Monday, 17 April 2017

Blog Statement

First of all my apologies - there was meant to be a big London themed post over this weekend but I was relying on a contribution from a third party, who has let me down. So the post won't be published.

Reading through the comments from the last post one of them stuck out, and I suddenly realised how applicable it was to me. This was the comment.

If you want to ride in service buses, I expect you'd have to pay some money to the companies and go out and do that on any average weekday.
The event was voluntary and provided by people in their spare time, at their own risk, for the enjoyment of people they didn't know. 

So let's adapt that. 

If you want to read industry magazines I expect you'd have to pay some money to the publishers, and go to a newsagent to get them.

This blog is voluntary and provided by myself in my spare time, at my own expense, for the enjoyment of people I don't know.

I do not make a penny out of this blog.In fact there are considerable expenses involved in it. It is a hobby which keeps me involved in the industry I love and know. I don't always get it right, I don't claim to. If I get it wrong I'm happy to accept correction. I give others the right to pass comment on what I do without having to reveal their identity, which has led to abuse and invitations to take my own life. 

The views and opinions I express are honest, and not driven by bias, outside influence or personal vendetta. I don't get any help whatsoever with the production or compilation of the blog, with the invaluable exception of Tim helping share travelling costs on occasions. 

Through this blog I have made some amazing friends, young and old, from cleaners to drivers to top management, and of course fellow enthusiasts. It completely took over my life at one point and my health suffered as a result, but not now. I was hoping it might lead to some professional, paid work, but that hasn't happened either. I'm hoping it still might but not holding my breath.

I won't be posting as much from now on. I thought about closing the blog as it seems I'm either getting abused or let down at present but no reason to let those people beat me. However I'll now post when I want to, rather than because I feel I ought to. If I get news I'll publish it, but won't worry if I don't have anything to publish. I'll continue to review new vehicles, challenge operators and councils and enjoy my hobby. I hope you'll all stay with me, well one of you can bugger off, and keep checking for new posts as and when they go up.

So I can't be accused of fishing for sympathy or compliments I have disabled comments for this post. However, if anyone emails I will reply.


Sunday, 9 April 2017

Ipswich Bus Rally 2017

Always risky planning an event for mid April, but today the sun shone on Portman Rd in Ipswich for Ipswich Bus Rally. I went there with Tim, chauffeured by Grahame Bessey, DJ extraordinaire and co author at East Norfolk Bus Blog, whose owner Roy Northcott also attended. Zak from Norwich Bus Page was there as was Sam from Norwich Buses Blog, and of course Clive Nixon of Ipswich Bus Blog. So the bus blogging world gathered in expectation of a repeat of what I'm told was a great event last year.

First Ipswich, Ipswich Buses, Carters Heritage, Beestons, Galloway, Simonds, Borderbus, PH Travel, JR Travel, Whincops, Norse, Network Colchester, Stephensons and Hedingham were just some of the local companies who didn't support the event. Very, very disappointing and not a good advertisement for the industry. Even Ipswich Transport Museum, who were allegedly running the event didn't supply much, not an Atlantean in sight. So my thanks go out to those who did bother to send vehicles, including First Essex, Anglian, Chambers, Mulleys and Panther, and all the privately owned buses cared for tirelessly by enthusiasts. You can hold your heads high. Everyone else who either got caught up in petty squabbling or just couldn't be bothered you have let a lot of people down today, including yourselves.

I expected to spend the day riding on various buses around Ipswich but in the event only went on one - mind you that was pretty spectacular. Leon Wells brought his ex Ipswich Buses Olympian to the event, and gave us a superb 2 way trip across the Orwell Bridge, which on a day like today provided some simply staggering views you rarely get a chance to see. Thanks Leon, for keeping the Ollie in such good nick and for picking such a good route taking advantage of the weather.

Leon Wells's ex Ipswich Buses Volvo Olympian M41 EPV
Anglian surprisingly brought along Scania Omnicity 461 YN05 HFG, the first Anglian vehicle I have seen in Ipswich since their 164/5 services were abruptly scrapped in 2013.

Anglian 461 arriving at Portman Rd
 Another surprise exhibit was First Essex Volvo B7rle 69515 BJ11 ECN, formerly Chelmsford P&R the bus is now branded up for Basildon - Southend services.

First Essex 69515 looking quite smart
My favourite bus of the day though was this ex Metroline MCW Metrobus. GYE 394W is part of the Great Yeldham collection and yet another bus coming up from Essex. Suffolk was seriously under-represented. However, very sadly, the Metrobus didn't go out on any trips which was a shame.

The usual collection of Bristol RE, LH's and VR's were there as well as the regular older vehicles. But on the whole despite the glorious weather the event was rather a damp squib, and had it not been for the good catch up with friends would have been a waste of a day. So thanks for coming everyone, good to meet some new people, put faces to names and having a darn good gossip. I hope if there is an event next year more effort is made to encourage Suffolk operators to attend. I'll finish this post with photos taken from the Orwell Bridge, which quite honestly was the highlight of the day.

Look out for some posts from London later in the week and over Easter. Wednesday could be an epic day!

Hazy but glorious
A pleasure craft on the Orwell
Looking upstream
Wouldn't guess it was Suffolk would you!

Saturday, 1 April 2017

East Suffolk Line To Become Busway

News has reached me of a quite amazing development in the future of the East Suffolk Line. If Sizewell does get the green light, it has been proposed that the East Suffolk Line be turned into a guided bus and lorry road. It will be a joint venture with EDF Energy, Network Rail, Greater Anglia and Suffolk County Council. The plans are as follows:

  • The East Suffolk Line including Sizewell to become a Guided Busway, with appropriately equipped HGV's to be permitted on the Busway between Sizewell and Martlesham/A12
  • A spur from the Busway at Martlesham where current railway passes under the A12 so Sizewell C construction traffic can access the A12 where it is dualled without having to travel through local villages or the single carriageway section of the A12. Plans include Park & Ride site for Sizewell workers.
  • The section of line between Westerfield and Bacon Curve will be widened, including new bridges so current Felixstowe traffic unaffected. 
  • Platform 1 at Ipswich will be converted to Busway to provide direct link and transfer between Busway and National Rail. The buses will then continue into Central Ipswich. It is envisaged at the Lowestoft end of the Busway buses will continue from Lowestoft Station into Lowestoft and beyond. 
  • It is expected local buses will link up with the Busway at hubs in Woodbridge, Saxmundham, Halesworth and Beccles so as many people as possible have access to the fast buses.
  • Integrated fares with National Rail will be available so commuters using both guided bus and train will not be adversely affected financially.

Could it really happen?
The reasons for this project are explained thus. It works out cheaper to convert the ESL to busway than restore the Sizewell branch to full working capacity, coping with large amounts of traffic. There has been local opposition to the amount of extra road traffic including many extra lorries and construction worker's cars. Financial incentives will be given to workers to leave their cars and use the Busway to get to work. This will negate the need for the A12 to be developed, including bypasses and huge P&R sites which will just increase the traffic.

Who'd have thought it!
So who will be operating the services? This is yet to be decided as the decision to build Sizewell C has not yet been finalised. However, a certain operator's eyes lit up at the thought, and kindly agreed to show us what the destination might look like.

A Gemini up the ESL?
So what do I think of this? Mixed feelings but can't help thinking it actually makes sense. Railways are costly to maintain and operate. The East Suffolk Line isn't the fastest around and buses will actually be able to reduce journey times considerably. Restoring the whole line to two way traffic will mean a much increased service pattern, and will do wonders for tourism too. With the dawn of electric buses it could become the greenest transport system around.

Taking the threat of all the extra traffic from the construction of Sizewell C will go down very well with residents of places such as Yoxford, and Leiston will benefit greatly from the new faster services which should help property prices and encourage investment.

Obviously there will be some who vehemently oppose these plans. The ESL holds many memories for a lot of people, but I think this plan actually secures the route's future for generations to come, and means it won't just be abandoned to grow over if the money to maintain it runs out. I'll miss the test trains, but the reduced travelling times, and cheaper fares, which are essential, should see the route gain in popularity, and like the Cambridge Busway, attract enthusiasts to the area in their droves.

All that is now required is Sizewell C to be built. I hope it is. Then sights like this may become reality.

Can't wait!
My thanks to Andrew and Colin at Borderbus for their help with the pics, and I have a feeling sights are already being set for the future!

Monday, 27 March 2017

Oooh What A Pretty Bus!

I had an online friend who used to tease me about my esteemed hobby saying just how many ties can you say "Ook what a pretty bus"! Well on Saturday the answer was qute a few as Tim and I set off for Cambridge to tour all the Park & Ride sites. This was possible because Cambridge P&R operates in a different way to most. You pay a pound to park the car, which gives you up to 18 hours parking, then pay for the bus, which accepts Concessionary Passes and normal Stagecoach Day Tickets. A return on the P&R is £3.00 but up to 3 under 16's go free with every fare paying adult, which has got to be cheaper than parking in Cambridge itself, if there is anywhere!

Stagecoach East have recently introduced a fleet of new ADL Enviro E400MMC's on their 5 P&R sites, all with a different colour. A couple of buses are painted a generic colour - silver - which can deputise on any route, but neither of them were in evidence on Saturday. All buses are identical inside with comfortable blue and orange seating, free wi-fi, and USB charging. They also come with Air Chill, which is either ineffective on the nearside or a howling gale on the offside.

Interior of Cambridge P&R buses
The first site we went to was Babraham Rd, which also serves Addenbrookes Hospital. The buses on this route are a two tone green.Stagecoach East 10798 SN66 VZW did the honours.
Babraham Rd P&R site, with 10798
Changing to purple our next site was Milton, on the other side of the City via the Science Park. 10804 SN66 WAJ took us there

Milton P&R site with 10804
Newmarket Rd was our next destination, which is near Cambridge Airport. These buses are Orange, and 10808 SN66 WBE was our bus. The site isn't as photographer friendly as the first two, so a different angle for this one.

10808 at Newmarket Rd P&R
By now Cambridge was getting busy, so we came up with the what we thought was the good idea of going to Huntington via the Busway to do the rail stuff we had planned, then do the other P&R sites on our return when things had quietened down a bit. I covered the Busway a couple of weeks ago, so won't repeat myself, but I got the distinct impression Tim thinks it's sacrilege to have anything but a train or tram running on a former railway! I still think it's brilliant!

I'll cover the rail bit in another post, including the most terrifying video I've ever taken, once I've learned how to bleep out the obscenities! I am not scared of fast trains however close but rocking bridges are another thing altogether!

So on our return to Cambridge it was back to business so we headed for the blue Trumpington P&R stop and were met with a queue of quite monumental proportions - at least 3 bus loads worth. One bus came and went fully loaded, another one turned up, the driver abandoned it and another driver took an absolute age to get sorted before starting to load by which time a third had arrived. However the people just didn't stop coming, and we soon realised we wouldn't get all 5 sites in and still get the last 11 back to Bury. So we decided to abandon Trumpington, much like the US Senate. We still got pics though, and I'm led to believe I have innocently got a collectors item. The driver who took so long to get ready also put up the wrong destination - the A is a Busway route covered by single deckers and there are no guide wheels in evidence. So 10793 SN66 YZR is probably never to be seen again showing that destination. 10795 behind is correct. Thanks to Damon for pointing it out.

Don't think the passengers noticed either!
Having abandoned Trumpington we headed for the final site, that being Madingley Rd. My favourite colour, this one, not even sure what the colour is but I like it. The sun was going down by now so the pics aren't great. However this was the shortest journey of the day, and also the friendliest driver, who took a real interest in what we were doing and why. Always adds something to the day when that happens. Our final MMC was 10790 SN66 YZM.

10790 at Madingley Rd P&R site
The rear view
Cambridge is a very busy City, and with the sun out all day it was manic on Saturday. Despite the glitch on the Trumpington route we were impressed by the service, the sites and the drivers. The MMC's are adequate for the job and look great. If I lived in the area I'd have no hesitation in using the service. And they are really pretty buses!

A quick word about fares. Tim bought a Day Ranger ticket at Bury, used it to travel to Cambridge, go on all te P&R's, travel the Busway to Huntington, could have carried on to Peterborough and beyond and anywhere in Cambridgeshire. Tim paid £6.40 for that. I could embarrass other operators charging much more for far less but I'll let you compare instead. Suffice it to say that Stagecoach could teach others a lot about encouraging bus travel. Mind you I've been thinking that since my first experiences of Stagecoach in 1999 so it's nothing new. Thanks for the company, Tim, t'was a good day

Thursday, 23 March 2017

A Truly Open Goal

Let me take you back to December 2009 - heck was it that long ago - when Southeastern introduced domestic services on HS1. You see they had a problem, and that was how to get bums on seats. Duty bound to charge a premium for the High Speed services they somehow had to get passengers off the existing services, and paying more to go to a station, St Pancras, that for a lot wasn't nearly as convenient.

For those passengers using Strood, Gravesend or Ebbsfleet the new service was a lot quicker. For everyone else it wasn't, so Southeastern came up with a cunning plan. To make their High Speed services seem, well, speedier, they slowed down their existing services, adding stops to make journey times longer thus making the High Speed trains seem more appetising. So those passengers from the Medway Towns saw trains stopping at Meopham and Longfield, which was quite surprising as they are in the Ebbsfleet catchment area, those from Ashford stopping at places like Headcorn and Staplehurst. The fast service from Cannon St to Ashford via Maidstone East was cancelled altogether, and the semi fast service from Victoria now stopped at all stations from Maidstone to Ashford.

Now Southeastern were able to do this because they were providing a faster, albeit more expensive alternative. Their opinion was if anyone was that worried about an extra 10 mins on their journey they would pay the extra, and so it turned out. Can't say I completely approved but they couldn't run the risk of domestic HS1 trains running around empty all day.

So we have ascertained that it's just about ok to increase journey times if you have a faster alternative. Let's scurry back to the present and the Bungay to Norwich corridor. Ths week First Eastern Counties have registered a new service on their Grey RAF Blue Charcoal Line which will run between Norwich and Bungay numbered 41/X41, starting May 14th. From what I understand the route will mirror Anglian's X88 between Bungay and Ditchingham, Shelter, then run fast along the maiin road, observing all stops to Poringland and Norwich, not serving Woodton or Brooke. Well at least that's what I thought until I saw the new timetable for the X88/88 which starts 18th April.

You see currently the X88 does almost what it says on the tin. It's faster than the 88. The 88 from Bungay serves Broome, Ditchingham Village, Woodton and Trowse. The X88 after the one stop in Ditchingham goes straight down the main road, just diverting nto Brooke, which is also served by the 88. It is a faster journey to Norwich from Bungay. Until April that is, when for some reason the journey times of the X88 and 88 have been evened out. The X88 is now going to serve Ditchingham Village and Broome, and the 88 will not. Trowse will no longer be served by the 88, having to rely on the increasingly unreliable 87. The X88 will take 47 minutes from Bungay Butter Cross to Norwich as opposed to the 37 minutes currently. On hard seated Scanias I might add. The 88, which currently takes 50 mins, despite no longer stopping at Broome, Ditchingham Village, Arminghall or Trowse will actually take a minute longer at 51 minutes. Yyyess ok. Answers on a postcard please.

So First have stepped in after months of speculation and are going to introduce the new faster, cheaper service, using more comfortable buses. I haven't seen a timetable yet, but First are quoting journey times of 45 mins - I assume that is from the Bungay terminus, not Butter Cross which should be back to the 35 minute mark. If that's the case then First will clean up, especially as a day ticket to include the entire Norwich Network will be only £4.80. A return on Anglian is currently £6.40 or a day ticket also available on Konect is £9.00. Watch those suddenly drop.

First have seen the open goal and timed this to perfection. Give the long suffering Anglian passengers 4 weeks to endure the new timings, if the bus doesn't break down of course as is happening with monotonous regularity right now, then come in like knights on Charcoal horses to rescue them from their misery. There can be only one result with just one proviso, and I urge First to take me seriously on this one. Anglian itself might have made itself a laughing stock over the last couple of disastrous years, but their drivers haven't. The drivers are still popular and friendly in the main and First will have to match that aspect too. Some Norwich drivers are particularly grumpy, and I would personally hand pick the drivers I wanted to operate the X41. Bungay isn't Norwich and people do like familiarity and friendliness. That is something Go Ahead failed to recognise, and if it wasn't for the drivers themselves Anglian would have been dead in the water long ago.

Today Anglian launched a fares promotion on the 61, which is soon to be cut back yet again. A Day Ticket will be £5, which compares favourably with First's £6.50 if it wasn't for a couple of tiny details. From April 18th there will only be one bus an hour between Pleasurewood Hills and Yarmouth, and because of the new routing via Gapton Tesco the journey time will increase by 7 mins. There is also a huge gap in the afternoon between 1544 and 1714, which is the last 61 back to Lowestoft and Kessingland. First's Lowestoft day ticket is £4.50 with 3 buses an hour  on the 99 from Kessingland. There are 4 buses an hour from Lowestoft to Yarmouth, and the £6.50 day ticket is also available to use on the X1/11 or X2/22 to Norwich if you so wish. All of First's services operate on Sundays which the 61 won't. The £5 day ticket is valid on the 61 and oh yes that's it!

When I analysed the demise of the 7 between Yarmouth and Norwich I said if you wanted to complete with an established service you had not only to match it but better it. First will be doing that with the X41 - even more so if they extend it to Halesworth (PLEASE!!!) Anglian do not have the timetable, vehicles, on board facilities or management vision from Head Office backing up local managers to do that. If they were on life support you'd be pleading with the doctors to switch it off.