Monday, 8 January 2018

2018 - Looking Into The Crystal Ball

Happy New Year everyone  - that's wishful thinking isn't it on the day 5 train operators are affected by strikes and Ipswich Borough Council announces it's bailing itself out so evening and Sunday bus services in Ipswich can continue. So I thought I'd gaze into the crystal ball and predict what's going to happen this year in the East Anglian area of public transport. We'll start with buses.

Let's be frank here, not even the most optimistic of crystal balls can come up with anything remotely positive for East Anglia regarding bus services. More subsidy cuts loom threatening to cut off yet more isolated rural areas. We are all waiting to see how big the axe is, but an axe there will be. At the same time Reading Buses are introducing gas double decker buses, and Transdev revolutionising bus travel in the North including the most luxurious seating ever seen on buses over here the comparitive apathy will continue. Not that I'm blaming local management who in some cases work miracles with one hand tied behind their backs. But all the time our bus services are dictated from Aberdeen and Newcastle, not to mention how much of our Council Tax is put back into public transport then we stand no chance. There are still no hybrid buses in Suffolk or Norfolk. Go Ahead seem Hell bent on destroying everything they have in the region, First still can't decide on a replacement bus for the E400's on the X1, or XL as it's ridiculously going to be called on the Western side. The modernisation of Ipswich depot STILL hasn't happened meaning 15yo deckers can't be replaced. Speculation over who will buy Ipswich Buses will continue, with no one actually wanting to buy it as Ipswich is such an island and can't be linked up with anywhere else.

I do predict more investment in deckers at Borderbus though. The 146 is really taking off now, as is the 580. Deckers may become necessary. However I do feel that the system of taking passengers into Norwich on deckers to a half hourly frequency only to expect them to tolerate an hourly frequency single deck service to return on needs to be looked at. It could be the 146 is now too popular to be worked around school services, a victim of its own success. With no Anglian around Kessingland now more people, especially tourists will start choosing Beccles and Norwich, and if the service isn't there to cater for them, especially PM then it will be an opportunity missed. If First have any sense they will restore the Kessingland - Yarmouth through service vacated by Anglian as the Pontins crowd like that. Either that or Borderbus introduce a Kessingland - Beccles - Yarmouth service incorporating the 580. There are openings for the courageous out there, but is anyone courageous enough?

From an enthusiast's point of view East Anglia will become less and less attractive. There really is nothing in the region now to whet the appetite compared to other parts of the country. Hate to say it but it's true.

So let's switch to the railways. Here we have total confusion. Every TOC you listen to is boasting of investing in new rolling stock. Nothing to do with the fact DDA for trains comes into force in 2020 then, which means no more slam doors anywhere, or toilets that dump onto tracks, and disabled facilities in every train. Or that the Department of Transport has dictated that the most uncomfortable seats in the history of railways be installed on the new trains. Yes, the government decide on the new rolling stock specification, not the operating companies. So when you board one of the gleaming new Greater Anglia trans next year don't blame them. The new trains won't stop the regular signal and points faiures, late running freight trains or bridge bashes either, you'll just be delayed in less comfort. Guards or no guards, how many more strikes before common sense makes a breakthrough. Until then we still have the Class 37 hauled short set for another year, regular test trains, excursions and charter trains to keep us amused, although I'll be surprised if we have the Flying Scotsman, Tornado and Union of South Africa visit our shores in the same year again! Make the most of the variety of rolling stock on offer this year, as next year it will become very 2 dimensional.

Well that's all very depressing isn't it. Sorry about that. If anyone can find a glimmer of positivity around feel free to let me know and I'll be overjoyed to publicise it  Is Essex any better this side of Chelmsford? What are the solutions to bring public transport in this region out of the doldrums? Will I be able to feel more upbeat this time next year? Discuss!

Monday, 1 January 2018

Vintage Christmas Part Three - Rochester Running Day

On the seventh day of Christmas Nu Venture gave to me, a really good running day! I attended last year's event, held at Asda in Gillingham. It was bitterly cold, and while it was ok it never really got the juices flowing. This year was different, much different. Held at a dedicated coach park near Rochester Station the event was in part to celebrate 20 years of Nu Venture in Medway. To be honest I thought it was longer than that but they should know. Anyhow this event was extremely well attended bearing in mind the time of year, with a really good variety of vehicles. I arrived fairly early to get some uncluttered pictures.

DMS868, E200MMC AE23 and E400MMC E76
Plaxton Verde Volvo B10B N601 FJO in original Oxford Bus Company livery
Southdown Bristol VR AAP 651T in 729 livery
Chalkwell's ex London VDL LJ04 LFB
Another ex Southdown vehicle, Leyland National RUF 37R
Another National attending was ex Trent KCG 627L
All the above vehicles were on static display, although the DMS did make one very late afternoon trip out. However 20 buses were out on various trips around Medway, and I managed to get on 5 of them. I must commend the organisation of this event. All buses going out had running letters which correlated to the timetables, so you could plan what you went on and when. Very impressed with that.

My first ride was on the only short Boorismaster built, ST812. Not only that it was driven by Matt, a regular correspondent on this blog. It was great to finally meet you, Matt, thanks for bringing 812 and hope to see you again soon. As for 812? Well you should all know by now I love Borismasters, and although this shorter version has too few seats downstairs for my liking you couldn't fault the ride. Never did I think I'd see a Boris in Medway. That was fun! Btw look at the bottom pic - when you have 3 doors which one do you have kerb side!! Medway hadn't planned for that!

ST812 at Chatham Riverside

A kerb not designed for a 3 door bus!
Some buses are a bit run of the mill, even preserved ones, but some stand out like an ice cream van in the Sahara. The BEA AEC Regal IV airport bus is one of them. It looks so quirky. Purchased in 1953 for use on the Waterloo - Heathrow service this bus has been lovingly restored and is quite something. Old Greenline seats mean simply the most sumptuous bus seats I've sat in.

The BEA AEC Regal IV
Now THAT is seat padding!
As we trundled along, going past my old school, it dawned on me I would happily travel on this bus anywhere, anytime and any place. I'd happily have it in service. I'd love a tardis to go back to 1953 and travel on one when they were the future. A joy to ride, and as you can imagine it was very popular.

looking back up the Regal
Back in Rochester I met up with my old school chum and Stagecoach South East Director Matthew Arnold for a natter before he went off to ride the Regal and I waited for my next steed. I have always liked Scanias, especially the powerful Scanias of the 80's and 90's. This particular Scania, from Autocar of Five Oak Green near Tonbridge has a particular claim to fame I wasn't aware of when I rode it. It is apparently the last step entrance decker built for a British operator. So a trip up to Rochester Airport beckoned. Sadly not the best pic.

Autocar Scania N113 OSJ 1X
The traditional Scania power was in clear evidence but the legroom upstairs was negligible, which rather spoiled things. Take a few seats out and boy you have a bus there!

Lunch beckoned, and Nu Venture had supplied an appropriate catering supplier.

The Omnibus Kitchen
However with a burger costing more than the Dart did when new I gave lunch a miss and went in search of Kelvin.

Who is Kelvin I hear you ask! Well Kelvin Pinnock is the owner of a special bus. Arguably, from a personal point of view the most important bus in the country. When I was going to school, waiting at a chilly bus stop with Foden tippers hammering by, if 5385 came round the corner I knew it was going to be a good day. Volvo Ailsas were different. Very different, more a truck with seats than a bus. Front engined, driver got in from the offside, unique layout upstairs, a glorious soundtrack and power. Lots and lots of power. 5385 survives, and thanks to Kelvin it feels exactly as it used to all those years ago.

Maidstone & District Volvo Ailsa 5385 LKP 385P arriving at the site
I clearly remember as a 13yo sitting on the engine cover chatting to a driver going out to the Isle of Grain and back on 5385. not sure I could do that now! Anyway getting to know Kelvin over the last few months on Twitter paid off as I was able to bag MY seat! The seat I spent so many hours in as a boy. The seat who if anyone else dared sit in it would result in unparalleled resentment. The best bus seat ever, anywhere in the history of buses. No one ever disturbed you there. The seat!!

My seat!

Only the front will do

The only place to be
 These days Health & Safety busybodies would have a field day at a stairwell coming out by the windscreen but in the 70's it was unique and made that front seat the best. 35 years on I was back in that same seat, heading for a new development, Peter's Village, which involved crossing the newest bridge over the Medway. What I wasn't expecting, though, was the route we took, which passed through my home village. Not Memory Lane but Memory M25! As soon as I realised the route the phone was switched to video, as this was one that might never be repeated, and for those who have never been on an Ailsa just listen to that soundtrack, whistling turbos and whining axles. The route takes you by the Medway bridges including HS1, and across the Medway Valley line just before the new bridge to Peter's Village

Not wanting to lose my seat for the return journey I declined the photo opportunity at Peter's Village, so I'm grateful to Kelvin for letting me use his.

At Peter's Village terminus               pic (c) Kelvin Pinnock
Even better while I have been writing the post Man of Kent has been in touch with a photo he took from the other side! Many thanks, pal.

I'm not getting off that seat!!    pic (c) Man of Kent
 It was on the way back I had an idea. I've had many memories rekindled recently, but to get a photo of a bus I used to catch at the stop I used to catch it was an opportunity not to be missed. I popped downstairs and asked Kelvin if he wouldn't mind stopping for me. The gent that he is agreed, and although this may not be the best photo of a bus ever taken, for me it is pure gold and I'll admit to feeling quite emotional. The only thing missing is around 50 schoolkids pushing to get on! Kelvin, mate, you are a star. Thank you so much.

Oh my!
There was still time for one more trip, and again on a bus I remember being in service. East Kent Daimler Fleetline RFN 953G is one of the more familiar vehicles on the Kent preservation scene, although it has recently changed owners. However I have not been on it since it entered preservation many moons ago so I put that right. I even stayed downstairs so I could listen to the deep rumble of the Daimler engine.

The immaculate East Kent Fleetline

And that was that. A superb day, superbly organised, and superbly attended. Thanks in no small part to Chris Jenkinson and everyone else at Nu Venture for making this right up there with the best days I had in 2017. Looking forward already to next year, although sadly due to a primary school about to be built on the coach park the event will be changing locations. Thanks to Matt, Matthew, especially Kelvin, and everyone else I met there. Thanks to all those bus owners who brought their pride and joys to the event. Oh - it was all free, no charge, no entrance fee, no you must do this before seeing the buses with the programme costing Matthew only 3 quid! Top marks.

I'll leave you with a few other vehicles that turned up (no, Ensignbus I didn't forget you), finishing with the 2 best together! Happy New Year everyone.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Vintage Christmas Part 2 - All The Best Plans....

Christmas Eve was a funny old day. It started very early, with a 93 mile drive from chez Steve to Ensign's depot in Purfleet. Those magnificent men in their vintage machines were supplying 2 vehicles for the Greenline 702 Running Day. This running day had been pretty hastily arranged due a strange anomaly and was in aid of charity.

On 27th December Reading Buses take over from First Berkshire in the operation of the Bracknell - Windsor - Slough - London Greenline 702. However First ceased operation on the 23rd December, leaving the 24th without an official operator. So the inspirational Martijn Gilbert, CEO of Reading Buses called a few mates to see if they'd like to bring their buses out for the day on the route. The idea got a big thumbs up, and so Sunday saw a plethora of buses on the 702. Some with links to the route, others not.

My plan was to meet up with Ross Newman at Ensign, who was booked to drive Greenline liveried RT3232 and who had invited me along. However, with Ensign's hectic Christmas schedule Ross quite rightly decided to put family first. No worries, I was still able to travel up on the RT and back on Ensign's magnificent ex Southend Transport Van Hool Astromega. So I arrived at Ensign at 0730 only to discover the RT had departed at 0700, an hour earlier than Ross intended to. That meant my plan to stay with the RT to Slough then catch one of the Scania Omnilink tri axles Reading Buses have acquired for the route back to London was well and truly scuppered.

So I was forced to wait for the Astromega to leave. I know I know, sheer torture but you have to take the rough with the smooth. While I was waiting a Private Hire driver turned up to take one of the BCI Enterprises out. I've yet to meet an unfriendly person at Ensign, so a good chat about the Enterprise ensued, and a photo opportunity.

The Enterprise being prepared.

Incidentally just to the right of the Enterprise was a sight that I doubt could be replicated anywhere in the world. If anyone knows different then I'll be happy to be corrected. Back to the 1950's anyone?

No words needed
Then entering stage left came a chap with a big smile and just as big handshake. Glyn Matthews, who was already bringing me back, discovered he was taking me there too. I got my first look inside the Astromega, and I'm pretty sure it was my first ever look inside one. I grew up with Olympian coaches, but pretty sure I never experienced an Astromega. I missed out.

The Astreomega prior to departure
The lower deck of the Astromega
To say the seats are comfy is an understatement. I started downstairs but soon realised this needed a proper ride test and went upstairs. The obvious comparision was with modern tri axle coaches, and at a stunted 13"1 the obvious comparison was with my adored Plaxton Interdecks used by Megabus. Quite simply I couldn't split the ride quality, but the Astro nicked it on seat comfort. That led to a conundrum - was the Astro decades ahead of its time, or has there been little progress in comfort and ride quality of tri axle coaches over the last 35 years? Yes obviously there have been improvements in fuel economy emissions, accessibility etc, but your average passenger isn't going to notice that - indeed as the Running Day was incorporating the regular service we picked up regular passengers. One chap boarded at Hammersmith and asked if we had USB chargers on board. They woudn't look out of place. Why are 35yo seats more comfortable? Is that progress. Anyway we arrived at The Collonades in Victoria and immediately got the chance to get the picture to go with the comparison. A trio of tri-axle triumphs with the Volvo B11R Plaxton Elite Interdeck, and the latest Van Hool decker passing the trailblazer.

Nice line up
It was at this point I realised Glyn, apart from being a nice bloke and good driver, was also an avid bus enthusiast. I watched him scurrying from place to place taking pictures of everything that moved, including every single Levante that passed through. I was later to discover Glyn's knowledge is truly extensive, and he could even discuss the old Boro'line fleet with me, fleet numbers and all.

We left Victoria with an old Greenline relic. RF226 looked really good, and I know carried quite a few distinguished passengers. We played leapfrog along the route, and as extensive journey times had been given, there were plenty of photo opportunities, although to my shame I appear to have concentrated on the Astro!

The RF at Victoria Collonades

The Astromega at Kensington High St
Some photos just beg to be taken, and when Glyn pointed out the shop we were parked outside this one just had to be captured. Luvvly Jubbly!

Kensington becomes Peckham!
The amended plan ws to jump ship at Hammersmith, then catch a vintage Leyland National back to Victoria. However, 500 yds from Hammersmith we passed it running seemingly empty. Glyn has a truly impressive turn of speed when it comes to stopping a monster bus safely, grabbing his camera and getting a perfect picture! Even better he's sent it to me to use!

Alder Valley now Kennetbus Leyland National KPA 369P        pic (c) Glyn Matthew
Glyn also managed to get a better picture of the Scania Omnilink tri-axle I had intended to catch. Ex Stagecoach Scotland, Reading Buses have acquired three of them.

Scania Omnlilink SP57 CMJ           pic (c) Glyn Matthews
 So onto plan C, which was to stay onto Windsor, then return to Slough for lunch and a little GWR spotting before catching Glyn on his return journey. Windsor was heaving with enthusiasts, but there was a chance to get a picture of the RT I should have started on, with the Astro behind.

RT3232 and the Astro at Windsor Parish Church
I decided to catch a local First Berkshire service bus back to Sough to give me more time, so jumped on a number 8, a rather nice 57 plate Mercedes Citaro. Quiet, few rattles and smooth. So nice, in fact, I didn't pay much attention to where we were going until it dawned on me that I recognised nothing, until I saw a signpost to Runnymeade which set off all kinds of alarm bells. A quick check of the online timetable and yes, your experienced, intrepid blogger had got on the wrong bus. I was actually heading for Heathrow. So I got off God knows where, and waited the 20 minutes for the bus back to Windsor, while phoning Glyn to ask him not to leave Windsor without me and to stop laughing! It was 15 mins late, and to punish me even further was a Volvo 7900, by far and away the worst bus ever to leave the Volvo factory.

They look good but really aren't!!
Sharp eyed observers will notice how clearly Slough rail station is displayed. I'm not in that club!

Just before we left Windsor one of the buses I wanted to see rolled in. Reading Buses have utilised 2 of their own Enviro E400's for the route, and due to a mechanical problem on one of the planned buses one of them was pressed into action on the Windsor - Bracknell shuttle. Now I'm not a fan of green, and certainly not a fan of E400's, but my word this livery is dazzling. It was a very dull day so the picture does not do it justice. I intend to ride the 702 to try out the various vehicles in the coming weeks and I'm actually looking forward to riding this one! I've just noticed the registration. Very clever!

Reading Buses E400 GO11 LDN

And that was just about it. A return journey to London on the Astro, with noticeably more traffic, and a smooth journey back to Purfleet. I did very little of what I actually wanted to do, some not my fault, others definitely down to my dimness! But you know - it didn't matter. I had made two new friends, one with 8 wheels, the astonishingly good Astromega, and one with two legs, Glyn. I sincerely hope I get to ride his taxi again. Thanks, Glyn, it was a great day and I'm looking forward to the next one. Thanks to Ross Newman for letting me travel on Ensign's buses and using the yard as a base, and well done and thanks to Martijn Gilbert for organising the day, and I wish Reading Buses all success with the 702. And thanks to those lovely people coming up to me in places I never expected complimenting the blog. Really appreciated. Incidentally the last bus from Victoria to Windsor and Bracknell, going onto Reading was OPEN TOP RmC 1510. I know it's been a mild Christmas in the South but that must have been a bit parky upstairs! Adam Green Tweeted this picture to the official Greenline Twitter team, who retweeted it, so I hope Adam doesn't mind me using it!

RMC 1510 at Victoria on the last trip to Bracknell.     pic Adam Green

One last pic of the Astro, back at base, getting a well deserved feed before being put to bed. See you for the Rochester event on 30th, and in that post I'll reveal what I got for Christmas!!

Night night everyone

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Vintage Christmas Part One

This Christmas is going to be set pretty much in the past, not a bad thing in my opinion, but those who think Summer is the best time to see and ride vintage vehicles are much mistaken. Hot on the heels of the spectacular Ensign Running Day at the beginning of the month comes two more. Tomorrow, Christmas Eve, is a Running Day on the Greenline 702 between London and Windsor/Bracknell/Reading. The route is changing hands from First to Reading Buses and Christmas Eve was an odd day with no official operator, so Reading decided to have a Running Day. I will be attending thanks to my friends at Ensign, who are sending 2 vehicles.

Then on 30th December there is a Running Day organised by a company who don't like me naming them, but it's in Rochester, and I will be re-acquainted with my favourite Volvo Ailsa along with other buses.

However, the vintage Christmas started this week. In the wee small hours of Thursday morning a test train rumbled down the East Suffolk Line. It was booked to go down the seldom used Sizewell Branch, so Tim and I were at Saxmundham at 0130 waiting for it. It was soon pretty obvious it wasn't going down the branch due to the lack of Network Rail staff but that's life. It was still worth waiting for as we knew Europhoenix liveried 37611 was providing the power. I had been to Norwich earlier in the day to see it just in case the entire service didn't run, which had been known before.

37611 at Norwich sidings
Also in situ was DRS 37606, being used for stock movements currently, and in desperate need of a wash!

A very grubby 37606
But anyhow the test train did go through Saxmundham, with the dbso leading. There is something magical about a rumbling Class 37 in the dead of night in the mist! We both agreed that a lot of enthusiasts really don't see things at their best. You have to be prepared to go out at all hours, in all weathers. Then you end up with sights like this.

The dbso leads the test train into Saxmundham
37611 disappears into the Saxmundham mist
As usual those pics are stills from a video, so here it is, a lovely soundtrack breaking the still of the night.

Yesterday I switched modes onto the first vintage bus of the season. City Sightseeing Norwich were running a free tour round the city using their Routemaster, which interestingly is two years YOUNGER than 37611 above. I was invited to meet up with former (?) blogger Sam Larke, who is part of the Conductor team at City Sightseeing for a ride before the heaving masses descended on the bus. Very nice it is too, but then it's a Routemaster so that really goes without saying.

RM2151 looking festive at Castle Meadow
That's it for this post. All that's left is to wish each and everyone who reads the blog a Happy Christmas and a healthy New Year. Look out for the next post around Boxing Day which will be a report of the Greenline Running Day, with hopefully a bit more depending what turns up!

Rm2151 at Norwich Station