Friday 24 October 2014

Anniversary Special: Interview With Chris Speed PartTwo

Welcome to Part Two of my chat with Chris Speed, Business Manager First Eastern Counties, that I had on Tuesday in the Troll Cart in Great Yarmouth. If you missed Part One it can be seen by clicking here. In Part One I mainly concentrated on Norwich. In this part I'll talk about other areas of FEC.

But before that I'll just clear up a rumour. For some months now there have been persistent rumours that First are going to challenge Anglian on the 87/88 to Poringland and Bungay. I asked Chris about that and he confirmed that there were no plans to do so at the present time. It won't stop the rumours going around but you'll hear no more of them here unless things change.

So onto other areas and I'll start at Yarmouth and answer Mick's query on Part One about the Heritage vehicle for Yarmouth. It was originally intended that Ex First Leicester Gemini 32629 would get the livery, but that idea has been discarded purely because it was thought that the livery just wouldn't suit it. So it will eventually go on one of the ex Leicester ALX400's, which will need to go away for DDA upgrades in the near future. One of them will come back in the Yarmouth Blue livery. No idea on timescale but that is what's happening.

Also at Yarmouth when the Streelites arrive in the next couple of weeks it will finally spell the end for the remaining Volvo B10 Wright Renown Saloons. The Jersey Darts, which were thought to be leaving will in fact be remaining. After the repaints at Ipswich are complete ALX400 30888 will return silently to Yarmouth, which will allow another President to go to Norwich, the lucky things! I did enquire how Ipswich could silence 30888 so quick when the likes of 32206/7/629 are all running around with blowing fans, and the simple answer is it's up to the individual depot engineers what they spend their budget on. The fan switches cost around £400 and Ipswich like quiet buses!

Now the Olympians. They are staying indefintitely. Even after 2017 when they can't be used in regular service they will be retained for Bernard Matthews work. Obviously I'm delighted at that news and I'm going to have to work out a way I can still get the occasional journey on them after 2017. I don't know if 34112 will get a reprieve as 34110 is getting. 34113 I think is beyond viable repair now,but overall it is great news. So here is a pic I took this afternoon of one of the Olympians next to the best looking Gemini at present in Yarmouth.

Olympian 34108 passes Volvo B9 Gemini 37578 in Yarmouth this afternoon

Now to Lowestoft, and I'm afraid this is going to be pretty short as we hardly discussed Lowestoft at all. However, the 99 is apparently ticking over quite nicely and the X2 is a pain in the neck due to traffic probs both ends of the route meaning allocations can be a nightmare. In Part One I alluded to something Chris said that I failed completely to pick up on. E400 33423 just happened to be on the stand outside the Troll Cart and I asked if there had been any news regarding the hybrid X1 livery as suggested by myself and Sam Larke. Chris told me the news on that wasn't very positive but nothing definite yet, but it might be an idea for the X2 livery. I'm sorry - my ears should have pricked up like an Alsatian's but failed. X2 LIVERY????? I'll have to get back to you on that one when I've tied Chris to a handrail and forced the information out of him!!

Before I end up at Ipswich (story of my life) I think I should eat a bit of humble pie here. I was the first blogger to complain about the rattling on the X1 E400's. I lambasted them, and got a fair bit of stick for it. However gradually others started to agree. Well rattle no more. The Chief Engineer who covers Kings Lynn and Yarmouth is apparently an obsessive anti rattler. I want to shake this man's hand. A lot, and I mean a LOT of work has been carried out on the E400's, and while there are still things I dislike intensely about them the rattling is less than it was when they hit the road just over a year ago. That is not to just be applauded but in my view is nothing short of a minor miracle. So hats off to the teams at Kings Lynn and Yarmouth - you have achieved what I thought was impossible.

33804 at Kings Lynn a couple of weeks ago
And now finally to Ipswich. Obviously a lot has happened there recently and I'm losing track myself of what's going on there. However suffice it to say there is a lot of swapping between Ipswich and Colchester happening, with more 05 reg B7rle's coming up from Eseex, who are taking back their quite heinous 6567 series Scanias. There are other movements that Chris has asked me to keep quiet on for now. Despite the news being broken elsewhere I will not reveal anything until the agreed time.

Now the other day I complained about the way the bright shiny wheels of the Ipswich refurbs are no longer bright and shiny, and suggested a jet wash at the fuel pumps to keep them clean. Well it seems I'm not alone as Chris told me that hand washing at Ipswich depot is to be introduced, with wheels kept clean. Effort to inprove washing of top deck windscreens is also going to be stepped up, as they are the windows that people make a beeline for on deckers and dirty ones give a bad impression. Really good to see that issues are being not just recognised but rectified quickly.

One quick word about WiFi. No one has the job of checking them as it can be all done through a laptop, which can see the status of each bus and who is logged on, and in most cases a simple reboot does the trick. 

There was so much more I could have talked about but time just ran out, so I'll have to make sure of a follow up meeting soon. I have to be perfectly honest here - it didn't feel like Manager meeting "journalist" on Tuesday, but two mates with a common interest meeting up for a natter. It was just one of them was being paid!

Now I have been known to show a bit of disdain for other journals who are scared to criticse anyone or anything for fear on losing out on depot visits or contacts. Regular readers will know I have no such qualms and if I think something is wrong I will say so. Therefore pleased be assured that the next paragraph is not artificial in any way, but my true feelings at the moment.

I have criticised First more than any other company in the first year of this blog. That is probably not surprising, giving their ubiquitous nature and therefore it's only to be expected that more things happen. However I can truly say in recent months I have noticed a marked improvement in many areas. There seems to be a real effort to smarten up both buses and image, despite what seems to be considerable finacial restraints and uncertainty about fleet upgrades. The railways are suffering due to past lack of investment and mismanagement, and the current crop of First managers are fighting a similar legacy. There will be no quick fix, but I feel with people like Chris Speed showing the enthusiasm and drive he does, that in 5 years time we might see a massive difference to what we see now. First had to get its act together, and it is, although as with any huge vessels, initial movement may remain imperceivable to some.

Chris, it was a real pleasure having out first really long, decent chat on Tuesday. I hope it was the first of many, and it's good to be able to write so positively about First.

Finally Chris has asked me to pass on a request to all you photographers out there. VA479 at Ipswich is going to be adorned internally with photos of buses in Ipswich past and present, and he would love to hear from anyone interested in having their pic included. You are invited to email Chris at  Expect a deluge, Chris!

The Ipswich Family and blog background pic


  1. Yet another good blog report Steve,which i must thak you for,well done...