfL who can confirm this highly believable reason Tim gave me, that it's a decision made by TfL deliberately not to have charging points at those seats so they aren't hogged by passengers for hours taking videos while charging instead of getting the tourist buses. Not sure that applies to the 43, but as they are rolled out across London you can see the reasoning. If that is the true reason then it's well thought through. If not and they just couldn't be bothered then not so good. Anyway thank you, Tim, for the chat. I hope I have the pleasure of seeing you again when I return to see how the BYD's are faring. Tim told me they are the best bus they've ever had at Potters Bar depot. Praise indeed,

Sorry, Tim, you are wrong as they have already been beaten! This is where my naivety and lack of research comes to the fore.

I knew another route was getting electric deckers, the 134 between Warren St and North Finchley, a route that much of it shares with the 43. However all I had seen on the route were MCV Volvo Evosetis. Tim confirmed there were some electrics on the 134, and I assumed they were electric versions of the Evoseti. Even when I finally, after they had done their best in evading me for a couple of hours, boarded one I still had it in my head they were Evosetis, until I looked at the picture I had taken before boarding and realised what a prize chump I was. I should mention at this point I was already blown away by the ride and lack of body noise, believing it to be an Evoseti. But it isn't. Oh no!

Not an Evoseti!

Now, in my defence I have had an exhausting couple of weeks, had spent the previous day taking my 80yo mother shopping (90 mins in Aldi alone) and had had little sleep, so my brain wasn't at its most alert. However I really should have worked out what OME stood for! So I hang my head in shame for not realising it was an Optare Metrodecker Electric. But actually, thinking about it, the fact I thought it was an Evoseti meant I got on it with no preconceptions. Everyone knows I adore the Metrodecker diesel version, and I'm pretty sure I'd have got on expecting to be blown away. As it was I was blown away before I realised what it was. What it is, is truly phenomenal.

There is no body noise. None. The suspension gives a ride superior to that of the BYD/ADL. The airchill isn't as noisy, the acceleration could launch it into space. Windows that don't have to be unlocked to aid ventilation. True, it's not quite as light as the E400Citi, but the interior uplighting is far better, I imagine especially after nightfall. I shall return to check that one out.

Upstairs interior complete with LED up lighting
Is it as good as the BCI Enterprise? No, but they are for entirely different markets. The Enterprise is for interurban routes that require a heavyweight big powerful vehicle. They would be wasted on the likes of the 134. But the Metrodecker Electric, in my opinion, is the best local bus I've ever been on. Certainly my driver thought so. Didn't get as long with him as I did Tim, but he was just as gushing in his praise, apart from slightly heavy steering. What really spoke volumes though, and remember this is London where you're lucky to get a grunt out of a driver, when I was lining up the photo below, another driver came up to me, grinned, and said "they're bloody brilliant, mate". A driver approaching an enthusiast to praise the bus, in London? That's how good they are.

The Metrodecker at North Finchley terminus
Oh - notice anything about the destination display? London is famous for still insisting on roller blinds. However OME2654 has an LED display that is being trialled. Looks convincing enough to me - here is normally blinded OME2655 to compare.

Normal blinds
So, what are the conclusions. Well. the BYD/ADL is very impressive, and nice to travel on, at the moment. What does worry me with them, though, is body noise. The lack of engine noise means any rattle or creak is augmented, and there were plenty of them now, so it will be interesting to go back in 6 months to see, or rather hear what deterioration there has been, if any. I do not predict any such issues with the Optare, but they will get the same review in 6 months to check.

I mentioned the BYD has 3 tonnes of batteries. I don't know how much weight the Optare carries in batteries, but overall the Optare is over 2 tonnes lighter than the BYD. I assume that makes a big difference in power consumption, perhaps someone more technically minded than I can confirm that.

The weight of the Optare

And the heavier BYD/ADL

I'm in no doubt that electric buses are the future, and before long London will be flooded with them. Not East Anglia, obviously. If there are any buses still running in 50 years we might get some second hand electric ones if we're lucky, but in the real world where buses still have some importance we could be on the brink of a revolution, and the wireless, pantless trolleybuses will become standard in towns and cities across the land.

Rear view of the Optare