I was told some weeks ago that the X1 and X2 were to undergo some major changes in December, and finally can talk about them as First have today put the forthcoming timetables on their website. Essentually both are to go to 15 min frequencies but with some new areas served, competitive fares and in the case of the X2 some much faster journeys.
The X1 returns to its former 15 min frequency between Norwich and Yarmouth. However the "shorts" will continue to James Paget Hospital via Middleton Rd, which until a week ago was served by Anglian's 61. Only two X1's an hour will operate between JPH and Lowestoft, again as before, but these will be evenly interspaced with the 1/1A to essentially maintain a 15 min service between Lowestoft and Yarmouth with both routes taking roughly the same journey time. On Sundays there will be a 30 min service with alternate journeys operating as 1A between Lowestoft and Yarmouth.
The biggest changes are seen on the X2, with the X22 returning to operate between Lowestoft and Norwich via Carlton Colville. Most X2's will now be fast services, omitting North Cove, and then running fast from Beccles/Gillingham to Norwich omitting Hales and Loddon. X2's will run half hourly, as will the X22, whch from what I can see will mirror BorderBus's 146 between Ribblesdale and East Anglia Transport Museum, before operating the route the X2 does now, with both X22's serving Loddon, and alternate journeys serving North Cove and Hales. Sundays will see an hourly X2 serving the whole route between 0840 and 1905.
Fares are reasonable without being dirt cheap. £5.50 for a Lowestoft -Norwich return is much cheaper than the train and competitive with BorderBus, who in recent weeks have been making steady progress on the route.
I have to try and stay neutral here. Having said that I must congratulate First's Commercial team for putting together the new X1 timetable so quickly in order to maintain a service for Middleton Rd after it was so summarily abandoned by Anglian. I have observed crazy queues at Norwich for the X1, and the restored 15 min frequency is wholly justified. Just a shame it won't be Ollies and coaches on the "shorts" like it used to be! My personal prediction is this new X1 timetable could be the final nail in the coffin for Anglian's 7. I think their best bet is to restore the old A47's and give the villages a regular link to Yarmouth as well as Norwich again. A 30 min service on the 7 just won't compete with the X1.
I have mixed feelings about the X2 changes. BorderBus have proved that a fast service from Beccles to Norwich is desirable and I'm going to stand firm and consistent in my condemnation of operators just trying to poach passengers from competitors by copying - have I mentioned I don't like copying before? When BorderBus started a fast service from Beccles to Norwich it was unique, and now First want to muscle in on it. They are even sending two buses an hour on the 146 route around Carlton Colville. The only redeeming feature is that those buses are the stoppers, so shouldn't have any impact on the 146 custom, and in all honesty I can't see them lasting too long. I'm a little disappointed in First as, like the X1, demand in Norwich justifies the 15 min frequency, and to try and poach a few passengers in Carlton Colville off BorderBus seems a little unnecessary. On the plus side anything that reduces journey times from Lowestoft to Norwich is welcome, and let's face it the Loddon section is very tedious!
What would be even more welcome is to see effort put into feeder services from other areas so more people who don't actually live on the routes can connect with and use them.
The changes come into operation on Dec 7th, and full details and timetables can be accessed on First's website by clicking here.